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Title: Ashton-Kirk, Investigator
Author: McIntyre, John T.
Language: English
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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.

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[Illustration: "JUST AS I THOUGHT"]


ASHTON-KIRK
INVESTIGATOR


By

John T. McIntyre

Author of "In the Dead of Night," &c.


ILLUSTRATIONS BY
RALPH L. BOYER


PHILADELPHIA
1910


  To my Friend
  GRANT GIBNEY



INTRODUCTION


Ashton-Kirk, who has solved so many mysteries, is himself something of
a problem even to those who know him best. Although young, wealthy,
and of high social position, he is nevertheless an indefatigable
worker in his chosen field. He smiles when men call him a detective.
"No; only an investigator," he says.

He has never courted notoriety; indeed, his life has been more or less
secluded. However, let a man do remarkable work in any line and, as
Emerson has observed, "the world will make a beaten path to his door."

Those who have found their way to Ashton-Kirk's door have been of many
races and interests. Men of science have often been surprised to find
him in touch with the latest discoveries, scholars searching among
strange tongues and dialects, and others deep in tattered scrolls,
ancient tablets and forgotten books have been his frequent visitors.
But among them come many who seek his help in solving problems in
crime.

"I'm more curious than some other fellows, that's all," is the way he
accounts for himself. "If a puzzle is put in front of me I can't rest
till I know the answer." At any rate his natural bent has always been
to make plain the mysterious; each well hidden step in the
perpetration of a crime has always been for him an exciting lure; and
to follow a thread, snarled by circumstances or by another
intelligence has been, he admits, his chief delight.

There are many strange things to be written of this remarkable
man--but this, the case of the numismatist Hume, has been selected as
the first because it is one of the simplest, and yet clearly
illustrates Ashton-Kirk's peculiar talents. It will also throw some
light on the question, often asked, as to how his cases come to him.

A second volume that shows the investigator deep in another mystery,
even more intricate and puzzling than this, is entitled "Ashton-Kirk
and the Scarlet Scapular."



                     CONTENTS

     CHAPTER
           I. PENDLETON CALLS UPON ASHTON-KIRK
          II. MISS EDYTH VALE STATES HER CASE
         III. THE PORTRAITS OF GENERAL WAYNE
          IV. STILLMAN'S THEORY
           V. STILLMAN ASKS QUESTIONS
          VI. ASHTON-KIRK LOOKS ABOUT
         VII. THE SCHWARTZ-MICHAEL BAYONET
        VIII. THE NEWSPAPERS BEGIN TO PLAY THEIR PART
          IX. MISS VALE TELLS WHAT SHE KNOWS
           X. ASHTON-KIRK ASKS QUESTIONS
          XI. PENDLETON IS VASTLY ENLIGHTENED
         XII. ANTONIO SPATOLA APPEARS
        XIII. A NEW LIGHT ON ALLAN MORRIS
         XIV. MISS VALE UNEXPECTEDLY APPEARS
          XV. MISS VALE DEPARTS SUDDENLY
         XVI. STEEL AGAINST STEEL
        XVII. WHAT HAPPENED ON THE ROAD
       XVIII. ASHTON-KIRK TELLS WHY
         XIX. THE TWO REPORTS
          XX. ONE OF THE OLD SORT
         XXI. ASHTON-KIRK BEGINS TO PLAN
        XXII. ASHTON-KIRK IS ANNOYED
       XXIII. THE SECRET OF THE PORTRAIT
        XXIV. THE SECOND NIGHT
         XXV. APPROACHING THE FINISH
        XXVI. THE FINISH



  ILLUSTRATIONS

  "JUST AS I THOUGHT" ... FRONTISPIECE
  "YOU DO NOT MEAN TO GO THERE"
  HE RAPPED SMARTLY ON THE WINDOW
  WHAT SHE SAW MUST HAVE STARTLED HER



Ashton-Kirk, Investigator


CHAPTER I

PENDLETON CALLS UPON ASHTON-KIRK


Young Pendleton's car crept carefully around the corner and wound in
and out among the push-cart men and dirty children.

About midway in the block was a square-built house with tall,
small-paned windows and checkered with black-headed brick. It stood
slightly back from the street with ancient dignity; upon the shining
door-plate, deeply bitten in angular text, was the name "Ashton-Kirk."

Here the car stopped; Pendleton got out, ascended the white marble
steps and tugged at the polished, old-fashioned bell-handle.

A grave-faced German, in dark livery, opened the door.

"Mr. Ashton-Kirk will see you, sir," said he. "I gave him your
telephone message as soon as he came down."

"Thank you, Stumph," said Pendleton. And with the manner of one
perfectly acquainted with the house, he ascended a massively
balustraded staircase. The walls were darkly paneled; from the
shadowy recesses pictured faces of men and women looked down at him.

Coming in from the littered street, with its high smells and crowding,
gesticulating people, the house impressed one by its quiet, its
spaciousness, and the evident means and culture of its owner.
Pendleton turned off at the first landing, proceeded along a passage
and finally knocked at a door. Without waiting for a reply, he walked
in.

At the far end of a long, high-ceilinged apartment a young man was
lounging in an easy-chair. At his elbow was a jar of tobacco, a sheaf
of brown cigarette papers and a scattering of books. He lifted a keen
dark face, lit up by singularly brilliant eyes.

"Hello, Pen," greeted he. "You've come just in time to smoke up some
of this Greek tobacco. Throw those books off that chair and make
yourself easy."

One by one Pendleton lifted the books and glanced at the titles.

"Your morning's reading, if this is such," commented he, "is
strikingly catholic. Plutarch, Snarleyow, the Opium Eater, Martin
Chuzzlewit." Then came a host of tattered pamphlets, bound in
shrieking paper covers, which the speaker handled gingerly. "'The
Crimes of Anton Probst,'" he continued to read, "'The Deeds of the
Harper Family,' 'The Murder of ----'" here he paused, tossed the
pamphlets aside with contempt, sat down and drew the tobacco jar
toward him.

"Some of the results of your forays into the basements of old
booksellers, I suppose," he added, rolling a cigarette with delicate
ease. "But what value you see in such things is beyond me."

Ashton-Kirk smiled good-humoredly. He took up some of the pamphlets
and fluttered their illy-printed pages.

"They are not beautiful," he admitted; "the paper could not be worse
and the wood cuts are horrors. But they are records of actual
things--striking things, as a matter of fact--for a murder which so
lifts itself above the thousands of homicides that are yearly
occurring, as to gain a place outside the court records and
newspapers, must have been one of exceptional execution."

"There is a public which delights in being horrified," said Pendleton
with a grimace. "The things are put out to get their nickels and
dimes."

"No doubt," agreed the other. "And the fact that they are willing to
pay their nickels and dimes is, to my way of thinking, a proof of the
extraordinary nature of the crime chronicled." The speaker dropped the
prints upon the floor and lounged back in his big chair. "There is
Plutarch," he continued; "the account of the assassination of Caesar
is not the least interesting thing in his biography of that statesman.
Indeed, I have no doubt but that the chronicler thought Caesar's
taking off the most striking incident in his career; that the Roman
public thought so is a matter of history.

"Countless writers have dwelt upon the taking of human life; some of
them were rather commercial gentlemen who always gave an ear to the
demands of their public, and their screeds were written for the money
that they would put in their pockets; but others, and by long odds the
greatest, were fascinated by their subjects. Both Stevenson and Henley
were powerfully drawn by deeds of blood. Did you know they planned a
great book which was to contain a complete account of the world's most
remarkable homicides? I'm sorry they never carried the thing out; for
I cannot conceive of two minds more fitted to the task. They would
have dressed every event in the grimmest and most subtle horror; why,
the soul would have shuddered at each enormity as shaped and presented
by such masters."

Pendleton regarded his friend with candid distaste.

"You are appalling to-day," said he. "If you think it's the Greek
tobacco, let me know. For I have to mingle with other human beings,
and I'd scarcely care to get into your state of mind."

The strong, white teeth of Ashton-Kirk showed in a quick smile.

"The tobacco was recommended by old Hosko," he said, "and you'll find
nothing violent in it, no matter what you find in my conversation."

"What put you into such a frame of mind, anyway? Something happened?"

But Ashton-Kirk shook his head.

"I don't know," said he. "In fact, I have been strangely idle for the
last fortnight. The most exciting things that have appeared above my
personal horizon have been a queer little edition of Albertus-Magnus,
struck off in an obscure printing shop in Florence in the early part
of the sixteenth century, and a splendid, large paper Poe, to which I
fortunately happened to be a subscriber."

A volume of the Poe and the Albertus-Magnus were lying at hand;
Pendleton ignored the dumpy, stained little Latin volume; its
strong-smelling leather binding and faded text had no attractions for
him. But he took up the Poe and began idly turning its leaves.

"It is a mistake to suppose that some specific thing must be the cause
of an action, or a train of thought," resumed the other, from the
comfortable depths of his chair. "Sometimes thousands of things go to
the making of a single thought, countless others to the doing of a
single deed. And yet again, a thing entirely unassociated with a
result may be the beginning of the result, so to speak. For example, a
volume of Henry James which I was reading last night might be the
cause of my turning to the literature of assassination this morning;
your friendly visit may result in my coming in contact with a murder
that will make any of these," with a nod toward the scattered volumes,
"seem tame."

Pendleton threw away his cigarette and proceeded to roll another.

"It is my earnest desire to remain upon friendly terms with you,
Kirk," stated he, with a smile. "Therefore, I will make no comment
except to say that your last reflection was entirely uncalled for."

Lighting the cigarette, he turned the tall leaves of the beautiful
volume upon his knee.

"This edition is quite perfection," he remarked admiringly. "And I'm
sorry that I was not asked to subscribe. However," and Pendleton
glanced humorously at his friend, "I don't suppose its beauty is what
attracts you to-day. It is because certain pages are spread with the
records of crime. I notice that this volume holds both 'The Murders in
the Rue Morgue' and the 'Mystery of Marie Roget.'"

"Right," smiled Ashton-Kirk. "I admit I was browsing among the details
of those two masterpieces when you came in. A great fellow, Poe. His
peculiar imagination gave him a marvelous grasp of criminal
possibilities."

Ashton-Kirk took up the "Confessions of an English Opium-Eater" and
turned the leaves until he came to "Murder Considered as One of the
Fine Arts."

"In some things I have detected an odd similarity in the work of De
Quincey and Poe. Mind you, I say in some things. As to what entered
into the structure of an admirably conceived murder they were as far
apart as the poles. The ideals of the 'Society of Connoisseurs in
Murder' must have excited in Poe nothing but contempt. A coarse
butchery--a wholesale slaughter was received by this association with
raptures; a pale-eyed, orange-haired blunderer, with a ship
carpenter's mallet hidden under his coat, was hailed as an artist.

"You don't find Poe wasting time on uncouth monsters who roar like
tigers, bang doors and smear whole rooms with blood. His assassins had
a joy in planning their exploits as well as in the execution of them.
They were intelligent, secret, sure. And in every case they
accomplished their work and escaped detection."

"You must not forget, however," complained Pendleton, "that De
Quincey's assassin, John Williams, was a real person, and his killings
actual occurrences. Poe's workmen were creatures of his imagination,
their crimes, with the possible exception of 'Marie Roget,' were
purely fanciful. The creator of the doer and the deed had a clear
field; and in that, perhaps, lies the superiority of Poe."

Ashton-Kirk sighed humorously.

"Perhaps," said he. "At any rate the select crimes are usually the
conceptions of men who have no idea of putting them into execution.
And that, upon consideration, is a fortunate thing for society. But,
at the same time, it is most irritating to a man of a speculative turn
of mind. Fiction teems with most splendid murders. Captain Marryat, in
Snarleyow, created an almost perfect horror in the attempted slaughter
of the boy Smallbones by the hag mother of Vanslyperken; the lad's
reversal of the situation and his plunging a bayonet into the wrinkled
throat, makes the chapter an accomplishment difficult to displace.
Remember it?"

Pendleton arose and opened one of the windows.

"Even the noise and smell of this street of yours are grateful after
what I have been listening to," said he. Then, after a moment spent in
examining the adjacent outdoors, he added in a tone of wonderment. "I
say, Kirk, this is really a hole of a place to live! Why don't you
move?"

The other arose and joined him at the window. Old-fashioned streets
alter wonderfully after the generations of the elect have passed; but
when Eastern Europe takes to dumping its furtive hordes into one, the
change is marked indeed. In this one peddler's wagons replaced the
shining carriages of a former day--wagons drawn by large-jointed
horses and driven by bearded men who cried their wares in strange,
throaty voices.

Everything exhaled a thick, semi-oriental smell. Dully painted
fire-escapes clung hideously to the fronts of the buildings;
stagnant-looking men, wearing their hats, leaned from bedroom windows.
The once decent hallways were smutted with grimy hands; the wide
marble steps were huddled with alien, unclean people.

A splendidly spired church stood almost shoulder to shoulder with the
Ashton-Kirk house. Once it had been a place of dignified Episcopal
worship; but years of neglect had made it unwholesome and cavern-like;
and finally it was given over to a tribe of stolid Lithuanians who
stuck a cheaply gilded Greek cross over the door and thronged the
street with their wedding and christening processions.

"Perhaps," said Ashton-Kirk, after a moment's study of the prospect,
"yes, perhaps it _is_ a hole of a place in which to live. But you see
we've had this house since shortly after the Revolution; four
generations have been born here. As I have no fashionable wife and I
live alone, I am content to stay. Then, the house suits me; everything
is arranged to my taste. The environment may not be the most
desirable; but, my visitors are seldom of the sort that object to
externals."

"Well, you have one just now who is not what you might call partial to
such neighborhoods," said Pendleton. "And," looking at his watch, "you
will shortly have another who will be, perhaps, still less favorably
impressed."

"Ah!" said Ashton-Kirk.

He curled himself up upon the deep window sill while Pendleton went
back to his chair and the tobacco.

"It's a lady," resumed Pendleton, the brown paper crackling between
his fingers, "a lady of condition, quality and beauty."

"It sounds pleasant enough," smiled the other. "But why is she
coming?"

"To consult you--ah--I suppose we might call it--professionally. No, I
don't know what it is about; but judging from her manner, it is
something of no little consequence."

"She sent you to prepare the way for her, then?"

"Yes. It is Miss Edyth Vale, daughter of James Vale, the 'Structural
Steel King,' you remember they used to call him before he died a few
years ago. She was an only child, and except for the four millions
which he left to found a technical school, she inherited everything.
And when you say everything in a case like this, it means
considerable."

Ashton-Kirk nodded.

"She is a distant relative of mine," resumed Pendleton; "her mother
was connected in some vague way with my mother; and because of this
indefinite link, we've always been"--here he hesitated for an
instant--"well, rather friendly. Last night we happened to meet at
Upton's, and I took her in to dinner. Edyth is a nice girl, but I've
noticed of late that she's not had a great deal to say. Sort of quiet
and big-eyed and all that, you know. Seems healthy enough, but does a
great deal of thinking and looking away at nothing. I've talked to her
for ten minutes straight, only to find that she hadn't heard a word
I'd said.

"So, as you will understand, I did not expect a great deal of her at
dinner. But directly across from us was young Cartwright--"

"Employed in the Treasury Department?"

"That's the man. Well, he began to talk departmental affairs with some
one well down the table--you know how some of these serious kids
are--and as there seemed to be nothing else to do, I gave my whole
attention to the interesting performance of Mrs. Upton's cook. I must
have been falling into a dreamy rapture; but at any rate I suddenly
awoke, so to speak. To my surprise Edyth was talking--quite
animatedly--with Cartwright, and about you."

"Ah!" said Ashton-Kirk. "That's very pleasant. It is not given to
every man that the mention of him should stir a melancholy young lady
into animation."

"Have you done anything in your line for the Treasury Department
lately?" asked Pendleton.

"Oh, a small matter of some duplicate plates," said Ashton-Kirk. "It
had some interest, but there was nothing extraordinary in it."

"Well, Cartwright didn't think that. I did not come to in time to
catch the nature of your feat, but he seemed lost in admiration of
your cleverness. He was quite delighted, too, at securing Edyth's
attention. You see, it was a thing he had scarcely hoped for. So he
proceeded to relate all he had ever heard about you. That queer little
matter of the Lincoln death-mask, you know, and the case of the
Belgian Consul and the spurious Van Dyke. And he had even heard some
of the things you did in the university during your senior year. His
recital of your recovery of the silver figure of the Greek runner
which went as the Marathon prize in 1902 made a great hit, I assure
you.

"But when he answered 'No' to Edyth's earnest question as to whether
he were acquainted with you, she lost interest; and when I promptly
furnished the information that I was, he was forgotten. During the
remainder of the dinner I had time for little else but Edyth's
questions. When she learned that you had taken up investigation as a
sort of profession, she was quite delighted, and before we parted I
was asked to arrange a consultation."

"She will be here this morning, then?" asked Ashton-Kirk.

Pendleton once more looked at his watch.

"Within a very few minutes," said he.



CHAPTER II

MISS EDYTH VALE STATES HER CASE


It was exactly three minutes later when the continuous tooting of a
horn told of the approach of another motor car along the crowded
street. Then the door-bell rang.

Ashton-Kirk arose and touched one of a series of buttons in the wall.
Almost instantly a buzzer made sharp reply. He lifted a tube.

"If it is Miss Edyth Vale," spoke he, "show her up."

A little later a knock came upon the door. The grave faced German
opened it, ushering in an astonishingly lovely girl; tall, most
fashionably attired and with a manner of eager anxiety. Both men
arose.

"Considering that you are under twenty-five," said Pendleton, "you are
remarkably prompt in keeping your engagements, Edyth."

But the girl did not answer his smile. There was a troubled look in
her brown eyes; she tugged nervously at her gloves to get them off.

"This is Mr. Ashton-Kirk?" she asked.

"It is," answered Pendleton. "Kirk, this is my cousin, Edyth Vale."

Ashton-Kirk gave the girl a chair; she sat down, regarding him all
the time with much interest. The gloves were removed by now; but she
continued plucking at the empty fingers and drawing them through her
hands.

"I have heard of you quite frequently," said she to Ashton-Kirk, "but
did not dream that I would ever be forced to benefit by your talents.
Mr. Pendleton has been kind enough to arrange this interview at my
request; and I desire to consult you upon a most important matter--a
very private matter."

Pendleton caught the hesitating glance which she threw at him and
reached for his hat.

"Edyth," said he, "after all I have done for you, this is very
distressing. I had not expected to be bundled out in this manner."

She smiled faintly, and nodded.

"Thank you, Jimmie," she said. "You are a nice boy."

After Pendleton had gone, Miss Vale sat for some moments in silence;
and all the time her eyes went from one part of the room to another,
curiously; she seemed to be trying to estimate the man whom she came
to consult by his surroundings.

At one side, rank on rank of books ran from floor to ceiling; others
were scattered about in chairs, on stands and on the floor. At one
spot the wall was racked with glittering, and to her, strange looking
instruments. An open door gave a glimpse of a second apartment with
bare, plastered wall, fitted with tables covered with sheet lead and
cluttered with tanks, grotesquely swelling retorts, burners, jars and
other things that make up a complete laboratory.

But these told her nothing, except that the man was a student; and
this she had heard before.

So she gave her attention to Ashton-Kirk himself. He stood by the open
window, the morning light beating strongly upon his dark, keen face,
apparently watching the uncouth surging in the street below.

"He's very handsome and very wealthy," her friend Connie Bayless had
informed her only that morning. "Comes of a very old family; has the
entrée into the most exclusive houses, but practically ignores
society."

"Oh, yes, I know him," her uncle, an eminent attorney, had told her.
"A very unusual young man. I might call him acutely intellectual, and
he is an adept in many out of the way branches of knowledge. He would
make a wonderful lawyer, but has too much imagination. Thinks more of
visionary probabilities than of tangible facts."

"As an amateur actor," Pendleton had confided to her, "Kirk is without
an equal. If he adopted the stage, he'd make a sensation. At college
he was a most tremendous athlete too--football, cross-country running,
wrestling, boxing. And I'm told that he still keeps in training.
Clever chap."

"I never saw a more splendid natural equipment for languages," said
Professor Hutchinson. "The most sprawling dialect seemed a simple
matter to him; Greek and the oriental tongues were no more trouble in
his case than the 'first reader' is to an intelligent child."

She had spoken with Mrs. Stokes-Corbin over the telephone. Mrs.
Stokes-Corbin was related to Ashton-Kirk, and her information was
kindly but emphatic.

"My dear," said the lady, "I do hope you haven't fallen in love with
him. No? Well, that's fortunate. He's one of the dearest fellows in
the world, but one of the most extraordinary. I can't fancy his
marrying at all. His ways and moods and really preposterous habits
would drive a wife mad. You can't imagine the extent of them. He
spends days and nights in positively uncanny chemical experiments.
Without a word to anyone he plunges off on some mysterious errand, to
be gone for weeks. They do tell me that he is to all intents and
purposes a policeman. But I really can't quite credit that, you know.
He loves to do things that others have tried and failed. Even as a boy
he was that way. It was quite discouraging to have a child straighten
out little happenings that we had all given up in despair. Sometimes
it was quite convenient, but I'm not sure that I ever liked it. A
charming talker, my dear; he knows so much to talk about. But he's
eccentric; and an eccentric young man is a frightful burden to those
connected with him."

All these things passed through the mind of Edyth Vale, as she sat
regarding the young man at the window. Finally he lifted his eyes and
turned them upon her--beautiful eyes--remarkable, full of perception,
compelling. As he caught her intent, inquiring look, he smiled; she
colored slightly, but met his glance bravely.

"Last night I heard you spoken of," she said, "and it occurred to me
that you could aid me."

"I should be glad to," said he. "It sometimes happens that I can be of
service to persons extraordinarily circumstanced. If you will let me
hear your story--for," with a smile, "all who come to see me as you
have done _have_ a story--I shall be able to definitely say whether
your case comes within my province."

She hesitated a moment, her hands nervously engaged with the gloves.
Then she said, frankly.

"I suppose it is only sensible to speak quite candidly with you, Mr.
Ashton-Kirk, as one does with a lawyer or a physician."

He nodded.

"Of course," said he.

For another moment she seemed to be turning her thoughts over and
seeking the best means of making a beginning.

"It is very silly of me, I know," she said; "but I feel quite like the
working girl who writes to the correspondence editor of an evening
paper for advice in smoothing out her love affairs." She bent toward
him, the laugh vanishing from her face, a troubled look taking its
place, and continued. "I am to be married--some day--and it is about
that that I wish to speak to you."

"I realize the difficulties of the subject," spoke Ashton-Kirk
quietly.

"What I am going to tell you, I have never mentioned to anyone before.
It has been three years ago--four years at Christmas time--since I
first met Allan Morris," she said. "Our engagement so quickly followed
that my friends said it was a very clear case of love at first sight.
Perhaps it was!

"However that might be, we were very happy for a time. But trouble was
in store for us. I had always disbelieved in long engagements, had
always been very outspoken against them, in fact. This is perhaps what
made me so quickly notice an absence of haste on Mr. Morris' part as
to the wedding. When the subject came up, as it naturally would, he
seemed to avoid it. At first I was surprised; but finally I grew
annoyed, and spoke my mind very frankly.

"You see, he is not at all well off, and I am--well I have a great
deal. I thought this might have something to do with his apparent
reluctance. But no, it was something else. As I just said, I spoke
frankly; and he was equally candid, after a fashion. He said it was
quite impossible for us to be married for some time. There was a
something--he did not say what--which must first be settled. Naturally
I grew curious. I desired to know what it was that so stood in the way
of our happiness. He replied that it was something that must not be
spoken of, and was so very earnest in the matter that I did not
mention it again--for a long time.

"You may think, Mr. Ashton-Kirk, that my fiancé was no very ardent
lover. But I was assured, and I do not lack perception, that he was
passionately fond of me. And I still think so. But as time went by,
things did not alter; our wedding was a vague expectation; even more
than before Mr. Morris avoided mention of anything definite.

"I am not naturally patient; and my rearing as the only child of an
enormously rich man has perhaps added to my impetuousness. In a burst
of temper one day, I broke the engagement, gave him back his ring and
did a number of other rather silly things. But he was so tragic in
his despair--so utterly broken hearted and white--that I immediately
relented and we patched the matter up once more. That he loved me was
plain; but that he could not marry me--for some mysterious reason--was
even plainer.

"After this I began to notice a change in him. He was rather silent
and given to reverie; he seldom laughed. Sometimes he was haggard and
so wrought up, apparently, that he could scarcely contain himself. He
would pace the floor, evidently with little realization as to what he
was doing. Once he was really dreadfully agitated. I calmed him as
well as I could, and he sat for a long time, thinking deeply. As I
watched him, he sprang to his feet and dashing his fist upon a table,
cried out, passionately:

"'The black-hearted rascal! He's mocking me!'

"Then like a flash he realized the strangeness of his conduct, and
with anxious, alarmed face, asked my pardon. I felt that this was an
opportunity to put an end to a situation that was growing intolerable.
My persistent questioning gained me something, but, on the whole, not
a great deal.

"The thing that was troubling him was a business matter. In some way
he was in the hands of some one--these are the indefinite threads that
I gathered--a mocking, jeering, smiling someone whom he hated, but
from whom he could not free himself.

"I began to tell him that there could be nothing strong enough in
itself to prevent our happiness; but he stopped me in such a way that
I did not feel inclined to continue. In an outburst, filled with
denunciations of his enemy and protestations of devotion to myself, I
caught the name of Hume. He had dropped this inadvertently. I knew it
instantly because of the swift look that he gave me. But I allowed no
hint of what I thought to show in my face. He was more subdued during
the remainder of his stay; the mentioning of the name had startled
him, and he was doubtless afraid that his state of mind would lead him
into further indiscretions.

"As you may suppose, the name--the first tangible thing that I had
learned--was of much interest to me. If I could but find out who this
person was, I could probably get to the bottom of the matter."

At this point Miss Vale paused; and Ashton-Kirk noted her head lift
proudly.

"Perhaps," she continued, "it might be thought that I had no right to
make such an effort in a matter which Mr. Morris saw fit to keep from
me. Were you thinking that? But I am not a silent sufferer. I usually
make an end of annoying things without delay. And I would have done
so in this case long before, but I was in love; and I could not bear
to see Allan suffer by my insistence.

"However, here was an opportunity to perhaps aid him; and I set to
work. In a few hours next day I had located every person of the name
of Hume in the city. Mr. Morris is a consulting engineer. Anyone named
Hume who, from his occupation, would be likely to have dealings with
him especially attracted my attention. There were only a few, and long
before the day was over I had satisfied myself by personal visits at
their places of business that they did not even know him."

Ashton-Kirk smiled. One of his well-kept hands patted applause upon
the arm of his chair.

"You are strong," said he. "I recognized your type when you came
in. It is a pleasure to have one's judgment so thoroughly and
satisfactorily proven."

Miss Vale looked pleased.

"I am glad that you approve of what I did," she said. "I confess I had
some hesitancy, but not enough to prevent my carrying out the design.
But when the first effort proved without result, I set about making a
study of all the Humes in the directory. I had my secretary make me a
typed list of them, with their addresses and occupations, and I pored
over this for hours at a time.

"There was one that caught my eye after a while; probably this was
because of the unusualness of his business. The directory gave him as
a numismatist; but I drove by his shop in my car, and the sign over
the window said that he was also a dealer in curiosities of art.

"This gave me an idea. Mr. Morris is an ardent collector; his hobby is
engraved gems, and for a man of his means his possessions in this line
are quite remarkable. It was easily within the range of possibility
that he had had transactions with this particular Hume--at least that
he was acquainted with him. The more I thought of this, the more
curious I grew; and one afternoon I paid the place a visit. It is on
the second floor, the entrance is through a side door and up a narrow,
dusty stairway. Then I had to make my way along a dark windowless
passage to the office, or shop in the front.

"This shop was well lighted, and literally stuffed with what were well
termed 'curiosities of art.' I never before saw such queer carvings,
such freakish pottery, such weird and utterly impossible bric-a-brac.
At a table sat a flabby looking man with a short sandy beard. One
glance told me that he was an habitual drunkard, for he had the
sodden look that is unmistakable. But when he arose and bid me good
evening his manner struck me like a blow in the face. Allan Morris had
spoken of a mocking person who jeered and smiled. And that described
this man exactly. There was mockery in every glance of his dull eyes;
every twitch of his mouth was a fleer; with each gesture he seemed
making game of one; sneering incredulity was stamped all over him."

Ashton-Kirk leaned forward with keen interest.

"My manner must have betrayed me," the girl went on, "for I saw an
inquiring crease come into his forehead. When he asked the nature of
my business his voice was sharp and insolent.

"I had not thought as to what I should say, what excuse I should give
in this case. But almost instantly my mind was made up. About the most
conspicuous thing in the room was a squat Japanese idol--a fat,
grinning, hideous thing which sat upon a sort of pedestal near the
door. So I laid my hand in it.

"'I was told of this,' said I, examining the idol minutely, 'and came
in to see it.'

"'Ah, yes,' said he. But it was plain enough that he did not believe
me.

"I inquired the price of the figure. He named a high one; and I
believe I astonished him by purchasing it without another word. The
idol was delivered late that afternoon. I had it unpacked at once and
placed where Mr. Morris could not fail to see it when he called."

"A clever plan," commented Ashton-Kirk, admiringly.

"He saw it when he entered the room and greeted me. He was smiling;
and the smile froze on his lips, his face went pale, and he turned a
look upon me that filled me with fear, it was so wan and startled.

"I had intended telling him the full truth if my ruse succeeded. But
after that look I could not. I convinced him by a nonchalant manner
and story, that I had come by the idol accidentally. At least I
_think_ I convinced him, though I noticed his watching me steadily
from under very level brows more than once during the evening. But if
he had any suspicions that I was deceiving him, he did not put them
into words."

Here Miss Vale paused for a moment. Then she resumed:

"I tried, in various ways, to gain a knowledge of the relationship
between my fiancé and this sneering shopkeeper; but they were all
ineffectual. Mr. Ashton-Kirk, this occurred fully three months ago,
and the situation remains the same as it was upon that night."

Then with a suddenness that startled the young man she lifted two
trembling hands to her face and began to sob gaspingly. When she took
the hands away there were no signs of tears, but her beautiful face
was drawn with pain and her voice shook as she said:

"I don't think I can stand it much longer. I beg of you not to think
lightly of my story; for the thing that stands between Allan Morris
and myself is deadly. As I watch him I can see that his heart is
breaking; his health is failing, there is a look of fear in his eyes."
She reached forward and her hand rested upon the sleeve of
Ashton-Kirk. "He is at the mercy of this mocking monster that I have
described to you. It is killing him, and through him it is killing me.
Help me, please."

Ashton-Kirk smiled reassuringly.

"As far as I can see," said he, "the case is a simple one. However, it
may turn out the reverse. But in either event I can promise you a
swift and energetic attempt to set the matter right."

"Thank you!" She stood up. "And you will begin to-day?"

"At once!"

"You are kind." She held out her hand; he took it. "Thank you, again."

Stumph appeared, in answer to the bell. She turned to go.

"There is nothing more that you can tell me?" he inquired.

"Nothing."

"I had supposed that. Your recital sounded pretty complete."

When the door closed upon her, he stood for a few moments in the
middle of the floor, his head bent forward, his hands behind him. Then
he turned and touched another of the system of bells.

Immediately a brisk, boyish looking young man presented himself.

"Fuller," spoke Ashton-Kirk, "I want instant and complete information
upon one Hume, a local numismatist, and Allan Morris, consulting
engineer."

"Very well, sir." And Fuller turned at once, and left the room.



CHAPTER III

THE PORTRAITS OF GENERAL WAYNE


When Ashton-Kirk returned that evening from the theatre, where he had
gone to witness a much heralded new drama, he sat with a cigar, in his
library; and stretching out his length in great comfort, he smoked and
smiled and thought of what he had seen and heard.

"The drama as a medium of expression is necessarily limited," the
young man was saying to himself, "and of course, in fitting human
action to its narrow bounds, the dramatist is sometimes tempted to
ignore certain human elements. In spots, the people of the play acted
like puppets; upon seven different occasions, by actual count, the
entire matter would have been cleared up if someone had sharply spoken
his mind. But he did not, and the thing was allowed to become
hopelessly involved because of it."

He knocked the ashes from his cigar; and a smile came to his lips.

"It would not have served the purpose of the dramatist, I suppose; his
play would have ended abruptly, and far short of the prescribed time.
He tried to tell a human story and chose an unhuman method."

There was another pause; the smile now disappeared and a thoughtful
look came into his face.

"And yet," he mused, "is the playwright really so far wrong? Is his
stage story very far removed from actuality after all? In Miss Edyth
Vale, we have a girl of most unusual character, of splendid education,
apparently. And yet in the building of her own drama she has
outstripped the inventor of stage plays in the matter of hesitancy.
Her natural inclination urged her to make a firm stand; but other
feelings proved the stronger, and she held her tongue much after the
fashion of the girl in the play."

He was puffing at a second cigar when there came a knock on the door,
and Fuller entered.

"Well?" said Ashton-Kirk.

"I thought you'd perhaps like to look over this data before morning,"
said the young man, as he laid a number of typed sheets and a
photograph at Ashton-Kirk's elbow. "As you required instant action I
got Burgess on the Hume end of it before noon; after luncheon I took
up Morris myself."

"Thank you," said the other.

"Morris," with a nod toward the photograph, "is rather uneventful,
personally. And it was no very difficult matter to get the facts
concerning him. But Burgess had a much more interesting time. Hume
seems to have lots of color as a character. Not that there was a great
deal shown--the time was too short. But the indications are
promising."

When Fuller had gone, Ashton-Kirk took up the sheets and began to read
them carefully. They were brief, pointed and evidently the work of men
who were familiar enough with their business to eliminate all
non-essentials. The first one ran:

"Allan Barnett Morris, Consulting Engineer. Specialty, Marine
Construction. Lives at the Crompton Apartments. Born October 15, 1879.
Graduate of Cornell; class of 1900. Special honors. Brilliant student.
Was at once engaged by the New England Ship Building Company. Soon
became their right hand man. Resigned in 1905; took offices in the
Blake Building. Is much employed by the Government. Has the reputation
of a growing man in his line and is admitted by competent persons to
be an expert.

"He is unmarried and has no relatives. The last of these to die was
his father--a trifle more than three years ago. The father had a
reputation for great brilliancy and hard drinking. He was an inventor
of some note. See the Morris Smoke Consumer--the Morris Propeller--the
Morris Automatic Brake. But he never made much out of any of these.
The appetite for liquor forced him to surrender, for very little,
interests that made fortunes for other men.

"Young Morris is clear of the drink habit, and is a hard and
persistent worker. He is a member of the University and the Brookdale
Field Clubs; goes into society, and is reported to be the accepted
suitor of Miss Edyth Vale, daughter of the late James Vale,
manufacturer of structural steel."

"A clean bill of health, as far as it goes," commented Ashton-Kirk.
"However, surface inquiries tell very little, sometimes."

He turned to the remaining pages.

"David Purtell Hume, Numismatist, philatelist, dealer in objects of
art and curiosities. Resides at his place of business, second floor of
478 Christie Place.

"Hume located in this city in 1899. Where he came from is not
definitely known, but there is some slight cause for supposing that he
is an American who had been living abroad. However, an examination of
the steamship passenger lists for 1898-99 fail to show his name.

"Is well known in his line and is reputed to be wealthy. Is much
disliked by his neighbors and others in the same trade. Even those who
patronize him have an aversion to him; but as he is an authority, and
his stock always contains rarities, they do not take their custom
elsewhere.

"Hume has been under suspicion upon several occasions. But the police
could gather no positive evidence against him, at any time. The
robbery of the Hailesbury gallery at London, when the famous Whistler
portrait of the Duchess of Winterton was cut from its frame, was
traced almost to his door. But the scent died out before they could
clinch the matter, and he escaped. It was believed that the thing
was planned by him and executed by a confederate. Several other
occurrences of like nature, but of less importance, have been laid
against him. But, if he was concerned in them, he was always cunning
enough to hide his tracks.

"He is an habitual drinker, of violent temper, and is reputed to have
a positive genius for discovering raw spots in an acquaintance and
goading him for the sheer joy of seeing him writhe. It is this trait
that causes the general dislike for him in the Christie Place section.

"He is a free liver, spends much money and has a passion for music."

Ashton-Kirk laid down the sheets and threw away his cigar.

"As Fuller remarked, Mr. Hume seems to be a colorful character. And
apparently one that would be likely to lead Mr. Allan Morris a very
lively dance if he had a hold of any sort upon him."

He arose to his feet, a pleased light in his eye, and began walking up
and down the floor.

"It is more than likely that it will prove some trifle that Morris'
fears have lifted to the plane of a tragedy. But, somehow, the parts
of the case seem to fall in a promising manner. I get a sort of
pleasure in anticipating a possible grapple with Mr. David Purtell
Hume."

For a full hour, Ashton-Kirk moved up and down the library, his eyes
half closed, varying expressions appearing and disappearing upon his
face. At length there came a smile of satisfaction and he paused in
his pacing.

"That is probably it," said he. "At any rate it is a very favorable
coincidence. However, I must have more information than the hurried
reports of Burgess and Fuller to be certain. Yes, this promises to be
interesting."

With that he went to his room and to bed.

The dull gray of a damp spring morning was peering in at his window
when he awoke. By the light he knew that it was hours before his usual
time. Something had aroused him; but he could not say what. He sat up
in bed, and as he did so there came the long continued and smothered
ringing of a bell.

"The telephone," said he.

"R-r-r-r-ring-g!" it persisted. And then again:
"R-r-r-r-ring-ing-ing! R-r-r-ring!"

Ashton-Kirk heard a door open and close softly on the floor above;
then slippered feet came pat-patting down the stairs. The wild rattle
of the bell suddenly stopped; a muffled voice could be heard
protesting dismally against the din. But suddenly the vague complaint
gave way to a higher note.

"Alarm," said Ashton-Kirk. "Something has happened."

He reached up and turned on the electric bulb that hung above his
head; then he drew his feet up under him after the fashion of a Turk
and waited, calmly.

The padded steps swiftly approached his door; a sharp knock sounded on
the panels.

"Well?" demanded the young man.

"There is an urgent call, sir," came the voice of Stumph--"on the
telephone. It's the lady who called yesterday--Miss Vale."

Ashton-Kirk slipped from the bed; a step brought him to the door,
which he threw open.

"Very well, Stumph," said he, quietly. "You may go back to bed."

The grave-faced German went stolidly down the hall; the young man
pulled on a pair of felt slippers; in the library he put the detached
receiver to his ear and spoke evenly:

"Well, Miss Vale?"

There was a small, gasping exclamation from the wire, a sort of
breath-catching flutter of sound such as a person might utter who had
been running hard. Then Edyth Vale, her voice shaking and filled with
fear, said:

"Oh! Is that you! I'm glad--glad!"

"Get a firm grip on yourself," advised Ashton-Kirk. "If anything has
happened we can no doubt remedy it."

There came a series of moaning sobs across the wire; the girl had
evidently broken down and was crying. Ashton-Kirk said nothing; he
waited patiently. Finally she spoke once more.

"What has happened can _never_ be remedied." Then her voice sank so
low that he could scarcely catch the breathless words. "There has been
murder done."

The investigator felt the blood prickle beneath his skin. However, his
voice was steady as he replied; his calmly working mind shook off the
fear which she so strongly suggested.

"Who has been murdered?" he asked.

"The man whom I told you about yesterday--the numismatist, Hume."

"Ah!" Ashton-Kirk drew in a long breath and his eyes began to glow.
There was an instant's pause, then he said: "The hour is rather
unconventional; but if you will receive me, I'll have you tell me
about this matter privately and at once."

"By all means," she answered, eagerly. "I was about to beg of you to
come."

"In a half hour," said he, briefly. "Good-by."

He hung up the receiver and touched one of the buttons. When Stumph
came, he said:

"Turn the cold water into my bath. Then order the car in haste."

"Yes, sir."

"Afterwards you can lay out a rough suit, heavy shoes and a soft hat."

"Instantly, sir."

