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Title: From Whose Bourne
Author: Barr, Robert, 1850-1912
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "From Whose Bourne" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



by the Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions



FROM WHOSE BOURNE


BY ROBERT BARR (LUKE SHARP)

AUTHOR OF "IN A STEAMER CHAIR" ETC.

[Illustration: William Brenton.]


_WITH FORTY-SEVEN ILLUSTRATIONS

BY C.M.D. HAMMOND, G.D. HAMMOND, AND HAL HURST_


1893



TO

AN HONEST MAN

AND

A GOOD WOMAN



FROM WHOSE BOURNE



PRINCIPAL ILLUSTRATIONS:

Buel placed his portmanteau on the deck

William Brenton

"Do you think I shall be missed?"

He again sat in the rocking-chair

He saw standing beside him a stranger

A Venetian Café

Venice

In Venice

The Brenton Murder

Mrs. Brenton

Gold

Publicity

The Broken Toy

"She's pretty as a picture"

Raising the Veil

Jane

The Detective

Jane Morton

"Oh, why did I do it?"

"How much time do you give me?"

In the prisoner's dock

"I feel very grateful to you"

"Here's the detailed report"

"Guilty! Guilty of what?"



CHAPTER I.


"My dear," said William Brenton to his wife, "do you think I shall be
missed if I go upstairs for a while? I am not feeling at all well."

[Illustration: "Do you think I shall be missed?"]

"Oh, I'm so sorry, Will," replied Alice, looking concerned; "I will tell
them you are indisposed."

"No, don't do that," was the answer; "they are having a very good time,
and I suppose the dancing will begin shortly; so I don't think they will
miss me. If I feel better I will be down in an hour or two; if not, I
shall go to bed. Now, dear, don't worry; but have a good time with the
rest of them."

William Brenton went quietly upstairs to his room, and sat down in the
darkness in a rocking chair. Remaining there a few minutes, and not
feeling any better, he slowly undressed and went to bed. Faint echoes
reached him of laughter and song; finally, music began, and he felt,
rather than heard, the pulsation of dancing feet. Once, when the music
had ceased for a time, Alice tiptoed into the room, and said in a quiet
voice--

"How are you feeling, Will? any better?"

"A little," he answered drowsily. "Don't worry about me; I shall drop
off to sleep presently, and shall be all right in the morning. Good
night."

He still heard in a dreamy sort of way the music, the dancing, the
laughter; and gradually there came oblivion, which finally merged into
a dream, the most strange and vivid vision he had ever experienced.
It seemed to him that he sat again in the rocking chair near the bed.
Although he knew the room was dark, he had no difficulty in seeing
everything perfectly. He heard, now quite plainly, the music and dancing
downstairs, but what gave a ghastly significance to his dream was the
sight of his own person on the bed. The eyes were half open, and the
face was drawn and rigid. The colour of the face was the white, greyish
tint of death.

"This is a nightmare," said Brenton to himself; "I must try and wake
myself." But he seemed powerless to do this, and he sat there looking at
his own body while the night wore on. Once he rose and went to the side
of the bed. He seemed to have reached it merely by wishing himself
there, and he passed his hand over the face, but no feeling of touch was
communicated to him. He hoped his wife would come and rouse him from
this fearful semblance of a dream, and, wishing this, he found himself
standing at her side, amidst the throng downstairs, who were now merrily
saying good-bye. Brenton tried to speak to his wife, but although he
was conscious of speaking, she did not seem to hear him, or know he was
there.

[Illustration: He again sat in the rocking-chair.]

The party had been one given on Christmas Eve, and as it was now two
o'clock in the morning, the departing guests were wishing Mrs. Brenton a
merry Christmas. Finally, the door closed on the last of the revellers,
and Mrs. Brenton stood for a moment giving instructions to the sleepy
servants; then, with a tired sigh, she turned and went upstairs, Brenton
walking by her side until they came to the darkened room, which she
entered on tiptoe.

"Now," said Brenton to himself, "she will arouse me from this appalling
dream." It was not that there was anything dreadful in the dream itself,
but the clearness with which he saw everything, and the fact that his
mind was perfectly wide awake, gave him an uneasiness which he found
impossible to shake off.

In the dim light from the hall his wife prepared to retire. The horrible
thought struck Brenton that she imagined he was sleeping soundly,
and was anxious not to awaken him--for of course she could have no
realization of the nightmare he was in--so once again he tried to
communicate with her. He spoke her name over and over again, but she
proceeded quietly with her preparations for the night. At last she crept
in at the other side of the bed, and in a few moments was asleep. Once
more Brenton struggled to awake, but with no effect. He heard the clock
strike three, and then four, and then five, but there was no apparent
change in his dream. He feared that he might be in a trance, from which,
perhaps, he would not awake until it was too late. Grey daylight began
to brighten the window, and he noticed that snow was quietly falling
outside, the flakes noiselessly beating against the window pane. Every
one slept late that morning, but at last he heard the preparations for
breakfast going on downstairs--the light clatter of china on the table,
the rattle of the grate; and, as he thought of these things, he found
himself in the dining-room, and saw the trim little maid, who still
yawned every now and then, laying the plates in their places. He went
upstairs again, and stood watching the sleeping face of his wife. Once
she raised her hand above her head, and he thought she was going to
awake; ultimately her eyes opened, and she gazed for a time at the
ceiling, seemingly trying to recollect the events of the day before.

"Will," she said dreamily, "are you still asleep?"

There was no answer from the rigid figure at the front of the bed. After
a few moments she placed her hand quietly over the sleeper's face. As
she did so, her startled eyes showed that she had received a shock.
Instantly she sat upright in bed, and looked for one brief second on the
face of the sleeper beside her; then, with a shriek that pierced the
stillness of the room, she sprang to the floor.

"Will! Will!" she cried, "speak to me! What is the matter with you? Oh,
my God! my God!" she cried, staggering back from the bed. Then, with
shriek after shriek, she ran blindly through the hall to the stairway,
and there fell fainting on the floor.



CHAPTER II.


William Brenton knelt beside the fallen lady, and tried to soothe and
comfort her, but it was evident that she was insensible.

"It is useless," said a voice by his side.

Brenton looked up suddenly, and saw standing beside him a stranger.
Wondering for a moment how he got there, and thinking that after all it
was a dream, he said--

"What is useless? She is not dead."

"No," answered the stranger, "but _you_ are."

[Illustration: He saw standing beside him a stranger.]

"I am what?" cried Brenton.

"You are what the material world calls dead, although in reality you
have just begun to live."

"And who are you?" asked Brenton. "And how did you get in here?"

The other smiled.

"How did _you_ get in here?" he said, repeating Brenton's words.

"I? Why, this is my own house."

"Was, you mean."

"I mean that it is. I am in my own house. This lady is my wife."

"_Was_," said the other.

"I do not understand you," cried Brenton, very much annoyed. "But, in
any case, your presence and your remarks are out of place here."

"My dear sir," said the other, "I merely wish to aid you and to explain
to you anything that you may desire to know about your new condition.
You are now free from the incumbrance of your body. You have already had
some experience of the additional powers which that riddance has given
you. You have also, I am afraid, had an inkling of the fact that the
spiritual condition has its limitations. If you desire to communicate
with those whom you have left, I would strongly advise you to postpone
the attempt, and to leave this place, where you will experience only
pain and anxiety. Come with me, and learn something of your changed
circumstances."

"I am in a dream," said Brenton, "and you are part of it. I went to
sleep last night, and am still dreaming. This is a nightmare and it will
soon be over."

"You are saying that," said the other, "merely to convince yourself.
It is now becoming apparent to you that this is not a dream. If dreams
exist, it was a dream which you left, but you have now become awake. If
you really think it is a dream, then do as I tell you--come with me and
leave it, because you must admit that this part of the dream is at least
very unpleasant."

"It is not very pleasant," assented Brenton. As he spoke the bewildered
servants came rushing up the stairs, picked up their fallen mistress,
and laid her on a sofa. They rubbed her hands and dashed water in her
face. She opened her eyes, and then closed them again with a shudder.

"Sarah," she cried, "have I been dreaming, or is your master dead?"

The two girls turned pale at this, and the elder of them went boldly
into the room which her mistress had just left. She was evidently
a young woman who had herself under good control, but she came out
sobbing, with her apron to her eyes.

"Come, come," said the man who stood beside Brenton, "haven't you had
enough of this? Come with me; you can return to this house if you wish;"
and together they passed out of the room into the crisp air of Christmas
morning. But, although Brenton knew it must be cold, he had no feeling
of either cold or warmth.

"There are a number of us," said the stranger to Brenton, "who take
turns at watching the sick-bed when a man is about to die, and when his
spirit leaves his body, we are there to explain, or comfort, or console.
Your death was so sudden that we had no warning of it. You did not feel
ill before last night, did you?"

"No," replied Brenton. "I felt perfectly well, until after dinner last
night."

"Did you leave your affairs in reasonably good order?"

"Yes," said Brenton, trying to recollect. "I think they will find
everything perfectly straight."

"Tell me a little of your history, if you do not mind," inquired the
other; "it will help me in trying to initiate you into our new order of
things here."

"Well," replied Brenton, and he wondered at himself for falling so
easily into the other's assumption that he was a dead man, "I was what
they call on the earth in reasonably good circumstances. My estate
should be worth $100,000. I had $75,000 insurance on my life, and if all
that is paid, it should net my widow not far from a couple of hundred
thousand."

"How long have you been married?" said the other.

[Illustration: A Venetian café.]

"Only about six months. I was married last July, and we went for a trip
abroad. We were married quietly, and left almost immediately afterwards,
so we thought, on our return, it would not be a bad plan to give a
Christmas Eve dinner, and invite some of our friends. That," he said,
hesitating a moment, "was last night. Shortly after dinner, I began to
feel rather ill, and went upstairs to rest for a while; and if what you
say is true, the first thing I knew I found myself dead."

"Alive," corrected the other.

"Well, alive, though at present I feel I belong more to the world I have
left than I do to the world I appear to be in. I must confess, although
you are a very plausible gentleman to talk to, that I expect at any
moment to wake and find this to have been one of the most horrible
nightmares that I ever had the ill luck to encounter."

The other smiled.

"There is very little danger of your waking up, as you call it. Now, I
will tell you the great trouble we have with people when they first come
to the spirit-land, and that is to induce them to forget entirely
the world they have relinquished. Men whose families are in poor
circumstances, or men whose affairs are in a disordered state, find it
very difficult to keep from trying to set things right again. They have
the feeling that they can console or comfort those whom they have left
behind them, and it is often a long time before they are convinced that
their efforts are entirely futile, as well as very distressing for
themselves."

"Is there, then," asked Brenton, "no communication between this world
and the one that I have given up?"

The other paused for a moment before he replied.

"I should hardly like to say," he answered, "that there is _no_
communication between one world and the other; but the communication
that exists is so slight and unsatisfactory, that if you are sensible
you will see things with the eyes of those who have very much more
experience in this world than you have. Of course, you can go back there
as much as you like; there will be no interference and no hindrance.
But when you see things going wrong, when you see a mistake about to
be made, it is an appalling thing to stand there helpless, unable to
influence those you love, or to point out a palpable error, and convince
them that your clearer sight sees it as such. Of course, I understand
that it must be very difficult for a man who is newly married, to
entirely abandon the one who has loved him, and whom he loves. But
I assure you that if you follow the life of one who is as young and
handsome as your wife, you will find some one else supplying the
consolations you are unable to bestow. Such a mission may lead you to a
church where she is married to her second husband. I regret to say that
even the most imperturbable spirits are ruffled when such an incident
occurs. The wise men are those who appreciate and understand that they
are in an entirely new world, with new powers and new limitations, and
who govern themselves accordingly from the first, as they will certainly
do later on."

"My dear sir," said Brenton, somewhat offended, "if what you say is
true, and I am really a dead man----"

"Alive," corrected the other.

"Well, alive, then. I may tell you that my wife's heart is broken. She
will never marry again."

"Of course, that is a subject of which you know a great deal more than I
do. I all the more strongly advise you never to see her again. It is
impossible for you to offer any consolation, and the sight of her grief
and misery will only result in unhappiness for yourself. Therefore, take
my advice. I have given it very often, and I assure you those who did
not take it expressed their regret afterwards. Hold entirely aloof from
anything relating to your former life."

Brenton was silent for some moments; finally he said--

"I presume your advice is well meant; but if things are as you state,
then I may as well say, first as last, that I do not intend to accept
it."

"Very well," said the other; "it is an experience that many prefer to go
through for themselves."

"Do you have names in this spirit-land?" asked Brenton, seemingly
desirous of changing the subject.

"Yes," was the answer; "we are known by names that we have used in the
preparatory school below. My name is Ferris."

"And if I wish to find you here, how do I set about it?"

"The wish is sufficient," answered Ferris. "Merely wish to be with me,
and you _are_ with me."

"Good gracious!" cried Brenton, "is locomotion so easy as that?"

"Locomotion is very easy. I do not think anything could be easier
than it is, and I do not think there could be any improvement in that
matter."

"Are there matters here, then, that you think could be improved?"

"As to that I shall not say. Perhaps you will be able to give your own
opinion before you have lived here much longer."

"Taking it all in all," said Brenton, "do you think the spirit-land is
to be preferred to the one we have left?"

"I like it better," said Ferris, "although I presume there are some
who do not. There are many advantages; and then, again, there are
many--well, I would not say disadvantages, but still some people
consider them such. We are free from the pangs of hunger or cold, and
have therefore no need of money, and there is no necessity for the rush
and the worry of the world below."

"And how about heaven and hell?" said Brenton. "Are those localities all
a myth? Is there nothing of punishment and nothing of reward in this
spirit-land?"

There was no answer to this, and when Brenton looked around he found
that his companion had departed.

[Illustration: Venice.]



CHAPTER III.


William Brenton pondered long on the situation. He would have known
better how to act if he could have been perfectly certain that he was
not still the victim of a dream. However, of one thing there was no
doubt--namely, that it was particularly harrowing to see what he had
seen in his own house. If it were true that he was dead, he said to
himself, was not the plan outlined for him by Ferris very much the wiser
course to adopt? He stood now in one of the streets of the city so
familiar to him. People passed and repassed him--men and women whom
he had known in life--but nobody appeared to see him. He resolved, if
possible, to solve the problem uppermost in his mind, and learn whether
or not he could communicate with an inhabitant of the world he had left.
He paused for a moment to consider the best method of doing this. Then
he remembered one of his most confidential friends and advisers, and at
once wished himself at his office. He found the office closed, but went
in to wait for his friend. Occupying the time in thinking over his
strange situation, he waited long, and only when the bells began to ring
did he remember it was Christmas forenoon, and that his friend would
not be at the office that day. The next moment he wished himself at his
friend's house, but he was as unsuccessful as at the office; the friend
was not at home. The household, however, was in great commotion, and,
listening to what was said, he found that the subject of conversation
was his own death, and he learned that his friend had gone to the
Brenton residence as soon as he heard the startling news of Christmas
morning.

Once more Brenton paused, and did not know what to do. He went again
into the street. Everything seemed to lead him toward his own home.
Although he had told Ferris that he did not intend to take his advice,
yet as a sensible man he saw that the admonition was well worth
considering, and if he could once become convinced that there was no
communication possible between himself and those he had left; if he
could give them no comfort and no cheer; if he could see the things
which they did not see, and yet be unable to give them warning, he
realized that he would merely be adding to his own misery, without
alleviating the troubles of others.

He wished he knew where to find Ferris, so that he might have another
talk with him. The man impressed him as being exceedingly sensible. No
sooner, however, had he wished for the company of Mr. Ferris than he
found himself beside that gentleman.

"By George!" he said in astonishment, "you are just the man I wanted to
see."

"Exactly," said Ferris; "that is the reason you do see me."

"I have been thinking over what you said," continued the other, "and it
strikes me that after all your advice is sensible."

"Thank you," replied Ferris, with something like a smile on his face.

"But there is one thing I want to be perfectly certain about. I want to
know whether it is not possible for me to communicate with my friends.
Nothing will settle that doubt in my mind except actual experience."

"And have you not had experience enough?" asked Ferris.

"Well," replied the other, hesitating, "I have had some experience, but
it seems to me that, if I encounter an old friend, I could somehow make
myself felt by him."

"In that case," answered Ferris, "if nothing will convince you but an
actual experiment, why don't you go to some of your old friends and try
what you can do with them?"

"I have just been to the office and to the residence of one of my old
friends. I found at his residence that he had gone to my"--Brenton
paused for a moment--"former home. Everything seems to lead me there,
and yet, if I take your advice, I must avoid that place of all others."

"I would at present, if I were you," said Ferris. "Still, why not try it
with any of the passers-by?"

