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Title: The Brand of Silence - A Detective Story
Author: Strong, Harrington
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Brand of Silence - A Detective Story" ***

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                          The Brand of Silence

                           A DETECTIVE STORY

                          By HARRINGTON STRONG



CHELSEA HOUSE 79 SEVENTH AVENUE NEW YORK CITY

Copyright, 1919 by STREET & SMITH

(Printed in the United States of America)

All rights reserved, including that of translation into foreign
languages, including the Scandinavian.



CONTENTS


       I. IN THE HARBOR

      II. THE GIRL ON THE SHIP

     III. SOME DISCOURTESIES

      IV. A FOE AND A FRIEND

       V. THE COUSIN

      VI. MURK--AND MURDER

     VII. EVIDENCE

    VIII. LIES AND LIARS

      IX. PUZZLED

       X. ON THE TRAIL

      XI. CONCERNING KATE GILBERT

     XII. BATTERED KEYS

    XIII. A PLAN OF CAMPAIGN

     XIV. MORE MYSTERY

      XV. A MOMENT OF VIOLENCE

     XVI. MURK RECEIVES A BLOW

    XVII. MURK IS TEMPTED

   XVIII. A WOMAN'S WAY

     XIX. COADLEY QUITS

      XX. UP THE RIVER

     XXI. RECOGNITION

    XXII. AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR

   XXIII. A STARTLING STORY

    XXIV. HIGH-HANDED METHODS

     XXV. AN ACCUSATION

    XXVI. THE TRUTH COMES OUT



THE BRAND OF SILENCE



CHAPTER I

IN THE HARBOR


Now the fog was clearing and the mist was lifting, and the bright
sunshine was struggling to penetrate the billows of damp vapor and touch
with its glory the things of the world beneath. In the lower harbor
there still was a chorus of sirens and foghorns, as craft of almost
every description made way toward the metropolis or out toward the open
sea.

The _Manatee_, tramp steamer with rusty plates and rattling engines and
a lurch like that of a drunken man, wallowed her way in from the
turbulent ocean she had fought for three days, her skipper standing on
the bridge and inaudibly giving thanks that he was nearing the end of
the voyage without the necessity for abandoning his craft for an open
boat, or remaining to go down with the ship after the manner of skippers
of the old school.

Here and there showed a rift in the rolling fog, and those who braved
the weather and lined the damp rail could see other craft in passing.

A giant liner made her way past majestically, bound for Europe, or a
seagoing tug clugged by as if turning up her nose at the old, battered
_Manatee_.

Standing at the rail, and well forward, Sidney Prale strained his eyes
and looked ahead, watching where the fog lifted, an eager light in his
face, his lips curved in a smile, a general expression of anticipation
about him.

Sidney Prale himself was not bad to look at. Thirty-eight he was, tall
and broad of shoulder, with hair that was touched with gray at the
temples, with a face that had been browned by the weather. Sidney Prale
had the appearance of wearing clothes that had been molded to his form.
He had a chin that expressed decision and determination, lips that could
form in a thin, straight line if occasion required, eyes that could be
kind or stern, according to the needs of the moment. A man of the world
would have said that Sidney Prale was a gentleman of broad experience, a
man who had presence of mind in the face of danger, a man who could
think quickly and act quickly when such things were necessary.

He was not alone at the rail--and yet he was alone in a sense, for he
gave no one the slightest attention. He bent over and looked ahead
eagerly, waving a hand now and then at the men on passing craft, like a
schoolboy on an excursion trip. He listened to the bellowing sirens and
foghorns, drank in the raucous cries of the ship's officers, strained
his ears for the land sounds that rolled now and then across the waters.

"It's great--great!" Sidney Prale said, half aloud.

He bent over the rail again. A hand descended upon his shoulder, and a
voice answered him.

"You bet it's great, Prale!"

Sidney Prale's smile weakened a bit as he turned around, but there was
nothing of discourtesy in his manner.

"You like it, Mr. Shepley?" he asked.

"Do I like it? Does Rufus Shepley, forced to run here and there around
the old world in the name of business, like it when he gets the chance
to return to New York? Ask me!"

"I have my answer," Prale said, laughing a bit. "And judge, then, how I
like it--when I have not seen it for ten years."

"Haven't seen New York for ten years?" Rufus Shepley gasped.

"A whole decade," Prale admitted.

"Been down in Honduras all that time?"

"Yes, sir."

"And you live to tell it? You are my idea of a real man!" Rufus Shepley
said.

Shepley took a cigar from his vest pocket, bit off the end, lighted it,
and puffed a cloud of fragrant smoke into the air. Rufus Shepley was a
man of fifty, and looked his age. If human being ever gave the
appearance of being the regulation man of big business affairs, Rufus
Shepley did.

Sidney Prale had held some conversation with him on board ship, but they
had not become very well acquainted, though they seemed to like each
other. Each man seemed to be holding back, waiting, trying to discover
in the other more qualities to like or dislike.

"Ten years," Sidney Prale went on thoughtfully. "It seems a long time,
but the years have passed swiftly."

"I always had an idea," Rufus Shepley said, "that a genuine white man
who went to one of those Central American countries turned bad after the
first year and went to the devil generally. But you don't look it."

"The idea is correct, at that, in some instances," Prale admitted. "Some
of them do turn bad."

"They get to drifting, eh? The climate gets into their blood. Do you
know what I think? I think that, in seven cases out of eight, it's a
case of a man wanting an excuse for loafing. I knew a chap once who went
down to that part of the world. Got to drinking too much, threw up his
job, used to loaf all the time, married some sort of a half-black woman
who had a bit of coin, and went to the dogs generally."

"Oh, there are many such," Sidney Prale admitted. "But the majority of
them are men who made some grave mistake somewhere else and got the idea
that life was merely existence afterward. A man must have an incentive
in any climate to make anything of himself--and down there the incentive
has to be stronger."

"I assume that you--er--had the proper incentive," Rufus Shepley said,
grinning.

"I don't know how some persons would look at the propriety of it. I
wanted to make a million dollars."

"Great Scott! Your ambition was a modest one, I must say. And you
managed to win out? Oh, I beg your pardon! It isn't any of my business,
of course!"

"That's all right," Prale answered good-naturedly. "I don't mind. I'm so
happy this morning that I'm willing to overlook almost anything. And I
don't mind telling you that I've won out."

"A million in ten years," Shepley gasped.

"Yes; and with an initial capital of ten thousand dollars," Sidney Prale
replied. "I'm rather proud of it, of course. I suppose this sounds like
boasting----"

"My boy, you have the right to boast! A million dollars in ten years!
Great Scott! Say, would you consider being general manager of one of my
companies? We need a few men like you."

Sidney Prale laughed again. "Sorry--but I'm afraid that I can't take the
job," he replied. "I am going to have my little holiday now--going to
play. A million isn't much in some quarters, but it is enough for me. I
don't care for money to a great extent. I just wanted to prove to myself
that I could make a million--prove it to myself and others. And, ready
to take my vacation, I naturally decided to take it in New York--home!"

"Ah! Home's in New York, eh? Old friends waiting at the dock, and all
that!"

Sidney Prale's face clouded. "I am afraid that there will be no
reception committee," he said. "I didn't let anybody know that I was
coming--for the simple reason that I didn't know whom to inform."

"My boy!"

"I have a few old friends scattered around some place, I suppose. I have
no relatives in the world except a male cousin about my own age, and I
never communicated with him after going to Honduras. There was a girl
once----"

"There always is a girl," Shepley said softly, as Prale ceased speaking.

"But that ended ten years ago," Prale continued. "I stand alone--with my
million."

"You advertise that fact, my boy, and there'll be girls by the regiment
looking up your telephone number."

"And the right one wouldn't be in the crowd," Prale said, the smile
leaving his face again.

"Well, you are in for a fine time, at least," Rufus Shepley told him.
"There have been quite a few changes in New York in the past ten years.
Yes, quite a few changes! There are a few new boarding houses scattered
around, and a new general store or two, and the street cars run out
farther than they used to."

"Oh, I've kept up to date after a fashion," Sidney Prale said, laughing
once more. "I'm ready to appreciate the changes, but I suppose I will be
surprised. The New York papers get down to Honduras now and then, you
know."

"I've always understood," Shepley said, "that there are certain
gentlemen in that part of the world who watch the New York papers very
closely."

"Meaning the men who are fugitives from justice, I see," said Prale.

"I didn't mean anything personal, of course."

"It does look bad, doesn't it?" said Prale. "I went straight to Honduras
when I left New York ten years ago, like a man running away from the
law, and I have remained there all the time until this trip. And I have
been gone ten years--thereby satisfying certain statutes of
limitation----"

"My boy, I never meant to insinuate that----"

"I know that you didn't," Prale interrupted. "My conscience is clear,
Mr. Shepley. When I land, I'll not be afraid of some officer of the law
clutching me by the shoulder and hauling me away to a police station."

"Even if one did, a cool million will buy lots of bail," Rufus Shepley
said.

The fog was lifting rapidly now. Here and there through the billows of
mist could be seen the roofs of skyscrapers glistening in the sun.
Sidney Prale almost forgot the man at his side as he bent over the rail
to watch.

"Getting home--getting home!" he said. "I suppose no man ever gets quite
over the home idea, no matter how long he remains away. Ten years ought
to make a change, but I find that it doesn't. I'll be glad to feel the
pavements beneath my shoes again."

"Sure!" said Rufus Shepley.

"Confound the fog! Ah, there's a building I know! And there are a few I
never saw before. We're beginning to get in, aren't we? Ought to dock
before noon, don't you think?"

"Sure thing!"

"A hotel, a bath, fresh clothes--and then for hour after hour of walking
around and taking in the sights!" Prale said.

"Better engage a taxi if you expect to take 'em all in before night, my
boy," Shepley said.

"I forgot! We haven't any too many taxis in Honduras. I had a car of my
own, but sold it before I came away."

"You let the busy auto agents know that, and you'll have a regiment of
them----"

"And there!" Sidney Prale cried. "Now I know that I am home! There is
the Old Girl in the Harbor!"

Prale removed his cap, and a mist came into his eyes that did not come
from the foggy billows through which the ship was plowing. The sun was
shining through the murk at last, and it touched the Statue of Liberty.
The great figure seemed like a live thing for a moment; the mist made it
appear that her garments were waving in the breeze.

"Now I know that I am home!" Sidney Prale repeated.

"She sure is a great old girl!" Rufus Shepley agreed. "Always glad to
see her!"

"Well, I've got to get ready to land; I'm not going to waste any time,"
Prale said. "I'm glad that I met you--and perhaps we'll meet again in
the city."

"Hope we do!" said Shepley, grasping Prale's hand. "Our factories are
out in Ohio, but the company headquarters are in New York, of course.
Here's my business card, my boy. And I generally put up at the
Graymore."

Sidney Prale took the card, thanked Rufus Shepley, and hurried down the
deck toward his stateroom, one of the best on the ship. Rufus Shepley
looked after him sharply.

"Went straight to Honduras and stayed there for ten years, eh?" Rufus
Shepley said to himself. "Um! Looks bad! I never put much stock in those
Honduras chaps--but this one seems to be all right. Never can tell,
though!"

Sidney Prale, still smiling, and humming a Spanish love song, reached
his stateroom and threw open the door; and just inside, he came to a
stop, astonished.

Somebody had been in that stateroom and had been going through his
things. The contents of his suit case were spilled on the floor. A bag
was wide open; he had left it closed and in a corner less than an hour
before.

Prale went down on his knees and made a quick inspection. There did not
seem to be anything missing. A package of papers--business documents for
the greater part--had been examined, he could tell at a glance, but none
had been taken.

"Peculiar!" Prale told himself. "Some sneak thief, I suppose. No sense
in complaining to the ship's officers at this late hour, especially
since nothing has been stolen. Makes a man angry, though!"

He put the suit case on the table and began repacking the things that
had been scattered on the floor. Then he gathered up his toilet
articles, bits of clothing he had left out until the last minute, a few
souvenirs of Honduras he had been showing a tourist the evening before.
He turned toward the berth to pick up his light overcoat.

There was a sheet of paper pinned to the pillow, paper that might have
been taken from an ordinary writing tablet. Sidney Prale took it up and
glanced at it. A few words of handwriting were upon the paper, words
that looked as if they had been scrawled hurriedly with a pencil that
needed sharpening badly.

"Retribution is inevitable and comes when you least expect it."

The smile fled from Sidney Prale's lips, and the Spanish love song he
had been humming died in his throat. He frowned, and read the message
again.

"Now what the deuce does this mean?" he gasped.



CHAPTER II

THE GIRL ON THE SHIP


Sidney Prale folded the piece of paper carefully and slipped it into his
wallet. Winning a fortune in ten years in a foreign country had taught
Prale many things, notably that everything has its cause and effect, and
that things that seem trifles may turn out to be of great importance
later.

He finished his packing, locked the suit case, put on coat and hat and
went out upon the deck. The _Manatee_ was docking. A throng was on the
wharf. Prale glanced at the buildings in the distance and forgot for the
time being the scrap of paper, because of his happiness at being home
again and his eagerness to land. Returning to New York after an absence
of so many years was in the nature of an adventure. There would be
exploring trips to make, things to find, surprises at every turn and on
every side.

The passengers were crowding forward now, preparing to go ashore. Sidney
Prale picked up his suit case and started through the jostling crowd.
Already those on board were calling greetings to relatives and friends
on the wharf, and Prale's face grew solemn for a moment because there
was nobody to welcome him.

"Not a friend in the world," he had said to Rufus Shepley that morning.

"A man with a million dollars has a million friends," Shepley had
replied. "The only trouble is, you can't enjoy that sort of friends
except by getting rid of them, unless you happen to be a miser."

Well, that was something, Sidney Prale told himself now. He had ample
funds, at least, and perhaps he could enjoy himself after ten years of
battling with financial sharks, of inspecting and working mines, of
cutting through dense forests and locating growths that could be turned
into wealth.

Prale put his suit case against the rail to wait until he could move
forward again. He looked down at the throng on the wharf, and up and
down the rail at his fellow passengers. Then he saw the girl again!

He had seen her before. The first time had been at Tegucigalpa, at a
ball given by some society people for charity. He had known her at once
for an American, and finally had obtained an introduction. Her name was
Kate Gilbert, and she lived in New York. It was understood that she was
of a wealthy family and traveling for her health. She was accompanied
only by a middle-aged maid, a giant of a woman who seemed to be maid and
chaperon and general protector in one.

That night at Tegucigalpa, Prale had talked to her and had danced with
her twice. He judged her to be about twenty-eight, some ten years
younger than himself. She was small and charming, not one of the
helpless butterfly sort, but a woman who gave indication that she could
care for herself if necessary.

Prale had been surprised to find her aboard the _Manatee_, but she had
told him that she was going home, that her health had been much
benefited, and that she felt she could not remain away longer. It had
seemed to Prale that she avoided him purposely, and that puzzled him a
bit. He could not understand why any woman should absolutely dislike
him. His record in Honduras was a clean one; it was known that he did
not care much for women, and surely she had learned that he was a man of
means, and did not think he might be a fortune hunter wishing to marry a
prominent heiress.

He had not spoken to her half a dozen times during the voyage. She made
the acquaintance of others aboard and, for the first few days, had been
busy in their company. The last three days had been stormy ones, and
Kate Gilbert had not been much in evidence. Prale judged that she was a
poor sailor.

Now she stopped beside him, the middle-aged maid standing just behind
her.

"Well, we're home, Mr. Prale!" she said.

"I suppose that you are glad to get home?"

"Surely!" she replied. "And I'll be angry if there are not half a dozen
to meet me when I land. I've been trying to spot some friends in that
crowd, but it is a hopeless task."

"I hope you'll not be disappointed," Prale said.

As he spoke, he glanced past her at the middle-aged maid, and surprised
a peculiar expression on the face of the woman. She had been looking
straight at him, and her lips were almost curled into a sneer, while her
eyes were flashing with something akin to anger.

Prale did not understand that. Why should the dragon be incensed with
him? He was making no attempt to lay siege to the heart of Miss Kate
Gilbert. He was no fortune hunter after an heiress. The expression on
the face of the maid amused Prale even while he wondered what it could
mean.

"Picked your hotel?" Kate Gilbert was asking.

"Not yet, but I hope to get in somewhere," Prale told her. "May I be of
assistance to you when we land?"

"Marie will help me, thanks--and there will be others on the wharf," she
answered.

A cold look had come into her face again, and she turned half away from
him and looked down at the crowd on the wharf. Sidney Prale looked
straight at her, despite the glare of the middle-aged maid. Kate Gilbert
was a woman who would appeal to a majority of men, but there seemed to
be something peculiar about her, Prale told himself. He knew that she
had avoided him purposely during the voyage, and that she had spoken to
him purposely now, yet had asked nothing except whether he had chosen a
hotel.

Why should Kate Gilbert wish to know where he was going to stop? Perhaps
it had been only an idle question, he explained to himself. In her
happiness at getting home, she had merely wished to speak to somebody,
and none of her shipboard friends happened to be near.

He turned from her and glanced at the maid again. She was not the sort
to be named Marie, Prale told himself. Marie called up a vision of a
petite, trim woman from sunny France, and this Marie was nothing of the
sort. She appeared more to be a peasant used to hard labor, Prale
decided.

And he could not understand the expression on the woman's face as she
looked at him. It was almost one of loathing.

"Got me mixed up with somebody else, or somebody has been giving me a
bad reputation," Prale mused. "Enough to make a man shiver--that look of
hers."

Kate Gilbert, apparently, did not intend to have anything more to do
with him. Smiling a little at her manner, Prale lifted his hat, picked
up the suit case, and turned away. Once more he tried to force a passage
through the jostling crowd. He had not taken three steps when Kate
Gilbert touched him on the arm.

"Pardon me, Mr. Prale, but there is something sticking on the end of
your suit case," she said.

Prale glanced down. On one end of the suit case was a bit of paper. It
had been stuck there by a drop of mucilage, and the mucilage was still
wet.

He thanked Kate Gilbert and picked the paper off, but he did not throw
it over the rail into the water. He crumpled it in his hand and, when he
was some distance away, he smoothed it out.

There was a single word written on it, in the same handwriting
as that of the note he had found pinned to the pillow in the
stateroom--"Retribution."

Sidney Prale glanced around quickly. Nobody seemed to be paying
particular attention to him. Kate Gilbert and her maid had passed him
and were preparing to land. Prale put the piece of paper into his coat
pocket and picked up his suit case again. That bit of paper, he knew
well, had not been on the suit case when he had left the stateroom. It
had been put there as he had made his way through the crowd of
passengers along the rail. Who could have stuck it there--and why?

Now the passengers were streaming ashore, and Sidney Prale stepped to
one side and watched them. Perhaps he had some business enemy on board,
he told himself, some man he had not noticed, and who was trying to
frighten him after a childish fashion. He searched the faces of the
landing passengers, but saw nobody he had known in Central America,
nobody who looked at all suspicious.

"Either a joke--or a mistake," Prale told himself again.

He started ashore. He saw Kate Gilbert just ahead of him, the bulky maid
at her heels. An elderly man met her, but did not greet her as a father
would have been expected to do. Prale saw them hold a whispered
conversation, and it seemed to him that the elderly man gave him a
searching glance.

"I must look like a swindler!" Prale mused.

Finally, as he went out upon the street to engage a taxicab and start
for a hotel, he saw Kate Gilbert and her maid and the elderly man again,
getting into a limousine. The girl held a piece of paper in her hand,
and was reading something from it to the elderly man. As she got into
the car, she dropped the piece of paper to the curb.

The limousine was gone before Prale reached the curb. He put his suit
case down and picked up the piece of paper. There was nothing on it
except a couple of names that meant nothing to Sidney Prale. But his
eyes bulged, nevertheless, as he read them.

For the paper was similar to that upon which had been written the note
that he had found on the pillow in the stateroom--and the coarse
handwriting was the same!

"What the deuce----" Prale caught himself saying.

Had Kate Gilbert written that message about retribution and had her maid
leave it in the stateroom? Had Kate Gilbert written that single word and
had her maid paste it on his suit case as he passed, or pasted it there
herself?

Why had Kate Gilbert--whom he never had seen and of whom he never had
heard until she appeared at the ball in Tegucigalpa--avoided him in such
a peculiar manner? And why had the misnamed Marie glared at him, and
expressed loathing and anger when her eyes met his?

"What the deuce----" Prale asked himself again.

Then a taxicab drew up at the curb, and he got in.



CHAPTER III

SOME DISCOURTESIES


Sidney Prale obtained accommodations in a prominent hostelry on Fifth
Avenue, bathed, dressed, ate luncheon, and then went out upon the
streets, walking briskly and swinging his stick, going about New York
like a stranger who never had seen it before.

As a matter of fact, he never had seen this New York before. He had
expected a multitude of changes, but nothing compared to what he found.
He watched the crowds on the Avenue, cut over to Broadway and
investigated the electric signs by daylight, observed the congestion of
vehicles and the efforts of traffic policemen to straighten it out. He
darted into the subway and rode far downtown and back again just for the
sport of it. After that he got on an omnibus and rode up to Central
Park, and acted as if every tree and twig were an old friend.

He made himself acquainted with the animals in the zoo there, and
promised himself to go to the other zoo in the Bronx before the end of
the week. He stood back at the curb and lifted his head to look at new
buildings after the manner of the comic supplement farmer with a straw
between his teeth.

"Great--great!" said Sidney Prale.

Then he hurried back to the hotel, dressed for dinner, and went down to
the dining room, stopping on the way to obtain a ticket for a musical
revue that was the talk of the town at the moment.

Prale ordered a dinner that made the waiter open his eyes. He made it a
point to select things that were not on the menus of the hotels in
Honduras. Then he sat back in his chair and listened to the orchestra,
and watched well-dressed men and women come in and get their places at
the tables.

But the dinner was a disappointment to Prale after all. It seemed to him
that the waiter was a long time giving him service. He remonstrated, and
the man asked pardon and said that he would do better, but he did not.

Prale found that his soup was lukewarm, his salad dressing prepared
imperfectly, the salad itself a mere mess of vegetables. The fish and
fowl he had ordered were not served properly, the dessert was without
flavor, the cheese was stale. He sent for the head waiter.

"I'm disgusted with the food and the service," he complained. "I rarely
find fault, but I am compelled to do so this time. The man who has been
serving me seems to be a rank amateur, and twice he was almost insolent.
This hotel has a reputation which it scarcely is maintaining this
evening."

"I'll see about it, sir," the head waiter said.

Prale saw him stop the waiter and speak to him, and the waiter glared at
him when he brought the demi-tasse. Prale did not care. He glared back
at the man, drank the coffee, and touched the match to a cigar. Then he
signed the check and went from the dining room, an angry and disgusted
man.

"Another thing like that, and I look for the manager," he told himself.

He supposed that he was a victim of circumstances--that the waiter was a
new man and that it happened that the portions he served were poor
portions. His happiness at being home again prevented Sidney Prale from
feeling anger for any length of time. He got his hat and coat and went
out upon the street again.

He had an hour before time to go to the theater. He walked over to
Broadway and went toward the north, looking at the bright lights and the
crowds. He passed through two or three hotel lobbies, satisfied for the
time merely to be in the midst of the throngs.

At the proper time, he hurried to the theater and claimed his seat. The
performance was a mediocre one, but it pleased Sidney Prale. He had seen
a better show in Honduras a month before, had seen better dancing and
heard better singing and comedy, but this was New York!

The show at an end, Prale claimed his hat and coat at the check room and
walked down the street toward a cabaret restaurant. He reached into his
overcoat pocket for his gloves, and his hand encountered a slip of
paper. He took it out.

There was the same rough handwriting on the same kind of paper, and
evidently with the same blunt pencil.

"Remember--retribution is sure!"

"This thing ceases to be a joke!" Prale told himself.

His face flushed with anger, and he turned back toward the theater. But
he had been among the last to leave, and already the lights of the
playhouse were being turned out. The boy in charge of the check room
would be gone, Prale knew.

He thought of Kate Gilbert again, and the bit of paper she had dropped
as she got into the limousine down on the water front. Surely she could
have no hand in this, he thought. What interest could Kate Gilbert, a
casual acquaintance and reputed daughter of a wealthy house, have in him
and his affairs?

"Somebody is making a mistake," he declared to himself, "or else it is
some sort of a new advertising dodge. If I ever catch the jokesmith who
is responsible for these dainty little messages, I'll tell him a thing
or two."

Prale turned into the restaurant and found a seat at a little table at
one side of the room. The after-theater crowd was filling the place. The
orchestra was playing furiously, and the cabaret performance was
beginning. Sidney Prale leaned back in his chair and watched the show.
The waiter came to his side, and he ordered something to eat and drink.

Then he saw Kate Gilbert again, at a table not very far away from his.
She was dressed in an evening gown, as if she had just come from the
theater or opera. She was in the company of the elderly man who had met
her at the wharf, and a young man and an older woman were at the same
table.

Prale's eyes met hers for an instant, and he inclined his head a bit in
a respectful manner. But Kate Gilbert looked through him as if he had
not been present, and then turned her head and began talking to the
elderly man.

Prale's face flushed. He hadn't done anything wrong, he told himself. He
merely had bowed to her, as he would have bowed to any woman to whom he
had been properly introduced. She had seen fit to cut him. Well, he
could exist without Kate Gilbert, he told himself, but he wondered at
her peculiar manner.

He left the place within the hour and went back to the hotel and to bed.
In the morning he walked up the Avenue as far as the Circle, dropped
into a restaurant for a good breakfast, and then engaged a taxicab and
drove downtown to the financial district. He had remembered that he was
a man with a million, and that he had to pay some attention to business.

He went into the establishment of a famous trust company and sent his
card in to the president. An attendant ushered him into the president's
private office immediately.

"Sit down, Mr. Prale," said the financier. "I am glad that you came to
see me this morning. I was just about to have somebody look you up."

"Anything the matter?" Prale asked.

"Your funds were transferred to us by our Honduras correspondent," the
financier said. "Since you were leaving Honduras almost immediately, we
decided to care for the funds until you arrived and we could talk to
you."

"I shall want some good investments, of course," Prale said. "I have
disposed of all my holdings in Honduras, and I don't want the money to
be idle."

"Idleness is as bad for dollars as for men," said the financier,
clearing his throat.

"Can you suggest some investments? I have engaged no broker as yet, of
course."

"I--er--I am afraid that we have nothing at the present moment," the
financier said.

"The market must be good," Prale observed. "I never knew a time when
investments were lacking."

"I would not offer you a poor one, and good ones are scarce with us at
present," said the banker. "Sorry that we cannot attend to the business
for you. Perhaps some other trust company----"

"Well, I can wait for something to turn up," Prale said. "There is no
hurry, of course. Probably you'll have something in a few weeks that
will take care of at least a part of the money."

The banker cleared his throat again, and looked a trifle embarrassed as
he spoke. "The fact of the matter is, Mr. Prale," he said, "that we do
not care for the account."

"I beg your pardon!" Prale exclaimed. "You mean you don't want me to
leave my money in your bank?"

"Just that, Mr. Prale."

"But in Heaven's name, why? I should think that any financial
institution would be glad to get a new account of that size."

"I--er--I cannot go into details, sir," the banker said. "But I must
tell you that we'd be glad if you'd make arrangements to move the
deposit to some other bank."

"I suppose you don't like to be bothered with small accounts," said
Prale, with the suspicion of a sneer in his voice. "Very well, sir! I'll
see that the deposit is transferred before night. Perhaps I can find
banks that will be glad to take the money and treat me with respect. And
I shall remember this, sir!"

"I--er--have no choice in the matter," the banker said.

"Can't you explain what it means?"

"I have nothing to say--nothing at all to say," stammered the financier.
"We took the money because of our Honduras correspondent, but we'll
appreciate it very much if you do business with some other institution."

"You can bet I'll do that little thing!" Prale exclaimed.

He left the office angrily and stalked from the building. Were the big
financiers of New York insane? A man with a million in cold cash has the
right to expect that he will be treated decently in a bank. Prale walked
down the street and grew angrier with every step he took.

Before going to Honduras he had worked for a firm of brokers. He hurried
toward their office now. He would send in his card to his old employer,
Griffin, he decided, and ask his advice about banking his funds, and
incidentally whether the financier he had just left was an imbecile.

He found the Griffin concern in the same building, though the offices
were twice as large now, and there were evidences of prosperity on every
side.

"Got an appointment?" an office boy demanded.

"No, but I fancy that Mr. Griffin will see me," said Prale. "I used to
work for him years ago."

Then he sat down to wait. Griffin would be glad to see him, he thought.
Griffin was a man who always liked to see younger men get along. He
would want to know how Sidney Prale got his million. He would want to
take him to luncheon and exhibit him to his friends--tell how one of his
young men had forged ahead in the world.

The boy came back with his card. "Mr. Griffin can't see you," he
announced.

"Oh, he's busy, eh? Did he make an appointment?"

"No, he ain't busy," said the boy. "He's got his feet set up on the desk
and he's readin' about yesterday's ball game. He said to say that he
didn't have time to see you this mornin', and that he wouldn't ever have
time to see you."

"Don't be discourteous, you young imp!" Prale said, his face flushing.
"You're sure you handed Mr. Griffin my card?"

"Oh, I handed it to him--and don't you try to run any bluff on me!" the
boy answered. "From the way the boss acted, I guess you don't stand very
high with him!"

The boy went back to his chair, and Sidney Prale went from the office, a
puzzled and angry man. There probably was some mistake, he told himself.
He'd meet Griffin during the day and tell him about the adventure.

He was anxious to meet some of the men with whom he had worked ten years
before, but he did not know where to find them. He'd have to wait and
ask Griffin what had become of them. Then, too, he wanted to transfer
his funds.

Prale got another taxicab and started making the rounds of the banks he
knew to be solid institutions. Within a few hours he had made
arrangements to transfer the account, using four financial institutions.
He said nothing, except that the money had been transferred to the trust
company from Honduras, because the company had a correspondent there.

His funds secure, Prale went back uptown and to the hotel. The clerk
handed him a note with his key. Prale tore it open after he stepped into
the elevator. This time it was a sheet of paper upon which a message had
been typewritten.

"You can't dodge the law of compensation. For what you have done, you
must pay."

Sidney Prale gasped when he read that message, and went back to the
ground floor.

"Who left this note for me?" he demanded of the clerk.

"Messenger boy."

"You don't know where he came from?"

"No, sir."

Prale turned away and started for the elevator again. A bell hop stopped
him.

"Manager would like to see you in his office, sir," the boy said. "This
way, sir."

Prale followed the boy, wondering what was coming now. He found the
manager to be a sort of austere individual who seemed impressed with his
own importance.

"Mr. Prale," he said, "I regret to have to say this, but I find that it
cannot be avoided. When you arrived yesterday, the clerk assigned you to
a suite on the fifth floor. He made a mistake. We had a telegraphic
reservation for that suite from an old guest of ours, and it should have
been kept for him. You appreciate the situation, I feel sure."

"No objection to being moved," Prale said. "I have unpacked scarcely any
of my things."

"But--again I regret it--there isn't a vacant suite in the house, Mr.
Prale."