Within twenty minutes Ashton-Kirk ran down the steps and sprang into
the powerful looking car that awaited him; and well within the half
hour he rang the bell at the marble palace built by the steel magnate
during the last years of his life. A heavy-eyed man servant admitted
him with astonished resentment. Miss Vale, looking very tall and very
pale, met him in the hall. But for all her pallor she seemed quite
collected, even smiling.

"Oh, I'm so sorry to have brought you out so early and on such a
dismal morning," she said, lightly, leading him into a room at one
side. "I'm sure it is very damp."

She sat down and motioned him to a chair; he studied her with some
surprise; the transition from wild terror to her present calm was
most notable.

"There has been a recovery of poise, evidently," Ashton-Kirk told
himself. "She is still frightened, but for some reason is anxious to
hide it."

"This morning," said Miss Vale, with a laugh that rang perfectly, "I
found that I was only a woman after all. This--this dreadful thing so
startled me that for a time I did not know what to do. My first
impulse was to call you, and I acted upon it. But," with a pretty
gesture of apology, "when I had recovered myself somewhat, I saw that
I had disturbed you unnecessarily."

"You don't mean that, after all, Hume is not--"

She held up her hand for him to stop. A strong shudder seemed to run
through her; she bent her head so that the light would not fall too
strongly upon her face. In a moment, however, she recovered.

"Yes, yes," she said, her voice perfectly under control. "He is
dead--shockingly murdered. What I mean is, that while the event is
very dreadful--still, it does not really concern me more than any
other crime of the same nature which we see staring at us from the
columns of the newspapers every day. This man's being in my mind so
much of late caused me to become unnerved when I heard the news."

"When did it occur?"

"Sometime since midnight."

There was a silence. Miss Vale arose and began to pace the room. The
long white cloak that had draped her fell away; she wore a ball dress
and her arms and shoulders shone splendidly under the lights.

"How did you hear of it?" asked Ashton-Kirk.

There was a scarcely perceptible hesitancy; then she answered:

"Through the newspapers. We were returning from Mrs. Barron's about
three o'clock. The papers had just come out, and I felt a curiosity to
see them wet from the press. When I reached home the first thing that
caught my eye was the account of Hume's death."

"Did you call me up at once?"

"Yes. As I have said, it was the first thing that occurred to me. And
again I beg your pardon for having disturbed you uselessly."

Ashton-Kirk gestured this aside.

"It may be that the affair will turn out to have some interesting
features," said he. "And with that possibility in view, I am rather
pleased than not in having an opportunity of getting so early upon the
ground."

She paused in her pacing, and turned upon him a startled look.

"You do not mean to go there--to Christie Place," she said.

[Illustration: "YOU DO NOT MEAN TO GO THERE"--]

"I may as well. I may be of use." He looked at her for a moment
steadily, then asked: "Do you know of any reason why I should not go?"

Instantly the startled look vanished; a smile lit up the pale face,
wanly.

"Of course not," she cried. "You are interested in dreadful
happenings--I had forgotten that. I suppose you _are_ really quite
delighted; and instead of my craving pardon I should be expecting
praise, for putting you in the way of this one."

She laughed lightly; a smile flitted across his keen face, as he rose
and said:

"What has happened may make a change in the affairs of Allan Morris."

She came to him and laid a hand upon his arm. Her coolness won his
admiration.

"I beg of you to forget all that I told you yesterday," she said. "I
had been brooding so long that I had begun to fancy all sorts of
impossible things. I see very clearly now that this man Hume could
have had nothing of any consequence to do with Mr. Morris. It was a
romance--a rather foolish fancy, and a very wild one."

There was sweet seriousness in her manner; and the lurking smile
still hovered about her lips. It was as though a return to reason had
driven away the fears of the day before--the alarmed girl had given
place to a sensible woman.

But behind all this, Ashton-Kirk could detect something else. The
almost swooning terror of the girl who had spoken to him over the
telephone was still there--held rigidly in check to be sure, but
unquestionably there. While her lips smiled, the eyes sometimes
betrayed her; and there was a tenseness about her that almost
screamed. Her good-by was soft and kindly spoken; she held out her
hand, frankly, and thanked him for his interest. There was nothing
hurried in her manner; it was all smoothly and leisurely done. And yet
he felt that if she had followed the impulse that filled her, she
would have taken him, by the shoulder and bundled him from the room in
order that she might be alone.

"Alone--to think," he said, as he got into his car at the curb. "But
to think about what?" Aloud he said to the driver: "Christie Place."

By this time the early workers were beginning to thicken in the
street; street cars were more frequent; the dull night hum of the city
was growing in volume. The spark had set the car's engine throbbing
heavily, and the driver was about to start when a second vehicle drew
up and Ashton-Kirk found himself looking into the alarmed face of
young Pendleton.

"Heavens, Kirk!" cried the newcomer, as he leaped out, "has anything
serious happened?"

"To whom?" asked the investigator, quietly, his eyes fixed upon the
young man's face.

"To Edyth, of course. Has any thing been seen of her?"

"I have just left her; she seemed a bit agitated, but perfectly well."

A look of relief crossed Pendleton's face.

"Oh!" said he. "All right. I was beginning to think that something was
up. You see," and here he lowered his voice, "I danced with her about
midnight at Mrs. Barron's; about two o'clock her aunt, Mrs. Page, came
to me in great distress and said she was strangely missing. She had
slipped away somewhere without a word."

Ashton-Kirk looked at him keenly.

"Of course it was up to me to find her," said Pendleton; "but my
efforts were without result. Her car was gone, and the man said Miss
Vale had called it about one o'clock; also that she had driven away in
it alone.

"At this news Mrs. Page grew quite ill, and I brought her home here in
my car. Then I departed upon a vague sort of search. As the matter was
to be kept perfectly quiet and I was to ask no questions of anybody,
you can imagine how much chance I had of doing anything. But if she's
at home, it's all right. At sight of you I thought it had proved to be
something alarming and that they had sent for you."

"I _was_ sent for," said Ashton-Kirk, dryly, "but not to hunt for Miss
Vale. Now jump in here and come along; I've got a little matter that
may be of interest."

"I haven't had breakfast," said Pendleton; "but there's always
something piquant to your little affairs. I'll go you."

He dismissed his own car and climbed into that of his friend. As they
whirled up the street, Ashton-Kirk suddenly directed his driver to
stop. Then he called to a man with a great bundle of newspapers who
stood calling them monotonously upon a corner.

Again the car started with the investigator deep in the sheaf of
papers which he had purchased. Page after page failed to reveal
anything to his practised glance; at length he swept them to the floor
of the car. A smile was upon his lips--the smile of a man who had
received a nod of approval from Circumstances.

"The first edition of the morning dailies lacks interest," he said. "A
crime of some moment can be committed between midnight and dawn, and
not a line appear in type concerning it until the later issues."

Pendleton looked at him with mock disapproval.

"One would suppose," said he, "that you had expected to find some
such criminal narrative in those," and he indicated the discarded
newspapers.

"There were reasons why I should," answered Ashton-Kirk. "And very
good reasons, too. But," and he laughed a little, "for all that, I had
an indefinite sort of feeling that I should _not_ find it. This may
sound a trifle queer; but nevertheless it is true."

"The account was to have been of a murder," accused Pendleton. "I can
see it in your face, so don't take the trouble to deny it. I had
hoped that your plunge into what you styled the 'literature of
assassination' would not last--that a good night's rest would turn
your thoughts into another groove."

"Perhaps it would have been so," said Ashton-Kirk. "But things have
happened in the meantime."

"And you don't appear at all put out that they have done so. That is
possibly the most distressing feature of the business. If anything,
you seem rather pleased. Of course, an odd murder or so is to be
expected in the ordinary course of events; but one hardly counts upon
one's intimates being concerned in them. It is disconcerting."

He crossed his legs and pursed up his lips.

"If you don't mind," added he, "now that I have expressed myself,
I'll listen to the details of whatever you have in view."

"There is not a great deal to tell," said Ashton-Kirk. "A man has been
murdered in Christie Place. It happens that I have an interest in the
matter; otherwise I would not think of dipping into it."

Pendleton looked at him reproachfully.

"After all, then," exclaimed he, "you are but a dilettante!
Assassination in the abstract is well enough, but you have a
disposition to shirk practical examples. I have been deceived!"

Christie Place was some distance west and ran off from a much
frequented street. It was notable for the wilderness of sign boards
that flared from each side. The buildings were apparently let out in
floors and each lessee endeavored to outdo his neighbor in proclaiming
his business to the passing public. The lower floors were, for the
most part, occupied by small grocers, dealers in notions, barbers,
confectioners and such like.

"What a crowded, narrow little place," commented Pendleton, as the car
turned into the street. The air in the street seemed to him heavy.

About midway in the block a small group stood about a doorway; from a
window above swung a sign bearing the name of Hume. The car stopped
here; Ashton-Kirk and his friend got out; the group at the doorway
parted and a big man stepped forward.

"Why, hello," said he, cordially. "You're the last person I was looking
for. How did you hear about this?"

"Good morning, Osborne," said Ashton-Kirk, shaking the big man's hand.
"I'm glad to find you in charge. I got it in an unusual sort of way,
and came down to have a look."

Osborne, though in plain clothes, was emphatically a policeman. His
square face, his big frame, his dogged expression, somehow conveyed
the impression as plainly as words.

"It must have been unusual," said he, "because even the reporters
haven't got it yet; headquarters is keeping it quiet until the chief
gets in."

Ashton-Kirk looked vastly pleased.

"Excellent," said he to Pendleton. "We'll have a look at the place
before it has lost the atmosphere of the crime." Then to Osborne: "May
we go up?"

"Sure," answered the other readily. "Only don't pull things around
any. That young fellow that they've elected coroner is awful touchy
about such things. He wants to be first always."

"Nothing of importance shall be disturbed," promised Ashton-Kirk. Then
motioning Pendleton to follow, he ascended the flight that led to the
second floor.

It was narrow and dusty, as Miss Vale had said. The walls were
smutted, the hand rail felt greasy, the air was stale. A passage, dim
and windowless, ran the depth of the building; from the front there
came a patch of daylight through a ground glass door. Upon this latter
could be easily read the words:

      DAVID P. HUME
       NUMISMATIST
       PHILATELIST
     ART CURIOSITIES

A policeman stood at the head of the stairs smoking a cigar in an
informal way.

"All right," said he, "if Osborne let you come up I've got nothing to
say. He's the boss."

"Have you looked over the place?"

"Just a glance. The floor has been fitted up as an apartment. Hume
occupied all the rooms. The body," pointing to the front room, "is in
there."

"Thanks."

Ashton-Kirk turned the knob of the door nearest, the one with the
lettering upon it. The room was without windows; the investigator
closed the door and lighted the gas.

"Just a moment," said he.

The door leading to the front room stood wide. He disappeared through
this for a moment; when he returned, his face wore a tightened
expression; his eyes were swift and eager.

"This is a sort of store room, I should say," spoke Pendleton.

Pictures hung about upon the walls and stood packed in corners;
statues of bronze, marble and plaster were on every side; brass
bas-reliefs, rugs of Eastern design and great price, antique armor,
coin cabinets, ponderous stamp albums, Japanese paintings and carvings
and a host of queer and valuable objects fairly crammed every inch of
space.

"I had heard that Hume was wealthy," commented Ashton-Kirk. "And this
seems to prove it. This room contains value enough to satisfy a fairly
reasonable person."

The two young men passed through into what appeared to be a kitchen.
There was an ill kept range upon one side cluttered with cooking
things. A bare oaken table of the Jacobean period held the remains of
a meal. A massive Dutch side-board, covered with beautiful carving,
stood facing them; every inch of available space upon it was crowded
with bottles, decanters and glasses.

"The gentleman was not averse to an occasional nip, at any rate," said
Pendleton. "And his taste was rather educated, too," examining the
sideboard's contents carefully. "The best was none too good for him."

Beyond this again was a bedroom. The bed was a huge Flemish affair,
and also elaborately carved; over it was a spreading Genoese canopy,
which through lack of care had grown dusty and tattered. Rich old rugs
were spread upon the neglected floor; a beautiful Louis Quinze table
had its top covered with discolored rings made by the bottoms of
glasses, and the lighted ends of cigars had burned spots on it.

"The bed of a prince and the floor coverings of a duke," said
Pendleton with indignation. "And used much as a coal heaver would use
them. Now, this table is really a scandal. If its owner has been
murdered, I don't wonder at it. Some outraged lover of such things has
probably taken the law into his own hands."

But Ashton-Kirk was paying little attention to the things that
appalled Pendleton.

"Look," said he.

He indicated the walls. Here and there the plaster was broken as
though some fastened object had been violently torn away. At one place
an empty picture frame, its glass smashed, hung askew from a hook. As
Pendleton caught sight of other empty frames littered about the room,
the glass of each broken, their pictures torn out, he exclaimed in
astonishment:

"Hello! Someone has torn them down and smashed them. What an
extraordinary thing to do!"

The pictures, mostly engravings, but with here and there a painting,
were strewn about. Ashton-Kirk carefully gathered them up and spread
them upon the table. They were by various hands, but unquestionably
represented the same person--a handsome, resolute looking man in the
uniform of an officer in the army of Washington.

"General Anthony Wayne," said Ashton-Kirk, softly.

There was something in the tone that made Pendleton look at him
swiftly. The splendid head was bent over the portraits; eagerness
blazed in the dark eyes; the keen face was rigid with interest.

"Some drunken freak, do you think?" asked Pendleton, more to hear his
friend's view than anything else.

But Ashton-Kirk shook his head.

"On the contrary, the thing seems full of a vague meaning," said he.
"There were seventeen pictures upon the walls of this room; fourteen
have been torn down and destroyed; the other three are undisturbed."

Pendleton gazed at the pictures that remained upon the walls. Two were
of fine looking houses of the colonial type; the third was the
portrait of a man--a man of repulsive, sneering face, heavy with evil
lines and with unusually small eyes.

"If they had destroyed that one it would have had some meaning to me,"
commented Pendleton. "But, as it is, I hardly think I follow you."

"The meaning that I find," replied Ashton-Kirk, "lies in the fact that
the pictures violently used were those of General Wayne only. Mark
that fact. That they were deliberately selected for destruction is
beyond question."

"How do you make that out?"

"It is simple. If this were a mere random stripping of the room of its
pictures, all would have suffered. Look," indicating a spot in the
wall, "here is a place where the plaster is broken. A hook had been
driven here to hold one of the portraits; and the breaking of the
plaster shows that some determination was required to tear the picture
down. Yet--next this--is an engraving of an old mansion which remains
untouched. The next four again were portraits of the General, and all
have been demolished."

Pendleton nodded.

"That's true," said he. "Whoever did this was after the Revolutionary
hero alone. But why?"

Ashton-Kirk smiled.

"We'll look into matters a little further," said he. "Perhaps there
are facts to be gathered that will shed some light upon the things
that we have already seen."

They repassed through the other rooms; with his hand upon the frame of
the door leading to the show room, Ashton-Kirk paused.

"Better brace yourself for rather a shocking sight," said he to his
friend.

"Go on," said Pendleton, quietly.



CHAPTER IV

STILLMAN'S THEORY


There were four good-sized windows in the show room, all overlooking
the street. It was a large, square place, and, as Miss Vale had said,
literally stuffed with odd carvings, pottery of a most freakish sort,
and weird bric-a-brac. Two large modern safes stood at one side,
behind a long show case spread with ancient coins. At the end of this
case was a carpeted space, railed in and furnished with a great
flat-topped desk. Upon the floor at the foot of the desk, and with
three separate streams of blood creeping away from it, lay the
huddled, ghastly figure of a man.

Pendleton, though he had been warned, felt his breath catch and his
skin grow cold and damp.

"Heavens!" said he, under his breath. "It's the man whose picture we
saw inside there on the wall."

Even the shock of death could not, so it seemed, drive the sneer from
the thick lips; mockery was frozen in the dead eyes.

"What a beast he must have been," went on Pendleton. "Like a satyr. I
don't think I ever saw just that type of face before."

Ashton-Kirk was bending over the body; suddenly he raised himself.

"There is a heavy bruise on the forehead," said he. "He was felled
first; then bayoneted."

"Bayoneted!" Pendleton peered at the body.

"There it is, sticking from his chest." Ashton-Kirk drew aside the
breast of the dead man's coat and his companion caught sight of a
bronze hilt. The broad, sword-like blade had been driven completely
home.

"If we attempted to move the body," said the investigator, "I should
not be surprised if we found it pinned to the floor. It took brawn to
give that stroke; the man who dealt it made sure of the job."

With soft, quick steps he crossed the room. The doors of the safes
were locked.

"If the purpose was robbery," said Ashton-Kirk, "the criminal
evidently knew where to look for the most portable and valuable
articles. There seems to be no indication of anything having been
tampered--" He stopped short, his eyes upon a huge vellum covered tome
which lay open upon the floor. He whistled softly between his teeth.
"General Wayne once more!" he said.

The volume, as far as Pendleton could see, was a sort of scrap book in
which had been fastened a great number of prints. Upon the two pages
that they could see, six prints had been affixed by the corners. Of
these, four had been torn out and lay upon the floor.

"Gambetta and John Bright have been spared," said Ashton-Kirk,
pointing at the book, "but," and he gathered up the fragments of the
mishandled prints, "upon Mad Anthony they laid violent hands four
separate times."

Pendleton wrinkled his brow.

"Now what the deuce can it mean," he asked, vexedly. "Not only what
did the fellow mean who did this, but what did _he_ mean," pointing at
the dead man, "by having so many portraits of General Wayne?"

"I think something might be found to point the way if we could only
look for it," said Ashton-Kirk, his face alight with eagerness. "But
we'll have to await the coroner's people."

"When will they come?"

The investigator shrugged his shoulders.

"Probably not for hours," he answered. "However, as the coroner
himself appears to be new in the office, he may be more anxious to get
his work over with than the usual official. In the mean time we'd
better go down and have a talk with Osborne. If I remain here I'll
succumb to temptation, go rummaging about and so get myself into
trouble."

He turned the knob of the door with the ground glass panel; but it
was fast. They passed into the store room, and so out into the hall.

"Any signs of the people from the coroner's office?" asked Ashton-Kirk
of the policeman who stood there.

"Someone just drove up a minute ago," answered the man. "I hear him
down there talking to Osborne now."

Ashton-Kirk was about to go down when there came a tramping on the
stairs. The big figure of the headquarters detective was first; after
him came a nervous, important looking young man and a stolid-faced old
one.

With a large gesture Osborne laid his hand upon Ashton-Kirk's
shoulder.

"Mr. Stillman," said he to the nervous looking young man, "this is Mr.
Ashton-Kirk. I guess you've heard of him."

The important manner of the young coroner visibly increased as he held
out his hand.

"I have heard of you frequently, sir," he stated, firmly, "and I am
quite delighted to meet you. More especially, sir, at a time like
this."

"A very nasty looking affair," returned the investigator. "Osborne has
been good enough to let me glance about," in explanation.

"I trust," said Stillman, "that you have disturbed nothing."

"Except for gathering up a few scattered pictures in the bedroom, we
have done nothing but look," assured Ashton-Kirk.

"I find that the exact conditions must remain if we are to secure even
a fairly good idea of the crime's environments," stated Stillman,
nervously. "It is a thing that I insist upon from the police in every
instance."

"Sure, sure," said Osborne. "Headquarters does its best never to make
trouble for you, Mr. Stillman."

The nervous young coroner seemed to be relieved to hear this. He waved
his hand in a gesture that might have meant anything and turned to the
stolid looking, elderly man who accompanied them. They conversed for a
few moments; the stolid man seemed to be explaining something
carefully, to which Stillman listened with the utmost attention.
Osborne bent his head toward Ashton-Kirk.

"The old party is a left-over in the coroner's office, of many years'
standing," said the detective. "He knows the ropes and puts the newly
elected ones on to the points of the game."

Stillman finally turned; there was an added importance in his manner,
and his nervousness had also increased.

"Mr. Osborne," said he, "please let us have what facts the police have
gathered."

"That won't take long," said Osborne. "Just before daylight--three
o'clock, I think she said--the woman whom Hume employed to scrub the
passage-way and stairs got here. She has almost a dozen such jobs in
the neighborhood, and as she must have them all done before business
begins, she's compelled to get at it early. She has a key to the
street door; so she let herself in, came up these stairs and started
for the far end of the hall, where there is a water tap. She didn't
notice anything unusual until she returned with her pail filled; then
she saw this door," pointing to that of the store room, "standing
open."

"I see," said Mr. Stillman; and he gazed very hard at the door.

"Hume, according to the scrub-woman's story," resumed the big man,
"was a queer kind of a chap. You didn't always know just how to take
him. He's lapped up a good bit of booze first and last and sometimes
he's come home pretty well settled. So when the woman sees the door
open, this is the first thing that enters her mind. But to make sure,
she goes into the room and calls him by name. The room's dark and
there's just a touch of daylight coming in through the open door
leading into the front room. So as there was no answer, she takes a
peep in there and sees him on the floor."

"And is that all she can tell?"

"Yes; except that she bolted down the stairs in a hurry, met Paulson
here," with a nod to the policeman, who had now discarded his cigar,
"and told him what she had seen."

"What is her name and address?"

Osborne consulted a note book.

"Mrs. Dwyer, 71 Cormant Street," read he.

"Please make a note of that," said Stillman to his clerk. "And send
for her later in the day." Then turning once more to Osborne, he
continued. "Before doing anything else we will endeavor to find out
how the criminal gained an entrance."

"That's the way with these Johnnie Newcomers," grumbled Osborne as
Stillman turned once more to his aide. "They want to do it all. Why
don't he go in, look at the body and leave the police business to the
police."

"Too much earnestness may have its drawbacks," said Ashton-Kirk, "but
it is to be preferred to the perfunctory methods of the accustomed
official, for all."

"From your angle, maybe so," said Osborne with a frown; "but not from
ours."

Stillman began rubbing his palms together with what was intended to be
business-like briskness; he stepped up and down the dark hall, peering
right and left. But for all his assumption of confidence, his
nervousness was very apparent.

"You say," said he to Osborne, "that the scrubwoman unlocked the
street door. Very good. That shows that _it_ was fast at all events.
Now what other means are there of entering the building?"

"None, except by the fire-escapes and windows. But the windows on this
floor are all secured except for those at the front."

"Except for those at the front." The young coroner paused in his hand
rubbing. "Would it not have been possible for the person or persons
who did this murder to enter by one of those?"

"It would have been possible," returned the big headquarters man, "but
no sane person would do it. They'd have to swarm up the face of the
building in full view of anyone that might be passing at the time."

"Exactly," said Stillman, stiffening under what he was half inclined
to consider a rebuff. "Well, that eliminates _that_ possibility. Now
to the next one. Who occupied the building besides the murdered man?"

"A man named Berg keeps a delicatessen store on the first floor. His
place in no way communicates with the rest of the building. The third
and fourth floors are used for storage purposes by a furrier. Except
in the spring and fall, so Mrs. Dwyer tells me, he seldom visits the
building."

"Is there any way of getting in from the top of the house--the roof?"
asked the coroner.

A look of something like respect came into Osborne's face. Clearly the
question was one which he considered worth while.

"There is a scuttle," he replied. "The bolt is rusted and broken; it
has probably not been fastened for months, perhaps years."

"Now we are beginning to come at something," cried Stillman, well
pleased. "In all probability the assassin entered by way of the
scuttle." He turned as though for the approval of the stolid-faced
man. "Eh, Curran? What do you think of that?"

"It looks very like it, Mr. Stillman."

"At all events," spoke the coroner, "we will now examine the rooms."

He advanced and tried the door of the show room.

"Ah, locked!" said he. He turned and entered the store room, the
others following. The gas was still burning; the coroner stuck a pair
of big-lensed eyeglasses upon his rather high nose and gazed about him
intently.

"There seems to be nothing of an informing nature here," said he,
after a time. "Where is the body?"

Osborne led the way into the front room. After a glance at the
ghastly, huddled figure upon the carpet near the desk, the coroner
took a careful survey of the apartment.

"Did Mr. Hume employ any person to assist him?" he asked.

"The scrub-woman told me that there was a young man here always when
she came during the business day for her wages. A sort of clerk, she
thought."

"He will be able to tell us if anything has been disturbed, no doubt,"
remarked Stillman.

Then he examined the body minutely. In the pockets were found a wallet
containing a large sum of money, a massive, old-fashioned gold watch
with a chain running from pocket to pocket of the waist-coat. Upon the
little finger of Hume's left hand was a magnificent diamond.

"Worth two thousand if it's worth a cent," appraised Osborne.

"If the criminal had meant robbery these things would unquestionably
have been taken," commented the young coroner. "Eh, Curran?"

"That is a very safe rule to go by, Mr. Stillman," replied his
assistant, with the utmost stolidity.

Through his big lenses the coroner gazed curiously at the bronze haft
protruding from the dead man's chest.

"A bayonet," said he. "Not a common weapon in a crime like this. In
fact, I should say it was rather in the nature of an innovation."

"It probably belonged in Hume's stock," suggested Osborne. "There
seems to be about everything here."

But Stillman shook his head.

"We have already about concluded that the intention of the criminal
was not robbery," stated he. "And now, if we make up our minds that
the bayonet belonged to Hume--that the assassin, in point of fact,
came here without a weapon--it must be that he did not intend murder
either."

"Maybe he didn't," ventured Osborne. "There might have been a sudden
quarrel. The person who struck that blow may have grabbed up the first
competent looking thing that came to his hand."

Stillman turned to Ashton-Kirk.

"That sounds reasonable enough, eh?"

"Very much so," replied Ashton-Kirk.

"A bayonet is a most unusual weapon," said the coroner thoughtfully,
readjusting his glasses. "And I think it would be a most awkward thing
to carry around with one. Therefore, it would be a most unlikely
choice for an intending assassin. I am of the opinion," nervously,
"that we may safely say that it was a sudden quarrel which ended in
this," and he gestured with both hands toward the body.

The safe doors were tried and found locked; a cash register was opened
and found to contain what had been apparently the receipts of the day
before. An examination of the cabinets and cases disclosed hundreds
of ancient coins and other articles the value of which must have been
heavy. But their orderly array had not been disturbed. A long curtain
of faded green material hung from the wall at one side, as though to
screen something from the sunlight and dust.

"What have we here?" said the coroner.

He stepped across the store and whisked the curtain aside. A large
gilt frame was disclosed; and from it hung the slashed remains of a
canvas.

"Hello!" exclaimed Osborne, with interest. "This begins to look like
one of the old affairs that they say Hume's been mixed up in.
Somebody's tried to cut that picture from the frame."

They examined it carefully. A keen knife had been run around the top
and both sides, close to the frame. The painting hung down, its gray
back displayed forlornly.

Stillman regarded it with great satisfaction.

"Here," said he, "we at least have a possible motive."

Ashton-Kirk took a twisted walking stick from a rack, and with the end
of it, raised the slashed canvas so that its subject could be seen. It
was a heroic equestrian figure of an officer of the American
Revolution. His sword was drawn; his face shone with the light of
battle.

Pendleton was just about to cry out "General Wayne," when the stick
fell from his friend's hand, the canvas dropping to its former
position. While the others were trying to get it into place once more,
Ashton-Kirk whispered to Pendleton:

"Say nothing. This is their turn; let them work in their own way. I
will begin where they have finished."

After a little time spent in a gratified inspection of the painting,
Stillman said:

"But, gentlemen, let us have a look at the other rooms. There may be
something more."

They re-passed through the store room and into the living room.
Nothing here took the coroner's attention, and they entered the
bedroom. Both these last had doors leading into the hall; upon their
being tried they were found to be locked.

The smashed pictures upon the bedroom floor at once took the eye of
Stillman. He regarded the broken places in the plaster and prodded the
slivers of wood and glass with the toe of his shoe with much
complacency.

"This completes the story," declared he. "It is now plain from end to
end. The criminal entered the building from the roof, made his way
down stairs and gained admittance through the door which the scrub
woman found unlocked. His purpose was to steal the painting in the
front room.

"In a struggle with Hume, who unexpectedly came upon him, the
intruder killed him. Not knowing the exact location of the picture he
wanted, he first looked for it here. The light probably being bad he
tore down every picture he could reach in order to get a better view
of it. When, at last, he had found the desired work, he set about
cutting it from its frame. But, before he had finished, something
alarmed him, and he fled without the prize."

The stolid man listened to this with marked approval. Even Osborne
reluctantly whispered to Pendleton:

"He's doped it out. I didn't think it was in him."

After a little more, the coroner said to his clerk:

"I think that is about all. Curran, see to it that the post-mortem is
not delayed. Put a couple of our men on the case, have them make
extensive inquiries in the neighborhood. Any persons who appear to
possess information may be brought to my office at three o'clock.
Especially I desire to see this Mrs. Dwyer, Berg, who keeps the store
on the ground floor and the young man who was employed by Hume. I'll
empanel a jury later." He took off his eye-glasses, placed them in a
case and, in turn, carefully slipped this into his pocket. "At three
o'clock," he repeated.

"If I should not be intruding," said Ashton-Kirk, "I should like to
be present."

Stillman smiled with the air of a man triumphant, but who still
desired to show charity.

"I shall be pleased to see you, sir," he said, "then or at any other
time."



CHAPTER V

STILLMAN ASKS QUESTIONS


It wanted a few minutes of three o'clock when Ashton-Kirk, still
accompanied by the curious Pendleton, walked into the outer room of
the coroner's suite.

"Mr. Stillman will be here at any moment now," said Curran. Then
lowering his voice and making a short little gesture from the elbow,
he added: "These people are the ones he wanted to see."

As he and Pendleton sat down, Ashton-Kirk looked at the persons
referred to. The first was a thin, wiry little woman, unmistakably
Irish, cleanly dressed and with sharp, inquisitive eyes. Engaged in a
low-pitched conversation with her was a thick-necked German, heavy of
paunch and with a fat, red face. The third was a spectacled young Jew,
poring over a huge volume which he seemed to have brought with him. He
had a tremendous head of curling black hair; his clothing was shabby.
There was a rapt expression upon his face; plainly nothing existed for
him at that moment outside the pages of his book.

After a brief space, the coroner came in,

"Ah, how do you do, gentlemen," greeted he. He was good-natured and
strove to be easy; but his natural nervousness clung to him. "I am
glad to see you."

He looked at Curran and nodded at the three inquiringly.

"Yes, sir," replied the clerk; "these are the parties."

"Then we will get down to business." He opened a door and entered an
inner room. "Will you come in?" he asked of Ashton-Kirk and Pendleton.

They followed him at once; and Curran, addressing the little
Irishwoman, said:

"Now, Mrs. Dwyer, this way, please."

She arose briskly and also entered the inner room. Stillman seated
himself at a desk and carefully perched his glasses upon his nose.

"I perhaps take more trouble than is customary in these cases," he
said to Ashton-Kirk. "It is usual to hear statements, I believe, only
when they are proffered as testimony at the inquest. But it seems to
me that the office should be carried on in a more thorough way.
Preparation, I think, is necessary to get at the facts."

Then he faced the woman who had taken a chair beside the desk.

"Your full name, please," said he.

"Honora Dwyer. I'm a widow with four children; I live at 71 Cormant
Street, an' me husban' has been dead these three years," declared she,
in a breath.

Stillman smiled.

"You don't believe in keeping anything back, Mrs. Dwyer, I can see
that," said he. "And a very good trait it is." He leaned back in his
swivel chair and looked at her through the glasses. "You are the
person who discovered the body of Mr. Hume, are you not?"

"Yes, sir, I were," replied Mrs. Dwyer; "and God spare me such another
sight."

"Tell us about it," said the coroner.

"I work as scrub woman for a good many in Christie Place an' the
immejeat neighborhood," said Mrs. Dwyer, genteelly. "But I always gets
to Mr. Hume's first."

"You are quite sure you found the street door locked?"

"Yes, sir."

"And you noticed nothing unusual about the place?"

"Only the open door to the store room, sir. Mr. Hume was always
particular about closing up, sir. For a man who was in the habit of
taking a sup of drink, sir, I'll say he was _very_ particular."

"When you noticed the door being open you went in at once, I suppose?"

"No, sir; I did not. After I got me water, I set down on the top step
to get me breath. When I saw the door stan'nin' open, thinks I to
meself, thinks I; 'Mr. Hume is up early this mornin'.' But everything
was quiet as the grave," in a hushed dramatic tone. "Sorra the sound
did I hear. So I gets up and goes in. And in the front room I sees him
lyin'. Mr. Hume was never a handsome man, sir; and he'd gained nothing
in looks by the end he'd met with. God save us, how I ever got out
into the street, I'll never know."

She rocked to and fro and fanned herself with her apron.

"It must have been a very severe shock, Mrs. Dwyer," agreed the
coroner. "Now," after a pause, "do you know anything--however slight,
mind you--that would seem to point to who did this thing?"

Mrs. Dwyer shook her head.

"Me acquaintance with Mr. Hume was a business one only, sir," she
said. "I never set foot into his place further than the hall except on
the days when I went to get me pay--and this morning, save us from
harm!"

"You know nothing of his friends then--of his habits?"

"There is the Jew boy, outside there, that worked for him. He's a
nice, good mannered little felly, and is the only person I ever see
in the office when I went there, barrin' the boss himself. As for Mr.
Hume's habits, I can say only what everybody knows. He were drunk when
he engaged me, and he were drunk the last time I seen him alive."

"That will be all, Mrs. Dwyer," said Stillman. "Thank you. Curran,
I'll see the young man next."

As Curran and Mrs. Dwyer went out the young coroner turned to his two
visitors.

"I am still assured that we have the motive for the crime in the
attempt to steal the painting," he said. "But it will do no harm to
get all the light we can upon every side of the matter. The smallest
clue," importantly, "may prove of the utmost value at the inquest."

Ashton-Kirk smilingly nodded his entire assent to this. Then Curran
showed in the clerk.

The young man still carried the thick volume and, when he sat down,
laid it upon a corner of Stillman's desk. Its back was turned toward
Ashton-Kirk and he noted that it was a work on anatomy such as
first-year medical students use.

"What is your name, please?" asked the coroner.

"Isidore Brolatsky," replied the young man.

"You are, or were, employed by Mr. Hume?"

"As a clerk, yes, sir. I've been with him for some years." Brolatsky
spoke with scarcely a trace of accent. "He didn't pay much, but then
there wasn't much to do, and I had plenty of time to study."

"Ah," said Stillman, encouragingly. "To study, eh?"

"Yes. I've taken up medicine. There's a college up town that has night
classes. I have been attending the lectures there and reading during
the day. There's a big chance for physicians who can speak Yiddish.
Not only to make money, but to do good."

"I see." The coroner regarded him reflectively for a moment. "Now, Mr.
Brolatsky, having worked for Hume for some years, you must have picked
up some details as to his business and himself. Suppose you tell us
all you know about both."

The dark face of Brolatsky became thoughtful.

"Mr. Hume was a hard man to get along with," he said. "He seemed ready
to quarrel at any time with anybody. I don't recall a customer ever
coming into the store that he didn't have some kind of trouble with
before they went out. But he had a great knowledge of the things he
dealt in. People came from far and near to get his opinion on items in
their collections. His fees," with appreciation, "were large.

"But there is one thing that I noticed about him. While he knew all
about objects of art, he did not seem to care for them. He had no love
for his trade, no sympathy, I may say, for the collectors who came to
him. I wouldn't be going far from the truth if I said that he thought
them all fools for paying their money for such things. And I _know_
that he mocked them."

"Humph!" Stillman looked at Ashton-Kirk, with surprise upon his face.
"That seems odd. Men usually go into Hume's business through love of
it." He turned once more to Brolatsky. "And he had no hobby of his
own, no collection that he fancied more than another?"

Brolatsky nodded amusedly.

"Yes," he replied. "I was just coming to that. He _did_ have a
collection that he called his own. And he never sold an item from it
as long as I was with him. Indeed, I think if anybody had offered to
buy, he would have come to blows with him."

Ashton-Kirk bent forward. For the first time since entering the room,
he spoke.

"And what was the nature of that collection?" he inquired eagerly.

"Portraits," answered Isidore Brolatsky. "Prints, lithographs,
mezzo-tints, engravings, paintings, it made no difference. And all of
the same person. He had hundreds, I guess, and every one of them was
of General Wayne."

Ashton-Kirk leaned back in his chair with a faint breath of triumph.

"When a portrait of General Wayne was offered him," continued
Brolatsky, "he never haggled over it. He paid the price asked and
seemed quite delighted to get it. It was a standing joke in the trade
that if you wanted to get even with Mr. Hume for driving a hard
bargain with you, all you had to do was to offer him a portrait of
General Wayne. I never saw him refuse one. Even if he had dozens of
duplicates, which often happened; still he'd buy."

A look of great acuteness had settled upon the face of the young
coroner.

"There is a painting at one side of the show room," said he. "It is
under a large green curtain. Is that of General Wayne?"

"It is," replied the clerk. "And I believe that he valued it more than
anything else that he owned."

Stillman laughed with pleasure.

"Now," said he to his visitors, "we are getting at it, indeed. Someone
probably knew of the value he attached to this painting and planned to
steal it, perhaps for a ransom. Hume has been suspected of doing this
sort of thing himself before now. He was supposed to have engaged
someone to do the actual work, I believe, as in the case of the
Whistler portrait of the Duchess of Winterton. Suppose this someone,"
and Stillman rapped his knuckles upon the edge of the desk excitedly,
"took the notion to go into the picture stealing business of his own
account. Hume himself with his much prized portrait of General Wayne
was ready at hand--and so," with a sweeping gesture, "what has
happened, has happened."

Pendleton, much impressed, looked at Ashton-Kirk. But the latter's
thoughts seemed far away; his eyes were fixed upon the wall; his
expression was of delighted anticipation.

Stillman also noticed this non-attention to his reasoning, and a
little wrinkle of discontent appeared between his brows. So he turned
his gaze upon Brolatsky and spoke rather sharply.

"Now, as to Mr. Hume's intimates? What do you know of them?"

Isidore Brolatsky shifted in his chair; his long fingers began to drum
upon his knees.

"I have known of the matter of the Whistler portrait," said he, "but I
never knew anything more about it than what I read in the newspapers.
It happened before my time."

"I'm not accusing you," said Stillman. "I'm asking you about Hume's
friends."

The clerk considered.

"There was no one that I ever saw or heard of that you could call his
friend, exactly," said he at length. "He made game of people too much
to have any I guess."

"Had he no associates--no one with whom he spent his time?"

Brolatsky shook his head.

"Perhaps so; but then I was only in Christie Place during business
hours. I have heard that he frequently went out at night; but where I
do not know."

"Was there no one who came to visit him while you were there during
the day. No one whom he spoke of in an intimate way?"

Again the clerk shook his head. Stillman began to appear nonplussed.
He looked at the other, pondering and frowning through his glasses.

"Who came most frequently to the store?" he inquired finally.

"Why, I think Antonio Spatola," said Brolatsky.

"Was he a customer?"

The clerk smiled.

"Oh, no. He's a street musician. You may have seen him often about the
city. He plays the violin and carries some trained cockatoos upon a
perch."

"What was the nature of his business at Hume's?"

"If there was anything that Mr. Hume liked better than strong drink,"
said the clerk, "it was music. Antonio Spatola would come and play to
him for hours at a time."

"A lover of music who could stand the playing of a street musician for
hours!" cried Stillman. "That's astonishing."

"But," protested Brolatsky, "Spatola is a splendid musician. He's
studied his instrument under the greatest masters in Paris, Rome and
other European cities. He has played in the finest orchestras. But he
never could keep a position because of his temper. He's told me
himself that when aroused he doesn't know what he is doing."

"I understand," said the coroner. "What sort of relations existed
between Hume and Spatola outside the music? Were they friendly?"

"No, sir. I might say just the reverse. For hours, sometimes, Mr. Hume
would lie back in his chair with his eyes closed listening to the
violin. Then, perhaps, he'd get up suddenly, throw Antonio a dollar or
so and tell him to get out. Or maybe he'd begin to jeer at him.
Antonio had an ambition to become a concert violinist. Ole Bull and
Kubelik had made great successes, he said; and so, why not he?

"This was usually the point Mr. Hume would take up in mocking him.
He'd call him a curbstone fiddler, and say that he ought to be playing
at barn dances and Italian christenings instead of aspiring to the
platform. Spatola would get frantic with rage, and fairly scream his
resentment at these times.