Brenton looked around him. People were passing and repassing where the
two stood talking with each other. "Merry Christmas" was the word on all
lips. Finally Brenton said, with a look of uncertainty on his face--

"My dear fellow, I can't talk to any of these people. I don't know
them."

Ferris laughed at this, and replied--

"I don't think you will shock them very much; just try it."

"Ah, here's a friend of mine. You wait a moment, and I will accost him."
Approaching him, Brenton held out his hand and spoke, but the traveller
paid no attention. He passed by as one who had seen or heard nothing.

"I assure you," said Ferris, as he noticed the look of disappointment on
the other's face, "you will meet with a similar experience, however much
you try. You know the old saying about one not being able to have his
cake and eat it too. You can't have the privileges of this world and
those of the world you left as well. I think, taking it all in all, you
should rest content, although it always hurts those who have left the
other world not to be able to communicate with their friends, and at
least assure them of their present welfare."

"It does seem to me," replied Brenton, "that would be a great
consolation, both for those who are here and those who are left."

"Well, I don't know about that," answered the other. "After all, what
does life in the other world amount to? It is merely a preparation for
this. It is of so short a space, as compared with the life we live here,
that it is hardly worth while to interfere with it one way or another.
By the time you are as long here as I have been, you will realize the
truth of this."

"Perhaps I shall," said Brenton, with a sigh; "but, meanwhile, what am
I to do with myself? I feel like the man who has been all his life
in active business, and who suddenly resolves to enjoy himself doing
nothing. That sort of thing seems to kill a great number of men,
especially if they put off taking a rest until too late, as most of us
do."

"Well," said Ferris, "there is no necessity of your being idle here, I
assure you. But before you lay out any work for yourself, let me ask you
if there is not some interesting part of the world that you would like
to visit?"

"Certainly; I have seen very little of the world. That is one of my
regrets at leaving it."

"Bless me," said the other, "you haven't left it."

"Why, I thought you said I was a dead man?"

"On the contrary," replied his companion, "I have several times insisted
that you have just begun to live. Now where shall we spend the day?"

"How would London do?"

"I don't think it would do; London is apt to be a little gloomy at this
time of the year. But what do you say to Naples, or Japan, or, if you
don't wish to go out of the United States, Yellowstone Park?"

"Can we reach any of those places before the day is over?" asked
Brenton, dubiously.

"Well, I will soon show you how we manage all that. Just wish to
accompany me, and I will take you the rest of the way."

"How would Venice do?" said Brenton. "I didn't see half as much of that
city as I wanted to."

"Very well," replied his companion, "Venice it is;" and the American
city in which they stood faded away from them, and before Brenton could
make up his mind exactly what was happening, he found himself walking
with his comrade in St. Mark's Square.

"Well, for rapid transit," said Brenton, "this beats anything I've ever
had any idea of; but it increases the feeling that I am in a dream."

"You'll soon get used to it," answered Ferris; "and, when you do, the
cumbersome methods of travel in the world itself will show themselves in
their right light. Hello!" he cried, "here's a man whom I should
like you to meet. By the way, I either don't know your name or I have
forgotten it."

"William Brenton," answered the other.

"Mr. Speed, I want to introduce you to Mr. Brenton."

"Ah," said Speed, cordially, "a new-comer. One of your victims, Ferris?"

"Say one of his pupils, rather," answered Brenton.

[Illustration: In Venice.]

"Well, it is pretty much the same thing," said Speed. "How long have you
been with us, and how do you like the country?"

"You see, Mr. Brenton," interrupted Ferris, "John Speed was a newspaper
man, and he must ask strangers how they like the country. He has
inquired so often while interviewing foreigners for his paper that now
he cannot abandon his old phrase. Mr. Brenton has been with us but a
short time," continued Ferris, "and so you know, Speed, you can hardly
expect him to answer your inevitable question."

"What part of the country are you from?" asked Speed.

"Cincinnati," answered Brenton, feeling almost as if he were an American
tourist doing the continent of Europe.

"Cincinnati, eh? Well, I congratulate you. I do not know any place in
America that I would sooner die in, as they call it, than Cincinnati.
You see, I am a Chicago man myself."

Brenton did not like the jocular familiarity of the newspaper man, and
found himself rather astonished to learn that in the spirit-world there
were likes and dislikes, just as on earth.

"Chicago is a very enterprising city," he said, in a non-committal way.

"Chicago, my dear sir," said Speed, earnestly, "is _the_ city. You will
see that Chicago is going to be the great city of the world before you
are a hundred years older. By the way, Ferris," said the Chicago man,
suddenly recollecting something, "I have got Sommers over here with me."

"Ah!" said Ferris; "doing him any good?"

"Well, precious little, as far as I can see."

"Perhaps it would interest Mr. Brenton to meet him," said Ferris. "I
think, Brenton, you asked me a while ago if there was any hell here, or
any punishment. Mr. Speed can show you a man in hell."

"Really?" asked Brenton.

"Yes," said Speed; "I think if ever a man was in misery, he is. The
trouble with Sommers was this. He--well, he died of delirium tremens,
and so, of course, you know what the matter was. Sommers had drunk
Chicago whisky for thirty-five years straight along, and never added to
it the additional horror of Chicago water. You see what his condition
became, both physical and mental. Many people tried to reform Sommers,
because he was really a brilliant man; but it was no use. Thirst had
become a disease with him, and from the mental part of that disease,
although his physical yearning is now gone of course, he suffers.
Sommers would give his whole future for one glass of good old Kentucky
whisky. He sees it on the counters, he sees men drink it, and he stands
beside them in agony. That's why I brought him over here. I thought that
he wouldn't see the colour of whisky as it sparkles in the glass; but
now he is in the Café Quadra watching men drink. You may see him sitting
there with all the agony of unsatisfied desire gleaming from his face."

"And what do you do with a man like that?" asked Brenton.

"Do? Well, to tell the truth, there is nothing _to_ do. I took him away
from Chicago, hoping to ease his trouble a little; but it has had no
effect."

"It will come out all right by-and-by," said Ferris, who noticed the
pained look on Brenton's face. "It is the period of probation that
he has to pass through. It will wear off. He merely goes through the
agonies he would have suffered on earth if he had suddenly been deprived
of his favourite intoxicant."

"Well," said Speed, "you won't come with me, then? All right, good-bye.
I hope to see you again, Mr. Brenton," and with that they separated.

Brenton spent two or three days in Venice, but all the time the old home
hunger was upon him. He yearned for news of Cincinnati. He wanted to be
back, and several times the wish brought him there, but he instantly
returned. At last he said to Ferris--

"I am tired. I must go home. I have _got_ to see how things are going."

"I wouldn't if I were you," replied Ferris.

"No, I know you wouldn't. Your temperament is indifferent. I would
rather be miserable with knowledge than happy in ignorance. Good-bye."

It was evening when he found himself in Cincinnati. The weather was
bright and clear, and apparently cold. Men's feet crisped on the frozen
pavement, and the streets had that welcome, familiar look which they
always have to the returned traveller when he reaches the city he calls
his home. The newsboys were rushing through the streets yelling their
papers at the top of their voices. He heard them, but paid little
attention.

"All about the murder! Latest edition! All about the poison case!"

He felt that he must have a glimpse at a paper, and, entering the office
of an hotel where a man was reading one, he glanced over his shoulder
at the page before him, and was horror-stricken to see the words in
startling headlines--

                             THE BRENTON MURDER.
            _The Autopsy shows that Morphine was the Poison used.
                  Enough found to have killed a Dozen Men.
               Mrs. Brenton arrested for Committing the Horrible
                                    Deed_.

[Illustration: The Brenton Murder.]



CHAPTER IV.


For a moment Brenton was so bewildered and amazed at the awful headlines
which he read, that he could hardly realize what had taken place.
The fact that he had been poisoned, although it gave him a strange
sensation, did not claim his attention as much as might have been
thought. Curiously enough he was more shocked at finding himself, as
it were, the talk of the town, the central figure of a great newspaper
sensation. But the thing that horrified him was the fact that his wife
had been arrested for his murder. His first impulse was to go to her at
once, but he next thought it better to read what the paper said about
the matter, so as to become possessed of all the facts. The headlines,
he said to himself, often exaggerated things, and there was a
possibility that the body of the article would not bear out the naming
announcement above it. But as he read on and on, the situation seemed
to become more and more appalling. He saw that his friends had been
suspicious of his sudden death, and had insisted on a post-mortem
examination. That examination had been conducted by three of the most
eminent physicians of Cincinnati, and the three doctors had practically
agreed that the deceased, in the language of the verdict, had come to
his death through morphia poisoning, and the coroner's jury had brought
in a verdict that "the said William Brenton had been poisoned by some
person unknown." Then the article went on to state how suspicion had
gradually fastened itself upon his wife, and at last her arrest had been
ordered. The arrest had taken place that day.

[Illustration: Mrs. Brenton.]

After reading this, Brenton was in an agony of mind. He pictured his
dainty and beautiful wife in a stone cell in the city prison. He foresaw
the horrors of the public trial, and the deep grief and pain which
the newspaper comments on the case would cause to a woman educated and
refined. Of course, Brenton had not the slightest doubt in his own mind
about the result of the trial. His wife would be triumphantly acquitted;
but, all the same, the terrible suspense which she must suffer in the
meanwhile would not be compensated for by the final verdict of the jury.

Brenton at once went to the jail, and wandered through that gloomy
building, searching for his wife. At last he found her, but it was in
a very comfortable room in the sheriffs residence. The terror and the
trials of the last few days had aged her perceptibly, and it cut Brenton
to the heart to think that he stood there before her, and could not by
any means say a soothing word that she would understand. That she had
wept many bitter tears since the terrible Christmas morning was evident;
there were dark circles under her beautiful eyes that told of sleepless
nights. She sat in a comfortable armchair, facing the window; and looked
steadily out at the dreary winter scene with eyes that apparently saw
nothing. Her hands lay idly on her lap, and now and then she caught her
breath in a way that was half a sob and half a gasp.

Presently the sheriff himself entered the room.

"Mrs. Brenton," he said, "there is a gentleman here who wishes to see
you. Mr. Roland, he tells me his name is, an old friend of yours. Do you
care to see any one?"

The lady turned her head slowly round, and looked at the sheriff for a
moment, seemingly not understanding what he said. Finally she answered,
dreamily--

"Roland? Oh, Stephen! Yes, I shall be very glad to see him. Ask him to
come in, please."

The next moment Stephen Roland entered, and somehow the fact that he had
come to console Mrs. Brenton did not at all please the invisible man who
stood between them.

"My dear Mrs. Brenton," began Roland, "I hope you are feeling better
to-day? Keep up your courage, and be brave. It is only for a very short
time. I have retained the noted criminal lawyers, Benham and Brown, for
the defence. You could not possibly have better men."

At the word "criminal" Mrs. Brenton shuddered.

"Alice," continued Roland, sitting down near her, and drawing his chair
closer to her, "tell me that you will not lose your courage. I want you
to be brave, for the sake of your friends."

He took her listless hand in his own, and she did not withdraw it.

Brenton felt passing over him the pangs of impotent rage, as he saw this
act on the part of Roland.

Roland had been an unsuccessful suitor for the hand which he now held
in his own, and Brenton thought it the worst possible taste, to say the
least, that he should take advantage now of her terrible situation to
ingratiate himself into her favour.

The nearest approach to a quarrel that Brenton and his wife had had
during their short six months of wedded life was on the subject of the
man who now held her hand in his own. It made Brenton impatient to think
that a woman with all her boasted insight into character, her instincts
as to what was right and what was wrong, had such little real intuition
that she did not see into the character of the man whom they were
discussing; but a woman never thinks it a crime for a man to have been
in love with her, whatever opinion of that man her husband may hold.

"It is awful! awful! awful!" murmured the poor lady, as the tears again
rose to her eyes.

"Of course it is," said Roland; "it is particularly awful that they
should accuse you, of all persons in the world, of this so-called crime.
For my part I do not believe that he was poisoned at all, but we will
soon straighten things out. Benham and Brown will give up everything
and devote their whole attention to this case until it is finished.
Everything will be done that money or friends can do, and all that we
ask is that you keep up your courage, and do not be downcast with the
seeming awfulness of the situation."

Mrs. Brenton wept silently, but made no reply. It was evident, however,
that she was consoled by the words and the presence of her visitor.
Strange as it may appear, this fact enraged Brenton, although he had
gone there for the very purpose of cheering and comforting his wife. All
the bitterness he had felt before against his former rival was revived,
and his rage was the more agonizing because it was inarticulate. Then
there flashed over him Ferris's sinister advice to leave things alone in
the world that he had left. He felt that he could stand this no longer,
and the next instant he found himself again in the wintry streets of
Cincinnati.

The name of the lawyers, Benham and Brown, kept repeating itself in his
mind, and he resolved to go to their office and hear, if he could, what
preparations were being made for the defence of a woman whom he knew to
be innocent. He found, when he got to the office of these noted lawyers,
that the two principals were locked in their private room; and going
there, he found them discussing the case with the coolness and
impersonal feeling that noted lawyers have even when speaking of issues
that involve life or death.

"Yes," Benham was saying, "I think that, unless anything new turns up,
that is the best line of defence we can adopt."

"What do you think might turn up?" asked Brown.

"Well, you can never tell in these cases. They may find something
else--they may find the poison, for instance, or the package that
contained it. Perhaps a druggist will remember having sold it to this
woman, and then, of course, we shall have to change our plans. I need
not say that it is strictly necessary in this case to give out no
opinions whatever to newspaper men. The papers will be full of rumours,
and it is just as well if we can keep our line of defence hidden until
the time for action comes."

"Still," said Brown, who was the younger partner, "it is as well to keep
in with the newspaper fellows; they'll be here as soon as they find we
have taken charge of the defence."

"Well, I have no doubt you can deal with them in such a way as to give
them something to write up, and yet not disclose anything we do not wish
known."

"I think you can trust me to do that," said Brown, with a self-satisfied
air.

"I shall leave that part of the matter entirely in your hands," replied
Benham. "It is better not to duplicate or mix matters, and if any
newspaper man comes to see me I will refer him to you. I will say I know
nothing of the case whatever."

"Very well," answered Brown. "Now, between ourselves, what do you think
of the case?"

[Illustration]

"Oh, it will make a great sensation. I think it will probably be one of
the most talked-of cases that we have ever been connected with."

"Yes, but what do you think of her guilt or innocence?"

"As to that," said Benham, calmly, "I haven't the slightest doubt. She
murdered him."

As he said this, Brenton, forgetting himself for a moment, sprang
forward as if to strangle the lawyer. The statement Benham had made
seemed the most appalling piece of treachery. That men should take a
woman's money for defending her, and actually engage in a case when they
believed their client guilty, appeared to Brenton simply infamous.

"I agree with you," said Brown. "Of course she was the only one to
benefit by his death. The simple fool willed everything to her, and she
knew it; and his doing so is the more astounding when you remember he
was quite well aware that she had a former lover whom she would gladly
have married if he had been as rich as Brenton. The supreme idiocy of
some men as far as their wives are concerned is something awful."

[Illustration: Publicity.]

"Yes," answered Benham, "it is. But I tell you, Brown, she is no
ordinary woman. The very conception of that murder had a stroke of
originality about it that I very much admire. I do not remember anything
like it in the annals of crime. It is the true way in which a murder
should be committed. The very publicity of the occasion was a safeguard.
Think of poisoning a man at a dinner that he has given himself, in the
midst of a score of friends. I tell you that there was a dash of bravery
about it that commands my admiration."

"Do you imagine Roland had anything to do with it?"

"Well, I had my doubts about that at first, but I think he is innocent,
although from what I know of the man he will not hesitate to share the
proceeds of the crime. You mark my words, they will be married within
a year from now if she is acquitted. I believe Roland knows her to be
guilty."

"I thought as much," said Brown, "by his actions here, and by some
remarks he let drop. Anyhow, our credit in the affair will be all the
greater if we succeed in getting her off. Yes," he continued, rising and
pushing back his chair, "Madam Brenton is a murderess."



CHAPTER V.


Brenton found himself once more in the streets of Cincinnati, in a state
of mind that can hardly be described. Rage and grief struggled for the
mastery, and added to the tumult of these passions was the uncertainty
as to what he should do, or what he _could_ do. He could hardly ask the
advice of Ferris again, for his whole trouble arose from his neglect of
the counsel that gentleman had already given him. In his new sphere he
did not know where to turn. He found himself wondering whether in the
spirit-land there was any firm of lawyers who could advise him, and he
remembered then how singularly ignorant he was regarding the conditions
of existence in the world to which he now belonged. However, he felt
that he must consult with somebody, and Ferris was the only one to whom
he could turn. A moment later he was face to face with him.