"A room, then, until you have one."

"We haven't a room. We haven't as much as a cot, Mr. Prale. We cannot
take care of you, I'm afraid. So many regular guests, you understand,
and out-of-town visitors."

"Then I'll have to move, I suppose. You may have the suite within two
hours."

"Thank you, Mr. Prale."

Prale was angry again when he left the office of the manager. It seemed
that everything was conspiring against his comfort. He got a cab, drove
to another hotel, inspected a suite and reserved it, paying a month in
advance, and then went back to the big hotel on Fifth Avenue to get his
baggage. He paid his bill at the cashier's window, and overheard the
room clerk speaking to a woman.

"Certainly, madam," the clerk was saying. "We will have an excellent
suite on the fifth floor within half an hour. The party is just vacating
it. Plenty of suites on the third floor, of course, but, if you want to
be up higher in the building----"

Sidney Prale felt the blood pounding in his temples, felt rage welling
up within him. He felt as he had once in a Honduras forest when he
became aware that a dishonest foreman was betraying business secrets. He
hurried to the office of the manager, but the stenographer said the
manager was busy and could not be seen.

Prale whirled away, going through the lobby toward the entrance. He met
Kate Gilbert face to face. She did not seem to see him, though he was
forced to step aside to let her pass.



CHAPTER IV

A FOE AND A FRIEND


After settling himself in the other hotel, Prale ate a belated luncheon.
For the first time that day, he looked at the newspapers. He had
remembered that a New Yorker reads the papers religiously to keep up to
the minute; whereas, in Honduras, it was the custom for busy men to let
the papers accumulate and then read a week's supply at a sitting.

Aside from his name in the list of arrivals, Prale found no word
concerning himself, though there was mention of other men who had come
on the _Manatee_, and who had no special claim to prominence.

"I don't amount to much, I guess," said Prale to himself. "Don't care
for publicity, anyway, but they might let the world know a fellow has
come home."

He went for another walk that afternoon, returned to the hotel for
dinner, and decided that, instead of going to a show that evening, he
would prowl around the town.

He walked up to the Park, went over to Broadway, and started down it,
looking at the bright lights again, making his way through the happy,
theater-going throngs toward Times Square. In the enjoyment of the
crowds he forgot, in part, the discourtesies of the day, but he could
not forget them entirely.

Why had the banker acted in such a peculiar fashion? It was not like a
financial institution to refuse a deposit of a round million. Why had
Griffin refused to see him? Why had he as good as been ordered out of
the hotel?

"Coincidence," he told himself. "No reason on earth why such things
should happen unless I am being taken for somebody else--and that
wouldn't be true in the case of Griffin."

He came to a prominent hotel and went into the lobby, looking in vain
for some friend of the old days with whom he could spend an hour or so.
Down in Honduras he had had his million and friends, too; and here, in
his old home, he had nothing but his money. At this hour, down in
Honduras, the band would be playing in the plaza, and society would be
out in force. There would be a soft breeze sweeping down from the hills,
bringing a thousand odors that could not be detected in New York. Here
and there guitars would be tinkling, and men and maidens would be
meeting in the moonlight.

There would be a happy crowd at a certain club he knew, at which he
always had been made welcome. A man could sit out on the veranda and
look over the tumbling sea, and hear the ship's bells strike. Sidney
Prale found himself just a bit homesick for Honduras.

"Got to get over it," he told himself. "No sense in feeling this way.
I'll have a hundred friends before I've been in town a month!"

He went out upon the street, made his way down it, and dropped in at
another hotel. There he saw Rufus Shepley sitting in an easy-chair,
smoking and looking at an evening paper.

Well, he knew Shepley, at least. Shepley was only a steamship
acquaintance, but he was a human being and could talk. Prale was just a
bit tired of confining his conversation to waiters and cigar-store
clerks.

He stopped before Shepley and cleared his throat.

"Well, we meet again, Mr. Shepley!" he said.

Rufus Shepley looked up, and then sprang to his feet, but his face did
not light and he did not extend a hand in greeting. Instead, his
countenance grew crimson, and he seemed to be shaking with anger.

"You presume too much on a chance acquaintance, sir!" Rufus Shepley
thundered. "I do not wish you to address me again--do you understand,
sir? Never again--either in public or private!"

"Why----" Prale stammered.

"I don't want anything to do with a man of your stamp!" Rufus Shepley
went on. "Ten years in Honduras, were you? We all know why men go to
Honduras and spend years there."

Shepley had raised his voice, and all in the lobby could hear. Men began
moving toward them, and women began walking away, fearing a scene and a
quarrel.

Sidney Prale's face had flushed, too, and he felt his anger rising
again.

"I am sure I do not wish to continue the acquaintance if you do not,
sir," he said. "I can be courteous, at least."

"Some men are not entitled to courtesy," Shepley roared.

"What do you mean by that?" Prale demanded.

"I mean that I don't want anything to do with you, that's all! I don't
want you to speak to me again! I don't want anybody to know that you
even know me by sight!"

"See here!" Prale cried. "You can't talk to me like that without giving
me some explanation! You can't defame me before other men----"

"Defame you?" Shepley cried. "You can't make a tar brush black, sir?"

Rage was seething in Prale now. There was quite a crowd around them, and
others were making their way forward.

"I don't pretend to know what is the matter with you, and I don't much
care!" he told Shepley. "If your hair wasn't gray, I'd take you out on
the sidewalk and smash your face in! Please understand that!"

"Threaten me, will you?"

"I'm not threatening you. I don't fight a man with one foot in the
grave."

"Why you----"

"And I don't care to have you address me in public again, either,"
Sidney Prale went on. "It probably would be an insult."

"Confound you, sir!" Shepley cried.

He reached forward and grasped Prale by the arm. Sidney Prale put up a
hand, tore the grasp loose, and tossed Rufus Shepley to one side.

"Keep your paws off me!" he exclaimed. "I think that you're insane, if
you ask me!"

The hotel detective came hurrying up.

"You'll have to cut that out!" he said. "What's the row here, anyway?"

"The place is harboring a maniac!" Prale said.

"It's harboring a crook!" Shepley cried.

Prale lurched forward and grasped him by both arms, and shook him until
Rufus Shepley's teeth chattered.

"Another word out of you, and I'll forget that your hair is gray!" Prale
exclaimed, and then he tossed Shepley to one side again.

"Either of you guests here?" the house detective demanded. "No? Then
maybe you'd both better get out until you can cool off. If you want to
stage a scrap, go down and rent Madison Square Garden and advertise in
the newspapers. I wouldn't mind seeing a good fight myself. But this
lobby isn't any prize ring. Get me?"

Sidney Prale, his face still flaming, whirled around and started for the
entrance, the crowd parting to let him through. Rufus Shepley, fuming
and fussing, followed him slowly. The house detective accompanied him to
the door.

Prale was waiting at the curb, a Prale whose face was white now because
of the temper he was fighting to control. He stepped close to Shepley's
side.

"I don't know why you insulted me, but don't do it again!" Prale said.
"I ought to settle with you for what you've said already."

The house detective, who had heard, stepped forward again, but Sidney
Prale swung across the street and went on his way.

He walked rapidly for a dozen blocks or more, paying no attention to
where he was going, until his anger began to subside.

"Why, the raving maniac!" he gasped, once or twice.

He didn't pretend to guess what it meant. Shepley had seemed to be
friendly enough when they had separated aboard ship. What could have
happened to make the man change his mind and attitude?

"Must be some mistake!" Prale told himself. "If there is any more of
this, I'll have to get to the bottom of it!"

He reached Madison Square, and sat down on a bench to smoke and regain
his composure. He knew that he had a terrible temper, and that it had to
be controlled. A temper that flashed was all right at times in the
jungles of Honduras, but it was not the proper thing to exhibit in the
heart of New York City. It might get him into serious trouble with
somebody.

He finished his cigar, listened to the striking chimes, and lighted
another smoke. A pedestrian stopped beside him.

"Old Sid Prale, or I'm a liar!" he cried.

Prale looked up, and then sprang to his feet.

"Jim Farland, the sleuth!" he cried in answer. "Old Jim, the holy terror
to evildoers. Now I am glad that I'm home!"

"When did you get in?"

"Yesterday. Sit down. Have a cigar. You're the first old friend I've
met!"

Detective Jim Farland sat down and lighted the cigar. "You've been gone
some time," he said.

"Ten years, Jim."

"Went away rather sudden, didn't you?"

"I did. I made my decision one night and sailed the night following,"
said Prale.

"I always wondered why you went, and what became of you. Had a good job
with old Griffin, didn't you?"

"The job was all right, Jim. But there was a girl----"

"Ah, ha!"

"And she threw me over for a fellow who had some money. That made me
huffy, of course. I swore I'd shake the dust of New York from my shoes,
go to some foreign country, take with me the ten thousand dollars I had
saved, and turn it into a million."

"And came back broke!" Farland said.

"Nothing of the sort, Jim. I came back with a million."

"Great Scott! I suppose I'd better be on my way then. I ain't in the
habit of having millionaires let me associate with 'em."

"You sit where you are, or I'll use violence!" Prale told him. "I
suppose you are still on the force? Still fussing around down in the
financial district watching for swindlers?"

"I left the force three years ago," Jim Farland replied. "Couldn't seem
to get ahead. Too honest, maybe--or too ignorant. I'm in a sort of
private detective business now--got an office up the street. Doing
fairly well, too--lots of old friends give me work. If you have anything
in my line----"

"If I have, you'll get a job," said Prale.

"Let me slip you a card," said Farland. "You never know when you may
need a detective. So you came back with a million, eh?"

"And ran into a mess," Prale added.

"I can't imagine a man with a million running into much of a mess,"
Farland said.

"That's all you know about it. I may need your services sooner than you
think. There is a sort of jinx working on me, it appears."

"Spill it!" Jim Farland said.

Sidney Prale did. He related what had happened at the bank, at the
hotel, in Griffin's office, and told of the scene with Rufus Shepley.

"Funny!" Farland said, when he had finished. "I know old Rufus Shepley,
and as a general thing he ain't a maniac. Something behind all this,
Sid."

"Yes; but what on earth could it be?"

"That's the question. If anything else happens, and you need help, just
let me know."

"I'll do that, surely," said Prale. "And I'm glad that I've got one
friend left in town."

"Always have one as long as I'm here," Jim Farland assured him. "And it
ain't because of your million, either. It's true about the million?"

"Absolutely!"

"Gee! That's more than old Griffin himself has in cash, anyway," Farland
declared. "Maybe it's a good thing that girl turned you down. You'd
probably be a clerk at a few thousand a year, if she hadn't. How'd you
make the coin?"

"Mines and fruit and water power and logs," said Prale.

"Sounds simple enough. When the detective business goes on the blink, I
may take a turn at it myself."

"If you ever need money, Jim, call on me. If you want to engage bigger
offices, hire operatives, branch out----"

"Stop it!" Farland cried. "I want nothing of the kind. I'm a peculiar
sort of duck--don't care about being rich at all. I just want to be sure
I'll have a good living for myself and the wife and kids, and have a few
friends, and be able to look every man in town straight in the eye. I'd
rather work for a friend for nothing than do work I don't like for ten
thousand an hour."

"I believe you!" Prale said.



CHAPTER V

THE COUSIN


An hour later, having parted with Detective Jim Farland, Sidney Prale
walked slowly up Fifth Avenue, determined to go to his hotel suite and
rest for the remainder of the evening. His conversation and short visit
with Farland had put him in a better humor. There was no mistaking the
quality of Farland's friendship. He and Prale had been firm friends ten
years before, when Farland was on duty in the financial district, and
they had made it a point at that time to eat luncheon together when
Farland's duties permitted.

New York seemed a better place, even with one friend among several
million persons. So Prale swung his stick jauntily, and hummed the
Spanish love song again, and told himself that Rufus Shepley and Kate
Gilbert, old Griffin and the hotel manager and the rest of the motley
crew that had made the day miserable for him amounted to nothing in the
broader scheme of things, and were not to be taken seriously.

He came to a block where there were few pedestrians, where the great
shops had their lights out and their night curtains up. He heard steps
behind him, and presently a soft voice.

"Sid! Sid!"

Sidney Prale whirled around, alert and on guard, for he did not
recognize the voice. A medium-sized man stood before him, a man of about
his own age, who had a furtive manner and wore a beard.

"Don't you know me, Sid?"

"Can't say that I do!"

"Why, I'm your cousin, George Lerton. I'm the only relative you've got
in the world, unless you got married while you were away."

Prale stepped aside so that the nearest light flashed on the face of the
man before him.

"Well, if it isn't!" he said. "Didn't recognize you at first. How long
have you been wearing the alfalfa on your face?"

"Two or three years," George Lerton told him, grinning a bit. "I saw
your name in the passenger list, Sid, and wanted to see you. I found out
where you are stopping----"

"Why didn't you come to the hotel, then, or leave a note?" Prale asked.
"Come on up now."

"I--I wanted to talk to you----"

"And I want to talk to you. What are you doing for yourself, George?
Still working in a broker's office?"

"Oh, I've got an office of my own now."

"Getting along all right?"

"Fairly well," Lerton said. "Business has been pretty good the last
year."

"Maybe you can dig up a few good investments for me, then," Prale said.
"I've got some coin now."

"I understand that you're worth a million, Sid."

"Yes, I've made my pile, and came back to New York to enjoy it. But come
along to the hotel."

"I'd--I'd rather not."

"Why not? We've got to talk over old times and find out about each
other. We're cousins, you know."

The truth of the matter was that Sidney Prale never had thought very
much of his cousin. Ten years before they had worked side by side for
Griffin, the broker. There was something furtive and shifty about George
Lerton, but he never had presumed on his relationship, at least. He and
Sidney Prale had been courteous to each other, but never had been warm
friends.

They came from different branches of the family. Lerton had some traits
of character that Prale did not admire, but he always told himself that
perhaps he was prejudiced. They had seen a deal of each other in a
social way in the old days.

"Let us just talk as we walk along," Lerton now said.

"All right, if you have an engagement," Prale replied. "We can get
together later, I suppose. How have the years been using you? Married?"

"I was--I am a widower."

"Sorry," said Prale. "Children?"

"No--not any children. I--I married Mary Slade."

"What?" Prale cried.

He stopped, aghast. Mary Slade had been the girl who had turned him down
for a man with money--and that man had not been George Lerton, who did
not have as much as five thousand at that time.

"It--it's a peculiar story," Lerton said. "You went away so quick--after
you quarreled with her. And that other man--she threw him over, soon.
She couldn't endure him, even with all his money. She regretted her
quarrel with you. I'm quite sure she wanted you for a time. I got to
taking her about. You didn't write, and she was too proud to look you
up, and so--after a time----"

"You married her," said Prale.

"About three years after you went away, Sid. She died after we had been
married a year."

"But she always wanted money, and I had as much as you."

"I made a strike soon after you left, Sid. I plunged with my five
thousand, and turned it into a hundred thousand inside four months. I
kept on, and got more. I was worth almost half a million when we were
married."

"I see. Well, there are no hard feelings, George. She was a good woman,
in a way, and I'm sorry you lost her. I suppose we'll have to get
together, for old time's sake."

"Are you going to stay here long, Sid?"

"Long? I've sold out all my Honduras holdings, and I'm here to spend the
rest of my days. I've come home for good, George. The United States is
plenty good enough for me. I'm going to be a civilized gentleman from
now on."

"You--you're not going back?"

"Why should I? I brought that million with me. I left nothing in
Honduras except a few friends. I suppose I'll run down there some day
and see them, but this is going to be home, you can bet."

"Don't do it, Sid!" Lerton exclaimed.

"Don't do what?"

"Don't stay here, Sid. Get out as quick as you can! Go back to
Honduras--anywhere--but don't stay in New York."

"Why shouldn't I? What on earth is the matter with you? Are you insane?"

"I--I can't tell you, Sid. But you are in danger if you don't leave New
York. I can tell you that much. That's why I didn't call at the hotel;
I'm afraid. Sid, I'm afraid to have anybody see me talking to you. If
you came to my office, I'd refuse to see you----"

"Why?" demanded Sidney Prale, in a stern voice.

"I--I can't explain, Sid."

"I've endured a lot of nonsense to-day, and I'm not going to endure any
more!" Prale said. "You're going to open your mouth and tell me what you
mean, if I have to manhandle you."

"You can beat me until I'm unconscious, Sid, but you can't make me
talk!" Lerton told him.

"But what does it all mean?"

"You'd better go away, Sid; you'd better get out of the country and stay
out!"

"No reason why I should. I never gave up my citizenship; I haven't done
anything wrong. I'm back in my old home, and I fail to see why I
shouldn't remain here if that is my wish."

"But you're in danger!"

"In danger from what?" Sidney Prale cried.

"You have powerful enemies, Sid."

"Why?"

"I--I don't know, exactly. But you have powerful enemies. Some of my
best customers have informed me that they are through doing business
with me if I have anything to do with you. They told me that before you
had been back three hours."

"Powerful enemies? Why? Business enemies?"

"I--I don't know."

"Um! So that is why the bank refused my deposit, why I was turned out of
a hotel, and why old Rufus Shepley raised such a row with me! Powerful
enemies, have I? But there isn't sense in it! I haven't done anything to
make powerful enemies, or any other kind. I'm about fed up with this
stuff!"

"Go away, Sid. You've got money--you can live anywhere!"

"You bet I can! And I'm going to live in New York!"

"Don't try it, Sid!"

Prale whirled and faced him. "You know more than you're telling!" he
accused. "You open your face and talk! I never did have any too much
love for you, and you can wager that I'm not going to let you frighten
me into running away from New York! Talk!"

"I haven't anything more to say, Sid!"

"If I have to choke it out of you right here----"

"You'd better not. It would give your enemies a chance!"

"Lerton, I've fought the Honduras jungles! I've fought half-savage men
and treacherous employees, snakes and fever, financial sharks and common
adventurers. I didn't come back to New York to back down in front of a
man like you--or half a hundred like you. Maybe that is strong talk--but
you have it coming! Give my enemies a chance? I'll give them all the
chance they want. Maybe they'll come into the open, then, and let me see
whom I'm fighting! I don't like foes that fight from the dark!"

"You'd better go away, Sid. I'm talking for your own good!"

"For my good? For yours, you mean! Afraid you'll lose a few customers
and a few dollars, by standing by your cousin, are you? Why don't you be
a man, tell me what you know, help me to fight! Bah! I'm disgusted with
you!"

He hurled George Lerton away from him, curled his lips in scorn of the
man.

"I've tried to warn you," Lerton whimpered.

"I don't understand this and I'm sure you could explain a lot, if you
would. Perhaps I've got more dollars than the customers you are so
afraid of losing. Suppose I hand my million to you for investment. Will
you talk, then?"

"I--I wouldn't dare touch it," Lerton whimpered.

Prale looked at him closely. "It must be something pretty bad to make
you toss aside the chance to handle a million in investments," he said.
"I know you, George! You'd sell your soul for money! You got anything
more to say to me about this?"

"I--I dare not say anything more."

"Very well. If you are afraid to be seen in my presence, kindly keep
away from me hereafter and don't worry about me looking you up at your
office. I'll not take the trouble!"

Sidney Prale said nothing more; he whirled around and walked rapidly up
the Avenue, enraged, wondering what it all meant, determined to find out
as soon as possible.

Lerton ran after him.

"Won't you go away, Sid?" he whimpered.

"No. I'll stay here, and if I have enemies I'll fight them!" Prale told
him. "Why are you so eager to have me run away?"

"I don't want to see you in trouble, Sid."

"That's peculiar. In the old days you used to gloat whenever I got in
trouble. You seem to have a wonderful and sudden regard for my welfare,
and I can't explain it to myself."

Once more, Prale whirled around and started up the Avenue. His brain was
in a tumult. What did George Lerton know that he refused to tell? Why
should there be powerful enemies? He knew of no reason in the world.

"He's dead eager to get me out of town," Prale mused. "There's something
behind it, all right."



CHAPTER VI

MURK--AND MURDER


Instinct, intuition, or some similar faculty caused Prale to turn off
the Avenue eastward toward the river. He was not angry now. His mind was
in action. He had convinced himself that there was something behind all
this, and he was eager for the solution.

Those mysterious warnings had begun on board ship, he remembered. The
piece of paper Kate Gilbert had dropped, and which he had picked up, had
writing similar to the messages he had received. He would have to engage
Jim Farland, he told himself, and learn a few things concerning Miss
Kate Gilbert.

Had the journey because of ill health been a subterfuge? Had Kate
Gilbert gone to Honduras to watch him? If she had, what was the reason
for it?

"It's enough to make a man a maniac," Prale mused. "And that Shepley
man! He was all right when we parted on the ship. Somebody said
something to him about me after he landed. He treated me as if I had
been a skunk."

Then he thought of George Lerton, his cousin. He couldn't quite make up
his mind about Lerton. The man seemed frenzied in his eagerness to get
Prale to leave New York. And Prale knew that it was not because of an
overwhelming love George Lerton had for him, not anxiety lest ill
fortune should come to Sidney Prale.

He would have to think it out, he told himself. At least, he knew that
he had foes working against him, and could be on guard continually. Down
in Honduras he had won a reputation as a fighter, and a fight was a
fight in any clime, he knew; there might be a difference in the rules
here and there, but the same qualities decided the winner.

He continued walking down the street toward the river. In Honduras he
had become accustomed to walking up and down the beach and looking at
the water whenever he wanted to think and solve some problem, and it
probably was habit that sent him to the water front now.

He tossed away the butt of his cigar and did not light another at the
moment. For a time he stood looking out at the black water, at the craft
plying back and forth, their lights flashing. He stepped upon a little
dock and started walking its length. After a time he came near the end
of it without having encountered a watchman, and sat down on a box in a
dark, secluded corner.

There, his back braced against the building and the building shielding
him from the cold wind that came up from the distant sea, Sidney Prale
sat and tried to think it out.

One thing made a comfortable thought--he had money with which to fight.
Either he was the victim of some injustice, or a grave mistake was being
made. He wished that he had forced George Lerton to tell him more, and
he decided that he would do so if they met again. He might even hunt him
out and force him to speak. Sidney Prale thought nothing of handling a
man like Lerton.

He heard steps on the dock and remained silent in the darkness, thinking
that possibly some watchman was making the rounds. If he was discovered,
he would say that he had been looking at the river, give the watchman
his card and a tip, and leave.

The steps came nearer and Prale could make out the form of a man
slipping along the dock's edge in a furtive manner. There was not light
enough for Prale to see his features. He was walking bent over, a short,
heavy-set man who did not wear an overcoat.

Prale watched as the man passed within six feet of him and went to the
edge of the dock. There he stood, outlined against the sky, looking down
at the water. Prale imagined that he heard something like a sob, and
gave closer attention. Then he saw the man take off his coat and drop it
behind him, remove his cap and place it on the coat, and look down at
the water again.

And then Sidney Prale sprang straight forward, and grasped the body of
the other as it was in mid-air.

"No, you don't!" Prale exclaimed.

He found immediately that he had a fight on his hands. The other whirled
and began kicking and striking. Sidney Prale hurled him backward,
rushed, caught him up again in a better hold, threw him back against the
building, and held him there, breathless and panting.

"Another smash out of you, and I'll drop you into the river myself!"
Prale said. "Suppose you take time to get your breath now."

"I--I thought you was a cop."

"Afraid of the cops?"

"It's against the law to--to try to commit suicide."

"So I understand," said Prale. "Well, I am not a cop. Trying to drown
yourself, were you? Why?"

"Why not?" the other asked. "I'm done with livin'."

"Not just yet, but you would have been if I hadn't been sitting here."

"I've knocked all over the world--and made a few mistakes," said the
derelict. "Oh, nothin' that would get me in trouble with the cops! But I
just found out that I'm clutterin' up the earth and don't amount to
anything. I'm sick of half starvin' to death, and workin' like a dog
when I get the chance just to get enough to keep a few old clothes hung
on me."

"Disgusted generally with your lot?" Prale asked.

"Yes, sir."

"Friends or relatives?"

"Not any."

"What's your name?" Prale asked.

"You mean my real name? I don't remember. It's been so long since I've
used it, and I've used so many others since that I don't know. What's
the difference?"

"I'll call you Murk," said Prale. "That expresses the dark river, the
deed you were about to do, and the evident state of your feelings."

"It's as good as any, I suppose."

"What's your particular grievance against the world in general?"

"It ain't anything in particular," said Murk. "It's just general."

"I see. A drifter, are you?"

"I reckon I am."

"Sore at existence, eh?"

"Well, what's the use of livin'?" Murk demanded. "There ain't a man,
woman or child in the world that gives a whoop what becomes of me. I'm
just in the way to be kicked around."

"Maybe you haven't found your proper place in the scheme of things."

"I've sure done some travelin' lookin' for it, boss, but maybe I ain't
found it, as you say. I sure ain't found any place that looks like it
needed me bad."

"Hard to make a living?"

"Oh, I get along. But, what's the use?" Murk wanted to know. "I ain't
got anybody--I get lonesome lots of times. If I had money, it might be
different."

"I'm not so sure about that," said Prale, smiling a bit. "I've got a
million dollars, and, as far as I know right this minute, I have just
one friend in New York."

"If I had a million dollars I wouldn't care whether I had a friend or
not," Murk said.

"You can be just as lonesome with a million dollars as you can without a
cent," Prale told him. "I was sitting down here because I was lonesome,
and because there are some enemies working at me, and I don't know who
they are or why they want to trouble me."

"Well, let's jump in the drink together," Murk said.

"Why not fight it out?" asked Sidney Prale.

"Mister, I've been fightin' for years, and it don't get me anything. It
just tires me out--that's all. The next world can't be any worse than
this."

"Are you a fighter, or a quitter?"

"Nobody ever called me a quitter."

"But you were trying to be a few minutes ago. You were going to quit
like a yellow dog!" Prale told him. "You were going to throw up the
sponge and give the devil a laugh."

"That's between me and the devil--nobody else would care."

"If you had a friend, an influential friend, and didn't have to keep up
a continual fight to hold body and soul together, could you manage to
face the world a little longer?"

"I reckon I could."

"How old are you?"

"Thirty-five," said Murk.

"Old enough to have some sense. I am three years older. I'm almost as
lonesome as you are. Why not join forces, Murk?"

"Sir?"

"If I showed you a corner where you would fit in, would you be loyal?
Would you stand by me, help me fight if it was necessary, and all that?"

"You just try me--that's all."

"Very well, Murk, I'm going to trust you. I told you the truth when I
said I had a million dollars. I have but one friend I can depend upon,
and I have enemies. I like to fight, Murk, but I like to have a good pal
at my back when I do."

"That's me, too, sir; but I ain't ever had the pal."

"You've got one now, Murk. You'd be dead now, but for me. So you must be
my man, understand?"

"I don't quite getcha."

"You're under my orders from now on, Murk. We'll have a nice row,
standing back to back perhaps. I'll take you on as a sort of valet and
bodyguard. You'll have good clothes and a home and plenty to eat and a
bit of money to spend. I'll expect you to be loyal. If I find that you
are not--well, Murk, I got back yesterday from Central America. I got my
million down there, by fighting for it, and there were times when I had
to handle men roughly. I can read men, Murk. Can you imagine what I'd do
to a man who double crossed me?"

"I getcha now! You needn't be afraid I'll double cross you. I don't
think this is real."

"It's real, Murk, if we strike a bargain. Do we?"

"I've got everything to win and nothin' to lose--so we do!" Murk said.

"Fair enough. Now we'll get off this dock. Pick up your cap and coat."

Murk picked them up and put them on, and then he followed at Prale's
heels until they were on the street and beneath the nearest light. There
they stopped and looked each other over.

Murk was short, but he was built for strength. Prale could tell at a
glance that the man, even poorly nourished as he was, had muscles that
could be depended on. Prale liked the look around Murk's eyes, too. Murk
was a dog man, the sort that proves faithful to the end if treated
right.

"Well, how do you like me?" Prale asked.

"You look good to me, sir."

"My name is Sidney Prale."

"Yes, Mr. Prale."

"You understand our little deal thoroughly?"

"Yes, sir."

"Come along, then. Here is a cigar--light up!"

Murk lighted the cigar, and Prale lighted another, and they went rapidly
up the street to Fifth Avenue. Prale signaled a passing taxicab, and
they got in. When the cab stopped, it was in a district where some cheap
clothing stores remain open until almost midnight.

Half an hour later they emerged again. Murk was dressed in a suit which
was somber in tone, and which was not at all a bad fit. He was dressed
in new clothing from the skin out. Prale took him to a barber shop, and
waited until the barber gave Murk a hair cut and a shave.

"Gosh!" Murk said, when he looked at himself in the glass. "This can't
be me!"

"It is, however," Prale assured him. "Now, we'll go home, Murk, and get
settled."

"Where is home?"

Prale named the hotel.

"I'd get thrown out on my bean if I ever stuck my nose in the kitchen
door," Murk said.

"You're not going into the kitchen, Murk. You're going to be registered
as my valet and bodyguard, and you're going up in the elevator with me.
Kindly remember, Murk, that you are the personal servant of Mr. Sidney
Prale."

"Yes, sir."

"And your boss has a million dollars and nobody knows how many secret
enemies. Those things give you a standing, Murk. When we are alone, of
course, you'll be a sort of pal. I never had a valet before and I
couldn't stand a regular one. Instead of being a valet, when we are
alone, I want you to be a regular fellow."

"I getcha, Mr. Prale."

"Off we go, then."

They arrived at the hotel, and Prale registered Murk as his valet and
took him up to the suite.

"You bunk in there, Murk," Prale said, pointing to another room. "Take a
bath and go to bed and get some rest. If you are inclined to throw me
down, you'll find some money and jewelry in the top drawer of the
dresser. Rob me and sneak out during the night, if you want to. Cut my
throat, if it's necessary."

"You needn't be afraid, sir--you can trust me!"

"I do!" said Sidney Prale.

Prale slept well that night. When he awoke in the morning, Murk was
dressed and sitting by the window. He drew Prale's bath without being
told, and then stood around as if waiting to be of service.

"I--I found this slipped under your door, sir," he said, after a time.

"What is it, Murk?"

"A piece of paper with writing on it, sir."

"More news from the enemy, I suppose. What does it say?"

"It says as how a man's sin always finds him out."

"That's interesting, isn't it? Do you think I am a sinner of some sort,
Murk?"

"I don't care if you are, sir!"

"Murk! You needn't get excited about it. Put the paper in the lower
drawer of the dresser; I'm making a collection of them," Prale said. He
went back into the other room and continued dressing. "Go to the
telephone and order breakfast served to us here, Murk," he directed.

"What shall I order, sir?"

"Order plenty of whatever you like, and tell them to make it double,"
said Prale.

Murk grinned and gave a proper order. Prale was dressed by the time the
breakfast was served. He and Murk made a hearty meal.

And then Prale lighted his morning cigar and began reading the
newspapers. Murk went around the suite, straightening things and trying
to be of service. He looked at Sidney Prale often; it was plain to be
seen that Prale was Murk's kind of man.

There came a knock at the door.

"See who it is, Murk," Sidney Prale said.