"Often Mr. Hume would have him bring his trained cockatoos. And while
he was making them go through their tricks, Mr. Hume would call him a
mountebank, a side show fakir and other things, and tell him that he
ought to stick to that as a business, for he could make a living at
it, where he would starve as a violinist. I've often seen Antonio go
out trembling and white at the lips with rage. Several times he's
tried to injure Mr. Hume--once he took out a knife."

"Hah!" said the coroner.

"That was the time Mr. Hume called him 'Mad Anthony.' I also remember
that Mr. Hume pulled aside the curtain and showed him the large
painting of General Wayne, laughing and telling him that that was
another Mad Anthony. He was so successful that day in arousing
Spatola, that always after that, when he was drunk, he'd call the
Italian 'Mad Anthony' and it never failed to infuriate him.

"Do you know where this man Spatola lives?"

"In Christie Place, sir; just about half a dozen doors from the store.
I believe he rents a garret there, or something."

Stillman seemed struck by this.

"In view of the fact that the building was entered by way of the
scuttle," said he to Ashton-Kirk, "I consider that a most interesting
piece of information."

"It may indeed prove so," was the non-committal reply.

Once more the discontented crease showed itself upon the coroner's
forehead; and again as he turned to Brolatsky, his voice rose sharply.

"Next to Antonio Spatola, who came most to Hume's place while you were
there?"

"The next most frequent caller," returned the clerk, "was Mr. Allan
Morris."

Ashton-Kirk, glancing at Pendleton, saw him start.

"And who," queried the coroner, "is Mr. Allan Morris?"

"At first I took him to be a customer," replied Brolatsky. "And
perhaps he was. He talked a great deal at times about engraved gems
and would look at lists and works upon the subject. But somehow I got
the notion that that was not just what he came for."

"What caused you to think that?" asked the coroner.

"His manner, partly, and then the fact that there seemed something
between Mr. Hume and him--something that I never understood. Mr.
Morris was another one that the boss used to make game of. Not so
much as he would Spatola, but still a good bit. Mr. Morris always took
it with a show of good temper; but underneath I could see that he too
was sometimes furious."

"About what did Hume deride _him_?"

"That's what I never could quite make out. It always seemed as though
it was something that Mr. Morris wanted. At first I got the notion
that it was something that he wanted to buy and which Mr. Hume refused
to sell; but later I changed my mind. There seemed to be more to it
than appeared on the top. Both were very secretive about it."

"I understand." Stillman's face wore a puzzled expression; it was as
though this latter development worried him. But in a few moments he
went on: "Do you know where this man Morris is to be found?"

"Oh, yes. He's quite well known. Has an office in the Blake Building,
and is employed just now, so I've heard, by the Navy Department."

"You have visited Christie Place to-day?"

"Yes, sir."

"Did the police have you look about?"

"Yes, sir. And so far as I can see, nothing has been taken."

"The weapon that Hume was killed with, now. Do you know anything
about it--did it belong to the store?"

"The bayonet? No, sir."

"Are you sure of that?" earnestly.

"Positive. It was my duty to keep a complete list of everything we had
in stock. We had other sorts of arms, but no such thing as a bayonet."

There were a few more questions, but as they drew out nothing of
interest, Stillman signified to Brolatsky that the interview was at an
end.

"Now, you will go with Mr. Curran to police headquarters on the next
floor," said he, "and tell them what you have told me about this
Antonio Spatola."

Then he opened the door and stepped out.

"Curran," they heard him say, importantly.

"I want you to--" then the door closed, cutting the sentence short.

Pendleton gazed fixedly at Ashton-Kirk.

"I say," said he, "I'm not up in this sort of thing at all. I've been
putting two and two together, and it's led me into a deuce of a
state."

Ashton-Kirk looked at him inquiringly; there was expectancy in the
investigator's eyes, but he said nothing.

"Perhaps you'll think that I'm all kinds of a fool," continued
Pendleton, "and maybe I am. But here are the things that I'm trying to
marshall in order. I'll take them just as they happened." He held up
one hand and with the other began to check off the counts upon his
fingers. "Yesterday you have a visit--a visit of a professional
nature--from Edyth Vale. Last night she strangely disappears for a
time. At a most unconventional hour this morning I find you at her
door. Then I learn that you are on your way to look into the details
of a murder that you had just heard of--somehow. Now I hear that Allan
Morris, Edyth's fiancé, has been, in rather an odd way, upon familiar
terms with the murdered man."

He paused as he checked this last count, still regarding his friend
fixedly.

"I don't claim," he went on, after a moment, "that these things have
anything to do with each other. But, somehow, they've got together in
my mind, and I can't--"

Here the door re-opened and Stillman entered, followed by the big
German.

"Just take a chair, Mr. Berg," said the coroner, seating himself at
the desk and affixing his eyeglasses.

The German lowered his form into the chair indicated and folded his
fat hands across his monstrous paunch.

"Your name in full--is what?" asked Stillman with formality.

"Franz Berg. I sell me delicatessen at 478 Christie Place. I haf been
there for fifteen years."

"You were acquainted with the murdered man?"

The delicatessen dealer unfolded his hands and waved them
significantly.

"I was aguainted with him--yes. But I was not friendly with him--no.
He is dead, ain't it? Und it's not right to say someding about the
dead. But he was no friend of mine."

"I understand. But tell me, Mr. Berg, how late do you keep your place
open?"

"In the summertime--seven o'clock. But after dose theaters open, I
stays me on the chob till twelve, or later somedimes. There is
one--two--three what you call burlesque places, right by me; and no
sooner do they close up, than right away those actor peoples come to
buy. I do a goot business, so I keep open."

"Then you were there until midnight last night?"

"More later than that yet."

"Was there any movement of any sort about Hume's place? Did you see or
hear anything?"

The great red face of Berg took on a solemn look.

"It is maybe not ride that I should say somedings," complained he.
"But if the law will not excuse me, I will say it, if it makes some
more trouble or not."

"It is vitally necessary," stated the young coroner, firmly, "that you
tell me everything you know about this matter."

"Well," said the delicatessen dealer, reluctantly, "last night as I
stood by my window looking oudside on the street, I see me that
Italian feller go by und turn in at the side door; a second lader I
hear him go up the steps to Hume's place."

"What Italian fellow do you refer to?"

"He lifs close by me, a few doors away. His name is Spatola, und he
plays the violin the gurb-stones beside."

"What time was it that you saw him?"

"Maybe elefen o'clock. I am not sure. But it was just a little while
before I got me the rush of customers from the theaters."

"Did you notice his manner? Was there anything unusual in his looks?"

"I had me only a glimbs of him. He looked about the same as effer. He
was in a hurry, for it rained a liddle; und under his coat yet he
carried his fiddle."

"If it was under his coat, how do you know it was his fiddle?"

The German scratched his head in a reflective way.

"I don't know it," said he at last. "But he somedimes takes his
instrument inside there, und I just get the notion that it was so.
Yes?"

"When did he come out?"

The man shook his head.

"I don'd know," he said.

"Do you mean that you saw no one come out?"

"No; I _did_ see someone come out. But first I see me someone else go
in."

"Ah! And who was that?"

"I don't know his name; but I had seen him often before. He is a kind
of svell feller. He had a cane und plendy of style."

"And later you saw someone come out. Now, your use of the word
'someone' leads me to think that you do not know whether it was
Spatola or the stranger."

"I don'd," said Berg. "I was busy then. I just heard me someone rush
down the stairs, making plendy noise, und I heard that drunken Hume
lift up a window, stick out his head and call some names after him. My
customers laugh und think it's a joke; but I am ashamed such a
disgracefulness to have around my business yet."

"If Hume called after the person who left," said Stillman, acutely, to
Ashton-Kirk, "that eliminates one of the callers. It proves that Hume
was still alive after the man had gone."

"That is undoubtedly a fact," replied the investigator.

Stillman turned upon Berg with dignity.

"Surely you must have noticed the man if all that uproar attended his
exit. You must have detected enough to mark a difference between an
exceptionally well-dressed man and an Italian street musician."

Berg shook his big head.

"It was aboud twelve o'clock in the night-dime, und my customers
besides I had to pay some attention to," stated he.

The coroner was baffled by the man's positiveness.

"Well," said he, resignedly. "What else did you see?"

Berg shook his head once more.

"Nothing else. Putty soon I closed up and went home." Then a flash of
recollection came into his dull face. "As I went down the street I saw
some lights in Hume's windows. One of them windows was open--maybe the
one he sticked his head out of to call the man names--und I could hear
him laughing like he used to do when he was trying to make a jackass
of some peoples."

The coroner pondered. At length he said:

"This object that Spatola carried under his coat, now. Could it have
been a bayonet?"

"No, no," said Berg with conviction. "It vos too big. It vos bigger as
a half dozen bayonets already."

This seemed the limit of Berg's knowledge of the night's happenings;
a few more questions and then Stillman dismissed him. The door had
hardly closed when the telephone rang. After a few words, the coroner
hung up the receiver and turned to his visitors.

"I think," said he, with a smile of satisfaction, "that I've made the
police department sit up a little. They talked to all three of these
people before I had them, and didn't seem to get enough to make a
beginning. But just now," and the smile grew wider, "I've heard that
Osborne is on his way to arrest Antonio Spatola."



CHAPTER VI

ASHTON-KIRK LOOKS ABOUT


Berg was standing in the corridor waiting for the elevator when
Ashton-Kirk and Pendleton came out. The big German mopped his face
with a handkerchief, and said apologetically:

"A man can only tell what he knows, ain't it?"

Ashton-Kirk looked at him questioningly, but said nothing.

"To begin dot guess-work business when you are talking to the law
already, it is dangerous," stated Berg in an explanatory tone.

"Well," said Ashton-Kirk, "sometimes a good, pointed guess is of great
service, Mr. Berg. And," with a laugh, "as I am not the law and not
the least dangerous, suppose you make the one that I can see you
turning over in your mind."

"Oh," said Berg, "you are not the coroner's office in?"

"No; merely interested in this case, that's all."

The delicatessen dealer looked relieved.

"I don't want to get people in trouble," said he, guardedly. "But this
is what I guess. Late every night, about the time I shut up my place,
there is a cab comes und by the curbstone stands across the street. I
will not say what is der place it stands in front of; that is not my
business."

"McCausland's gambling house, perhaps," suggested Ashton-Kirk.

The big German looked more relieved than ever.

"Ach, so you know about dot place, eh? All ride. Now I can speak out
and not be afraid to do some harm to nobody." He lowered his voice
still further. "Dot cab came last night as I was locking my door up,
und stands the curbstone by in front of McCausland's, waiting for a
chob. Maybe when I goes away home der driver he sees what happened at
Hume's afterwards, eh?"

"Excellent!" said Ashton-Kirk, his eyes alight. "Thanks for the hint,
Mr. Berg."

The delicatessen dealer lumbered into the elevator which had stopped;
Pendleton was about to follow, but his friend detained him, and the
car dropped downward without them.

"That cab," said Ashton-Kirk, "is sure to be a night-hawk; and more
than likely it is put up at Partridge's. Pardon me a moment."

There was a telephone booth at one side of the corridor; the speaker
went in and closed the door. After a few moments he came out.

"Just as I thought," he said, well pleased. "Partridge knew the cab
in a moment. The driver's name is Sams, and he lives at the place they
call the Beehive." He looked at his watch. "It wants but a few minutes
of four," he added, "and a night-hawk cabby will be just about
stirring. The Beehive is only three blocks away; suppose we go around
and look him up."

Pendleton agreed instantly; and after a brisk walk and a breathless
climb, they found themselves on the fourth floor of a huge brick
building where they had been directed by a meek-looking woman in a
dust-cap. A long hall with a great many doors upon each side, all
looking alike, stretched away before them.

"It's very plain that the only way to find Mr. Sams is to make a
noise," said Ashton-Kirk. And with that he stalked down the hall, his
heels clattering on the bare boards. "Hello," he cried loudly. "Sams
is wanted! Hello, Sams!"

A door opened, and a face covered with thick soap suds and surmounted
by a tangle of sandy hair looked out.

"Hello," growled this person, huskily. "Who wants him?"

"Very glad to see you, Mr. Sams," said Ashton-Kirk. "We have a small
matter of business with you that will require a few moments of your
time. May we come in?"

"Sure," said Sams.

They entered the room, which contained a bed, a trunk, a wash-stand,
and a chair.

"One of you can take the chair; the other can sit on the trunk," said
the hack driver, nodding toward these articles. Then he proceeded to
strop a razor at one of the windows. "Excuse me if I go on with this
reaping. I must go out and feed the horse, and then get breakfast."

"You breakfast rather late," commented Ashton-Kirk.

"I'm lucky to get it at any time, in this business," grumbled Sams.
"Out all night, sleep all day, and get blamed little for it, at that."

He posed before a small mirror stuck up beside the window and gave the
blade an experimental sweep across his face. Then he turned and asked
inquiringly:

"Did youse gents want anything particular?"

"We'd like to ask a question or two regarding what happened last night
in Christie Place."

The cab driver's forehead corrugated; he closed his razor, laid it
down and shoved his' soapy face toward the speaker.

"Say," spoke he, roughly. "I drives people wherever they wants to go;
but I don't ask no questions."

"It's all right, Mr. Sams," said Ashton-Kirk. "The affair that I'm
looking up happened across the street--at Hume's--second floor of
478."

"Oh!" Sams stared for a moment, then he took up his razor, turned his
back and went on with his shaving. But there was expectancy in his
attitude; and Ashton-Kirk smiled confidently.

"While you were drawn up in Christie Place, waiting for a fare," he
asked, "did you hear or see anything at 478?"

"I saw a light on the second floor--something I never saw before at
that hour. And I saw the Dutchman that keeps the store underneath
shutting up. And I heard somebody laughing upstairs," as a second
thought. "I think that's what made me notice the light."

"Nothing else?"

Sams shaved and considered. He wiped his razor at last, poured some
water in a bowl and doused his face. Then he took up a towel and began
applying it briskly.

The investigator, watching him closely, saw that he was not trying to
recall anything. It was plain that the man was merely calculating the
possibilities of harm to himself and patrons if he told what he knew.

"There has been a murder," said Ashton-Kirk, quietly, thinking to jog
him along.

Sams threw the towel from him and sat down upon the bed.

"A murder!" said he, his eyes and mouth wide open. "Well, what do you
know about that." He sat looking from one to the other of them,
dazedly, for a space; then he resumed: "Say, I thought there was
something queer about that stunt of hers!"

"Tell us about it," suggested Ashton-Kirk, crossing his legs and
clasping one knee with his hands.

The cabby considered once more.

"There's lots of things that a guy like me sees that look off color,"
he said, at length; "but we can't always pass any remarks about them.
It would be bad for business, you see. But this murder thing's a
different proposition, and here's where I tell it all. Last night
while I was waiting in front of McCausland's, I hears an automobile
turn into the street. It was some time after I got there. I wouldn't
have paid much attention to it, but you see there's a fellow been
trying to get my work with a taxicab, and I thought it was him."

"And it wasn't?"

"No, it was a private car--a Maillard, and there was a woman driving
it."

The chair upon which Pendleton sat was an infirm one; it creaked
sharply as he made a sudden movement.

"She was going at a low speed," proceeded Sams, "and as she passed
Hume's I noticed her look up at the windows. After she disappeared
there wasn't a sound for a while. You see, nobody hardly ever passes
through Christie Place after one o'clock. Then I hears her coming
back. This time she stopped the car, got out and went to the door that
leads into Hume's place. There she stopped a little, as though she
didn't know whether to go in or not. But at last she went in."

Pendleton coughed huskily at this point; and his friend glancing at
him saw that his face was white.

"And up to that time," said Ashton-Kirk, "are you sure that there was
no movement--no sound--in the front room at Hume's?"

"As far as I noticed, there wasn't. But a few minutes after I heard
the woman go in, I _did_ hear some sounds."

The man stroked his shaven jaws in the deliberate manner of a person
about to precipitate a crisis. Pendleton leaned toward him, anxiously.

"What sort of sounds?" he asked.

"There were two," replied the cab driver. "The first was a revolver
shot; the second came right after, and was a kind of a scream--like
that of a parrot."

"And what then?" asked Ashton-Kirk, easily.

"There wasn't anything for a few minutes, anyway. But the revolver
shot had kind of got my attention, so I was taking notice of the
windows. Then suddenly I caught sight of the woman. You see, the
gas-light was near the window and she kind of leaned over and turned
it out. It was only for a time as long as that," and the man snapped
his fingers. "But I saw her plain. Then I heard her coming down the
stairs to the street--almost at a run. She banged the street door shut
after her, jumped into her car and went tearing away as if she was
crazy. I stayed fifteen minutes before I got a fare; but nothing else
happened."

Pendleton's hand closed hard on the edge of the chair he sat in. There
was a moment's silence; then Ashton-Kirk asked:

"Just where was your cab standing at this time?"

"Right in front of McCausland's door."

"And you were on the box?"

"Yes."

The investigator put a piece of money in the man's hand as he and
Pendleton arose and prepared to go.

"Say," said Sam curiously, "I've been in bed all day and ain't heard a
word of anything. Who's been done up?"

"Hume. Stabbed in the chest."

"Shot, you mean."

"No, I mean stabbed. With a bayonet."

The man stared wonderingly.

"G'way," he said.

They bid him good-day and tramped down the three long flights to the
street. Pendleton was silent, and walked with his head held down.

"We have more than an hour of good daylight left," said his friend, as
they reached the street. "And as I must have a good unrestricted look
at Hume's apartments before everything is hopelessly changed about,
suppose we go there now. We can get a taxi in the next street."

"Just a moment," said Pendleton. "Before we take another step in the
matter, Kirk, I must ask a question."

Ashton-Kirk put his hand upon his friend's shoulder.

"Don't," said he. "I know just what the question would be, and at the
present time I can't answer it. At this moment, except for some few
theories that I have yet to verify, I am as much puzzled as yourself."

"But," and there was a tremble in the speaker's voice, "you must
answer me, old chap--and you must answer now."

The catch in his voice, the expression upon the young man's face
caused Ashton-Kirk to grasp an astonishing fact. The hand that he had
laid upon Pendleton's shoulder tightened as he answered:

"Yes, Edyth Vale is concerned. As a rule I do not speak of my clients
to others, but in view of what you have already heard and seen, it
would be a waste of words to deny it. But, see here, there are lots of
things we don't know yet about this business. It may look very
different in a few hours. Come."

Pendleton gazed with sober eyes into the speaker's face for a moment.
Then he said:

"Let us get the cab; if you are to go over Hume's rooms before dark,
you haven't any too much time."

At the next corner they signaled a taxicab, and in a short time they
were set down in Christie Place. Paulson, the policeman, was standing
guard.

"How are you?" he greeted them affably.

"Been here all day?" asked Ashton-Kirk.

"Oh, no. Just come on. I'm the third shift since I saw you last."

"Nobody has been permitted to go upstairs, I presume?"

"Only the coroner's man, who came for the body. And they touched
nothing but the body. Our orders were strong on that."

"Has anything been heard as the result of the post-mortem?"

"It showed that Hume was in bad shape from too much drink. Then he had
a hard knock on the head, and the wound in his chest."

"But there was no sign of a bullet wound?"

"No," said Paulson, surprised. "Nothing like that."

"Just a moment," said the investigator to Pendleton. He crossed the
street, walked along for a few paces, then paused at the curb and
looked back toward Hume's doorway. Then he returned with quick steps
and an alert look in his eyes.

"Now we'll go upstairs," he said.

But before doing so he stopped and examined the lock of the street
door closely; then he mounted the stairs slowly, his glances seeming
to take in everything. At the top he paused, his head bent, apparently
in deep thought. Then he lifted it suddenly, and laughed exultantly.

"That's it," he said, "I'm quite sure that is it."

"I wouldn't doubt your word for an instant," said Pendleton, in
something like his old voice. "Whatever it is, I'm quite sure it is if
you say so."

The policeman on guard in the hall examined them carefully.

"All right," said he, after they had explained and he had verified it
by calling to his mate at the street door. "Go right to work, gents.
I'm here to see that nobody gets in from above by way of the scuttle,
and I guess I won't be in the way."

There were three gas branches at intervals along the length of the dim
hall, each with a cluster of four jets. Ashton-Kirk lighted all three
of these and began making a careful examination of the passage. Along
toward the rear was a stairway leading to the floor above. Next this
was a small room in which there was a water tap. At the extreme end of
the hall was a window with a green shade drawn to the bottom.

Ashton-Kirk regarded this for a moment intently. Then he reached up
and turned off the gas at the branch nearest the window. Daylight
could now be seen through the blind; the investigator pointed and
said:

"This shows us something. About six inches of the bottom of the blind
is of a decidedly lighter color than the remainder. This is caused by
exposure to the light and indicates that this blind has seldom been
drawn in daylight as it is now."

He drew back the blind and looked at the side nearest the window. At
the top of the faded space was a heavy dark line.

"I'll modify that last statement," said he, with satisfaction. "I'll
go as far as to say, now, that the blind has never been drawn since it
was put up. This thick line marks the part that lay across the top of
the roller, and the dust seems never to have been disturbed."

The gas was lighted once more.

"Hume did not draw that curtain," said Ashton-Kirk, decidedly. "He
was too careless a man, apparently, to think of such a thing. The
intruders, whoever they were, did it; they had a light, perhaps, and
did not want to be--"

He paused abruptly here, and Pendleton heard him draw his breath
sharply between his teeth; his eyes were fixed upon the lowermost step
of the flight that led to the floor above.

One of the gas branches hung here; its full glare was thrown downward.
Following the fixed gaze of his friend, Pendleton saw two partly
burned matches, the stump of a candle, and some traces of tallow which
had fallen from the latter upon the step. To Pendleton's amazement,
his friend dropped to his knees before these as a heathen would before
an idol. With the utmost attention he examined them and the step upon
which they lay. Then he arose, enthusiasm upon his face.

"Beautiful!" he cried. "I do not recall ever having seen anything just
like it!" He slapped Pendleton upon the back with a heavy, hand. "Pen,
that stump of candle sheds more light than the finest arc lamp ever
manufactured."

"I'm watching and I'm listening," spoke Pendleton. "Also I'm agitating
my small portion of gray matter. But inspiration, it seems, is not for
me. So I'll have to ask you what these things tell you."

"Well, they give me a fairly good view of the man who, while he may
not actually have murdered Hume, had much to do with his taking off."
He bent over the lower step once more, then looked up with a smile
upon his face. "What would you say," asked he, "if I told you that I
draw from these things that the gentleman was short, well-dressed,
near-sighted and knew something of the modern German dramatists."

"I should say," replied Pendleton, firmly, "that you ought to have
your brain looked at. It sounds wrong to me."

Ashton-Kirk laughed, and started up the stairs toward the third floor.

"I'll return in a moment," he said. "Don't trouble to come up."

He was gone but a very little while, and when he returned his face
wore a satisfied look.

"The bolt of the scuttle is broken, just as Osborne said," he
reported. "And anyone who could gain the roof would have little
difficulty in effecting an entrance." He led the way down the hall,
saying as he went: "Now we'll browse around in the rooms for a while;
then we'll be off to dinner."

The storage room was entered first as upon the earlier visit, but
Ashton-Kirk wasted but little time upon it. In the front room,
however, he examined things with a minuteness that amazed Pendleton.
And yet everything was done quickly; like a keen-nosed hound, the
investigator went from one object to another; nothing seemed to escape
him, nothing was too small for his attention. One of the first things
that he did was to get a chair and plant it against the lettered door
that led directly into the hall. At the top was a gong with a
spring-hammer, one of the sort that rings its warning whenever the
door is opened; and this the investigator examined with care.

He then passed into the railed space where the body had lain and where
the darkened trail of blood still bore ghastly testimony to what had
occurred. The man's singular eyes scanned the floor, the walls, the
flat-topped desk. On this last his attention again became riveted; and
once more Pendleton heard his breath drawn sharply between his teeth.

"When Hume was struck upon the head," said Ashton-Kirk, after a
moment, "he was standing at this desk. He had just sprung up, probably
upon hearing a sound of some kind. See where the chair is pushed back
against the wall, just as he would have pushed it had he arisen
hastily. When he struck he fell across the desk." He pointed to a dark
trickle of blood down the back of the piece of furniture in question.
"That is the result of the blow upon the head, and probably flowed
from the mouth or nostrils. After the first senseless lurch the body
settled back and slid to the position in which it was found. Here is
a blotting pad, a small pair of shears, a box of clips and a letter
scale upon the floor where the sliding body dragged them. The top of
the desk is of polished wood; it is perfectly smooth; there are no
crevices or anything of the sort to catch hold of anything. When the
body slipped from it, it must have swept everything with it, cleanly.
And yet," bending forward over the desk and picking up a minute red
particle, "here, directly in the center, we find this."

"What is it?" asked Pendleton, eagerly.

Ashton-Kirk placed the red particle on his palm and held it out. It
was shaped like a keystone, and had apparently been cut from something
that had been printed upon.

"It is that portion of a railroad ticket which a conductor's punch
bites out, and which litters the floor and the seats in trains. Have
you never had one fall from your clothes after a railroad journey?"

Pendleton looked at the tiny red fragment, and then at the desk.

"If Hume fell across the desk, as you've just said," he remarked,
slowly, "and pulled all these other things to the floor with him--why,
Kirk, this bit of card, in the very center of the polished top,--it
must have dropped there afterwards."

"Exactly," said Ashton-Kirk. "And now, if you don't mind, just step
out into the hall and ask Paulson to come up."

Pendleton did so; and while he was gone, Ashton-Kirk placed the red
fragment carefully in his card-case. When the other re-entered with
Paulson at his heels, he asked:

"Have any of the policemen detailed here been out of town recently?"

"No," replied Paulson. "There have been five besides myself, and they
have been on duty every day."

"Thank you," said the investigator. And as the policeman went out, he
made his way into the kitchen. Here, however, his examination was
brief, as was that of the bedroom also. At length he paused, his hands
in his pockets, his head thrown back, satisfaction lighting his dark,
keen face.

"That is all, I think," said he. "There have only been a few pages,
but the print has been exceedingly good and the matter of much
interest." He looked at a clock that ticked solemnly upon a shelf. "We
have half an hour to reach my place and dress," he said. "I'm afraid
that we'll be late, and that Edouard will be annoyed. His cookery is
so exquisitely timed that it is scarcely the better for delay."

"Wait a minute," said Pendleton, grasping his friend's arm. "What part
did Edyth--Miss Vale--play in all this? I can see you have formed in
your mind some sort of completed action. Where does she come into it?"

"Completed!" Ashton-Kirk smiled into the pale, set face of his friend.
"You give me too much credit, old chap. I have some undoubted scenes
from the drama; but most of the remainder are merely detached lines
and bits of stage business. As to Miss Vale," here the smile vanished,
"I have been unable to make up my mind just how far she is concerned,
if at all. However, perhaps twenty-four hours will make it all clear
enough. In the meantime I will say this to you: Don't jump to harsh
conclusions, Pen. You know this young lady well. How far do you
suppose she would go to the perpetrating of a downright crime?"

"Not a step!" answered Pendleton, promptly.

"Then," said Ashton-Kirk, "until we know positively that she has done
so, stick to that."



CHAPTER VII

THE SCHWARTZ-MICHAEL BAYONET


As Ashton-Kirk and Pendleton sat in the former's library that evening
after dinner, there came a knock upon the door and Fuller entered
briskly. In his hand he carried a paper parcel which he laid upon a
stand at the investigator's elbow.

"This is the bayonet, sir," said he. "Mr. Stillman, the coroner,
objected to letting me have it at first, but changed his mind after I
had talked to him for a while."

"Did you take the photograph to Berg in Christie Place?"

"Yes, sir. He recognized it at once as that of the person in
question."

"And you made inquiries upon the other point?"

"I did. Neither Mr. Stillman nor any of the men who removed the body
of Hume have been out of town within a week. I also questioned Mr.
Osborne; his answer was the same. Brolatsky's reply was similar; and
he also said that Hume had not ridden on a railroad in years."

"That will be all, Fuller; thank you."

The brisk young man had reached the door when the investigator added:

"One moment."

He scribbled something upon a pad, tore off the leaf and handed it to
his aid.

"Look these things up at once."

Fuller took the paper, glanced at it and then replied:

"Very well, sir."

Seated in his big chair with the jar of Greek tobacco and sheaf of
brown paper wrappers before him, Ashton-Kirk did not display any haste
in removing the covering from the bayonet that had let the life out of
the art dealer. Rather he sank deeper into the arms of the chair; the
cigarette end became gray and dead between his fingers; the strangely
brilliant eyes closed as though he had fallen asleep.

But Pendleton, who understood his friend's ways, knew better; the
keen, swift-moving mind was but arranging the developments of the day,
weighing them, giving to each its proper value. A little later and the
eyes would unclose, more than likely alight with some new idea, some
fresh purpose drawn from his reflections.

And as Pendleton waited he, too, fell into a musing state and also
began marshaling the facts as _he_ saw them. Ashton-Kirk, during
dinner, had told him those regarding the visit of Edyth Vale the day
before.

"Pen, you know I don't usually do this," the investigator had informed
him. "But as you know so much already, and your feelings in the matter
being what they are, I think it best that you should know more."

And now Pendleton, as he rolled and consumed cigarette after
cigarette, went over the facts as they had been laid before him.

"And Morris," said he to himself, as he reached the end of his
friend's recital; "now what sort of a mess has Allan Morris got
himself into? And after he had got into it, why in heaven's name
didn't he keep quiet about it? What good could come from Edyth's
knowing it?"

Then the fact that Morris had apparently tried to keep his secret from
Miss Vale presented itself. But Pendleton dismissed it with contempt.

"Tried!" he said to himself. "Of course; but how? By marching up and
down the floor. By a great parade of tragic despair; by sighs and the
wringing of his hands. I've always suspected Morris of being a bit
theatrical--and now I am sure of it."

He roused himself for a moment, lighted a fresh cigarette and settled
back once more.

"I'm not Kirk by any means," he reflected, "and this sort of thing is
altogether out of my line. But it seems clear that Edyth--after
leaving here yesterday--received some unexpected news. When she was
here, consulting Kirk, she was, to all appearances, in a
quandary--helpless. She did not know how to proceed; she understood
nothing. But her darting off alone that way after midnight proves that
some sort of a crisis had come up. She had heard something--more
than likely through Morris. He probably," with great contempt,
"became hysterical again, couldn't contain himself and blabbed
everything--whatever it was."

Then he burst out aloud, angrily.

"She went to Hume's last night because she had reason to think Morris
would be there. And if the truth were known, Morris _was_ there."

"My dear fellow," said the voice of Ashton-Kirk, "the truth, upon that
particular point, at least, is known. Allan Morris was at Hume's last
night. He was the man whom Berg saw enter after the musician."

"How do you know?" asked Pendleton, astonished.

"Fuller, with a report which he recently made upon Morris, handed me a
photograph of that gentleman. While we were at dinner, Berg identified
the portrait as being that of Hume's secret visitor."

"I was right, then. Edyth _did_ go there expecting to meet him--to
protect him, perhaps. If you knew her as well as I do, Kirk, you'd
realize that it's just the sort of thing she'd do. But," positively,
"she did not find him there."

"What makes you think that? There was still one of Hume's visitors
left, when she got there. It may have been Morris."

"It was Spatola," answered Pendleton, with conviction. "The scream of
the cockatoo which came from Hume's rooms when the pistol was
discharged proves it. When Spatola went in, Berg said he was carrying
something under his coat. Brolatsky told the coroner this morning that
the Italian sometimes brought his trained birds with him when he
called at Hume's. That's what he had last night."

But Ashton-Kirk shook his head.

"At this time," he said, "it will scarcely do to be positive on some
things. Indications are plenty, but they must be worked out. I have
some theories of my own upon the very point that you have just
covered, but I will not venture a decided statement until I have
proven them to the limit. It's the only safe way."

Pendleton discontentedly hitched forward in his chair.

"I thought," said he, "that you worked entirely by putting this and
that together."

"That is precisely what I do," returned Ashton-Kirk. "But I have
found, through experience, that there must be no loose ends left to
hang. Such things are treacherous; you never know when they'll trip
you up and upset all your calculations." He paused a moment and
regarded his friend steadfastly. Then he continued. "But, just now, I
think we had better not trouble ourselves about Edyth Vale and Allan
Morris. To be sure, the latter's connection with the affair is
peculiar; Miss Vale's visit to Hume's last night, the sounds which
Sams heard immediately after she had gone in--her turning out of the
gas and hurried flight, are also strange and significant enough. But
they are perhaps the very end of the story; and it is best never to
begin at the end."

"Is there any way by which you can begin at what you think is the
beginning?" asked the other.

Ashton-Kirk took up the parcel which Fuller had laid at his elbow.

"Here is one way," he answered. "Let us see where it leads us."

He stripped off the wrapper, and the bayonet which had killed the
numismatist was revealed, blood-clotted and ugly. Carefully the
investigator examined the broad, powerful blade and heavy bronze hilt.

"A Schwartz-Michael, just as I thought," he said.

"The maker's name is upon it then?" said Pendleton.

But the other shook his head.

"No," said he. "But it happens that I have given some attention to
arms, and the bayonet, though a weapon that is passing, came in for
its share."

He balanced the murderous-looking thing in his hand and proceeded.

"There are not many types of bayonets. The first was what they called
a 'Plug,' because it was made to fit into the muzzle of a flint, or
match-lock. Then there was the socket bayonet, the ring bayonet and an
improved weapon invented by an English officer named Chillingworth
which met with much favor in the armies of Europe. But the latest
development is the sword bayonet, of which this is an example. Its
form is a great improvement over the older makes; it is an almost
perfect side arm as well, having a cutting edge, a point, and a grip
exactly like that of a sword. There are a number of makes of this
type; the Schwartz-Michael is one of the least known of these.
Upon its being placed on the market it was adopted by three
governments--Bolivia, Servia, and Turkey--and there it stopped."

He laid the weapon upon the table and settled himself back in his
chair.

"It struck me when I first saw the thing," he went on, "that it was a
little singular that a Schwartz-Michael should even find its way into
the United States. Now, it would not surprise me to find an English
revolver in Patagonia, or an American rifle in Thibet, because they
are universally known and used. Any one might carry them. But a
bayonet is different, of course; it is a strictly military arm, and
its utility is limited. That a criminal should select one with which
to commit a murder is unusual; and, further; the fact that the make is
one never introduced into the United States is rather remarkable."

"It is--a little," agreed Pendleton.

"It is a small thing, but all clews are small things. Now there are
many ways in which such a weapon might find its way into the country;
but I took the most likely of these as a beginning. Before I dressed
for dinner, I ran over a rather complete card-index system which I
maintain; and within a few minutes learned that the republic of
Bolivia had, within the past year, changed both the rifle and bayonet
used by its army."

"Well?" asked Pendleton, with interest.

"When a nation makes such a change, the discarded arms are usually
bought up by some large speculator or dealer in such things. And in
the course of time they find their way to the military goods dealers
who exist all over the world."

Here Fuller entered the room, and Ashton-Kirk turned to him
inquiringly.

"Well?"

"In the morning _Standard_ of April 9th," announced the young man, "I
find an advertisement of Bernstine Brothers relative to a sale of
condemned army equipment."

"Is anything specified?"

"They considered it important that high-power modern rifles were to be
sold at a very small price. And they also lay some stress upon the
fact that the stuff had been in use by the Bolivian army."

Pendleton saw a look of satisfaction come into his friend's eyes. But
there was no other evidence of anything unusual.

"And now," said the investigator, quietly, "with regard to this other
matter."

"I find that there are two schools for mutes in this section,"
answered Fuller. "But both are some distance out of town."

The satisfaction in Ashton-Kirk's singular eyes deepened.

"Excellent," said he.

"One is on the main line--Kittridge Station; the other is on the
Hammondsville Branch at a place called Cordova."

"Thank you," said Ashton-Kirk.

And when the door had once more closed behind his aid, the
investigator continued to Pendleton:

"I figured upon some of the equipment reaching here. Military goods
houses, such as Bernstine's, usually advertise each lot they receive;
and I considered it possible that the murderer might have been
attracted by this notice and procured the weapon from them. If he did,
we may get some trace of him by inquiring at Bernstine's. But,"
flinging his arms wide and yawning as though weary of the subject,
"that is work for to-morrow. To-night we will rest and prepare for
what is to come. But in the meantime," arising with enthusiasm, "let
me show you a first edition of the 'Knickerbocker's History of New
York' which I picked up recently."

He went to his book-shelves and took down two faded volumes. With
eager hands Pendleton took them from him.

"Original covers!" cried he. "Binding unbroken; in perfect condition
inside; not a spot or a stain anywhere." Then he regarded his friend
with undisguised envy. "Kirk," said he, "you're a lucky dog. You can
dig up more good things than anybody else that I know."



CHAPTER VIII

THE NEWSPAPERS BEGIN TO PLAY THEIR PART


Next morning Ashton-Kirk lounged in a comfortable window-seat, almost
knee-deep in newspapers. The published accounts of the assassination
were, in some instances, very sensational. Drawings, by special
artists of persons concerned, were much in evidence, also half-tones
of the exterior of 478 Christie Place. The names of Osborne and
Stillman figured largely in the types; but what interested the
investigator most was a portrait of the musician--the violinist,
Antonio Spatola, and the story of his arrest.

The pictured face was that of a young man with a great head of curling
hair. The features were regular, the expression eager and appealing.

"I would have pronounced him a musician, even if I had not heard that
he was one," said Ashton-Kirk. "The head and face formations have all
the qualities." Then he ran over the story of Spatola's arrest and the
causes that led up to it. At the finish he smiled. "They have tried
and convicted him on the first page. If there was any way for them to
do it, they'd execute him in the evening editions and print his dying
words in the sporting extra. But," and he nodded his head
appreciatively, "Osborne has a good case against him, at that."

Both the clerk, Isidore Brolatsky, and Berg seemed to have talked
freely to the newspapermen. The character of Hume was treated in a
highly colored manner. The visits of the Italian musician to the
numismatist, his ambition to shine as another Kubelik, his
ungovernable temper, the high words that followed Hume's frequent
sneers at his ambition and the fact that he once drew a knife upon his
tormentor, were presented in full. But what appealed to the
space-writers most was Brolatsky's story of how Hume had once called
Spatola "Mad Anthony," and afterward showed him the portrait of
General Wayne.

"This apparently drove him frantic," wrote one reporter, "and, noting
this, Hume frequently applied the name to him, and more than likely
displayed the portrait as well. The last time that Spatola visited
Hume was upon the night of the murder. He evidently went to regale the
numismatist with music; for the delicatessen dealer, Berg, saw under
his coat what was evidently his violin. During the course of the
concert, Hume probably resumed his sneers; unable any longer to bear
it, the Italian apparently struck him down, and then in blind rage of
resentment, smashed and otherwise destroyed every one of the Wayne
portraits he could find."

Fuller came in with another newspaper just about this time and
Ashton-Kirk showed him the story.

"The _Standard_, then, seems to ignore the theory held by Osborne and
Stillman that the murder was done in an attempt to steal the portrait
found partly cut from the frame," said the assistant after studying
the account. Then, inquiringly, he added: "What do you think of it,
sir?"

"As a piece of sensational writing, I have no fault to find with it,"
said the investigator. "But the _Standard's_ young man is no deep
thinker. The single fact that Hume was a lover of real music should
have shown him that his theory was wrong."

Fuller considered a moment.

"I don't think I quite get that," said he.

"It is simple enough. Hume being sensitive to harmony, asked Spatola
very frequently to play for him; and, according to Brolatsky, paid him
rather well for each performance. To furnish good music, Spatola must
have not only talent, but also a violin that was at least fairly
good."

"Yes, sir, I see that."

"Having a violin that was at least fairly good, Spatola, being a poor
man, would take care of it. He would carry it in a case--he would
especially do so in wet or damp weather. And it rained on the night
of the murder. If he carried his violin in a case, there was no need
of his putting it under his coat. And, another thing, a violin case is
of such size as to prevent its being so carried, isn't it?"

Fuller nodded.

"I think that's very good," said he.