"Mr. Ferris," he said, "I am in the most grievous trouble, and I come to
you in the hope that, if you cannot help me, you can at least advise me
what to do."

"If your trouble has come," answered Ferris, with a shade of irony in
his voice, "through following the advice that I have already given you,
I shall endeavour, as well as I am able, to help you out of it."

"You know very well," cried Brenton, hotly, "that my whole trouble
has occurred through neglecting your advice, or, at least, through
deliberately not following it. I _could_ not follow it."

"Very well, then," said Ferris, "I am not surprised that you are in a
difficulty. You must remember that such a crisis is an old story with us
here."

"But, my dear sir," said Brenton, "look at the appalling condition of
things, the knowledge of which has just come to me. It seems I was
poisoned, but of course that doesn't matter. I feel no resentment
against the wretch who did it. But the terrible thing is that my wife
has been arrested for the crime, and I have just learned that her own
lawyers actually believe her guilty."

"That fact," said Ferris, calmly, "will not interfere with their
eloquent pleading when the case comes to trial."

Brenton glared at the man who was taking things so coolly, and who
proved himself so unsympathetic; but an instant after he realized the
futility of quarrelling with the only person who could give him advice,
so he continued, with what patience he could command--

"The situation is this: My wife has been arrested for the crime of
murdering me. She is now in the custody of the sheriff. Her trouble and
anxiety of mind are fearful to contemplate."

"My dear sir," said Ferris, "there is no reason why you or anybody else
should contemplate it."

"How can you talk in that cold-blooded way?" cried Brenton, indignantly.
"Could you see _your_ wife, or any one _you_ held dear, incarcerated for
a dreadful crime, and yet remain calm and collected, as you now appear
to be when you hear of another's misfortune?"

"My dear fellow," said Ferris, "of course it is not to be expected that
one who has had so little experience with this existence should have any
sense of proportion. You appear to be speaking quite seriously. You do
not seem at all to comprehend the utter triviality of all this."

"Good gracious!" cried Brenton, "do you call it a trivial thing that a
woman is in danger of her life for a crime which she never committed?"

"If she is innocent," said the other, in no way moved by the indignation
of his comrade, "surely that state of things will be brought out in the
courts, and no great harm will be done, even looking at things from the
standpoint of the world you have left. But I want you to get into the
habit of looking at things from the standpoint of this world, and not
of the other. Suppose that what you would call the worst should
happen--suppose she is hanged--what then?"

Brenton stood simply speechless with indignation at this brutal remark.

"If you will just look at things correctly," continued Ferris,
imperturbably, "you will see that there is probably a moment of anguish,
perhaps not even that moment, and then your wife is here with you in the
land of spirits. I am sure that is a consummation devoutly to be wished.
Even a man in your state of mind must see the reasonableness of this.
Now, looking at the question in what you would call its most serious
aspect, see how little it amounts to. It isn't worth a moment's thought,
whichever way it goes."

"You think nothing, then, of the disgrace of such a death--of the bitter
injustice of it?"

[Illustration: The broken toy.]

"When you were in the world did you ever see a child cry over a broken
toy? Did the sight pain you to any extent? Did you not know that a new
toy could be purchased that would quite obliterate all thoughts of the
other? Did the simple griefs of childhood carry any deep and lasting
consternation to the mind of a grown-up man? Of course it did not. You
are sensible enough to know that. Well, we here in this world look on
the pain and struggles and trials of people in the world you have left,
just as an aged man looks on the tribulations of children over a broken
doll. That is all it really amounts to. That is what I mean when I say
that you have not yet got your sense of proportion. Any grief and misery
there is in the world you have left is of such an ephemeral, transient
nature, that when we think for a moment of the free, untrammelled,
and painless life there is beyond, those petty troubles sink into
insignificance. My dear fellow, be sensible, take my advice. I have
really a strong interest in you, and I advise you, entirely for your own
welfare, to forget all about it. Very soon you will have something much
more important to do than lingering around the world you have left. If
your wife comes amongst us I am sure you will be glad to welcome her,
and to teach her the things that you will have already found out of your
new life. If she does not appear, then you will know that, even from the
old-world standpoint, things have gone what you would call 'all right.'
Let these trivial matters go, and attend to the vastly more important
concerns that will soon engage your attention here."

Ferris talked earnestly, and it was evident, even to Brenton, that he
meant what he said. It was hard to find a pretext for a quarrel with a
man at once so calm and so perfectly sure of himself.

"We will not talk any more about it," said Brenton. "I presume people
here agree to differ, just as they did in the world we have both left."

"Certainly, certainly," answered Ferris. "Of course, you have just heard
my opinion; but you will find myriads of others who do not share it with
me. You will meet a great many who are interested in the subject of
communication with the world they have left. You will, of course, excuse
me when I say that I consider such endeavours not worth talking about."

"Do you know any one who is interested in that sort of thing? and can
you give me an introduction to him?"

"Oh! for that matter," said Ferris, "you have had an introduction to one
of the most enthusiastic investigators of the subject. I refer to Mr.
John Speed, late of Chicago."

"Ah!" said Brenton, rather dubiously. "I must confess that I was
not very favourably impressed with Mr. Speed. Probably I did him an
injustice."

"You certainly did," said Ferris. "You will find Speed a man well worth
knowing, even if he does waste himself on such futile projects as a
scheme for communicating with a community so evanescent as that of
Chicago. You will like Speed better the more you know him. He really is
very philanthropic, and has Sommers on his hands just now. From what he
said after you left Venice, I imagine he does not entertain the same
feeling toward you as you do toward him. I would see Speed if I were
you."

"I will think about it," said Brenton, as they separated.

To know that a man thinks well of a person is no detriment to further
acquaintance with that man, even if the first impressions have not been
favourable; and after Ferris told Brenton that Speed had thought well of
him, Brenton found less difficulty in seeking the Chicago enthusiast.

"I have been in a good deal of trouble," Brenton said to Speed, "and
have been talking to Ferris about it. I regret to say that he gave me
very little encouragement, and did not seem at all to appreciate my
feelings in the matter."

"Oh, you mustn't mind Ferris," said Speed. "He is a first-rate fellow,
but he is as cold and unsympathetic as--well, suppose we say as an
oyster. His great hobby is non-intercourse with the world we have left.
Now, in that I don't agree with him, and there are thousands who don't
agree with him. I admit that there are cases where a man is more unhappy
if he frequents the old world than he would be if he left it alone. But
then there are other cases where just the reverse is true. Take my own
experience, for example; I take a peculiar pleasure in rambling around
Chicago. I admit that it is a grievance to me, as an old newspaper man,
to see the number of scoops I could have on my esteemed contemporaries,
but--"

"Scoop? What is that?" asked Brenton, mystified.

"Why, a scoop is a beat, you know."

"Yes, but I don't know. What is a beat?"

"A beat or a scoop, my dear fellow, is the getting of a piece of news
that your contemporary does not obtain. You never were in the newspaper
business? Well, sir, you missed it. Greatest business in the world. You
know everything that is going on long before anybody else does, and the
way you can reward your friends and jump with both feet on your enemies
is one of the delights of existence down there."

"Well, what I wanted to ask you was this," said Brenton. "You have made
a speciality of finding out whether there could be any communication
between one of us, for instance, and one who is an inhabitant of the
other world. Is such communication possible?"

"I have certainly devoted some time to it, but I can't say that my
success has been flattering. My efforts have been mostly in the line of
news. I have come on some startling information which my facilities here
gave me access to, and I confess I have tried my best to put some of the
boys on to it. But there is a link loose somewhere. Now, what is your
trouble? Do you want to get a message to anybody?"

"My trouble is this," said Brenton, briefly, "I am here because a few
days ago I was poisoned."

"George Washington!" cried the other, "you don't say so! Have the
newspapers got on to the fact?"

"I regret to say that they have."

"What an item that would have been if one paper had got hold of it and
the others hadn't! I suppose they all got on to it at the same time?"

"About that," said Brenton, "I don't know, and I must confess that I do
not care very much. But here is the trouble--my wife has been arrested
for my murder, and she is as innocent as I am."

"Sure of that?"

"_Sure_ of it?" cried the other indignantly. "Of course I am sure of
it."

"Then who is the guilty person?"

"Ah, that," said Brenton, "I do not yet know."

"Then how can you be sure she is not guilty?"

"If you talk like that," exclaimed Brenton, "I have nothing more to
say."

"Now, don't get offended, I beg of you. I am merely looking at this from
a newspaper standpoint, you know. You must remember it is not you
who will decide the matter, but a jury of your very stupid
fellow-countrymen. Now, you can never tell what a jury _will_ do, except
that it will do something idiotic. Therefore, it seems to me that the
very first step to be taken is to find out who the guilty party is.
Don't you see the force of that?"

"Yes, I do."

"Very well, then. Now, what were the circumstances of this crime? who
was to profit by your death?"

Brenton winced at this.

"I see how it is," said the other, "and I understand why you don't
answer. Now--you'll excuse me if I am frank--your wife was the one who
benefited most by your death, was she not?"

"No," cried the other indignantly, "she was not the one. That is what
the lawyers said. Why in the world should she want to poison me, when
she had all my wealth at her command as it was?"

"Yes, that's a strong point," said Speed. "You were a reasonably good
husband, I suppose? Rather generous with the cash?"

"Generous?" cried the other. "My wife always had everything she wanted."

"Ah, well, there was no--you'll excuse me, I am sure--no former lover in
the case, was there?"

Again Brenton winced, and he thought of Roland sitting beside his wife
with her hand in his.

"I see," said Speed; "you needn't answer. Now what were the
circumstances, again?"

"They were these: At a dinner which I gave, where some twenty or
twenty-five of my friends were assembled, poison, it appears, was put
into my cup of coffee. That is all I know of it."

"Who poured out that cup of coffee?"

"My wife did."

"Ah! Now, I don't for a moment say she is guilty, remember; but you must
admit that, to a stupid jury, the case _might_ look rather bad against
her."

"Well, granted that it does, there is all the more need that I should
come to her assistance if possible."

"Certainly, certainly!" said Speed. "Now, I'll tell you what we have
to do. We must get, if possible, one of the very brightest Chicago
reporters on the track of this thing, and we have to get him on the
track of it early. Come with me to Chicago. We will try an experiment,
and I am sure you will lend your mind entirely to the effort. We must
act in conjunction in this affair, and you are just the man I've been
wanting, some one who is earnest and who has something at stake in the
matter. We may fail entirely, but I think it's worth the trying. Will
you come?"

"Certainly," said Brenton; "and I cannot tell you how much I appreciate
your interest and sympathy."

Arriving at a brown stone building on the corner of two of the principal
streets in Chicago, Brenton and Speed ascended quickly to one of the top
floors. It was nearly midnight, and two upper stories of the huge dark
building were brilliantly lighted, as was shown on the outside by the
long rows of glittering windows. They entered a room where a man was
seated at a table, with coat and vest thrown off, and his hat set well
back on his head. Cold as it was outside, it was warm in this man's
room, and the room was blue with smoke. A black corn-cob pipe was in his
teeth, and the man was writing away as if for dear life, on sheets of
coarse white copy paper, stopping now and then to fill up his pipe or to
relight it after it had gone out.

"There," said Speed, waving his hand towards the writer with a certain
air of proprietory pride, "there sits one of the very cleverest men on
the Chicago press. That fellow, sir, is gifted with a nose for news
which has no equal in America. He will ferret out a case that he once
starts on with an unerringness that would charm you. Yes, sir, I got him
his present situation on this paper, and I can tell you it was a good
one."

"He must have been a warm friend of yours?" said Brenton, indifferently,
as if he did not take much interest in the eulogy.

"Quite the contrary," said Speed. "He was a warm enemy, made it mighty
warm for _me_ sometimes. He was on an opposition paper, but I tell you,
although I was no chicken in newspaper business, that man would scoop
the daylight out of me any time he tried. So, to get rid of opposition,
I got the managing editor to appoint him to a place on our paper; and
I tell you, he has never regretted it. Yes, sir, there sits George
Stratton, a man who knows his business. Now," he said, "let us
concentrate our attention on him. First let us see whether, by putting
our whole minds to it, we can make any impression on _his_ mind
whatever. You see how busily he is engaged. He is thoroughly absorbed in
his work. That is George all over. Whatever his assignment is, George
throws himself right into it, and thinks of nothing else until it is
finished. _Now_ then."

In that dingy, well-lighted room George Stratton sat busily pencilling
out the lines that were to appear in next morning's paper. He was
evidently very much engrossed in his task, as Speed had said. If he
had looked about him, which he did not, he would have said that he was
entirely alone. All at once his attention seemed to waver, and he passed
his hand over his brow, while perplexity came into his face. Then he
noticed that his pipe was out, and, knocking the ashes from it by
rapping the bowl on the side of the table, he filled it with an
absent-mindedness unusual with him. Again he turned to his writing, and
again he passed his hand over his brow. Suddenly, without any apparent
cause, he looked first to the right and then to the left of him. Once
more he tried to write, but, noticing his pipe was out, he struck
another match and nervously puffed away, until clouds of blue smoke rose
around him. There was a look of annoyance and perplexity in his face as
he bent resolutely to his writing. The door opened, and a man appeared
on the threshold.

"Anything more about the convention, George?" he said.

"Yes; I am just finishing this. Sort of pen pictures, you know."

"Perhaps you can let me have what you have done. I'll fix it up."

"All right," said Stratton, bunching up the manuscript in front of him,
and handing it to the city editor.

That functionary looked at the number of pages, and then at the writer.

"Much more of this, George?" he said. "We'll be a little short of room
in the morning, you know."

"Well," said the other, sitting back in his chair, "it is pretty good
stuff that. Folks always like the pen pictures of men engaged in the
skirmish better than the reports of what most of them say."

"Yes," said the city editor, "that's so."

"Still," said Stratton, "we could cut it off at the last page. Just let
me see the last two pages, will you?"

These were handed to him, and, running his eye through them, he drew his
knife across one of the pages, and put at the bottom the cabalistic mark
which indicated the end of the copy.

"There! I think I will let it go at that. Old Rickenbeck don't amount to
much, anyhow. We'll let him go."

"All right," said the city editor. "I think we won't want anything more
to-night."

[Illustration: "She's pretty as a picture."]

Stratton put his hands behind his head, with his fingers interlaced, and
leaned back in his chair, placing his heels upon the table before him.
A thought-reader, looking at his face, could almost have followed the
theme that occupied his mind. Suddenly bringing his feet down with a
crash to the floor, he rose and went into the city editor's room.

"See here," he said. "Have you looked into that Cincinnati case at all?"

"What Cincinnati case?" asked the local editor, looking up.

"Why, that woman who is up for poisoning her husband."

"Oh yes; we had something of it in the despatches this morning. It's
rather out of the local line, you know."

"Yes, I know it is. But it isn't out of the paper's line. I tell you
that case is going to make a sensation. She's pretty as a picture. Been
married only six months, and it seems to be a dead sure thing that
she poisoned her husband. That trial's going to make racy reading,
especially if they bring in a verdict of guilty."

The city editor looked interested.

"Want to go down there, George?"

"Well, do you know, I think it'll pay."

"Let me see, this is the last day of the convention, isn't it? And Clark
comes back from his vacation to-morrow. Well, if you think it's worth
it, take a trip down there, and look the ground over, and give us a
special article that we can use on the first day of the trial."

"I'll do it," said George.

       *       *       *       *       *

Speed looked at Brenton.

"What would old Ferris say _now_, eh?"



CHAPTER VI.


Next morning George Stratton was on the railway train speeding towards
Cincinnati. As he handed to the conductor his mileage book, he did not
say to him, lightly transposing the old couplet--

  "Here, railroad man, take thrice thy fee,
  For spirits twain do ride with me."

George Stratton was a practical man, and knew nothing of spirits, except
those which were in a small flask in his natty little valise.

When he reached Cincinnati, he made straight for the residence of the
sheriff. He felt that his first duty was to become friends with such an
important official. Besides this, he wished to have an interview with
the prisoner. He had arranged in his mind, on the way there, just how he
would write a preliminary article that would whet the appetite of the
readers of the Chicago _Argus_ for any further developments that might
occur during and after the trial. He would write the whole thing in the
form of a story.

[Illustration: "Raising the veil."]

First, there would be a sketch of the life of Mrs. Brenton and her
husband. This would be number one, and above it would be the Roman
numeral I. Under the heading II. would be a history of the crime. Under
III. what had occurred afterwards--the incidents that had led suspicion
towards the unfortunate woman, and that sort of thing. Under the numeral
IV. would be his interview with the prisoner, if he were fortunate
enough to get one. Under V. he would give the general opinion of
Cincinnati on the crime, and on the guilt or innocence of Mrs. Brenton.
This article he already saw in his mind's eye occupying nearly half a
page of the _Argus_. All would be in leaded type, and written in a style
and manner that would attract attention, for he felt that he was
first on the ground, and would not have the usual rush in preparing
his copy which had been the bane of his life. It would give the
_Argus_ practically the lead in this case, which he was convinced
would become one of national importance.