He did not even look up from the paper he was reading. He supposed it
was some hotel employee. Murk stalked across to the door and threw it
open. Two men stood there. Murk flinched when he saw them. He did not
know either of them, but he knew them immediately for what they were.
Murk was a man of experience.

"Mr. Prale in?" one of them asked.

"Yes, sir."

Without asking permission, the two men stepped inside, and one of them
closed the door. Prale dropped the newspaper and turned around to face
them.

"Are you Sidney Prale?" one of them asked.

"I am."

"You are under arrest, Mr. Prale."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Under arrest," I said. "You know your rights, perhaps, so you need not
talk unless you wish to do so."

"You are officers?"

They showed their shields.

"Straight from headquarters," one of them replied. "We want to take a
look around your room while we are here."

"Suppose," said Sidney Prale, "that you tell me, first, why I am under
arrest? Of what crime am I accused?"

"You are charged with murder."

"Murder? What crazy joke is this?" Prale cried. "And what particular
person am I accused of murdering?"

"You are charged with the murder of Mr. Rufus Shepley," the detective
replied.



CHAPTER VII

EVIDENCE


Many times in his life, Sidney Prale had been greatly surprised,
astonished, shocked. But never had he experienced such a feeling as he
did at this bald announcement of a police detective.

The statement was like a blow between the eyes. Prale stared at the two
detectives for an instant, his face flushed, and then he began to laugh.

"It isn't a laughing matter, Mr. Prale," one of the detectives told him.

"Pardon me, but it is so utterly preposterous," Prale replied. "I fail
to see how I can be accused of such a crime. I am not a cut-throat, and
Rufus Shepley was a man I met on shipboard casually, and have seen him
only once since."

"You can do your talking at headquarters, Mr. Prale," the officer said.
"I'll have to ask you to come along with us. I'll leave my partner here
to look through your rooms."

"The sooner I get to headquarters, the sooner this thing will be
straightened out," Prale said. "Murk, you will remain here in the rooms
until you hear from me. Let the officer look at anything he wishes to
inspect."

"Yes, sir," said Murk, glaring at the two detectives.

Prale faced the detective who had been speaking to him.

"Be with you as soon as I get my hat and coat," he said. "It'll not be
necessary, I hope, to put handcuffs on me."

"We can go to headquarters in a taxi, and I guess I can handle you if
you try any tricks," the detective replied.

"There are going to be no tricks tried," Prale said.

"Nevertheless, I think I'll keep a close eye on you."

"Do so, by all means!" Prale retorted.

"Ain't there anything I can do, sir?" Murk asked.

"Nothing except to remain in the rooms until you hear from me," Prale
told him. "If I should--er--be detained, I'll probably send for you."

"Very well, sir."

One of the detectives left the suite with Prale and walked down the hall
to the elevator. The second officer remained behind to go through
Prale's things in an effort to find evidence.

Prale said nothing regarding the crime as they journeyed in the taxicab
to police headquarters. His mind was busy, though. This appeared to be a
culmination of the annoyances to which he had been subjected.

At headquarters he was ushered into a room where a captain of detectives
awaited him.

"Don't have to talk unless you want to, Mr. Prale, but it probably will
be better for you to do so, and have an end of it," the captain said.
"Why did you kill Rufus Shepley?"

"That's a fool question. I didn't kill him. I had no idea he was dead
until the officer arrested me for his murder. I scarcely know the man,
captain. I made his acquaintance aboard a ship coming from Central
America, and I met him but once after leaving the ship. He told me his
business and gave me his card, and that is all. I'm ready to answer any
questions you may ask. This is some terrible mistake. I want to talk
about it--have an end of it, as you say."

"Very well, Prale," the captain said.

"Mr. Prale, if you please. I have not been convicted yet and am entitled
to some courtesy, it seems to me."

"All right, if you're going to be nasty about it," the captain said.
"But you won't gain anything by taking a high-and-mighty attitude with
me."

"I simply object to being addressed in the tone you used," Prale
replied. "I am no crook. Let's get down to business. Ask me any
questions you like, and I'd like to ask a few myself."

"That is fair enough," the captain said, a shrewd expression coming into
his face.

"Suppose you take it for granted, for a few minutes, that I am innocent,
and tell me when Rufus Shepley was killed, and where, and just how."

"Very well, Mr. Prale. A hotel attendant found the body at an early hour
this morning. It was in Mr. Shepley's room. The man was fully dressed.
The physicians say that he was killed about eleven o'clock last night."

"I understand; go on, please."

"He had been stabbed through the heart," said the captain. "Death had
been instantaneous."

"But why suspect me of the crime?" Prale asked.

"This was found beside the body," the captain replied.

From the desk before him he picked up a fountain pen. It was an
elaborate pen, chased with gold, and on one side of it was a tiny gold
plate, upon which Prale's name had been engraved.

"You recognize it?" the captain asked.

"Certainly; it is mine."

"Oh, you admit that, do you?"

"Naturally. But I fail to see how it came to be beside the body of Rufus
Shepley."

"A man who has committed a murder generally is in a hurry to get away,"
said the captain. "It is easy to drop a fountain pen from a pocket,
especially if a man is bending over."

"I don't even know where Shepley's rooms were located," Prale said. "I
didn't know the pen was missing until this minute----"

"Possibly not," replied the captain of detectives.

"And I am quite sure I do not know how it came to be beside the body,
but of one thing I am certain--I did not drop it there."

"Naturally, you would say that."

"And where is the motive?" Prale demanded. "Suppose you tell me what you
have against me, and then I'll proceed to tear your shabby evidence to
pieces."

"We have this particular case so well in hand that I can afford to do
that," the captain said. "Attend me closely and you'll see the futility
of denying your guilt."

"I am waiting to hear the evidence," Prale said.

"Very well. In the first place, you have recently spent some years in
Central America."

"Ten years in Honduras," said Prale.

"You made a fortune down there. We have communicated with the
authorities there and have learned many things about you. We have
learned that you have a hot temper and know how to handle men. You have
been known to beat natives terribly----"

"Rot! I was kinder than nine out of ten men of affairs. I have punished
a few natives caught stealing, for instance."

"Recently, Mr. Prale, you cashed in on all your properties down there
and announced that you were about to leave the country."

"That is correct," said Prale. "I made the million I went down there to
make. Honduras is all right in some ways, but a man likes to live with
his own kind. My home was in New York, and so, naturally, I decided to
return here."

"Did you not tell some of your friends and acquaintances, before you
left, that you were returning to New York for a certain purpose."

"I suppose that I did. My purpose was no secret. I had my pile and
wanted to enjoy life a bit and perhaps I wanted to show off a bit, too.
That was only natural, I suppose. I am proud of my success."

"Did you not hint that the purpose was something sinister--that you were
going to have revenge, or something like that?"

"Certainly not."

"Very well; let us get on," said the captain of detectives. "You say
that you first met Rufus Shepley aboard the _Manatee_?"

"Never saw him in my life until I met him in the smoking room on the
ship, and never had heard his name before."

"That is peculiar. Mr. Shepley was a man of large affairs."

"But I had been in Honduras for ten years, out of touch with men of
affairs in the United States," Prale replied. "I did the most of my
business with firms in South America."

"Just how did you happen to meet Mr. Shepley?"

"In the smoking room. We spoke, as passengers are liable to speak to
each other on a boat or a train. We talked of ordinary things and
exchanged cards."

"Did you happen to _play_ cards?"

"One evening, for a short time. But the game did not amount to anything,
and we quit early. Are you trying to insinuate that I killed the man as
the outcome of a gambling quarrel?"

"Nothing of the sort," said the captain, "Let us get on. You had no
trouble with Mr. Shepley on the ship--no trouble of any sort?"

"Not the slightest. We parted good friends just before the ship docked.
I went to my stateroom for my things and I suppose that he did the
same."

"When did you see him next?" the captain asked.

"Last evening, in the lobby of a hotel on Broadway," said Prale.

"What happened then?"

"Ah, I see where you are trying to get the motive," Prale said. "But I
think that you will agree with me, before we are done, that it is a slim
thing upon which to hang a serious charge of murder. I saw Mr. Shepley
sitting in the lobby and went up and spoke to him. We had been friendly
on the ship, I was feeling lonesome, and was glad to find somebody with
whom I could talk. Besides, he had expressed a desire to see me again."

"Well, what happened?"

"Something I am at a loss to understand. He berated me for daring to
address him. He acted like a maniac. I rebuked him for his manner, and
the hotel detective advised us to leave the place until we cooled off,
or something like that."

"Who left first?" the captain asked.

"I did. I was angry because there was a crowd around and I hated the
scene that had been caused. I went through the main entrance and stepped
to the curb."

"Shepley follow you?"

"Almost immediately."

"And you went up to him and threatened him, didn't you?"

Prale thought a moment. "I told him that I didn't know why he had
insulted me, but I didn't want him to do it again."

"What else?" the captain demanded.

"I believe I said that I ought to settle with him for what he had said
already."

"And then----"

"And then I went on down the street. The hotel detective, I think, heard
me speak to Mr. Shepley."

"Yes, I know that he did," said the captain. "And the hotel detective
also says that you were white with anger, and that you went off down
Broadway like a man with murder in his mind. Do you care to say anything
more?"

"Of course," said Prale. "I went down to Madison Square, and there I sat
down on a bench."

"Meet anybody there?"

"I did. I met an old friend, Jim Farland, who used to be on your
detective force, and who now runs a private agency."

"I know Farland well, and I'll send for him."

"I talked with Jim for some time," Prale went on. "I told him, I
believe, that I seemed to have enemies working in the dark. I told him
about the scene with Shepley."

"Um! What did Farland have to say?"

"Nothing, except that he couldn't understand why Shepley had acted so.
We talked the matter over for a while and then we separated."

"Very well. And where did you go next?"

"I walked up Fifth Avenue," said Prale. "It was after nine o'clock by
that time."

"Go straight to your hotel?"

"I did not," Prale said.

"Care to tell me where you went and what you did?"

"I have no objections. I walked up the Avenue, and met my cousin, George
Lerton, the broker."

"Meet him accidentally?"

"He overtook me--called to me."

"How long did you talk to him?"

"For only a few minutes," said Prale. "You must understand that, while
George Lerton is my cousin, we are not exceptionally friendly, and never
have been. We worked for the same firm ten years ago, and after I went
to Honduras, George made some money and got into business for himself;
at least he told me so last night."

"So you merely shook hands and renewed your acquaintance?" the captain
asked.

"There was something peculiar about the meeting," Prale replied.

"In what way?"

"Lerton urged me to leave New York and remain away. He said that I had
powerful enemies."

"What about that?"

"It is what has been puzzling me. So far as I know, I haven't a powerful
enemy on earth. I suppose I have a few business foes in Central America;
a man can't make a million without acquiring some enemies at the same
time. But I don't know of a single influential person who is my enemy."

"Didn't Lerton explain to you?"

"He refused to do so," said Prale, "and I told him to go his way and
that I'd go mine."

"Doesn't that story seem a bit weak to you, Mr. Prale?"

"It may, but it is a true story. Get Lerton and question him if you
wish. I couldn't make him talk--maybe you can. I'd like to know the
names of these enemies of mine, if I really have them."

"Anything else lead you to believe you might have enemies?"

"Yes. I have received several anonymous notes, some on board ship and
some since landing, that say something about retribution about to be
visited upon me."

"Why?"

"I don't know, captain. I never did anything in my life to merit such
retribution. I am sure of that."

"What time was it when you parted from Lerton?"

"It must have been about nine thirty or a quarter to ten."

"Go to your hotel then?"

"No; I turned east and went to the river."

"Wasn't that a peculiar thing to do at that hour of the night?"

"It may seem so to you," said Prale, "and I scarcely can tell why I did
it. I suppose it was because I wanted to think over what George Lerton
had told me, and down in Honduras I always used to walk along the beach
when I was thinking."

"Well?"

"I went out on a dock and sat down in the darkness to think."

"How long did you remain there?"

"For more than half an hour; and I had an experience. Another man came
on the dock. He was going to jump into the river, but I convinced him
that suicide was folly, and said I'd give him a job."

"Did you?"

"I did," said Prale. "I took him downtown and bought him some clothes,
and then took him to a barber shop, and afterward to the hotel. I
registered him as my valet. I call him Murk. I can prove by him that I
could not have killed Rufus Shepley about eleven o'clock, because I was
in Murk's company at that time."

"What time did you get back to your hotel with him?"

"It was a few minutes of midnight. We spent considerable time buying the
clothes and visiting the barber shop."

"Um!" the captain said. "We'll have to question a few of these people.
It seems peculiar to me that a millionaire would pick up a tramp and
turn him into a trusted servant."

"Perhaps it was peculiar. I can read men, I believe, and I decided that
Murk needed only a chance, and he would make good. He was broke and
friendless, and I was a millionaire and almost as friendless. That's the
only way I can explain it."

"I'm going to send you to another office under guard, Mr. Prale," the
captain said. "I'll have these people here in a short time, and we'll
question them. Just tell me where you bought the clothes for this man,
and what barber shop you visited."

Sidney Prale did so, and the captain of detectives made notes regarding
the addresses.

"That will be all for the present, Mr. Prale," he said. "I don't want to
cause any innocent man annoyance, but I can tell you this much--things
look very bad for you!"



CHAPTER VIII

LIES AND LIARS


Sidney Prale waited in an adjoining office, a detective sitting in one
corner of it and watching him closely. It was almost a prison room, for
there were steel bars at the windows, and only the one door. Prale
walked to one of the windows and looked down at the street, his arms
folded across his breast, trying to think it out.

The finding of that fountain pen in the room beside Rufus Shepley's body
was what puzzled and bothered him the most. How on earth could it have
come there? He tried to remember when he had used it last, when he had
last seen it. All that he could recall was that, the afternoon before,
he had used it to write a note in a memorandum book. How and where had
he lost it, and how had it come into Shepley's suite? Had he dropped it
in the hotel lobby during his short quarrel with Shepley, while he was
shaking the man? Had Shepley picked it up later and carried it home with
him? Prale did not think Shepley would have done that under the
circumstances.

Well, he'd be at liberty soon enough, he told himself. It was natural
for the police to learn of his quarrel with Shepley and to make an
arrest on the strength of that and of finding the fountain pen. His
alibi was perfect; they soon would know that he could not have committed
the crime.

It was almost an hour later when he was taken back into the other room
again. Prale had spent the time standing before the window, smoking and
trying to think things out. The captain of detectives was before his
desk when Prale was ushered into the office.

"I've been investigating your story, Mr. Prale," the captain said,
looking at him peculiarly. "It always has been a mystery to me why a man
keen in business and supposed to possess brains goes to pieces when he
commits a crime and tells a tale that is full of holes."

"I beg your pardon!" Prale said.

"Sit down, Mr. Prale, over there--and I'll have some of the witnesses
in. I have not questioned them yet, but my men have, and have reported
to me what they said. They have discovered several other things, too."

"I'm not afraid of anything they may have discovered," Prale told the
captain.

"Last night, you told Jim Farland that you had had trouble with a bank,
and at the hotel where you first registered after you came ashore, did
you not?"

"Yes; don't those things bear out my statement about the powerful
enemies?"

"We'll see presently," the captain said.

He spoke to the sergeant in attendance, who immediately left the room,
and presently returned with the president of the trust company. He
looked at Prale with interest, and took the chair the captain
designated.

"You know this man?" the captain asked.

"I do," said the banker. "He is Sidney Prale."

"Ever have any business with him?"

"Mr. Prale transferred a fortune to our institution from Honduras," the
banker said. "Yesterday he called at the bank, satisfied me as to his
identity, and made arrangements concerning the money."

"Mr. Prale has said that, for some reason unknown to him, you told him
you did not care to handle his business and didn't want his deposit,"
the captain said.

"I scarcely think that was the way of it," the banker replied. "We would
have been glad to take care of the deposit, which was practically one
million dollars. But Mr. Prale told me he had other plans and that he
would remove the deposit during the day, which he did."

Sidney Prale sat up straight in his chair. "Didn't you tell me that you
didn't want anything to do with me and my money?" he demanded.

"Certainly not," lied the banker. "You said that you wished to put your
funds in other institutions."

Prale gasped at the man's statement. It was a bare-faced lie if one ever
had been spoken.

"Why----" Prale began.

"I do not care to discuss the matter further," the banker interrupted.
"I am a man of standing and cannot afford to be mixed up in a case of
this sort."

"You'll not be mixed up in it," the captain said. "I just wanted to show
Mr. Prale that there were some holes in his story. That is all, thank
you!"

The banker left the room quickly, and Prale sprang to his feet, his face
livid.

"That man lied!" he exclaimed. "You could read it in his face! I don't
know why he lied, but he did!"

"Sit down, Mr. Prale, and let's have more witnesses in," the captain
said.

Once more he spoke to the sergeant, and again the latter went out, this
time to return with the manager of the first hotel at which Prale
registered.

"Know this man?" the captain asked.

"He registered at my place as Sidney Prale, of Honduras."

"Well, what about it?"

"We furnished him with a suite on the fifth floor," the hotel manager
said. "But he gave it up."

"Gave it up!" Prale cried. "Why, you called me into your office and told
me to get out, that the suite has been reserved and that there was none
vacant in the house. The bell boy can testify that he called me into the
office."

"Certainly he called you into my office, and at my request," the manager
said. "I wanted to know why you were leaving, whether any of the
employees had treated you with discourtesy. You told me that you had
been served poorly in the dining room the evening before, and that you
were done with the hotel!"

Prale sprang to his feet. "That's a lie, and you know it!" he cried.

"Captain," said the hotel man, "do I have to sit here and be insulted by
a man charged with a heinous crime?"

"That will be all, thank you," the captain said.

The hotel manager hurried from the room, and the captain grinned at
Prale.

"So he lied, too, did he?" the captain asked.

"He did!" Prale cried.

"There seems to be an epidemic of falsehood, to hear you tell it.
However, let us get on with the affair."

Once more he instructed the sergeant, and this time the man brought in
the hotel detective who had witnessed the trouble between Prale and
Shepley.

The hotel detective told the story much as Prale himself had told it,
except that he made it appear that Prale had threatened Rufus Shepley on
the walk in front of the hotel before they separated.

"Did you pick up a fountain pen of mine after I had gone?" Prale asked.

"I did not."

"See anybody else pick it up?"

"No, sir," said the hotel detective; and he went out of the room.

The sergeant next ushered in George Lerton. Prale sat up straight in his
chair again. Here was where his proper alibi began, with the exception
of Jim Farland. George Lerton's face was pale as he sat down at the end
of the desk.

"Know this man?" the captain asked.

"He is my cousin, Sidney Prale."

"How long has he been away from New York?"

"About ten years," Lerton said. "He returned day before yesterday, I
believe. I saw his name in the passenger list."

"Mr. Prale says that he met you last night on Fifth Avenue, and that you
told him he had some powerful enemies seeking to cause him trouble, and
advised him to leave New York and remain away."

"Why--why this is not so!" Lerton cried. "I haven't seen him until this
moment. I would have looked him up, but did not know at what hotel he
was stopping, and thought that he'd try to find me."

Prale was out of his chair again, his face flaming. "You mean to sit
there and tell me that you didn't talk to me on Fifth Avenue last
night?" he cried.

"Why, of course I never talked to you, Sid. I never saw you. What are
you trying to do, Sid? Why have you done this thing? We never were close
to each other, and yet we are cousins, and I hate to see you in
trouble."

"Stop your hypocritical sniveling!" Prale cried. "You are lying and you
know it! You saw me last night----"

"But I didn't!"

"You did--and tried to get me to run away, and wouldn't tell me your
reason for it."

George Lerton licked at his lips and looked appealingly at the captain
of detectives.

"I--I am a man of standing," he whimpered. "I am a broker--here is my
card. This man is my cousin, but I cannot lie to shield him. I never saw
him last night, and did not speak to him."

Lerton got up and started for the door, and Sidney Prale did not make a
move to stop him.

"It appears that your story is full of flaws," the captain said. "A
little of it is true, however; you did meet Jim Farland and talk to him
in Madison Square, and remained for the length of time you said. Jim has
told me that much. But he does not know where you went and what you did
after leaving him. What we are interested in is what you did in the
neighborhood of eleven o'clock last night. That is when Rufus Shepley
was killed. And now we'll have in that new valet of yours."

There was a snarl on Murk's face as he came into the room and sat down
in the chair at the end of the desk. Murk did not like policemen and
detectives, and did not care whether they knew of his dislike. He
flashed a glance at Sidney Prale and then faced the captain.

"Well, what is it?" he asked.

"Tell us where and how you met Mr. Prale first, what happened, and bring
the story right up to date," the captain commanded.

"Well, I went down to the river to jump in," Murk said, as if stating a
simple fact. "I was tired of fightin' to live and had decided to end it
all. Mr. Prale grabbed me and hauled me back, and then he made me see
that suicide was foolish. He offered me a job, and I agreed to take it.
He was the first man who had treated me decent since I----"

"Never mind that; get down to cases."

"Well, we walked up the street and got a taxicab and drove downtown, and
Mr. Prale bought me some clothes."

"What time was it when you met him?"

"I guess it was about ten o'clock. We bought the clothes, as I said, and
then we went to a barber shop, and I got a hair cut and a shave. After
that we went to Mr. Prale's hotel and up to his rooms. We got to bed
pretty quick."

"What time did you reach the hotel?"

"About midnight."

"What happened after you went to bed?"

"Went to sleep," said Murk.

"Never mind the jokes," the captain rebuked sternly.

"Well, I stayed awake about an hour or so thinking how lucky I was, and
then I went to sleep. I woke up early in the mornin' and got up and
dressed. Mr. Prale got up later, and we ate breakfast in the suite. Then
the cops came. One of them took Mr. Prale away, and he told me to stay
in the rooms until sent for. The other cop rummaged around the rooms and
then left."

Prale bent forward. "There is one man who can speak the truth," he told
the captain. "His story corresponds with the one I told you, doesn't it?
And doesn't it show that I could not have murdered Rufus Shepley at
eleven o'clock last night?"

"The story is all right, and it certainly corresponds with yours,"
replied the captain. "Just a minute!" He faced Murk again. "Who are you
and where did you come from?" he demanded.

"I ain't anybody in particular. I've been hangin' around town a couple
of months doin' odd jobs. Before that I was bummin' around the country
workin' whenever I got a chance."

"You felt grateful to Mr. Prale for giving you a job and a home, didn't
you?"

"Sure!" said Murk. "He talked to me decent, like I was a man instead of
a dog."

"Well, you don't seem to have much standing in the world," the captain
said. "Your word, against that of several prominent citizens, does not
carry much weight. You must see that. And there happens to be something
else, too. I had the clothing merchant and the barber you mentioned look
you over while you were in the other room. The clothing merchant says he
sold some clothes a couple of days ago, the ones you are wearing now,
but that he certainly did not sell them last night, and the barber
swears that he never saw you before!"

"Why, the dirty liars!" Murk cried.

"Did they say that?" Prale demanded.

"They did," the captain replied. "And they said it in such a way that I
believe them. Prale, your alibi is shot full of holes. You told the
truth about meeting Jim Farland, and that much is in your favor. Aside
from that, we have only the testimony of a tramp you said you picked up
and gave a job. You had plenty of time to kill Rufus Shepley. You had
ample time to concoct the story and get this man to learn it, so he
could tell it and match yours. You are worth a million dollars, and this
man probably was ready to lie a little for a wad of money."

"He tells the truth----"

"It's too thin, Prale! And don't forget the fountain pen that was found
beside Shepley's body, either! As for you Murk, or whatever your right
name is, you are under suspicion yourself."

"What's that?" Murk snarled.

"You are under suspicion, I said. You might have assisted at the murder,
for all I know. I don't know when you met Mr. Prale, or where, but I do
know that you got back to the hotel with Mr. Prale about midnight--an
hour after the crime was committed."

"You can't hang anything like that on me!" Murk snarled. "All the cops
in the world can't do it! I met Mr. Prale just like I said, and he
bought me the clothes and took me to the barber shop, no matter what the
store man and the barber say! It's a black lie they're tellin'! Mr.
Prale is a gentleman----"

"That'll be enough!" the captain exclaimed. "I'm going to allow you to
go, Murk, but you are to remain in Mr. Prale's rooms and take care of
his things. And you can bet that you'll be watched, too."

"I don't care who watches me!"

"As for you, Mr. Prale, you'll have to go to a cell, I think. The
evidence against you is such that I cannot turn you loose. You must
realize that yourself."

Prale realized it. His face was white and his hands were shaking. He
looked across the room at Murk.

"You go back to the hotel, Murk, and do as the captain says," he
ordered. "I'll come out of this all right in time. There are a lot of
things I cannot understand, but we'll solve the puzzle before we're
done."

"Ain't there anything I can do, sir?" Murk asked.

"Perhaps, later. I'll engage a detective and a lawyer, and they may
visit you at the hotel. I'll send you money by the lawyer. That's all
now, Murk."

Murk started to speak, then thought better of it and went from the room
slowly, anger flushing his face. Sidney Prale faced the captain of
detectives again.

"No matter what you think, I am innocent, and know that my innocence can
be proved," Prale said. "You are only doing your duty, of course. I want
Jim Farland to attend to things for me. He is an old friend of mine and
he is an honest man. Will you send for him?"

"He's waiting in the other room now," the captain said. "I'll let you
have a conference with him before I order you into a cell!"



CHAPTER IX

PUZZLED


Once more Prale was taken to the room in which he had first waited--the
room with the barred windows. This time the watching detective was
missing. When Jim Farland entered, he found Prale pacing back and forth
from one corner to the other. He was trying to think out his problem,
wondering what it all meant, why the witnesses had lied, and what would
be the outcome.

Farland rushed into the room, grasped Prale by the hand, led him across
from the door, and forced him into a chair. This done, the loyal
detective sat down facing him.

"Now let us have it from beginning to end!" Farland commanded. "I don't
want you to leave out a thing. I want to get to the bottom of this as
soon as possible."

Sidney Prale started at the beginning and talked rapidly, setting forth
all the facts, while Jim Farland sat back in his chair and watched him.
Now and then he frowned as if displeased at the recital.

"Well, there is something rotten," he said, when Prale had concluded his
statement. "I want you to know, Sid, that I believe you. You're not the
sort of man to kill a fellow like Rufus Shepley over a little spat. I
believe your story about this Murk, too. But why should everybody have
it in for you?"

"I haven't the slightest idea," Prale answered. "I must, indeed, have
some powerful enemies, but I cannot imagine who they are, and I know of
no reason why they should be against me. I'm simply up in the air."

"You keep right on trying to figure it out," Farland advised him. "You
might think of something in time that will give me a start in my work."

"Why did the banker and hotel manager lie?" Prale asked. "Why did the
clothing-store man and the barber lie? Why did George Lerton declare
that he did not see me and speak to me last night? And how did my
fountain pen get into Shepley's room?"

"Huh! When we know a few of those things, we'll know enough to wipe this
charge away from your name," Jim Farland told him. "It's my job to
answer those little questions for you. And now--you want a lawyer, I
suppose?"

"Yes. Can you suggest one?"

"The greatest criminal lawyer in town is named Coadley. I'll send him
right up here after I explain about this case to him. Thank Heaven, you
have plenty of money! A poor man in a fix like this would be on his way
to the electric chair. Coadley can fix you up, if anybody can. He can
make a sinner look like a saint."

"But I'm not guilty!"

"I understand that, Sid, but it doesn't hurt an innocent man to have the
best attorney he can get. I'll send you Coadley. Give me a note to that
fellow Murk, for I may want him to help me. Sure he's loyal to you?"

"I never saw him until last night, but I'd bank on him," said Prale.
"He'll stand by us!"

"Fair enough! You write that note right now, and try to get out on bail.
Tell Coadley to get busy on that right away. Get out under police
supervision, under guard--any way--but get out!"

Jim Farland hurried away, and Sidney Prale was conducted through dark
corridors to a cell, where he had the experience of hearing a door clang
shut behind him and the bolts shot. Prale never had expected to get into
jail when he was worth a million dollars, and most certainly he never
had expected to face a charge of murder.

He was allowed to send out for some luncheon, and it was more than an
hour before Coadley, the attorney, arrived. Prale was taken into the
consultation room.

He liked Coadley, and he liked the way in which Coadley regarded him
before he spoke.

"I believe that you are innocent," the lawyer said.

"The job will be to make other people think that way," Prale said, with
a laugh. The attorney's words had been like a ray of hope to him. "Did
Jim Farland tell you the story?"

"Yes. I'll try to get you out on bail, or get you out in some manner,"
Coadley said. "This appears to be a peculiar case. It is not only the
charge of murder; it is the fact that several men told falsehoods about
you. You haven't an idea who your enemies are?"

"Not the slightest."

"I'm glad that Jim Farland is working on this case for you, Mr. Prale.
He is a good man, and I may need a lot of help. I'll get my own
investigators busy right away, too, and we'll coöperate with Jim
Farland. You go back to your cell and take it easy. I'll get you out
before night, if I can."

Lawyer Coadley was a shrewd man, and his methods were the delight of
other attorneys and jurists. He lost no time when he was confronted with
a case that held unusual interest. Within an hour he was in court,
acting as if fighting mad.

Had a reputable citizen any rights, he demanded? Were the police to be
allowed to throw an innocent man into jail simply because there had been
a crime committed and somebody had to be accused? His client did not
care for an examination at this time, he said. Arraignment and a plea of
not guilty were all right, however.

Sidney Prale was arraigned, and the plea of not guilty was made and
entered. Then Coadley began his fight to have Prale admitted to bail.

The district attorney opposed it, of course, since that was his
business. The judge listened to the statement of the captain of
detectives. He heard Coadley say that his client could put up cash bail
in any amount, and was willing to abide by any provisions. Finally the
judge freed Prale on cash bail of fifty thousand dollars, but designated
that the bail could be recalled at any time, and that he was to be in
the custody of a member of the police department continually.

Coadley agreed, and left the jail with his client, a detective going
with them to stand guard. The detective had explicit orders. He was not
to annoy Sidney Prale. He was to withdraw out of earshot when Prale
talked with his attorney or anybody else with whom he wished to converse
privately. He was to allow Prale to come and go as he wished, except
that Prale was not to be allowed to leave the limits of the city. If he
attempted that, he was to be put under arrest immediately and taken to
the nearest police station.

Prale read the newspapers as he rode to the hotel with Coadley and the
detective. The story of the crime was in all of them, the tale of his
quarrel with Rufus Shepley and of the finding of the fountain pen, and
the inevitable statement that the police were on the track of more and
better evidence.

Prale expected to be ordered out of the hotel, but he was not, the
management stipulating only that he should not use the public dining
room. He went up to the suite, to find Murk there, sitting in front of a
window and glaring down at the street.

A cot was moved in for the use of the detective. Coadley held another
conference with Prale, and then left to get busy on the case. Murk
regarded the detective with scorn, until Prale explained the situation
to him. After that, there was a sort of armed neutrality between them.
Murk had no special liking for detectives, and he was the sort of man
detectives do not like.

Presently Jim Farland arrived.

"Well, Sid, Coadley got you out of jail and home before I could get
here, did he?" Farland said. "I suppose I'll not need that note of yours
now. Is this Mr. Murk?"