"It would have been a very easy thing for the _Standard's_ man to have
made a few inquiries as to whether Spatola used a violin case or no.
If he had done so, I am inclined to think that the answers would have
been in the affirmative. But there is another and more vital point
upon which I would base an objection to the reporter's theory. He says
that, goaded into a rage, Spatola struck his tormentor down. But he
forgets that If the murderer did not visit Hume's with the intention
of doing murder, it was rather a freakish thing for him to provide
himself with a bayonet. However, that is a point that I discussed with
Mr. Stillman yesterday; at first he was inclined to assume a somewhat
similar position."

"But the broken and cut portraits?" questioned Fuller.

Ashton-Kirk smiled a little.

"Probably I shall be able to properly account for them when I return
from a little trip that I am about to take to-day," said he. "That
is," as a sort of afterthought, "if some things turn out as I think
they will."

Fuller unfolded the newspaper that he had brought in.

"It is a late edition of the _Star_," he said. "The paper seems to
have scored a beat, for it has some developments that may put a
different face upon everything."

Ashton-Kirk took the sheet, and as he glanced at the flaring
headlines, he whistled softly. The lines read:

            "MYSTERIOUS WOMAN IN A MOTOR CAR!

     "She Visits 478 Christie Place on the Night of Murder!

      "DID A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN'S HAND DEAL THE DEADLY BLOW?

        "A New Element Added to the Hume Sensation!"

"The _Star_ man seems to have struck up an acquaintance with Sams,"
said Ashton-Kirk, with interest. He thought for a moment, and then
added to Fuller:

"Tell Stumph when Miss Edyth Vale arrives to show her here at once."

"Oh, you have been expecting her then?"

"No: I have not. But I am now."

After Fuller left the room, the investigator turned eagerly to the
_Star's_ leaded narrative. This laid great stress upon the evident
wealth and dazzling beauty of the mysterious midnight visitor in
Christie Place; and second only to her did they feature the
well-dressed stranger whom Berg had seen enter at Hume's door before
he had closed his own place for the night. The revolver shot that had
followed the woman's entrance and the parrot-like scream which had, in
turn, followed that, lost nothing in the telling.

"Who was the woman? That is the mystery," the newspaper said in
conclusion. "The hack driver caught but a glimpse of her, and in the
excitement of the moment failed to take the number of the car. But
that the latter was a Maillard he is positive. There are several
headquarter's men following up the clew as this goes to press; and
startling developments are expected at any moment.

"As to the second man whom the fancy grocer, Berg, saw go into Hume's,
there is a well-founded belief that he is very well known in select
circles and had called at Hume's frequently upon a matter concerning
which both he and Hume were always very secretive. The _Star_ called
up both his apartments and his office, but he had not been seen at
either place on the day after the murder. The clubs of which he is a
member were resorted to, but with no more success. As this gentleman
is known to be engaged to the beautiful heiress of a huge fortune, the
_Star's_ well-known special writer, Nancy Prindeville, was detailed to
get her statement. But a man servant stated that his mistress had
given positive orders that she could not be seen."

The investigator threw down the paper.

"Well," said he to himself with a shrug, "that makes it a little
annoying for the young lady. The fact that they refer to Morris when
they speak of a young man 'well known in select circles' will be plain
to everyone, for the facts of Morris' visits have been rather well
exploited in all the other papers. And as newspaper men are not
without daring in their conjectures, I wonder how long it will be
before one of them openly associates the 'beautiful unknown' with
Allan Morris' betrothed. I would, I think, offer even money that the
thing is hinted at before night."

He sat for some time in the midst of the scattered sheets thinking
deeply; then he pressed the bell call, and Fuller presented himself.

"I want you to take up the investigation of Hume and Allan Morris
where you left off the other day. Put Burgess, O'Neill and any others
that you desire on the matter. I want _complete_ information, and I
want it _quickly_."

"Yes, sir," answered Fuller.

"Follow up anything that promises results concerning Morris' father.
Especially find out if he ever knew Hume. Get every fact that can be
gathered about the latter. You, or rather Burgess, hinted in the
preliminary report that it was thought that he had at one time lived
abroad. If it is possible, establish that fact. In any event, go into
his history as deeply as you can."

"Very well," said Fuller, with the easy manner of a person accustomed
to carrying out difficult orders.

As the young man went out at one door, Stumph knocked upon another;
then Miss Edyth Vale, very pale, but entirely composed, was shown into
the room.



CHAPTER IX

MISS VALE TELLS WHAT SHE KNOWS


Ashton-Kirk arose, kicked aside the litter of newspapers, and placed a
chair for his visitor.

"Your man told me that I was expected," she said. "How did you know
that I would come this morning?"

"I knew that you'd be sure to read the newspapers," said he. "And I
was pretty confident as to the effect the _Star's_ account would
have."

She sat down quietly and for a few moments did not speak. A slight
trembling of the lower lip was the only indication of the strain under
which she was laboring. Finally she said:

"I am very sorry that I deceived you yesterday morning."

He waved his hand lightly.

"I was not deceived; so there was no harm done," he explained.

She began tugging nervously at her gloves, much as she had done a few
mornings before. Her face was still composed; but deep in her
beautiful eyes was an expression of fear.

"I might have known that I could not do it," she said. "But the
impulse came to me to deny everything as the easiest and safest way
out of it all; and I obeyed it. I was not calm enough to consider the
possible harm that it might do. However," and her firm voice broke a
little, "I suppose the newspapers would have ferreted out the facts in
any event."

"They are very keen in the pursuit of anything that promises a good
story," agreed the investigator. "But if you had given me the facts as
you intended doing when you called me on the 'phone yesterday morning,
I'd have had twenty-four hours start of them, at least."

She leaned toward him earnestly.

"I am going to be frank with you now," she said. "And perhaps it is
not yet too late. I _did_ intend telling you everything when I
telephoned you, but, as I have said, the impulse came to hide it,
instead!"

"It was fear," said Ashton-Kirk, "and was, perhaps, perfectly natural
under the circumstances."

"When I left you two mornings ago," said Miss Vale, "I felt easier in
my mind than I had in months before. From what I had heard of you, I
felt sure that the little problem which I had set you would prove
absurdly simple. This feeling clung to me all day; I was light and
happy, and astonished my aunt, Mrs. Page, by consenting to go with
her to Mrs. Barron's that night, a thing that I had been refusing to
do for a long time.

"Late in the afternoon, Allan--Mr. Morris--came. As soon as I saw him
I knew that something had happened or was about to happen. There was
no color in his face; his eyes had a feverish glitter, his voice was
high pitched and excited. But I did not let him see that I noticed
this. I talked to him quietly about a score of things; and by a most
circuitous route approached the matter that interested me most--our
marriage.

"To my surprise he plunged into the subject with the greatest
eagerness. Before that, as I have told you, he always did his best to
avoid it; the least mention of it seemed to sadden him, to cause him
pain. But now he discussed it excitedly; apparently it was no longer a
dim, far-off thing, but one which he saw very clearly. As you may
imagine, I was both astonished and delighted. But this was only at
first. In a little while I noticed something in his tone, in his
manner, in his feverish eyes that I did not like."

She paused for a moment; Ashton-Kirk clasped his knee with both hands
and regarded her with interest.

"It was a sort of subdued fierceness," continued Miss Vale--"as though
he were setting his face against some invisible force and defying it.
When he mentioned our happiness that was to be, I could see his hands
close tightly, I could read menace in the set of his jaw. As he was
going, he said to me:

"'There has been something--a something that you've never been able to
understand--keeping us apart. But it is about at an end. Human nature
endures a great deal, sometimes, but it's endurance does not last
forever. To-night, my dear, puts an end to my endurance. I am going to
show what I should have shown long ago--that I'm a man.'

"Then he went away, and I was frightened. All sorts of possibilities
presented themselves to me--vague, indefinite, formless terrors. I
tried to shake them off, but could not. It became firmly fixed in my
mind that something was going to happen--that Allan was about
to--to--" here the steady voice faltered once more, "to take a step
that would bring danger upon him.

"And that night I went to Mrs. Barron's as I had promised. I talked to
people--I laughed--I even danced. But never for a moment did the fear
cease gripping at my heart. At last I could stand it no longer. I felt
that I must go to where this danger was confronting Allan; and as the
house in Christie Place was the first that arose in my mind, I went
there.

"I saw the cab upon the opposite side of the street; and the driver of
it looked at me so hard that I drove on without stopping, as the
newspaper states. But my courage came back in a few moments; I
returned and went in."

"You halted on the stairs," said Ashton-Kirk. "Why?"

"Because I saw a light moving about in the hallway above," answered
Miss Vale. Then she added: "But how did you know that I stopped upon
the stairs?"

"I did not know it," replied Ashton-Kirk. "In his story the cab driver
says you entered at Hume's door and went upstairs. I have found that
the position which his cab occupied at the time was fully fifteen feet
west of Hume's doorway, making it impossible for him to see whether
you went up at once, or not. In the face of what immediately followed
your entrance, or rather, what is said to have followed it, I thought
it reasonable to suppose that you had stopped!"

"Thank you," said Miss Vale.

"You say there was a light moving about; but what else did you see?"

"Nothing."

"But you heard something?"

"Yes; the revolver shot, and then the dreadful cry that followed it."

Ashton-Kirk unclasped his hands from about his knee, placed them upon
the arms of his chair and leaned forward.

"But between the two--after the shot, and before the cry, you heard a
door close," he said.

She gave a little gasp of surprise.

"I did," she said. "I remember it distinctly now that you mention it.
It closed sharply, but not very loudly."

The investigator leaned back and began drumming upon the arm of his
chair with his long supple fingers.

"Experience never quite takes away that comfortable feeling of
satisfaction that the proving of a theory gives one," said he. "I
suppose it is a sort of reward that Nature reserves for effort."

And he smiled at his beautiful visitor's puzzled look, and went on:

"The cab driver says that the cry resembled that of a parrot or
cockatoo. What do you think?"

"It was not unlike their scream," said Miss Vale. "But I was too much
startled to think of comparing it to anything at the time!"

"What happened after you heard this cry?"

"I waited for some little time, part way up the stairs. Then the light
which I had seen glancing over the walls and across the ceiling,
seemed to halt and die down. After this there was a pause, a stoppage
of everything, and fear took possession of me. Suppose Allan had
really intended visiting the place--suppose he had preceded
me--suppose something dreadful had just happened--something in which
he had had a part!

"Filled with thoughts like these, I ascended the remaining stairs.
There was a light shining through the lettered glass of the door at
the front; but the hall was deserted; the far end was thick with
shadows. I tried the door where the light was, but it was fast; the
door nearest the stairs was open; I entered by that, and passed into
the front room through a communicating doorway. Then I saw the--the
body, turned out the light, ran stumbling through the rooms and down
the stairs."

"Why did you turn out the light?" asked the investigator.

"I don't know. Partly, I suppose, to shut the awful thing upon the
floor from my sight--and partly--"

She stopped, but Ashton-Kirk completed the sentence for her.

"And partly with the confused idea that you might hide the deed from
public gaze and in that way save Allan Morris from the consequences of
his crime," said he.

At this she sprang up, her hands outstretched appealingly; the fear
now plain in her face.

"No, no!" she cried. "He is not guilty! He did not do it!"

"My dear young lady," said Ashton-Kirk, soothingly, "control
yourself. Don't forget that before this thing is ended you will
probably need all the self-command you can summon." Then as she
resumed her seat, he added: "I did not say that he was guilty. I was
merely telling you of the formless thought that you had in mind when
you turned out the light."

She sat staring at him, the horror of it all still in her eyes. Then
she nodded her head slowly, and said in a husky voice.

"Yes; that is what I thought, and that is why I called you on the
telephone. I thought you would pity me and show me some way of
covering it all up. But after I had your promise to come, I was seized
with the fear that you might--that you might betray him. That is, I
suppose, the real reason why I tried to deceive you. In my terror I
myself thought Allan guilty. But, of course, now that I have had time
to calmly think it over, I know he was not--that he _couldn't_ be! No
one who knows him will believe he did it."

"What reason had you for thinking that he might be guilty?"

"His manner during the afternoon before the murder. He seemed so
fiercely resolved, so different from his usual self."

"I understand. And what makes you think now that he is innocent?"

"I believe it because I understand his nature," said Miss Vale,
earnestly. "He might be finally aroused--under provocation he might
even be violent. But he could never do a thing like this--it is too
utterly horrible."

"You have judged that it was probably he who was seen to go into
Hume's before the murder?"

"Yes."

"Hume was alive when Berg closed up his shop; he was dead when you
entered his showroom a half hour or so later. Therefore he must have
met his death while the cab driver Sams sat on his box across the
street. Now, while Morris was seen to go in, it is not at all positive
that he was the man who came out. We are not _sure_ that he was not
present when the crime was committed."

Miss Vale reared her head proudly.

"Is it possible," she said, "that you are trying to fix this deed upon
Allan Morris?"

"I am trying to find the real truth," answered Ashton-Kirk, gravely.

"The police," said Miss Vale, "according to the newspapers, thought
that the criminal gained admission by way of the roof. This may or may
not be so; but I think it is pretty evident that he made his way out
in that manner. I was on the stairs while he was in the hall. He fled,
but as he did not pass me, he must have gone upwards. If Allan Morris
had done this murder he would not have thought of this; not knowing
the section, he would have been ignorant as to where the roof would
lead. But if Spatola were the man who remained, it would have been
different. Do the papers not say that he lives in a garret, or loft,
in the same block? How easy it would have been for him to pass out
upon the roof of 478 after the crime and then over the housetops of
the block until he came to a scuttle which perhaps led into his very
attic?"

"That," said Ashton-Kirk, "is very well conceived. But it has one
weakness. You are not sure that the murderer _did_ ascend to the roof
after the crime. He may have been lurking in the shadows which you say
were lying so thickly at the end of the hall. He may have been
watching you as you discovered the body, while you ran down the hall
once more and down the stairs. To be sure, you slammed the door behind
you; and so locked it. But like all spring or latch locks, it could be
readily opened from the inside. No one else came out while the cab
driver waited; but that was only for another fifteen minutes,
according to his own statement. The murderer could easily have waited
until he had gone and then slipped out, also locking the door after
him."

Miss Vale sat staring at the speaker dumbly for a space; then she
asked in a dry, expressionless way:

"And do you really think this is what happened?"

Ashton-Kirk shook his head.

"No," said he. "I merely mentioned it to show you that it is difficult
to be sure of anything in a matter like this until," with a smile,
"you _are_ sure. It is one of the things that may have happened; but
it is also open to question. A criminal whose crime has been
discovered does not ordinarily linger upon the scene. You had just
fled with the terror of the thing fresh upon you. How did he know but
that you might scream it out to everyone you met."

Again she looked at him mutely. Then she said:

"What, then, is your theory of the crime?"

"I have a number of possibilities at this moment," he said. "Of
course, there is one to which I give the preference; but until a thing
is proven beyond question, it is my rule never to outline my
theories."

Before Miss Vale left she had implored him to do all he could to clear
the matter up, for her sake and for Morris's. "Of course," she said in
conclusion, "I now understand that the entire matter will get into the
papers. It is too late to prevent that. But it is not too late for you
to fix the guilt where it belongs. And I have every confidence that
you will do it. If I had not," and her voice quavered pitifully, "I
don't know what I should do."

"I will do what I can. Success sometimes comes easily--sometimes one
is forced to fight hard for it. But rest assured that I will do what I
can."

She was going; he held the library door open for her while the
grave-faced Stumph waited in the hall.

"It will, perhaps, be necessary for me to see Mr. Morris sometime
during the course of the day," said Ashton-Kirk, as an afterthought.
"Would it be convenient for you to let him know that I can be seen at
six?"

The fear that his soothing words had driven from her eyes, swept back
into them; he saw her tremble and steady herself against the
door-frame.

"I cannot let him know," she said. "I have not seen him since--since
the time I have mentioned. I have waited, telephoned, sent messages,
even gone in person. But I could not find him. No one seems to know
anything of his whereabouts."



CHAPTER X

ASHTON-KIRK ASKS QUESTIONS


For some time after Miss Vale had gone, Ashton-Kirk stood at one of
the windows and looked down at the sordid, surging, dirty crowd in
the street. The worn horses went dispiritedly up and down; the
throaty-voiced men clamored strangely through their beards; children
played in the black ooze of the gutters; women bundled in immense
knitted garments and with their heads wrapped in shawls, haggled over
scatterings of faded, weak looking vegetables. The vendors grew
frantic and eloquent in their combats with these experienced
purchasers; their gestures were high, sharp and loaded with protest.

Then Pendleton came. He was burdened with newspapers and wore an
excited look.

"I brought these, thinking that perhaps you had not seen them," he
exclaimed, throwing the dailies among the others upon the floor. "But
I note that your morning's reading has been very complete. Now tell
me, Kirk, what the mischief do you think of all this?"

"I suppose, you refer to the published reports of the Hume case?"

"Of course! As far as I am concerned, there is not, just now, any
other thing of consequence on earth." Then he struck the table with
his fist. "And it's all the fault of that cur--Allan Morris! Every bit
of it! There is not a space writer or amateur detective on a single
paper in the city that hasn't his nose to the ground at this minute,
hunting the trail. They are all at it. I stopped at the Vale's on my
way here, but they told me she was not at home. From the top step to
the curb, on my way out, I was stopped four times by stony-faced young
men all anxious to make good with their city editors. 'Was I a friend
of the family? Did Miss Vale seem at all upset by the matter? Where
was Allan Morris? What brought him so frequently, as Brolatsky said,
to see Hume?' I believe they'd have come over the back of my car even
after I started, if I had given but an encouraging look."

"The evening papers will be a trial to Miss Vale for the next few
days."

"Well, don't neglect the morning issues, if you are going to mention
any. In to-morrow's _Star_ there will be a portrait of Edyth four
columns wide and eight inches high. I'll expect such expressions as
'beautiful society girl,' 'a recent debutante,' 'heiress to the vast
fortune of the late structural steel king,' 'charming manner and
brilliant mind.' And at those odd times when they are not praising
her gowns, her wealth or her good looks, they'll be rather worse than
insinuating that she knows all about the crime--if she didn't commit
it herself!"

He paced up and down the floor, his huge motoring coat flapping
distressfully about his legs. His face was flushed.

"If I had Morris here," he threatened, "I'd show him a few things, the
pup!" Then suddenly he stopped his tramping and faced his friend. "But
now that it is as it is," he demanded, "what are we going to do about
it?"

"There are quite a number of very sensible things for us to do,"
replied Ashton-Kirk, good-humoredly. "And the first of them is to keep
our tempers--the second to keep cool."

"All right," sulked Pendleton. "I know well enough that I need to do
both. But what next?"

"Is your car still outside?"

"Yes."

"Good. We'll have a little use for it to-day, if you're not otherwise
engaged."

"Kirk," said Pendleton, earnestly, "until this matter is settled,
don't hesitate to command me. I know that I'm not generally credited
with much serious purpose; but even the lightweight feels
things--sometimes."

Within half an hour, Ashton-Kirk, in a perfectly fitting, carefully
pressed suit of gray, tan shoes and a light colored knock-about cap,
led the way down to the car. As they got in, he said:

"We'd better go to Bernstine's first. It's the nearest and on our way
to the station."

A twenty minute's run through a baffling maze of vehicles brought them
to the curb before a store with a very conspicuous modern front of
plate glass and metal. Inside they inquired for one of the Messrs.
Bernstine; and upon one of the gentlemen presenting himself,
Ashton-Kirk handed him his card. Mr. Bernstine was stout, bald and
affable.

"I have heard of you, sir," said he, "and I am delighted to be of
service!"

"Within the last few weeks," said Ashton-Kirk, "you have had a sale of
rifles and other things condemned by the military authorities of
Bolivia."

Mr. Bernstine wrinkled his smooth forehead in reflection.

"Bolivia?" said he. "Now let me see." He pondered heavily for a few
moments and then sighed. "You see," he explained, "we sell so many
lots, from so many different places, that we can hardly keep the run
of them. But our books will show," proudly; "everything we do is in
our books."

He looked down the long, table-crowded store and called loudly:

"Sime!"

Sime instantly put in an appearance. He was small, sandy-haired and
freckled; he wore an alert expression and carried a marking pencil
behind his ear.

"This is our shipping and receiving clerk," said Mr. Bernstine. "He's
up to everything around the place." Then he lowered his voice and
jerked his fat thumb toward the newcomer secretly, addressing
Pendleton: "Clever! Just full of it."

Sime listened to Ashton-Kirk's question attentively.

"Yes," he said, in answer, "we had some of that stuff lately. Sold
well, too, considering the time of the year." He pulled open a drawer
and took out a fat, canvas-covered book. "Two gross rifles; one
hundred gross cartridges." He closed the book, tossed it into the
drawer and then slid the drawer shut. "There were a few bayonets, too.
About half a dozen."

With his round, fat countenance shining with admiration, Mr. Bernstine
once more caught Pendleton's eye.

"Just full of it," he murmured, sotto voce. "As full as he can be."

"The bayonets," said Ashton-Kirk, "are what we are after. They were
all sold, I suppose?"

"Yes," replied Sime. "I remember, when the last one went, saying to
one of our men that we were lucky. You see, bayonets don't sell very
well except to military companies; and _they_ are not organizing every
day."

"Do you know who bought them?"

Sime took the marking pencil from behind his ear and proceeded to
scratch his head with its point. Mr. Bernstine watched him anxiously.
But when the shipping clerk pulled open the drawer once more, the
employer's face lighted up.

"Ah!" said he to Pendleton. "The books! Now we'll have it."

"They were all taken away by the people who bought them," announced
Sime, after a great flipping of ink spattered pages, "All except one."

"And that one--"

"It went by our boy. It was sold to Mr. Cartwright the artist, and was
sent to his studio up here in Fifth St. But there was another--the
last one that we had," suddenly, "and now that I get thinking of it, I
remember we had some trouble about it. The man that bought it was a
Dago."

Pendleton darted a swift look at Ashton-Kirk, but the investigator's
expression never changed. He looked steadily at the clock.

"When he asked for the bayonet," proceeded Sime, "I knew we had one
left, but I could not just lay my hands on it. He paid for it and I
said we'd send it to him. He started to give me his address, and then
changed his mind and said he'd come back again."

"And he did?"

"Yes; the same afternoon. I had found the thing by that time and he
took it with him."

"You don't recall the address?"

To his employer's evident mortification, Sime shook his head.

"Look in the books," suggested Mr. Bernstine with confidence. "Look in
the books."

"It ain't there," answered Sime. "He said he'd come back, so I didn't
put it down."

"Was it Christie Place?"

Sime pointed at Ashton-Kirk with his pencil.

"You've got it," said he. "That was it, sure enough."

"And you think the man was an Italian?"

"Well, he talked and looked like one. Rather well educated too, I
think."

Ashton-Kirk thanked the clerk, and the now beaming Mr. Bernstine, and
with Pendleton left the place.

"Well," said Pendleton, as they climbed into the car, "this about
fixes the thing, doesn't it? The musician, Antonio Spatola, is the
guilty man, beyond a doubt."

The investigator settled back after giving the chauffeur his next
stop.

"Beyond a doubt," said he, "is rather an extreme expression. The fact
that the bayonet was purchased by an Italian who gave his address as
Christie Place is not enough to convict Spatola. All sorts of people
live in that street, and there are perhaps other Italians among them."

Pendleton called out to the chauffeur to stop.

"We'll settle that at once," said he. "Spatola's picture is in the
papers. We'll ask the clerk if it is that of the man to whom he sold
the weapon."

But Ashton-Kirk restrained him.

"I thought of the published portraits while Sime was speaking," said
he. "And I also thought that it was very fortunate that neither he nor
his employer were readers of the newspapers."

"How do you know that they are not?"

"If they had read to-day's issues they would have at once connected
the Italian who purchased the bayonet with the one who is said to have
used it--wouldn't they; especially as both Italians lived on the same
street? Bernstine and Sime said nothing because they suspect nothing.
And, as I have said, this is fortunate, because, suspecting nothing,
they will continue," with a smile, "to say nothing. If the police or
reporters got this, they'd swoop down on the trail and perhaps spoil
everything!"

"But Bernstine or his clerk will hear of the matter sooner or later,"
complained Pendleton. "And the police and reporters will then get in
on the thing anyhow."

"But there will be a delay," said his friend. "And that may be what we
need just now. Perhaps a few hours will mean success. You can never
tell. The best that we could get by explaining matters to Sime would
be a positive identification of Spatola, or the reverse. And we can
get that from him at any time. So you see, we lose nothing by
waiting."

"I guess that's so," Pendleton acknowledged, and again the car started
forward. At the huge entrance to a railroad station they drew up once
more.

Within, Ashton-Kirk inquired for the General Passenger Agent and was
directed to the ninth floor. The agent was a slim little man with huge
whiskers of snowy whiteness, and a most dignified manner.

"Oh, yes," he said, after glancing at the investigator's card. "I have
heard of you, of course. Who," with a little bow, "has not? Indeed, if
I remember aright, this road had the honor to employ you a few years
ago in a matter necessitating some little delicacy of handling. Am I
not right?"

"And I think it was you," said Ashton-Kirk, smoothly, "who provided me
with some very clearly cut facts which were of considerable service."

The little General Passenger Agent looked pleased and smoothed his
beautiful whiskers softly.

"I was most happy," said he.

"Just now," said Ashton-Kirk, "I am engaged in a matter of some
consequence, and once more you can be of assistance to me."

"Sit down," invited the other, readily. "Sit down, and command me."

Both Pendleton and the investigator sat down. The latter said to the
passenger agent:

"I understand that every railroad has a system by which it can tell
which conductor has punched a ticket."

"Oh, yes. A very simple one. You see the hole left by each punch is
different. One will cut a perfectly round hole, another will be
square, still another will be a triangle, and so on, indefinitely."

From his card case, Ashton-Kirk produced the small red particle which
he had found upon the desk of the murdered man.

"Here is a fragment cut from a ticket," he said. "It is shaped like a
keystone. I should like to know, if you can tell me, what train is
taken out by the conductor who uses the keystone punch."

The agent touched a signal and picked up the end of a tube.

"The head ticket counter," said he. "At once." Then he laid down the
tube and continued to his visitors. "He is the man who can supply that
sort of information instantly."

The ticket counter was a heavy-set young man, in spectacles and with
his hair much rumpled. He peered curiously at the strangers.

"Does any conductor on our lines use a punch which cuts out a
keystone?" inquired the General Passenger Agent.

"Yes, Purvis," replied the heavy young man. "Runs the Hammondsville
local."

"I am obliged to you both," said Ashton-Kirk. "This little hint may be
immensely valuable to me. And now," to the agent, "if I could have a
moment with Conductor Purvis, I would be more grateful to you than
ever."

"His train is out in the shed now," said the ticket counter, looking
at his watch. "Leaves in eight minutes."

"I'm sorry that I can't have him up here for you," said the passenger
agent. "Just now that is impossible. But," inquiringly, "couldn't you
speak to him down on the platform?"

"Of course," replied Ashton-Kirk.

He and Pendleton arose; the little man with the large white whiskers
was thanked once more, as was the heavy young man with the rumpled
hair.

"You'll find the Hammondsville train at Gate E," the latter informed
them.

Then the two shot down to the platform level and made their way toward
Gate E.



CHAPTER XI

PENDLETON IS VASTLY ENLIGHTENED


The Hammondsville local was taking on its passengers. It was a sooty
train, made up of three coaches and a combination baggage and smoking
car. The gateman pointed out its conductor, inside, and the two
approached him.

He was a spare, elderly man with a wrinkled, shrewd face, and a short,
pointed manner of speech.

"Oh, the General Passenger Agent sent you?" said he, examining them.
"All right. What's wanted?"

"Your train stops at a station called Cordova, does it not?"

"It stops at every station on the run. Cordova's one of them."

"There is an institution at Cordova, I believe?"

"For deaf and dumb kids--yes."

"Of course some of the people from there ride in and out with you at
times."

"I don't get many of the youngsters. But the folks that run the place
often come to the city."

"You are acquainted with them, of course. I mean in the way that
local conductors come to be acquainted with their regular riders."

Purvis grinned.

"Say," said he. "It's hard to get acquainted with some of them asylum
people. There's only a couple of them that can talk!"

"I see." Pendleton noted Ashton-Kirk's dark eyes fixed steadfastly
upon the man's face as though he desired to read the remainder from
his expression. "There is one of them," continued the investigator,
"whom perhaps you have noticed. He's rather a small man, and wears
thick glasses. He also dresses very carefully, and he wears a silk
hat."

"Oh, yes," said the conductor, "I know him. He goes in and out quite
often. Very polite too. Always says good day with his fingers; if the
train is crowded, he's a great little fellow for getting up and giving
his seat to the ladies."

"Have you ever heard his name?"

"Yes. It's Locke. He's some kind of a teacher."

Ashton-Kirk thanked the man, and with Pendleton walked through the
gate. As they were descending the stairs to the street, Pendleton
said:

"And now he wears a silk hat, does he? But you have not made sure of
the man. You forgot to inquire if Mr. Locke favored the German
dramatists."

For a moment Ashton-Kirk looked puzzled, then he burst into a laugh.

"Ah," said he, "you remember that."

"Of course I remember it. How can I forget it? You go prancing about
so like a conjurer that there's not a moment that I don't expect
something. If you finish by dragging the murderer from your sleeve,
I'll not be at all astonished. Your methods lead me to expect some
such a finale."

"To explain each step as I take it," said the investigator, "would be
much more difficult than the work itself. However the time has now
arrived for me to enlighten you somewhat upon this point, at least. I
am quite convinced that this man Locke played a leading part in the
murder of Hume. He is in a manner definitely placed, and I can speak
of him without fracturing any of my prejudices."

They got into the car, and Ashton-Kirk continued to the chauffeur:

"Christie Place." Then to Pendleton, he added as the machine started,
"I want to make some inquiries at the house where Spatola lived; and
in order to make the matter clearer, we'll just drop in at 478."

As they proceeded along at a bounding pace, the investigator related
to Pendleton what had passed between Edyth Vale and himself a few
hours before. Pendleton drew a great breath of relief.

"Of course I knew that her part in the matter was something like
that," he said, "but I'm glad to hear it, just the same." He looked at
his friend for a moment and then continued: "But how did you know that
Edyth heard a door close immediately after the pistol shot?"

They had just drawn up in front of Hume's, and as Ashton-Kirk got out,
he said:

"If you had only used your eyes as we were going over the place," said
he, "you'd have no occasion to ask that question."

There was a different policeman at the door; but fortunately he knew
the investigator and they were allowed to enter at once. When about
half way up the stairs, Ashton-Kirk said:

"This, I think, is about the place where Miss Vale stopped when she
saw the light-rays moving across the ceiling and wall of the hall. You
get the first glimpse of those from this point. Remain here a moment
and I'll try and reproduce what she heard--with the exception of the
cry."

Pendleton obediently paused upon the stairs; Ashton-Kirk went on up
and disappeared. In a few moments there came a sharp, ringing report,
and Pendleton, dashing up the stairs, saw his friend standing holding
open the showroom door--the one with Hume's name painted upon it.

"It's the bell," said Ashton-Kirk, pointing to the gong at the top of
the door frame. "When I examined it this morning I saw that it was
screwed up too tight, and knew that it would make a sound much like a
pistol shot to ears not accustomed to it."

Pendleton stared in amazement at the simplicity of the thing.

"I see," said he. "While Edyth stood listening on the stairs someone
opened this door!"

"Yes; someone unacquainted with the place. Otherwise he would have
known of the bell."

"But how did you know that Edyth heard a door close?"

"Whoever rang the bell closed the door after him. It has a spring lock
like the street door; and was locked when Miss Vale tried it a few
moments later."

"You say that the ringing of the bell shows the person who rang the
bell to have been unacquainted with the place. I think you must be
wrong here. Spatola is acquainted with the place; he was here at the
time. This is proven by the scream of the frightened cockatoo which
followed the ringing of the bell."

"It was not a cockatoo that made the sound," said Ashton-Kirk. "Give
me a moment and I think I can convince you of that."

The gas in the hall was lighted; the investigator stopped at the foot
of the stairs leading to the fourth floor.

"Persons," he continued, "who secretly enter buildings, as a rule
never trust to the lighting apparatus of the buildings. One reason for
this is that it is not under their control--another that they cannot
carry their light about with them."

He pointed to the lowermost step of the flight; there, as before, were
the stump of candle, the burnt matches, the traces of tallow upon the
wood.

"There were two or more men concerned in this crime," proceeded
Ashton-Kirk, "and that is the method of lighting that they chose--a
candle."

"Two men! How do you know that?" asked Pendleton.

"You shall see in a moment," replied the investigator. Then he
continued: "And the candle was used not only for illumination--it
served another purpose, and so supplied me with the first definite
information that my searching had given me up to that time."

Pendleton looked at the discouraged little candle end, with its long
black wick, the two charred splinters of pine wood and the eccentric
trail of tallow droppings. Then he shook his head.

"How you could get enlightenment from those things is beyond me," he
said. "But tell me what they indicated."

"The candle and the match-sticks count for little," said Ashton-Kirk.
"It is the tracings of melted tallow that possess the secret. Look
closely at them. At first glance they may seem the random drippings of
a carelessly held light. But a little study will show you a clearly
defined system contained in them."

"Well, you might say there were three lines of it," said Pendleton,
after a moment's inspection.

"Right," said Ashton-Kirk. "Three lines there are, and each follows a
row of tack heads. These latter were, apparently, once driven in to
hold down a step-protector of some sort which has since become worn
out and been removed."

The speaker took a pad of paper and a pencil from his pocket. Across
the pad he drew three lines one under the other. Then with another
glance at the candle droppings upon the step, he made a copy of them
that looked like this:

[Illustration: sketch of clue]

Pendleton bent over the result under the flare of the gas light; and
as he looked his eyes widened.

"Why," cried he, "they look like a stenographer's word-signs."

"Good!" said Ashton-Kirk. "And that, my dear fellow, is exactly what
they are. There, scrawled erratically in dripping tallow, is a three
word sentence in Benn Pitman's phonetic characters. It is roughly
done, and may have occupied some minutes; but it is well done, and in
excellent German. I'll write it out for you."

Then he wrote on the pad in big, plain Roman letters:

    HINTER
    WAYNE'S
    BILDNISSE

"There it is," said the investigator, "done into the German language,
line for line. Brush up your knowledge now; let me see you turn it
into English."

Pendleton, whose German was rusty from long disuse, pondered over the
three words. Suddenly a light shot across his face; then his eyes were
in a blaze.

"_Behind Wayne's Portrait!_"

He fairly shouted the words. Astonishment filled him; he was trembling
with excitement.

"By Heaven," he gasped, "you have it, Kirk. Now I understand the
smashing of the portraits of General Wayne. There was something of
value hidden behind one of them--between the picture and the back! But
what?"

"It was nothing of any great bulk; the hiding place indicated points
that out, surely," said Ashton-Kirk, composedly. "A document of some
sort, perhaps."

Pendleton stood for a moment, lost in the wonder of the revelation;
then his mind began to work once more.

"But I can't understand the writing of the thing upon the step," said
he.

"It was the fact that it was written that proved to me that there were
at least two men concerned. One knew the hiding place of the coveted
object; and this is how he conveyed the information to his companion,"
pointing to the step.

"But," protested Pendleton, "why did he not put it into words? Surely
it would have been much easier?"

"Not for this particular person. As it happens, he was a mute."

Again Pendleton's eyes opened widely; then recollection came to him
and he said:

"It was Locke--the man concerning whom you were making inquiries of
the railroad conductor!"

Ashton-Kirk nodded, and replied.

"And it was he who shrieked when the door of the showroom opened. The
out-cry of a deaf-mute, if you have ever heard one, has the same
squawking, senseless sound as that of a psittaceous bird like the
parrot or cockatoo."

"But," said Pendleton, "the fact that the man who scrawled these signs
upon the step _was_ a deaf-mute, scarcely justifies the eccentricity
of the thing. Why did he not use a pencil, as you have done?"

"I can't say exactly, of course. But did it never happen that you were
without a pencil at a time when you needed one rather urgently?"

"This thing has sort of knocked me off my balance, I suppose," said
Pendleton, rather bewildered. "Don't expect too much of me, Kirk." He
stuffed his hands in his pockets dejectedly and continued: "You now
tell me that this man was a mute. Yesterday you said he was small,
that he was near-sighted, that he was well dressed and knew something
of the modern German dramatists. You also told the conductor that he
wore thick glasses and a silk hat. Now, I suppose I'm all kinds of an
idiot for not understanding how you know these things about a man you
never saw. But I confess it candidly; I _don't_ understand."

"It all belongs to my method of work," said Ashton-Kirk. "It's simple
enough when you go about it the right way. I have already given you my
reasons for thinking the man who did this," pointing to the step, "to
be a mute. I judged that he was of small stature because he chose the
bottom step upon which to trace his word signs. Even an ordinary sized
man would have selected one higher up."

"All right," said Pendleton. "That looks good to me, so far."

"The deductions that he was well dressed and also near-sighted were
from the one source. His hat fell off while he was tracing the signs;
that showed me that he was forced to stoop very close to his work in
order to see what he was about. You see that, don't you?"

"How did you know his hat fell off?" asked Pendleton, incredulously.

"Mrs. Dwyer is evidently paid to clean only the hall and lower
stairway," replied Ashton-Kirk, composedly. "And that she sticks
closely to that arrangement is shown by the condition of this upper
flight. The dust upon the step is rather thick. If you will notice,"
and he indicated a place on the second step, "here is a spot where a
round, flat object rested. That this object was a silk hat is
positive. You can see the sharp impress of the nap in the dust; here
is the curl in the exact center of the crown as seen in silk hats
only. And men who wear silk hats are usually well-dressed men."

"But how can you be at all sure that the hat fell off? Isn't it
possible that he took it off and laid it there?"

"Possible--yes--but scarcely probable. A well-dressed man is so from
instinct. And his instinctive neatness would hardly permit him to put
his well-kept hat down in the dust."

"Go on," said Pendleton.

"The stairs have been used since the hat fell there; but the dust has
not been disturbed. There is a hand-rail on the other side of the
flight, and consequently, all went up and down on that side."

"I can understand the thick glasses," said Pendleton, "his being
near-sighted suggested those. But what made you think he cared for the
modern German dramatists?"

"That was a hazard, merely," and the investigator laughed.

"He knew German and was apparently a man of intelligence. No man who
combines these two things can fail of admiration of Hauptmann,
Sudermann and their brothers of the pen. And then a mute who knew
shorthand well enough to have such ready recourse to it, struck me as
being unusual. They all know the digital sign language; but German and
phonography classed him as one above the ordinary. This knowledge
brought the suggestion of an institution. Then came the suggestion
that he might be an instructor in such an institution. The fragment
from the railroad ticket hinted that the institution might be out of
town. Fuller's research placed two such institutions. The ticket
counter at the railroad office narrowed it down to one. The conductor
of the train all but put his hand on the man."

There was a short silence. Then Pendleton drew a long breath.

"Well, Kirk," said he. "I don't mind admitting that you have me
winging. I'll tell you now it's clever; but if I can think of a
stronger word later, I'll work it in instead."

"We have a pretty positive line on one of the criminals, and we will
now turn to the other," said the investigator, briskly. "It was this
other who committed the murder. The infirmities of Locke, the mute,
made it impossible for him to venture into the rooms. The risks for a
deaf and short-sighted man would be too great. Danger might creep upon
him and he neither hear nor see it. For some reason which I have not
yet discovered, but it may have been distrust, he had not informed his
confederate as to the whereabouts of the object of their entrance.
When they got as far as this hall, he concluded to do so; but as
neither man had a pencil, he conveyed the information as shown; then
the confederate entered Hume's apartments by the door which Mrs.
Dwyer found open. This, by an oversight, may have been left unlocked,
or the criminals may have had a key. However, that does not affect the
case one way or another.

"It is my opinion that Hume was seated at his desk at this time and
heard the intruder enter the storage room; then pushing back his chair
as we saw it, he arose. The criminal, however, sprang upon and struck
him so expertly that he collapsed without a sound. Then the bayonet
came into play.