The sheriff received him courteously, and, looking at the card he
presented, saw the name Chicago _Argus_ in the corner. Then he stood
visibly on his guard--an attitude assumed by all wise officials when
they find themselves brought face to face with a newspaper man; for
they know, however carefully an article may be prepared, it will likely
contain some unfortunate overlooked phrase which may have a damaging
effect in a future political campaign.

"I wanted to see you," began Stratton, coming straight to the point, "in
reference to the Brenton murder."

"I may say at once," replied the sheriff, "that if you wish an interview
with the prisoner, it is utterly impossible, because her lawyers, Benham
and Brown, have positively forbidden her to see a newspaper man."

"That shows," said Stratton, "they are wise men who understand their
business. Nevertheless, I wish to have an interview with Mrs. Brenton.
But what I wanted to say to you is this: I believe the case will be very
much talked about, and that before many weeks are over. Of course you
know the standing the _Argus_ has in newspaper circles. What it says
will have an influence, even over the Cincinnati press. I think you will
admit that. Now a great many newspaper men consider an official their
natural enemy. I do not; at least, I do not until I am forced to. Any
reference that I may make to you I am more than willing to submit to you
before it goes to Chicago. I will give you my word, if you want it, that
nothing will be said referring to your official position, or to yourself
personally, that you do not see before it appears in print. Of course
you will be up for re-election. I never met a sheriff who wasn't."

The sheriff smiled at this, and did not deny it.

"Very well. Now, I may tell you my belief is that this case is going
to have a powerful influence on your re-election. Here is a young and
pretty woman who is to be tried for a terrible crime. Whether she is
guilty or innocent, public sympathy is going to be with her. If I were
in your place, I would prefer to be known as her friend rather than as
her enemy."

"My dear sir," said the sheriff, "my official position puts me in the
attitude of neither friend nor enemy of the unfortunate woman. I have
simply a certain duty to do, and that duty I intend to perform."

"Oh, that's all right!" exclaimed the newspaper man, jauntily. "I, for
one, am not going to ask you to take a step outside your duties; but an
official may do his duty, and yet, at the same time, do a friendly act
for a newspaper man, or even for a prisoner. In the language of the old
chestnut, 'If you don't help me, don't help the bear.' That's all I
ask."

"You maybe sure, Mr. Stratton, that anything I can do to help you I
shall be glad to do; and now let me give you a hint. If you want to see
Mrs. Brenton, the best thing is to get permission from her lawyers. If
I were you I would not see Benham--he's rather a hard nut, Benham is,
although you needn't tell him I said so. You get on the right side of
Brown. Brown has some political aspirations himself, and he does not
want to offend a man on so powerful a paper as the _Argus_, even if it
is not a Cincinnati paper. Now, if you make him the same offer you have
made to me, I think it will be all right. If he sees your copy before it
goes into print, and if you keep your word with him that nothing will
appear that he does _not_ see, I think you will succeed in getting an
interview with Mrs. Brenton. If you bring me a note from Brown, I shall
be very glad to allow you to see her."

Stratton thanked the sheriff for his hint. He took down in his note-book
the address of the lawyers, and the name especially of Mr. Brown. The
two men shook hands, and Stratton felt that they understood each other.

When Mr. Stratton was ushered into the private office of Brown, and
handed that gentleman his card, he noticed the lawyer perceptibly freeze
over.

"Ahem," said the legal gentleman; "you will excuse me if I say that my
time is rather precious. Did you wish to see me professionally?"

"Yes," replied Stratton, "that is, from a newspaper standpoint of the
profession."

"Ah," said the other, "in reference to what?"

"To the Brenton case."

"Well, my dear sir, I have had, very reluctantly, to refuse information
that I would have been happy to give, if I could, to our own newspaper
men; and so I may say to you at once that I scarcely think it will
be possible for me to be of any service to an outside paper like the
_Argus_"

"Local newspaper men," said Stratton, "represent local fame. That
you already possess. I represent national fame, which, if you will
excuse my saying so, you do not yet possess. The fact that I am in
Cincinnati to-day, instead of in Chicago, shows what we Chicago people
think of the Cincinnati case. I believe, and the _Argus_ believes, that
this case is going to be one of national importance. Now, let me ask you
one question. Will you state frankly what your objection is to having
a newspaper man, for instance, interview Mrs. Brenton, or get any
information relating to this case from her or others whom you have the
power of controlling?"

"I shall answer that question," said Brown, "as frankly as you put
it. You are a man of the world, and know, of course, that we are all
selfish, and in business matters look entirely after our own interests.
My interest in this case is to defend my client. Your interest in
this case is to make a sensational article. You want to get facts if
possible, but, in any event, you want to write up a readable column or
two for your paper. Now, if I allowed you to see Mrs. Brenton, she might
say something to you, and you might publish it, that would not only
endanger her chances, but would seriously embarrass us, as her lawyers,
in our defence of the case."

"You have stated the objection very plainly and forcibly," said
Stratton, with a look of admiration, as if the powerful arguments of
the lawyer had had a great effect on him. "Now, if I understand your
argument, it simply amounts to this, that you would have no objection to
my interviewing Mrs. Brenton if you have the privilege of editing the
copy. In other words, if nothing were printed but what you approve
of, you would not have the slightest hesitancy about allowing me that
interview."

"No, I don't know that I would," admitted the lawyer.

"Very well, then. Here is my proposition to you: I am here to look after
the interests of our paper in this particular case. The _Argus_ is
probably going to be the first paper outside of Cincinnati that will
devote a large amount of space to the Brenton trial, in addition to what
is received from the Associated Press dispatches. Now you can give me a
great many facilities in this matter if you care to do so, and in return
I am perfectly willing to submit to you every line of copy that concerns
you or your client before it is sent, and I give you my word of honour
that nothing shall appear but what you have seen and approved of. If
you want to cut out something that I think is vitally important, then I
shall tell you frankly that I intend to print it, but will modify it as
much as I possibly can to suit your views."

"I see," said the lawyer. "In other words, as you have just remarked,
I am to give you special facilities in this matter, and then, when you
find out some fact which I wish kept secret, and which you have obtained
because of the facilities I have given to you, you will quite frankly
tell me that it must go in, and then, of course, I shall be helpless
except to debar you from any further facilities, as you call them. No,
sir, I do not care to make any such bargain."

"Well, suppose I strike out that clause of agreement, and say to you
that I will send nothing but what you approve of, would you then write
me a note to the sheriff and allow me to see the prisoner?"

"I am sorry to say"--the lawyer hesitated for a moment, and glanced at
the card, then added--"Mr. Stratton, that I do not see my way clear to
granting your request."

"I think," said Stratton, rising, "that you are doing yourself an
injustice. You are refusing--I may as well tell you first as last--what
is a great privilege. Now, you have had some experience in your
business, and I have had some experience in mine, and I beg to inform
you that men who are much more prominent in the history of their country
than any one I can at present think of in Cincinnati, have tried to balk
me in the pursuit of my business, and have failed."

"In that matter, of course," said Brown, "I must take my chances. I
don't see the use of prolonging this interview. As you have been so
frank as to--I won't say threaten, perhaps warn is the better word--as
you have been so good as to warn me, I may, before we part, just give
_you_ a word of caution. Of course we, in Cincinnati, are perfectly
willing to admit that Chicago people are the smartest on earth, but I
may say that if you print a word in your paper which is untrue and which
is damaging to our side of the case, or if you use any methods that
are unlawful in obtaining the information you so much desire, you will
certainly get your paper into trouble, and you will run some little
personal risk yourself."

"Well, as you remarked a moment ago, Mr. Brown, I shall have to take the
chances of that. I am here to get the news, and if I don't succeed it
will be the first time in my life."

"Very well, sir," said the lawyer. "I wish you good evening."

"Just one thing more," said the newspaper man, "before I leave you."

"My dear sir," said the lawyer, impatiently, "I am very busy. I've
already given you a liberal share of my time. I must request that this
interview end at once."

"I thought," said Mr. Stratton, calmly, "that perhaps you might be
interested in the first article that I am going to write. I shall devote
one column in the _Argus_ of the day after to-morrow to your defence of
the case, and whether your theory of defence is a tenable one or not."

Mr. Brown pushed back his chair and looked earnestly at the young man.
That individual was imperturbably pulling on his gloves, and at the
moment was buttoning one of them.

"Our _defence_!" cried the lawyer. "What do you know of our defence?"

"My dear sir," said Stratton, "I know _all_ about it."

"Sir, that is impossible. Nobody knows what our defence is to be except
Mr. Benham and myself."

"And Mr. Stratton, of the Chicago _Argus_," replied the young man, as he
buttoned his coat.

"May I ask, then, what the defence is?"

"Certainly," answered the Chicago man. "Your defence is that Mr. Brenton
was insane, and that he committed suicide."

Even Mr. Brown's habitual self-control, acquired by long years of
training in keeping his feelings out of sight, for the moment deserted
him. He drew his breath sharply, and cast a piercing glance at the young
man before him, who was critically watching the lawyer's countenance,
although he appeared to be entirely absorbed in buttoning his overcoat.
Then Mr. Brown gave a short, dry laugh.

"I have met a bluff before," he said carelessly; "but I should like to
know what makes you think that such is our defence?"

"_Think_!" cried the young man. "I don't think at all; I _know_ it."

"How do you know it?"

"Well, for one thing, I know it by your own actions a moment ago. What
first gave me an inkling of your defence was that book which is on
your table. It is Forbes Winslow on the mind and the brain; a very
interesting book, Mr. Brown, _very_ interesting indeed. It treats of
suicide, and the causes and conditions of the brain that will lead up
to it. It is a very good book, indeed, to study in such a case. Good
evening, Mr. Brown. I am sorry that we cannot co-operate in this
matter."

Stratton turned and walked toward the door, while the lawyer gazed after
him with a look of helpless astonishment on his face. As Stratton placed
his hand on the door knob, the lawyer seemed to wake up as from a dream.

"Stop!" he cried; "I will give you a letter that will admit you to Mrs.
Brenton."



CHAPTER VII.


"There!" said Speed to Brenton, triumphantly, "what do you think of
_that_? Didn't I say George Stratton was the brightest newspaper man in
Chicago? I tell you, his getting that letter from old Brown was one of
the cleverest bits of diplomacy I ever saw. There you had quickness of
perception, and nerve. All the time he was talking to old Brown he was
just taking that man's measure. See how coolly he acted while he was
drawing on his gloves and buttoning his coat as if ready to leave. Flung
that at Brown all of a sudden as quiet as if he was saying nothing at
all unusual, and all the time watching Brown out of the tail of his eye.
Well, sir, I must admit, that although I have known George Stratton for
years, I thought he was dished by that Cincinnati lawyer. I thought that
George was just gracefully covering up his defeat, and there he upset
old Brown's apple-cart in the twinkling of an eye. Now, you see the
effect of all this. Brown has practically admitted to him what the line
of defence is. Stratton won't publish it, of course; he has promised not
to, but you see he can hold that over Brown's head, and get everything
he wants unless they change their defence."

"Yes," remarked Brenton, slowly, "he seems to be a very sharp newspaper
man indeed; but I don't like the idea of his going to interview my
wife."

"Why, what is there wrong about that?"

"Well, there is this wrong about it--that she in her depression may say
something that will tell against her."

"Even if she does, what of it? Isn't the lawyer going to see the letter
before it is sent to the paper?"

"I am not so sure about that. Do you think Stratton will show the
article to Brown if he gets what you call a scoop or a beat?"

"Why, of course he will," answered Speed, indignantly; "hasn't he given
him his word that he will?"

"Yes, I know he has," said Brenton, dubiously; "but he is a newspaper
man."

"Certainly he is," answered Speed, with strong emphasis; "that is the
reason he will keep his word."

"I hope so, I hope so; but I must admit that the more I know you
newspaper men, the more I see the great temptation you are under to
preserve if possible the sensational features of an article."

"I'll bet you a drink--no, we can't do that," corrected Speed; "but you
shall see that, if Brown acts square with Stratton, he will keep his
word to the very letter with Brown. There is no use in our talking about
the matter here. Let us follow Stratton, and see what comes of the
interview."

"I think I prefer to go alone," said Brenton, coldly.

"Oh, as you like, as you like," answered the other, shortly. "I thought
you wanted my help in this affair; but if you don't, I am sure I shan't
intrude."

"That's all right," said Brenton; "come along. By the way, Speed, what
do you think of that line of defence?"

"Well, I don't know enough of the circumstances of the case to know what
to think of it. It seems to me rather a good line."

"It can't be a good line when it is not true. It is certain to break
down."

"That's so," said Speed; "but I'll bet you four dollars and a half that
they'll prove you a raving maniac before they are through with you.
They'll show very likely that you tried to poison yourself two or three
times; bring on a dozen of your friends to prove that they knew all your
life you were insane."

"Do you think they will?" asked Brenton, uneasily.

"Think it? Why, I am sure of it. You'll go down to posterity as one of
the most complete lunatics that ever, lived in Cincinnati. Oh, there
won't be anything left of you when _they_ get through with you."

Meanwhile, Stratton was making his way to the residence of the sheriff.

"Ah," said that official, when they met, "you got your letter, did you?
Well, I thought you would."

"If you had heard the conversation between my estimable friend Mr. Brown
and myself, up to the very last moment, you wouldn't have thought it."

"Well, Brown is generally very courteous towards newspaper men, and
that's one reason you see his name in the papers a great deal."

"If I were a Cincinnati newspaper man, I can assure you that his name
wouldn't appear very much in the columns of my paper."

"I am sorry to hear you say that. I thought Brown was very popular with
the newspaper men. You got the letter, though, did you?"

"Yes; I got it. Here it is. Read it."

The sheriff scanned the brief note over, and put it in his pocket.

"Just take a chair for a moment, will you, and I will see if Mrs.
Brenton is ready to receive you."

[Illustration: Jane.]

Stratton seated himself, and, pulling a paper from his pocket, was
busily reading when the sheriff again entered.

"I am sorry to say," he began, "after you have had all this trouble,
that Mrs. Brenton positively refuses to see you. You know I cannot
_compel_ a prisoner to meet any one. You understand that, of course."

"Perfectly," said Stratton, thinking for a moment. "See here, sheriff,
I have simply _got_ to have a talk with that woman. Now, can't you tell
her I knew her husband, or something of that sort? I'll make it all
right when I see her."

       *       *       *       *       *

"The scoundrel!" said Brenton to Speed, as Stratton made this remark.

"My dear sir," said Speed, "don't you see he is just the man we want?
This is not the time to be particular."

"Yes, but think of the treachery and meanness of telling a poor
unfortunate woman that he was acquainted with her husband, who is only a
few days dead."

"Now, see here," said Speed, "if you are going to look on matters in
this way you will be a hindrance and not a help in the affair. Don't you
appreciate the situation? Why, Mrs. Brenton's own lawyers, as you have
said, think her guilty. What, then, can they learn by talking with her,
or what good can they do her with their minds already prejudiced against
her? Don't you see that?"

Brenton made no answer to this, but it was evident he was very ill at
ease.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Did you know her husband?" asked the sheriff.

"No, to tell you the truth, I never heard of him before. But I must see
this lady, both for my good and hers, and I am not going to let a little
thing like that stand between us. Won't you tell her that I have come
with a letter from her own lawyers? Just show her the letter, and say
that I will take up but very little of her time. I am sorry to ask this
much of you, but you see how I am placed."

"Oh, that's all right," said the sheriff, good-naturedly; "I shall be
very glad to do what you wish," and with that he once more disappeared.

The sheriff stayed away longer this time, and Stratton paced the room
impatiently. Finally, the official returned, and said--

"Mrs. Brenton has consented to see you. Come this way, please. You
will excuse me, I know," continued the sheriff, as they walked along
together, "but it is part of my duty to remain in the room while you
are talking with Mrs. Brenton."

"Certainly, certainly," said Stratton; "I understand that."

"Very well; then, if I may make a suggestion, I would say this: you
should be prepared to ask just what you want to know, and do it all as
speedily as possible, for really Mrs. Brenton is in a condition of
nervous exhaustion that renders it almost cruel to put her through any
rigid cross-examination."

"I understand that also," said Stratton; "but you must remember
that she has a very much harder trial to undergo in the future. I am
exceedingly anxious to get at the truth of this thing, and so, if it
seems to you that I am asking a lot of very unnecessary questions, I
hope you will not interfere with me as long as Mrs. Brenton consents to
answer."