"It is," Prale said. "Murk, meet Jim Farland. He's a detective friend of
mine."

"Gosh, Mr. Prale, ain't there anybody but cops in this town?" Murk
asked.

"Jim is a private cop, and he has a job now to get me out of this
scrape," said Prale. "He's a friend of mine, I said."

"I guess that makes it different," was Murk's only comment.

"Oh, we'll get along all right," Farland put in. "I'm going to need you
in my business, Murk. I've told the folks at police headquarters that
I'd be responsible for you, so we can work together without being
pestered. Understand?"

Murk grinned at him. "You just show me how to help get Mr. Prale out of
this mess, and I'll sure help," he said.

Farland turned toward the police detective. "Go out into the hall and
take a walk," he suggested. "Mr. Prale will give you a couple of
cigars."

The detective took the cigars and went out into the hall, smiling. He
had no fear of Sidney Prale slipping down a fire escape, or anything
like that. Jim Farland was responsible, and Jim Farland was known to the
force as a man who felt his responsibilities.

"Now we'll get busy and dig to the bottom of this mess," Farland said.
"Been thinking it over, Sid? Know any reason why anybody should be out
after you?"

"I can't think of a thing," Prale replied. "I suppose I made a few
business enemies down in Honduras, but none powerful enough to cause me
all this trouble. I can't understand it, Jim. It must be something big
to cause all those men to lie as they did."

"Maybe it is, and maybe it is very simple when we get right down to it,"
Farland said. "I've started right in to work it out. Let me see those
notes and messages you received."

Prale got them from the dresser drawer and handed them to Farland. The
detective looked them over, even going as far as to use a magnifying
glass.

"Don't laugh!" Farland said. "A lot of folks make fun of the fiction
detective who goes around with a magnifying glass in one hand, but,
believe me, a good glass shows up a lot of things. It isn't showing up
anything here, though. Where do you suppose these things came from?"

"I don't know," said Prale.

"Got the first one on the ship, did you?"

"The first two. One was pinned to the pillow in my stateroom, and the
second was pasted on the end of my suit case as I was landing. The
mucilage was still wet."

"Didn't suspect anybody?"

"I didn't think much about it at first," said Prale. "I thought it was a
joke, or that somebody was making a mistake."

"Sid, have you told me everything?"

Prale remembered Kate Gilbert and flushed.

"I see that you haven't," Farland said. "Out with it! Some little thing
may give me the start I am looking for."

Prale told about Kate Gilbert, about the piece of paper she had dropped
as she got into the limousine, about the peculiar way she acted toward
him, and the attitude of Marie, the misnamed maid.

"Um!" Farland grunted. "We had one thing lacking in this case--and we
have that. The woman!"

"But I only met her down there and danced with her twice."

"Don't know anything about her, I suppose?"

"Not a thing. It was understood that she belonged to a wealthy New York
family and was traveling for the benefit of her health. At least, that
was the rumor."

"I know of a lot of wealthy families in this town, but I never heard of
a Kate Gilbert," Farland said. "I think I'll make a little
investigation."

"But why on earth should she be taking a hand in my affairs?" Prale
wanted to know.

"Why should you be accused of murder? Why should men tell lies about
you?" Farland asked. "Excuse me for a time; I'm going down to the hotel
office to find out a few things."

Farland hurried away, and the police detective entered the suite again
and made himself comfortable. Jim Farland went directly to the office of
the hotel and looked at a city directory. He found no Kate Gilbert
listed, except a seamstress who resided in Brooklyn. The telephone
directory gave him no help.

But that was not conclusive, of course. A thousand Kate Gilberts might
be living in New York, in apartments or at hotels, without having a
private telephone.

"Have to get a line on that girl!" Farland told himself. "She's got
something to do with this. I'll bet my reputation on it."

Jim Farland went to the smoking room and sat down in a corner. He tried
to think it out, groped for a starting point. He considered all the
persons connected with the case, one at a time.

Farland knew that Sidney Prale had told the truth. Why, then, had George
Lerton told a falsehood about meeting Prale and talking to him, when the
truth would have helped to establish an alibi? Why had the clothing
merchant and the barber lied?

"I suppose I'll have to use stern methods," Farland told himself. "Old
police stuff, I suppose. Well, I'm the man that can do it, take it from
me!"

He went up to Prale's suite again.

"Can't find out anything about that woman," he reported. "And I want to
get in touch with her. Keep your eyes peeled for her, Sid, and arrange
for me to catch sight of her, if you can. Now you'd better take a little
rest. You've been through an experience to-day. I'm going out to get
busy, and I'm going to take Murk with me."

"What for?" Murk demanded.

"You're going to help me, old boy."

"Me work with a cop?" Murk exclaimed.

"To help Mr. Prale."

"Well, that's different," Murk said. "Wait until I get my hat."



CHAPTER X

ON THE TRAIL


Farland engaged a taxicab, bade Murk get into it, got in himself, and
they started downtown. The detective leaned back against the cushions
and regarded Murk closely. He knew that Sidney Prale had guessed
correctly, that Murk was the sort of man who would prove loyal to a
friend.

"This is a bad business," Farland said.

"It's tough," said Murk.

"If it was anybody but Sid Prale, I'd say he was guilty. It sure looks
bad. And there is that fountain pen!"

"Somebody's tryin' to do him dirt," Murk said.

"There's no question about that, Murk, old boy. Well, we are going to
get him out of it, aren't we?"

"I'll do anything I can."

"Like him, do you?"

"Met him less than twenty-four hours ago, but I wish I'd met him or
somebody like him ten years ago," Murk replied. "If it hadn't been for
Mr. Prale, I'd be a stiff up in the morgue this minute."

"Strong for him, are you?"

"Yes, sir, I am!"

"Um!" said Jim Farland. "We're going to get along fine together. I was
strong for Sid Prale ten years ago, before he went away. And I'll bet
that, when we get to the bottom of this, we'll find something mighty
interesting."

The taxicab stopped at a corner, and Farland and Murk got out. Farland
paid the chauffeur and watched him drive away, and then he led Murk
around the corner.

"Know where you are?" he asked.

"Sure. Right over there is the little shop where Mr. Prale bought me my
new clothes," Murk said.

"Fine! That goes to show that Prale told the truth. Well, Murk, you
stand right here by the curb and watch the front door of that shop. And
when you see me beckon to you, you come running."

"Yes, sir."

Jim Farland hurried across the street, opened the door of the little
shop, and entered. The proprietor came from the rear room when he heard
the door slammed.

He knew Jim Farland and had known him for years. There were few
old-timers in that section of the city who did not know Jim Farland. The
man who faced the detective now was small, stoop-shouldered, a sort of a
rat of a man who had considerably more money to his credit than his
appearance indicated, and who was not eager to have the world in general
know how he had acquired some of it.

"Evenin', Mr. Farland," he said. "Anything I can do for you, sir?"

"Maybe you can and maybe you can't," Farland told him. "You been
behaving yourself lately?"

"What do you mean, Mr. Farland? I've been trying to get along, but
business ain't been any too good the last year."

"Save that song for somebody who doesn't know better!" Farland advised
him. "Change the record when you play me a tune."

"Yes, sir. Is there anything I can do for you, Mr. Farland?"

"Remember a little deal a couple of years ago?" Farland demanded
suddenly.

"I--I----"

"I see that you do. One little word from me in the proper quarter, old
man, and you'll be doing time. You've sailed pretty close to the edge of
the law a lot of times, and once, I know, you slipped over the edge a
bit."

"I--I hope, sir----"

"You'd better hope that you can keep on the good side of me," Jim
Farland told him.

"If there is anything I can do, Mr. Farland----"

"Do you suppose you could tell the truth?"

"Yes, sir."

"I'm going to give you a chance. If you tell the truth, I may forget
something I know, for the time being. But, if you shouldn't tell the
truth--well, my memory is excellent when I want to exercise it."

Farland stepped to the door and beckoned, and Murk hurried across the
street and entered the shop.

"Ever see this man before?" Farland demanded.

The storekeeper licked his lips, and a sudden gleam came into his eyes.

"I--he seems to look familiar, but I can't say."

"You'd better say!" Farland exclaimed. "I want the truth out of you, or
something will drop. And when it drops, it is liable to hit you on the
toes. Get me?"

"I--I don't know what to do," wailed the merchant.

"Tell the truth!"

"But--there is something peculiar about----"

"Out with it! Know this man?"

"I've seen him before," the merchant replied.

"When?"

"La-last night, sir."

"Now we are getting at it!" Jim Farland exclaimed. "When did you see him
last night, and where, and what happened?"

"He was in the store, Mr. Farland, about half past ten or a quarter of
eleven o'clock. He--he bought those clothes he's got on."

"Pay for them?"

"Yes, sir."

"Who paid for them?" Farland demanded.

"A gentleman who was with him," said the merchant.

"Ah! Know the gentleman?"

"I saw him to-day--at police headquarters."

"And you said that you never had seen him before--that he was not here
last night with this man. Why did you lie?"

Jim Farland roared the question and smashed a fist down upon the
counter. The little merchant flinched.

"Out with it!" Farland cried. "Tell the truth, you little crook! I want
to know why you lied, who told you to lie. I want to know all about it,
and mighty quick!"

"I--I don't understand this," the merchant whimpered. "I was afraid of
making a mistake."

"You'll make a mistake right now if you don't tell the truth!" Jim
Farland told him.

"I--I got a letter, sir, by messenger. I got it early this morning,
sir."

"Well, what about it?"

"The letter was typewritten, sir, and was not signed. There was a
thousand dollars in bills in the letter, sir, and it said that a Mr.
Prale had just been arrested for murder, and that he probably would try
to make an alibi by saying that he was here last night and bought some
clothes for another man. The letter said that I was to take the money
and ask no questions, and that, if I was called to police headquarters,
I was to say the man had not been here and that I never had seen him in
my life before."

"And you fell for it? You wanted that thousand, I suppose."

"I'll show you the letter, Mr. Farland. There was no signature at all,
and the paper was just common paper. I--I thought it was politics, sir."

"You did, eh?"

"Thought it had something to do with politics, sir. I thought the letter
and money might have come from political headquarters. I was afraid to
tell the truth at the police station."

"You mean you have been so crooked for years that you're afraid of
everybody who has a little influence," Farland told him.

"I thought it was orders, sir, from somebody who had better be obeyed."

"Oh, I understand, all right. Well, I scarcely think it was politics.
You've been played, that's all. Get me that letter!"

"Yes, sir."

The merchant got it and handed it over, together with the envelope. He
had told the truth. The letter was typewritten on an ordinary piece of
paper, and the envelope was of the sort anybody could purchase at a
corner drug store. Farland put the letter in his pocket.

"Here between ten thirty and a quarter of eleven, was he?"

"Yes, sir," said the merchant.

"All right! You remember that, and don't change your mind again, if you
know what is good for you. You'll hear from me in the morning. That's
all!"

Jim Farland went from the store with a grinning Murk at his heels,
leaving a badly frightened small merchant behind him.

"I know that bird," he told Murk. "He's a fence, or I miss my guess.
It's no job at all to run a bluff on a small-time crook like that. And
now we'll run down and see that barber."

They engaged another taxicab and made a trip. Once more Murk remained
outside, and Jim Farland entered and beckoned the barber to him.

"Step outside the door where nobody will overhear," he said. "I want to
ask you something."

The barber stepped outside, wondering what was coming. This man knew Jim
Farland, too, and he knew that a call from him might mean trouble.

"Trying to see how far you can go and keep out of jail?" Farland
demanded.

"I--I don't know what you mean, sir."

"Trying to run a bluff on me? On me?" Farland gasped. "You'd better talk
straight. Do you expect to run a barber shop by day and a gambling joint
by night all your life?"

"Why, I----"

"Don't lie!" Farland interrupted. "I know all about that little back
room. Maybe I'm not on the city police force now, but you know me! I've
got a bunch of friends on the force, and if I told a certain sergeant
about your little game and said that I wanted to have you run in he
wouldn't hesitate a minute."

"But what have I done, Mr. Farland?" the barber gasped. "I've always
been friendly to you."

"I know it. But are you going to keep right on being friendly?"

"Of course, sir."

"Willing to help me out in a little matter if I forget about that
gambling?"

"I'll do the best I can, Mr. Farland."

"Then answer a few questions. Did you get a typewritten letter this
morning, with a wad of money in it?"

The barber's face turned white.

"Answer me!" Farland commanded.

"Yes, I--I got such a letter and I don't know what to make of it," the
barber said. "I've got the letter and money in my desk right now. There
wasn't any signature, and I didn't know where the letter came from, or
what it meant."

"Then why did you do what the letter told you to do?" Farland asked.

"I--I don't understand."

Farland motioned, and Murk now stepped around the corner.

"Know this man?" Farland demanded.

"I--I've seen him before."

"That letter told you to go to police headquarters, if requested to do
so, and deny you knew this man, didn't it? It told you not to help a man
named Sidney Prale, arrested for murder, to make his alibi by telling
that he was here with this man last night about eleven o'clock, didn't
it?"

"Y-yes, sir."

"And you did just what the letter told you?"

"I was afraid not to do it, sir. I didn't know where that letter came
from, you see."

"Had an idea it came from some boss, didn't you?"

"I didn't know and I didn't dare take a chance, Mr. Farland. You know
how it is?"

"I know how it is with a man who has busted a few laws and knows he
ought to be pinched!"

"Did I make some sort of a mistake, sir? What should I do now?"

"Something you don't do very often--tell the truth," Jim Farland
replied. "How about this man?"

"He came here with the other gentleman last night about eleven o'clock,
sir. He got a hair cut and a shave, and the other gentleman paid the
bill."

"Thanks. Sure about the time?"

"I know that it was almost a quarter after eleven when they left the
shop."

"Well, I'm glad you can speak the truth. Get on your hat and coat!"

"I--what do you mean, sir? Am I arrested?"

"No. Get that letter and come with me. I want you to tell the truth to
somebody else, that's all."

The frightened barber got his hat and coat and the letter, and followed
Jim Farland and Murk to the corner. There Farland engaged another
taxicab, and ordered the chauffeur to drive back to the little clothing
store.

"Running up a nice expense bill for Prale, but he won't care," Jim
Farland said to Murk.

He compelled the merchant to shut up his shop and get into the cab, and
then the chauffeur drove to police headquarters. Farland had telephoned
from the clothing store, and the captain of detectives was waiting for
him. He ushered the merchant and the barber into the office, looked down
at the captain, and grinned.

"What's all this?" the captain demanded.

"It's Sid Prale's alibi," Jim Farland said. "These two gents want to
tell you how they lied to-day, and why they lied. It is an interesting
story."

The captain sat up straight in his chair, while Jim Farland removed his
hat, sat down, motioned for Murk to do the same, and made himself
comfortable.

"About that alibi," Farland said. "I know that George Lerton lied about
meeting Sid Prale on Fifth Avenue, but you don't, and so we'll let that
pass for the time being and get to it later. I just want to show you now
that Prale's story about meeting this man Murk was a true tale. This
clothing merchant is ready to say now that Prale and Murk were in his
place last night about half past ten, and that Murk got his clothes
there. And this barber is ready to swear that Prale and Murk arrived at
his shop about a quarter of eleven or eleven, and did not leave until a
quarter after eleven. Prale and Murk got to the hotel, as you know, at
midnight. Prale couldn't have gone to that other hotel, murdered Rufus
Shepley, and got to his suite by twelve o'clock, not if he left that
barber shop far downtown at a quarter after eleven, could he?"

"Scarcely," said the captain.

"Very well. Ask these two gents some questions."

The captain did. He read the two typewritten letters and he understood
how the fear of a political power might have been in the hearts of the
two men. He rebuked them and allowed them to go.

"Well, it looks a little better for Mr. Prale," the captain said, "but
this isn't the end, by any means. Remember that fountain pen of his that
was found beside the body of Rufus Shepley!"

"I didn't say that it was the end," Jim Farland declared. "I don't want
it given out that any evidence has been found that is in Prale's favor.
I just want you to whisper in the ear of the court that the alibi looks
good, and let it go at that. There's something behind this case, and we
want to find out what it is. Prale is out on bail--and let it go at
that, as far as the public is concerned."

"I grasp you," said the captain. "You want these enemies of his to think
he is in deep water, so they'll be off guard and you can do your work."

"Exactly," said Jim Farland.

"Good enough. I'll do my part."

"Know anything about a woman calling herself Kate Gilbert?"

"Never heard of her."

Farland explained what Prale had told him. The captain fingered his
mustache.

"Several thousand women in this town answer that general description,"
he said. "I'm afraid I can't help you, unless you can pick her up."

"That's what I'll do as soon as I can," Farland replied. "If I can get
my eyes on her once, I'll trail her and find out a few things. She may
have nothing to do with this, and she may have a great deal to do with
it. What do you know about George Lerton?"

"Shady broker," the captain replied. "Never done anything outside the
law, as far as I know, but he's come pretty close to it. I'd hate to
have him handling my money."

"Well, he lied about meeting Prale. He did his best to get Prale to run
away from town. That was a couple of hours before the murder, of course,
so it probably had nothing to do with that. But why should he try to get
Prale out of town? And, being a man of that sort, why did he say that he
wouldn't handle Prale's funds? You'd think a man of his sort would like
nothing better than to get his fingers tangled up in that million."

"I'll have a man take a look at George Lerton."

"Don't strain yourself," said Jim Farland. "I'm going to take a look at
him myself, the first thing to-morrow morning."

He left headquarters with Murk, and this time he did not engage a
taxicab. He walked up the street, Murk at his side, and puffed at a
cigar furiously.

"Well, Murk, we've made a good start," Farland said, after a time.

"Yes, sir."

"How do you like working with a detective now?"

"Aw, you ain't a regular detective," Murk said.

"What's that?"

"I mean you ain't an ordinary dick. You got some sense."

"Thanks for the compliment. I know men who would dispute the statement,"
Farland told him.

They walked and walked, and after a time were on Fifth Avenue and going
toward the hotel where Prale had his suite. Suddenly, just ahead of
them, they saw Sidney Prale and the man from headquarters. They hurried
to catch up with them.

"What's the idea?" Farland asked.

"Needed a walk," Prale replied. "Didn't feel like going to bed, and a
walk would do me good, I knew."

"I'll have some things to tell you in the morning," Farland said. "But
I'm not going to tell you to-night, except to say that it is good news,
and I'm issuing orders to Murk not to tell you, either. I want you to
forget the thing and get some rest."

"All right," Prale said, laughing; and then he stopped still and gasped.

"What is it?" Farland asked.

"Kate Gilbert!"

"Where?"

"There--just getting into that limousine. See her? The girl with the red
hat!"

"I see her," Farland replied, signaling the chauffeur of a passing
taxicab. "This is what I was hoping for, Sid. Go on to the hotel with
Murk and guard. I'm going to find out a few things about Miss Kate
Gilbert!"

He gave the chauffeur of the taxicab whispered directions, and then
sprang into the machine.



CHAPTER XI

CONCERNING KATE GILBERT


Given a definite trail to follow, Jim Farland was one of the best
trackers in the business. He liked to know his quarry by sight, and
conduct the hunt in a proper manner. And so he rejoiced, that now he was
following a person he believed to be interested in some way in the
Shepley case.

The limousine went up Fifth Avenue toward Central Park, and the taxicab
with Jim Farland inside followed half a block behind. Farland did
nothing except look ahead continually and make sure that his chauffeur
did not lose the other machine. He wanted to discover, first, where Miss
Kate Gilbert was going, and after that he wanted to acquire all the
information he could concerning her.

There was little traffic on the Avenue at this hour, and the limousine
made good progress. It curved around the Circle and went up Central Park
West. In the Eighties it turned off into a side street, and finally drew
up to the curb and stopped. The taxicab came to a halt a hundred feet
behind it. "Wait," Jim Farland instructed the chauffeur, showing his
shield. "Wait until I come back, even if I don't come back until
morning. You will get good pay, all right."

The chauffeur settled back behind his wheel, and Farland stepped to one
side in the darkness and watched. He saw an elderly gentleman emerge
from the limousine and turn to help Kate Gilbert out. Then the elderly
gentleman got into the car again and was driven away, and Kate Gilbert
went into the apartment house before which the limousine had stopped.

Detective Jim Farland hurried forward, but when he came opposite the
apartment house he slowed down and walked slowly, glancing in. It was
not an apartment house of the better sort. The lobby was small, there
was an automatic elevator, and no hall boy was on duty, that Farland
could see. There was a row of mail boxes against a wall, with name
plates over them.

Farland went up the steps, opened the door, and stepped inside the
lobby. He walked across to the mail boxes and began looking at the
names. He found some one named Gilbert had an apartment on the third
floor, front.

The stairs were before him, and Farland was about to start up them when
a door leading to the basement was opened, and a janitor appeared. He
was an old man, bent and withered, and he looked at Farland with sudden
suspicion.

"You want to see somebody in the house?" he asked, in a voice that
quavered.

"I want to see you," Jim Farland answered.

"What about, sir?"

Farland exhibited his shield, and the old janitor recoiled, fright
depicted in his face.

"I ain't done anything wrong, mister," he said hoarsely. "I obey all the
regulations about ashes and garbage and everything like that."

"Don't be afraid of me," Farland said. "I'm not accusing you of doing
anything wrong, am I? I can see that you're a law-abiding man. You
haven't nerve enough to be anything else. Suppose you step outside with
me for a few minutes. I just want to ask you a few questions about
something."

"All right, sir, if that's it," the old janitor said.

He opened the front door and led the way outside, and Farland forced him
to walk a short distance down the street, and there they stopped in a
doorway to talk.

"I'm going to ask you a few questions, and you are going to answer them,
and then you are going to forget that you ever saw me or that I ever
asked you a thing," Farland said.

"I understand, sir. I won't give away any police business," the old
janitor replied. "I know all about such things. I had a nephew once who
was a policeman."

"There's a party living in your place who goes by the name of Gilbert,
isn't there?"

"Yes, sir."

"How many are there in the family, and who are they, and what do you
know about them?"

"There is an old man, sir," the janitor answered. "He's a sort of
cripple, I guess. He always sits in one of them invalid chairs, and when
he goes out somebody has to wheel him. If he ain't exactly a cripple,
then he's mighty sick and weak."

"Who else is in the family?"

"He's got a daughter, whose name is Miss Kate," the janitor said. "She's
a mighty fine-lookin' girl, too. She's a nice woman, I reckon. 'Pears to
be, anyway."

"Do you know anything in particular about her?" Jim Farland asked him.

"Well, she's been away for about three months, and she just got back,"
the janitor replied. "I don't know where she was--didn't hear. While she
was gone, there was a man nurse 'tended to her father--cooked the meals
and kept the apartment clean and took him out in his wheel chair. Miss
Kate has a maid they call Marie--a big, ugly woman. She takes care of
things generally when she is here, but she was away with Miss Kate."

"How long have they lived here?" Farland asked.

"About three years, sir. But I don't know much about them. They ain't
the kind of folks a man can find out a lot about. They act peculiar
sometimes."

"Are they rich?"

"My gracious, no!" said the old janitor. "They pay their rent on time,
and they always seem to have plenty to eat, and I guess they can afford
to keep that maid and hire a nurse once in a while, but they ain't what
you'd call rich. But Miss Kate comes home in a big automobile now and
then, and she seems to have a lot of clothes. There's something funny
about it, at that."

"Think she isn't a decent woman?" Farland asked.

"Oh, I don't think she's a bad sort, sir, if that is what you mean. She
doesn't seem to be, at all. I guess she gets her swell clothes honest
enough. I think that she works for somebody and has to dress that way."

"Do they get much mail and have many visitors?"

"They get a few letters, and some newspapers and magazines," the janitor
replied. "And they don't seem to have many visitors. I've seen a man
come here once or twice to see them, and once he brought Miss Kate home
in an auto. He looks like a rich man."

"Is he old or young?" Farland asked.

"Oh, he has gray hair, sir, and looks like a distinguished gentleman,
like a lawyer or something. I guess he's rich. I think maybe he is an
old friend of Mr. Gilbert's, or something like that."

"They live on the third floor, don't they?"

"Yes, sir."

"Any vacant apartments up there?"

"Why, the apartment adjoining theirs happens to be vacant just now,
sir."

"You take me up to that vacant apartment," Jim Farland directed. "Let me
in without making any noise, and then forget all about me until I speak
to you again. Here is a nice little bill, and there will be more if you
attend to business. I'm an officer, so you'll not get in trouble with
the landlord."

The old janitor accepted the bill gladly, and led the way back to the
house. Jim Farland refused to use the elevator; he insisted on walking
up the stairs, and on going up noiselessly. When they reached the third
floor, he was doubly alert.

The old janitor pointed out the door of the vacant apartment, and handed
Farland a key. Then he pattered back down the stairs. Farland slipped
along the hall, unlocked the door of the vacant apartment, darted
inside, and locked the door again, putting the key in his pocket. And
then he moved noiselessly through the apartment until he had reached the
front.

He could hear voices in the apartment adjoining, and could make out the
conversation. A woman was speaking--Farland decided that she was Kate
Gilbert--and the weak voice of a sick man was answering her now and
then.

"Let's not talk about it any more to-night, father," the girl was
saying. "You'll not sleep well, if you get to thinking about it. You
must go to bed now, and we'll have a real talk about things when I have
something of importance to tell you. Get a good sleep, and in the
morning Marie can take you out in the Park."

Jim Farland could hear the old man mutter some reply, and then there
reached his ears the squeaking of a wheel chair being rolled across the
floor. He remained for a time standing against the wall, listening. He
decided that those in the Gilbert apartment were preparing to retire.
Half an hour later, Farland slipped from the room and went to the
basement to find the janitor.

"Here's your key," he said. "I'll be back here in the morning, and I'll
want to see you. And remember--you're not to say a word about all this."

"Not a single word, sir."

Farland went back to the taxicab and drove to his own modest home, where
he tumbled into bed and slept the sleep of the just. When Jim Farland
slept, he slept--and when he worked, he worked. Farland did not mix
labor and rest.

He arose early, hurried through his breakfast, got another taxicab and
went up into the Eighties again. The old janitor was sweeping off the
walk in front of the apartment house. The curtains at the windows of the
Gilbert apartment were still down.

"Give me that key again and give me a pass key, too," Farland told the
old janitor. "If the maid takes Mr. Gilbert out, and Miss Gilbert is
gone at the same time, I want to get into their apartment and take a
look around. Understand? And I'll want you to watch, so I'll not be
caught in there."

"I understand, sir. Here are the keys."

Farland reached the vacant apartment without being seen. The Gilberts
were up now and eating breakfast. He could hear Kate Gilbert trying to
cheer her father, but not a word she said had anything to do with Sidney
Prale, or Rufus Shepley, or anybody connected in any way with the
Shepley murder case.

"Now you must let Marie take you to the Park, father," he heard the girl
say. "It is a splendid day, and you must get a lot of fresh air. You can
go down and watch the animals. I'm going out now, but I'll be back some
time during the afternoon, and then we'll talk about things."

Jim Farland waited in the vacant apartment until he heard Kate Gilbert
depart. A quarter of an hour later, he opened the front door a crack and
saw the gigantic Marie wheel out the chair with Mr. Gilbert in it. They
went down in the elevator.

Farland waited for another quarter of an hour, until the old janitor
came up and told that he had watched the maid wheel Mr. Gilbert into the
Park.

"I'll just leave the elevator up here until somebody rings," the old
janitor said, "and I'll watch the floor below from the top of the
stairs. Then, if any of them come back, I'll tell you so you can get
out."

He took his station at the head of the stairs, leaving the elevator door
open so that the contrivance could not be operated from below. Jim
Farland unlocked the door of the Gilbert apartment and stepped inside.

The first glance told him that it was an ordinary apartment furnished in
quite an ordinary manner. It certainly did not look like a home of
wealth, and Sidney Prale had said that it had been understood in
Honduras that Kate Gilbert was of a rich family and traveling for her
health.

Many tourists claim to have money when they are away from home, of
course, but the part about traveling for her health seemed to Jim
Farland to be going a bit too far. Would such a woman be traveling for
her health and leave behind her at home an old father who was an
invalid?

"There's something behind that little trip of hers," Farland told
himself. "It looks to me as if she had gone down to Honduras to look up
Sid Prale for some reason. And Honduras isn't exactly on the health-trip
list, either."

He began a close inspection of the apartment, leaving no trace of his
search behind him, disarranging nothing that he did not replace. Jim
Farland was an expert at such things.

He ransacked a small desk that stood in one corner of the living room
and found a tablet of writing paper similar to that upon which had been
written the anonymous messages Sidney Prale had received. He found
scraps of writing in the wastebasket, too, and inspected them carefully.

"Somebody in this apartment wrote those notes, all right," Farland
mused. "But why? That's the question I want answered, and I'll have to
be careful how I start in to find out. You can't bluff that girl; one
look is enough to tell me that. If I jump her about those notes, she'll
probably get wise and cover her tracks, and then I'll be strictly up
against it."

He found nothing else of importance in the apartment. There were some
letters, but they seemed to be from relatives scattered throughout the
country, ordinary letters dealing with family affairs of no particular
consequence, and they told Jim Farland nothing that he wished to know.

But Kate Gilbert was only one angle of the case, he reminded himself,
and so he decided that he was done for the present as far as she was
concerned. It would be only a waste of valuable time, he thought, to
remain longer in the Gilbert apartment; and there were plenty of other
things for him to be doing.

Farland went all over the apartment once more, making sure that he was
leaving everything in its proper place, that there would be nothing to
show that anybody had been making an investigation there. Then he
hurried out and locked the door, returned the keys to the old janitor,
gave him another bill and instructed him to forget the visit, lighted a
black cigar, and started walking rapidly southward.

When the proper time arrived, Jim Farland would tell Miss Kate Gilbert
that he knew she had written the anonymous notes to Sidney Prale--or
that her maid had--and he would ask her why.

He reached Columbus Circle, made his way over to Fifth Avenue, and
continued his walk down that broad thoroughfare. Farland had decided to
go to the hotel and have a talk with Sidney Prale and Murk. He told
himself that he was going to like Murk, the human hulk who suddenly had
become of some use in the world.

But he did not get a chance to go to the hotel just then. He came to a
busy corner, and stopped to wait for a chance to cross the street
congested with traffic. Suddenly, a few feet to his right, he saw Kate
Gilbert, who had left her apartment only a short time before.

There was nothing startling in that fact alone, for this was a district
where there were fashionable shops and beauty parlors, and well-dressed
women were on every side.

What interested Detective Jim Farland the most was that Kate Gilbert was
standing before the show window of a fashionable shop in intimate
conversation with George Lerton, Sidney Prale's cousin!



CHAPTER XII

BATTERED KEYS


Farland started moving slowly toward them, making his way through the
crowd in such fashion that he did not attract too much attention to
himself. He was feeling a sudden interest in this case. There were great
possibilities in the fact that two persons connected with it from
different angles were in conversation.

As he made his way toward the show window, he remembered how this George
Lerton had tried to induce Sidney Prale to leave the city and remain
away, and how, afterward, he had denied that he had seen Prale on Fifth
Avenue and had spoken to him.