"A search followed for the thing desired--a search, short, sharp and
savage. The murderer either found what he sought, or the footsteps of
Miss Vale upon the stairs frightened him. At any rate he pulled open
the showroom door--the one with the gong; Locke, still in the hall,
screamed and both fled up these stairs to the roof and away."

Pendleton had waited patiently until his friend finished. Then he
said, with a twinkle in his eye:

"You say the murderer opened the show room door, the gong rang and
then Locke screamed. Now, old chap, that's not possible. If Locke is
deaf, he couldn't hear the gong; and so there would be no occasion for
him to cry out."

"I think if you'll go back over what I've really said," spoke
Ashton-Kirk, "you will find that I have made no mention of Locke
crying out because of the gong. I said the murderer opened the door
that has the gong. Then Locke screamed, not because he heard anything,
but because of the sight he saw."

"Ah!"

"He caught a glimpse of Hume upon the floor--as we saw him."

"You think, then, that Locke's intentions were not murder?"

"At the present time I am led to think so. The confederate either was
forced to kill to save himself, or he had nursed a private scheme of
revenge. And the ferocity of the blow with the bayonet inclines me to
prefer the latter as a theory."

"That brings us back to both Morris and Spatola," said Pendleton,
gravely. "By all accounts both bore Hume a bitter grudge. But the fact
that both criminals escaped by the roof shows familiarity with the
neighborhood, as Miss Vale pointed out to you. This seems to point to
Spatola."

"So does the purchase of the bayonet, and in the same indefinite
fashion," said Ashton-Kirk. "But come, we motored to Christie Place
more to inquire about this same Italian than anything else. So let's
set about it."

They thanked the policeman in charge and left the building. As they
proceeded down the street toward the house in which the newspapers had
informed them Spatola lived, the investigator paused suddenly.

"I think," said he, "it would be best for us to first see Spatola
himself, and ask a few questions. This might give us the proper point
of view for the remainder."

And so they once more got into the car; and away they sped toward the
place where the violinist was confined.



CHAPTER XII

ANTONIO SPATOLA APPEARS


Ashton-Kirk and Pendleton were admitted to the cell room at the City
Hall without question; but a distinct surprise awaited them there.
Through a private door leading from the detectives' quarters they saw
the bulky form of Osborne emerge; and at his heels were Bernstine and
his sandy-haired clerk.

When Osborne caught sight of Ashton-Kirk he expanded into a wide smile
of satisfaction.

"Hello!" greeted he. "Glad to see you. You're just in time to see me
turn a new trick. Here's the people that Spatola bought the bayonet
from. How does that strike you?"

But Bernstine leaned over and said something in a low tone; and the
smile instantly departed.

"Oh," said Osborne, ruefully, "_this_ is the party who called to see
you, is it?" Then turning to Ashton-Kirk he asked: "How did you get
onto this bayonet business?"

"Just through thinking it over a little, that's all," answered the
investigator.

Mr. Bernstine now approached the speaker, a hurt look upon his face.

"Mr. Ashton-Kirk," said he, "why did you not tell us about this piece
of business? Why did you not enlighten us? How _could_ you go away and
leave us in the dark? We are very much occupied, and have little time
to look at the newspapers. It was only by accident that Sime happened
to see one." Lowering his voice, he added: "There's a smart fellow for
you; he saw the whole thing in an instant. And so we came right here
to do what we can to help justice." He squared his shoulders
importantly.

"He's seen the bayonet and is prepared to swear to it," stated
Osborne, elated.

"What of the picture of Spatola in the paper?" asked the investigator.
"Does he recognize that?"

Osborne's face fell once more.

"These half-tones done through coarse screens are never any good,"
said he. "They'd make Gladstone look like Pontius Pilate. He's going
to have a look at the man himself, and that'll settle it."

With that a turnkey was dispatched; and in a few moments he returned,
accompanied by a half dozen prisoners; one was a slim, dark young man
with a nervous, expressive look, and a great tangle of curling black
hair. The face was haggard and drawn; the eyes were frightened; the
whole manner of the man had a piteous appeal.

Osborne turned to Sime.

"Look them over carefully," directed he. "Take your time."

"I don't need to," answered the freckled shipping clerk. He pointed to
the dark young man. "That's the man of the picture; but I never seen
him before, anywhere."

Osborne put his fingers under his collar and pulled as though to
breathe more freely; then he motioned another attendant to take the
remaining prisoners away.

"I see," said he. "He was too foxy to buy the thing himself. He sent
someone else." Then he fixed his eye on the prisoner and continued:
"We've got the bayonet on you; so you might as well tell us all about
it."

"I don't understand," said Spatola, anxiously.

"The easier you make it for us, the easier it will be for you,"
Osborne told him. "If you make us sweat, fitting this thing to you,
we'll give you the limit. Don't forget that."

"I have done nothing," said Spatola, earnestly. "I have done nothing.
And yet you keep me here. Is there not a law?"

"There is," said Osborne, grimly. "That's what I'm trying to tell you
about. Now, who bought the bayonet?"

"The bayonet?" Spatola stared.

"The bayonet that Hume was killed with."

With a truly Latin gesture of despair, the Italian put his hands to
his forehead.

"Always Hume," he said. "Always Hume! I can not be free of him. He was
evil!" in a sort of shrill whisper. "Even when he is dead, I am mocked
by him. He was all evil! I believe he was a devil!"

"That was no reason why you should kill him," said Osborne in the
positive manner of the third degree.

"I did not kill him," protested Spatola. "There were many times when
it was in my heart to do so. But I did not do it!"

"I've heard you say all that before," stated Osborne, wearily. Then to
the turnkey: "Take him away, Curtis."

"Just a moment," interposed Ashton-Kirk. "I came here to have a few
words with this prisoner, and by your leave, I'll speak to him now."

"All right," replied Osborne. "Help yourself."

He led Bernstine and Sime out of the cell room; the turnkey, with
professional courtesy, moved away to a safe distance, and Ashton-Kirk
turned to the Italian.

"You were once first violin with Karlson," said he. "I remember you
well. I always admired your art."

An eager look came into the prisoner's face.

"I thank you," he said. "It is not many who will remember in me a man
who once did worthy things. I am young," with despair, "yet how I have
sunken."

"It is something of a drop," admitted Ashton-Kirk. "From a position of
first violin with Karlson to that of a street musician. How did it
happen?"

Sadly the young Italian tapped his forehead with one long finger.

"The fault," he declared, "is here. I have not the--what do you call
it--sense? What happened with Karlson happened a dozen times
before--in Italy, in France, in Spain. I have not the good sense!"

But justification came into his eyes, and his hands began to
gesticulate eloquently.

"Karlson is a Swede," with contempt. "The Swedes know the science of
music; but they are hard; they are seldom artists; they cannot
express. And when one of this nation--a man with the ice of his
country in his soul--tried to instruct me how to play the warm music
of my own Italy, I called him a fool!"

"I see," said the investigator.

"I am to blame," said Spatola, contritely. "But I could not help it.
He _was_ a fool, and fools seldom like to hear the truth."

"The Germans, now," said Ashton-Kirk, insinuatingly, "are somewhat
different from the Swedes. Were you ever employed under a German
conductor?"

"Twice," replied the violinist, with a shrug. "Nobody can deny the art
of the Germans. But they have their faults. They say they know the
violin. And they do; but the Italian has taught them. The violin
belongs to Italy. It was the glory of Cremona, was it not? The tender
hands of the Amatis, of Josef Guarnerius, of old Antonio Stradivari,
placed a soul within the wooden box; and that soul is the soul of
Italy!"

"Haupt, a German, wrote a treatise on the violin," said Ashton-Kirk.
"If you would read that--"

"I have read it," cried Spatola. "I have read it! It is like that,"
and he snapped his fingers impatiently.

"But you've probably read a translation in the English or Italian,"
insisted the investigator, smoothly. "And all translations lose
something of their vitality, you know."

"I have read it in the German," declared the Italian; "in his own
language, just as he wrote it. It is nothing."

Pendleton looked at Ashton-Kirk admiringly; the manner in which his
friend had established the fact that Spatola knew the German language
seemed to him very clever. But Ashton-Kirk made no sign other than
that of interest in the subject upon which they talked.

"A race that has given the world such musicians as Wagner, Beethoven
and Mozart," said he, "must possess in a tremendous degree the musical
sense. The German knowledge of tone and its combinations is
extraordinary; and their music in turn is as complex as their
psychology and as simple as the improvisation of a child."

Spatola seemed surprised at this apparent warmth; he looked at
Ashton-Kirk questioningly.

"And, with all their scholarship, the Germans are so practical," went
on the latter. "Only the other day I came upon a booklet published in
Leipzig that dealt with the difficulty a composer sometimes encounters
in getting the notes on paper when a melody sweeps through his brain.
The writer claimed that the world had lost thousands of inspirations
because of this, and to prevent further loss, he proffered an
invention--a system of--so to speak--musical shorthand."

A sullen look of suspicion came into Spatola's face; he regarded the
speaker from under lowered brows.

"Perhaps you don't quite understand the value of such an invention,"
proceeded Ashton-Kirk. "But if you had a knowledge of stenography, and
the short cuts it--"

But the Italian interrupted him brusquely.

"I know nothing of such things," said he, "and what is more I don't
want to know anything of them." Then in a sharp, angry tone, he added:
"What do you want of me? I am not acquainted with you. Why am I
annoyed like this? Is it always to be so--first one and then another?"

At this sudden display of resentment, the turnkey approached.

"I will go back to my cell," Spatola told him, "and please do not
bring me out again. My nerves are bad. I have been worried much of
late and I can't stand it."

The turnkey looked at Ashton-Kirk, who nodded his head. And, as
Spatola was led gesticulating away, Pendleton said in a low tone of
conviction:

"I tell you, Kirk, there's your man. Besides the other things against
him, he knows German."

"But what of the phonographic signs?"

"He knows them also. His manner proved it. As soon as you mentioned
shorthand he became suspicious and showed uneasiness and anger. I tell
you again," with an air, of finality, "he's your man."



CHAPTER XIII

A NEW LIGHT ON ALLAN MORRIS


From the City Hall the car headed for Christie Place once more; it
halted some half dozen doors from Hume's and the occupants got out.

The first floor was used by a dealer in second-hand machinery, but at
one side was a long, dingy entry with a rickety, twisting flight of
stairs at the end. Ashton-Kirk rang the bell here, and while they
waited a man who had been seated in the open door of the machine shop
got up and approached them.

He wore blue overalls and a jumper liberally discolored by plumbago
and other lubricants; a short wooden pipe was held between his teeth,
and a cloth cap sat upon the back of his head.

"Looking up the Dago?" asked he with a grin. He jerked a dirty thumb
toward the stairs.

Ashton-Kirk nodded; the man took the wooden pipe from his mouth, blew
out a jet of strong-smelling smoke and said:

"I knowed he'd put a knife or something into somebody, some day. These
people with bad tempers ought to be chained up short."

"Do you know him well?" inquired the investigator.

"Been acquainted with him ever since he's been living here--and that's
going on three years."

"Did he have many visitors, do you know?"

The man in the cloth cap pulled at his pipe reflectively.

"I can't just say," he replied. "But I've been thinking--" he paused
here and examined both young men questioningly. Then he asked: "You're
detectives, ain't you?"

"Something of that sort," replied Ashton-Kirk.

The man grinned at this.

"Oh, all right," said he. "You don't have to come out flat with it if
you don't want to. I ain't one of the kind that you've got to hit with
a mallet to make them catch on to a thing." Here the wooden pipe
seemed to clog; he took a straw from behind his ear and began clearing
the stem carefully. At the same time he added: "As I was saying, I've
been thinking."

"That," said Ashton-Kirk, giving another tug at the unanswered bell,
"is very commendable."

"And queer enough, it's been about visitors--here," and the man
pointed with the straw toward the doorway. "Funny kind of people too,
for a house like this."

"Take a cigar," said Ashton-Kirk. "That pipe seems out of commission."
Then, as the man put the pipe away in the pocket of his jumper and
lighted the proffered cigar, he added: "What do you mean by 'funny
kind of people?'"

The cigar well lighted, the man in the overalls drew at it with gentle
relish.

"There's a good many kinds of funny people," said he. "Some of them
you laugh at, and others you don't. These that I mean are the kind you
don't. Now, Mrs. Marx, the woman that keeps this place, is all right
in her way, but it ain't no swell place at that. Her lodgers are
mostly fellows that canvass for different kinds of things; they wear
shiny coats and their shoes are mostly run down at the heels. So when
I see swell business looking guys coming here I got to wondering who
they were. That's only natural, ain't it?"

Ashton-Kirk nodded, but before he could reply in words there came a
clatter upon the rickety stairs at the far end of the entry. A thin,
slipshod woman with untidy hair and a sharp face paused on the lower
step and looked out at them.

"What do you want?" she demanded, shrilly.

Ashton-Kirk, followed by Pendleton, stepped inside and advanced down
the entry.

"Are you Mrs. Marx?" he inquired.

"Yes," snapped the woman. "What do you want?"

"A little information."

"You're a reporter!" accused the sharp-faced woman. "And let me tell
you that I don't want nothing more to say to no reporters."

But Ashton-Kirk soothingly denied the accusation.

"I dare say you've been bothered to death by newspaper men," spoke he.
"But we assure you that--"

"It don't make no difference," stated the woman, rearing her head
until her long chin pointed straight at them. "I ain't got nothing to
say to nobody. I don't want to get into no trouble."

"The only way you can possibly get into trouble in this matter," said
the investigator, "is to conceal what you know. An attempt to hide
facts is always considered by the police as a sort of admission of
complicity."

The woman at this lifted a corner of a soiled apron and applied it to
her eyes.

"Things is come to a nice pass," she said, vainly endeavoring to
squeeze a tear from eyes to which such things had long been strangers,
"when a respectable woman can't mind her own business in her own
house."

At this point, Pendleton, who looked discreetly away, caught the
rustle of a crisp bill; and when Mrs. Marx spoke again, her tone had
undergone a decided change.

"But of course," she said, "if the law asks me anything, I must do
the best I can. I've kept a rooming house for a good many years now,
gentlemen, and this is the first time I have had any notoriety. It is,
I assure you."

As Ashton-Kirk had seen at a second glance, Mrs. Marx was a lady fully
competent to confront any situation that might arise; so he wasted no
time in soothing her injured feelings.

"We desire any information that you can give us regarding your lodger,
Antonio Spatola," said he. "Tell us all you know about him."

"He wasn't a bad-hearted young man," said the landlady, "but for all
that I wish I'd never seen him. If I hadn't then I'd never had this
disgrace come on me."

Here she made another effort with the corner of her apron; but it was
even more unsuccessful than the first. She gave it up and went on
acidly.

"Mr. Spatola came here almost three years ago. He was engaged in one
of the vaudeville theaters near here--in the orchestra--and he rented
my second story front at six dollars a week. Except for the fact that
he _would_ play awfully shivery music at all hours of the night, I was
glad to have him. He was quiet and polite; he paid regularly and,"
smoothing back the untidy hair, "he gave a kind of tone to the house.

"But then he lost his position. Had a fight, I understand, with
somebody. For a long time he had no work; he moved from the second
story-front at six dollars a week into the attic at two. When he could
get no place, he went on the street and played; afterwards he got the
trained birds. I didn't like this much. It didn't do the house no good
to have a street fiddler living in it; and then the birds were a
regular nuisance with their noise. But he paid regular, and after a
while he took to keeping the birds in a box in the loft, so I put up
with it."

"We'll look at his room, if you please," said the investigator.

Complainingly, the woman led the way up the infirm staircase. At the
fourth floor she pushed open a door and showed them into a long
loft-like room with high ceiling and mansard windows. There came a
squawking and fluttering from somewhere above as they entered.

"Them's the cockatoos," said the landlady. "They miss Mr. Spatola very
much. When I go to feed them with the stale bread and seed he has here
for them, would you believe it, they'll hardly eat a thing."

The room was without a floor covering. Upon some rough shelves, nailed
to the wall, were heaps of music. A violin case also lay there. There
were a few chairs, a cot-bed, and a neat pile of books upon a table.
Ashton-Kirk ran over these quickly; they were mostly upon musical
subjects, and in Italian. But some were Spanish, English, German and
French.

"He was the greatest hand for talking and reading languages," said
Mrs. Marx, wonderingly. "I don't think there was any kind of a
nationality that he couldn't converse with. Mr. Sagon that lives on
the floor below says that his French was elegant, and Mr. Hertz, my
parlor lodger, used to just love to talk German with him. He said his
German was so _high_."

Ashton-Kirk opened the violin case and looked at the instrument
within.

"Spatola always carried his violin in this when he went out, I
suppose?" he said, inquiringly.

"Oh, yes; _that_ one he did. But the one on the wall there," pointing
to a second instrument hanging from a peg, "he never took much care of
that. It's the one he played on the street, you see."

Her visitors followed the gesture with interest.

"That was just to clinch a point I made with Fuller this morning,"
said the investigator to Pendleton, in explanation. Then to Mrs. Marx
he continued: "Mr. Spatola had visitors from time to time, had he
not?"

But the woman shook her head.

"Sometimes he had a pupil who came in the evening. But they never came
more than once or twice; he generally called them thick-heads after
a little, and told them they'd better go back to the grocery or
butcher's shop where they belonged."

"Are you quite sure that no one else ever called upon him?"

The woman nodded positively.

"I'm certain sure of it," she said. "I remember saying more than once
to my gentlemen on the different floors, that Mr. Spatola must be
awfully lonely sometimes. Mr. Crawford would often come up here and
smoke with him and play a game or two of Pedro. Mr. Hertz tried it a
couple of times; but him and Mr. Spatola couldn't hit it very well."

"How many lodgers have you?"

"I have rooms for nine. Just now there are seven. But only four are
steadies--Mr. Hertz, Mr. Crawford, Mr. Sagon and Mr. Spatola. Mr.
Hertz is an inspector of the people who canvass for the city
directory; he took the parlor after Mr. Spatola gave it up. He drinks
a little, but he's a perfect gentleman for all that. Mr. Crawford is a
traveling man, and is seldom home; but he pays in advance, so I don't
never worry about him. Mr. Sagon is what they call an expert. He can't
speak much English yet, but sometimes even the government," in an awed
tone, "sends for him to come to the customs house to tell them how
much diamonds are worth, that people bring in. He works for Baum
Brothers and Wright. The others," bulking them as being of no
consequence, "are all gentlemen who are employed on the directory
under Mr. Hertz."

"Have you any Italian lodgers other than Mr. Spatola?"

The woman shook her head.

"No," she said, "and I don't want none, if this is the way they carry
on."

"Are there any other rooming houses in the street?"

"No, sir. It's only a block long, and I know every house in it. I'm
the only one as takes lodgers."

"Are there any Italians in business in the block, or employed in any
of the business places?"

Mrs. Marx again shook her head positively.

"Not any."

"You speak of a Mr. Sagon. Of what nationality is he?"

"Oh, he's French, but he's lived a long time in Antwerp. That's where
he learned the diamond business. And he must have lived in other
places in Europe; Mr. Spatola says he has spoken of them often."

Just then there came from below the sound of a heavy voice, singing.
The words were French and the intonation here and there was strange to
Ashton-Kirk.

"Who is that?" he asked.

"It's Mr. Sagon," replied the woman. "He's the greatest one for
singing them little French songs."

"Ah, I have it," said Ashton-Kirk, after a moment. "He's a Basque, of
course. I couldn't place that accent at first."

A narrow, ladder-like flight of stairs was upon one side. Ashton-Kirk
mounted these and found himself in a smaller loft; a number of
well-kept cockatoos, in cages, set up a harsh screaming at sight of
him. Opening a low door he stepped out upon a tin roof. Mrs. Marx and
Pendleton had followed him, and the former said:

"The police was up here looking. They said Mr. Spatola came through
the trap-door at Hume's place that night and walked along the roofs
and so down to his own room."

"That would he very easily done," answered Ashton-Kirk, as his eye
took in the level stretch of roofs.

After a little more questioning to make sure that the landlady had
missed nothing, they thanked her and left the house. At his door they
saw the man in the cloth cap and overalls. A second and very unwieldy
man, with a flushed, unhealthy looking face, had just stopped to speak
to him.

He supported himself with one hand on the wall.

"Hello!" called the machinist to Ashton-Kirk; and as the two
approached him, he said to the unwieldy man: "I stopped you to tell
you these gents had gone in. They're detectives."

"Oh," said the man, with interest in his wavering eye. "That so." He
regarded the two young men uncertainly for a moment; and then asked:
"Did Mrs. Marx tell you anything?"

"She didn't seem to know much," answered the investigator.

The unwieldy man swayed to and fro, an expression of cunning gathering
in his face. The machinist winked and whispered to Pendleton:

"I don't know his name, but he's one of the lodgers."

"Marx," declared the unwieldy man, "is a fine lady. But," with an
elaborate wink, "she knows more'n she tells sometimes." The wavering
eye tried to fix the investigator, but failed signally. "It don't do,"
he added wisely, "to tell everything you know."

Ashton-Kirk agreed to this.

"Marx could tell you something, maybe," said the man. "And then maybe
she couldn't. But, I know _I_ could give you a few hints if I had the
mind--and maybe they'd be valuable hints, too." Here he drew himself
up with much dignity and attempted to throw out his chest. "I'm a
gentleman," he declared. "My name's Hertz. And being a gentleman, I
always try and conduct myself like one. But that's more'n some other
people in Marx's household does."

"Yes?"

"Yes, sir. When a gentleman tries to be friendly, I meets him
half-way. But that fellow," and he shook a remonstrating finger at
the door of the lodging-house, "thinks himself better'n other people.
And mind you," with a leer, "maybe he's not as good."

"Who do you mean--the Dago?" asked the machinist.

"No; I mean Crawford. A salesman, eh?" The speaker made a gesture as
though pushing something from him with contempt. "Fudge! Travels, does
he? Rot! He can't fool me. And then," with energy, "what did he used
to do so much in Spatola's garret, eh? What did they talk about so
much on the quiet? I ain't saying nothing about nobody, mind you. I'm
a gentleman. My name's Hertz. I don't want to get nobody into trouble.
But if Crawford was such a swell as not to want to speak to a
gentleman in public, why did he hold so many pow-wows in private with
Spatola? That's what I want to know."

Seeing that the man's befogged intellect would be likely to carry him
on in this strain for an indefinite time, Ashton-Kirk and Pendleton
were about to move on. But they had not gone more than a few yards
when the investigator paused as though struck with an idea. He stepped
back once more and drew a photograph from his pocket.

"Do you know who this is?" he asked, abruptly, holding it up.

The unwieldy man swayed gently and waveringly regarded the portrait.

"Sure!" said he surprisedly, "it's Crawford."

Ashton-Kirk rejoined his friend; and as they made their way to the
waiting automobile, the latter said;

"That is a step ahead of me, Kirk, I think. Where did you get a
portrait of this man Crawford?"

By way of an answer the investigator held up the photograph once more.
Pendleton gave a gasp of amazement.

"Allan Morris," said he. "_Allan Morris, by George!_"



CHAPTER XIV

MISS VALE UNEXPECTEDLY APPEARS


Edouard, Ashton-Kirk's cook, was astonished and somewhat grieved that
day to receive orders that dinner was to be served an hour earlier
than usual. And Stumph, grave and immobile, was betrayed into an
expression of astonishment when his master and guest sat down to the
same dinner in their work-a-day attire.

And at best Edouard's delicate art that day received but scant
attention. Stumph could hardly conceive of a more important thing than
the proper and gentlemanly eating of one's dinner. Nevertheless other
things engaged the attention of the two young men; they talked
earnestly and in incomprehensible terms; mysterious allusions were
sprinkled thickly through it all.

"I do not think," Stumph told the mortified Edouard in the kitchen,
"that Mr. Pendleton has tasted the flavor of a single thing he has
eaten. He listens to Mr. Ashton-Kirk talk; he is surprised at
everything that he is told; there is a trembling in his hands, he is
so eager. No, I don't know what it's about. But then, I never know
what Mr. Ashton-Kirk is about. He is a very remarkable gentleman."

And no sooner was the dinner completed than Ashton-Kirk's big French
car was brought to the door and both young men got into it.

"You've looked up the road to Cordova?" inquired Ashton-Kirk of the
chauffeur.

"Yes, sir," answered the man. "Very good road and almost parallel with
the railroad. No trouble getting there by dark."

"All right. Get there as soon as you can."

They cut into a broad asphalted avenue, which eventually led them
through the north suburbs into the country. The April dusk was
settling upon the fields as they raced along; in the isolated houses,
lights were beginning to twinkle; there was a swaying among the trees
and roadside bush; the hum of the flying car must have been borne long
distances; for far away people raised their heads from the finishing
tasks of the day to look at it as it flashed by.

Pendleton lay back comfortably digesting his dinner, and ticking off
in his mind the case which engrossed him so much.

"It all tapers down to this," he said to himself. "Hume was murdered
by Locke and a confederate in order that they might gain possession of
something, the nature of which is unknown. Kirk is confident of Locke;
I think he'd even go so far as to give him into custody, if he had
the tangible proofs that the police require.

"But he lacks enthusiasm in the matter of the confederate. To my mind,
it's Spatola or Morris, or both. Both bore Hume no good will. Morris
has been spending at least part of his time with Spatola under an
assumed name; they are known to have been very much engaged in some
secret matter. Both visited Hume's on the night of the murder. An
Italian purchased the weapon with which the deed was done. A German
sentence was written in shorthand by Locke for his confederate.
Spatola admits he knows German; he grows suspicious when shorthand is
mentioned. And to wind it up, Morris has not been seen at his
apartments, his office, or by his friends, since the murder was
committed."

At a little unpainted railroad station, the investigator broke in on
Pendleton's thoughts by calling on the chauffeur to stop. There were
the usual signboards on each side of the structure, announcing that
the place was Cordova; and there was the usual knot of loungers that
are always to be found about such places watching with interest the
incoming trains.

Ashton-Kirk called to one of these. He was a lanky fellow in a
wide-brimmed hat and with a sheep-like look of complacency.

"What's the best way to Dr. Mercer's place?" asked Ashton-Kirk.

The lanky man reflected.

"There's three or four ways of getting there," he stated. "You can go
up the pike and turn at Harbison's store; or you can turn down the
lane along there a piece and go along until you come to--"

"Which is the nearest?"

"I ain't never passed no judgment on that; but I think the clay road
down toward Plattville would get you there the quickest--if you didn't
get stuck in the ruts."

"I think we'd better stick to the pike," suggested Pendleton.

"The pike's the best road," said the lanky man. "All the people from
Mercer's place use it when they drive here to the station."

Once more the big French car, now with its lamps lighted, sped along
the road; about a mile further on they came to the store referred to
by the man as Harbison's. Here they received instructions as to how to
proceed, by the store-keeper; and after running about four miles along
an indifferent wagon road, they caught the twinkle of many lights off
in the middle of a wide clearing.

"That must be it," said the investigator. "We'll leave the car here;
to flash up to the door in the quiet of the evening would attract more
attention than would be good for us, perhaps."

It was now quite dark, but they found a gate a trifle farther on which
opened readily; and so they proceeded along a walk toward a building
which lay blinking at them with its yellow eyes. A deep-throated dog
scented them from off in the distance and gave tongue. As they drew
near to the institution they heard a man calling to the brute to be
still. A little further on the man himself suddenly appeared from
around the corner of a building with a lantern; he flashed this in
their faces as he said:

"Well, sirs, this is against the rules. We have no visitors except on
Saturdays; and then only within reasonable hours."

"We would like to speak to Dr. Mercer," said Ashton-Kirk.

"Dr. Mercer is at dinner," explained the man with the lantern. "He
don't like it much if he's disturbed at such times."

"We will wait until he has finished; we are in no great hurry."

The man seemed puzzled as to how to act. With the light held aloft so
that not a feature escaped him, he examined them closely. Apparently
he could see nothing with which to find fault; and so he sighed in a
perplexed fashion.

"He does not care to have people wait for him," complained the man.
"He gets very angry if he is worried by such things while dining."

"You need not announce us until he is through," said Ashton-Kirk,
composedly.

The man hesitated; but finally resolved upon a course and led them up
a flight of stone steps and into a wide hall. The night was raw and a
brisk fire of pine knots burning in an old-fashioned hall fireplace,
made the place very comfortable.

"If you will be seated, gentlemen," requested their guide, "I will
tell Dr. Mercer of your presence as soon as he has finished."

They seated themselves obligingly in a couple of low, heavy chairs
near the fire; and then the man left them. The hall was high and
rather bare: the hardwood floor shone brilliantly under the lights;
save for the faint murmur of voices from a near-by room, everything
was still.

"I should imagine that a place of this sort wouldn't be at all noisy,"
observed Pendleton, in a heavy attempt at jocularity.

Except for a word now and then, they waited in silence for a half
hour; then a door opened and steps were heard in the hall. Both turned
and saw a remarkably small man, perhaps well under five feet, dressed
with great care and walking with a quick nervous step. His head was
very large and partly bald, rearing above his small frame like a
great, bare dome; he carried a silk hat in his hand, and peered
abstractedly through spectacles of remarkable thickness.

"Locke," breathed Pendleton, as his heart paused for a moment and then
went on with a leap.

The little man apparently did not see them until he was almost beside
them; then he paused with a start, and his eyes grew owlish behind the
magnifying lenses as he strove to make them out. That he did not
recognize them seemed to worry him; his thin, gray face seemed to grow
grayer and thinner; with a diffident little bow he passed on and out
at the front door.

"Not a very formidable looking criminal," commented Ashton-Kirk,
quietly. "However, you can seldom judge by appearances. The most
astonishing crime that ever came to my notice was perpetrated by the
meekest and most conventional man I had ever seen."

They waited for still another space, and then the man who had shown
them in presented himself. He was now without the lantern, but wore a
melancholy look.

"Dr. Mercer will see you," said he in a low voice. "He is very much
vexed at being disturbed. He'll remember it against me for weeks." He
appeared very much disturbed.

Ashton-Kirk placed a coin in the speaker's hand; this seemed to have
a bracing effect, for he led them into his employer's presence in a
brighter frame of mind. Dr. Mercer was seated at the table in his
dining-room. A napkin was tucked in his collar, his fat hands were
folded across his stomach, and he was breathing heavily.

"Gentlemen," spoke he, rolling his eyes around to them, "I trust you
will pardon my not rising. But to exert myself after dining has a most
injurious result sometimes. My digestion is painfully impaired; the
slightest excitement causes me the utmost suffering."

"I appreciate the fact that we are intruding at a most inconvenient
time," said Ashton-Kirk. "And I beg of you to accept our apologies."

The eyes of Dr. Mercer, which had the appearance of swimming in fat,
were removed from his visitors, and fixed themselves longingly upon a
great dish filled with a steaming, heavy-looking pudding. His breath
labored in his chest as he replied:

"The hour _is_ somewhat unusual; but as it happens I have about
finished my dinner, and if your errand is not of a stirring nature, I
should be pleased to have you state it."

The man placed chairs in such a position that the doctor would not
have to stir to fully observe his visitors. This done he was about to
withdraw; but his employer stopped him at the door.

"Haines," complained he, "you have not taken my order for breakfast."

The man paused and seemed much abashed at his neglect.

"I really beg your pardon, sir," said he. And with that he produced a
pencil and a small book and stood ready.

"I will have one of those trout that I purchased to-day," directed the
doctor. "Let it be that large, fine one that I was so pleased with,"
his swimming eyes ready to float out of his head with anticipation.
"Then I would like some new-laid eggs, some hot cakes, and perhaps a
small piece of steak, if there is any that is tender and tasty. And
mind you," in an nervous afterthought, "tell Mrs. Crane to have it but
rarely done. I will not tolerate it dry and without flavor." He
pondered awhile, apparently much moved by this painful possibility;
then he added: "I may as well have a cereal to begin with, I suppose.
And that will be all with the exception of a few slices from the cold
roast and some white rolls."

Carefully Haines had taken this down; and after he had read it over at
his employer's order and noted a few alterations and additions, he
departed. For a few moments the doctor's eyes were closed in expectant
rapture; his breathing grew so stertorous that his callers were
becoming alarmed; but he spoke at last, reluctantly, resentfully.

"I am now ready to hear you, gentlemen, if you please. And kindly
remember that I prohibit anything of an exciting nature at this time."

"We have heard your school highly spoken of," said Ashton-Kirk. "And
have come to make some inquiries before making up our minds."

"Ah," breathed Dr. Mercer, solemnly, "you have an afflicted one. Too
bad! Tut, tut, tut, too bad!"

"There are many institutions of the sort," proceeded the investigator.
"But for the most part they stop at the threshold, so to speak, of
knowledge."

Dr. Mercer roused himself so far as to unclasp his hands and point
with one finger at the speaker.

"Sir," said he, in a voice full of grave significance, "they seldom
reach the threshold. A large majority of them are conducted by
dishonest persons. Afflicted youth left in their charge are rarely
properly directed--they rarely acquire that digital dexterity so
necessary to success in their limited lives. The isolated brain, so to
call it, is seldom more than half awakened. Unless it is intelligently
approached, the shadows are never thoroughly dispelled."

Here he paused, panting distressedly; his eyes were filled with
reproach as he relapsed into his first attitude; and his manner was
that of one who mutely begged that no further tasks be thrust upon
him.

"The difference in institutions of this type lies mainly in the
methods employed, I believe," said Ashton-Kirk.

"In the methods--and in the persons who apply them," replied Dr.
Mercer in a smothered tone.

"To be sure. I have heard something of your teaching staff. It is a
very excellent one, is it not?"

"The best in the world." The soft, fat, white hands of the doctor
again unclasped themselves; and this time both of them were employed
in a faintly traced gesture. "We employ scientists. We do not stop at
what you have correctly called the threshold. We explore the entire
structure of the intellect. Our Professor Locke, himself an afflicted
one, is a man of vast erudition--a scholar of an advanced type, a
philosopher whose adventures into the field of psychology and natural
science is widely known. He has charge of the practical work of the
Mercer Institute, and under him its results are positive and unique."

"We have heard of Professor Locke," and, drily, "have seen some of his
work."

"If you had stated your business before--ah--coming in to me," spoke
the doctor, "you might have had an opportunity of consulting him. He
left for his cottage immediately after dining."

"He does not live here, then?"

"Not in this building--no. There is a detached cottage at the far end
of the grounds which he occupies. If you'd like to see him," and the
heavy jowls of the speaker trembled with eagerness, "Haines will show
you there at once."

"If it is no trouble," said Ashton-Kirk, smoothly.

"Not in the least." The doctor rang for his man, and when he entered,
said: "These gentlemen would like to speak to Professor Locke. Show
them the way to his house. And, gentlemen," to the callers, with
anxiety, "the professor can arrange everything with you. It is my
habit to nod for a half hour after dinner. My system has grown to
expect it, and if I am deprived of it, I suffer considerably in
consequence."

"We will not trouble you again, doctor," Ashton-Kirk assured him.
"Thank you, and good-night."

Once more outside, the man led them along a foot-path that seemed to
cut the institution grounds in two. The rays of his lantern danced
along the carefully kept lawn; the shadowy trees seemed to move
backward and forward, as the thin beams wavered among them.

"The professor lives a good piece away," the man informed them. "Away
over on the county road."

"Prefers to be alone, eh?"

"I suppose so, sir. And then he has his laboratory and work-shop
there, well away from interruption. He don't like to be much disturbed
while he is engaged in his studies."

"Few of us do," said Pendleton.

"Quite right, sir."

They walked along in silence for a time; then they caught a clear
humming noise from some distance ahead.

"A motor car," said Pendleton.

"It's on the county road," said the man with the light. "We always
hear them when the wind blows from that direction."

After some fifteen minutes' steady walking they saw a long twinkling
shaft of light coming from among the trees.

"That's the house," said Haines. "I hope the professor ain't busy; you
wouldn't believe what a blowing up he can give a body with his fingers
when he's vexed. I'd almost rather have the doctor himself; though, as
a rule, the professor is a very nice gentleman."

The house was a brick structure of two stories and dimly lighted on
the lower floor. Near by was a long, shed-like building, the windows
of which were brilliantly lighted.

"He's at work," said Haines, in a troubled tone. "And in the shop too!
If it was even the laboratory, it wouldn't be so bad. But he _does_
get so interested in the shop. That machine means more to him,
whatever it is, than anything else about the place."

There came a harsh burring sound from within both the shop and the
house. Haines seemed surprised.

"Visitors," he said. "He seldom has one; and I never knew any to come
at night before."

They saw the figure of Locke cross one of the shed windows toward a
door. And just then Ashton-Kirk stumbled rather heavily against
Haines; the lantern dropped to the ground and was extinguished.

"I beg your pardon," said the investigator in a rueful tone; then he
began to rub his shins. "That was rather hard, whatever it was."

The door of the building opened and Locke appeared; his great bald
head shone in the light that streamed after him; and it was thrust
forward as he strove to penetrate the darkness ahead.

"He feels the vibrations of those buzzers," Haines told them, "and
knows right away when anyone wants to get in."

He began fumbling with the lantern as Locke disappeared; but
Ashton-Kirk said to him:

"You need not light that. We can see very well. And, on second
thought, you need not wait, either. We can introduce ourselves to
Professor Locke without troubling you further."

"Thank you, sir," said the man, vastly relieved. "They all have queer
dispositions, you see, and I don't like to trouble them."

At once Haines made his way back along the path by which they had
approached; some distance away they saw him kindle his lantern, and
then watched the yellow spark as it glanced fitfully away across the
grounds.

The cottage and work-shop of Professor Locke appeared to be set back
some little distance from what Haines had called the county road; a
grove of tall trees thickened the shadows all about, and it was into
these trees that the professor had gone.

"The buzzer must have the button that sounds it attached to a gate
opening upon the road," said Pendleton.

They stood for a short time in silence; then Pendleton nudged his
friend with an elbow.

"Look," he whispered. "There at the door of the shed."

Ashton-Kirk did so. And he was just in time to see a large, iron-gray
head, a craggy, powerful face, and a pair of thick shoulders; the
expression and attitude were those of a man listening intently. Almost
instantly, as Ashton-Kirk's gaze fell upon him, the man withdrew.

"Humph," exclaimed Pendleton under his breath. "Who's that, I wonder?"

They waited for some time longer in silence. But the little man did
not return, nor did the head appear again at the shop door.
Ashton-Kirk appeared puzzled.

"Locke intended returning at once," he said to Pendleton. "Otherwise
he would have closed his work-shop door." Then his eyes wandered
toward the house, and his grip closed tightly upon his companion's
arm. "Look," whispered he, in his turn.

Pendleton's gaze flew toward the house. The lower windows had been
dimly lighted when they approached; but now the glow from them was
high and brilliant. In one of the rooms they saw Locke; he was
striding up and down, his hands clinched and gesturing, his face
upturned, writhing hideously. Seated at a table, calmly engaged in
examining something traced upon a sheet of paper, and apparently not
paying the slightest attention to the gesticulating man, was a young
woman. And Pendleton felt himself grow suddenly faint and sick as he
recognized Edyth Vale.



CHAPTER XV

MISS VALE DEPARTS SUDDENLY


For a moment there was a silence between the two men; then Ashton-Kirk
said, dryly:

"Miss Vale has, apparently, not been altogether frank with us in this
matter."

"You think then--" began Pendleton in a voice of terror. But
Ashton-Kirk stopped him.

"I think many things," said he. "But they are neither here nor there.
Facts are what count. Put the circumstances together for yourself and
see where they lead you. Miss Vale has been from the first mixed up
more or less in this crime. She explained. As far as I knew the
explanation was made in good faith. Now we find her here in this
lonely place, quietly engaged with a man whom I have convinced myself
is one of Hume's murderers."

There was another pause; this time it was Pendleton who broke the
silence.

"As you say," spoke he, in a strange, throaty sort of tone, "she has
not been quite frank. Take all the circumstances together and they
seem to point--"

He paused as though quite unable to finish. Ashton-Kirk laid a hand
upon his shoulder.