"I shall not interfere at all," said the sheriff; "I only wanted to
caution you, for the lady may break down at any moment. If you can
marshal your questions so that the most important ones come first, I
think it will be wise. I presume you have them pretty well arranged in
your own mind?"

"Well, I can't say that I have; you see, I am entirely in the dark. I
got no help whatever from the lawyers, and from what I know of their
defence I am thoroughly convinced that they are on the wrong track."

"What! did Brown say anything about the defence? That is not like his
usual caution."

"He didn't intend to," answered Stratton; "but I found out all I wanted
to know, nevertheless. You see, I shall have to ask what appears to be a
lot of rambling, inconsequential questions because you can never tell in
a case like this when you may get the key to the whole mystery."

"Well, here we are," said the sheriff, as he knocked at a door, and then
pushed it open.

From the moment George Stratton saw Mrs. Brenton his interest in the
case ceased to be purely journalistic.

Mrs. Brenton was standing near the window, and she appeared to be very
calm and collected, but her fingers twitched nervously, clasping and
unclasping each other. Her modest dress of black was certainly a very
becoming one.

George thought he had never seen a woman so beautiful.

As she was standing up, she evidently intended the interview to be a
short one.

"Madam," said Stratton, "I am very sorry indeed to trouble you; but I
have taken a great interest in the solution of this mystery, and I have
your lawyers' permission to visit you. I assure you, anything you say
will be submitted to them, so that there will be no danger of your case
being prejudiced by any statements made."

"I am not afraid," said Mrs. Brenton, "that the truth will injure or
prejudice my case."

"I am sure of that," answered the newspaper man; and then, knowing that
she would not sit down if he asked her to, he continued diplomatically,
"Madam, will you permit me to sit down? I wish to write out my notes as
carefully as possible. Accuracy is my strong point."

"Certainly," said Mrs. Brenton; and, seeing that it was not probable the
interview would be a short one, she seated herself by the window, while
the sheriff took a chair in the corner, and drew a newspaper from his
pocket.

"Now, madam," said the special, "a great number of the questions I ask
you may seem trivial, but as I said to the sheriff a moment ago, some
word of yours that appears to you entirely unconnected with the case may
give me a clue which will be exceedingly valuable. You will, therefore,
I am sure, pardon me if some of the questions I ask you appear
irrelevant."

Mrs. Brenton bowed her head, but said nothing.

"Were your husband's business affairs in good condition at the time of
his death?"

"As far as I know they were."

"Did you ever see anything in your husband's actions that would lead you
to think him a man who might have contemplated suicide?"

Mrs. Brenton looked up with wide-open eyes.

"Certainly not," she said.

"Had he ever spoken to you on the subject of suicide?"

"I do not remember that he ever did."

"Was he ever queer in his actions? In short, did you ever notice
anything about him that would lead you to doubt his sanity? I am sorry
if questions I ask you seem painful, but I have reasons for wishing to
be certain on this point."

"No," said Mrs. Brenton; "he was perfectly sane. No man could have been
more so. I am certain that he never thought of committing suicide."

"Why are you so certain on that point?"

"I do not know why. I only know I am positive of it."

"Do you know if he had any enemy who might wish his death?"

"I doubt if he had an enemy in the world. I do not know of any."

"Have you ever heard him speak of anybody in a spirit of enmity?"

"Never. He was not a man who bore enmity against people. Persons whom he
did not like he avoided."

"The poison, it is said, was put into his cup of coffee. Do you happen
to know," said Stratton, turning to the sheriff, "how they came to that
conclusion?"

"No, I do not," answered the sheriff. "In fact, I don't see any reason
why they should think so."

"Was morphia found in the coffee cup afterwards?"

"No; at the time of the inquest all the things had been cleared away. I
think it was merely presumed that the morphine was put into his coffee."

"Who poured out the coffee he drank that night?"

"I did," answered his wife.

"You were at one end of the table and he at the other, I suppose?"

"Yes."

"How did the coffee cup reach him?"

"I gave it to the servant, and she placed it before him."

"It passed through no other hands, then?"

"No."

"Who was the servant?"

Mrs. Brenton pondered for a moment.

"I really know very little about her. She had been in our house for a
couple of weeks only."

"What was her name?"

"Jane Morton, I think."

"Where is she now, do you know?"

"I do not know."

"She appeared at the inquest, of course?" said Stratton, turning to the
sheriff.

"I think she did," was the answer. "I am not sure."

He marked her name down in the note-book.

"How many people were there at the dinner?"

"Including my husband and myself, there were twenty-six."

"Could you give me the name of each of them?"

"Yes, I think so."

She repeated the names, which he took down, with certain notes and
comments on each.

"Who sat next your husband at the head of the table?"

"Miss Walker was at his right hand, Mr. Roland at his left."

"Now, forgive me if I ask you if you have ever had any trouble with your
husband?"

"Never."

"Never had any quarrel?"

Mrs. Brenton hesitated for a moment.

"No, I don't think we ever had what could be called a quarrel."

"You had no disagreement shortly before the dinner?"

Again Mrs. Brenton hesitated.

"I can hardly call it a disagreement," she said. "We had a little
discussion about some of the guests who were to be invited."

"Did he object to any that were there?"

"There was a gentleman there whom he did not particularly like, I think,
but he made no objection to his coming; in fact, he seemed to feel that
I might imagine he had an objection from a little discussion we had
about inviting him; and afterwards, as if to make up for that, he placed
this guest at his left hand."

Stratton quickly glanced up the page of his notebook, and marked a
little cross before the name of Stephen Roland.

"You had another disagreement with him before, if I might term it so,
had you not?"

Mrs. Brenton looked at him surprised.

"What makes you think so?" she said.

"Because you hesitated when I spoke of it."

"Well, we had what you might call a disagreement once at Lucerne,
Switzerland."

"Will you tell me what it was about?"

"I would rather not."

"Will you tell me this--was it about a gentleman?"

"Yes," said Mrs. Brenton.

"Was your husband of a jealous disposition?"

"Ordinarily I do not think he was. It seemed to me at the time that he
was a little unjust--that's all."

"Was the gentleman in Lucerne?"

"Oh no!"

"In Cincinnati?"

"Yes."

"Was his name Stephen Roland?"

Mrs. Brenton again glanced quickly at the newspaper man, and seemed
about to say something, but, checking herself, she simply answered--

"Yes."

Then she leaned back in the armchair and sighed.

"I am very tired," she said. "If it is not absolutely necessary, I
prefer not to continue this conversation."

Stratton immediately rose.

"Madam," he said, "I am very much obliged to you for the trouble you
have taken to answer my questions, which I am afraid must have seemed
impertinent to you, but I assure you that I did not intend them to be
so. Now, madam, I would like very much to get a promise from you. I wish
that you would promise to see me if I call again, and I, on my part,
assure you that unless I have something particularly important to tell
you, or to ask, I shall not intrude upon you."

"I shall be pleased to see you at any time, sir."

When the sheriff and the newspaper man reached the other room, the
former said--

"Well, what do you think?"

"I think it is an interesting case," was the answer.

"Or, to put it in other words, you think Mrs. Brenton a very interesting
lady."

"Officially, sir, you have exactly stated my opinion."

"And I suppose, poor woman, she will furnish an interesting article for
the paper?"

"Hang the paper!" said Stratton, with more than his usual vim.

The sheriff laughed. Then he said--

"I confess that to me it seems a very perplexing affair all through.
Have you got any light on the subject?"

"My dear sir, I will tell you three important things. First, Mrs.
Brenton is innocent. Second, her lawyers are taking the wrong line of
defence. Third," tapping his breast-pocket, "I have the name of the
murderer in my note-book."



CHAPTER VIII.


"Now," said John Speed to William Brenton, "we have got Stratton fairly
started on the track, and I believe that he will ferret out the truth
in this matter. But, meanwhile, we must not be idle. You must remember
that, with all our facilities for discovery, we really know nothing
of the murderer ourselves. I propose we set about this thing just as
systematically as Stratton will. The chances are that we shall penetrate
the mystery of the whole affair very much quicker than he. As I told
you before, I am something of a newspaper man myself; and if, with the
facilities of getting into any room in any house, in any city and in any
country, and being with a suspected criminal night and day when he never
imagines any one is near him--if with all those advantages I cannot
discover the real author of that crime before George Stratton does, then
I'll never admit that I came from Chicago, or belonged to a newspaper."

"Whom do you think Stratton suspects of the crime? He told the sheriff,"
said Brenton, "that he had the name in his pocket-book."

"I don't know," said Speed, "but I have my suspicions. You see, he has
the names of all the guests at your banquet in that pocket-book of his;
but the name of Stephen Roland he has marked with two crosses. The name
of the servant he has marked with one cross. Now, I suspect that he
believes Stephen Roland committed the crime. You know Roland; what do
you think of him?"

"I think he is quite capable of it," answered Brenton, with a frown.

"Still, you are prejudiced against the man," put in Speed, "so your
evidence is hardly impartial."

"I am not prejudiced against any one," answered Brenton; "I merely know
that man. He is a thoroughly despicable, cowardly character. The only
thing that makes me think he would not commit a murder, is that he is
too craven to stand the consequences if he were caught. He is a cool
villain, but he is a coward. I do not believe he has the courage to
commit a crime, even if he thought he would benefit by it."

"Well, there is one thing, Brenton, you can't be accused of flattering
a man, and if it is any consolation for you to know, you may be pretty
certain that George Stratton is on his track."

"I am sure I wish him success," answered Brenton, gloomily; "if he
brings Roland to the gallows I shall not mourn over it."

"That's all right," said Speed; "but now we must be up and doing
ourselves. Have you anything to propose?"

"No, I have not, except that we might play the detective on Roland."

"Well, the trouble with that is we would merely be duplicating what
Stratton is doing himself. Now, I'll tell you my proposal. Supposing
that we consult with Lecocq."

"Who is that? The novelist?"

"Novelist? I don't think he has ever written any novels--not that I
remember of."

"Ah, I didn't know. It seemed to me that I remembered his name in
connection with some novel."

"Oh, very likely you did. He is the hero of more detective stories than
any other man I know of. He was the great French detective."

"What, is he dead, then?"

"Dead? Not a bit of it; he's here with us. Oh, I understand what you
mean. Yes, from your point of view, he is dead."

"Where can we find him?"

"Well, I presume, in Paris. He's a first-rate fellow to know, anyhow,
and he spends most of his time around his old haunts. In fact, if you
want to be certain to find Lecocq, you will generally get him during
office hours in the room he used to frequent while in Paris."

"Let us go and see him, then."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Monsieur Lecocq," said Speed, a moment afterwards, "I wish to introduce
to you a new-comer, Mr. Brenton, recently of Cincinnati."

"Ah, my dear Speed," said the Frenchman, "I am very pleased indeed to
meet any friend of yours. How is the great Chicago, the second Paris,
and how is your circulation?--the greatest in the world, I suppose."

"Well, it is in pretty good order," said Speed; "we circulated from
Chicago to Paris here in a very much shorter time than the journey
usually occupies down below. Now, can you give us a little of your time?
Are you busy just now?"

"My dear Speed, I am always busy. I am like the people of the second
Paris. I lose no time, but I have always time to speak with my friends."

"All right," said Speed. "I am like the people of the second Chicago,
generally more intent on pleasure than business; but, nevertheless, I
have a piece of business for you."

"The second Chicago?" asked Lecocq. "And where is that, pray?"

"Why, Paris, of course," said Speed.

Lecocq laughed.

"You are incorrigible, you Chicagoans. And what is the piece of
business?"

"It is the old thing, monsieur. A mystery to be unravelled. Mr. Brenton
here wishes to retain you in his case."

"And what is his case?" was the answer.

Lecocq was evidently pleased to have a bit of real work given him.

[Illustration: The detective.]

Speed briefly recited the facts, Brenton correcting him now and then
on little points where he was wrong. Speed seemed to think these points
immaterial, but Lecocq said that attention to trivialities was the
whole secret of the detective business.

"Ah," said Lecocq, sorrowfully, "there is no real trouble in elucidating
that mystery. I hoped it would be something difficult; but, you see,
with my experience of the old world, and with the privileges one enjoys
in this world, things which might be difficult to one below are very
easy for us. Now, I shall show you how simple it is."

"Good gracious!" cried Speed, "you don't mean to say you are going to
read it right off the reel, like that, when we have been bothering
ourselves with it so long, and without success?"

"At the moment," replied the French detective, "I am not prepared to say
who committed the deed. That is a matter of detail. Now, let us see what
we know, and arrive, from that, at what we do not know. The one fact, of
which we are assured on the statement of two physicians from Cincinnati,
is that Mr. Brenton was poisoned."

"Well," said Speed, "there are several other facts, too. Another fact is
that Mrs. Brenton is accused of the crime."

"Ah! my dear sir," said Lecocq, "that is not pertinent."

"No," said Speed, "I agree with you. I call it very impertinent."

Brenton frowned, at this, and his old dislike to the flippant Chicago
man rose to the surface again.

The Frenchman continued marking the points on his long forefinger.

"Now, there are two ways by which that result may have been attained.
First, Mr. Brenton may have administered to himself the poison;
secondly, the poison may have been administered by some one else."

"Yes," said Speed; "and, thirdly, the poison may have been administered
accidentally--you do not seem to take that into account."

"I do not take that into account," calmly replied the Frenchman,
"because of its improbability. If there were an accident; if, for
instance, the poison was in the sugar, or in some of the viands served,
then others than Mr. Brenton would have been poisoned. The fact that one
man out of twenty-six was poisoned, and the fact that several people are
to benefit by his death, point, it seems to me, to murder; but to be
sure of that, I will ask Mr. Brenton one question. My dear sir, did you
administer this poison to yourself?"

"Certainly not," answered Brenton.

"Then we have two facts. First, Mr. Brenton was poisoned; secondly, he
was poisoned by some person who had an interest in his death. Now we
will proceed. When Mr. Brenton sat down to that dinner he was perfectly
well. When he arose from that dinner he was feeling ill. He goes to bed.
He sees no one but his wife after he has left the dinner-table, and he
takes nothing between the time he leaves the dinner-table and the moment
he becomes unconscious. Now, that poison must have been administered to
Mr. Brenton at the dinner-table. Am I not right?"

"Well, you seem to be," answered Speed.

"Seem? Why, it is as plain as day. There cannot be any mistake."

"All right," said Speed; "go ahead. What next?"

"What next? There were twenty-six people around that table, with two
servants to wait on them, making twenty-eight in all. There were
twenty-six, I think you said, including Mr. Brenton."

"That is correct."

"Very well. One of those twenty-seven persons has poisoned Mr. Brenton.
Do you follow me?"

"We do," answered Speed; "we follow you as closely as you have ever
followed a criminal! Go on."

"Very well, so much is clear. These are all facts, not theories. Now,
what is the thing that I should do if I were in Cincinnati? I would find
out whether one or more of those guests had anything to gain by the
death of their host. That done, I would follow the suspected persons. I
would have my men find out what each of them had done for a month before
the time of the crime. Whoever committed it made some preparation. He
did something, too, as you say, in America, to cover up his tracks. Very
well. By the keen detective these actions are easily traced. I shall at
once place twenty-seven of the best men I know on the track of those
twenty-seven persons."

"I call that shadowing with a vengeance," remarked the Chicago man.

"It will be very easy. The one who has committed the crime is certain,
when he is alone in his own room, to say something, or to do something,
that will show my detective that he is the criminal. So, gentlemen, if
you can tell me who those twenty-seven persons are, in three days or a
week from this time I will tell you who gave the poison to Mr. Brenton."

"You seem very sure of that," said Speed.

"Sure of it? It is simply child's play. It is mere waiting. If, for
instance, at the trial Mrs. Brenton is found guilty, and sentenced, the
one who is the guilty party is certain to betray himself or herself
as soon as he or she is alone. If it be a man who hopes to marry Mrs.
Brenton, he will be overcome with grief at what has happened. He will
wring his hands and try to think what can be done to prevent the
sentence being carried out. He will argue with himself whether it is
better to give himself up and tell the truth, and if he is a coward he
will conclude not to do that, but will try to get a pardon, or at least
have the capital sentence commuted into life imprisonment. He will
possibly be cool and calm in public, but when he enters his own room,
when his door is locked, when he believes no one can see him, when he
thinks he is alone, then will come his trial. Then his passions and
his emotions will betray him. It is mere child's play, as I tell you,
and long before there is a verdict I will give you the name of the
murderer."

"Very well, then," said Speed, "that is agreed; we will look you up in a
week from now."

"I should be pained," said Lecocq, "to put you to that trouble. As soon
as I get the report from my men I will communicate with you and let
you know the result. In a few days I shall give you the name of the
assassin."