"He's connected with this thing in some way," Farland told himself.
"It's my job to discover exactly how."

But he was doomed to be disappointed. Before he could get near enough to
make an attempt to overhear what they were saying, they suddenly parted.
Kate Gilbert went into the shop, and George Lerton crossed the street
and hurried down the Avenue.

It was no use wasting time on Kate Gilbert. Farland knew where to find
her if he wanted her, and he knew there would be no use in shadowing her
now, since she probably had gone into the shop to purchase a hat. But
George Lerton was quite another matter.

The detective did not hesitate. He swung off down Fifth Avenue in the
wake of George Lerton.

Farland was a rough and ready man, and he had little liking for male
humans of the George Lerton type. Lerton always dressed in the acme of
fashion, running considerably to fads in clothes, appearing almost
effeminate at times. And yet it was said in financial circles that
Lerton was far from being effeminate when it came to a business deal.
There had been whispers about his dark methods, and it was well known
that a business foe got small sympathy or consideration from him. He was
a fashionable cut-throat without any of the milk of human kindness in
his system.

It was a surprise to Jim Farland to see Lerton walking. He was the sort
of man who likes to advertise his success, and he had a couple of
imposing motor cars that he generally used. But he was walking this
morning, and the fact gave Farland food for thought.

Lerton continued down the Avenue, and Jim Farland followed him closely.
He expected to see Lerton meet some one else and engage in another
whispered conversation, but Lerton did not.

"That boy is worried," Farland told himself. "He's one of those birds
who like to walk when they want to think something out. If I could only
know what was going on in that mind of his----"

Lerton had reached Madison Square, and there he did something foreign to
his nature. He crossed the Square, proceeded to Fourth Avenue, and
descended into the subway.

Farland was a few feet behind him, and got into the same car when Lerton
caught a downtown train. He followed when Lerton got off and went up to
the street level again, and now the broker made his way through the
throngs and along the narrow streets until he finally came to the
financial district. After a time he turned into the entrance of an
office building--the building where his own offices were located.

The detective watched him go up in the elevator, and then he turned back
to the cigar stand in the lobby and purchased more of the black cigars
he loved. For a time he stood out at the curb, puffing and thinking. He
watched the building entrance closely, but George Lerton did not come
down again.

As a matter of fact, Farland scarcely had expected that he would. He
believed that Lerton had kept an appointment with Kate Gilbert, and then
had continued to his office to take up the work of the day. Farland
decided that he would give Lerton a chance to attend to the morning mail
and pressing matters of business, before seeking an interview.

Finally, Farland threw the stub of the cigar away, turned into the
entrance of the building once more, and walked briskly to the elevator.
He shot up to the tenth floor, went down the hall, and entered the
reception room of the Lerton offices. An imp of an office boy took in
his card.

"Mr. Lerton will see you in ten minutes, sir," the returning boy
announced.

Farland touched match to another cigar. He was a little surprised that
Lerton had sent out that message. Lerton knew Farland, as Sidney Prale
had known him in the old days. He knew Farland's business, and he knew
that the detective and Prale were firm friends. He could guess that
Prale had engaged Jim Farland to work on this case and clear him of the
charge of having murdered Rufus Shepley.

After a time the boy ushered him into the private office. George Lerton
was sitting behind a gigantic mahogany desk, looking very much the
prosperous man of business.

"Well, Farland, this is a pleasure!" Lerton exclaimed. "Haven't seen you
for ages. How's business?"

"It could be better," Jim Farland replied, "and it could be a lot worse.
I'm making a good living, and so have no kick coming."

"If I ever need a man in your line, I'll call you in," George Lerton
said. "And the pay will be all right, too."

"Don't doubt it," Farland replied.

"Want to see me about something special this morning?"

"Yes, if you can give me a few minutes."

"All the time you like," Lerton replied.

That was not like the man, Jim Farland knew. Lerton was the sort to try
to make himself important, the always-busy man who had no time for
anybody less than a millionaire.

Farland smiled and sat down in a chair at one end of the desk. He
twisted his hat in his hands, looked across at George Lerton, cleared
his throat, and spoke.

"You know about Sidney Prale being in a bit of trouble, of course?"

"Yes. Can't understand it," Lerton replied, frowning. "Sidney always had
a temper, of course, but I never thought he would resort to murder
during a fit of it. You know, I never got along with him any too well.
He had a quarrel with his sweetheart in the old days and left for
Honduras twenty-four hours later and remained there for ten years."

"I know all about that, of course," Farland said. "You perhaps have
guessed that he sent for me--engaged me to get him out of this little
scrape."

"Murder, a little scrape?" Lerton gasped. "I should call it a very
serious matter."

"Let us hope that it will not be a serious matter for Sid," Farland said
with feeling. "I believe that the boy is innocent, and I hope to be able
to clear him. Will you help me?"

"I never had any particular love for Sidney, and neither did he for me,"
George Lerton said. "However, he is my cousin, and I hate to see him in
trouble. But how can I help you? I don't know anything about the
affair."

"An alibi is an important thing in a case like this," Farland said. "We
want to prove an alibi, if we can, of course. Sidney says that you met
him on Fifth Avenue----"

"And I cannot understand that," Lerton interrupted. "Why should he say
such a thing?"

"You didn't meet him?"

"I certainly did not! I cannot lie about such a thing, even to save my
cousin. Why, it would make me a sort of accessory, wouldn't it? I cannot
afford to be mixed up in anything of the sort. You must understand
that!"

"And you didn't urge him to leave New York and remain away for the rest
of his life?"

"I didn't see him at all," George Lerton persisted. "Why on earth should
I care whether he remains in New York or takes his million dollars
elsewhere?"

"I don't know, I'm sure," Farland said. "But it seems peculiar to me
that Sid would tell a rotten falsehood like that. Doesn't it look
peculiar to you?"

"I must confess that it does not," George Lerton replied. "I suppose it
was the first thing that came into his head. He was trying to establish
an alibi, of course, and he probably thought he would get a chance to
telephone to me and ask me to stand by the story he had told, thinking
that I would do it because of our relationship."

"I was hoping that you would tell me you had met him on Fifth Avenue,"
Farland said. "It would have made his alibi stronger, of course, and
every little bit helps."

"Stronger? You mean to say that he has any sort of an alibi at all?"

"A dandy!" Farland exclaimed. "In fact, we have an alibi that tells us
that Sid was quite a distance from Rufus Shepley's suite when Shepley
was slain."

"Why, how is that?"

"Sid picked up a bum and tried to make a man of him. He bought the
fellow some clothes and took him to a barber shop. The clothing merchant
and the barber furnish the alibi."

An expression of consternation was in George Lerton's face, and Jim
Farland was quick to notice it.

"Of course, I am glad for Sidney's sake," Lerton said. "But I had really
believed that he had killed Shepley. It caused me a bit of trouble,
too."

"How do you mean?" Farland asked.

"Shepley was a sort of client of mine," Lerton said. "I handled a deal
for him now and then. He has been traveling on business for some time,
as you perhaps know. I had hopes that he would give me a certain large
commission and that I would make a handsome profit. He was about
convinced, I am sure, that I was the man to handle it for him. His small
deals with me had always been to his profit and my credit."

"Oh, I understand!"

"And a possible good customer is removed," Lerton went on. "So you have
an alibi for Sidney, have you? In that case--if he did not kill Rufus
Shepley--he must have told that story about meeting me when he was in a
panic immediately following his arrest. Sid always was panicky, you
know."

"I didn't know that a panicky man could pick up a million dollars in ten
years."

"Oh, I suppose Sidney was fortunate. There are wonderful opportunities
at times in Central America, and I suppose he happened to just strike
one of them right. He was very fortunate, indeed. Not every man can have
good luck like that."

"Well, I'm sorry that I troubled you," Farland said. "And now, I'll get
out--if you'll do me a small favor."

"Anything, Farland."

"I see you have a typewriter in the corner, and I'd like to write a
short note to leave uptown."

"Just step outside and dictate it to one of my stenographers," said
George Lerton.

"That'd be too much trouble," Farland replied. "It's only a few lines,
and I can pound a typewriter pretty good. Besides, this is a little
confidential report that I would not care to have your stenographer know
anything about."

"Oh, I see! Help yourself!"

Farland got up and hurried over to the typewriter. He put a sheet of
paper in the machine, wrote a few lines, folded the sheet and put it
into his coat pocket.

"Well, I'm much obliged," he said. "I think we'll have Sid out of
trouble before long."

"Let us hope so!" George Lerton said.

There was something in the tone of his voice, however, that belied the
words he spoke. Farland gave him a single, rapid glance, but the
expression of Lerton's face told him nothing. Lerton was a broker and
used to big business deals. He was a master of the art of the blank
countenance, and Jim Farland knew it well.

Farland had said nothing concerning Kate Gilbert, for he was not ready
to let George Lerton know that he suspected any connection of Miss
Gilbert with the Rufus Shepley case. Farland was not certain himself
what that connection would be, and he knew it would be foolish to say
anything that would put Lerton on guard and make the mystery more
difficult of solution.

He thanked Lerton once more and departed. Out in the corridor and some
distance from the Lerton office, he took from his pocket the note he had
written on Lerton's private typewriter and glanced at it quickly.
Farland was merely verifying what he had noticed as he had typed the
note.

"That was a lucky hunch about that typewriter," he told himself. "This
case is going to be interesting, all right--and for several persons."

Farland had noticed particularly the typewritten notes that had been
received by the clothing merchant and the barber. There were two certain
keys that were battered in a peculiar manner, and another key that was
out of alignment.

He knew now, by glancing at the lines he had written himself, that those
other notes had been typed on the same machine. He guessed that it had
been George Lerton, the broker, who had sent those notes and the money
to the barber and the merchant.

Why had George Lerton been so eager to destroy his cousin's alibi?

Why was George Lerton trying to have Sidney Prale sent to the electric
chair for murder?



CHAPTER XIII

A PLAN OF CAMPAIGN


Naturally, a man facing prosecution on a murder charge is liable to be
nervous, whether he is innocent or not. If an attempt is being made to
gather evidence that will clear him, he wishes for frequent reports,
always hoping that there will be some ray of hope. And so it was with
Sidney Prale this morning, as he paced the floor in the living room of
his suite in the hotel.

Murk had done everything possible to make Sidney Prale comfortable. Now
he merely stood to one side and watched the man who had saved him from a
self-inflicted death, and tried to think of something that he could say
or do to make Prale easier in his mind.

They had not seen or heard from Jim Farland since the evening before,
when he had engaged the taxicab and had started in pursuit of the
limousine Kate Gilbert had entered. Prale wondered what Farland had been
doing, whether he had discovered anything concerning Kate Gilbert,
whether he had found a clew that would lead to an unraveling of the
mystery.

"Are you sure about that Farland man, Mr. Prale?" Murk asked, after a
time.

"What do you mean by that, Murk?"

"Well, he's a kind of cop, and I never had much faith in cops," said
Murk.

"Farland is an old friend of mine, Murk, and he is on the square--if
that is what you mean."

"He sure started out like a house afire, sir, but he seems to be fallin'
down now," Murk declared. "He sure did handle that barber and the
clothin' merchant, but he ain't showed us any speed since he left us
last night."

"He is busy somewhere--you may be sure of that," Sidney Prale declared.

"Well, boss, I ain't got any education, and I ain't an expert in any
particular line, but I've often been accused of havin' common sense, and
I'm strong for you!"

"Meaning what, Murk?"

"Nothin', boss, except that I'd like to be busy gettin' you out of this
mess. Seems to me I know just as much about it as you do, and if we'd
talk matters over, maybe I'd get some sort of an idea, or somethin' like
that."

Prale sat down before the window, lighted a cigar, and looked up at
Murk.

"Go ahead," he said. "It won't hurt anything, and it will serve to kill
time until we hear from Jim Farland. What do you want to talk about
first?"

"It seems to me," said Murk, clearing his throat and attempting to speak
in an impressive manner, "that this is a double-barreled affair."

"What do you mean?" Prale asked.

"Well, there's the murder thing, and then there's this thing about you
havin' some powerful and secret enemies that are tryin' to do you dirt
without even comin' out in the open about it. Maybe them two things are
mixed together, and maybe again they ain't. If they ain't, we've got two
jobs on our hands."

"And, if they are?" Prale asked.

"Then it looks to me, boss, like the gang that's after you is tryin' to
hang this murder on you after havin' had somebody croak that Shepley
guy."

"I've thought of that, Murk. But it doesn't look possible," Prale said.
"If my enemies merely wanted to hang a murder charge on me, as you have
suggested, I think they would have planned better and would have made
the evidence against me more conclusive. It would mean that there would
be a lot of persons in the secret; the men who plan murder do not like
to take the entire town into confidence about it."

"Well, that sounds reasonable," Murk admitted.

"And why Rufus Shepley?"

"Because you had that spat with him in the lobby of the hotel, and it
could be shown that you had a reason for knifin' him," Murk said, with
evident satisfaction.

"Nobody could have known I was going to have that quarrel with Shepley,
because I had no idea of it myself when I entered the hotel lobby,"
Prale said. "After I left the hotel, I met Farland and then walked down
to the river and met you--and you know the rest. How could they have
contemplated hanging that crime on me when they did not know but that I
had a perfect alibi? I think we're on the wrong track, Murk."

"Well, boss, how about your fountain pen?" Murk asked. "How come it was
found beside the body?"

"That is one of the biggest puzzles in the whole thing, Murk. I cannot
remember exactly when I had the pen last. I cannot imagine how it got
into Shepley's room and on the floor beside his body. That fountain pen
of mine is an important factor in this case, Murk, and it has me
worried."

"It seems to me," Murk said, "that if I had any powerful enemies after
my scalp, I'd know the birds and be watchin' out for them all the time,
to see that they didn't start anything when I was lookin' in the other
direction."

"But, Murk, I haven't the slightest idea who they are," Sidney Prale
declared. "I don't know why I should have enemies that amount to
anything, and that is what makes it so puzzling. How can I work this
thing out when I don't even know where to start? I wish Jim Farland
would come."

Jim Farland did, at that moment. Murk let him in, and the detective
tossed his hat on a chair, sat down in another, lighted one of his own
black cigars, and looked at Sidney Prale through narrowed eyes.

"Well, Jim?" Prale asked.

"I talk when I've really got something to say, but I'm not going to make
general conversation and muddle your brains with a lot of scattered
junk," Jim Farland replied. "I'll say this much--things are looking much
better for you."

"That sounds good, Jim. Can't you tell me anything?" Prale asked,
sitting forward on his chair.

"The barber and the clothing merchant have fixed up a part of your
alibi, Sid, as perhaps Murk has told you. That is the first point. It
makes it look impossible for you to have slain Rufus Shepley, and I
think Lawyer Coadley could get the charge against you dismissed on that
alone."

"But I want to be entirely cleared."

"Exactly. You don't want to leave the slightest doubt in the mind of a
single person. There is but one way to clear you absolutely, Sid. We've
got to show conclusively that you could not have killed Shepley, and the
best way to do that is to find the person who did."

"I understand, Jim."

"There seems to be some sort of a mysterious alliance against you, Sid.
You say that you can't understand why you should have enemies that hate
you so, and I know you're telling the truth. Whether that business has
anything to do with the murder, or not, I am not prepared to say now.
But we want to find out about this enemy business, too, don't we?"

"Certainly," Prale said.

"I followed Kate Gilbert. I know where she lives. She does not belong to
a rich family and does not live in splendor. But she wears expensive
gowns and has plenty of spending money, and has mysterious dealings with
a distinguished-looking man. Her father is mixed up in it in some way,
too. I went through their apartment, Sid. Somebody in that apartment
wrote the anonymous notes you received."

"What?" Prale gasped.

"I found a tablet of the same sort of paper, and scraps of writing in
the wastebasket that were in the same hand. Think, Sid! On the ship----"

"By George!" Prale exclaimed. "She could have slipped into my stateroom
and pinned that note to my pillow, and she could have stuck the second
one on my suit case as I walked past her on the deck."

"And could have sent the others," Farland added.

"But, why?" Prale demanded. "I never saw the woman until I met her at a
social affair in Honduras. What could she or any of her people have
against me?"

"Perhaps it was the maid," Farland said.

"She could have done it, of course, the same as Kate Gilbert," Prale
said. "But the same difficulty holds good--why? Kate Gilbert did seem to
avoid me, and I caught her big maid glaring at me once or twice as if
she hated the sight of me. But why on earth----"

Farland cleared his throat. "Here is another thought for you to digest,"
he said. "This Kate Gilbert knows your cousin, George Lerton."

Sidney Prale suddenly sat up straight in his chair again, his eyes
blinking rapidly.

"Doesn't that open up possibilities?" Jim Farland asked him. "The woman
seems to be working against you for some reason, and we know that George
Lerton lied about meeting you on Fifth Avenue that night. It appears
that he is working against you, too, for some mysterious motive."

A dangerous gleam came into Sidney Prale's eyes. "That simplifies
matters," he said. "I'll watch for Kate Gilbert, and when I see her I'll
ask why she sent me those notes. Then I'll get George Lerton alone and
choke out of him why he lied about meeting me on the Avenue. I've
trimmed worse men than George Lerton."

"You'll be a good little boy and do nothing of the sort," Farland told
him. "We are playing a double game, remember--trying to solve this enemy
business, and at the same time trying to clear you of a murder charge.
If any of those persons get the idea that we are unduly interested in
them, we may not have such an easy time of it."

"I understand that, of course."

"Let me tell you a few more things, Sid. I saw Lerton talking to Miss
Gilbert on the street. They were speaking in very low tones. When they
parted, I followed Lerton to his office, and went in and talked to him.
I did it just to size him up. He still declares that he never met you on
Fifth Avenue. He acts like a man afraid of something; and I discovered
an interesting thing, Sid. He has a typewriter in his private office,
one for his personal use. I managed to type a short note on it."

"What of that?"

"That typewriter has a few bad keys, Sid. And I discovered this--that
the notes sent to the barber and merchant, that caused them to lie and
try to smash your alibi, were written on the typewriter in George
Lerton's office!"

Prale sprang to his feet. "Then Lerton has something to do with this!"
he cried. "He tried to get me to leave town, and he tried to break down
my alibi. How did he know I was going to make an alibi like that?"

"My guess is that your cousin has been having you watched since you got
off the ship."

"But, why?" Prale cried. "It is true that he married the girl who had
jilted me a few years before, but I do not hold that against him. I know
of no reason why he should work against me so."

"Know anything about him that might cause him serious trouble if you
talked?"

"No," Prale replied. "As much as I dislike him, as much as I suspect
that he is crooked in business, all that I really could say would be
that he had a mean disposition and was not to be trusted too far."

"I thought maybe you had something on him, and he was trying to get you
out of the way so you'd not talk," Farland said. "That would explain a
lot, of course."

"It can't be that."

"Then we are up in the air again."

"Why not ask him?" Prale demanded. "Believe me, I'll wait for him to
come from his office--and he'll answer me, and tell the truth!"

"Put that hot head of yours under the nearest cold-water faucet!"
Farland commanded. "You make a move that I don't sanction, and I'll quit
the case! You'll spoil things, Sid, if you're not careful. Just digest
what I have told you."

"You're in command, Jim!"

"Very well. You leave George Lerton to me, Sid. There are many angles to
this case, and I can't attend to all of them at once. I don't want to
call in other detectives, because they may be in the pay of these
mysterious enemies of yours, and I haven't an assistant with an ounce of
brains. Sid, you've got to turn detective yourself--you and Murk."

"I was just wonderin' if I was goin' to get a chance to do anything,"
Murk said.

"Plenty of chances," Farland replied. "Sid, you pick up this Kate
Gilbert, if you can. Act as if you did not suspect a thing. Try to talk
to her--you were introduced to her in Honduras, and all that. Don't let
her get nervous about you, but watch her as much as you can, and let me
know everything you see and hear. Take a look at that big maid, Marie,
when you get a chance. If you can do so, and think it advisable, put
Murk on Marie's trail. I'll want to use Murk later myself."

Sidney Prale was quick to agree. And thus, without being aware of it, he
started on a short career of adventure and romance.

Had Murk been a crystal gazer or something of the sort, and could he
have looked into the future in that manner, he would have said that the
crystal lied.



CHAPTER XIV

MORE MYSTERY


Jim Farland went from the hotel to Coadley's office, to ascertain
whether the attorney's private investigators, who were working
independently of him, had unearthed anything of importance in connection
with the case.

Sidney Prale stated that he would go for a walk, and the police
detective, now thoroughly convinced that he would not try to run away,
raised no objection. It was Prale's intention to make an attempt to meet
Kate Gilbert. Murk hurried around getting his coat and hat and gloves
and stick.

"Fool idea!" Prale told himself. "Kate Gilbert has given me the cold
shoulder already, and she certainly will do it now, since I stand
accused of murder. Not a chance in the world of getting better
acquainted with her now."

"What do you want me to do, boss?" Murk asked. "I don't seem to be
amountin' to much in this game. I'd like to be in action, I would! Can't
I take a hand?"

"As soon as possible," Prale told him. "Remember, Farland said he wanted
you to help him later."

"I'd rather help you or work alone," Murk said. "I reckon he is pretty
decent for a detective, but I don't put much stock in any of 'em."

Prale laughed as he finished dressing, put on his hat and gloves, and
reached for his stick.

"Suppose you just shadow me this fine day," he told Murk. "Get a little
practice in that line. Don't bother me, but just follow and watch."

"I getcha, boss. You want me to be within hailin' distance in case you
need help?"

"Exactly, Murk. We never can tell what is going to happen, you know. I
may need you in a hurry."

"I'll be on hand," Murk promised.

Sidney Prale went down in the elevator, Murk going down in the same car.
Prale lounged about the lobby for a time, and Murk made himself as
inconspicuous as possible in a corner. Prale believed, as Farland had
intimated, that he was being followed and watched, possibly by the
orders of George Lerton, his cousin. He did not know why Lerton should
have done it, but it angered him, and he wanted to discover the man
following him.

He saw nobody in the lobby who appeared at all conspicuous, and after a
short time he left and started walking briskly down the Avenue, like any
gentleman taking a constitutional. The midday throngs were on the
streets. Prale was forced to walk slower, and now and then he stopped to
look in at a shop window. Once in a while he stepped to the curb and
glanced behind. But if there was a "shadow" Prale did not see him.

He did see Murk, however, and he smiled at Murk's methods. Murk remained
a short distance behind him, moving up closer whenever Prale was forced
to cross the street, so he would not lose him in the throng. Murk was
ordinary-looking and had a happy faculty of effacing himself in a crowd.
He was on the job every minute, watching Sidney Prale, glancing at every
man or woman who approached Prale or as much as looked at him.

Prale reached Forty-second Street, crossed it, and came opposite the
library. He glanced aside--and saw Miss Kate Gilbert walking down the
wide steps.

It was a ticklish moment for Sidney Prale, but he remembered that he was
fighting to protect himself. If Kate Gilbert ignored him, he could not
help it. At least, he would give her the chance.

She could not avoid seeing him, for they met face to face at the bottom
of the steps. Prale lifted his hat.

"Good morning, Miss Gilbert," he said.

She turned and met his eyes squarely, and he could see that she
hesitated for a moment. Then her face brightened, and she stepped toward
him.

"Good morning," she replied. "Although it is a little after noon, I am
afraid."

Her words might have been for the benefit of any who heard. They were
light enough and cordial enough, but she did not offer him her hand, and
the expression on her face was scarcely one of welcome.

"I am glad to see you again," Prale said.

"You are settled and feeling at home?"

"In a measure," he said.

She had not mentioned the crime of which he was accused, and he did not
wish to be the first to speak of it. She stepped still closer.

"I want to talk to you, Mr. Prale," she said. "Kindly get a taxi and
have the chauffeur drive us through the Park."

Prale scarcely could believe his good fortune. He had doubted whether he
would have a chance to talk to her, and here she was asking him to
engage a taxicab so that they could enjoy a conversation.

He hailed a passing taxi, put her in, gave the chauffeur his directions,
and sprang in himself. The machine turned at the first corner and
started back up the Avenue in the heavy traffic.

"You wished to speak to me about something in particular?" Prale asked.

"Yes. I have read of the crime of which you are accused. I am sure that
you are not guilty."

"Thank you, Miss Gilbert. I assure you that I am not. It is an
unfortunate affair, which we hope to have cleared up within a short
time."

"I hope that you will be free soon," she said. "And then you will be
able to enjoy yourself, I suppose."

"I hope to have my vacation yet," Prale said.

"You are going to remain in New York?"

"Certainly; it is my home."

"Sometimes a man does better away from home."

"But I have been away from home for ten years. I have made my pile, as
the saying is, and have come home to show off and lord it over my
neighbors," Prale replied, laughing.

They had reached the lower end of Central Park now, and the taxi turned
into a driveway, and made its way around the curves toward the upper
end. The chauffeur was busy nodding to others of his craft and paying no
attention to his fares. Sweethearts, he supposed, talking silly nothings
as they were driven through the Park. The chauffeur was used to such; he
hauled many of them.

Kate Gilbert leaned a bit closer to Prale, and when she spoke it was in
a low, tense voice.

"Go away from New York, Mr. Prale!"

"Why should I do that?" he asked.

"It would be better for you, I feel sure."

"Because of the absurd charge against me? I intend to have my innocence
proved, and I'd hate to run away and let people think that perhaps I was
guilty after all."

"You have the right to prove your innocence of such a charge to all the
world," she said. "But, after you have done it conclusively, you should
go away."

"Why?" he asked, again.

"Because--you have enemies, Mr. Prale!"

"I have discovered that; but I do not know why I should have enemies."

"Perhaps you did something, some time, to create them."

"But I haven't," Prale declared.

"Retribution comes when we least expect it, Mr. Prale."

"Yes. I believe that you wrote that in one of your notes."

He had said it! And Jim Farland had told him not to let her suspect that
they knew. Well, he couldn't help it now.

Kate Gilbert gasped and sat back from him.

"In my note?" she said.

"The notes interested me greatly, Miss Gilbert. I have saved them. But
why should you send them to me?"

"You can ask me that!" she exclaimed. "So you know that I wrote them, do
you? In that case, Mr. Prale, you know why I spoke of retribution, you
probably know my identity and intentions, and you know why you have
enemies!"

"But I do not!" he protested.

"Please do not attempt to tell a falsehood, Mr. Prale. You know I wrote
the notes, do you? Then you know everything else. So you are going to
fight."

"I fail to understand all this."

"Another falsehood!" she cried. "I have asked you to leave New York
and----"

"And I fail to see why I should."

"Then remain--and receive the retribution!" she said. "You will deserve
all you get, Sidney Prale! When I think of what you have done----"

She ceased speaking, and turned to glance through the window.

"You were kind enough to say that you believed me innocent of the murder
charge----"

"I do. I hate to have you facing a thing like that when you are
innocent. But this other thing is----"

"Can't you explain? I give you my word of honor that I do not understand
this."

"Your word of honor!" she sneered, facing him again. "You speak of
honor--you? That is the best jest of all!"

Sidney Prale's face flushed.

"I had hoped that I was a man of honor," he said. "I always have tried
to be honorable in my dealings with men and women, all my life. Please
understand that, Miss Gilbert."

"If you have tried, you have failed miserably. Why do you persist in
telling falsehoods, Mr. Prale. Do you think that I am a weak, silly
woman ready to be hoodwinked by lies?"

"But I assure you----"

"I do not care for any of your assurances," she interrupted. "I wish it
understood that we are strangers hereafter. You are going to fight, are
you? Fight, Sidney Prale--and lose! What I said was correct--you cannot
dodge retribution. It will take more than a million dollars to be able
to do that."

"My dear young lady----"

"I am done, Mr. Prale. I have said all that I intend saying to you."

"Then it is my turn to talk!" Prale said. "This thing is getting to be
so serious that I demand an explanation. Why should you, and others, be
so eager to run me out of New York?"

"Others?"

"Yes--particularly one man we both know."

"His name, please?"

"Why ask, Miss Gilbert?"

"Very well."

"Why do you want me to run away?"

"I did not know that others were trying to get you to leave," she said.
"I suggested it because--well, because I am a woman, I suppose. You
deserve the worst that can happen to you. But a woman, has a kind
thought now and then. I hate to see any man ground down and down, no
matter how much he deserves it--and that is what is to happen to you if
you do not go away. If you leave, your enemies will not use such harsh
measures, perhaps. But when you are here before their very eyes, they
will lift their hands against you!"

"Who are these enemies, and why are they after my scalp?"

"You know, Sidney Prale, as well as I. I can see that it is useless to
talk to you. I am sorry that I had a moment's compassion and made the
attempt. Please stop the cab and let me out here."

"But I demand to know----"

"Do as I say, or I shall make a scene!"

Prale gave the signal, and the taxi stopped. He helped her out, and she
started briskly down the nearest path. Sidney Prale paid the chauffeur,
and started to follow.

He glanced back, and saw Murk getting out of another taxicab. He had
forgotten Murk in his interest in the conversation with Kate Gilbert.
But Murk had not forgotten. Murk had his orders, and he was carrying
them out; he was keeping in sight, to be on hand if he was needed.

Murk had a little money Prale had given him, enough to pay the taxi
chauffeur. Prale motioned for him to approach.

"Here's a roll of bills," he said. "Keep up the game, Murk. Don't get
too far away."

"I'll be right at your heels, boss."

"And keep your eyes open."

"Yes, sir."

"That woman was Kate Gilbert."

"Then I'll know her whenever I see her again, sir."

Prale hurried on down the path. Murk kept pace with him, a short
distance behind.

Kate Gilbert had been walking swiftly. She had reached the street, and,
as Prale watched, she crossed it. Prale followed.

The girl did not look behind. She came to the middle of the block and
ran up the steps of an apartment house. Prale passed the entrance,
glanced at the number, and continued down the street. At the corner he
allowed Murk to catch up with him.

"She turned in at the address Jim Farland gave us," Prale said. "She has
gone home, Murk. I fancy that we are done with her for to-day!"

A lot he knew about it!



CHAPTER XV

A MOMENT OF VIOLENCE


Sidney Prale turned around and walked back along the street to the Park,
Murk once more following at a short distance, as he had been ordered to
do.

Because he wanted to think of his predicament, Prale crossed into the
Park and began following one of the paths toward the south, making his
way along it slowly, paying little attention to the persons he passed
now and then.

He crossed a drive and followed another path; and now he came to a
secluded spot where the path was hidden from passers-by on the other
walks and drives. Here the way ran through a tiny gulch, the sides of
which were banked with bushes. Squirrels scampered and birds chattered
at him, but Prale saw none of them.

He was trying to explain to himself why Kate Gilbert had warned him to
leave New York, why she had interested herself in his affairs at all,
asking himself for the thousandth time what species of net it was in
which he suddenly had found himself enmeshed without knowing the reason
for it.

He had demanded information and it had not been given him. She had said
nothing at all that gave him an inkling as to the nature of what seemed
to be a plot against him. He had been as firm as he dared, he told
himself. A man could not threaten a woman, could not use violence in an
attempt to make her speak and reveal secrets.

"We'll have to work from another corner," Sidney Prale told himself. "I
can't threaten a woman, but I can pummel a man; and if I meet George
Lerton again, I am liable to forget what Jim Farland told me and use my
own methods."