"Imagination is a thing that is vitally necessary in this sort of
work," said he. "But it must be held in check by reason. The great
trouble with an amateur is that he reasons up to a certain point; then
he allows his imagination to take a long leap toward a result. The
upshot is that his results have seldom anything to support them. The
correct method, I think, is to allow the imagination to scurry ahead
in the way that is natural to it; but reason must follow close behind,
proving each step of the way. To be sure, you may have theories,
hypotheses, ideas without end, but you must never take them for
granted. Select each in its turn, place it in a tube as the chemist
does, add a few drops of reason, and you may produce a fact. It is the
only way to go about it. Once a man becomes fixed in a belief, be
there ever so little foundation for it, his mind stops revolving the
subject; further procedure is hopeless."

"I understand all that well enough," said Pendleton. "But," and he
waved his hand toward the house, "what does _this_ mean?"

"I don't know," said Ashton-Kirk. "And neither do you. So--that being
the case--there is but one thing to do--find out."

They gazed toward the window once more, Miss Vale had apparently
mastered the contents of the paper, and was now engaged in writing
rapidly. As the young men watched, she stopped, read carefully what
she had written, and then handed it to Locke. The mute carried the
paper to the light, and holding it very near to his eyes read it with
much attention; then he tore it into strips, placed it upon the red
coals of a stove which stood near him and watched it burn. Facing Miss
Vale, his fingers began to fly rapidly in intricate signs. This only
lasted a moment, however; for he stopped, gestured passionately,
seized a pad of paper and began to write.

While he was thus engaged, Ashton-Kirk said to Pendleton in a low
tone:

"Remain here for a moment."

Then slowly, carefully, the investigator made his way toward the
window through which Miss Vale and Locke were to be seen.

Heavy beams of light shot across the ground from the windows; but here
and there were trails of shadow. He clung to these until he had
reached the shelter of the walls; then to Pendleton's amazement he
stepped directly in front of the window through which the two were to
be seen, rapped smartly upon the glass, and remained standing in full
view, of the two in the room.

[Illustration: HE RAPPED SMARTLY ON THE WINDOW]

Pendleton saw the pad drop from Locke's hands; he saw the mute wheel
as he felt the vibrations and stare at the window, his eyes puckered
and straining. He also saw Miss Vale rise, saw her hands thrown out in
a gesture much like despair; and also he heard the cry that she
uttered, muffled by the confines of the room, but full of fear. Then
the room was plunged into darkness; an instant later a door was heard
to open; the sound of quick-moving feet came to him; there followed
the pulsations of a motor and the racing of a car away into the night.

"She's off," breathed the young man, and there was undoubted relief in
the knowledge. "She's off, and I really believe that's what Kirk was
after."

He walked toward the house and found his friend standing in the
shadows.

"Well," chuckled the investigator, "it did not take her long to make
up her mind, eh?"

"You had some motive in doing that," accused Pendleton. "What was it?"

Ashton-Kirk was about to reply; but just then the small figure of
Locke made its appearance. He carried a lantern and was approaching
with stumbling steps, his eyes peering and blinking in their efforts
to pierce the gloom. Not until he was well upon the two did he make
them out; then he halted, lifted the light above his head and surveyed
them intently.

In the rays of the lantern Ashton-Kirk smiled urbanely, and bowed.
The supple fingers of the mute writhed inquiringly.

"Each of them forms itself into a wild note of interrogation," said
Pendleton. "They are fairly screaming questions at you."

Ashton-Kirk smiled even more agreeably at Locke and shook his head.
Then he went through the pantomime of one writing, and finished by
pointing to the house.

Carefully, eagerly, fearfully, the mute examined them; his
near-sighted eyes and the wavering light must have made it all but
impossible for him to make them out. However, he at length motioned
for them to follow him, and started back by the way which he had come.
But after a few steps he halted. He indicated that they were to remain
where they were; then he went to the shed-like building, closed the
door and locked it, placing the key in his pocket.

"It would seem," observed Ashton-Kirk, "that we are not to be trusted
implicitly."

"Also," replied Pendleton, "that there is something of value in the
shed."

Returning, Locke led the way to a door upon the other side of the
house. Showing them into a small room furnished with books and
scientific apparatus and evidently a study, he set down the lantern
and with a sign bade them be seated. Upon their doing so he produced a
small pad of paper and a pencil; handing these to Ashton-Kirk he
stood peering at them expectantly. With the swift, accurate touch of
an expert, the investigator wrote in the Pitman shorthand:

"We ask pardon if we have startled you."

Then he tore off the sheet and handed it to Professor Locke. The man
seemed surprised at the medium selected by his visitor; nevertheless
he quickly traced the following in the same characters.

"Who are you? What is your errand?"

"We were sent to you by Dr. Mercer," replied Ashton-Kirk with flying
pencil. "Our business is to secure the admission of a new pupil."

Locke read this and regarded them for a moment, doubtfully.

"Why did you not press the button at the door?" he demanded in
writing.

"I hardly expected you to have such a thing as a bell," answered
Ashton-Kirk, on the pad. "And so, seeing you, I attracted your
attention as best I could."

Professor Locke read this and stood with his pencil poised, when the
buzzer sounded harshly; he went at once into the hall; they heard him
open the door; and in a few moments he returned, followed by Haines.

The fingers of the two flashed their signals back and forth; then a
look of relief came into Locke's face; he even smiled, and nodded
understandingly at the two young men.

"I beg pardon, gentlemen," said Haines. "But when I got back to the
hall, Dr. Mercer made me return and make sure that you had got to see
the Professor."

"Thanks," replied the investigator. "We had not the slightest
difficulty."

"I'm glad to hear it, sir," said the man. "Good-night to you."

He flashed the same wish to the mute, who answered readily; then he
went out and through the window they saw his light again go bobbing
away in the darkness. Then the professor began to write once more.

"I beg your pardon," was his message in long-hand. "The man tells me
that it was quite as you say. But I must confess I was a trifle
startled."

"The lady," wrote Ashton-Kirk, "seemed startled, too."

For the fraction of a moment the mute halted in his reply. Then the
pencil with much assurance formed the following:

"It was my niece. She was about to go just as you came; so do not
reproach yourself for having driven her away."

For some time the penciled conversation continued between the two; but
as it was all based upon the fanciful pupil whom the investigator
stated he desired to place in Dr. Mercer's care, Pendleton paid little
heed to it. At last, however, they bid the Professor good-by, and left
him upon the threshold, his massive head nodding his adieus, his frail
little body sharply outlined by the glow from the hall.

The two had reached their own car around on the other road before
Pendleton spoke. Then he inquired:

"Well, have you learned anything from him?"

"I think I can say 'yes' to that," answered the other. "But I'm not
yet sure. I'll have to put it to the proof first, according to the
formula which I gave you a half hour ago. If it succeeds, I'll tell
you what it is; if it does not, I'll say nothing, and it will go upon
the scrap heap devoted to broken fancies. And now, Dixon," to the
chauffeur, "we'll go home."



CHAPTER XVI

STEEL AGAINST STEEL


Shortly before noon next day, Ashton-Kirk, in an immaculate morning
suit, was ushered into the presence of Miss Edyth Vale. If he expected
confusion, embarrassment or anything of that sort, he was
disappointed; for she greeted him eagerly and with outstretched hand.

"This is a surprise," she said.

He held her hand and looked meaningly at her.

"My appearances _are_ sometimes surprising," he said. "But I usually
select the night for them; the effect is better then, you see."

She smiled into his eyes.

"I have no doubt but that you are dreadfully mysterious," she said.
"But please sit down."

She seated herself near the window; holding a book in her hand, she
fluttered the leaves to and fro.

"The composure," thought the investigator, as he sat down, "is
somewhat overdone."

"I wonder," said Miss Vale, looking at the book, "if you are an
admirer of Ibsen." And as he nodded, she proceeded with a slight
smile. "I know that he is scarcely the usual thing for a spring
morning. But there are times when I simply can't resist him."

"He's a strong draught at any time," said Ashton-Kirk. "But his tonic
quality is undoubted."

"His disciples claim that for him, at any rate," she answered. "But
sometimes I question its truth. Where is the tonic effect of
'Rosmersholm?' I think it full of terrors." She shuddered and added:
"The White Horses will haunt me for weeks."

"It's the atmosphere of crime," said he. "That quiet home on the
western fiords reeks with it."

She made a gesture of repulsion.

"It's ghastly!" she exclaimed. "And, somehow, one feels it from the
very first--before a word is spoken. Imagine Rebecca at the window,
watching through the plants to see if Rosmer uses the footbridge from
which his wife once leaped to her death." She paused a moment, her
eyes upon the open pages; then lifting her head, she asked: "What do
you think of Rebecca?"

"A tremendous character--of wonderful strength. It was just such
proud, dark, purposeful souls that Byron delighted to draw; but the
only one in literature to whom I can fully liken her is the wife of
Macbeth. There was the same ambition--the same ruthless will--the same
disregard of everything that stood in her way. And, like Cawdor's
wife, she weakened in the end."

She regarded him fixedly.

"Would you call it weakness?" she asked.

"She fell in love with Johannes, did she not? That was weakness--for
her. She herself recognized it as such."

The girl looked at him thoughtfully for a moment.

"That is true," she said.

"Some of the world's most daring and accomplished criminals have been
women," he went on. "But Nature never intended woman to be the bearer
of burdens; there is a weakness in her soul structure somewhere; she
usually sinks under the consciousness of guilt."

"More so than men, do you think?"

"As a rule--yes."

She put down the book and clasped her hands in her lap.

"There is no need to sympathize with Rebecca," she said. "She was
brave and strong, even in her love for Johannes. But he," and there
was a note in her voice that recalled the night he had listened to it
over the telephone, "he was different. There is no more dreadful thing
in the play, to me, than the character of Rosmer. To think of him
sitting quietly in that charnel house, prospering in soul, growing
sleek in thought, becoming stored with high ideas. Perfect peace came
to him in spite of the stern-faced portraits which shrieked murder
from the walls. He dreamed of freeing and ennobling mankind, and all
the time Fate was weaving a net about him that was to drag him from
the mill bridge after his dead wife."

"Kroll knew him," said the investigator. "And he said Rosmer was
easily influenced. It is usually men of that type who are drawn into
the vortex which swirls at every door."

Her face was a little pale; but she now arose with a laugh and began
rubbing her finger-tips with a handkerchief.

"I think we'd better remove the dust of the Norwegian," she said; "and
I make a vow never to read him again--in the morning." She stood
looking down at her caller, good-humoredly and continued: "I suppose
it is my fault, but you have a dreadfully gloomy expression. Or
maybe," as an afterthought, "you ate an unwholesome dinner last night.
Were you at the Perrings, by any chance?"

He shook his head, his keen eyes searching her face.

"No," said he, "I had much more important matters on hand."

She held up her hand.

"It was something about this Hume affair," she said.

"Yes," he replied.

The smile was now gone; she leaned back against a heavy table, her
fingers tightly clasping its edge.

"I have been trying to forget that dreadful thing," she said. "I've
stopped looking at the papers, because I would be sure to see it
mentioned. And," with never a faltering in her eyes, "because I might
be reminded of it in some other way, I now remain indoors."

"Last night was an exception, perhaps," suggested he, smoothly.

"Last night?" There was a questioning look in her beautiful eyes; the
finely posed head with its crown of bright hair bent toward him
inquiringly.

An expression of chagrin crept into his face.

"You were not out last night, then?" said he.

"What makes you think so?" smilingly. "It was dreadfully dull here,
too. But then," with a shrug, "anything is better than a constant
reminder of that Christie Place affair."

He nodded understandingly.

"I suppose it _is_ very distressing." He frowned gloomily at the tips
of his shoes and she could see that he bit his lip with vexation.
After a moment or two, he said: "It's very strange; but I was quite
sure I saw you last night."

"Yes?" Her tone was one of careless interest.

"However," he went on, "I had but a glimpse of the lady; and could
easily have been mistaken." He wore a baffled look, but smiled as he
got up. "And," said he, "my visit of this morning was based upon the
sight I fancied I had of you last night."

She laughed amusedly.

"It was something interesting," she said. "Please tell me about--but,
no, no," hastily. "If it has anything to do with the Hume case, I'd
rather not hear it."

She had pressed the bell call for the footman, when he said:

"Mr. Morris still keeps himself well concealed, I note."

Like a tigress leaping to defend her young, she met the accusation.

"Mr. Morris has done no wrong," she declared, spiritedly. "And there
is no need of his concealing himself."

"Of course I will not say as to that." His voice was soothing and low.
"But he makes a mistake in not coming forward. His name, you have
noticed, has already appeared in the papers in direct connection with
the murder."

He glanced at her keenly once more.

"It may be that he has gone away upon some urgent business," she said.
"And the chances are that he has not heard anything of the matter."

"If he had gone away on business, don't you think he would have
mentioned it to someone?"

"Perhaps he did not think it necessary. And again, maybe he did not
expect to be gone so long. Such things frequently happen, you know."

"They do," admitted Ashton-Kirk. "But in the case of Allan Morris,
they somehow fail to fit. I am convinced that he is in hiding."

She regarded him steadily for a moment; then she said:

"You are convinced, you say?"

"I am."

"May I ask upon what your conviction is based?"

"Not now--no."

There was another pause; the man was at the door, ready to show the
investigator out.

"Perhaps," and her tone was very low, "you even fancy that you know
his hiding-place."

"Not just yet," said he, "but in a few hours at most, I will."

Her lips formed the good-by as he stood in the doorway; but she made
no sound. And Ashton-Kirk as he walked down the hall, smiled quietly
to himself.



CHAPTER XVII

WHAT HAPPENED ON THE ROAD


About half an hour after Ashton-Kirk had left the Vale mansion, a
Maillard car drew up before the door. As it did so, an Italian laborer
arose from the curb not far away where he had been comfortably seated
with his back against a tree; then throwing his arms wide in a
luxurious yawn, he started leisurely down the street.

Five minutes later, a veiled, dust-coated female figure descended the
step; the driver of the Maillard was dismissed, and Miss Vale
composedly took his place at the wheel. As the car started forward,
the gauntleted hands guided it firmly; the steady eyes were set
straight ahead as the lever was pushed first to one speed and then
another.

And as the rapid pulse of the motor was borne along the quiet avenue,
the Italian laborer calmly appeared from around a corner, pushing a
powerful-looking motor cycle before him. Another moment and the
machine was sounding its wild fusillade; the Italian sped away in the
same direction as the Maillard, his battered soft hat set jauntily
upon the back of his head, his gay-colored neckkerchief streaming in
the wind.

The car kept to the avenue for a long time; but finally in the far
suburbs it made a sharp turn to the left and a few miles further on
shot into a broad highway that ran parallel with the railroad.

Bending forward so as to offer the least resistance to the wind, the
Italian's swarthy face relaxed at this; his fine white teeth showed in
a smile.

"Cordova, I think," muttered he, in very good English. "If not, then
somewhere very near to it."

Once upon the highway, which was hard, level and practically deserted,
the Maillard increased its speed. Eddies of dust curled in its wake;
its hum resembled that of a gigantic top; its shining brass and smooth
gloss made it look like a streak of light. But the motor cycle was of
the best; its compact, powerful mechanism answered bravely to each
call that was made upon it by the dark-faced man in the saddle; its
explosions had merged into one long volley.

At a small and not very firm-looking bridge the Maillard slowed down;
apparently for the first time Miss Vale heard the cycle in the rear,
for she turned and gave it a quick look. But the dust of her own
progress hung thickly in the air and she could not see very clearly.
Passing the bridge at a low rate of speed, she turned again. The dark
face of the rider, his battered hat and flying 'kerchief seemed to
satisfy her; for once more she gave attention to her course, and again
the car increased its speed. A mile or two further on there was a
rather broken stretch of road and she was forced to slow down. As the
sound of her own vehicle diminished, she, as before, caught the
volleying of the motor cycle; and as she turned the eyes that looked
through the veil were intent and searching.

This time she appeared not so well satisfied, for upon reaching the
end of the broken stretch, she drew her car to one side and stopped.
As the hammering explosions of the motor cycle grew plainer and
plainer she sat rigidly erect upon her seat, her face turned directly
ahead. But a close observer would have noted a slow movement of her
right hand among the folds of the dust coat; and if he was also an
experienced observer he would have immediately understood that Miss
Vale did not venture alone and unarmed upon the road.

However, the Italian never even gave her a glance as he came up; his
machine flew by with a swirl, amid a crashing crescendo; then it
disappeared in the dust of the distance.

But Miss Vale, when she once more resumed her journey, had not gone
much more than a mile when she came upon the same swarthy son of the
south and his vociferous machine. But the latter was now silent
enough; it leaned against a fence, and its rider knelt beside it, a
wrench in his hand, testing its parts carefully and intently.

The Maillard was less than a quarter of a mile away when Miss Vale
caught the rapid series of explosions once more. With a quick glance
ahead, she threw the lever forward and the car tore along at a
breathless rate. Fences ran by in a giddy staggering line; trees
seemed merged into one tangle of branches; the dust arose in solid
towers behind her. However, she held to this but a scant five minutes;
her breath was short when she decreased the power; the hands upon the
wheel shook a little, but her head was held erect, her face was still
purposefully set forward.

Above the decreasing hum of her car, came the swift, brave shocks of
the motor cycle. But, if there was a dread that fell to tightening at
her heart, she showed it little. The Maillard still bore swiftly on;
she did not once turn her head.

A little further on there came into view a post with a series of
white, pointing sign-boards, that indicated a cross-roads. When still
a hundred yards from this the car stopped once more; again the Italian
flew by; again he vanished, this time around a bend beyond the
cross-roads. But once hidden by the bend, he stopped and got down;
the smile again appeared upon his face, the brilliant teeth shone
good-naturedly.

"A simple little ruse," he said to himself. "And one that I've seen
used with effect more than once. Evidently Miss Vale has her wits
about her."

Leaning against his machine he waited and listened. From around the
bend came the low sound of the Maillard; nearer and nearer it came for
a time; then it began to recede. At this the Italian remounted; the
explosions of his motor were muffled as he went swiftly along upon the
way by which he had come. At the cross-roads he slowed up and examined
the ground. Deep in the dust was the broad impress of the tires,
showing the car to have taken the turn to the left. Then swiftly the
cycle turned into the same road and took up the trail once more.

Some three miles further on, the track veered back toward the highway
along a badly cut dirt road.

"Slow going for a heavy car," said the pursuer calmly. "It will not be
long before I sight it again."

There was a hard, beaten footpath at one side of the road; taking to
this, the man on the motor cycle found it easy traveling enough.
Shortly after, he caught the laborings of the Maillard as it made its
way through the binding ruts; then he slowed down and ran easily along
the path, content, apparently, to keep in sound of the chase.

But upon finally reaching the highway, he increased his speed until he
sighted the dust of the car; this he hung to like a beagle, but never
once allowed the car itself to come into view.

At last the sounds of the Maillard ceased and the pall of dust thinned
and dissolved itself in the air. The motor cycle ran swiftly on until
the car, now at a standstill, became visible; then the Italian got
down, took out a pair of field-glasses and swept the highway before
him.

What he saw must have satisfied him that there would be no more use
for his machine for a time, at least; for he pushed it to a place
where there was a break in a fence and concealed it behind a
musty-looking corn shock, left from the fall before. Then placing the
glass under his arm he walked guardedly along the road in the
direction of Miss Vale's car.

Some distance further on there was a tall swamp maple growing by the
roadside; it was an easy task to mount into its branches from the top
fence-rail; then resting snugly in a high fork, he leveled his glass
and proceeded to scan the scene before him.

Miss Vale had descended from her car; her veil was raised, and she
was gingerly picking at the mechanism with hands sheathed in canvas
gloves. With apparent intentness she took out tools; small parts were
inspected minutely. And yet, for all that, there was something unusual
in her manner; every now and then she would lift her head, casually,
so it seemed, and glance away across the fields.

"And always to the right," murmured the man in the tree-top, after a
little.

At once the big glass swept around in that direction.

"A house," added the watcher, with great satisfaction.

The building was almost buried in a thick growth of trees; its white
sides and red roof shone in the sun through branches abud with April.

Suddenly, in the midst of her labor, Miss Vale paused; her manner
changed, the tools were dropped, the parts lost interest. Facing the
house, she yawned, with arms thrown wide after the manner of one much
wearied with a task; then she took off the gloves, unpinned her hat
and smoothed her hair. This was gone through with careful elaboration
and afterwards there was a pause; the girl then gathered up the
things, got into the machine, placed the hat upon the seat beside her,
went careening away with never a backward glance.

But the man in the tree seemed in no haste to follow; instead he
covered the distant house with his glass and waited patiently. Five,
ten, fifteen minutes passed, then half an hour and finally an hour. At
the end of that time, however, a figure emerged from the trees about
the house and walked hastily toward the road; the eyes of the watcher
glistened, his fine teeth shone in an appreciative smile.

Reaching the road where the car had stopped, the newcomer, who was
young, well-dressed and rather good-looking, suddenly paused, stooped
and lifted something from the ground. He held in his hands the work
gloves of Miss Vale, which she had dropped after taking them off. For
a moment the young man stood looking at them as though hesitating what
to do; then he turned, went to the roadside and placed them carefully
upon the top rail of the fence. Then trudging along on his way, he
unsuspectingly passed beneath the maple which concealed the man with
the glass.

When he was out of sight, the Italian slipped down the tree and ran
lightly along the road to the place where the gloves lay. He took up
one and looked within; but it was empty. However, in the thumb of the
next was a slip of paper which bore a single line of writing:

"Tobin Rangnow."

Studying this for a moment, the Italian made a copy of it. Then he
slipped it back into the thumb of the glove and replaced both exactly
as they were; after which he made his way back to the motor cycle, and
mounting, went flying toward the city.



CHAPTER XVIII

ASHTON-KIRK TELLS WHY


It was about four in the afternoon, and young Pendleton sat in
Ashton-Kirk's big chair, reading the newspapers and waiting. Finally
he rang a bell and Stumph gravely appeared.

"Are you sure that he said three?" asked Pendleton.

"_About_ three, sir," replied the man.

"Oh! I suppose he's been detained then. That will be all, Stumph!"

When the man disappeared, Pendleton lighted a cigar and resumed his
reading. The Hume case was still holding its place as the news feature
of the day. Nothing had occurred to equal it in sensation; and the
huge headings flared across the front pages, undiminished and
undismayed.

"Why," screamed the _Standard_, in a perfect frenzy of letter press,
"did Miss Edyth Vale visit Hume on the night of the murder?"

The girl's name had crept into the paper on the day before; with each
edition it appeared in larger type; and that afternoon the _Standard_
was printing it in red ink. Allan Morris was not neglected; on the
contrary, he figured a very close second to his betrothed in the
types.

"_Where is Allan Morris?_"

One paper asked this question perhaps fifty times on each page. It
peered at one in square, heavy-faced type from the bottoms of columns
and between articles. There were interviews with his clerks; the
opinions of his stenographer were given in full, together with her
portrait; and what his man servant had to say was treated as being of
great consequence.

Another sheet, which made a point of appealing to the tastes of the
vast foreign element of the city, grew very indignant as to the arrest
of Antonio Spatola.

"Why," it inquired, "is this man detained and no attempt made to take
those higher up into custody? If the Police Department is so ready to
incarcerate a poor musician, why should it hesitate upon the threshold
of the rich man's mansion?--or the rich woman's, for the matter of
that?"

This item incensed Pendleton beyond measure; he threw the paper aside
and stormed up and down the room.

"Of all the blatant wretched twaddle I ever did read," he exclaimed,
"this is positively the worst. Why, the rag would have the police
arrest Edyth--arrest her for--"

"Well," demanded a sharp, aggressively pitched voice, "what for you
make-a da blame, eh? Da cops pinch-a Spatola, and for why, eh? Because
he's da wop, da Ginney, da Dago and got-a no friends."

At the first word Pendleton had whirled about in astonishment, and
faced the speaker, who stood in the doorway, pointing with one hand in
the attitude of melodrama.

"Well," asked the young man, "who the deuce are you?"

By way of an answer the other burst into a laugh that showed his
brilliant teeth; then he threw off his battered soft hat and gayly
colored handkerchief, after which he sank into the chair which
Pendleton had lately vacated.

"Pen," said he, in an altered voice, "if you appreciate my friendship
at all, give me one of the blackest cigars in the case over there."

Pendleton stared for a moment; then a grin crept over his face and he
said:

"Oh, it's you, is it?" He went to the cabinet and took out a box.
"Here's a brand that looks like black Havana," he said. "And now, what
the dickens are you doing in that rig?"

"I've been taking a long ride in the country--on a motor cycle,"
answered Ashton-Kirk, crossing his shabbily clothed legs and striking
a match. "Any time you feel disinclined to face your meals, Pen, I
recommend you heartily to do the same. It is a greater bracer. At this
moment I really believe I could do complete justice to even the very
best culinary thoughts of our friend, Dr. Mercer."

Pendleton sat down and regarded his friend with questioning eyes.

"It wasn't to acquire an appetite that you made up this way. You've
been working."

Ashton-Kirk comfortably blew one smoke-ring through another before he
answered.

"Will you be surprised to hear that I have been following Miss Edyth
Vale on a little voyage to the neighborhood of Cordova?"

"Again!"

"But this time she did not pay a visit to Professor Locke. To-day the
favored one was Allan Morris."

"Morris! Then she knows where he is?"

"So it would seem."

"But she told you the other day that she did not."

Ashton-Kirk shrugged his shoulders.

"Things happen swiftly and unexpectedly," said he. "Perhaps she did
_not_ know it then."

"And perhaps she did not know Locke or his whereabouts, either," said
Pendleton, with bitter irony.

"Who knows?" replied Ashton-Kirk, composedly. "At any rate, it was
just a supposition that led to my labors of to-day."

"I don't think I understand," said Pendleton, after a moment.

"Last night," said the investigator, "you asked me if I had learned
anything from Professor Locke. And I replied to the effect that I
thought I had. Now," after a pause, devoted to the grateful smoke,
"when one sees a girl circumstanced as Miss Vale assuredly is in this
case, paying a secret visit to a man who is rather more than suspected
of the murder, what does one suppose?"

"That she is leagued with him, somehow," replied Pendleton,
reluctantly.

"Exactly. But on the other hand, when the same girl, upon sight of us,
rushes off and leaves the man to face us without giving him a hint as
to who we are, what does one suppose?"

But Pendleton rose gloomily and strode over to the window.

"I don't know," said he.

"One supposes," proceeded Ashton-Kirk, "that she has not much interest
in him." Here Pendleton faced about again. "If she had been leagued
with him, as you put it, you may be sure that she would have managed
to warn him in some way as to our identity. But that she had not done
so, the mute's manner told me as plainly as words could have done.
Seeing this, I began figuring what it meant. If she was not associated
with Locke in the crime, why was she there? Immediately came the
answer--through Morris. But, when I saw her last, she denied any
knowledge of Morris's whereabouts. Then I reasoned, she had seen him
in the interim."

"That's it," cried Pendleton, as he stepped forward and slapped the
table with his palm; "that's it, beyond a doubt! He's managed to get
word to her; she's seen him; he's told her all or part of the truth;
and once more she's trying to help him. Why, Kirk, I'll venture to
say," hot with indignation, "that she was led to visit this little
scoundrel Locke, last night, much as she was led to visit Hume's place
on the night of the murder--completely in the dark, and merely with
some sort of a vague notion of protecting Morris."

"Perhaps you are right, but I can't exactly say. But that she has seen
Morris I have made quite sure."

"How?"

"Last night when I appeared at Locke's window, I established a reason
for calling upon her this morning, also I laid a foundation for what
followed. Before the call I made certain preparations for a quick
change of front," with a gesture that called attention to his costume;
"in our conversation, I managed to tell her that Morris's hiding
place was discovered. Then I left. As I expected, she at once called
her car and set off to warn him; and I followed close behind upon the
motor cycle."

"I see, I see. And did you get sight of him?"

Ashton-Kirk nodded. Then he proceeded to relate the story of the
noon-day run to the country house which Morris had selected as a
hiding place. When he had finished, Pendleton sat frowning blackly.

"Secret signals," said he. "He fears discovery so much that he has
forbidden her approaching the house. A regular code has been arranged,
eh? And the gloves were dropped in the road purposely; he slipped his
answer into one of them; on her way back she discovers her supposed
loss, looks for the gloves, and finds them. It is quite ornate," with
a bitter sneer.

Then he took from the investigator's hand the card upon which he had
copied the message of Allan Morris.

"Tobin Rangnow," he read. Then looking up he inquired with a wan
smile. "More secret writing, eh? Or is it a man's name?"

"There is a decided Irish flavor to Tobin," answered Ashton-Kirk. "But
Rangnow is unfamiliar to me; and if it is a name at all, it is of
Eastern European origin. In that case," laughing, "it could scarcely
be expected to share the honors with Tobin."

He took the card from Pendleton and looked at it thoughtfully. Then he
glanced up in a satisfied sort of way:

"As you suggested, Miss Vale no doubt returned, recovered her gloves
and read the message," said he. "As she had just warned him that his
hiding place was discovered, it is only natural to suppose that his
answer would have something to do with his future movements."

"That seems likely enough," said Pendleton.

"Look here; if we put a comma between the two words," went on the
investigator, taking out a pencil and doing so, "the thing takes on
the appearance of a name and address."

Once more he gave the card to Pendleton; then rising he went to the
telephone stand and took up the directory. Skimming rapidly through
this he paused at a page and went down its columns carefully. Then
with a laugh he slapped it shut.

"We have it," declared he. "When we so desire, we can call at an
apartment house known as the 'Rangnow' and inquire for Mr. Tobin. And
when we see that gentleman we shall be looking upon one in the
confidence of Allan Morris."

There was a long pause on the part of Pendleton. Ashton-Kirk rang for
Stumph and directed him to turn the water into his bath, and get him
out some fresh linen. It was after the man had gone that Pendleton
spoke.

"When you came in, Kirk," he said, "you said something which conveyed
the notion that you would not be much astonished if the police took up
the Hume matter with Edyth Vale."

"It is only the fact that the newspapers were first in discovering her
apparent connection with it, that has kept Osborne and his fellows
from visiting her before this. Jealousy, you know, does many strange
things."

Pendleton did not reply; he bent his head and covered his face with
his hands. Ashton-Kirk went on:

"The reasonable thing for her to do would be to come forward and tell
the plain truth."

Pendleton roused himself.

"But don't you see that that is the very thing that her brave nature
will not do? She's protecting Morris; and she'll go on protecting him,
no matter what the consequence to herself."

"In that event," said the investigator slowly, "we can not be in too
great a hurry in removing the cause that keeps Morris in hiding."

"You'll have a task in that," said Pendleton. "As far as I can see,
the man is up to his eyes in the crime; and that's why he is lying
low."

"I have warned you before now against jumping at conclusions," said
the other, quietly. "Allan Morris may be a confederate of Locke's, or
he may not. We have yet to establish the fact either way. And now,
pardon me while I take a plunge and get into something presentable."



CHAPTER XIX

THE TWO REPORTS


After dinner the two young men settled themselves in the library:
Stumph served their coffee and they renewed their acquaintance with
the Greek tobacco. After a little time there came a knock upon the
door.

"Come," called Ashton-Kirk.

A short man with remarkable breadth of shoulder and depth of chest
entered; he was smooth shaven and salient of jaw and wore the air of
one who was not easily balked in anything that he undertook.

"How are you, Burgess?" said the investigator.

"Good-evening," returned Burgess. He advanced and laid some neatly
folded sheets at the elbow of his employer. "Fuller was busy and I
thought I'd bring these in myself. It's my report on Hume."

"Ah, thank you."

Ashton-Kirk took up the sheets and began running his eye through them.
"As you get deeper into this record, did Hume keep his promise?"

Burgess smiled.

"As to possibilities, do you mean? Why, yes. Indeed, I rather think
he exceeded them." The man lit the cigar which the investigator handed
him and drew at it appreciatively. "I went it alone on the first day;
but after that I took O'Neill and Purvis on. Between us, we managed to
get at something pretty definite."

"Has Fuller finished with Morris?"

"He is typing his report at this moment. It will be ready in a half
hour, I should think."

"Please tell him to bring it in as soon as it is finished."

Burgess nodded and went out. Ashton-Kirk continued to dip into the
report here and there.

"Among three of them," said Pendleton, "they should have sifted the
man's life and adventures pretty well."

As Ashton-Kirk continued to scan the pages, a peculiar expression
slowly came into his eyes.

"They seem to have done so, indeed. And rather cleverly, too, I think.
Would you care to hear the report?"

"By all means," eagerly.

The sheets were shifted into their proper order once more. Then
Ashton-Kirk read:

  "'_A Further Investigation into the Affairs of David Purtell Hume_.

"'No record was to be had of Hume, beyond his settlement in the city
in 1899. People in the same line of business were questioned closely;
and those who knew anything of him at all clung to the idea that he
was an American who had lived for many years abroad.

"'So we had another look at the old passenger lists of the steamships;
but this time we went further back. We knew that the simple ruse of a
fictitious name would cover Hume completely; but it seemed the only
thing to do, and we set at it systematically. In the records of the
steamer _Baltic_ of the Netherlands Steamship Company for the year
1897, we came upon the name of "D. Purtell." Without much hope of
learning anything definite after such a lapse of time, I inquired
after this passenger.

"'Luck was with us in the shape of an old clerk with a long memory. He
faintly recalled something of the man, and after some talk got out
still another book. And there it was! D. Purtell, so it seemed, had
been involved in an attempt to smuggle a quantity of diamonds.

"'Our next step was to visit the customs people. Their records were
very complete. They even had a portrait of Purtell, which proved him
to have been Hume beyond a doubt. Only a trifle of evidence had been
secured against him--not enough to convict--and they were forced to
release him. This seems to have been Hume's specialty.

"'However, through the customs services of other countries, they had
learned quite a lot about him. The authorities of Holland, Spain and
France knew him as one of the leading spirits in a system of smuggling
that had been going on for years. Once Hume had been located in
Antwerp, once at Hamburg, and for a long time at Bayonne. This system
of contraband had been broken up just before he had been arrested by
the United States service. A number of the criminals had been
convicted; but Hume, with his usual luck, had escaped once more,
because of lack of evidence against him.

"'Nothing could be learned of the movements of Hume between his arrest
on the _Baltic_ and his location here as a dealer in the curiosities
of art. And after his going into business here, he kept to himself a
great deal.

"'But the drink habit caused him to frequent certain resorts, and it
was at one of these that he first met Richard Morris, father to Allan
Morris!'"

"Ah!" said Pendleton. "So Hume knew Morris's father."

"I asked Fuller, in giving him his instructions, to have this fact
established, if he could," said Ashton-Kirk. "That both Hume and the
elder Morris were heavy drinkers caused me to think it possible."

"Is that all there is to the report?"

"Almost." The investigator turned to the pages once more, and
proceeded: "'Hume and the elder Morris became quite intimate and were
often seen together. But what it was that formed the bond between
them, no one knows, unless it be a deaf mute named Locke, who was
frequently seen in their society and who seemed upon close terms with
both. But within a year after their first meeting, Hume broke with
Morris. This must have been serious, for it caused a marked enmity to
spring up between them. A number of people recall that Richard Morris
frequently made threats against the other--threats of personal
violence and also of the law. But before anything could come of these,
if he really meant them, he died.

"'Thinking that Locke might be able to throw some light on this phase
of the case, we have endeavored to locate him. Up to this time we have
met with no success; but we hope to learn something of him at an early
date.'"

Ashton-Kirk laid the sheets down upon the table.

"There follows a list of the names of the people who have supplied
this information and their addresses," said he. "Burgess is very
thorough in his work."

"Outside the fact that Hume was a scoundrel--which we knew
before--and that he was acquainted with Locke and Allan Morris's
father, what does this report tell you?"

There was discontent in Pendleton's voice as he asked this question,
and the investigator smiled as he made answer:

"That Hume knew the elder Morris supplies us with a theory as to the
possible part which the younger Morris has taken in this drama.
Whatever passed between Hume and the father has probably been taken up
by the son."

"Why, yes," said Pendleton. "I hadn't thought of that."

"Another thing," added Ashton-Kirk: "The report has swung like the
needle of a compass, and indicated a fact that my imagination
suggested days ago."

"And that is--"

"That Hume once lived in the French town of Bayonne."

Pendleton frowned impatiently.

"I don't know what ever made you imagine that," he said. "But now that
you find that it is so, of what service is it?"

"We will speak of that later," answered Ashton-Kirk.

Pendleton was about to say something more, but just then Fuller
knocked and entered.

"The report on Allan Morris," said he.

"Ah, thanks." The investigator took the compactly typed sheets, and
then he continued: "Tell Burgess that he need not bother about the man
Locke whom he mentions. Say that I have already located him."

"Very well," and Fuller left the room.

For a space there was no sound save that which came from the street
and the rustle of the pages as Ashton-Kirk went through them.

"Well," asked Pendleton, finally. "What now?"

"Morris," replied his friend, "does not develop like Hume. Fuller
suspected that he'd prove colorless, and so it has turned out.
However, I'll read what he says. It's headed:

    "'_A Second Report on Allan Morris_

"'A very careful inquiry failed to uncover anything in connection with
this young man's personal affairs that was not mentioned in my first
report on the same subject. He has led a very even, uneventful life,
attending strictly to business and making every movement count in the
direction of distinction as a marine engineer.

"'However, there has been something in his manner for the last few
years that has attracted the attention of those who knew him best or
came in contact with him. This took the various forms of eagerness of
manner, irritability, long fits of reveries, a feverish desire for
work. At his place of business I learned that he has for some time had
a deep interest in the reports of the patent office. His clerks say
that he'd read these for hours at a time; one of them told me of how
he (the clerk) once forgot to call Morris's attention to the report
until the day after its arrival. Morris has always been very tolerant
with his employees, but that day he burst out in a fury and threatened
to discharge them all.

"'Richard Morris, father to Allan, was a most erratic genius, as my
first report indicated. His propeller, his smoke-consumer, and his
automatic brake were valuable commercial properties, but had all
slipped from his control. Toward the end of his life he engaged in the
perfection of an invention of which he talked a great deal and of
which he declared that he alone would reap the benefit.

"'As Burgess will already have told you, Richard Morris knew Hume. The
latter was a frequent visitor to a shop which the inventor maintained
in the outskirts, as was the mute Locke. I have talked with an old
mechanic who worked for Morris at the time; he told me that the
inventor had made a stubborn fight against the drink habit and seemed
likely to conquer it up to the time that he became acquainted with
Hume. After this, however, he became as much a slave to it as ever.
The invention, or whatever it was, never got beyond the paper stage;
for thereafter Richard Morris spent his days in sleep and his nights
at the once famous Coffin Club.'"

Ashton-Kirk arose eagerly.

"There is more," said he, "but it is scarcely of interest." Placing
the report upon the table, he added: "You have heard of the Coffin
Club, Pen?"

"Of course. It met in an underground place somewhere, didn't it? And
if I remember right, it was fitted up like the Café Au Mort in Paris."

"Something of the sort." The investigator went to a huge card system
and pulled out a drawer labeled "TO." "But I recall it best by the
steward whose philosophy and Irish turns of speech were so frequently
quoted by the newspapers during the heydey of the establishment. Can
you recall his name?"

"I know whom you mean," answered Pendleton, "but the name has slipped
me."

Ashton-Kirk paused in the fingering of the cards.

"It was Tobin," said he. "It came to me that it was, but I wanted to
be sure." He pushed the drawer into place, looked at his friend
inquiringly, and added: "Suppose we go around to the 'Rangnow' and see
him?"



CHAPTER XX

ONE OF THE OLD SORT


Pendleton looked at his friend in bewilderment.

"You don't mean to say that the philosopher of the Coffin Club and
this Tobin of young Morris's are the same," cried he.

"I only _think_ they are," said Ashton-Kirk quietly. "But we can make
sure by paying a short visit to the apartment house."

"Now?"

"There is no time like the present."

And so the end of a half hour found them stepping out of a cab at the
extreme west end of the city. It was only a little after nine o'clock,
but the streets were almost deserted; the arc-lamps clicked and hissed
lonesomely; rows of darkened windows and shadowy doorways ran away on
both sides.

"There is the place we want," said the investigator, pointing at an
illuminated sign which hung out over the sidewalk some little distance
away.

When they reached the place, they found it was rather a large building
of the modern type; pushing open the swinging doors and making their
way through a brilliantly lighted passage, they found themselves in
an equally brilliant office.