"Good-bye, then, until I see you again," answered Speed; and with this
he and Brenton took their departure.

"He seems to be very sure of himself," said Brenton.

[Illustration: Jane Morton.]

"He will do what he says, you may depend on that."

The week was not yet up when Monsieur Lecocq met John Speed in Chicago.

"By the look of satisfaction on your face," said Mr. Speed, "I imagine
you have succeeded in unravelling the mystery."

"Ah," replied the Frenchman; "if I have the appearance of satisfaction,
it is indeed misplaced."

"Then you have not made any discovery?"

"On the contrary, it is all as plain as your big buildings here. It
is not for that reason, but because it is so simple that I should be
foolish to feel satisfaction regarding it."

"Then who is the person?"

"The assassin," replied the Frenchman, "is one whom no one has seemed to
think of, and yet one on whom suspicion should have been the first to
fall. The person who did Monsieur Brenton the honour to poison him is
none other than the servant girl, Jane Morton."



CHAPTER IX.


"Jane Morton!" cried Speed; "who is she?"

"She is, as you may remember, the girl who carried the coffee from Mrs.
Brenton to monsieur."

"And are you sure she is the criminal?"

The great detective did not answer; he merely gave an expressive little
French gesture, as though the question was not worth commenting upon.

"Why, what was her motive?" asked Speed.

For the first time in their acquaintance a shade of perplexity seemed to
come over the enthusiastic face of the volatile Frenchman.

"You are what you call smart, you Chicago people," he said, "and you
have in a moment struck the only point on which we are at a loss."

"My dear sir," returned Speed, "that is _the_ point in the case. Motive
is the first thing to look for, it seems to me. You said as much
yourself. If you haven't succeeded in finding what motive Jane Morton
had for poisoning her employer, it appears to me that very little has
been accomplished."

"Ah, you say that before you know the particulars. I am certain we shall
find the motive. What I know now is that Jane Morton is the one who put
the poison in his cup of coffee."

"It would take a good deal of nerve to do that with twenty-six people
around the table. You forget, my dear sir, that she had to pass the
whole length of the table, after taking the cup, before giving it to Mr.
Brenton."

"Half of the people had their backs to her, and the other half, I can
assure you, were not looking at her. If the poison was ready, it was a
very easy thing to slip it into a cup of coffee. There was ample time to
do it, and that is how it was done."

"May I ask how you arrived at that conclusion?"

"Certainly, certainly, my dear sir. My detectives report that each one
of the twenty-seven people they had to follow were shadowed night and
day. But only two of them acted suspiciously. These two were Jane Morton
and Stephen Roland. Stephen Roland's anxiety is accounted for by the
fact that he is evidently in love with Mrs. Brenton. But the change
in Jane Morton has been something terrible. She is suffering from the
severest pangs of ineffectual remorse. She has not gone out again to
service, but occupies a room in one of the poorer quarters of the
city--a room that she never leaves except at night. Her whole actions
show that she is afraid of the police--afraid of being tracked for her
crime. She buys a newspaper every night, locks and bars the door on
entering her room, and, with tears streaming from her eyes, reads every
word of the criminal news. One night, when she went out to buy her
paper, and what food she needed for the next day, she came unexpectedly
upon a policeman at the corner. The man was not looking at her at all,
nor for her, but she fled, running like a deer, doubling and turning
through alleys and back streets until by a very roundabout road she
reached her own room. There she locked herself in, and remained
without food all next day rather than go out again. She flung herself
terror-stricken on the bed, after her room door was bolted, and cried,
'Oh, why did I do it? why did I do it? I shall certainly be found out.
If Mrs. Brenton is acquitted, they will be after me next day. I did it
to make up to John what he had suffered, and yet if John knew it, he
would never speak to me again.'"

[Illustration: "Oh, why did I do it?"]

"Who is John?" asked Speed.

"Ah, that," said the detective, "I do not know. When we find out who
John is, then we shall find the motive for the crime."

"In that case, if I were you, I should try to find John as quickly as
possible."

"Yes, my dear sir, that is exactly what should be done, and my detective
is now endeavouring to discover the identity of John. He will possibly
succeed in a few days. But there is another way of finding out who John
is, and perhaps in that you can help me."

"What other way?"

"There is one man who undoubtedly knows who John is, and that is Mr.
Brenton. Now, I thought that perhaps you, who know Brenton better than I
do, would not mind asking him who John is."

"My dear sir," said Speed, "Brenton is no particular friend of mine,
and I only know him well enough to feel that if there is any
cross-examination to be done, I should prefer somebody else to do it."

"Why, you are not afraid of him, are you?" asked the detective.

"Afraid of him? Certainly not, but I tell you that Brenton is just a
little touchy and apt to take offence. I have found him so on several
occasions. Now, as you have practically taken charge of this case, why
don't you go and see him?"

"I suppose I shall have to do that," said the Frenchman, "if you will
not undertake it."

"No, I will not."

"You have no objection, have you, to going with me?"

"It is better for you to see Brenton alone. I do not think he would care
to be cross-examined before witnesses, you know."

"Ah, then, good-bye; I shall find out from Mr. Brenton who John is."

"I am sure I wish you luck," replied Speed, as Lecocq took his
departure.

Lecocq found Brenton and Ferris together. The cynical spirit seemed to
have been rather sceptical about the accounts given him of the influence
that Speed and Brenton, combined, had had upon the Chicago newspaper
man. Yet he was interested in the case, and although he still maintained
that no practical good would result, even if a channel of communication
could be opened between the two states of existence, he had listened
with his customary respect to what Brenton had to say.

"Ah," said Brenton, when he saw the Frenchman, "have you any news for
me?"

"Yes, I have. I have news that I will exchange, but meanwhile I want
some news from you."

"I have none to give you," answered Brenton.

"If you have not, will you undertake to answer any questions I shall ask
you, and not take offence if the questions seem to be personal ones?"

"Certainly," said Brenton; "I shall be glad to answer anything as long
as it has a bearing on the case."

"Very well, then, it has a very distinct bearing on the case. Do you
remember the girl Jane Morton?"

"I remember her, of course, as one of the servants in our employ. I know
very little about her, though."

"That is just what I wish to find out. Do you know _anything_ about her?"

"No; she had been in our employ but a fortnight, I think, or perhaps it
was a month. My wife attended to these details, of course. I knew the
girl was there, that is all."

The Frenchman looked very dubious as Brenton said this, while the latter
rather bridled up.

"You evidently do not believe me?" he cried.

Once more the detective gave his customary gesture, and said--

"Ah, pardon me, you are entirely mistaken. I have this to acquaint you
with. Jane Morton is the one who murdered you. She did it, she says,
partly for the sake of John, whoever he is, and partly out of revenge.
Now, of course, you are the only man who can give me information as to
the motive. That girl certainly had a motive, and I should like to find
out what the motive was."

Brenton meditated for a few moments, and then suddenly brightened up.

"I remember, now, an incident which happened a week of two before
Christmas, which may have a bearing on the case. One night I heard--or
thought I heard--a movement downstairs, when I supposed everybody had
retired. I took a revolver in my hand, and went cautiously down the
stairs. Of course I had no light, because, if there was a burglar, I did
not wish to make myself too conspicuous a mark. As I went along the hall
leading to the kitchen, I saw there was a light inside; but as soon as
they heard me coming the light was put out. When I reached the kitchen,
I noticed a man trying to escape through the door that led to the
coalshed. I fired at him twice, and he sank to the floor with a groan. I
thought I had bagged a burglar sure, but it turned out to be nothing of
the kind. He was merely a young man who had been rather late visiting
one of the girls. I suspect now the girl he came to see was Jane
Morton. As it was, the noise brought the two girls there, and I never
investigated the matter or tried to find out which one it was that he
had been visiting. They were both terror-stricken, and the young man
himself was in a state of great fear. He thought for a moment that he
had been killed. However, he was only shot in the leg, and I sent him to
the house of a physician who keeps such patients as do not wish to go to
the hospital. I did not care to have him go to the hospital, because I
was afraid the newspapers would get hold of the incident, and make
a sensation of it. The whole thing was accidental; the young fellow
realized that, and so, I thought, did the girls; at least, I never
noticed anything in their behaviour to show the contrary."

"What sort of a looking girl is Jane Morton?" asked Ferris.

"She is a tall brunette, with snapping black eyes."

"Ah, then, I remember her going into the room where you lay," said
Ferris, "on Christmas morning. It struck me when she came out that she
was very cool and self-possessed, and not at all surprised."

"All I can say," said Brenton, "is that I never noticed anything in her
conduct like resentment at what had happened. I intended to give the
young fellow a handsome compensation for his injury, but of course what
occurred on Christmas Eve prevented that: I had really forgotten all
about the circumstance, or I should have told you of it before."

"Then," said Lecocq, "the thing now is perfectly clear. That black-eyed
vixen murdered you out of revenge."

[Illustration]



CHAPTER X.


It was evident to George Stratton that he would have no time before
the trial came off in which to prove Stephen Roland the guilty person.
Besides this, he was in a strange state of mind which he himself could
not understand. The moment he sat down to think out a plan by which
he could run down the man he was confident had committed the crime, a
strange wavering of mind came over him. Something seemed to say to him
that he was on the wrong track. This became so persistent that George
was bewildered, and seriously questioned his own sanity. Whenever he sat
alone in his own room, the doubts arose and a feeling that he was on the
wrong scent took possession of him. This feeling became so strong at
times that he looked up other clues, and at one time tried to find
out the whereabouts of the servant girls who had been employed by the
Brentons. Curiously enough, the moment he began this search, his mind
seemed to become clearer and easier; and when that happened, the old
belief in the guilt of Stephen Roland resumed its sway again. But the
instant he tried to follow up what clues he had in that direction, he
found himself baffled and assailed again by doubts, and so every effort
he put forth appeared to be nullified. This state of mind was so unusual
with him that he had serious thoughts of abandoning the whole case and
going back to Chicago. He said to himself, "I am in love with this woman
and I shall go crazy if I stay here any longer." Then he remembered the
trust she appeared to have in his powers of ferreting out the mystery of
the case, and this in turn encouraged him and urged him on.

All trace of the girls appeared to be lost. He hesitated to employ a
Cincinnati detective, fearing that what he discovered would be given
away to the Cincinnati press. Then he accused himself of disloyalty to
Mrs. Brenton, in putting his newspaper duty before his duty to her.
He was so torn by his conflicting ideas and emotions that at last he
resolved to abandon the case altogether and return to Chicago. He packed
up his valise and resolved to leave that night for big city, trial or no
trial. He had described his symptoms to a prominent physician, and that
physician told him that the case was driving him mad, and the best thing
he could do was to leave at once for other scenes. He could do no good,
and would perhaps end by going insane himself.

As George Stratton was packing his valise in his room, alone, as he
thought, the following conversation was taking place beside him.

"It is no use," said Speed; "we are merely muddling him, and not doing
any good. The only thing is to leave him alone. If he investigates the
Roland part of the case he will soon find out for himself that he is on
the wrong track; then he will take the right one."

"Yes," said Brenton; "but the case comes on in a few days. If anything
is to be done, it must be done now."

"In that I do not agree with you," said Speed. "Perhaps everything will
go all right at the trial, but even if it does not, there is still
a certain amount of time. You see how we have spoiled things by
interfering. Our first success with him has misled us. We thought we
could do anything; we have really done worse than nothing, because all
this valuable time has been lost. If he had been allowed to proceed in
his own way he would have ferreted out the matter as far as Stephen
Roland is concerned, and would have found that there was no cause for
his suspicion. As it is he has done nothing. He still believes, if left
alone, that Stephen Roland is the criminal. All our efforts to lead him
to the residence of Jane Morton have been unavailing. Now, you see, he
is on the eve of going back to Chicago."

"Well, then, let him go," said Brenton, despondently.

"With all my heart, say I," answered Speed; "but in any case let us
leave him alone."

Before the train started that night Stratton said to himself that he was
a new man. Richard was himself again. He was thoroughly convinced of the
guilt of Stephen Roland, and wondered why he had allowed his mind to
wander off the topic and waste time with other suspicions, for which
he now saw there was no real excuse. He had not the time, he felt, to
investigate the subject personally, but he flattered himself he knew
exactly the man to put on Roland's track, and, instead of going himself
to Chicago, he sent off the following despatch:--

"Meet me to-morrow morning, without fail, at the Gibson House. Answer."

Before midnight he had his answer, and next morning he met a man in whom
he had the most implicit confidence, and who had, as he said, the rare
and valuable gift of keeping his mouth shut.

"You see this portrait?" Stratton said, handing to the other a
photograph of Stephen Roland. "Now, I do not know how many hundred
chemist shops there are in Cincinnati, but I want you to get a list of
them, and you must not omit the most obscure shop in town. I want you to
visit every drug store there is in the city, show this photograph to the
proprietor and the clerks, and find out if that man bought any chemicals
during the week or two preceding Christmas. Find out what drugs he
bought, and where he bought them, then bring the information to me."

"How much time do you give me on this, Mr. Stratton?" was the question.

"Whatever time you want. I wish the thing done thoroughly and
completely, and, as you know, silence is golden in a case like this."

[Illustration: "How much time do you give me?"]

"Enough said," replied the other, and, buttoning the photograph in his
inside pocket, he left the room.

       *       *       *       *       *

There is no necessity of giving an elaborate report of the trial. Any
one who has curiosity in the matter can find the full particulars from
the files of any paper in the country. Mrs. Brenton was very pale as she
sat in the prisoner's dock, but George Stratton thought he never saw any
one look so beautiful. It seemed to him that any man in that crowded
courtroom could tell in a moment that she was not guilty of the crime
with which she was charged, and he looked at the jury of twelve
supposedly good men, and wondered what they thought of it.

[Illustration: In the prisoner's dock.]

The defence claimed that it was not their place to show who committed
the murder. That rested with the prosecution. The prosecution, Mr.
Benham maintained, had signally failed to do this. However, in order to
aid the prosecution, he was quite willing to show how Mr. Brenton came
to his death. Then witnesses were called, who, to the astonishment of
Mrs. Brenton, testified that her husband had all along had a tendency to
insanity. It was proved conclusively that some of his ancestors had died
in a lunatic asylum, and one was stated to have committed suicide. The
defence produced certain books from Mr. Brenton's library, among them
Forbes Winslow's volume on "The Mind and the Brain," to show that
Brenton had studied the subject of suicide.

The judge's charge was very colourless. It amounted simply to this:
If the jury thought the prosecution had shown Mrs. Brenton to have
committed the crime, they were to bring in a verdict of guilty, and if
they thought otherwise they were to acquit her; and so the jury retired.

As they left the court-room a certain gloom fell upon all those who were
friendly to the fair prisoner.

Despite the great reputation of Benham and Brown, it was the thought
of every one present that they had made a very poor defence. The
prosecution, on the other hand, had been most ably conducted. It had
been shown that Mrs. Brenton was chiefly to profit by her husband's
death. The insurance fund alone would add seventy-five thousand dollars
to the money she would control. A number of little points that Stratton
had given no heed to had been magnified, and appeared then to have a
great bearing on the case. For the first time, Stratton admitted
to himself that the prosecution had made out a very strong case of
circumstantial evidence. The defence, too, had been so deplorably weak
that it added really to the strength of the prosecution. A great speech
had been expected of Benham, but he did not rise to the occasion, and,
as one who knew him said, Benham evidently believed his client guilty.

As the jury retired, every one in the court-room felt that there was
little hope for the prisoner; and this feeling was intensified when, a
few moments after, the announcement was made in court, just as the
judge was preparing to leave the bench, that the jury had agreed on the
verdict.

Stratton, in the stillness of the court-room, heard one lawyer whisper
to another, "She's doomed."

There was intense silence as the jury slowly filed into their places,
and the foreman stood up.

"Gentlemen of the jury," was the question, "have you agreed upon a
verdict?"

"We have," answered the foreman.

"Do you find the prisoner guilty or not guilty?"

"Not guilty," was the clear answer.

At this there was first a moment of silence, and then a ripple of
applause, promptly checked.

Mrs. Brenton was free.



CHAPTER XI.


George Stratton sat in the court-room for a moment dazed, before he
thought of the principal figure in the trial; then he rose to go to her
side, but he found that Roland was there before him. He heard her say,
"Get me a carriage quickly, and take me away from here."

So Stratton went back to his hotel to meet his Chicago detective. The
latter had nothing to report. He told him the number of drug stores he
had visited, but all without avail. No one had recognized the portrait.

"All right," said Stratton; "then you will just have to go ahead until
you find somebody who does. It is, I believe, only a question of time
and perseverance."

Next morning he arose late. He looked over the report of the trial in
the morning paper, and then, turning to the leader page, read with
rising indignation the following editorial:--

"THE BRENTON CASE.