He walked on through the tiny ravine. He came to a cross path, and a man
lurched down it and against him.

"Beg pardon!" Prale murmured.

"Wonder you wouldn't look where you're going!" the other exclaimed. "Got
an idea you own the whole Park, or something like that? Men like you
shouldn't be running around loose!"

"You ran into me, not I into you," Prale reminded him.

As he spoke, he looked at the other closely. He saw a gigantic man who
had the general appearance of a thug, whose chin was thrust forward
aggressively, and whose hands were opening and closing as if he wished
they were around Sidney Prale's throat.

"I've a notion to smash you one!" the fellow said, advancing toward
Prale a bit.

Prale's temper flamed at once. His own chin was shot forward, and his
own hands closed.

"If that is the way you feel about it, start in!" Prale said. "Perhaps I
can teach you to act decently and keep a civil tongue in your head!"

The man before him made no comment--he simply launched himself forward
like a thunderbolt. Sidney Prale darted quickly to one side, and tossed
his hat and stick on the ground. He did not have time to get off his
coat; he could not even remove his gloves.

The other, missing him in that first rush, turned and came back,
swinging his fists. Prale did not dart aside now. He put himself on
guard, braced himself against the side of the little gulch, and waited
for the attack.

They clashed, and Prale knew that he had a real fight on his hands, for
the man who had attacked him was no mean antagonist. But, after the
first real clash, Prale had no fear of the outcome. The man was brutal,
but he had no skill. He delivered blows that would have felled any
one--but they did not reach their objective.

Then a second man crashed down through the brush and joined in the
attack. Sidney Prale realized in that moment that the attack had been
premeditated and the fight forced upon him purposely. It fed fuel to the
flames of his wrath. He did not know whether this was the work of some
of his unknown enemies or whether these thugs were mere robbers intent
upon getting his wallet and watch. It made little difference to him
which they were.

With his back against the side of the gulch, he fought with what skill
he could, trying to stand off both of them. The attack had come with a
rush, and all this had occupied but a few seconds.

Presently a human whirlwind appeared and took part in the battle. There
was an angry roar from a human throat, a raucous curse, a rushing body,
the thuds of swift, hard blows. Mr. Murk had reached the scene!

The battle immediately became two-fold. Murk fought as these thugs
fought, disregarding the finer rules of combat, seeking only to put his
opponent out, no matter by what means. Murk was not unaccustomed to
fighting of that character, and he was doubly formidable now, for he was
angry at the attack on Sidney Prale. Murk had been too far away to hear
what had been said when the trouble started, but he had seen, and he
guessed immediately that some of Sidney Prale's enemies were engaged in
the attempt.

Murk went after his opponent with determination if not with skill. He
fought him down the path, and there the fellow rallied from the surprise
and rushed back. But Murk was not the sort to give ground. In a fight, a
man should stand up to another until one of them was whipped, Murk
thought.

He knew how to give blows, but not how to guard against them. He was
marked, and marked well, before the battle was a minute old, but he had
the satisfaction of seeing blood on the face of his antagonist. Foot to
foot they stood and hammered each other, and gradually Murk began
wearing the other man down.

As for Sidney Prale, now that he had but the one thug against him, he
fought with skill and cunning, knowing that the other was a bit the
stronger, but realizing that he would be victor if he used reasonable
care.

His flare of anger had passed, and now he was fighting like a clever
pugilist. He warded off the other's powerful blows, and now and then he
slipped beneath a guard, or smashed his way through one, and sent home a
blow of his own.

At the end of three minutes, the thugs were getting much the worst of
it. Gradually they were being fought back toward the nearest driveway.
Back and back they went, but did not turn and run. Sidney Prale sensed
that they were fighting for money, that they were being paid for this
attack, and he realized that, but for the presence of Murk, he would
have had no chance whatever, and probably would be a senseless, bleeding
thing now.

None of them knew that the fight had attracted attention, but it had.
Two women, coming around a curve in the path, had seen it, and had run
back toward the nearest driveway, screeching. Two mounted policemen
hurried toward them, heard the story, and charged down the path.

The two thugs made no effort to escape. They stopped fighting, and Prale
and Murk ceased also, though the latter was eager to continue until a
decision had been rendered. Murk had fought often where there was no
interference and he disliked to be bothered now, but he desisted at
Prale's command.

"Well, what's all this about?" one of the officers demanded. He did not
address any of them particularly. "I was walking along the path, and
these men attacked me," Sidney Prale said. "My valet was a short
distance behind and he came to my assistance. I never saw these fellows
before."

"Nothin' like it!" one of the thugs snarled. "Me and my pal were walkin'
along this path and met these men, and the one with the stick ordered us
out of the way as if we were dogs. When we didn't move quick enough,
they jumped into us."

"That's a lie----" Murk began.

"You can settle this at the station," the officer replied. "All of you
come along with us!"

Prale picked up his hat and stick, took off his torn gloves and threw
them away, and motioned for Murk to walk at his side and to keep quiet.
They went to the driveway and along it, the policemen watching the four
of them closely, the thugs growling to each other and remarking that it
was a fine day when honest workingmen could not stroll in Central Park
without a dude and his valet trying to beat them up.

There was a short wait when the station was reached, and then, at the
lieutenant's command, one of the thugs poured forth his story. He gave
his name and address, as did the other, and both made the statement that
they were out of work at present.

Prale stepped forward and gave his name. The lieutenant stared at him in
surprise.

"Why, it's the guy who croaked that man Shepley!" one of the thugs
cried. "There ought to be a way of stoppin' him runnin' around and
assaultin' and killin' folks. If it hadn't been for the cops----"

"Shut up!" Sidney Prale commanded loudly, ignoring the presence of the
officers. "You fellows made a deliberate attack on me and you know it.
And I want to know who paid you to do it--understand?"

"You're crazy!" said one of the thugs.

Prale turned to the lieutenant. "I'd like to have Jim Farland sent for,"
he said. "He has been handling things for me. I want him to investigate
these men. I have an idea that the names and addresses they gave are
fictitious. Recently enemies of mine have caused me considerable
trouble, and I feel sure that these men were hired to attack me.
Fortunately, my valet was walking a short distance behind me, and rushed
up and helped me hold them off."

"I'm ready to put up bail, and so is my pal!" said one of the thugs
angrily.

"In that case, I'll have to let you go for the present," the lieutenant
said. "The charge is fighting and disorderly conduct, and bail will be
one hundred dollars in each case. You may use the telephone if you wish,
Mr. Prale."

Prale hurried to the telephone, called Jim Farland's office, and was
informed that Farland had not been there, and that the girl in charge
did not know where he was, or what he was doing, or when he would
return. Prale left instructions for Farland and went back to the desk.

"This is a serious business, though it may not look like it on the
face," he said. "I'd like to have these men held until we can make sure
they have given correct names and addresses."

"No use holding them if they have given bail," the lieutenant replied.
"I think it's nothing but a regular scrap. You can talk to the judge
later, all of you."

Prale took a roll of bills from his pocket and put up cash bail for both
Murk and himself. One of the thugs followed suit and pulling out a roll
of bills, stripped off two hundred dollars, and arranged for the release
of himself and his partner.

"You seem to have a lot of money for men who are out of work," Prale
said.

"Been savin' it, and it's none of your business anyway," growled the
other.

They started toward the door, and Prale and Murk followed them, watched
them until they started away, and then turned back to bathe their faces
and hands. Then Prale got a taxicab, and drove to the office of a
physician, who did his best to make the countenances of Prale and Murk
presentable.

It was an hour later when Jim Farland called Prale by telephone at the
hotel.

"I've investigated that little matter, Sid," he reported. "Those fellows
gave fictitious addresses, as you supposed they had done, and it is an
even bet that the names they gave were fictitious, too. No doubt about
it, Sid--they were hired to get you. You'd better be on guard and a bit
careful."



CHAPTER XVI

MURK RECEIVES A BLOW


An hour before dinner, Detective Jim Farland suddenly appeared in Sidney
Prale's suite at the hotel.

"They are working on me now, Sid," he said. "I got a telephone message
when I was in the office, and the gent at the other end of the line
informed me that it would be beneficial to my health if I immediately
ceased having anything to do with the Rufus Shepley murder case and
stopped working for you."

"Any idea where the message came from?" Prale asked.

"It came from a public pay station in the subway. I had the call traced
immediately, of course. No chance of finding out who sent it, naturally.
I doubt whether I'd recognize the voice if I heard it again--could tell
by the way the fellow talked that he was trying to disguise his tones. I
told him to go to blazes, and he informed me that I was up against
something too big for a man to face, or something like that."

"Jim, if there is any danger, I don't want you to work for me," Sidney
Prale said. "You're married and a father and----"

"And that will be about all from you, Sid!" Farland interrupted. "Think
I'm going to let some man who doesn't tell me his name throw a scare
into me?"

"But, if there is danger----"

"I thrive on danger," said Jim Farland. "Think I'm going to desert you
at this stage of the game? That is what they want, of course. If I did,
you'd probably hire another detective, and it might be one of their own
men--whoever they are. I'm in this game to stay, Sid, first because you
are an old friend of mine and I think you are being made the victim of
some sort of a dirty deal, and also because I'm not the kind of man to
be bluffed out of a job. We are going right ahead. I got a note at the
office, too."

"A note!" Prale gasped.

"Typewritten, but not on George Lerton's battered typewriter this time.
It remarked that unless I gave up this case, somebody would make things
hard for me, or words to that effect. Old stuff! If they are so scared
that they send threatening letters, they're whipped right now--and they
know it!"

"I had an interesting experience this afternoon," said Prale.

"The fight?"

"I don't mean that. I met Kate Gilbert in front of the library. She
asked me to get a taxicab and drive her through the Park. I did it. She
begged me to leave New York and remain away, and said that my enemies
might not be so harsh if I did. I tried to get her to explain, and she
insisted that I knew all there was to know. She left the taxicab and
walked to her home."

"I'll have to investigate that girl more thoroughly," Farland said.

"She is on guard now, as far as I am concerned."

"Does she know Murk by sight?"

"I think not."

"Then here is where Murk gets a steady job for a time," Jim Farland
declared. "Murk, you go up to Kate Gilbert's home and watch a bit. Give
him plenty of money, Sid, for expenses. Just see if she leaves the
place, Murk, and if so, where she goes, and to whom she talks. Get any
general information you can. Try to keep her from knowing that you are
watching her, but if she finds it out drop the chase and get back here,
and we'll put another shadow on the job. When you are sure that she has
decided to remain in her apartment for the night, report back here to
Mr. Prale."

"You watch me," Murk said. "I never expected to be caught doin'
detective work and I reckon it's somethin' like a disgrace, but this is
a sort of special occasion."

Prale gave Murk more money, in case he would have to engage taxicabs or
follow Kate Gilbert where money would be necessary for tips and bribes.

"Your face looks pretty good, but you want to remember that there are
some marks on it," Prale told him.

"It's looked worse, boss," Murk replied, grinning. "I'll try to do this
thing right."

Murk hurried down in the elevator and went from the hotel. He got a cab
immediately, and promised that dire things would happen to the chauffeur
if he did not get to a certain corner up beside the Park in record time.
Jim Farland had given him a badge to be used if he was questioned by a
police officer, and he was to say that he was an operative attached to
Farland's office.

Murk discharged the taxi at the proper corner, touched match to
cigarette, and walked slowly down the street toward the apartment house
where Kate Gilbert lived with her father and her maid.

Jim Farland had told him the location of the Gilbert apartment, and Murk
saw that the lights in it were burning. It was about time for dinner, he
knew.

He went to a drug store on the nearest corner and hurried into a
telephone booth. He called the apartment house and asked to be connected
with the Gilberts. A woman's hoarse voice answered his call, and he
guessed that it was the maid speaking.

"Miss Kate Gilbert there?" Murk asked.

"Who is calling, please?"

"Tell her it is about that Prale affair," Murk replied.

"One moment. I'll call her."

Kate Gilbert's voice came to him over the wire almost immediately.

"Miss Gilbert?" Murk asked. "I was to tell you that----"

And then Murk jerked down the receiver hook, and grinned as he put the
receiver on it. Kate Gilbert would believe that a careless central girl
had cut them off and put an end to the conversation.

He had learned what he had wished to learn--that Kate Gilbert was at
home. He walked back up the street. All he had to do now was to watch,
and if Kate Gilbert left the place follow her. If she did not, Murk
would wait half an hour or so after the lights in the apartment were
turned out, to be sure that she had retired, and then would hurry back
to the hotel.

Murk watched from a distance at first, and then went slowly forward, for
he did not wish to attract attention by remaining in one position too
long. There were few persons on the block; and now and then some
automobile or taxicab would discharge a passenger and go on. Murk made
his way slowly to the end of the block, always watching the entrance of
the apartment house, crossed the street, and started back on the other
side.

He came in front of a dark passageway between two buildings, and went
on. And out of the mouth of that dark passageway came a blow that caused
Murk to groan once and topple forward. Hands gripped his unconscious
body and drew him back into the darkness.



CHAPTER XVII

MURK IS TEMPTED


The next thing that impressed itself upon Murk's consciousness was the
fact that he had a terrific pain in the back of his head. Many times
during his career Murk had experienced similar pains. And he knew that
the best thing to do was to remain quiet for a short time, keep his eyes
closed, and gradually pull himself together.

So he pretended that he had not regained consciousness. He knew that he
had been stretched upon a bed or couch of some sort, and that his wrists
were lashed together, and his ankles. He was not gagged, however.

Gradually the pain ceased, Murk's senses cleared and he became aware of
what was going on around him. He could hear whispered voices, but could
not distinguish words and sentences; neither could he tell whether the
voices were those of men or women.

Finally Murk opened his eyes.

He found that he was in a small room furnished in quite an ordinary
manner. He was stretched on an old-fashioned sofa. There were a few
chairs scattered about, and a cupboard in one corner. In the middle of
the room was an ordinary table covered with a red cloth. Upon the table
a kerosene lamp was burning.

Murk groaned and made an attempt to sit up, but fell back again because
of a fit of dizziness. It became evident that his groan had been heard
in the room adjoining, for the door, which had been ajar, now was thrown
open wide, and two men entered.

Murk knew them instantly; they were the men who had attacked Sidney
Prale in the Park.

"Back to earth, are you?" one of them snarled. "If I had my way, you'd
have been cracked on the head for good."

Murk snarled in reply, despite the fact that he was bound and at the
mercy of these men.

"Sore because I smashed your face!" Murk said.

"That'll be about all out of you! I may take a smash at you yet!"

"You've got a good chance while my hands and feet are tied," Murk
replied. "It's the only time you could get away with it, all right! Turn
me loose and I can clean up the two of you!"

"You're not doin' any cleanin' for the present," he was told.

Murk began wondering at the object of the assault upon him. He could
feel the roll of bills Prale had given him bulging his vest pocket, so
he guessed robbery was not the motive. He managed to sit up on the sofa
now, and he glared at the two thugs before him with right good will.

One of the men went back into the adjoining room, and the other remained
standing before Murk, sneering at him, his hands opening and closing as
if he would take Murk's throat in them and choke the life out of Sidney
Prale's valet and comrade in arms.

Then the man who had left the room returned, and there was another with
him. Murk looked at this stranger with sudden interest. He was well
dressed, Murk could see, but he wore an ulster that had the wide collar
turned up around his neck, and he had a mask on his face--a home-made
mask that was nothing more than a handkerchief with eye slits cut in it.

"Afraid to show yourself, are you?" Murk sneered. "Who are you--the
chief thug?"

The masked man pulled a chair up before the sofa and sat down. His eyes
glittered at Murk through the slits in the handkerchief.

"You are not going to be harmed, my man--if you are reasonable," he
said.

"Reasonable about what?" Murk demanded.

"We want some information and we think you can give it to us; that is
all."

"I don't know much," said Murk.

"Tell us why you were prowling around that house near the Park."

"Maybe I was takin' a walk," Murk answered.

"And maybe you were spying, as I happen to know you were. We assume that
Sidney Prale sent you to watch the comings and goings of a certain young
woman and her friends."

"Go right ahead assumin'."

"It will avail you nothing, my man, to adopt this attitude," Murk was
told. "And it might help you a great deal if you are willing to listen
to reason."

"I'm listenin'," Murk replied.

"You haven't been working for Sidney Prale very long, have you?"

"Only a few days--since you seem to know all about it, anyway. Why ask
foolish questions?"

"Very well. We understand that Prale kept you from committing suicide
and then gave you a job. There is no reason why you should feel an
overwhelming gratitude for Prale. He merely got a valet cheap."

"What about it?" Murk growled.

"Sidney Prale has a million dollars, but you'll never see much of it. He
isn't the sort of man to toss his money away. And there are others, not
particularly Prale's friends, who have many millions between them."

"Well, that ain't doin' me much good."

"But it may do you a lot of good. We want information and we stand ready
to pay for it."

"I guess you'll have to do a little explainin'," Murk told him. "I never
was any good at guessin' riddles. Life's too short to be spent workin'
out silly puzzles."

"Very well," the masked man said. "As you perhaps are aware, Prale has
certain enemies. That is enough for you to know, if he has not told you
more. If you can give me information concerning Sidney Prale's plans,
and tell us how much he knows, we will pay you handsomely."

"I getcha," Murk said.

"And if you can manage to continue working for Prale, and let us know
everything as it comes up, there'll be considerably more in it for you."

"Want me to do the spy act, do you?"

"Call it whatever you like. There is a chance for you to earn some good
money."

"How much?" Murk demanded.

"That depends upon the services you render us. But let me assure you
that you will be richly rewarded. We will not fool you or defraud you."

"What do you want to know?"

"What is Jim Farland, the detective, doing? What has he reported to
Prale?"

"He ain't reported much of anything," said Murk.

"We want to know what Prale thinks about the situation. Tell us all you
know concerning the Rufus Shepley murder case. Has Sidney Prale said
anything you have been able to hear about the enemies who are bothering
him? You understand what we want to know--everything possible about
Prale's plans. And we want you to watch henceforth, and keep us informed
in a way I shall explain to you."

"Well, explain it!" said Murk.

"Scarcely, until we know that you are our man. Try to think of things
now, and tell us. Be sure you let us have everything. What you deem
unimportant may be really important to us."

"I'd feel a lot more friendly to you gents if you'd untie me," said
Murk. "I can't talk business when I'm treated like a prisoner, or
somethin' like that."

"You'll be untied as soon as we feel sure of you, and not before," Murk
was told. "We are not taking chances with you. Are you going to work for
us?"

"I'm not sure that the proposition looks good to me," Murk said. "I make
a deal with a man whose face I can't see, and do the dirty work--and
then maybe you turn me down cold and don't give me a cent, and I lose my
job with Mr. Prale and get in a nice fix. Don't you suppose I got some
common sense?"

"Make the deal with us, and you shall have five hundred dollars in cash
before you leave this room," the masked man promised. "And, take my word
for it, you'll be rewarded richly if you serve us well."

"Well, I don't know much about this business," Murk said. "You know I
ain't been with Mr. Prale very long. All I know is that he's got some
enemies who are tryin' to get the best of him. He says he ain't guilty
of that murder charge, and I happen to know he ain't, because he was
with me when Shepley was killed."

"Maybe you both had a hand in the killing," the masked man said. "And if
you don't come to terms with us, you may find yourself in jail charged
with being an accessory."

"You can't bluff me, and you can't threaten me and get away with it!"
Murk cried.

"Softly--softly!" said the masked man. "I was merely showing you where
you stand."

"Well, don't start talkin' to me that way, if you want to do business
with me. If I'm goin' to work for you, I've got to know what's what.
Who's got it in for Mr. Prale, and why? That's what I want to know. And
what is it you're tryin' to do to him? How can I help if I ain't wise?"

"Some of the wealthiest and most influential men in the city are against
Sidney Prale. They are determined to run him away from this, his old
home town. They are going to strip him of his fortune if they can. They
are going to grind him down until he is nothing better than a tramp."

"Well, why are they goin' to do all this?"

"It is not necessary for you to know at present. Perhaps you will learn
that from Sidney Prale, if you keep your ears and eyes open. All we want
you to do is to watch and listen and make frequent reports to us. You'll
have to be loyal to us, of course. If you are not, we shall punish you."

"But what did Mr. Prale ever do to get such a bunch down on him?" Murk
demanded.

"You'll find that out in time--maybe."

"I guess I'd better know right now."

"It is not necessary. Besides, we are not sure of you yet, please
remember."

"How could you ever be sure of me?" Murk cried. "If I threw down Mr.
Prale, wouldn't I be liable to throw you down, if somebody happened
along and raised the price? Why, you simp, I wouldn't turn against Mr.
Prale for a million dollars! He's treated me decent, and he was the
first man who ever did that! I was just stringin' you, you fool! Mr.
Prale himself don't know why your gang is causin' him trouble, and I was
tryin' to pump you and find out!"

"So he has told you that he doesn't know why he has enemies?"

"He has--and he told the truth. There's something phony about that
murder case; somebody's tryin' to frame him. And when Jim Farland gets
through, somebody is goin' to jail!"

"So you will not work for us?"

"You're right; I won't. Maybe I don't amount to much, but I'm mighty
square compared to some people I know about."

"And what do you suppose is going to become of you, if you refuse to do
as I say?"

"I guess I'll manage to struggle along," Murk said.

"We'll see about that!" the masked man replied, getting up from the
chair. "Perhaps a night spent in your present position, without food or
water, will cause you to change your mind. If it does not, there are
other methods that can be used."

"Goin' to pull rough stuff, are you?" Murk sneered. "Go as far as you
like! You can manhandle me, but you can't make me turn against Sidney
Prale. That's a golden little thought for to-day, as the preacher says."



CHAPTER XVIII

A WOMAN'S WAY


The masked man stepped forward, snarling behind his mask, his hands
closing, and the two thugs stepped forward also, as if to use Murk
roughly if the other gave the command.

But there was an interruption. Kate Gilbert came in from the adjoining
room.

The masked man whirled to meet her.

"You should not--" he began.

"It makes no difference," Kate Gilbert said. "This man knows me, or he
would not have been set to spying on me. Sidney Prale knows that I am
associated with his enemies, since I was talking to him to-day. It is
not necessary for _me_ to mask my face!"

"It really was not necessary for you to come," said the masked man.
"This fellow refuses to have anything to do with us."

"I cannot blame him. You used violence to get him here. I am afraid that
I should refuse to have business relations with a man who knocked me on
the head."

"It was the only way. We couldn't approach him on the street very well.
We have him here now and perhaps may be able to force him to see the
light."

"I shall not countenance more violence!" Kate Gilbert said. "I told you
in the beginning that force was not to be used. This man is not to be
blamed in any way. He merely is an employee of the man we are fighting."

"I think it justifiable to use any method that will get results," the
masked man told her. "You seem to forget----"

"I do not forget!" Kate Gilbert cried. "Who has a better right to hope
to see Sidney Prale punished? Who has suffered more than I and mine? But
I do not wish to see violence used. This man may be made to help us, but
I fear you have taken the wrong method. And what do you intend doing
now?"

"Perhaps it will be as well for you to return home and allow us to
handle this part of the affair," the masked man told her. "No woman
likes violence, of course, but at times it is necessary. We are going to
leave him here to-night to think things over. He will be stiff and sore
and hungry in the morning."

"But----" Kate Gilbert protested.

"It is the better way, I assure you--and quite necessary. This thing is
so big that it must be handled with firmness and decision. You have
aided us greatly, but I think it will be a mistake to let you take
command of the situation."

Kate Gilbert's eyes flashed angrily, and her face flushed.

"Very well, sir," she said. "But let me talk to this man alone. Perhaps
common sense and kindness will prevail where violence did not. I
sincerely hope so."

"I am willing to let you talk to him, but you are to be guarded in your
speech. Tell him nothing about the real affair; we want to be sure of
him before we take him fully into our confidence. All we wish him to do
is to keep us informed about Prale and Jim Farland, and any others who
may be helping Prale."

"I understand, and I am not quite a fool!" Kate Gilbert told him, still
angry.

The masked man motioned the two thugs out of the room, and then followed
them, closing the door behind him. Kate Gilbert sat down in the chair
before the sofa, and looked at Murk.

"First, I want you to know that I had nothing to do with the blow you
received," she said. "That was going a bit too far. I knew nothing of it
until I received a telephone message saying that you were spying on the
place where I live, and that you had been captured and brought here."

"I understand that, lady," Murk replied.

"I know that you have been with Mr. Prale only a few days. If he were in
your place now, I might be inclined to turn my back and let those men
handle him. But you are not to be blamed for the faults of your
employer."

"No, ma'am," said Murk.

"I am going to tell you only this much: Sidney Prale committed a great
wrong against several persons. Those persons have banded together to
have vengeance. Sidney Prale deserves everything that can happen to
him."

"I think you've got him wrong, ma'am," said Murk. "He's even accused of
murder, and I know he ain't guilty."

"Neither do I believe that he is guilty of that crime, but that has
nothing to do with this other affair. The persons who are banded
together against Sidney Prale have nothing to do with the murder charge,
I am sure."

"I reckon he'll be glad to know that. But you've got him wrong in this
other thing, lady. Mr. Prale is worried almost to death because he don't
know who his enemies are, or why they are causin' him a lot of trouble."

"He has led you to believe that?" she asked.

"I know he's tellin' the truth, ma'am. He's got a detective workin'
tryin' to find out what it all means."

"Then he is fooling you, and the detective also. Sidney Prale knows who
his enemies are, and why they are troubling him. He tried to tell me
that he did not know, and almost in the same breath he told me something
that convinced me he did know. You have received an offer to help us.
Are you willing?"

"I don't intend to turn against Mr. Prale!" Murk declared. "I ain't a
man like that! These gents can keep me here and starve me and beat me
up, and that's all the good it'll do 'em. I know a man when I see one,
and Mr. Prale's a man, and a square man, and I'm goin' to stand by him!"

"He has fooled you! You do not know him for the scoundrel that he is."

"Maybe it's you that's bein' fooled, lady."

"No. If you knew all, you would understand."

"Well, why don't you tell me, then? If you prove to me that Mr. Prale is
a crook or somethin', and that you people ain't, maybe I'll change my
mind about some things."

"I can tell you nothing now, except that I am right and that Sidney
Prale is fooling you," Kate Gilbert said.

"Then I'll stay right here and take my beatin' at the hands of them
thugs."

"You will do nothing of the kind," she said. "I will not see them use
violence toward you."

"I don't see how you're goin' to help it, ma'am."

"I am going to have you released. You may return to Sidney Prale and
tell him that we intend to punish him, but that I, for one, will not
resort to violence. He may fight unfairly, but we do not." She lowered
her voice and bent toward him. "I'll attract their attention, and send
my maid to release you," she said. "Remain where you are."

"Yes'm."

Without another word, Kate Gilbert got up and left the room, closing the
door behind her. In the other room were the masked man, the two thugs,
and Marie, the maid.

"I have talked to him, and I have a plan," Kate Gilbert told the others.
"Marie, I wish you to do something for me. Take the taxicab and go on
the errand, and after I am done here I will go home in another car."

She stepped across to the maid and gave her whispered instructions,
while the men waited. Marie left the room, walked through the hall, and
left the house. Kate Gilbert sat down at the table and called the others
to her.

"That man is loyal to Prale," she explained. "Prale has fooled him. He
honestly believes that Prale does not know his enemies or why he is
being bothered, and he is grateful to Prale for what Prale has done for
him. So, naturally, he refuses to turn against his employer."

"If you will leave the matter in my hands----" the masked man suggested.

"I may do so after we have had this little talk. Come closer, so I can
speak in a low tone and he will not hear."

They pulled their chairs up to the table.

"This man is stubborn," she said. "You could starve him or beat him, and
it would do you not the slightest good. It would only make him the more
determined to be faithful to Prale. We would gain nothing. We've got to
convince him that we are in the right."

"I object to telling him the whole truth," said the masked man.

"He could do nothing except tell it to Prale--and Prale knows it
already, doesn't he?" Kate Gilbert asked.

"You want to let the fellow go?" the masked man cried. "Why, we can use
him as a sort of hostage!"

"As if Sidney Prale would care if he never saw his valet again!"

"He is more than a valet; he is one of Prale's spies! If we can hold
this man prisoner, and attend to Jim Farland, that detective, Prale
would stand alone. There are not many men he would trust to help him.
And, if he stands alone, it will be easier for us to torment him, cause
him trouble, drive him away!"

"Sometimes I regret that we started this thing," Kate Gilbert said.
"What will it avail us to make Prale's life miserable?"

"You seem to forget--"

"I forget nothing! I know how I have suffered, how my father and others
have suffered. But I am not sure that retribution will not visit Sidney
Prale even if we keep our hands off."

"You're a woman; that is why!" the masked man accused. "You have a soft
heart, as is right and proper in a woman. But when you remember your
father----"

"I am not quitting!" she declared. "I will continue the game. But I will
not permit violence toward anybody, least of all to a poor fellow who
has nothing to do with the affair except that he is working for Sidney
Prale. We can accomplish our aims without becoming thugs and breaking
laws ourselves. I understood that we always were to keep inside the
law."

"Well, what have you to suggest?" the masked man asked.

"Let Prale's valet go, for he can do us no harm. Prale knows that I am
against him, but he can make no move unless we break the law and his
detective has us apprehended. We play into Sidney Prale's hands if we do
that. Can't you see it? We do not want to give him an advantage, do we?
If we use violence or break a law, we do just that. We must break him
down cleverly."

"I see that point, all right."

"I am astonished that you did not see it before. You appear to be very
vindictive lately, yet you did not suffer as some others suffered."

"I have my reasons. I always have hated Sidney Prale."

"Then you are making this fight for personal reasons?"

"Do not forget that some very good friends of mine suffered because of
Prale. But, about the valet----"

"Let him go, I say. What harm can he do?"

"We slugged him to get him here. He can report it to the police, and
have you arrested, and these two men."

"And what evidence would he have?" she asked. "Who would testify that he
was telling the truth? These two men can keep out of sight for the
present. He has not seen your face because of your mask. And to charge
me with slugging him would be ridiculous."

"This house----"

"Is vacant, so far as the neighbors know; it is owned by a man whose
wife died, and who has been gone for more than a year. The agent who
rented it to us furnished, is one of us. We can simply close it up and
not come here again. If he complained, and the police investigated, they
would find the house closed, and the nearest neighbors would declare
that it had been closed since the owner went away. The furniture is not
even dusted."

"That part is all right."

"And that attack on Prale in the Park during the afternoon!" she went
on. "That was a mistake. Suppose Detective Farland managed to connect
that with us. I tell you we must not break a law, or Sidney Prale may
get the advantage!"

"We can't handle an affair like this with kid gloves!" the masked man
declared.

"We do as I say, or I shall go to Sidney Prale and tell him everything
and rob you of your vengeance!"

"You would do that!" the masked man cried, springing from his chair.

"I'll do it if there is any more violence!" she declared. "It was
understood that no rough tactics were to be used, and I demand that we
carry out the original plan!"

"We'll see about this!" the masked man cried. "I'll talk to some of the
others----"

"And I'll leave the game if there is any more violence--do not forget
that!" Kate Gilbert cried.