Here they saw a dozen or more men seated in tilted chairs; all wore
their hats and for the most part smoked cigars. Behind a polished
counter on which rested a nickeled cash register and a huge book,
stood a white-haired man with a smooth Irish face and a pair of gold
eyeglasses hanging by a black cord. The air was heavy with
disputation; long-tailed words boomed sonorously; red-faced and
earnest, one of the occupants of the chairs assailed the man behind
the counter; with soft, sweeping, eloquent gestures the latter
defended himself.

"And what," demanded he, placing his hands upon the shining top of the
counter and shoving his head forward inquiringly, "is all this that we
do be hearing about your suffragette? Who is she? What is she? The
newspapers are filled to the top with her, but sorra the sight of her
did I ever see. If she has any existence outside of the comic
supplement, gentlemen, I'd like to have ye show me where. Did ye ever
hear a whisper of her till she began to send herself by registered
mail and chain herself to lamp posts? Niver the one of ye! Is your
wife a suffragette? She's not. Is your mother? No. Your sister? Again
it's no. Then who is it that composes the great army of female ballot
seekers? Is it the cook? The chambermaid? The woman that does the
plain sewing? I'll wager 'tis not. They have too much to do already;
it's not looking for additional burdens they are. Then where does this
advanced woman flourish and have her being?" Here one hand went up and
descended with a slap. "In the mansions of the rich," he declaimed
positively; "in the lap of luxury. Among the feminine descendants of
successful gum shoe men!"

Here the man with the flushed face attempted to speak; but an eloquent
sweep of both hands silenced him.

"They have nothing to do," stated the orator, "but to invent ways of
pleasing themselves. Monkey dinner parties, diamonds, automobiles and
boxes on the grand tier have no more attraction; private yachts and
other women's husbands have grown _passé_. They want a new toy, and
faith, nothing will please them but the destinies of the nation. Their
reasoning is simple and direct. If a man who wheels scrap iron at a
blast furnace is competent to handle the--"

At this point the speaker was interrupted by Ashton-Kirk advancing to
the counter.

"Pardon me," said the investigator, "but can you tell me where I can
find Mr. Tobin? Is he in?"

A look of great dignity came upon the face of the other; and he drew
himself up stiffly.

"You are speaking to him, sir," replied he.

"I thought so," smiled Ashton-Kirk. "My old friend Dan O'Connor has
mentioned you so often that I felt sure that I recognized the manner."

The dignity vanished from Mr. Tobin's face, and the stiffness of
demeanor fell from him instantly.

"Do you know Dan?" asked he, eagerly. "Ah, there is the lad for you. A
credit to his country and to his name. Faith, he is the best judge of
whiskey in the city, and has a heart as large and as mellow as a
barrel of it."

"If it would not be putting you about in any way, we'd like a few
moments in private with you."

At once Mr. Tobin touched a button. A young man presented himself, and
to him the conducting of the house was transferred for the time being.
Then the two friends were led into a small sitting-room, where chairs
were placed for them, and Mr. Tobin seated himself opposite them with
some expectation.

"Since I became manager here," explained he, "I seldom hear of any of
the old lads. Ye see, it's so far from the center of the city,"
regretfully, "they seldom get along this way, so they do."

"Yes, I suppose they cling to their old haunts," said Ashton-Kirk.
"Dan sticks to his school of boxing these days, pretty closely. I
often drop in for a round or two with him. He's as clever as ever, but
he's slowing up."

Tobin shook his white head sadly.

"Tut, tut, tut," said he. "And do you tell me that! Faith, he's a
young man yet--not much over sixty--and what call have he to be takin'
on the ways and manners of age? Even as late as the last year of the
Coffin Club he was as swift as the light."

"He frequently spoke of that club to me," observed the other. "A queer
place, I understand."

Tobin nodded.

"Queer enough," he answered, "and the members was as queer in some
ways. Nothing would do them, but they must spend their time
underground, sitting at tables shaped like coffins, and drinking their
liquor out of mugs shaped like skulls. I was steward there a long
time, and got good pay; but I never approved of the notion. It always
seemed like divilment to me, did that."

"Some very well known people frequented it, did they not?"

"Many's the time I've seen the governor of the state himself, sitting
there with a mug in his fist. The liquors was of the best, do you
see," with a pleased light in his eyes. "I know that, for it were
meself that selected them. And a good sup of drink is a great
attraction, so it is."

"I don't think that can be successfully denied," admitted the
investigator. "Some very brilliant men have proved it to their
sorrow."

"True for ye," said Tobin. "Don't I know it? We had actors and writers
and editors--the cream of their professions--and every one of them a
devotee, so to speak, of Bacchus. Sure, the finer the intellect, the
greater the sup of drink appeals to them, if it does at all. One of
the greatest frequenters of the club was a man whose inventions," with
a grandiloquent gesture, "revolutionized the industries of the world.
And when he was mellow with it, boys o' boys, but he could discourse!
His name was Morris," added the speaker, "and he was the father of the
young man whose name has been mixed up with this Hume affair which is
so occupying the public mind just now."

"Indeed."

There was a pause: Tobin's mobile face looked back upon the past; his
eyes had an introspective light in them.

"To think," said he, "how the natures of men differ. Some are like the
gods of old, and others again are like--well, like anything you choose
to call them. And yet," with philosophic speculation, "these two
widely diversified types are sometimes friends. To the surprise of
everyone they occasionally take up with one another. It's hard to say
why, but it is so."

"I've noticed it myself," said Ashton-Kirk.

Tobin nodded.

"Never," said he, "did I see it so exemplified as in the case of
Richard Morris and this felly who has just been killed. Never were two
men more unlike; but sorra such an intimacy did I ever see afore, as
there was between them. Morris when he had the drink in him was a
poet. His ideas soared to the starry skies; he flew about upon the
wings of the wind; faith I believe he thought the sun was not beyond
his reach. But Hume was a divil! God save us, that I should say the
like about any human creature; but he had the imp in him, for many's
the time I see it grinning and looking out at his two eyes."

"I've heard it said that he was an unpleasant sort of chap," agreed
the other.

"Unpleasant," said Tobin, "does not do credit to his capabilities,
though 'tis a good word enough. There was never a man came into the
Coffin Club, during the five years that I were there, that looked as
though the place fitted him, but Hume. The others were like bad little
boys who wouldn't take a dare. But Hume was just right. To see him
lift one of the stone skulls to his lips and grin over it at you,
would make your blood run cold. And bless us and save us, gentlemen,
how he would jeer and snarl and laugh all at the one time. Many's the
time I've listened to poor Morris rave and paint his pictures of what
he was going to do in times to come; and on the other side of the
coffin-table, Hume would urge him on, leerin' and grinnin' like Satan
himself, and making all manner of game of him. Bedad, me gorge rose at
it more than once, and it was all I could do to keep from takin' him
by the scruff of the neck and throwin' him intil the street."

"Almost every man has some spark of good in his nature, however
faint," said Ashton-Kirk. "And Hume may have had one, too, though no
one seems to have discovered it."

Tobin smiled and returned:

"An Irishman always has a good deal of respect for the fighting
strain, no matter if it be in a man, or a beast, or a bird. Old Nick
himself must be a grand, two-handed man, and as such we must give him
credit. And 'twas the same way with this felly Hume. He had real
fighting blood, so he had; and sorra the man ever undertook to impose
on him the second time."

"And as a true Celt, you held this to be a credit mark," laughed
Ashton-Kirk.

"I did. And, indeed, he seemed to consider it so himself, though he
was not one to care a snap what others thought of him. But often he'd
boast of the stock he came from. Fighters they were to the core, he
said, fighters who never knew when they were whipped, and who'd go on
fighting while they had a leg to stand on, an eye to see, and an arm
to strike a blow."

Tobin here paused and stroked his smooth-shaven chin, reflectively.

"He claimed descent from someone who was rated a real man in his day,"
he continued. "'Twas an officer, I think, who fought with--faith,
yes," smiling in recollection, "at the side of sorra the one less than
Washington himself."

Pendleton, listening with dwindling interest, saw Ashton-Kirk's hand
clench, and saw a gleam shoot into his eyes. Then he saw him bend
toward Tobin, his elbows on his knees, his clenched hands beneath his
chin.

"Ah," said the investigator, and his voice was calmer than Pendleton
remembered ever hearing it before, "he claimed a pedigree, did he? And
from a Revolutionary officer. Such things are always interesting. It's
a pity you can't remember the soldier's name."

Tobin pondered.

"I can't," confessed he, at length; "but there is one thing that I
remember hearing Hume tell about him; it seemed laughable at the time,
and I suppose that's why it's stuck to me. It seems that the supposed
ancestor were a great felly for dress, and expected the like of all
the men under him; and though he often had niver a crust of bread to
put into their mouths, he always managed to have a pinch of white
powder for them to dress their hair."

Ashton-Kirk laughed suddenly, and leaned back in his chair. The gleam
died out of his eyes, and a twinkle of satisfaction replaced it.

"That," said he, "sounds amusing enough to be true. Mr. Hume's
ancestor was at least consistent. But," and his tone changed, "we must
not keep you from your duties, Mr. Tobin, and so we'll get to the
matter in hand."

"If it is not hurrying you," agreed Tobin.

"A while ago," spoke Ashton-Kirk, "you mentioned young Allan Morris;
and during your conversation you have led me to think that you were
his father's friend."

"I were," said Tobin. "He were a decent man."

"Then perhaps your friendship extends to the son as well."

"Perhaps it does," and a note of perceptible caution crept into
Tobin's voice.

"I am glad to hear it," said the investigator. "He seems badly in need
of friends of the right sort just now; and I am confident, Mr. Tobin,
that you are of that sort."

"A man who has disappeared as completely as this one has done,"
stated Tobin, "is out of the reach of even the best of friends."

"Have you not heard from him since the murder?"

"No," replied the other with a readiness that carried conviction.

"Then you will, and before long." Ashton-Kirk arose and stood looking
into the old man's face. "Perhaps it will be to-night; but it will be
by to-morrow night at latest. And when you do you can best show your
friendship for him by telling him not to be a fool."

"You mean," said Tobin, shrewdly, "that I'm to advise him to give over
hiding?"

"Exactly."

"I'll do that willingly enough, if I hear of him. An innocent man has
no call to hide himself like a rat. But," inquiringly, "after I tell
him that, what will I do?"

Ashton-Kirk took out a card; handing it to the other, he said:

"Ask him to come see me."

Tobin gave the card one glance, then his face lit up and his hand went
out.

"Let me shake your hand, sir," said he. "And I'll tell the lad what
you say with a heart and a half."



CHAPTER XXI

ASHTON-KIRK BEGINS TO PLAN


As Ashton-Kirk and Pendleton left the "Rangnow," the latter said:

"You surely do not suppose that Morris will call on you?"

"Why not?"

"It does not sound reasonable."

"A day or two ago I would have said the same. But things are taking on
a different aspect. And with their change, Morris will change. He had
no idea of what was to come, or he would not have done what he has
done."

"No criminal would," said Pendleton.

Ashton-Kirk shrugged his shoulders at this, but made no direct reply.

"And now if these newspapers, with all their pointed references to
Edyth Vale, do not make the man come forward," he went on, "what is
about to happen--say within the next forty-eight hours--will be sure
to do so."

Pendleton turned a surprised look upon him.

"You think, then, that something unusual is about to happen?"

"I _know_ there is," was the quiet reply. "To-night, old chap, has
been most prolific in results. It has indicated why the murder was
done; it has suggested the identity of the actual murderer; it has
even pointed out the spot upon which we shall finally take him."

"You really mean all that?" cried Pendleton, incredulously.

"I do."

"Then you must have learned it at some time while I was not--" here
Pendleton paused, and then proceeded in another tone. "But you have
_not_ been out of my sight since dinner. Everything you have heard, I
have heard; all that you have seen, I have seen."

"Just so," said Ashton-Kirk.

There was a pause; they walked along toward the place where they were
to get a street car. At length Pendleton spoke once more.

"And from the rather bald reports of your two assistants, and the talk
of this man, Tobin, you have gathered these most vital facts?"

"We can hardly call them facts as yet," said the other; "but I have
every confidence that we can do so within the time specified."

A gong sounded sharply and a car crossed the street. Pendleton placed
his hand upon his friend's shoulder.

"Kirk," said he, "I am not going to ask another question. I'm just
going to wait, and if it turns out as you say, I'll never question a
statement of yours as long as I live. I'll swallow them all as the
Mussulman swallows the Koran."

They boarded the car and Ashton-Kirk settled himself in a corner. His
arms were folded across his chest, his head gradually sank forward. To
all appearances he was asleep; but Pendleton knew that he was merely
turning over some plan of action that would, in a little time, begin
to reveal itself.

However, he was not prepared for such quick action as resulted; for
suddenly Ashton-Kirk jumped up, glanced out at the car window, then
darted to the platform and leaped off. Pendleton followed at once, and
came up with him part way down an intersecting street.

"Where to now?" he asked.

"City Hall," replied Ashton-Kirk, briefly.

It was no great distance to the municipal buildings; they shot up in
the elevator and entered the police department.

"I'd like to see Superintendent Weagle," said the investigator to the
officer who came forward to speak to them.

"He's just getting ready to go home," answered the man, "but I'll see
what I can do."

The superintendent of police happened to be in an obliging humor, and
they were shown into his office a few moments later. Weagle stood in
the middle of the floor, drawing on a light over-coat; the end of a
black cigar was clenched between his teeth.

"How are you?" greeted he. "Anything doing in my line?"

"Not just yet," replied Ashton-Kirk, "but I have some hopes."

The official laughed.

"We all have them," said he. "If we didn't we might as well put up the
shutters." He threw the cigar end away and wiped his stubby moustache
with a large handkerchief. "You've come for something," said he. "What
is it? My wife and kiddies are expecting me, and I must get home."

"How long are you going to maintain the police guard at 478 Christie
Place?" inquired the investigator.

"I hadn't thought of it," replied the superintendent. "However, we are
in the habit of keeping such details up for some little time. Another
thing, there is a lot of valuable stuff there which must be looked
after."

"Beginning with to-morrow night," said Ashton-Kirk, "I want you to
withdraw your men. And further, I want your permission for my friend
Mr. Pendleton and myself to watch in their place."

The official opened his eyes at this.

"Well," said he, after a moment's silence, "I don't just understand
your reasons; and the thing is most unusual. But," and he nodded his
head approvingly, "I've always noticed that you have reasons behind
everything you do, and if this thing is expected to throw any further
light on the Hume case, why, it shall be as you say."

"Thank you," said Ashton-Kirk. "Unless I am much mistaken it will
close the matter finally as far as your department is concerned, and
put the whole thing up to the District Attorney."

"You mean," said the superintendent with interest, "that you've got
something new on Spatola--and perhaps on Morris and the girl!"

"I mean," answered Ashton-Kirk, "that I hope to place the murderers of
the numismatist Hume in your hands in a few days--whoever they may
be."

Weagle waved his hand.

"That's all we want," said he with a laugh. "Give us the right ones
and we'll make no complaint. And now, if you have nothing more to say,
I'll say good-night."

They parted with the superintendent in the corridor; then Ashton-Kirk
led the way into a room where some police officials and a number of
young men were lounging about.

"Oh, how are you?" greeted a stout sergeant, affably. "And how's the
work?"

While the investigator was speaking to the sergeant, one of the
alert-looking young men approached.

"Pardon," said he. "But is there anything you'd like to say to the
_Star?_"

"No," replied Ashton-Kirk.

"You are working on the Hume case, are you not?" asked the reporter
with professional insistence.

"Oh, I have had a little interest in it as an outsider, that is all,"
returned the other. "However," as he was passing through with
Pendleton, "I can give you a piece of official police news on the
case, which I just got from the superintendent. After to-night the
guard will be removed from Hume's place. Weagle thinks the regular
policeman on the beat is all that is needed from now on."

As they left the building by the main door, Pendleton said:

"A little while ago, I rashly promised to ask no more questions. If
you'll release me from that, I'll unburden myself of one or two which
will otherwise keep me awake to-night."

"Go ahead," said Ashton-Kirk with a smile.

"Why," asked Pendleton, "do you want the police called off at Hume's?
and why should we place ourselves on watch instead?"

"At the very first we made up our minds that the men who murdered Hume
were in search of something, didn't we? Up to this time I have been
unable to say whether they had succeeded or not. Now, however, I am
convinced that they failed."

"Ah!"

"To-morrow the newspapers will announce that Hume's place is to be no
longer guarded. It may be that the criminals are desperate enough to
venture another visit in order to gain possession of the thing they
covet. If they do, we shall be awaiting them."

"But how do you know that they failed of their object on the night of
the murder?"

"You and I," said Ashton-Kirk, laughingly, "are perhaps going to spend
considerable time in Christie Place, beginning with to-morrow evening.
And while there we may find it dull enough, old boy; a little
amusement of a practical sort might not be found out of place. So I'll
not answer your question now; I'll allow it to stand until to-morrow
night; and then I'll give it to you, compact and complete, with
practical illustrations as I go along."



CHAPTER XXII

ASHTON-KIRK IS ANNOYED


On the following day, at about noon, Ashton-Kirk's big French car
glided up to the curb before the Vale house. A man with a thick neck
and a small head nodded to the investigator; another waved a hand from
across the street.

"Plain-clothes men," he murmured, "and at watch upon the house. That
means that this matter can be brought to an end none too soon for Miss
Vale's comfort."

He was getting out of his car when a brace of eager reporters accosted
him.

"The _Standard_ would like to have you say a few words for
publication," said one.

"The _Herald_ will give you what space you require for a statement at
any time you see fit to make use of it," declared the other.

"I'm very sorry," said Ashton-Kirk, brushing a speck of dust from an
immaculate sleeve, "but I have nothing to say that would interest your
city editors, or the public. I have no doubt but that the police
officials will be glad to acquaint you with anything new that has
transpired--if there has been anything new."

The newspaper men pulled wry faces.

"The police hang onto the Italian musician and profess to think he's
the guilty party," said one. "If they have taken any steps beyond
this, before to-day, we have not known of it."

"Why have the detectives been placed to watch Miss Vale's house?"
asked the other. "And what has Osborne gone in to talk about?"

"Ah," said Ashton-Kirk, with interest, "Osborne is within, is he?"

"Yes; and why are you going in? What has been learned regarding Miss
Vale's connection with the case that has not already been made
public?"

"I would hardly undertake to answer that last," laughed Ashton-Kirk.
"So much has been made public in one way and another that I haven't
been able to keep track of it all. My own visit is merely a friendly
call. Why Mr. Osborne is here I, of course, cannot say."

Leaving the newspaper men disappointed and dissatisfied, the
investigator rang the bell and was admitted. In the hall, pulling on
his gloves, was Osborne.

"Hello!" exclaimed the latter. "So you thought you'd have a try, too,
eh?"

The big man's tone showed that he was none too well pleased with his
own visit; he jerked at his gloves viciously, and his brow was creased
with vexation. And seeing that the other was disposed to do nothing
more than nod, he went on:

"Well, you'll have to have a lot better luck than I've had, to have
any at all. Miss Vale, it seems, is a young lady who knows very well
how to say nothing. I've been here something like an hour and have put
her through a regular third degree; but I've had my labor for my
pains, as the saying is. She has told me nothing except her opinion of
the newspapers and the police."

"Miss Vale will see you, sir," said the man servant, returning.

"And so you've given it up?" queried the investigator of Osborne.

The big headquarters man shrugged his shoulders.

"Hardly," said he. "I've set a time on the thing. We scarcely like to
go to extremes, as you perhaps know; but unless a clean breast of the
matter is made, as far as the party knows," modifying his language
because of the listening servant, "the same party will know what the
inside of a cell is like by this time to-morrow."

"You really mean to make an arrest?"

"If we are forced to--yes."

Ashton-Kirk followed him to the door:

"Extend the time limit," suggested he. "Make it the day after
to-morrow, and," elevating his brows, "I don't think that you'll need
to do anything unpleasant."

"Ah," said Osborne, "you're onto something!" He regarded the other
questioningly for a moment, then broke into a grin. "No use to ask
what it is, I suppose? I thought not. Well," reflectively, and in a
lowered tone, "it won't do any harm to oblige you, if the front office
is willing. The party can't make a move that we won't know about; and
the fact is, I've just advised that no going out of any kind be
ventured on. So long, and good luck."

The door closed behind Osborne, and then Ashton-Kirk followed the
soft-footed servant down the hall, up the stairs and into the presence
of Edyth Vale.

The girl received him smilingly.

"I'm getting to be a regular occurrence," said he, as he sat down.

"But a welcome one, nevertheless," she returned. "Indeed, if it were
not for certain other depressing circumstances, I'd find your visits
dreadfully exciting."

"I suppose Osborne is one of the circumstances referred to. I just met
him in the hall, and he seemed to be quite in a state of mind. What
have you been saying to him?--or rather," smiling, "what have you
_not_ been saying to him?"

"He came on what he calls 'police business,'" smiled Miss Vale. "I
considered it quite an alarming expression, and said so; but that made
no impression on him, for he proceeded with a string of wonderfully
conceived questions that must have covered my life from birth to the
present time."

"The police have about the same method for each case--a sort of
bullying insistence that breaks down denial by sheer weight."

"I have read of it, frequently, in complaining articles in both
magazines and newspapers. I think I have even seen it very earnestly
compared to the Inquisition." The smile was still upon the girl's lip,
but as she continued, her voice shook a little. "However, I never
thought to go through even a part of it myself."

"What the police _say_ may be embarrassing and mortifying," said
Ashton-Kirk gravely, "but it is nothing at all, compared with what
they might _do_."

Miss Vale drew in her breath in a little gasp of terror; but she made
an effort to conceal it with a laugh.

"I know what you mean," she said, lightly. "You think that they might
go so far as to take me into custody as an accessory to the crime, or
even as the actual criminal."

"Mr. Osborne told me that such was their intention, if you do not
explain clearly your connection with the case. I don't think that the
Department is at all anxious to draw you into the matter; but some of
the newspapers, as you no doubt have noted, have grown very insistent.
They say that a poor musician is jailed instantly, while the woman of
fashion, who is perhaps equally guilty, is allowed to go free. Such
ways of putting things have a great effect upon public opinion; the
politicians who conduct the municipal departments know this, and
always move to protect themselves, no matter in what direction the
movement takes them."

"Then," said Miss Vale, "you really think they will do as Mr. Osborne
said?"

"I have no doubt of it--if the matter is not cleared up before the
time arrives for them to act."

The girl arose and went to a window as though to look out; the
investigator saw her hand pressed to her heart, and noted the
trembling that had seized her. Yet, when she faced him once more, a
moment or two later, she made a brave attempt to smile as before.

"I think this is too bad of you," she said. "Your point of view is
almost as pessimistic as the detectives', or the newspapers'. I had
expected comfort and encouragement."

"And I came to give it--if you'll allow me," said Ashton-Kirk,
quietly.

She looked at him for a moment, then both hands went out in a mock
despairing gesture, and she laughed. But the laugh was unmistakably
forced, and a keen ear for such things would have detected a pathetic
little catch in it.

"Now," she said, "you are becoming mysterious. However, I suppose I
must not complain, for it is entirely in character with your
profession, isn't it?"

He disregarded both the observation and the tone; there was a slight
pucker between his keen eyes that spoke of impatience and resentment.

"Mr. Osborne has been very plain with you, Miss Vale," said he, "you
have perhaps become accustomed to it in a measure. So I shall not
hesitate to follow in his footsteps. I am going to make you face some
very plain facts."

"Mercy!" She laughed. "Mercy, Mr. Ashton-Kirk. I had not thought that
you could be so deliberately cruel!"

"In the first place, Miss Vale," he began, paying not the slightest
attention to her laughter or the mocking light in her eyes, "if you
had continued as you began, this matter would have been cleared up
before this, the newspapers would never have printed your name in
connection with it, and you would have been spared the mortification
of a detective at your doorstep."

"Is there one--outside?"

"There are several. If you venture out you will be followed wherever
you go."

The girl sank into a chair in a limp, rumpled sort of way; somehow the
idea of surveillance affected her more than anything else. Her face
became ashen; her hands shook distressfully as she clasped them
tightly together.

"When you allowed the fears and desires of Allan Morris to cloud your
reason, you made a mistake. You admitted as much when you came to me
after the murder; but instantly, upon seeing him again, you were as
before. He was struck with fear, and he communicated his terror to
you; as before you dreaded to trust anyone--even myself."

"I think you are inclined to take a great deal for granted," said Miss
Vale. But in spite of the words, her eyes were wide with alarm.

"He told you of the deaf-mute, Locke," said Ashton-Kirk; "and also
other things, which seem to have induced you to visit Locke at the
Institute near Cordova on the night before last."

Miss Vale elevated her brows in surprise; her attitude was one of
wonderment.

"I don't think I understand."

"And you did not seem to understand yesterday when I called upon you.
You fancied that I was not sure that I had seen you, and had come
expecting you to admit the visit to Locke. And as I went away, you
also fancied that you had thrown me off the scent." He smiled at the
recollection, in spite of his evident resentment of her position. "But
the fact of the matter was that I knew your fiancé had been the cause
of your visit to the mute. You had seen Morris, you knew where he was,
and I thought it would be a useful thing for me to be also acquainted
with his whereabouts."

"But," protested Miss Vale in a faint voice, but still acting her
chosen role to the best of her gifts, "if I had known and desired to
conceal his whereabouts, surely you did not expect me to tell you of
it."

"Not directly. But, if you remember, I dropped a hint that his
hiding-place was about to be discovered. This was true; you were about
to disclose it. I had only to wait and follow as you rushed off to
warn him."

She leaned back in her chair and regarded him strangely, but he
proceeded with evenness:

"Your work upon the road was very clever; I congratulate you upon it.
But it was scarcely sufficiently inspired to deceive an old hand."

Here he waited, apparently expecting her to speak. But as she did not
take advantage of the pause, he went on:

"I called this morning to acquaint you with these things and to advise
you on your future course. I must admit that I rather admire your
steadfastness in following out what Allan Morris has desired of you;
however, it is a great mistake for a strong nature to submit to the
clamorings of a weaker one."

She sat suddenly erect; protest was in her eyes, and one hand went up
in denial. But, though her lips opened as though she were about to
speak, no words came; once more she sank back in the chair with the
air of one compelled to admit a bitter truth.

"I am not so sure as to how deep Morris is in this murder," continued
the investigator, "but I have some ideas on the subject. On the other
hand I am quite sure that you are promised to aid him, and that you
feel duty bound to do so to the end, according to his not very wise
instructions."

He arose and stood looking down at her kindly.

"My advice to you," he went on--"and I speak with a fair knowledge of
the facts--is that you do nothing more. Be content with what you have
attempted; allow me to act for you in anything further which you have
in mind. Or, if you cannot give me your confidence, let me carry the
thing on in my own way, as you proposed at the first."

There was a pause of some length; then the girl spoke.

"I am just a trifle bewildered at all this," she said; "and I really
cannot say, Mr. Ashton-Kirk, that I altogether follow you."

He smiled, but the disapproving wrinkle still showed between his eyes.

"I see that you are still determined to hold to your attitude," he
said. "I am sorry, of course, but then one is called upon at times to
do as one thinks best, and I suppose that is what you are doing." He
turned toward the door, and she arose and touched the bell. "Good-by."

"Good-by," she returned.

He stood for a moment in the doorway regarding her with mingled
annoyance and admiration. As he caught the steps of the approaching
servant in the hall, he said:

"Possibly I can save you some little trouble. You need not call at the
Rangnow Apartments. Up to last night, Allan Morris had not notified
Mr. Tobin as to his new hiding-place. However, if you feel that you
_must_ see him, you can call at my place at this hour on the day after
to-morrow. I am not sure, of course, but it occurs to me that he will
be there."



CHAPTER XXIII

THE SECRET OF THE PORTRAIT


The morning papers had all announced the fact that the detail of
police would that day be withdrawn from the scene of the murder in
Christie Place. With them it had been a mere matter-of-fact news item,
but with the evening sheets it was different. They had had time to
digest the matter, and their view of the order was one of surprise.
Two or three allowed this feeling to expand itself into headlines of
some size; a few also commented on the situation editorially.

Superintendent Weagle had been interviewed. He stated that he could
not be expected to maintain a detail at 478 indefinitely; even with
the police withdrawn from within, so he maintained, the place would be
as effectually guarded as were other buildings. What more was
required?

Ashton-Kirk read all this with some satisfaction in the late
afternoon.

"They have given the thing even more publicity than I had hoped for,"
he said, as he helped Pendleton in the details of a rough-looking
costume which that worthy was donning. "It must be a bad day for
news, and they have plenty of space. At any rate, anyone who is at all
interested in the fact, is now aware that after six o'clock this
evening, 478 Christie Place will be unguarded, except for the regular
patrolman. Of course," with a glance at Pendleton and another in a
mirror at himself, "if a brace of rough-looking characters are hidden
away within, there will only be a few who know it."

He opened a drawer and took out two black shining objects; the short
barrels and blocky shapes told Pendleton that they were automatic
revolvers.

"They will throw ten slugs as thick as your little finger while you're
winking your eye as many times," said Ashton-Kirk.

They each slipped one of the squat, formidable weapons into a hip
pocket; then they made their way out at the rear of the house. With
the collars of their sack coats turned up and their long visored cloth
caps pulled down, they hurried along among the dull-eyed throngs that
bartered and quarreled and sought their own advantage.

And when, in the uncertain dusk, a wagon drew up at 478 and two
sack-coated, cloth-capped men began carrying parcels up the stairs, is
it any wonder that Berg, watching from the window of his delicatessen
store, said to his clerk:

"Dot furrier that rents der rooms by der third floor is putting some
more things in storage over the summer, yet."

And when the wagon finally drove away, neglectfully leaving the two
men behind, it is not surprising that the fancy grocer did not notice
it. And, then, when the two policemen who had been on duty during the
afternoon, came out, carelessly left the door unlocked, looked up to
make sure that they had left none of the windows open, and then strode
away with a satisfied air that follows a duty well done, who so keenly
watched as to suspect?

The shadows on the second floor lengthened and grew grayer; they
thickened in the corners; pieces of furniture grew vague and monstrous
as the darkness began to cling to them and their outlines became lost;
suits of armor loomed menacingly out of the gloom, the last rays of
light striking palely upon helm or gorget; hideous gods of wood and
stone smiled evilly at the two watchers.

"There was food in the bundles which we carried up, then," commented
Pendleton, as he lay back on the old claw-footed sofa.

"Yes," answered his friend. "The person or persons whom we expect will
hardly come to-night, though we, of course, don't know; if they fail
to appear we shall be forced to stick close to these rooms during the
whole of to-morrow and also to-morrow night. Perhaps it will even be
longer."

"In that case," said Pendleton, a little disconsolately, "the eatables
will be very welcome. But I hope we won't have to stay long enough to
finish them."

"Perhaps," said Ashton-Kirk, "I've let you in for too hard a task in
this, Pen?"

The other rose up instantly.

"You couldn't give me too much to do in this matter," declared he,
earnestly. "I would do it alone if you were not here, and I had brains
enough, Kirk. The thing must _end_. If it goes on much longer and I
keep seeing those infernal insinuations in the papers, I'll go
completely off my chump."

There was a little silence; then Ashton-Kirk said:

"I never knew that you were--ah--this way, old chap, until the other
day. How long has it been going on?"

"Why, for years, I think," answered Pendleton. "Being very distantly
related, Edyth and I saw quite a deal of each other when she was a
slip of a girl. And she was a stunner, Kirk, even then. Kid-like, I
fancied I'd get it all over with when the proper time came; but
somehow I never got around to it. She turned out to be a dickens of a
strong character, you see; and she expected so much of life that I
got the notion that perhaps I wasn't just the right sort of fellow to
realize her ideals.

"You know, old boy, there are times when a man thinks quite a bit of
himself. This is more especially so before he's twenty-five. But then
again there are times when he sees his bad points only, and then of
all the unutterable dolts in the universe, he gets the notion that he
is the worst. When we were at college and I held down that third base
position and hit 320 in the first season, I was chesty enough. I
suppose you remember it. And when I came into my money and began to
make collections of motor cars, yachts and such things, I thought I
had taken life by the ears and was making it say 'uncle.'

"Well, we're only grown-up boys, after all. I recall that I thought
I'd dazzle Edyth with my magnificence, just as Tom Sawyer did the
little girl with the two long braids of yellow hair--do you remember?
And it was after I discovered that she was not to be dazzled that I
sort of gave up. I wasn't anybody--I never would be anybody; and Edyth
would be the sort of woman who would expect her husband to take the
front at a jump. And no sensible person could imagine me at the front
of anything, unless it was a procession on its way to the bow-wows."

"I think," said Ashton-Kirk, "that you began to prostrate yourself
before your idol; and when a man takes to that, he always gets to
thinking meanly of himself. The attitude has much to do with the state
of mind, I imagine. Miss Vale is a courageous, capable girl; but you
can never tell what sort of a man a woman will select for a husband.
Girls have fancies upon the subject, and give voice to them sometimes;
but it is the man they choose and not the one they picture to whom you
must give your attention."

"I suppose that is true enough," said Pendleton.

"Miss Vale's evident strength awed you," went on the other. "And then
your timidity began to magnify her qualities. No woman is what she
seems to be to the man who loves her. Miss Vale is not so difficult to
please as you thought. I fancy that her engagement to young Morris
proves that."

"There you have it," cried Pendleton. "That's it, Kirk! I've stood
aside, considering myself unworthy, and allowed a fellow to slip by me
who is as colorless as water. Allan Morris is no more fit to be her
husband than--" at loss for a simile he halted for a moment, and then
burst out: "Oh, he's impossible!"

"So far as we have tested him, certainly," agreed Ashton-Kirk, "he has
shown no great strength of character."

"He's acted like a frightened child all through this affair. He's
mixed up in it, and through his weakness allowed Edyth to also
entangle herself. Again and again he's run to her, or called to her,
to tell her of some fresh complication that he'd gotten his frightened
self into; and to protect him, she has dared and done what would have
frightened an ordinary woman into fits."

"I think," observed Ashton-Kirk, "that she has realized his position,
to some extent, at least. The fact that he is weak has, I think,
dawned upon her already; she may also see his evident selfishness
before long. If she does--why, might there not still be some hope for
you, Pen?"

Pendleton shook his head in the gloom.

"I'm afraid not," said he, hopelessly. "Somehow a weak man makes a
great appeal to the woman who has grown to care for him. He arouses
her mother instinct. And Edyth is so strong that her pity--"

"May induce her to do her utmost to see him through this trouble,"
interrupted Ashton-Kirk. "But it may not carry her much further. When
once the thing is over, a reaction may set in. Who knows?"

But Pendleton refused to be comforted. For a long time they talked of
Edyth Vale, Morris, and the killing of Hume. Finally Pendleton said:

"I suppose we can't smoke here to-night, can we?"

"No; the lights might be seen; and we can't tell what sharp eyes are
watching the place."

Pendleton sighed drearily.

There were many clocks in the rooms; the policemen must have amused
themselves by winding and setting them; for at the end of each hour
they began to strike, singly and in pairs. The brisk strokes of the
nervous little modern clock mingled with the solemn sonorous beat of
an old New England timepiece whose wooden works creaked and labored
complainingly. Elaborate Swiss chimes pealed from others; through the
darkness, a persistent cuckoo could be heard throwing open a small
shutter and stridently announcing his version of the time.

It was some time after midnight that Pendleton began to yawn. Then
Ashton-Kirk said:

"Open some of those blankets, Pen, and lie down. There is no need of
two of us watching to-night; I scarcely expect anything to happen."

Pendleton did not expect anything, either, but he said:

"All right, I will, if you'll wake me in a few hours and let me take a
turn at it."

Ashton-Kirk agreed. Pendleton stretched himself upon the sofa, and
soon his deep breathing told that he was asleep. As the night drew on,
the solitary watcher grew chilled in the unheated rooms and huddled
himself into another blanket; but he sat near the door leading to the
hall, which was slightly ajar; and though his eyes closed sometimes in
weariness, he never lost a sound in the street or a tick of one of the
clocks. Through the entire night he watched and waited almost without
moving; it was not until the dawn of a gray, dirty day began to
somewhat lighten the room that he aroused Pendleton. The latter
expostulated sleepily when he noted the time; but with scarcely a word
the investigator took his place upon the sofa and dropped off to
sleep.

About nine o'clock he awoke and found his friend arranging their
breakfast upon a small table.

"I say, Kirk," said Pendleton, admiringly, "you did this thing rather
thoroughly. There's quite a tasty little snack here; and the thermos
bottles have kept the coffee steaming."

At the water tap in the rear the investigator bathed his hands and
face; then he sat down with his friend and did complete justice to the
breakfast. Afterwards, with their cigars going nicely and a feeling of
comfort stealing over them in spite of the rather uncomfortable night,
Pendleton said:

"You promised the other night to tell me what made you think that the
murderers had failed to secure the thing they sought. The words that
the promise was couched in made me think that you had also something
to show me, and as we could not light up last night, I've waited
patiently until to-day. Now you must ease my curiosity. Come, tell me
a few things."

Ashton-Kirk took his cigar from his mouth.

"I told you," said he, "that the reports of Burgess and Fuller,
together with the conversation we had with Tobin, had enlightened me
upon these points." As he enumerated them, he checked them off with
his fingers:

"_Why the murder was done._

"_The identity of the confederate of Locke._

"_That the man would return to the scene of the crime._"

"Yes," said Pendleton, "those, I think, were the points."

"The first two," went on the investigator, "I will allow to stand for
a while. But I promised to illustrate for you, and I think I can do
so."

Ashton-Kirk here arose and passed through the storeroom and kitchen
into the bedroom.

"The writing upon the step in the hall," said he, facing his friend,
"directed Locke's confederate to look for something behind Wayne's
portrait. As all the pictures of Wayne in the place were broken or
otherwise showed traces of rough handling, it seemed that the thing
desired must have been found. However, I was not sure about that, as
I have told you.

"If you will recall Tobin's remarks of the other night, you will note
that the only thing he could admire in the man's character was his
fighting spirit. Then it developed that Hume made a boast of having
come by this naturally enough. He claimed descent from one of
Washington's officers. Tobin could not recall the officer's name; but
he related an anecdote of him that was unmistakable. The officer was
General Wayne!"

"By George!" cried Pendleton.

"The collection of Wayne portraits was in this way explained. It was
also suggested to me that Hume might be an assumed name--that the
numismatist might have once been known as Wayne, and that Locke had
known him by that name. Of course, it's quite likely that he was not
really a descendant of Wayne. But he probably called himself Wayne
nevertheless.

"I see," said Pendleton, his hands waving with excitement. "And in the
stress of the moment, Locke wrote the name 'Wayne' upon the step in
candle grease, forgetting that his confederate only knew their
proposed victim as Hume." His eyes rested upon the walls and upon the
sneering, unpleasant portrait of the murdered man. "He meant that the
thing he desired was _there_," indicating the portrait with an
exultant sweep of the arm. "And by George, it must be there still."

He sprang forward with the evident intention of wrenching the picture
from the wall; but Ashton-Kirk restrained him.

"Don't," said he. "We'll leave that for our expected visitor."

"Surely," protested the excited Pendleton, "you don't propose to leave
the thing there! Think of the risk! You might lose it in the end; for,
you know, one never foresees what is to turn up."

"A fisherman must always risk losing his lure," answered the
investigator composedly.

They spent the long hours of the day in smoking and talking; and at
intervals they ate the sandwiches and other things which had been
smuggled in in the guise of packages of furs. And finally the shadows
gathered and thickened once again in Christie Place.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE SECOND NIGHT


The second night of the vigil in Hume's rooms wore on. Unlike the
preceding one, the two young men were almost entirely silent; when
they did speak, it was in tones so low as to be scarcely above a
whisper.

There was a taut, indefinable something in the air that kept the
desire for sleep from both; in the brooding darkness they were alert,
watchful, expectant. The tobacco-loving Pendleton afterwards recalled
with surprise that not once did he think of the weed. But when the
queer, mysterious night sounds began to come--those creakings of loose
planks, strainings of unseen timbers and untraceable snappings in the
walls, that are common in old houses--he frequently thought of the
automatic revolver; and the chill of the polished metal always felt
comforting enough.