"The decision of yesterday shows the glorious uncertainty that attends
the finding of the average American jury. If such verdicts are to be
rendered, we may as well blot out from the statute-book all punishment
for all crimes in which the evidence is largely circumstantial. If ever
a strong case was made out against a human being it was the case of the
prosecution in the recent trial. If ever there was a case in which the
defence was deplorably weak, although ably conducted, it was the case
that was concluded yesterday. Should we, then, be prepared to say that
circumstantial evidence will not be taken by an American jury as ground
for the conviction of a murderer? The chances are that, if we draw this
conclusion, we shall be entirely wrong. If a man stood in the dock, in
the place of the handsome young woman who occupied it yesterday, he
would to-day have been undoubtedly convicted of murder. The conclusion,
then, to be arrived at seems to be that, unless there is the direct
proof of murder against a pretty woman, it is absolutely impossible
to get the average jury of men to convict her. It would seem that the
sooner we get women on juries, especially where a woman is on trial, the
better it will be for the cause of justice."

Then in other parts of the paper there were little items similar to this--

"If Mrs. Brenton did not poison her husband, then who did?"

That afternoon George Stratton paid a visit to Mrs. Brenton. He had
hoped she had not seen the paper in question, but he hoped in vain. He
found Mrs. Brenton far from elated with her acquittal.

"I would give everything I possess," she said, "to bring the culprit to
justice."

After a talk on that momentous question, and when George Stratton held
her hand and said good-bye, she asked him--

"When do you go to Chicago?"

"Madam," he said, "I leave for Chicago the moment I find out who
poisoned William Brenton."

She answered sadly--

"You may remain a long time in Cincinnati."

"In some respects," said Stratton, "I like Cincinnati better than
Chicago."

"You are the first Chicago man I ever heard say that," she replied.

"Ah, that was because they did not know Cincinnati as I do."

"I suppose you must have seen a great deal of the town, but I must
confess that from now on I should be very glad if I never saw Cincinnati
again. I would like to consult with you," she continued, "about the best
way of solving this mystery. I have been thinking of engaging some of
the best detectives I can get. I suppose New York would be the place."

"No; Chicago," answered the young man.

"Well, then, that is what I wanted to see you about. I would like to get
the very best detectives that can be had. Don't you think that, if they
were promised ample reward, and paid well during the time they were
working on the case, we might discover the key to this mystery?"

"I do not think much of our detective system," answered Stratton,
"although I suppose there is something in it, and sometimes they manage
in spite of themselves to stumble on the solution of a crime. Still, I
shall be very glad indeed to give you what advice I can on the subject.
I may say I have constituted myself a special detective in this case,
and that I hope to have the honour of solving the problem."

"You are very good, indeed," she answered, "and I must ask you to let me
bear the expense."

"Oh, the paper will do that. I won't be out of pocket at all," said
Stratton.

"Well, I hardly know how to put it; but, whether you are successful or
not, I feel very grateful to you, and I hope you will not be offended at
what I am going to say. Now, promise me that you won't!"

"I shall not be offended," he answered. "It is a little difficult to
offend a Chicago newspaper man, you know."

"Now, you mustn't say anything against the newspaper men, for, in spite
of the hard things that some of them have said about me, I like them."

"Individually or collectively?"

[Illustration: "I feel very grateful to you."]

"I am afraid I must say individually. You said you wouldn't be offended,
so after your search is over you must let me----. The labourer is worthy
of his hire, or I should say, his reward--you know what I mean. I presume
that a young man who earns his living on the daily press is not
necessarily wealthy."

"Why, Mrs. Brenton, what strange ideas you have of the world! We
newspaper men work at the business merely because we like it. It isn't
at all for the money that's in it."

"Then you are not offended at what I have said?"

"Oh, not in the least. I may say, however, that I look for a higher
reward than money if I am successful in this search."

"Yes, I am sure you do," answered the lady, innocently. "If you
succeed in this, you will be very famous."

"Exactly; it's fame I'm after," said Stratton, shaking her hand once
more, and taking his leave.

When he reached his hotel, he found the Chicago detective waiting for
him.

"Well, old man," he said, "anything new?"

"Yes, sir. Something very new."

"What have you found out?"

"Everything."

"Very well, let me have it."

"I found out that this man bought, on December 10th, thirty grains of
morphia. He had this morphia put up in five-grain capsules. He bought
this at the drug store on the corner of Blank Street and Nemo Avenue."

"Good gracious!" answered Stratton. "Then to get morphia he must have
had a physician's certificate. Did you find who the physician was that
signed the certificate?"

"My dear sir," said the Chicago man, "this person is himself a
physician, unless I am very much mistaken. I was told that this was the
portrait of Stephen Roland. Am I right?"

"That is the name."

"Well, then, he is a doctor himself. Not doing a very large practice, it
is true, but he is a physician. Did you not know that?"

[Illustration: "Here's the detailed report."]

"No," said Stratton; "how stupid I am! I never thought of asking the
man's occupation."

"Very well, if that is what you wanted to know, here's the detailed
report of my investigation."

When the man left, Stratton rubbed his hands.

"Now, Mr. Stephen Roland, I have you," he said.



CHAPTER XII.

After receiving this information Stratton sat alone in his room and
thought deeply over his plans. He did not wish to make a false step, yet
there was hardly enough in the evidence he had secured to warrant his
giving Stephen Roland up to the police. Besides this, it would put the
suspected man at once on his guard, and there was no question but
that gentleman had taken every precaution to prevent discovery. After
deliberating for a long while, he thought that perhaps the best thing he
could do was to endeavour to take Roland by surprise. Meanwhile, before
the meditating man stood Brenton and Speed, and between them there was a
serious disagreement of opinion.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I tell you what it is," said Speed, "there is no use in our interfering
with Stratton. He is on the wrong track, but, nevertheless, all the
influence we can use on him in his present frame of mind will merely do
what it did before--it will muddle the man up. Now, I propose that we
leave him severely alone. Let him find out his mistake. He will find it
out in some way or other, and then he will be in a condition of mind to
turn to the case of Jane Morton."

"But don't you see," argued Brenton, "that all the time spent on his
present investigation is so much time lost? I will agree to leave him
alone, as you say, but let us get somebody else on the Morton case."

"I don't want to do that," said Speed; "because George Stratton has
taken a great deal of interest in this search. He has done a great deal
now, and I think we should he grateful to him for it."

"Grateful!" growled Brenton; "he has done it from the most purely
selfish motives that a man can act upon. He has done it entirely for his
paper--for newspaper fame. He has done it for money."

"Now," said Speed, hotly, "you must not talk like that of Stratton to
me. I won't say what I think of that kind of language coming from you,
but you can see how seriously we interfered with his work before, and
how it nearly resulted in his departure for Chicago. I propose now that
we leave him alone."

"Leave him alone, then, for any sake," replied Brenton; "I am sure I
build nothing on what he can do anyway."

"All right, then," returned Speed, recovering his good nature. "Now,
although I am not willing to put any one else on the track of Miss Jane
Morton, yet I will tell you what I am willing to do. If you like, we
will go to her residence, and influence her to confess her crime. I
believe that can be done."

"Very well; I want you to understand that I am perfectly reasonable
about the matter. All I want is not to lose any more time."

"Time?" cried Speed; "why, we have got all the time there is. Mrs.
Brenton is acquitted. There is no more danger."

"That is perfectly true, I admit; but still you can see the grief under
which she labours, because her name is not yet cleared from the odium
of the crime. You will excuse me, Speed, if I say that you seem to be
working more in the interests of Stratton's journalistic success than in
the interests of Mrs. Brenton's good name."

"Well, we won't talk about that," said Speed; "Stratton is amply able to
take care of himself, as you will doubtless see. Now, what do you say
to our trying whether or not we can influence Jane Morton to do what she
ought to do, and confess her crime?"

"It is not a very promising task," replied Brenton; "it is hard to get a
person to say words that may lead to the gallows."

"I'm not so sure about that," said Speed; "you know the trouble of mind
she is in. I think it more than probable that, after the terror of the
last few weeks, it will be a relief for her to give herself up."

"Very well; let us go."

The two men shortly afterwards found themselves in the scantily
furnished room occupied by Jane Morton. That poor woman was rocking
herself to and fro and moaning over her trouble. Then she suddenly
stopped rocking, and looked around the room with vague apprehension
in her eyes. She rose and examined the bolts of the door, and, seeing
everything was secure, sat down again.

"I shall never have any peace in this world again," she cried to
herself.

She rocked back and forth silently for a few moments.

"I wish," she said, "the police would find out all about it, and then
this agony of mind would end."

Again she rocked back and forth, with her hands helplessly in her lap.

"Oh, I cannot do it, _I cannot do it_!" she sobbed, still rocking to and
fro. Finally she started to her feet.

"I _will_ do it," she cried; "I will confess to Mrs. Brenton herself. I
will tell her everything. She has gone through trouble herself, and may
have mercy on me."

"There, you see," said Speed to Brenton, "we have overcome the
difficulty, after all."

"It certainly looks like it," replied Brenton. "Don't you think,
however, that we had better stay with her until she _does_ confess? May
she not change her mind?"

"Don't let us overdo the thing," suggested Speed; "if she doesn't, come
to time, we can easily have another interview with her. The woman's
mind is made up. She is in torment, and will be until she confesses her
crime. Let us go and leave her alone."

       *       *       *       *       *

George Stratton was not slow to act when he had once made up his mind.
He pinned to the breast of his vest a little shield, on which was the
word "detective." This he had often found useful, in a way that is not
at all sanctioned by the law, in ferreting out crime in Chicago. As soon
as it was evening he paced up and down in front of Roland's house, and
on the opposite side of the road. There was a light in the doctor's
study, and he thought that perhaps the best way to proceed was to go
boldly into the house and put his scheme into operation. However, as he
meditated on this, the light was turned low, and in a few moments the
door opened. The doctor came down the steps, and out on the pavement,
walking briskly along the street. The reporter followed him on the other
side of the thoroughfare. Whether to do it in the dark or in the light,
was the question that troubled Stratton. If he did it in the dark, he
would miss the expression on the face of the surprised man. If he did it
in the light, the doctor might recognize him as the Chicago reporter,
and would know at once that he was no detective. Still, he felt that
if there was anything in his scheme at all, it was surprise; and he
remembered the quick gasp of the lawyer Brown when he told him he knew
what his defence was. He must be able to note the expression of the man
who was guilty of the terrible crime.

Having made up his mind to this, he stepped smartly after the doctor,
and, when the latter came under a lamp-post, placed his hand suddenly on
his shoulder, and exclaimed--

"Doctor Stephen Roland, I arrest you for the murder of William Brenton!"



CHAPTER XIII.


Stephen Roland turned quietly around and shook the hand from his
shoulder. It was evident that he recognized Stratton instantly.

"Is this a Chicago joke?" asked the doctor.

"If it is, Mr. Roland, I think you will find it a very serious one."

"Aren't you afraid that _you_ may find it a serious one?"

"I don't see why I should have any fears in the premises," answered the
newspaper man.

"My dear sir, do you not realize that I could knock you down or shoot
you dead for what you have done, and be perfectly justified in doing
so?"

"If you either knock or shoot," replied the other, "you will have to do
it very quickly, for, in the language of the wild and woolly West, I've
got the drop on you. In my coat pocket is a cocked revolver with my
forefinger on the trigger. If you make a hostile move I can let daylight
through you so quickly that you won't know what has struck you."

"Electric light, I think you mean," answered the doctor, quietly. "Even
a Chicago man might find it difficult to let daylight through a person
at this time in the evening. Now, this sort of thing may be Chicago
manners, but I assure you it will not go down here in Cincinnati. You
have rendered yourself liable to the law if I cared to make a point of
it, but I do not. Come back with me to my study. I would like to talk
with you."

Stratton began to feel vaguely that he had made a fool of himself. His
scheme had utterly failed. The doctor was a great deal cooler and more
collected than he was. Nevertheless, he had a deep distrust of the
gentleman, and he kept his revolver handy for fear the other would make
a dash to escape him. They walked back without saying a word to each
other until they came to the doctor's office. Into the house they
entered, and the doctor bolted the door behind them. Stratton suspected
that very likely he was walking into a trap, but he thought he would
be equal to any emergency that might arise. The doctor walked into the
study, and again locked the door of that. Pulling down the blinds, he
turned up the gas to its full force and sat down by a table, motioning
the newspaper man to a seat on the other side.

"Now," he said calmly to Stratton, "the reason I did not resent your
unwarrantable insult is this: You are conscientiously trying to get at
the root of this mystery. So am I. Your reason is that you wish to score
a victory for your paper. My motive is entirely different, but our
object is exactly the same. Now, by some strange combination of
circumstances you have come to the conclusion that I committed the
crime. Am I right?"

"You are perfectly correct, doctor," replied Stratton.

"Very well, then. Now, I assure you that I am entirely innocent. Of
course, I appreciate the fact that this assurance will not in the
slightest degree affect your opinion, but I am interested in knowing why
you came to your conclusion, and perhaps by putting our heads together,
even if I dislike you and you hate me, we may see some light on this
matter that has hitherto been hidden. I presume you have no objection at
all to co-operate with me?"

"None in the least," was the reply.

"Very well, then. Now, don't mind my feelings at all, but tell me
exactly why you have suspected me of being a murderer."

"Well," answered Stratton, "in the first place we must look for a
motive. It seems to me that you have a motive for the crime."

"And might I ask what that motive is, or was?"

"You will admit that you disliked Brenton?"

"I will admit that, yes."

"Very well. You will admit also that you were--well, how shall I put
it?--let us say, interested in his wife before her marriage?"

"I will admit that; yes."

"You, perhaps, will admit that you are interested in her now?"

"I do not see any necessity for admitting that; but still, for the
purpose of getting along with the case, I will admit it. Go on."

"Very good. Here is a motive for the crime, and a very strong one.
First, we will presume that you are in love with the wife of the man
who is murdered. Secondly, supposing that you are mercenary, quite
a considerable amount of money will come to you in case you marry
Brenton's widow. Next, some one at that table poisoned him. It was not
Mrs. Brenton, who poured out the cup of coffee. The cup of coffee was
placed before Brenton, and my opinion is that, until it was placed
there, there was no poison in that cup. The doomed man was entirely
unsuspicious, and therefore it was very easy for a person to slip enough
poison in that cup unseen by anybody at that table, so that when he
drank his coffee nothing could have saved him. He rose from the table
feeling badly, and he went to his room and died. Now, who could have
placed that poison in his cup of coffee? It must have been one of the
two that sat at his right and left hand. A young lady sat at his right
hand. She certainly did not commit the crime. You, Stephen Roland, sat
at his left hand. Do you deny any of the facts I have recited?"

"That is a very ingenious chain of circumstantial evidence. Of course,
you do not think it strong enough to convict a man of such a serious
crime as murder?"

"No; I quite realize the weakness of the case up to this point. But
there is more to follow. Fourteen days before that dinner you purchased
at the drug store on the corner of Blank Street and Nemo Avenue thirty
grains of morphia. You had the poison put up in capsules of five
grains each. What do you say to that bit of evidence added to the
circumstantial chain which you say is ingenious?"

The doctor knit his brows and leaned back in his chair.

"By the gods!" he said, "you are right. I did buy that morphia. I
remember it now. I don't mind telling you that I had a number of
experiments on hand, as every doctor has, and I had those capsules put
up at the drug store, but this tragedy coming on made me forget all
about the matter."

"Did you take the morphia with you, doctor?"

"No, I did not. And the box of capsules, I do not think, has been
opened. But that is easily ascertained."

The doctor rose, went to his cabinet, and unlocked it. From a number of
packages he selected a small one, and brought it to the desk, placing it
before the reporter.

"There is the package. That contains, as you say, thirty grains of
morphia in half a dozen five-grain capsules. You see that it is sealed
just as it left the drug store. Now, open it and look for yourself. Here
are scales; if you want to see whether a single grain is missing or not,
find out for yourself.

"Perhaps," said the newspaper man, "we had better leave this
investigation for the proper authorities."

"Then you still believe that I am the murderer of William Brenton?"

"Yes, I still believe that."

"Very well; you may do as you please. I think, however, in justice
to myself, you should stay right here, and see that this box is not
tampered with until the proper authorities, as you say, come."

Then, placing his hand on the bell, he continued--"Whom shall I send
for? An ordinary policeman, or some one from the central office? But,
now that I think of it, here is a telephone. We can have any one brought
here that you wish. I prefer that neither you nor I leave this room
until that functionary has appeared. Name the authority you want brought
here," said the doctor, going to the telephone, "and I will have him
here if he is in town."