She continued to talk and plan, for she was fighting for time. She had
known that, at the last moment, this man would refuse to release Murk.

Marie, the big maid, had hurried from the house, which sat far back from
the street and was surrounded by trees. But she had returned after
watching for a few minutes.

Murk, sitting on the sofa, heard somebody at one of the windows. He
watched the sash being raised slowly and cautiously, and after a time
saw the head of Marie. She motioned him for silence, listened a moment,
and then crawled inside.

Marie hurried across to Murk and fumbled with the cords that bound his
wrists together behind his back. The bonds slipped away, and Murk made
quick work of the one around his ankles. He hurried across the room, got
through the window, and helped the big maid through. Marie led him
toward the street.

"Come right along with me!" she commanded, when they were some distance
from the house.

"Thanks for helpin' me out, but I guess I'll hang around," Murk replied.
"I'm right eager to get a look at the face of the man who was wearing
the mask."

"I supposed you'd want to do that," the big maid told him. "And that's
what I've got orders to keep you from doing. You come along with me!"

Murk got a surprise. Marie gripped his shoulder with her left hand--and
it was no gentle grip. Then he saw that she was holding an automatic
pistol in her right hand.

"There is a taxi at the corner," she informed Murk. "We are going to get
into it and drive back to the city. You may be able to find this house
afterward, but I doubt it."

"Suppose I take a notion not to go?" Murk asked.

"I'm not afraid to shoot," Marie informed him.

"Aw, let me go!" he exclaimed. "You're in wrong in this deal; see? I
tell you that Mr. Prale, my boss, is an all-right man, and you people
are makin' some kind of a mistake."

"I like to see a man stick up for his boss," replied the gigantic Marie.
"And I'm stickin' up for mine right this minute, and she told me to see
that you went to town. Why don't you quit that man Prale and get a real
job with a gentleman? You're not a bad-looking man at all."

Murk felt himself blushing at this unexpected announcement. Praise from
the lips of a woman was something new in his life. He glanced at the
amazon beside him.

"And you're sure some woman!" he said. "And that ain't just nice talk--I
sure mean it! But you ain't got this from the right angle. I've got to
work for Mr. Prale. I'd be a dead one this minute if it wasn't for him.
If I didn't stick by him now, I'd never be able to look at myself in a
shavin' mirror again. You don't want me to be an ungrateful pup, do you?
You see----"

Having directed her attention to another topic for a moment, Murk put
his plan into action. He made a quick lunge forward as he spoke,
springing a bit to one side as he did so, and trying to seize the
automatic and tear it from her grasp.

But the gigantic Marie had been anticipating something like that,
despite Murk's speech and his manner that said he was a willing captive.
She lurched forward and hurled Murk back, sprang after him, crashed the
butt of the weapon against the side of his head, and then, while he was
a trifle groggy from the blow, she grasped him with her powerful hands
and piloted him toward the street with strength and determination.

"Never try to play them child's tricks on me!" she announced.

Murk regarded her with mingled admiration and chagrin, and spoke with
enthusiasm.

"Some woman!" he commented.



CHAPTER XIX

COADLEY QUITS


Murk, compelled to ride back to the city in the taxicab with Marie,
spent the time in ordinary conversation with the amazon, and told
himself repeatedly that she was a great woman, a dangerous state of mind
for a bachelor.

The only reason Murk wanted to remain in the vicinity of the cottage was
to catch a sight of the countenance of the man who had worn the mask. As
far as the cottage itself was concerned, he had noticed a signboard on a
street corner not far from it, and he would be able to locate it again
if Sidney Prale or Jim Farland thought it necessary.

Marie stopped the taxicab near the Park, and Murk got out and gallantly
offered to pay the bill for his enemy, but Marie would not allow it.

"Hope to see you often and get to know you better when this little scrap
is over," Murk made bold to say, and then, chuckling at her retort, he
started walking down the street.

He did not care to ride, for it was not so very many blocks to the
hotel, and Murk wanted time to formulate in his mind the report he
intended to make to his employer.

Prale was waiting for him, and Murk told his story in detail and without
embellishment.

"So Kate Gilbert had you freed, did she?" Prale said. "And she told the
others that she would quit them if they used any more violence? Murk,
old boy, when our foes begin fighting in their own camp it is time for
us to begin to hope. A house divided against itself cannot stand, as you
probably have heard."

"She certainly panned the man who wore the handkerchief over his face,"
Murk said. "I think I'd know him again, boss. He talked a good deal,
remember, and he got careless toward the last and used his regular
voice. And I watched his hands--boob didn't have sense enough to wear
gloves. Anybody but a boob would know that a hand can be recognized as
easy as a face."

"Let us hope that they make a lot of mistakes like that, Murk," Prale
replied. "I'll be glad if we ever solve this confounded mystery. It's
getting on my nerves."

They remained up until one o'clock in the morning, but Jim Farland
neither visited the hotel again nor called them up, and so they went to
bed.

They did not rise early, but had breakfast in the suite and took their
time about eating it. After that, they waited for Farland to arrive or
telephone and give orders and tell news. Farland did not come, but
Attorney Coadley did.

Murk admitted him, and the distinguished criminal lawyer sat in the
window beside Prale, a grave expression on his face, his manner that of
a disconcerted man.

"I gather you do not bring good news, judging from your countenance,"
Prale said.

"At least, I have not come to say that the case against you is any
stronger," Coadley replied. "I'd like to speak to you alone, Mr. Prale."

"Certainly. You may go into the other room, Murk, and remain until I
call."

Murk obeyed, and Sidney Prale bent forward in his chair and looked at
the attorney again, wondering what this visit meant, what was coming,
half fearing that the news would be ill after all.

"Mr. Prale," Coadley said, "I have come here to your apartment to tell
you that I wish you to get another attorney."

"I beg your pardon!" Prale gasped.

"I wish to withdraw from the case, Mr. Prale--that is all. An attorney
does that frequently, you know."

"But I want you to handle my case," Prale said. "I have been given to
understand that you are one of the foremost criminal lawyers in the
city. And you have done so much already----"

"I insist that I withdraw, Mr. Prale. I shall be ethical. I shall give
the man you name in my place all the knowledge at my command regarding
this case, and I shall see that the change does not embarrass you or
place you in jeopardy. The court will grant extensions if they are
necessary."

"Farland has given me to understand that my alibi now is of such a
nature that the case against me may be dismissed. I had hoped that you
had come here this morning to tell me so."

"I fancy that any good attorney can get the charge dismissed," Coadley
said.

"But I do not want to be freed under a cloud. I want the public to be
sure I did not kill Rufus Shepley--I want to have the public know the
identity of the man who did."

"That is what I thought, and that will take considerable time, perhaps,"
Coadley said. "And so I wish to withdraw----"

"If it is a question of fee----"

"Nothing of the sort, Mr. Prale. I am sure you would pay me any
reasonable fee I asked. There is no question regarding your financial
ability."

"May I ask, then, why you desire to leave the case?" Sidney Prale asked.

"I'd rather not state my reasons, Mr. Prale. Just let me withdraw, and
make arrangements with the court, after you have named the man to take
my place. The bail arrangement will stand, of course."

"So you do not care to tell your reasons!" Prale said. "Mr. Coadley, a
banker refused to handle my funds. A hotel manager ordered me out, you
might say, for no good reason whatever. I understand that I have some
powerful enemies who are working in the dark, and who cause these
annoyances. Do you wish me to understand, Mr. Coadley, that they have
been to see you? Do you wish me to think that you are under the thumbs
of these persons, whoever they may be?"

The attorney's face flushed, and he looked angry for an instant, but
quickly controlled himself.

"I do not care to go into details, Mr. Prale," he said.

"Then it is the truth!" Prale said. "The big criminal lawyer is not so
big but that others can force him to do as they please."

"Let us say as I please, Mr. Prale."

"Then you think that you have a good reason for withdrawing?"

"I do."

"In other words, something has been told you that convinced you I am not
a fit client. Is that it? And, instead of telling me what it is, and
giving me a chance to refute the charge or explain, you simply take the
easiest course and believe my enemies. Do you call that an example of
the square deal?"

"Let us not talk about it further, Mr. Prale," Coadley replied. "I feel
quite sure that you have a complete understanding of the situation."

"But I have not! I seem to be able to understand nothing in regard to
this affair of which I am the central figure. I would give half my
fortune, I believe, to have an explanation and be able to set things
right."

"No doubt you would be willing to give half your fortune to set things
right!" Coadley said. "It is your privilege, of course, to say that you
do not understand. Mr. Prale, you must see that this interview is
painful to me, and it must be painful to you. Why prolong it?"

"As far as I am concerned, this interview may be terminated at once,
sir!" Sidney Prale exclaimed. "I'll send you a check for your services
as soon as you submit your bill; and please do not neglect to do so at
once. I'll inform you as soon as possible of the name of the man I
select to fill your legal shoes in this matter. That is satisfactory?
Very well. Murk!"

Murk hurried in from the adjoining room when he heard Sidney Prale's
call.

"Show Mr. Coadley to the hall door, Murk!" Sidney Prale said. "And while
you are about it, please close that ventilator in the corner of the
room. It creates a draft, I am sure, and Mr. Coadley already has cold
feet!"

The attorney glared at Prale, and then got up and walked quickly across
to the door, which the grinning Murk held open to let him pass out.



CHAPTER XX

UP THE RIVER


Coadley had not gone for more than an hour when Detective Jim Farland
arrived at the hotel and made his way immediately to Sidney Prale's
suite.

He found Prale pacing the floor angrily, and Murk sitting in a corner
and watching him. The police detective, after doing duty for a few days,
had been withdrawn, as it seemed evident that Prale had no intention of
jumping his bail or eluding trial in any other way.

"What's the trouble now?" Farland asked.

"Coadley has just been here," Prale replied. "He has quit us. Our
friends the enemy have reached him."

"You couldn't get any sort of an explanation out of him?" Farland asked.

"Nothing at all. He simply informed me that he was done, and that I had
to get another lawyer."

"I'll try to find an honest one for you," Farland declared. "I happen to
know a clever young chap who probably will take the case, especially if
I explain the thing to him, for he loves a fight. There is no special
hurry, but I'll try to attend to it some time to-day."

"Anything new?" Prale asked.

"That is what I am waiting to hear. What did you do last night, Murk?"

Murk related his adventure at length, while Jim Farland listened
gravely, nodding his head now and then, and looking puzzled at times.

"I'd like to know the identity of that masked man," the detective said,
when Murk had finished. "The main trouble in this case is that we do not
know the people we are fighting. We know that Kate Gilbert is one of
them, and have reason to suspect that George Lerton is another. But
there is somebody bigger behind, and that's a fact."

"What are you going to do next?" Prale asked.

"I'm going to pay a little attention to the Rufus Shepley murder case.
I'm going to find out, if I can, who killed Shepley, and why. I am of
the opinion that the murder is distinct from this other trouble, Sid.
Perhaps a clew to the murder, however, will give us a clew to the whole
thing, for it is certain that somebody has attempted to hang that crime
on you."

"How about George Lerton?" Prale asked.

"We know that he tried to help smash your alibi by telling a falsehood,
and by sending those notes to the barber and the merchant. But we do not
know his motive, unless it is simply a hatred of you, Sid, and envy of
the million dollars you got in Honduras. I'm going to get out of here
now, and get busy."

"Anything for us to do?" Prale asked.

"Keep out of trouble--that is the principal thing. It appears that every
time either of you goes out, you get knocked on the head. I'll report
again as soon as I can."

Jim Farland left them and hurried from the hotel. He went to the
hostelry where Rufus Shepley had met his death, was admitted to the
suite, and made an exhaustive investigation, which revealed nothing of
importance.

He visited the New York offices of the company in which Shepley had been
interested, and questioned officials and clerks, but got no inkling of a
state of affairs that might have led to a murder. He was told that the
company's business was in proper shape, and that Rufus Shepley had had
no financial trouble of any sort so far as his associates knew.

Farland left the office and continued his investigations. In the evening
he went to his home for a meal, and admitted to himself that he did not
know any more than when he had started out that morning.

"It gets my goat!" he said to his reflection in the bathroom mirror.
"I'll have to begin working from some other starting point. I've made a
mistake somewhere, or overlooked something that I should have seen.
Makes me sore!"

The telephone bell rang, and Farland went to the instrument to hear the
voice of a man he did not know.

"I understand that you are interested in the Shepley murder case," his
caller said.

"I am working on it, yes. Who is talking?" Farland demanded.

"I'm not ready to mention any names. If you want to hang up, go ahead
and you'll miss something important. Or if you want to listen for a
minute----"

"I'll listen!" Farland said.

"I know a lot about that Shepley case, but I am in a position where I
have to be careful. If you'll do as I say, you can learn something you'd
like to know."

"What do you want me to do?" Farland asked.

"Meet me in some place where nobody will see us talking, and I'll tell
you a few things. But I must have your promise that you'll not reveal
the source of the information."

"I'll protect you, unless you are mixed up in it to such an extent that
I'd dare not do so," Farland said. "I'm not guaranteeing to shield any
murderer or accessory."

"I had nothing to do with the murder, if that is what you mean," came
the reply.

"Then where do you want me to meet you--and when? Can you make it this
evening?"

"Yes; and suppose that you set the meeting place, one that you know will
be all right for both of us."

Farland was glad to listen to that sentence. He had half believed that
this was nothing more than a trap, that some of Sidney Prale's
mysterious enemies were attempting to lure him to some out-of-the-way
place and get him in their power. But if he was to be allowed to name
the meeting place, it seemed to indicate that everything was all right
in that regard.

Farland though a moment, and then suggested a certain famous restaurant
on Broadway and a table in a corner of the main room, where a man could
lose himself in the crowd. But that did not meet with the approval of
the man at the other end of the telephone wire.

"Nothing doing in that place," he said. "One of the men interested in
this thing hangs out there almost every evening. He'd be sure to see us,
he knows how much I know about it, and he'd suspect things in a second
if he saw me talking to you. Then it'd be made hot for me. I've got to
protect myself, of course."

"Suggest a place yourself," Farland said.

"Make it outside somewhere. How about some place in Riverside Park?"

"Suits me," Farland replied.

The man at the other end of the wire gave the directions after much
seeming speculation and many changes. Jim Farland was to go to Grant's
Tomb, and from there to a certain place near the river. The other man
would be in the neighborhood watching, he said, would recognize Farland
as he passed the Tomb, and then would follow and speak to him when
nobody else was near.

Farland agreed, and made the engagement for an hour and a half later,
saying that he could not get there before that time. It would not be the
first time that Jim Farland had obtained an important clew because
somebody interested had grown disgruntled and had turned against his
pals; and he supposed this to be a case of that sort.

Before leaving home, Farland made sure that his automatic was in
excellent condition, and that he had his handcuffs and electric torch
and other paraphernalia of his trade. He made his way to Columbus
Circle, having decided to walk to the rendezvous. Farland was in no
hurry. He observed all who passed him, and he frequently made
experiments to ascertain whether he was being followed. He decided,
after a time, that if he was being shadowed the person doing it was too
clever for him.

He came to Riverside Drive through a cross street, and approached the
famous Tomb as cautiously as possible, keeping in the shadows, alert to
discover anybody who might be acting at all suspiciously. Farland felt
sure that this was no trap, but he was not taking chances. He always had
been known to his friends as a cautious man.

He reached the Tomb finally, and glanced around. Half a dozen persons
were passing, some men and some women, some alone and others in couples,
but none were of suspicious appearance.

Farland glanced at his watch to be sure that it was the appointed time.
He strolled around the Tomb and waited ten minutes longer, for he did
not care to find later that he had left the appointed spot too early and
that the other man had not seen and followed him.

At the end of the extra ten minutes, Farland lighted one of his big,
black cigars and started walking toward the river, following the route
the other man had designated over the telephone. He walked slowly and
not for an instant did he throw caution aside.

Here and there were dark spots where Farland expected to hear his name
spoken, spots where an attack might be made if one was contemplated by
foes.

It was as he was passing one of these that a whisper came from the
darkness:

"Mr. Farland!"

The detective whirled toward the sound, one hand diving into a coat
pocket and clutching his automatic.

"Well?"

"Be as silent as possible. Do not flash your torch yet; you may do so
presently, so you can see who is talking. I am the man who called you up
by telephone."

"Come out where I can get a glimpse of you," Farland commanded, ready
for trouble.

He could see a shadow detach itself from the patch of gloom in front of
him and approach.

"That is close enough for the present!" Farland said. "I'm not taking
chances on you until I know who's talking to me."

"I don't blame you, Mr. Farland, under the circumstances. If you are
sure there is nobody approaching, I'll come out into the light so you
can see my face."

Farland glanced up and down the walk quickly. As he did so, he heard a
step behind him. He whirled, the automatic came from his pocket ready
for use--and a man crashed into him.

The one who had been talking from the patch of shadow rushed forward at
the same instant. Farland managed to fire once, but the shot went wild.
Then a third man rushed from the darkness, and the detective had the
automatic torn away, and found that he had a battle on his hands.

One man was upon his back, throttling him so that he could not utter a
cry. The others were trying to throw him to the ground. Farland wondered
whether that single shot had been heard, whether assistance would reach
him, for he knew that here was a battle he could not win by force.

Finally they got him down. Something was thrust into his mouth and
bandaged there, effectually gagging him. He was turned over on his face,
and his wrists were lashed behind him. Then his ankles were fastened,
and two of the men, at the whispered instruction of the third, picked
him up like a sack of meal and carried him into the deep shadows.

They did not stop there, but continued toward the river, holding a
conversation in whispers at times, and stopping now and then for a
moment to rest and listen. Farland had been quiet, gathering his
strength, and suddenly he began to struggle.

It was nothing worse than annoyance for his opponents. He was unable to
make an outcry that would attract attention, and he was unable to put up
an effective fight. They threw him upon the ground again and held him
there.

"Another little trick like that, and we'll give you something to keep
you quiet," one of the men whispered into his ear. "We've got you, and
you'd better let it go at that!"

Once more they picked him up and went toward the river. They reached it,
and one of the men hurried away while the other two guarded Farland.
Five minutes passed, and then a powerful motor boat slipped toward the
shore. An instant later Farland was aboard it, a prisoner, and the boat
was rushing through the great river toward the north.

Farland made an attempt to watch the lights along the shore, but one of
the men threw a sack over his face, so that he could not see. And so he
merely listened to the beating of the boat's engine, and tried to
estimate with what speed they were running and how much mileage the
craft was covering.

The sack was heavy, and Jim Farland felt himself half smothered, the
perspiration pouring from his face and neck. He had grown angry for a
moment, angry at himself for walking into the trap even while suspecting
that one might exist, angry at these three men who had captured him so
close to Riverside Drive.

Then his rage passed. He was experienced enough to know that an angry
man is at a disadvantage in a game of wits, and that wits and nothing
else could get him out of the present predicament.

Finally, he felt the boat turning, the speed was cut off, and it drifted
against something. Farland was lifted out of the motor boat, but one of
the men held the sack over his head, and he was unable to see. Once more
he was carried, this time away from the river, and he could tell nothing
except that the men who carried him were struggling up a sharp slope.

Farland made no attempt to fight or struggle now, knowing that it would
avail him nothing to attempt to throw off these three men. He had
decided to conserve his strength, and to trust to his usual good fortune
to get a chance later to even things by turning the tables on his
captors.

Suddenly the sack was taken from his head, and he was able to breathe
better. He found that he was beside a road in which stood an automobile.
Two of the men lifted him, tossed him inside the machine, and then got
in themselves. The driver started the engine, threw in the clutch, and
soon the car was being driven at a furious pace along the winding road.

"Look around all you want to!" one of Farland's captors growled at him.
"You won't even know where you are when you get there!"



CHAPTER XXI

RECOGNITION


Through a maze of crossing and winding roads the car made its way, now
over highways as smooth as a city pavement, and now over rough mileage
that jolted the occupants and threatened the springs with destruction.

Jim Farland did not recognize this particular district. He did not even
know upon which side of the river he was being hauled along as a
prisoner. In the city proper, his abductors would have found it very
difficult to take him to a section where he could not have recognized
some sort of a landmark, but here they had him at a serious
disadvantage.

The night was dark, too, and a fine drizzle was falling. Farland tugged
at his bonds when he could, and finally convinced himself that they
would not give. He tried to work one end of the gag from the corner of
his mouth and found that he could not do that. He was utterly helpless
for the time being, at the mercy of the three men who had kidnaped him,
and the chauffeur, and whoever might be where they were going.

For half an hour longer the car made its way across the country, and
then Farland noticed that it left the principal thoroughfare and turned
into a rough, narrow lane that was bordered with big trees. At the end
of a quarter of a mile of this lane, the chauffeur brought the car to a
stop. Farland could see a building that had the appearance of being an
abandoned farmhouse.

He was lifted from the car and carried to the door. One of the men threw
it open, and Farland was carried inside. They took him through a hall,
turned into a room, and tossed him upon a couch in a corner there. One
of them struck a match, lighted a lamp, and then they turned to survey
him.

Farland glared at them, waited for them to speak. They were making no
attempt to hide their features. Typical thugs they were, the three of
them, and Farland supposed that the chauffeur, who had not come into the
house with the others, belonged to the same class.

One of them stepped forward and removed Farland's gag, while another
went into another room and presently returned with a dipper of water,
which he held to Farland's lips. He drank greedily, for the gag had
parched his mouth and throat.

"Bein' as how you are a copper, I'd slip a knife between your ribs and
call it a good job," one of the men told him, "but we are supposed to
treat you nice and keep you in condition for a little talk with the
boss. So you needn't tremble with fear any."

"It'd take more than three bums like you to make me afraid!" Farland
told him.

"Nasty, ain't you? Maybe we'll get a little chance to beat you up later,
especially if your little talk with the boss ain't what they call
productive of results. You've got some reputation as a dick, but I
reckon it's all a fake. We didn't have much trouble gettin' you and
bringin' you here."

"Isn't that enough to make you worry a bit?" Farland asked.

"How do you mean?"

"Did you ever stop to think that maybe I wanted to be captured and
hauled here? Have you any idea how many men watched and trailed us?
You've led me to where I wanted to come, to a place I wanted to find,
perhaps."

"That bluff won't work," came the reply. "We had a couple of men
watchin' for that very thing, and they'd have given us a high sign if we
had been followed. You're here all by your lonesome, and so you'd better
be good."

Two of the men left the room, and the third sat down by the table to act
as guard. Fifteen minutes passed, during which Jim Farland and the man
by the table exchanged pleasant remarks concerning each other, neither
getting much the best of the argument.

Then the hall door was opened again, and a masked man entered the room!

Remembering what Murk had related to him concerning his experience of
the night before, Jim Farland looked up at this newcomer with sudden
interest.

This man, undoubtedly, was a sort of leader, one who had hired others to
help him in his work and who knew the identities of Sidney Prale's
mysterious enemies, and why they were working against him; perhaps,
also, the man who could tell a good deal about the murder of Rufus
Shepley.

Farland did not betray too much interest, though, for he sensed that he
was opposed to a person of brains and cunning, a different type from the
thugs he hired to work for him. So the detective merely blinked his eyes
rapidly as he looked up at the other and waited for him to speak.

"You are Jim Farland, a detective?"

The voice was low and harsh, a monotone, a disguised voice in fact. Jim
Farland knew that at once.

"That's my name, and some people are kind enough to say that I am a
detective," Farland replied. "What's the idea of treating me rough like
this?"

"I regret that violence was necessary to get you here, Mr. Farland," the
masked man replied, "but it seemed to be the only way in which I could
get a chance to talk to you freely without subjecting myself to danger."

"Why regret?" Farland asked.

"Because I want you for my friend instead of my enemy, Mr. Farland, and
I fancy that we may be able to come to terms. I shall send this man of
mine from the room and submit a proposition to you. I hope you see fit
to accept it."

He motioned for the other man to leave, which he did immediately,
closing the hall door behind him. Then the masked man sat down in the
chair by the table.

Farland was watching him closely now. The collar of his coat and the
handkerchief mask effectually shielded his face and head. But, as Murk
had told, this man did not have the common sense to cover his hands, and
Farland looked at them when he could, careful not to let the other
suspect his object.

"I am the man who talked to Mr. Prale's valet last night," Farland heard
the other say. "In some manner, the valet escaped, and so we were
obliged to have you brought here instead of to the place where we had
him, and which was considerably nearer the city. I regret it if the long
ride annoyed you, but you will appreciate that it was necessary for my
men to bind and gag you."

"It certainly was if they expected to get me here!" Jim Farland
declared.

He heard the masked man chuckle.

"I understand that you have been engaged by Sidney Prale to clear him of
the charge of murdering Rufus Shepley."

"I don't mind admitting that, since the whole city knows it," said
Farland.

"And also to aid Sidney Prale in outwitting certain persons who are
trying to punish him for something he did."

"I don't know anything about that. I do know that some people are trying
to make things hot for Sid Prale, and he doesn't deserve it, and----"

"Pardon me, if I interrupt!" the masked man said. "You say that he does
not deserve it. Do you believe that influential persons would persecute
him if he did not deserve it?"

"Sid Prale doesn't know what it is all about!"

"That is what he told the valet, too. But believe me when I say that he
does know what it is all about, and is deceiving you when he says
otherwise."

"What has all this to do with me?" Jim Farland demanded. "Did you have
me brought here to argue the case with me?"

"I had you brought here because I want you to cease working for Sidney
Prale. I want you to go back to him and tell him that you are done."

"As Coadley, the attorney, did?"

"Exactly!"

"Your people must be men of influence if they can buy off Coadley like
that!"

"Perhaps Coadley was shown that it would wreck his future if he
continued working for Prale."

"Well, you can't wreck my future, because I haven't any," Farland told
him.

"Do not be too sure of that, Mr. Farland. Agree to my proposition and
you may have a great future. You may find business thrown your way. You
may find yourself able to spread out, have a protective service, become
a wealthy man. If you give up the Prale case, we'll see that you are
paid cash immediately, of course, in lieu of the fee you would receive
from Prale--and considerably more than he would pay you."

"I suppose that would appeal to a lot of men," Jim Farland said, "but it
isn't the right bait to use if you are eager to catch me. I have all the
business I want. I can make a living for myself and my small family, and
we do not hanker after riches. A larger business would make me a human
machine, and I'd rather just drift along and be an ordinary good husband
and father. I'd rather be running a little, third-rate detective agency
as I am, making just enough to get along, and have a lot of friends. I
wouldn't throw down a friend for a million dollars! I suppose I'm the
only man in town that thinks this way, but I'm a sort of peculiar duck!"

"You mean to tell me that you are not anxious to better yourself, to get
along in the world?"

"Oh, I manage to get along!" Jim Farland replied. "I even eat meat now
and then. I haven't seen the face of the famous wolf outside my door for
some time. What is money?"

"Everything!" the masked man replied.

"That's what you think. It gives me an inkling as to what sort of man
you are. I happen to know a fellow to whom money is everything--and I
have reason to suspect that he is considerably interested in the case of
Sidney Prale. Be careful you do not betray your identity to me!"

Farland had the satisfaction of hearing the masked man gasp, and he
chuckled.

"Well, what is the proposition?" Farland inquired. "You seem to waste a
lot of time."

"We want you merely to tell Sidney Prale that you will not work on the
case any more--that you are done. Then go about your regular business.
We'll have you watched, and as soon as we are satisfied that you are
keeping faith with us, we'll send you ten thousand dollars in cash. If
you make the agreement with me, I'll give you a thousand cash to-night
before you leave this place, as a sort of retainer and expression of our
sincerity. Then, following the fee of ten thousand dollars, you'll find
that much business is flowing your way. All you have to do to get all
this is to withdraw from the Prale case at once."

"You must be afraid that I am finding out some things," Jim Farland
suggested.

"That is scarcely the reason," the masked man answered. "We want Sidney
Prale to stand alone, to be without help of any sort--that is all."

"But I am more than Sidney Prale's employee. I am his friend!" Farland
protested.

"You were his friend ten years ago, sir, but a man may change a great
deal in ten years. Are you quite sure that the Sidney Prale of to-day is
the boyish, friendly Sidney Prale of ten years ago?"

"I am quite sure; and that is why I am trying to help him," Jim Farland
declared.

"I fear that he is fooling you--as he is deceiving others. He is not
worthy of such friendship as you are giving him."

"How do I know that?" Farland asked. "If I could have some sort of an
explanation----"

He awaited the other's reply. If he could get some inkling as to why
Prale had powerful enemies, it might help a lot.

"I can tell you this much: Sidney Prale did something that wrecked and
ruined several lives. Certain prominent persons have decided to punish
him. He is to have his life made miserable, he is to have his fortune
taken away from him, he is to be subjected to petty annoyances and hard
blows alike, driven from this, his home town, forced to realize that a
man cannot do what he did and escape retribution."

"Sounds like he murdered a nation!" Jim Farland commented. "Did he wreck
the national treasury or turn traitor to the flag?"

"I am not jesting, Mr. Farland."

"Neither am I. My eyes have got to be opened, sir. You've got to come
clean with me. Prale's enemies may strike at him from the dark, but Jim
Farland never works in the dark! I want to see where I'm stepping. I
never like to trip over anything."

"I have told you all that I can at present."

"Why?"

"Because I do not care to give you information if you are still to work
for Prale."

"You say that Prale knows his enemies and why they are fighting him. If
he does, he never has told me. Tell me that much--since you say Sid
Prale knows it already. It couldn't hurt your side at all."

"We might tell you later."

"You've got some very good reason for not telling me!" Farland accused.
"It is the truth, isn't it, that Prale does not know a single thing
about it. You are afraid to tell me because I may inform him of what you
say, and we may straighten out the tangle? I can see through you, sir,
as easily as through a newly cleaned window."

"I see that you have faith in Sidney Prale," the masked man said. "But I
assure you that your faith is misplaced. Is there any way in which I can
get you to stop your work for him?"

"Meaning against his influential enemies, or on the Rufus Shepley murder
case?" Farland asked.

"We simply want you to stop working for him. If he stands alone, we can
punish him the sooner."

"I understand about that, of course. But how about the murder case? Do
you think Sid Prale is guilty of that crime?" Farland asked.

"I do not know, I am sure. I understand that the evidence against him is
damaging. But we are not awaiting the outcome of that. He may manage to
have the charge against him dismissed, and we are going ahead with our
plans for punishment."

"Then you want me to quit Prale so I won't be helping him work against
his enemies, and not because you are afraid that, in clearing him of the
murder charge, I may find something detrimental to other persons?"

"That is the idea," the masked man replied. "The murder case can take
care of itself, I suppose."

"Suppose I refuse to make this deal with you?"

"In that event, we may feel called upon to detain you--and perhaps to
use further violence."

"Then you might as well start!" Jim Farland cried. "For you are lying to
me like blazes! It's the murder case that's worrying you, and you know
it! And I know _you_! I've been trying to place those hands of yours and
I have succeeded. Besides, you have said one or two things that have
convinced me----"

The masked man gave a shriek and started toward the couch, his hands
reaching out, clutching. Two of the thugs ran in from the hall.