The clocks announced the ends of the hours according to their
temperaments; coming in the midst of the total silence, the din seemed
to Pendleton to be terrific; he pictured appalled criminals on their
way through the dark halls, crouching in fear at the sounds. Eleven
o'clock struck, and then twelve with its continued uproar. It seemed a
long time before one and then two sounded. Pendleton's limbs were
beginning to feel loggy and numb because of the chill and the
continued inaction. He had ventured to stir them a little, and was
wrapping the heavy blanket more closely about himself, when he felt
Ashton-Kirk's hand upon his shoulder.

"Hush-h-h!" said the investigator in a whisper.

Instantly Pendleton was motionless; he listened intently, but the
silence of the place seemed complete.

"What is it?" he finally ventured to breathe.

The hand upon his shoulder tightened warningly; but there came no
other reply. Again Pendleton listened. The door of the showroom stood
open; Ashton-Kirk had placed it so in order that they might catch any
sound that came from the hall. All the other doors leading into the
hall from Hume's apartments were securely locked; anyone who ventured
into the suite must first pass through the showroom where the two
waited and watched.

After a space Pendleton's attention was rewarded; a faint, far-off
rustling came to him; somehow it gave him the impression of
hesitation, non-assurance, timidity; he was speculating upon the
queerness of this impression when there came a faint, momentary glow
from the hall--mysterious, phosphorescent, unreal; and then it
vanished. Both young men were huddled upon the sofa, which was placed
facing the open door. A huge Spanish screen was drawn before them; but
the black leather was cracked in places; and through these they had a
clear view of the hall.

A moment later the glow appeared once more; but this time it was
brighter.

"Someone is on the stairs," reasoned Pendleton, his hand going to his
revolver. "It looks as though he were lighting matches to show the
way."

Between the sputters of light were spaces of darkness; these were;
filled in by the faint guarded rustling. But as the light upon each
appearance grew brighter, so did the sound become more distinct; and
at length a light resonance, unmistakably a footstep, came from the
hall.

Then steadily, softly the sound came on through the darkness; nearer
and nearer it drew until at length it became unmistakable. _The
rustling was that of a woman's skirts!_ Then, so it seemed, the
darkness of the doorway grew denser; the soft, quick breathing of the
newcomer became audible; her hands were heard moving over the door
frame as she blindly searched for the door.

Then, apparently, she learned that the door was open; a deeper breath
showed the relief she felt at this; now she carefully entered the
room.

Even before Pendleton's brain realized who it must be, he began to
feel a tightening at his heart; and now as he pictured her advancing
with outstretched, groping hands into the darkened room--a room
horrible with crime and secret dread--it was all that he could do to
hold himself in check. He had almost an overmastering desire to spring
up, to cry out to her, to tell her not to fear.

He was still struggling with this feeling when he became aware that
she had paused; and, also, that Ashton-Kirk was once more gripping his
shoulder with a warning hand. Becoming instantly alert, his senses
perceived a stoppage of everything; the clocks seemed to tick more
faintly, he could no longer hear the woman breathe. There was an
instant that roared with silence; then came the soft, steady padding
of feet descending the stair.

Then he heard the girl release her breath in a great, trembling
exhalation; the rustle of skirts came quick and sharp in the darkness;
he heard the door through which she had entered the room squeak upon
its hinges and then close with a click that proclaimed it fast.

After this there was a long pause. Pendleton could hear the faint
breathing of the girl, and thought it rather odd that she did not
catch the sound of his own. He pictured her leaning against the
locked door, her heart throbbing with fear as she listened to the
descending footsteps; stronger and stronger grew his desire to leap up
and assure her that friends were at hand. But at the same time the
warning grip of his companion, who seemed to feel what was in his
mind, also grew stronger and stronger.

With the closing of the door, the sounds from the stairs had ceased to
reach them. There was a long pause; Pendleton, during this, grew
sensible of a long, wavering mental antenna which he projected into
the shadows; and its delicate sensitiveness told him of the silent
approach of a fearful thing. A long, long time, it seemed to him, but
in reality it was remarkably brief.

Then the steps were heard, shuffling and secret, in the hall and very
near at hand. A soft, uncertain touch fell upon the smooth glass of
the door; down its length the inquiring fingers traveled; then the
handle was tried, held a moment and quietly released.

The steps then receded lightly down the hall.

For some moments all was quiet, then there came the scratch of a match
from the hall, and its accompanying flare, seen through the glass of
the door. A little space more, and a rending sound came to their ears,
followed by the falling of some metallic objects upon the floor.
Pendleton required no explanation of these sounds; it was plain that
the second intruder had come prepared and had forced one of the doors.

All the communicating doors of the suite had been left open; through
them came the pushing about of furniture and the drawing down of
blinds; then another match flared, followed by a stronger and steadier
light, which showed that the second visitor had lighted the gas. The
light filtered palely through the various rooms into the one in which
the two men and the woman were hidden; by means of this the former
could make the latter out in a dim, uncertain sort of way. She seemed
unusually tall as she moved noiselessly across the floor and peered
cautiously through the communicating doorways.

[Illustration: WHAT SHE SAW MUST HAVE STARTLED HER]

What she saw must have startled her, for she drew quickly back, her
hand pressed to her heart. Then softly she retraced her steps; they
heard the door-catch slip quietly back and were conscious that the
door was swung open; the woman then crept inch by inch, so it seemed,
down the hall.

It was the bedroom door that had been forced; the two watchers noted
the bar of light that slanted from it across the passage. Nearer and
nearer the woman approached to it. Pendleton had at first thought that
she was making for the stairs; but this died away as she passed them,
unheeding. The automatic revolver was in his hand instantly; leaning
toward his friend, he breathed in his ear.

"She's going in there."

The blanket slipped from him as he arose to his feet; his legs were
still cramped and stiffened; he felt clumsy and unsure. Ashton-Kirk
evidently agreed that the time had come for action, for he whispered
in reply:

"Through the rooms! I will take the hall!"

Pendleton stepped from behind the screen like a shadow. Through the
door leading to the storeroom he had an uninterrupted view of a part
of the bedroom; and across the floor he saw thrown the shadow of a
man. Noiselessly he tip-toed into the kitchen, the revolver held
ready; just outside the bedroom he paused, and drawing to one side,
waited. Then he noted the shadow move slightly, and heard a deep
rumbling voice say in French:

"You were a devil! Even now as I look at you, you laugh and jibe!" The
shadow upon the floor here swung its arms threateningly. "But laugh
away. I have won, and it is my turn to laugh!"

Here the shadow slid along and up the wall; peering around the edge of
the door, Pendleton saw a man with massive, stooped shoulders and a
great square head, covered with thick, iron-gray hair; and instantly
he recognized him as the man whom they had seen that night in the
doorway of Locke's workshop. The stranger was standing just under the
portrait of Hume; he gazed up at it, and his big shoulders shook with
laughter.

"What a mistake to make," he said, still in French. "How was I to know
that the old devil once called himself Wayne!"

He reached up and took the picture from its hook; with thick, powerful
fingers he tore the backing away, and a flat, compact bundle of papers
was disclosed. The picture was thrown upon the bed, and the man stood
staring at the papers, a wide smile upon his face.

"So this is the secret, eh? Well, Locke will pay well for it, and it
will be worth all the risks I've taken."

He was fumbling with a coat pocket as though to stow them away, when
there came a swift, light rush, the packet was torn from his hands,
and Edyth Vale was darting toward the hall door and the stairway
beyond.

But despite his bulk, the man with the stooped shoulders proved
himself singularly swift. In two leaps he had overtaken her; dragging
her back to the center of the room, he snatched the packet from her in
turn. Regarding her with calm, pitiless eyes, he said in English:

"I am sorry, mees, that you have come, eh? Eet makes eet mooch harder
for me. And I am of the kind that would rather be off quietly, is it
not? and say no words to no one."

Edyth Vale, pale of face, but with steady eye, returned his look.

"What are you going to do?" she asked.

"I am sorry to do anything," spoke the stranger. "I do not know you,
and you will onderstan', will you not, that I can't leave you
behind--to talk?"

As he spoke a flashing something appeared from the girl's pocket; he
lifted one huge paw to beat her down; but a clenched hand, protected
by a corded buckskin glove, thudded against his jaw; his knees
weakened, and he sprawled upon the floor.

"Jimmie!" gasped Edyth Vale. "Jimmie Pendleton!"

"Oh, Edyth--Edyth!" was all the man could say. He slipped his arm
around her, for she was tottering; and as he helped her to a chair,
Ashton-Kirk quietly entered at the hall door.

"Miss Vale," said he, "good-evening."

Without waiting to note if she even gave him a look, he bent over the
fallen man and snapped a pair of handcuffs upon his wrists.

"A very pretty blow, Pen," said he, admiringly. "Beautifully timed,
and your judgment of distance was excellent."

He slipped the fallen papers into his pocket and continued: "Keep an
eye on him, for a moment."

Then he stepped swiftly through the hall; a moment later they heard
him throw up one of the windows overlooking the street, and a whistle
shrilled through the night.

"Paulson is on duty," said the investigator, returning. "He'll be here
in a jiffy."

Sure enough, they soon heard heavy steps upon the stairs; and then
Paulson and a fellow patrolman appeared in the doorway. Astonished,
the policeman gazed at Ashton-Kirk, who nodded to them smilingly, then
they turned their gaze upon Pendleton, who was speaking soothing words
to the white-faced girl, who, now that the danger was over, clung to
him tremblingly. But when their eyes centered upon the manacled
stranger who was then dazedly struggling to a sitting position,
Paulson asked:

"Who is this?"

"This," answered Ashton-Kirk, "is M. Sagon, a fellow lodger of Antonio
Spatola, formerly a very close friend of the late Mr. Hume, and once a
resident of Bayonne, in France."



CHAPTER XXV

APPROACHING THE FINISH


Pendleton spent the night at Ashton-Kirk's; and after breakfast he
wandered into the library, a newspaper in his hand and an inquiring
look on his face.

The investigator was seated in his usual big chair, buried to the
knees in newspapers, and making vigorous inroads upon the Greek
tobacco. Fuller was just leaving the room as Pendleton entered, and
nodding toward the disappearing form, Ashton-Kirk said:

"There is some rather interesting news. I have had Locke, as you
perhaps know, under observation for some time. Last night he took the
train at Cordova, and Burgess followed him. When he reached the city,
he went directly to Christie Place and was seen lurking about in the
shadows."

"Humph," said Pendleton, "what time was this?"

"Perhaps about eleven o'clock. Burgess, so Fuller tells me, never lost
sight of him. He acted in a queerly hesitating sort of way; finally,
however, he seemed to form a resolution and went to the door of the
Marx house. He was about to pull the bell, then paused and tried the
door instead. It was evidently not locked. He seemed both surprised
and pleased at this; he lost no time, however, but went in at once."

Pendleton sat down.

"What do you suppose all this meant?" he asked.

"Well, we can't be too sure," replied Ashton Kirk, "but I think it
probable that he, also, saw the news of the withdrawal of the police
in the papers. Perhaps he came to Christie Place with the intention of
informing Sagon of the opportunity that then presented itself. Or it
might be that he had hopes of somehow over-reaching his companion in
crime."

"His lurking about would seem to point rather in that direction," said
Pendleton.

"And his preferring to enter the lodging house without ringing also
indicates some such idea. As I see it, he hoped to gain the roof
unobserved. He knew the house and the habits of the people quite well.
No doubt he had a plan, and a good one. He's a thinker, is Mr. Locke."

"If he was noticed, he could indicate that he had called to see M.
Sagon."

"Exactly. But I very much doubt his gaining the roof. Perhaps, after
all, he was detected; for a few minutes later Burgess saw him leave
the house."

"Humph!" said Pendleton. Then after some few moments spent in the
examination of his paper he threw it down. "It's full of all sorts of
allusions to monoplanes and such like," grumbled he. "As I had to take
Edyth home last night, and you went bravely away with the police and
Sagon, I find myself, as usual, trailing some distance in the rear."

Ashton-Kirk regarded the litter of newspapers ruefully:

"I gave them the heads of the case very plainly," said he, "but as it
was almost the hour for going to press, I suppose they did not get the
finer points of my meaning. Some of them have made a sad mess of it.
However, the evening papers will have a coherent account, I suppose."

"If you think I am going to wait until the evening papers are issued
to get to the bottom of this thing, you're much mistaken," declared
Pendleton. "I demand a full and detailed explanation immediately."

Here a tap came upon the door; Stumph entered and handed Ashton-Kirk a
card.

"Let him come up," said the latter; and, as the man went out, he
continued to Pendleton. "We will both probably be much enlightened
now. It is Allan Morris."

"Just as you said," spoke Pendleton. "It's really almost like second
sight."

The investigator laughed.

"A small feat of reasoning, nothing more," said he. "However, an
enthusiast might find some of the elements of second sight in our
conversation in this room about a week ago."

Pendleton looked at him questioningly.

"It was on the morning that you called to announce the coming of Miss
Vale. We were speaking of how it sometimes happened that very innocent
things led to most weighty results; and I remarked, if you will
remember, that your visit might lead to my connection with a murder
that would dwarf some of those which we had spoken of."

"So you did," agreed Pendleton. "That _is_ rather remarkable, Kirk."

"And further," smiled the investigator, "I recall that I expressed
great admiration for Marryat's conception of a homicide in the matter
of Smallbones and the hag. The weapon used by Smallbones, it turns
out, was identical in character to the one used by Sagon."

"A bayonet," cried Pendleton. "By George! So it was."

Just then Stumph announced Allan Morris.

The latter was pale and haggard; his clothes were neglected, and there
were some days' beard upon his chin. He seemed astonished at sight of
Pendleton; however, he only nodded. Then he said inquiringly to the
investigator:

"You are Mr. Ashton-Kirk?"

"I am. Will you sit down, Mr. Morris?"

Morris sat down dejectedly.

"Tobin advised me to come see you," he said. "I refused at first; but
in view of what the newspapers contain this morning, I reconsidered
it."

Ashton-Kirk nodded.

"If you had, come to me in the first place," said he, "you'd probably
not have fallen into this mess, and you'd have saved yourself a great
deal of suffering." He regarded the young man for a moment, and then
went on. "Miss Vale, I suppose, has told you of her dealings with me."

"She has," said Morris. "She's been very candid with me in everything.
If I had been the same with her," bitterly, "I should have acted more
like a natural human being. You see, we were to be married; she was
very rich, while I had comparatively nothing. But this in itself
would not have been sufficient to have prevented our wedding for so
long. The fact was that I had gotten myself into trouble through
speculation; I had a fear that my position might even be considered
criminal from some points of view. And I allowed myself to get nervous
over it.

"However, there was a way by which it was possible for me to
extricate myself. To explain this I'll have to go back some years."

"Take your own time," said Ashton-Kirk.

"Well, my father had worked for years perfecting the plans of a
heavier-than-air flying machine," Morris resumed. "At the time of his
death he told me that it was all complete but the constructing, and
that I had millions within my reach. But Hume had the plans--my father
had borrowed money of him--a considerable sum--and had given him the
plans as security.

"Hume had always derided the idea of the monoplane. Tobin, who knew
them both, tells me that he was forever mocking my father upon the
subject. And when the time came when the plans could be redeemed, Hume
denied having them. There was no receipt, nothing to show that the
transaction had ever occurred. The man declared that the whole thing
was a drunken dream. He had never seen any plans; he had never paid
out any money; he knew nothing about the matter. Time and again the
man reiterated this; and each time, so I've heard, he would go
off into gales of laughter. I have no doubt but that the entire
performance on his part was to afford himself these opportunities; he
seemed to love such things."

"Was it not possible for your father to duplicate the plans?"

"At an earlier time it would have meant but a few weeks' application
at most. But at this period the thing was impossible. The last long
debauch seemed to have sapped his intellect; it also was the direct
cause of his death."

"I see," said Ashton-Kirk.

"I took the matter up with Hume at once," went on the young man. "But
I had no more success than my father. In the man's eyes, I had but
replaced my father; I was another patient subject for his mockery,
derision and abuse.

"There were some scattered drawings of the monoplane in father's
office; I began a study of these, thinking to chance upon the
principal idea. But I was unsuccessful.

"All this, you understand, was before I had met Miss Vale, and before
I was tangled up in the trouble I have just mentioned.

"The fear began to grow on me that Hume meant to use the plans to his
own advantage; I knew that he had long been familiar with Locke, who
was reputed to be a mechanical genius, and between them, I fancied
they'd take action. I began a watch upon the reports of the Patent
Office, thinking that that would finally give me something tangible to
use against them. However, I never gave up my visits to Hume, or my
efforts to make him admit possession of my father's property.

"It was during one of these visits that I first met Spatola; and I
was much struck by the performance of his cockatoos. My father had
always held to the idea that the problem of flight would be finally
solved by a study of the birds; this gave me an idea, and I took to
visiting Spatola in his lodgings in Christie Place. He'd have the
cockatoos fly slowly round and round the big attic, and I'd watch them
and make notes.

"It was about this time that I met Miss Vale and asked her to be my
wife; a very little later, in an effort to raise money, I got into the
financial trouble which I have referred to. After a little the
question of a time for our marriage came up; I was filled with fear
and put it off; this occurred several times, and I was at my wits'
end. I could not marry with that thing hanging over me. Suppose it
should turn out as I feared; imagine the shock to a high spirited girl
to discover that she had married a defaulter.

"It was then that I turned to the matter of the plans as my only hope;
with a perfected idea I could readily secure a large sum of money in
advance. So I redoubled my efforts to have a settlement with Hume; but
he only derided me as usual. Continued visits to Spatola to study the
flight of the birds, showed me that the Italian was a fine fellow,
well educated and with much feeling and appreciation. We became fast
friends and so, little by little, I told him my story."

"About the invention?" asked Ashton-Kirk.

"Yes."

The investigator turned to Pendleton.

"I think," said he, "that I now understand why Spatola grew so
uncommunicative and suspicious toward the end of our interview at City
Hall. We both thought it was because I spoke of shorthand. But it was
perhaps because I mentioned an _invention_ in the way of writing
music. He feared that I was trying to incriminate Mr. Morris in some
way."

Pendleton nodded.

"That," said he, "I think explains it."

"As you no doubt know," went on Morris, after the investigator had
once more given him his attention, "Spatola liked Hume none too well.
And he had reason for his hatred, poor fellow. Well, he became
interested in what I told him; and when he learned that I believed my
father's papers were in all probability somewhere in Hume's
apartments, he suggested that I come to live in Christie Place under
an assumed name. He thought that in time an opportunity would present
itself to cross the roofs some night, enter Hume's place by the
scuttle and so possess myself of the plans.

"On the day preceding the murder, I had made up my mind to have one
more try with Hume; and if that failed I intended to follow Spatola's
advice, break in and take the plans by force. I was so full of this
resolution that I could not contain myself; I hinted at it to Miss
Vale; and the result of that hint, you know."

He leaned his face forward in his hands and seemed to give way to a
bitter train of thought. He was evidently despondent.

"It was also some such hint upon your part that induced her to visit
Locke at Dr. Mercer's place, wasn't it?"

Morris raised his head and nodded.

"Yes," he said. "After the murder I suspected Locke at once of having
something to do with it. I told Miss Vale; she went there without my
knowledge--seeing that I had not the courage to go myself," he added
bitterly--"and demanded the plans."

"And she learned that they were still at Hume's--behind the portrait?"

"Yes. Locke told her--he was overcome with horror at the murder. He
had merely desired to secure the plans,--having somehow learned their
hiding place. He had no intention of killing Hume."

"But why did Sagon do it?--he must have had it in mind when he bought
the bayonet at Bernstine's," said Pendleton, looking at Ashton-Kirk.

"He had. Do you recall how Burgess' report spoke of a league of
smugglers in Europe of which Hume was a leading spirit, and also of
how they had been captured and nearly all but Hume were tried and
convicted?"

"Yes."

"Sagon was one of those convicted. The diamonds which Hume tried to
smuggle into this country were to have been turned into money at the
time of the gang's arrest and the proceeds spent in their defense. But
instead of doing this, Hume left his comrades to their fate and
absconded. When Sagon gained his freedom he began a search for Hume,
meaning to have revenge. This search finally led him to Locke as a
person who had known Hume, and who would be likely to be able to tell
where he could be found."

"Sagon has told you this?" queried Pendleton.

"Yes; he talked freely, after he saw that his case was hopeless; and
he, too, insisted that Locke did not intend to commit murder. Locke,
even at the time of his meeting Sagon, was looking for someone to aid
him in gaining possession of the Morris plans. The work-shop which
we saw beside Locke's house contained a monoplane in course of
construction; but there was something lacking which he felt Morris's
plans could supply; and so he was anxious to get hold of it by hook or
crook.

"Sagon, whose purpose from the first was murder, was not at all averse
to combining it with something else. He took the room at Mrs. Marx's
place, after he had perceived that an entrance could probably be made
at Hume's by way of the scuttle. The well dressed 'business guys' that
the machinist on the first floor spoke about to us, were no doubt
Locke, who frequently called upon Sagon, and Mr. Morris here, whom the
man did not suspect of being a lodger.

"To prove a theory that I had formed, and which I have mentioned in a
vague sort of way," went on Ashton-Kirk, "I asked Sagon why he had
used a bayonet. And it turned out as I had thought. Sagon and Hume had
first met at Bayonne; the greater part of their operations had been
carried on there; the band had been finally rounded up and convicted
there. The bayonet, so legend has it, was first made in Bayonne, and
Sagon conceived that it would be a sort of poetic justice if the
traitor were to die by a weapon so closely connected with the scene of
his treachery."

There was a pause after this, and then young Morris got up slowly and
painfully.

"I don't want it to be thought," said he "that I was directly
responsible for Miss Vale's adventure of last night--or for any of the
others, for the matter of that. If I had known at the time that she
proposed visiting Locke's, or Hume's, either upon the night of the
murder, or last night, I would have prevented it."

Ashton-Kirk nodded kindly; the young man's position evidently
appealed to him. But Pendleton sat rather stiffly in his chair and his
expression never changed.

"I will now come into possession of whatever value there is in my
father's invention," went on Morris, "and added to that, it turns out
that the--the other thing, of which I stood so much in fear, has
turned out favorably. But," in a disheartened sort of way, "I don't
care much, now that my engagement with Miss Vale is broken."

"Broken!" exclaimed Pendleton.

"I saw her this morning," said Morris. "During the past week," he
continued, "it gradually came to me that I was not the sort of man to
make her a fitting husband. I hid like a squirrel while she faced the
dangers that should have been mine. I knew that she realized the
situation as well as I, and I did what I could by making it easy for
her."

He paused at the door.

"If there is anything that I can do, or say in the final settlement of
this case," he added, to Ashton-Kirk, "I will gladly place myself at
your services, sir. Good-bye."



CHAPTER XXVI

THE FINISH


"For the first time," said Pendleton, as the door closed upon Allan
Morris, "I can feel sorry for him. To lose a girl like Edyth Vale is
indeed a calamity. Think of the courage she's shown--of what she was
willing to do. Why, Kirk, she's one in ten thousand."

But Ashton-Kirk only nodded; he had arisen upon the departure of
Morris, and was now drawing on a pair of gloves. The splendid
qualities of Miss Vale apparently had little appeal for him at that
moment.

"Are you ready?" he asked, in a business-like way.

"Ready?" repeated Pendleton, surprised.

"To be sure. We can scarcely call this case complete until something
has been done in the matter of Locke."

"That's so. But, somehow, I had the notion that your men had already
attended to him."

"I always prefer to finish my work in my own way," said the
investigator. "Osborne, as soon as he heard of Locke, through Sagon,
wanted to take up the trail. But I convinced him that he'd better
leave it to me."

Pendleton clapped on his hat.

"I'm with you," said he, "but where do you expect to find him?"

Ashton-Kirk rang for Stumph and ordered the car; then he replied:

"We'll more than likely find him at home. Burgess followed him back to
Cordova, last night."

They went down and climbed into the car, and were soon on the road.

A little distance from the Mercer Institute they came upon a compact
looking man seated upon the top rail of a fence, chewing at a straw.
He wore heavy, much-splashed boots and a sun-scorched suit of clothes.

"Ah," said Ashton-Kirk, "I see Burgess is still on the job."

"Burgess," echoed Pendleton. He looked at the man upon the fence in
surprise; except for the very broad shoulders there was no
resemblance.

However, Burgess grinned amiably through a rather neglected growth of
beard.

"I expected you along about this time," said he, to the investigator.

"Is everything all right?" asked Ashton-Kirk.

"He's still there," answered Burgess, and he nodded toward a house
with a peaked and slated roof which stood some little distance up an
intersecting road. It was the same house through the window of which
Pendleton had seen Edyth Vale some nights previously, but, somehow, it
seemed strange and unfamiliar in daylight.

"I can see three sides of it from here," went on Burgess. "And if he
dropped out of one of the windows on the fourth side I could sight him
before he'd gone fifty yards. You may be sure he's there, all right."

"You've heard of what took place last night, I suppose?"

Burgess tapped a folded newspaper at his breast pocket.

"So has Locke," said he. "Apparently his orders are to furnish him
with the papers as soon as they arrive. A man from the Institute
building brought one to him more than an hour ago."

Just then Ashton-Kirk noted far up the road upon which Locke's house
stood, a very small buggy, drawn by an equally small horse. In the
buggy sat a man whose huge bulk seemed to bulge out beyond its sides.
Arriving before Locke's house, the small horse stopped, as though from
habit. Then with a mighty effort, the fat man rolled out and waddled
to the gate. He pressed and re-pressed the button; but no one
answered.

Ashton-Kirk looked at his assistant.

"Are you quite sure that our man is there," asked he.

Burgess chewed his straw calmly.

"I'm positive of it," said he.

The fat man now entered at the gate and going to the front door, tried
it. But it was evidently fast, and he turned away. Hesitating for a
moment, he laboriously approached the work shop, the roof of which
could be seen through the trees. Apparently the result was the same
here, for in a very few minutes he was seen to waddle back to his
buggy and climb in with much effort. Then the small horse ambled
forward while the fat man leaned back in great distress.

"You recognize him, do you not?" smiled Ashton-Kirk.

"I do, now," returned Pendleton. "It's our friend Dr. Mercer."

When the buggy arrived at the spot where the motor-car stood, the
doctor regarded its occupants with some surprise.

"Good-morning," greeted Ashton-Kirk.

Painfully, gaspingly the other answered this in kind. The round white
face wore an expression of martyrdom.

"I am pleased to see you once more," said he.

"You like driving in the morning, then?" said the investigator.

The principal's flesh quivered with repulsion.

"It is an exercise ordered by my physician," he answered. "I protested
against it strongly, but he was obdurate. And I am compelled to do it
before I have had my breakfast," hollowly. "It is scarcely short of
barbarous."

Here the small horse stretched its neck and shook itself until the
harness rattled. Pendleton looking from master to beast thought they
might exchange places much to the master's ultimate well-being.

There was a short pause; then Dr. Mercer bent his head toward them.

"When you visited the institute a few nights ago," said he, "you also,
at my request, visited Professor Locke."

Ashton-Kirk nodded.

"For some time," proceeded the other, "I have fancied that there
was something wrong with him. Not of a physical nature, as is,
unfortunately the case with myself, but more in a mental way. But
since that night I have been _sure_ that some sort of a derangement
had fixed itself upon him, or is in progress. He can scarcely be
called the same person. More than once I have been afraid," and here
the speaker lowered his voice to a husky whisper, "that he is
unbalanced."

"That is very grave," said Ashton-Kirk.

"It has occurred to me," went on the doctor, not without shrewdness,
"that something happened that night which unsettled him." The eyes
seemingly floating in fat, turned themselves first to Pendleton, then
to Ashton-Kirk. "I suppose, though, you know nothing of it?"

"We noticed that he seemed greatly agitated," replied the
investigator. "And we are alarmed to hear that he seems disturbed."

"It is our rule that no one leave the institute grounds after
nightfall," said Dr. Mercer, in a troubled voice. "Last night I had
occasion to send for him, but he was gone. This morning I stopped to
reproach him for his absence; but apparently he has not returned."

"You're mistaken there," put in Burgess. "Look!"

He indicated the house as he spoke. The small figure of Locke was seen
emerging at the front door; he paused for a moment, peering this way
and that in his near-sighted fashion, then hastily made his way toward
the work-shop. Evidently he had not seen them.

With great labor and much catching of breath Dr. Mercer had turned
sufficiently to see these things. He seemed greatly astonished.

"He was there all the time," said he. "It is not possible that he did
not feel the vibrations of the buzzer, for he is very sensitive to
such things."

His indignation appeared to swell him to even greater proportions
than before.

"It is an affront," he stated in a choked tone. "It is a deliberate
affront. He felt the buzzer, and he knew it was I. But he did not
consider me of enough importance to trouble himself about."

Panting he sought to turn the small horse, but in a moment Ashton-Kirk
was out in the road and had the animal by the head.

"I beg your pardon," said the investigator, "but it would probably be
more beneficial to yourself and others, if you continued your drive
and left Professor Locke to us."

Amazed beyond ability to stir, the doctor sat and stared. But finally
he found his tongue.

"Bless my soul and body," exclaimed he with a great wheezing
exhalation. "I scarcely understand this, sir."

"My dear doctor," said Ashton-Kirk soothingly, "it is not at all
necessary that you do so. The fact is, to state it briefly, there is
a trifling matter for adjustment between Professor Locke and the
commonwealth."

"The commonwealth!" cried the doctor, and he shook like a great mass
of gelatine.

"Nothing less. So, you see, it will be as well for you to do as I
suggest." Then turning to Pendleton, Ashton-Kirk continued: "I think
we had better walk the remainder of the way; otherwise we might get
Locke's attention before it is advisable."

Pendleton jumped down, and without another word to Dr. Mercer, they
set off toward the slate-roofed house by the roadside. However, after
they had gone about fifty yards, Pendleton turned and looked back. He
saw the small horse jogging away, while behind it, helplessly fat and
hopelessly befogged, sat Dr. Mercer, swaying dispiritedly from side to
side.

As Ashton-Kirk and Pendleton advanced upon the house, they bore in
mind the possibility of Locke being on the watch; so they kept out of
sight as much as possible.

"It's rather odd, I think, that he hangs on here, knowing that his
part in the murder of Hume must now be known," said Pendleton. "I
rather expected an attempt at escape."

"That may come later," said the investigator, grimly. "The finish of
a thing of this sort is always a matter for speculation. I have seen
desperate criminals who surrendered like lambs; and I've seen the
other sort give a platoon of police a good day's work in their
taking."

"Do you think it possible that Locke is one of this latter type?"

"There is no knowing. But I am inclined to believe that he is."

Pendleton shook his head. It seemed impossible that this dapper
little man with his peering, short-sighted eyes could be capable of
any determined effort to escape the police when once driven into a
corner. However, Pendleton had ample reason to respect Ashton-Kirk's
judgment; and so when the latter deemed it necessary to approach with
caution, he acted accordingly.

They paused in front of the house.

It was now past ten o'clock and the sun was shining brightly; a little
patch of garden, filled with early flowering plants lay between the
house and the wood; all about the work-shop were the tall trees which
they had noticed upon their previous visit.

"We had better not use the gate," suggested the investigator. "There
might be an attachment of some sort that will give him warning."

So under cover of the trees they scaled the fence; then they carefully
made their way toward the shop. The windows and door of this were
closed, nothing was stirring. Near the door was scattered some rubbish
and loose paper. The place had an utterly deserted look.

"Do you think he is there?" asked Pendleton.

"I will know in a few moments," replied the other. "Wait here."

Pendleton expected Ashton-Kirk to continue his cautious approach. But
to his surprise the investigator with cool assurance stepped out from
behind a tree and advanced toward the outbuilding; when he reached
the door he opened it and calmly stepped inside.

The building was in one great room. It had some windows at the side,
but the greater part of its illumination came from a huge skylight. As
he closed the door behind him, Ashton-Kirk had a vague impression of
something huge, made of steel rods and with far-stretching wing-like
projections at the sides. But he had no time to give the mechanism
even a glance; of greater interest was the small figure which sat at a
wide work-table upon which a litter of drawings was scattered.

It was Locke; and as the slight jar of the closing door reached him he
lifted his eyes and saw the intruder. If Ashton-Kirk expected any
display of fear or other emotion, he was disappointed; upon each of
his previous meetings with Locke the latter had shown great
trepidation; but now he simply nodded quietly and seemed not at all
surprised.

But as Ashton-Kirk made a step toward him, he rose and raised his hand
in a gesture that was peremptory and unmistakable. The investigator
paused; then Locke pointed to a chair directly before his bench, but
some half dozen yards away; and when Ashton-Kirk smilingly seated
himself, Locke did likewise.

Then in heavy characters he scrawled upon the back of one of the
blue-prints.

"I was expecting a visitor, and fancied that it might be you."

This he held up so that the investigator might read it. Ashton-Kirk
nodded. Again the back of a plan came into service and this time the
investigator read.

"What has occurred is most unfortunate. I had no hand in it, though,
of course, I do not expect anyone to believe me."

Here Ashton-Kirk drew a note book from his pocket and was about to
write, but the other stopped him with a gesture. Then the man once
more wrote; carefully, heavily, in order that the other might have no
difficulty in reading it from the distance.

"Pardon me! But it is not necessary for you to go to any trouble.
Moreover--I beg of you not to think me rude--your opinions in the
matter have no interest for me."

Ashton-Kirk acknowledged this with a grave nod. The pencil was
instantly at work again.

"As I have said, I expected a visitor; but I will now add that I did
not expect to be here to receive him."

Ashton-Kirk looked swiftly into Locke's face as he read this; the
expression was unmistakable, and the investigator leaped to his feet.
But the mute uttered a strange parrot-like cry--evidently the same
that Edyth heard that night in Christie Place--and Ashton-Kirk saw his
hand go swiftly to a button at one side of the work-bench. Instantly
the investigator paused; once more a gesture bade him be seated.

Slowly he obeyed; and once more Locke began to trace bold characters
upon the stiff paper. This message read:

"You are a wise man. I had arranged everything before you came in, and
had sat down to make an end of it. This button at my hand once started
an electric apparatus; but now it is connected with a quantity of an
explosive--my own invention, and a terrible one. Believe me, one touch
and everything in this building is in fragments."

Ashton-Kirk, when he had finished reading, nodded quietly. Again the
mute began to write.

"I have no ill will toward you," the words ran, "you have two minutes
to leave here, and get safely away."

When he saw that this had been read, Locke threw down the paper and
took out his watch. Then he pointed toward the door and sat waiting.

It was strange to see the little man sitting there calmly, with only
the pressure of a finger between him and eternity. But Ashton-Kirk
knew stern resolution too well to mistake the look on the mute's
face. There was nothing to do but to obey. He waved his hand in a
farewell. Locke returned the gesture. Then Ashton-Kirk walked to the
door, opened it and stepped out.

Pendleton, patiently watching among the trees, saw him emerge and at
once moved toward him; to his amazement the investigator took him by
the arm and broke into a run.

"What the deuce is the matter now?" asked Pendleton, after they had
passed the gate and were racing down the road.

"You'll know in a few moments," returned Ashton-Kirk grimly.

He permitted no pause until they reached the car, the engine of which
had not been stopped.

"Quick, for your lives!" he ordered, as he leaped in.

Pendleton and Burgess followed instantly. The car had scarcely begun
its plunge forward when a horrible rending shock staggered them. And
as they sped away the debris of the deaf-mute's work-shop was falling
all about them.

The evening papers were glaring with the news from Cordova by the
time the two friends were once more alone in Ashton-Kirk's library.
Pendleton seemed to be pondering.

"I say," said he, at last, "was it Morris or Spatola who remained at
Hume's the night of the murder?"

"I spoke to Spatola about that," answered Ashton-Kirk. "He said it
was Morris who left first and whom Hume pursued by jeers through the
open window. Morris had, according to his resolve, called at the place
to demand the plans; but Hume was mad with liquor and was even worse
in his manner than usual. Unable to bear it, Morris had rushed out.
Spatola later made his way out by way of the scuttle and across the
roof, as he frequently did.

"The thing which Spatola had carried under his coat that night was a
diploma which he had received from a musical conservatory in Rome. It
was in a frame and so made considerable bulk. Hume had denied that
afternoon that Spatola had ever studied in this particular
conservatory; frantic with rage, but knowing that he was a fool for
doing it, the Italian had brought his diploma as proof.

"Morris, under the name of Crawford, occupied a room on the floor
below Spatola; and as soon as the musician entered through the
scuttle, he descended the stairs and went immediately to his friend's
room to console and encourage him.

"Some time passed, and while they were still talking they heard a step
upon the stairs leading to the attic. As no one lived there but
himself, Spatola looked and in the semi-darkness saw two men
descending. He called and asked who they were, and Sagon's voice
replied that it was he and a friend. They had gone up to have a talk
and smoke a cigar with him; but seeing that he was not in, they had
come down at once. And now, as he was apparently engaged, they would
not trouble him, and with that they disappeared within Sagon's room."

"Then," said Pendleton, "they had gone up through the attic, across
the roofs, committed the deed, and returned while Spatola was with
Morris?"

"It would seem so."

"But suppose that on reaching the attic, upon their return they had
found Spatola there?"

"Sagon had calculated it all very nicely. One night a week Spatola
went to play with two compatriots at their rooms; with piano, harp and
violin, they gave vent to the harmony that was in them. That was the
night for the trio, and Sagon knew it. But In his rage and his desire
to prove his standing to Hume, Spatola had forgotten it. When he
descended to Morris's rooms, the two criminals thought he had gone to
make his usual visit to his friends. Sagon says he almost lost his
nerve when the Italian confronted them on the stairs."

"But here's a thing I've not been able to puzzle out. According to
your notion--and you may have proved it since, for all I know--Locke
was not in the showroom during or after the murder. And yet it should
have been he who dropped the little particle from the railroad ticket
upon the desk."

"It would seem that way," admitted Ashton-Kirk, "but the fact is that
Sagon visited Locke at the Institute and rode to the city with him
that afternoon. The particle may be accounted for in that way."

"Yes," mused the other, "that's so. But, one thing more. I should have
asked this of Morris himself if he had not been in such a confoundedly
miserable way. Why did he take to hiding immediately after the
murder?"

"He spent the night in his lodgings at Christie Place; next day the
papers told him that he was suspected. He knew that if he appeared
he'd be arrested; and as he desired to recover the plans before the
murderers escaped with them, he felt that this would be fatal to his
chances. Of course, I am not sure of this; but I think it more than
likely."

"Speaking of taking chances on the plans," said Pendleton, "you were
willing enough to take pretty long ones on them last night. Why, Sagon
actually had them in his hands."

Ashton-Kirk drew a flat packet from his pocket. Opening it he showed
that it contained nothing but blank paper.

"This is what Sagon found behind the portrait," said he, with a
smile. "The real papers I was very careful to remove two days ago. One
moment--that's the telephone."

Pendleton sat rolling a cigarette and wondering, while Ashton-Kirk
took down the receiver.

"Well?" said he. Then in a moment his expression changed. "Oh, is it
you? Well, how are you after your exciting experience?"

Here Pendleton dropped the completed cigarette and listened.

"You may consider yourself very fortunate to escape with a slight
headache," said Ashton-Kirk. Then there was a pause, and he said,
apparently in answer to a question: "Oh, yes, he's with me now. Will
you speak with him?"

Pendleton arose and took a step toward the stand. But he halted as if
shot when his friend continued in the transmitter:

"No?" Pause. "Oh, very well. Good-by."

Ashton-Kirk hung up the receiver and turned to his friend.

"So," said Pendleton, in a queer sort of voice, "she doesn't wish to
speak to me."

"Not over the wire--no. But she wants you to come to her--at once. She
desires to hear all about what she calls the wonderful way we have
handled this case, and she wants to hear it--from you." Ashton-Kirk
looked at his watch. "It is now 10:45. You can get there by eleven if
you rush."

"Do you call doing that little distance in fifteen minutes rushing?"
The young man's face was radiant and he was making for the door as he
spoke. "If I don't do it in half that time, I'm a duffer."

Then the door slapped behind him, and Ashton-Kirk heard him bounding
down the stairs.



       *       *       *       *       *

Another story in this series is "ASHTON-KIRK AND THE SCARLET SCAPULAR"
(in press)





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