The newspaper man was nonplussed. The Doctor's actions did not seem like
those of a guilty man. If he were guilty he certainly had more nerve
than any person Stratton had ever met. So he hesitated. Then he said--

"Sit down a moment, doctor, and let us talk this thing over."

"Just as you say," remarked Roland, drawing up his chair again.

Stratton took the package, and looked it over carefully. It was
certainly just in the condition in which it had left the drug store; but
still, that could have been easily done by the doctor himself.

"Suppose we open this package?" he said to Roland.

"With all my heart," said the doctor, "go ahead;" and he shoved over to
him a little penknife that was on the table.

The reporter took the package, ran the knife around the edge, and opened
it. There lay six capsules, filled, as the doctor had said. Roland
picked up one of them, and looked at it critically.

"I assure you," he said, "although I am quite aware you do not believe a
word I say, that I have not seen those capsules before."

He drew towards him a piece of paper, opened the capsule, and, let the
white powder fall on the paper. He looked critically at the powder, and
a shade of astonishment came over his face. He picked up the penknife,
took a particle on the tip of it, and touched it with his tongue.

"Don't fool with that thing!" said Stratton.

"Oh, my dear fellow," he said, "morphia is not a poison in small
quantities."

The moment he had tasted it, however, he suddenly picked up the paper,
put the five grains on his tongue, and swallowed them.

Instantly the reporter sprang to his feet. He saw at once the reason for
all the assumed coolness. The doctor was merely gaining time in order to
commit suicide.

"What have you done?" cried the reporter.

"Done, my dear fellow? nothing very much. This is not morphia; it is
sulphate of quinine."



CHAPTER XIV.


In the morning Jane Morton prepared to meet Mrs. Brenton, and make her
confession. She called at the Brenton residence, but found it closed,
as it had been ever since the tragedy of Christmas morning. It took her
some time to discover the whereabouts of Mrs. Brenton, who, since the
murder, had resided with a friend except while under arrest.

For a moment Mrs. Brenton did not recognize the thin and pale woman who
stood before her in a state of such extreme nervous agitation, that it
seemed as if at any moment she might break down and cry.

"I don't suppose you'll remember me, ma'am," began the girl, "but I
worked for you two weeks before--before----"

"Oh yes," said Mrs. Brenton, "I remember you now. Have you been ill? You
look quite worn and pale, and very different from what you did the last
time I saw you."

"Yes," said the girl, "I believe I have been ill.".

"You _believe_; aren't you sure?"

"I have been very ill in mind, and troubled, and that is the reason I
look so badly,--Oh, Mrs. Brenton, I wanted to tell you of something that
has been weighing on my mind ever since that awful day! I know you can
never forgive me, but I must tell it to you, or I shall go crazy."

"Sit down, sit down," said the lady, kindly; "you know what trouble I
have been in myself. I am sure that I am more able to sympathize now
with one who is in trouble than ever I was before."

"Yes, ma'am; but you were innocent, and I am guilty. That makes all the
difference in the world."

"Guilty!" cried Mrs. Brenton, a strange fear coming over her as she
stared at the girl; "guilty of _what_?"

"Oh, madam, let me tell you all about it. There is, of course, no
excuse; but I'll begin at the beginning. You remember a while before
Christmas that John came to see me one night, and we sat up very late in
the kitchen, and your husband came down quietly, and when we heard him
coming we put out the light and just as John was trying to get away,
your husband shot twice at him, and hit him the second time?"

"Oh yes," said Mrs. Brenton, "I remember that very well. I had forgotten
about it in my own trouble; but I know that my husband intended to do
something for the young man. I hope he was not seriously hurt?"

[Illustration: "Guilty! Guilty of what?"]

"No, ma'am; he is able to be about again now as well as ever, and is not
even lame, which we expected he would be. But at the time I thought he
was going to be lame all the rest of his life, and perhaps that is the
reason I did what I did. When everything was in confusion in the house,
and it was certain that we would all have to leave, I did a very wicked
thing. I went to your room, and I stole some of your rings, and some
money that was there, as well as a lot of other things that were in the
room. It seemed to me then, although, of course, I know now how wicked
it was, that you owed John something for what he had gone through, and
I thought that he was to be lame, and that you would never miss the
things; but, oh! madam, I have not slept a night since I took them. I
have been afraid of the police and afraid of being found out. I have
pawned nothing, and they are all just as I took them, and I have brought
them back here to you, with every penny of the money. I know you can
never forgive me, but I am willing now to be given up to the police,
and I feel better in my mind than I have done ever since I took
the things."

"My poor child!" said Mrs. Brenton, sympathetically, "was that _all_?"

"All?" cried the girl. "Yes, I have brought everything back."

"Oh, I don't mean that, but I am sorry you have been worried over
anything so trivial. I can see how at such a time, and feeling that you
had been wronged, a temptation to take the things came to you. But I
hope you will not trouble any more about the matter. I will see that
John is compensated for all the injury he received, as far as it is
possible for money to compensate him. I hope you will keep the money.
The other things, of course, I shall take back, and I am glad you came
to tell me of it before telling any one else. I think, perhaps, it is
better never to say anything to anybody about this. People might not
understand just what temptation you were put to, and they would not know
the circumstances of the case, because nobody knows, I think, that John
was hurt. Now, my dear girl, do not cry. It is all right. Of course you
never will touch anything again that does not belong to you, and the
suffering you have gone through has more than made up for all the wrong
you have done. I am sure that I forgive you quite freely for it, and I
think it was very noble of you to come and tell me about it."

Mrs. Brenton took the package from the hands of the weeping girl, and
opened it. She found everything there, as the girl had said. She took
the money and offered it to Jane Morton. The girl shook her head.

"No," she cried, "I cannot touch it. I cannot, indeed. It has been
enough misery to me already."

"Very well," said Mrs. Brenton. "I would like very much to see John.
Will you bring him to me?"

The girl looked at her with startled eyes.

"You will not tell him?" she said.

"No indeed, I shall tell him nothing. But I want to do what I can for
him as I said. I suppose you are engaged to be married?"

"Yes," answered the girl; "but if he knew of this he never, never would
marry me."

"If he did not," said Mrs. Brenton, "he would not be worthy of you. But
he shall know nothing about it. You will promise to come here and see me
with him, will you not?"

"Yes, madam," said the girl.

"Then good-bye, until I see you again."

Mrs. Brenton sat for a long time thinking over this confession. It took
her some time to recover her usual self-possession, because for a moment
she had thought the girl was going to confess that she committed murder.
In comparison with that awful crime, the theft seemed so trivial that
Mrs. Brenton almost smiled when she thought of the girl's distress.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Well," said John Speed to Mr. Brenton, "if that doesn't beat the Old
Harry. Now I, for one, am very glad of it, if we come to the real truth
of the matter."

"I am glad also," said Brenton, "that the girl is not guilty, although I
must say things looked decidedly against her."

"I will tell you why I am glad," said Speed. "I am glad because it
will take some of the superfluous conceit out of that French detective
Lecocq. He was so awfully sure of himself. He couldn't possibly be
mistaken. Now, think of the mistakes that man must have made while he
was on earth, and had the power which was given into his hands in Paris.
After all, Stratton is on the right track, and he will yet land your
friend Roland in prison. Let us go and find Lecocq. This is too good to
keep."

"My dear sir," said Brenton, "you seem to be more elated because of your
friend Stratton than for any other reason. Don't you want the matter
ferreted out at all?"

"Why, certainly I do; but I don't want it ferreted out by bringing an
innocent person into trouble."

"And may not Stephen Roland be an innocent person?"

"Oh, I suppose so; but I do not think he is."

"Why do you not think so?"

"Well, if you want the real reason, simply because George Stratton
thinks he isn't. I pin my faith to Stratton."

"I think you overrate your friend Stratton."

"Overrate him, sir? That is impossible. I love him so well that I hope
he will solve this mystery himself, unaided and alone, and that in going
back to Chicago he will be smashed to pieces in a railway accident, so
that we can have him here to congratulate him."



CHAPTER XV.


"I suppose," said Roland, "you thought for a moment I was trying to
commit suicide. I think, Mr. Stratton, you will have a better opinion of
me by-and-by. I shouldn't be at all surprised if you imagined I induced
you to come in here to get you into a trap."

"You are perfectly correct," said Stratton; "and I may say, although
that was my belief, I was not in the least afraid of you, for I had you
covered all the time."

"Well," remarked Roland, carelessly, "I don't want to interfere with
your business at all, but I wish you wouldn't cover me quite so much;
that revolver of yours might go off."

"Do you mean to say," said Stratton, "that there is nothing but quinine
in those capsules?"

"I'll tell you in a moment," as he opened them one by one. "No, there is
nothing but quinine here. Thirty grains put up in five-grain capsules."

George Stratton's eyes began to open. Then he slowly rose, and looked
with horrified face at the doctor.

"My God!" he cried; "who got the thirty grains of morphia?"

"What do you mean?" asked the doctor.

"Mean? Why, don't you see it? It is a chemist's mistake. Thirty grains
of quinine have been sent you. Thirty grains of morphia have been sent
to somebody else. Was it to William Brenton?"

"By Jove!" said the doctor, "there's something in that. Say, let us go
to the drug store."

The two went out together, and walked to the drug store on the corner of
Blank Street and Nemo Avenue.

"Do you know this writing?" said Doctor Roland to the druggist, pointing
to the label on the box.

"Yes," answered the druggist; "that was written by one of my
assistants."

"Can we see him for a few moments?"

"I don't know where he is to be found. He is a worthless fellow, and has
gone to the devil this last few weeks with a rapidity that is something
startling."

"When did he leave?"

"Well, he got drunk and stayed drunk during the holidays, and I had to
discharge him. He was a very valuable man when he was sober; but he
began to be so erratic in his habits that I was afraid he would make a
ghastly mistake some time, so I discharged him before it was too late."

"Are you sure you discharged him before it was too late?"

The druggist looked at the doctor, whom he knew well, and said, "I never
heard of any mistake, if he did make it."

"You keep a book, of course, of all the prescriptions sent out?"

"Certainly."

"May we look at that book?"

"I shall be very glad to show it to you. What month or week?"

"I want to see what time you sent this box of morphia to me."

"You don't know about what time it was, do you?

"Yes; it must have been about two weeks before Christmas."

The chemist looked over the pages of the book, and finally said, "Here
it is."

"Will you let me look at that page?"

"Certainly."

The doctor ran his finger down the column, and came to an entry written
in the same hand.

"Look here," he said to Stratton, "thirty grains of quinine sent to
William Brenton, and next to it thirty grains of morphia sent to Stephen
Roland. I see how it was. Those prescriptions were mixed up. My package
went to poor Brenton."

The druggist turned pale.

"I hope," he said, "nothing public will come of this."

"My dear sir," said Roland, "something public will _have_ to come of
it. You will oblige me by ringing up the central police station, as this
book must be given in charge of the authorities."

"Look here," put in Stratton, his newspaper instinct coming uppermost,
"I want to get this thing exclusively for the _Argus_."

"Oh, I guess there will be no trouble about that. Nothing will be made
public until to-morrow, and you can telegraph to-night if we find the
box of capsules in Brenton's residence. We must take an officer with us
for that purpose, but you can caution or bribe him to keep quiet until
to-morrow."

When the three went to William Brenton's residence they began a search
of the room in which Brenton had died, but nothing was found. In the
closet of the room hung the clothes of Brenton, and going through them
Stratton found in the vest pocket of one of the suits a small box
containing what was described as five-grain capsules of sulphate of
quinine. The doctor tore one of these capsules apart, so as to see what
was in it. Without a moment's hesitation he said--

"There you are! That is the morphia. There were six capsules in this
box, and one of them is missing. William Brenton poisoned himself!
Feeling ill, he doubtless took what he thought was a dose of quinine.
Many men indulge in what we call the quinine habit. It is getting to be
a mild form of tippling. Brenton committed unconscious suicide!"

[Illustration]



CHAPTER XVI.


A group of men; who were really alive, but invisible to the searchers,
stood in the room where the discovery was made. Two of the number were
evidently angry, one in one way and one in another. The rest of the
group appeared to be very merry. One angry man was Brenton himself, who
was sullenly enraged. The other was the Frenchman, Lecocq, who was as
deeply angered as Brenton, but, instead of being sullen, was exceedingly
voluble.

"I tell you," he cried, "it is not a mistake of mine. I went on correct
principles from the first. I was misled by one who should have known
better. You will remember, gentlemen," he continued, turning first to
one and then the other, "that what I said was that we had certain facts
to go on. One of those facts I got from Mr. Brenton. I said to him in
your presence, 'Did you poison yourself?' He answered me, as I can prove
by all of you, 'No, I did not.' I took that for a fact. I thought I was
speaking to a reasonable man who knew what he was talking about."

"Haven't I told you time and again," answered Brenton, indignantly,
"that it was a mistake? You asked me if I poisoned myself. I answered
you that I did not. Your question related to suicide. I did _not_ commit
suicide. I was the victim of a druggist's mistake. If you had asked me
if I had taken medicine before I went to bed, I should have told you
frankly, 'Yes. I took one capsule of quinine.' It has been my habit for
years, when I feel badly. I thought nothing of that."

"My dear sir," said Lecocq, "I warned you, and I warned these gentlemen,
that the very things that seem trivial to a thoughtless person are the
things that sometimes count. You should have told me _everything_. If
you took anything at all, you should have said so. If you had said to
me, 'Monsieur Lecocq, before I retired I took five grains of quinine,'
I should have at once said; 'Find where that quinine is, and see if it
_is_ quinine, and see if there has not been a mistake.' I was entirely
misled; I was stupidly misled."

"Well, if there was stupidity," returned Brenton, "it was your own."

"Come, come, gentlemen," laughed Speed, "all's well that ends well.
Everybody has been mistaken, that's all about it. The best detective
minds of Europe and America, of the world, and of the spirit-land, have
been misled. You are _all_ wrong. Admit it, and let it end."

"My dear sir," said Lecocq, "I shall not admit anything. I was not
wrong; I was misled. It was this way----"

"Oh, now, for goodness' sake don't go over it all again. We understand
the circumstances well enough."

"I tell you," cried Brenton, in an angry tone, "that----

"Come, come," said Speed, "we have had enough of this discussion. I tell
you that you are all wrong, every one of you. Come with me, Brenton, and
we will leave this amusing crowd."

"I shall do nothing of the kind," answered Brenton, shortly.

"Oh, very well then, do as you please. I am glad the thing is ended, and
I am glad it is ended by my Chicago friend."

"Your Chicago friend!" sneered Brenton, slightingly; "It was discovered
by Doctor Stephen Roland."

"My dear fellow," said Speed, "Stephen Roland had all his time to
discover the thing, and didn't do it, and never would have done it, if
George Stratton hadn't encountered him. Well, good-bye, gentlemen; I am
sorry to say that I have had quite enough of this discussion. But one
thing looms up above it all, and that is that Chicago is ahead of the
world in everything--in detection as well as in fires."

"My dear sir," cried Lecocq, "it is not true. I will show you in a
moment--"

"You won't show _me_," said Speed, and he straightway disappeared.

"Come, Ferris," said Brenton, "after all, you are the only friend I seem
to have; come with me."

"Where are you going?" asked Ferris, as they left.

"I want to see how my wife takes the news."

"Don't," said Mr. Ferris--"don't do anything of the kind. Leave matters
just where they are. Everything has turned out what you would call all
right. You see that your interference, as far as it went, was perfectly
futile and useless. I want now to draw your attention to other things."

"Very well, I will listen to you," said Brenton, "if you come with me
and see how my wife takes the news. I want to enjoy for even a moment or
two her relief and pleasure at finding that her good name is clear."

"Very well," assented Ferris, "I will go with you."

When they arrived they found the Chicago reporter ahead of them. He had
evidently told Mrs. Brenton all the news, and her face flushed with
eager pleasure as she listened to the recital.

"Now," said the Chicago man, "I am going to leave Cincinnati. Are you
sorry I am going?"

"No," said Mrs. Brenton, looking him in the face, "I am not sorry."

Stratton flushed at this, and then said, taking his hat in his hand,
"Very well, madam, I shall bid you good day."

"I am not sorry," said Mrs. Brenton, holding out her hand, "because I
am going to leave Cincinnati myself, and I hope never to see the city
again. So if you stayed here, you see, I should never meet you again,
Mr. Stratton."

"Alice," cried Stratton, impulsively grasping her hand in both of his,
"don't you think you would like Chicago as a place of residence?"

"George," she answered, "I do not know. I am going to Europe, and shall
be there for a year or two."

Then he said eagerly--

"When you return, or if I go over there to see you after a year or two,
may I ask you that question again?"

"Yes," was the whispered answer.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Come," said Brenton to Ferris, "let us go."





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