CHAPTER XXII

AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR


Waiting in anticipation of hearing good news, Sidney Prale paced the
floor of the living room of his hotel suite until noon the following
day, expecting Jim Farland to put in an appearance at any time and make
his report.

Murk, having done all the work that there was to do, spent the most of
his time looking from the window at the busy, fashionable avenue, and
glancing now and then at Prale as if wishing to anticipate his wishes
and save him the trouble of voicing them.

Prale had luncheon served in the suite, and then he stepped to the
telephone and called Jim Farland's office. Farland's stenographer
informed him that the detective had not been there during the morning,
though there was some business that needed his attention.

Then Prale got Farland's residence on the telephone, and the detective's
wife answered the call. Prale gave his name, and asked where Jim could
be found.

"That is more than I can tell, Mr. Prale," Mrs. Farland said. "He got a
telephone call last evening, and from what I overheard I think he went
some place to meet a man. He left soon after he received the call, and I
have not heard from him since. That is peculiar, too. When he is obliged
to remain away, he generally finds time to telephone and let me know."

This conversation bothered Sidney Prale, but he tried to tell himself
that Farland was following a hot trail, and that perhaps it had led him
some distance away, or that he was in a locality where he did not care
to telephone.

He did not want to miss Farland if he did call, and so he remained at
the hotel during the afternoon and kept Murk there also.

"I have a hunch that something is going to happen soon," Prale said to
his valet.

"A little action wouldn't make me mad any!" Murk declared. "I'm spoilin'
to mix with the enemy, Mr. Prale. Most of all, I'd like to meet up with
them two thugs that got gay with us. You're sure about that Jim Farland,
boss?"

"I've told you a hundred times, Murk, that Jim Farland is my friend and
as square a man as you can find anywhere. He has not deserted us, if
that is the thought in your head."

"I'm beginnin' to like him a bit myself," said Murk. "Ain't you got any
idea, boss, who's engineerin' this deal against you?"

"Once more, Murk, old boy, allow me to state that I haven't the faintest
idea who my enemies are, or why they are trying so hard to make life
miserable for me. If I knew where to start to round them up, I wouldn't
be standing in this room talking to you--I'd be out rounding them up!"

"Well, if you ask me, I think it's about time that Farland settled that
murder case," Murk said. "If he don't get busy pretty quick, I'll tackle
it myself. I've got an idea----"

The ringing of the telephone bell cut his sentence off. Sidney Prale was
near the instrument, and he answered the call.

"Mr. Prale?" asked a man's voice.

"Talking."

"I just wanted to inform you that you needn't depend on Detective Jim
Farland any more. We've got him--and we'll get anybody else you engage.
And we'll get you, too, Mr. Prale, before very long. Don't think we'll
not!"

The man at the other end of the wire hung up his receiver. Prale paced
the floor and told Murk of the conversation.

"They've got Farland!" Prale exclaimed. "They probably got him last
night, decoyed him in some way. Well, Murk, if that is the truth, and I
imagine that it is, we'll have to do our sleuthing ourselves."

"Suits me!" Murk said. "I'm ready to start out right now and sleuth
until it's settled. Let's get in action, boss!"

"We are in the same old quandary, Murk. We don't know where to start,"
Sidney Prale said. "If our foes would come out in the open, instead of
fighting from the dark, we might have a chance. This is some city, Murk,
and there are several million persons in it and around it. Starting
right in such a maze isn't the easiest thing in the world, you know."

For the second time that afternoon, Murk was interrupted by the ringing
of the telephone bell, and once more Sidney Prale happened to be near
and answered the call.

"Send them up at once!" Murk heard him say.

And then Sidney Prale hung up the receiver and whirled around with a
puzzled expression on his face.

"Murk," he said, "Miss Kate Gilbert is coming up here with that big maid
of hers--coming to see me. What she wants is more than I can guess,
remembering what happened the last time I talked with her. It may be
good news, Murk!"

They waited impatiently for the ring at the door. Murk opened it and
ushered them in.

He grinned at the gigantic Marie, but she did not return the compliment.
There was a serious expression in her face, and Murk looked past her at
Kate Gilbert, who was being greeted by Sidney Prale.

Something important had happened, Murk told himself immediately. Kate
Gilbert did not look frightened exactly or sorrowful or triumphant.
There was a peculiar expression about her mouth, and her face seemed
pale.

"I felt that I had to come, Mr. Prale, and have this talk with you,"
Kate Gilbert said, when she was seated near the window. "I wanted to
speak to you here instead of in some public place, and so I brought
Marie and came to your suite."

"You are welcome, Miss Gilbert, I am sure," Prale said. "If you wish to
speak in private, Marie and Murk can step into the adjoining room."

"Please," she said softly.

Murk opened the door, and the maid stepped in. Then he followed and
closed the door again. Prale sat down near Kate Gilbert and turned
toward her.

"Now, Miss Gilbert," he prompted.

She met his eyes squarely as she spoke, but her lips trembled at times
as if she were undergoing an ordeal.

"Mr. Prale," she said, "as you know, I have been associated with others
in an attempt to bring retribution home to you. When I became associated
with them, it was understood between us that there was to be no
violence, nothing outside the law. We were simply to attack you from
every angle, cause you trouble and annoyance, take away your money if we
could, break you in every way."

"Pardon me, but----"

"Please say nothing until I am finished, Mr. Prale. We began at once to
gather all the information we could about you and your affairs. We began
to plan for your downfall. We found that we could do nothing that
amounted to anything while you were in Honduras, where you were a
powerful man. But we were about to try, even there, when we learned that
you were selling out your properties and preparing to return to New
York.

"You may know how that struck us. You had gone away and made your
fortune, and you were coming home, possibly with the hope that the past
had been forgotten. We intended showing you that it had not been
forgotten, that you could not return and enjoy the fortune whose
foundation was----But enough of that!

"I had been in Honduras spying upon you. I was sent because you did not
know me, and would not be on guard, as you might have been, had some man
gone down there. We did not care to send an ordinary detective, of
course. I kept the people here informed of all your movements. I began
the punishment by leaving that note in your stateroom and pasting the
other on your suit case, began it by reminding you that the past lived
in the minds of some persons.

"You know the rest. We began our work. We caused you annoyance from the
first, with the banker, the hotel manager, and all that. Before we could
do any more, you were accused of murder. That pleased us, of course. We
did not believe you guilty, but we were glad to see that you were being
caused some trouble, that your name was being stained. Some of us even
began to think that the law of retribution was at work itself, without
our poor help.

"We went ahead with our plans, however. You engaged a prominent
attorney, and finally we induced him to leave you. But some who were
handling the affair went too far. You were assaulted in Central Park.
Your valet was knocked on the head and kidnaped, and an attempt made to
get him to take payment and spy upon you. At that time I told a certain
man who had the handling of the affair that there could be no more
violence.

"We should not break a law to undo you, I declared. If we did that, we
were as bad as you. I said that, if there was any more violence, I
should cease having anything to do with the affair, and would come to
you and tell you so. An hour ago, I found out that Detective Farland, a
man in your employ, had been seized and treated with violence and was
being held prisoner because he insisted upon remaining loyal to you. So
I am here!"

"This is amazing, Miss Gilbert!" Sidney Prale told her. "The whole thing
has been amazing. Somebody has tried to connect me with that murder.
Somebody tried to smash my alibi. The little annoyances were bad enough,
and the knowledge that I had unknown foes who fought in the dark; but
the murder charge was the worst of all, for it placed me in a position
where I had to clear myself absolutely or remain forever suspected by
many persons."

"I understand that," Kate Gilbert said.

"And now you have come to me to say that you are no longer associated
with my enemies?"

"For what you did, there can be no forgiveness, Mr. Prale. I want to see
you punished. But I will not be a party to violence. It seems to me that
the man who has been managing this affair has gone beyond proper bounds.
For some reason, he is particularly vindictive, though he did not suffer
at all, as did some of the others. I cannot forgive you for what you
did, Sidney Prale. But I can wash my hands of the entire affair and try
to forget you entirely and hope that there is a law of retribution that
will take vengeance for me. That is all, Mr. Prale. Only please remember
that, from this hour, I am not concerned with the others in this
affair."

She started to rise, but Prale motioned for her to retain her seat. He
bent forward and looked at her searchingly.

"I am very glad that you have come here and spoken to me in this way,
Miss Gilbert," he said. "I scarcely know how to express what I feel that
I must tell you. I have listened to you patiently, without interruption.
Will you be kind enough to listen to me for a moment now?"

"I'll listen, though it will be useless," she said.

"When I left Honduras, Miss Gilbert, I was a happy man. I had made my
pile and was coming home. I had left ten years before because a selfish
woman, whom I imagined I loved, jilted me for a wealthier man. That
wound had healed, and when I left Honduras, I did not think that I had
an enemy in the world, unless it was some poor devil of a disgruntled
native workman I had been forced to discharge, or somebody like that.

"I believed those notes on the ship to be in the nature of a jest, or
else that somebody was making a mistake. Then troubles began, and I was
at a loss to understand them. Next came the murder charge! We will put
that aside for the moment, for it seems to be the result of
circumstantial evidence and probably has nothing to do with the other
affair--merely a coincidence.

"Miss Gilbert, look at me! I want you to believe what I am going to say.
You must believe it! In the name of everything I hold sacred, I swear to
you that I do not know these foes of mine, or the reason for their
enmity!"

"How can I believe that?" she cried. "Why should you ask me to believe
such a statement?"

"Because I want some light on this subject, Miss Gilbert, and I am
determined to get it. There is some terrible mistake. I am being
punished for the fault of some other person."

"Can you not remember back ten years?" she asked.

"Easily. I can live over again the last day I spent in New York ten
years ago."

"And the few days before that time?"

"Certainly, Miss Gilbert."

"And yet you ask why others should seek to punish you? Perhaps you are
one of those men whose natures are so dishonorable that you think you
did nothing wrong at that time."

"So it was then that I was supposed to have done this terrible
thing--whatever it was?"

"As you know, Mr. Prale."

"But I do not know, Miss Gilbert. To the best of my recollection I left
New York without having done anything in the least dishonorable; and
certainly I did nothing to merit a band of enemies working against me."

"What is it that you wish me to do?" she asked.

"Be fair with me, Miss Gilbert. I tell you that there is some terrible
mistake! If I am supposed to know all about this, what harm can there be
in your repeating the details to me? Tell me what crime I am supposed to
have committed to merit this attack. Give me a chance to prove my
innocence! The common thug gets that chance in a court of law, you
know."

"But this is ridiculous!" she exclaimed. "There can be no question of
it! The whole thing came out at the time."

"Then you do not wish to be fair?" Prale asked.

"I cannot allow you to say that. I will tell the story to you, Mr.
Prale, tell exactly what you did--as you know very well--if that will be
any satisfaction to you. But it will do you no good to deny it!"

"Tell me!" Sidney Prale said.



CHAPTER XXIII

A STARTLING STORY


"This is a painful subject for me, as you must be aware," Kate Gilbert
said. "I shall tell the story in as few words as possible, and if you
are a gentleman, you will not interrupt or cause me more suffering by
protesting your innocence."

"I promise not to interrupt," Sidney Prale replied. "I want justice and
nothing more, Miss Gilbert."

"Ten years ago you were a clerk in the office of Griffin, the big
broker, were you not?"

"Yes."

"Mr. Griffin took a fancy to you, after your father died and left you
alone in the world without any money. He gave you odd jobs to do around
his residence, fed and clothed you and arranged it so that you could go
to school. Your uncle, the father of George Lerton, your cousin, would
do nothing for you because there had been a family quarrel several years
before.

"Had it not been for Mr. Griffin you might have been an ordinary street
Arab. He sent you to a business college after you had finished the
public schools, and then he took you into his office and started you on
a business career.

"You showed great promise, and Mr. Griffin was delighted and advanced
you rapidly. You seemed to know the meaning of gratitude and worked
hard. You were ambitious, too--always said that some day you would be
worth a million dollars.

"Step by step, you went up the ladder. Then it happened that your
cousin, George Lerton, obtained a position in the same office after his
father's death. He had had the advantage of a college education and knew
how to handle himself in the presence of other men, and yet you, after
your early struggle and with an inferior education and inferior
opportunities, easily outdistanced him.

"Other men began talking about you as a coming man--bankers and brokers,
business men and financiers. Mr. Griffin finally gave you the post of
chief clerk and adviser. You worked hard and seemed to be loyal and
faithful. You got profits for your employer where other men would have
caused losses. So he let you more and more into his confidence.

"You got to know the secrets of big deals, the inside facts of the
country's finance. You spoke in millions, but got only a nice salary.
Your ambition to be worth a million dollars seemed to be not susceptible
of gratification. Yet you saved money, and took advantage of small,
solid investments now and then.

"After a while you met a girl and fell in love with her. She was the
sort who wished wealth above all, and you soon found that out. You
became engaged to her, however. Then a rival appeared in the field, a
wealthier man. You realized that the girl was shallow in that she
favored the man with more money, but you were so infatuated that you
overlooked that. You wanted the girl and, to get her, you had to have
more money.

"Then you began to feel dissatisfied. You didn't want to grow gradually,
as other men did. You wanted the foundation for a fortune--enough to use
in a plunge in the market. You wanted to be rich as soon as possible.

"You began to think, perhaps, that you were not getting ahead. You
worked in an atmosphere of wealth, you heard men speak in terms of
millions, while you had less than ten thousand dollars in the bank. You
began to think that Mr. Griffin should do more for you, that he had not
done enough. You forgot that he had picked you up and made you what you
were, that you had so much more than other men who had not been equally
fortunate in finding a sponsor."

She ceased speaking for a moment, but Sidney Prale never took his eyes
from her face. Be ungrateful to Griffin? He never had dreamed of that!
He always had worshiped Griffin for what the broker had done for him; he
realized what he might have been only for Griffin. But he had promised
not to interrupt, and so he said nothing, merely waited for Kate Gilbert
to continue her recital.

"You made certain plans," she went on. "Certain big business deals were
in the wind, and, as Mr. Griffin's confidential and chief clerk, you
knew all about them. There were millions of dollars involved, the
control of several large companies, and more than that; for Mr. Griffin
and his associates were fighting a group of financial thieves who were
trying to wreck excellent properties for the sake of making a gain. It
was a fight for more than money--it was a fight to keep big business
honest, to drive off the wolves and make finance solid. It was a
tremendous thing!

"And you, a boy picked up and educated by a broker, who had risen
through his kindness, knew as much of the big deal contemplated as some
of the wealthiest and most influential men of the country. There were
men in the other group who would have given a million gladly to know
what you, a clerk, knew.

"You were approached by one of that band of financial wolves. You were
willing to listen. You wanted money because the girl with whom you were
infatuated demanded it before she would marry you. You believed that
Griffin had not done enough for you and you agreed to sell him out--him
and his associates."

Sidney Prale gasped, sat up straight in his chair, opened his mouth as
if to speak, but did not when he saw the expression in her face. He
decided to keep his word.

"The agreement was made," she went on. "And you, who could have demanded
half a million easily for the information you had, sold out your
benefactor and his friends and the decent element on the Street for a
paltry hundred thousand! You sold your honor and your manhood for that.

"At this juncture, the woman in the case informed you that she wished to
break the engagement, because a man of money--your rival--had asked her
to marry him, and she wanted his wealth. Instead of seeing what sort of
woman she was--instead of coming to your senses then and stopping your
deal with the other side--you took the opposite course. You would take
the money, betray your benefactor and his friends, and leave the
country! With that money as a foundation, you would build up a fortune.
And that is what you did, Sidney Prale!

"You arranged everything nicely. You gave those men the information and
received your hundred thousand and then you quit your job and sailed
away to Honduras.

"The battle began on the Street, and because of the information you had
sold them, the financial wolves got the better of the honest element. It
was a battle that lasted for two weeks. The wolves met every move,
because they knew everything that had been planned. Fortunes were lost
overnight. A score of big, decent men were ruined in their attempt to
defeat the wolves and keep finance clean.

"Mr. Griffin, the man who had done everything for you, went down in the
crash--because you had sold him out! It was only five years ago that he
got new backing and fought his way up again. Others went down with him,
and some never regained their footing--because of what you had done,
because you had played traitor! They knew there had been a leak, and
there was an investigation. You had sailed away the day before the fight
began, and that looked suspicious, for you had made up your mind
suddenly. Finally it was discovered that you were the traitor in the
camp!

"My father was one of Mr. Griffin's associates, Mr. Prale. He lost his
fortune, of course. We could have endured that, but the blow cost him
his health. He was a giant of a man at that time, the best father in the
world. You should see him now, Mr. Prale--see what your treason made of
him. He is an invalid who sits all day in his wheel chair. At times his
mind wanders and he fights that battle over again and calls curses down
upon the head of the man who played traitor! My big, handsome, rich
father is a broken, thin-faced man whose voice is a whisper and whose
hands tremble--because of what you did. You beast!"

She began sobbing softly as she glanced through the window, and Sidney
Prale started to get out of his chair. But she faced him again quickly
and motioned for him to remain silent.

"You wanted to hear it, and so I shall tell it all!" she declared. "You
had been clever; you had done this thing in such a manner than the law
could not touch you. Yet you must have been afraid of it, for you fled
the country. It was some time before things were adjusted, and then
those men you had betrayed got together and determined to make you pay!

"They told the story to others, and they began gathering information
about you. You were making your million, all right, on the foundation
that had wrecked a score of fortunes and lives--on treason instead of
superior financial ability--and they swore that you should pay.

"They knew my father's story, of course, and knew that we had very
little money. So they provided for him, and gave me funds and sent me to
Honduras to spy upon you. Marie, my maid since girlhood, who worshiped
my father and knew all the circumstances, went with me. Soon after I
reached Honduras, I found that you were selling out with the intention
of returning to New York and enjoying your million.

"I communicated with the others and told them all I knew of your plans,
whereupon they made some plans of their own. They won the sympathy of
the most influential men in the city. They determined to make you pay!

"That is why the big trust company would not accept your account. A
whisper in the ear of the hotel manager by the president of the company
that owned the hotel, and you were as good as ordered out. Can you
understand now, Sidney Prale? Coadley, the lawyer, was told that he will
be made a nobody by the influential men of the town unless he ceased to
work for you, and he dropped your case.

"But there was to be no violence, and because they have descended to
that, I have ceased to be interested in the affair. I know nothing about
the Shepley murder case or any trouble it may have caused you. That is
quite another matter. Now that I have told my story, I hope that you are
satisfied. It has shown you, I trust, that I know all, and that any
falsehood you may utter will have no effect on me."

"I do not intend uttering a falsehood, Miss Gilbert," Sidney Prale
assured her. "What you have said has amazed and shocked me. So that is
why I was treated so badly upon returning to my home?"

"Exactly," she said.

"Now listen to me one moment, I beg of you. There is some mystery here,
and though it is ten years old, I shall solve it. Miss Gilbert--whether
you believe me or not--I am not guilty of such treachery. I had no
dealings with the financial wolves. When I left the United States I took
with me the ten thousand dollars I had saved--nothing more. And I left
nothing behind."

"You made a million in ten years with a capital of ten thousand?" she
asked, with a slight sneer.

"I did, Miss Gilbert! I can prove every transaction, show you or anybody
else exactly how I did it. Disbelieve me or not, it is the truth that I
am innocent. If my people were sold out at that time, somebody else got
the selling price. I was chagrined because my love affair had gone
wrong. I shook the dust of New York from my feet. I did not even look at
a New York newspaper for more than a year. Somebody else got the money,
and I got a nasty name. And Mr. Griffin, who was as a father to me,
thinks that I was an ungrateful cur!

"This thing is hard to believe, Miss Gilbert. But I never can thank you
enough for telling me. I am going to clear myself before I am done."

"I cannot believe you, Mr. Prale! The proof was there!"

"And who furnished it?" he demanded. "Who is handling this campaign of
vengeance against me now?"

"You scarcely can expect me to tell you that," she said. "I am
done--have nothing more to do with the affair--but I am not going to be
a traitor, as you were!"

"If you ever are convinced, Miss Gilbert, that I am entirely innocent,
that somebody has put this stain upon me for their own reasons, can I
count upon your friendship?"

"Convince me that injustice has been done you, Mr. Prale, and I'll do
everything in my power to make amends--and so will all the others!"

"Thanks for that assurance," Prale said. "I am going to clear myself in
your eyes, and in the eyes of the others. I remember the details of that
big deal perfectly and I shall know how to start to work."

"I cannot understand this," she said. "You speak as if you were indeed
innocent, but I cannot believe it!"

"I am innocent!"

"If so, who is guilty?"

"That is what I intend finding out."

"But you were in their confidence--you knew all the details of their
financial plans," Kate Gilbert said. "You were the only one who could
have betrayed them. You scarcely expect me to believe that they betrayed
themselves."

"Any spying clerk in the Griffin offices could have told the enemy
enough to betray the plans," Prale replied. "By the way, who is this man
who goes too far and insists upon using violence? Who is the man who
seems to be so extraordinary vindictive toward me in this affair?"

"I can tell you nothing more," she declared. "It would not be fair to
them."

"But they have Jim Farland, and Heaven knows what they are doing to him,
simply because he will not turn against me. Is it fair to Jim Farland's
wife and child?"

"I--I am being kept informed," she assured him. "If they treat Mr.
Farland badly, or detain him much longer, I shall speak. But until then,
I have nothing to say. You see, Mr. Prale, I cannot believe that you are
innocent and have been misjudged. The evidence against you is so
conclusive, and I have learned to hate you as the man who betrayed his
benefactor and friends and wrecked my father's health. But, if you are
innocent, I hope that you will forgive me."

"I'll forgive you gladly," said Sidney Prale. "I realize what you must
have suffered, and what your father must have suffered, too. I am going
to prove my innocence; and then I hope to claim you as one of my
friends."

"I am sorry that I cannot believe you," she said again, "although I
would like to. I would prefer to think that no man could be so
ungrateful as to do such a thing. I'd like to have my faith in human
nature restored. If you prove your innocence, I shall be very glad
indeed!"

Then she called for Marie, and when the maid came from the adjoining
room, Sidney Prale ushered the two women to the door and watched as they
went down the hall toward the elevator. But Kate Gilbert did not glance
back.



CHAPTER XXIV

HIGH-HANDED METHODS


Sidney Prale closed the door and turned around to face a grinning Murk.

"Some pair of chickens!" Murk said. "That Marie girl may be a bear for
size and strength, but she's got a lot of good common sense. I'm strong
for her!"

"Sit down!" Prale commanded.

And then, walking up and down across the room, he told Murk what Kate
Gilbert had revealed to him, simply because he felt that he had to tell
it to somebody.

"How is that for a dirty deal, Murk?" he asked when he had finished.
"Doesn't that make ordinary dirty work look rather pale?"

"Who did it, boss? Name the gent, and I'll get his address out of the
city directory and pay him a visit!" Murk said. "I'll have some things
to say to him--and some things to do, maybe."

"I'm a sort of husky individual myself, Murk, and, if I knew him, I
think I'd beat you to it," Prale replied. "Now we must get busy!"

"Just say the word, Mr. Prale. What is it to be?"

"I haven't quite decided yet, Murk. How far will you go?"

"I'll croak him, if it's necessary!"

"That'd be a bit too far, Murk, and might lead to the electric chair and
a far country. Let's take a walk and think it over. We will confine
ourselves to the Avenue, and you may trail me as before. I scarcely
think they'll assault us on the Avenue."

Ten minutes later, Sidney Prale was walking down the street, and the
faithful Murk was trailing in his wake, watching carefully. That walk
lasted for an hour. Then they returned to the hotel and Prale ordered an
early dinner. He did not say what he had decided to do, despite Murk's
hints that he should state his plans.

But Murk had noticed that Prale had stopped in at a printing office
during the walk, and shortly after they finished dinner, a bell boy
brought a small package to the suite. Prale unwrapped it, and some cards
spilled out.

"Nice cards, Murk," he said. "I had them printed this afternoon. They
bear the name of Horace Greenman, whoever he may be, and state that he
is connected with the General Utilities Company--whatever that is."

"What's the big idea, Mr. Prale?" Murk asked wonderingly.

"I wish to get into a certain place, Murk, and I'd never do it if I send
in my own card. What time is it?"

"A few minutes of eight, sir."

"Then we'll be going. Let us hope that we find our man at home. If this
happens to be his opera or theater evening, we are going to be delayed."

Murk followed him down in the elevator and to the street, where Prale
engaged a taxicab. The machine took them up past the Park and to an
exclusive residence section, where it stopped on a corner. Prale and
Murk got out, and Prale instructed the chauffeur to wait. Then he led
the way to the middle of the block.

"Murk, you remain just outside this gate," he instructed. "If I have
good luck, I'll come out with a man, and I may want to take him with us.
Be ready to help in case I get in wrong."

"Sure thing, sir," Murk said.

Prale passed through the gate, went up the walk, and lifted the knocker
on the front door. A moment, and a servant appeared and looked at him
searchingly.

"I wish to see Mr. Griffin at once on important business," Prale said.
"Kindly take my card to him."

Then Prale waited with his heart in his mouth. Was Griffin at home? The
servant instantly assured him of that, and carried the card away. Prale
had written "Important Business" on it.

The servant returned soon and announced that Mr. Griffin would see the
visitor. Prale followed him down the hall to the library. He was glad
that Griffin had chosen to receive him there, for there was less
likelihood of an interruption. The servant opened the door, and Sidney
Prale stepped inside.

Griffin was sitting beside the long table, and he arose immediately and
turned.

"You!" he gasped.

"Pardon the deception----"

"James! James!" Griffin thundered.

The servant was in the room instantly.

"Show this fellow the door!" Griffin commanded. "Look at him well, and
never admit him again!"

James took a step forward and indicated the door. But Sidney Prale
reached into the pocket of his coat, drew out an automatic pistol, and
held it menacingly.

"Close the door, James--softly!" he commanded in a stern voice. "Now
advance to the table and stand where I can watch you. Don't you make a
move, Mr. Griffin! I used to handle men down in Honduras, and I feel
confident that I can take care of this situation."

"You thug!" Griffin cried. "I'll have you sent up for this, Prale, if
it's the last thing I do!"

"I know that it is against the law to be carrying a gun without a
permit, but this situation demands a show of force," Prale said. "I
merely want you to listen to me for a moment, Mr. Griffin."

"I don't want to hear anything you may have to say to me, Sidney Prale!"
the financier said.

"You are going to hear it, nevertheless! Mr. Griffin, I did not know
until this afternoon why I had secret enemies and why they were trying
to cause me endless trouble. Miss Kate Gilbert was kind enough to
enlighten me."

"Well, sir?"

"I am sorry that you believe me guilty of such base ingratitude to you
and of such dishonorable conduct, for I am not guilty, Mr. Griffin! You
were like a father to me--which was enough to compel my loyalty--and,
aside from that, you had taught me several things regarding honor in
business deals. I went away on the spur of the moment because a woman
had jilted me. But before I went, I did not betray you and your
associates."

"A likely story!"

"But a true one, Mr. Griffin! I did not sell you out for a hundred
thousand dollars or any other sum. My conscience is clear, and I came
back to New York expecting to greet old friends and have a pleasant
time. You know what I found instead of that happy state of affairs. I am
not here to talk at length. I demand a chance to prove my innocence!"

"How can you do the impossible, sir?"

"It is not the impossible, Mr. Griffin! I intend to prove to you that I
was not disloyal, and then I shall prove that I had nothing to do with
the murder of Rufus Shepley. I have an idea, sir, what is behind all
this."

"We are wasting time----"

"I think not, sir! Time is not wasted in which a man shows that he is
not a scoundrel! I think you owe it to me to give me a chance. You have
condemned me unheard."

"I would give almost anything to have you prove your innocence," Griffin
said. "You don't know how it hurt me. But the case against you was so
strong--and is so strong----"

"Let us waste no more time," Prale said. "I remember the details of the
big deal that was under way when I left New York ten years ago. If you
recall, sir, I helped plan the campaign. If I can look at papers in your
office, I think I can show that I am not guilty."

"I'd like to believe you, but this is preposterous!" Griffin cried. "I
tell you the evidence----"

"It probably was strong, because the guilty man wanted to make it so.
Mr. Griffin, were I guilty I should not be here. Please give me a few
minutes, and let us talk this over. Then, if you wish, we can go to your
office and continue the investigation."

Griffin sat down and motioned for Sidney Prale to do the same. Prale
returned the automatic to his pocket, much to the relief of the servant.

Murk, standing outside by the gate, paced back and forth and wondered
whether he should attempt to take the house by storm and rescue his
employer. The chauffeur, waiting at the corner, wondered whether his
fare had slipped down the next street without paying the bill. Murk
relieved him on that point and threatened to beat him up because he
intimated that Prale might do such a thing.

It was more than two hours later when Prale left the house and went out
to the street. He paid the chauffeur and dismissed him, and told Murk to
return to the hotel. Then he went back into the house and joined Mr.
Griffin again, and after Griffin had telephoned several persons, he
ordered his car, got into it with Prale, and started downtown.

An astonished watchman took them up in an elevator in an office building
in the financial district, and a little later he took up several other
gentlemen.

"Them financiers make me sick!" the watchman told himself. "Why can't
they lay their schemes in the daytime?"

It was almost dawn when they left the building and scattered. They had
spent hours investigating books and papers. Sidney Prale had even sent a
messenger to the hotel with an order to Murk for certain books and
papers of his own, and these had been investigated, too.

"And there we are, gentlemen," Prale had said, at the last. "I have
shown you, I think, that I did not do this thing. I do not want you to
believe me fully until I have proved my innocence by revealing the man
who is guilty. I merely ask you to give me a fair chance to prove my
case. I have told you my suspicions. Now it is up to me to demonstrate
whether they are just or worthless."

Griffin had little to say as they rode back uptown. But when he dropped
Prale at the hotel just before daylight, he gripped him by the hand.

"I want to believe you, Sidney!" he said. "I hope that you have told me
the truth. If you have, I hope you'll be able to clear yourself. If you
only can show me that the boy I was glad to help was not ungrateful,
after all----"

"I'll do it, sir!"

"And then I'll never forgive myself, Sidney!"

"You'll show your forgiveness by handling my affairs for me, sir, in
that event, and by treating me as your son again!" Prale said.

He hurried up to the suite. Murk had been sleeping in a chair in the
living room, as if expecting a call at any moment. He was somewhat
startled to hear Sidney Prale whistling merrily at four o'clock in the
morning.



CHAPTER XXV

AN ACCUSATION


Springing toward him, the masked man stopped two feet from the bound Jim
Farland.

"So you think you know me, do you?" he snarled.

"I have a pretty good idea," Farland said. "There are only a few men in
the city, to my knowledge, who could be hired to do work like this, and
it occurs to me that I have seen those hands of yours before. I think
your face is in the rogues' gallery, too, if you want to know!"

The masked man retreated for a few feet, evidently relieved.

"So you'll not make terms with me," he said. "You'd rather work for
Sidney Prale, would you? Perhaps we can change your mind."

"I doubt that like blazes!"

"You are going to be kept here as a prisoner until I decide what is to
be done with you."

He crossed over to the door, opened it, and called to his men, two of
whom responded.

"I want this man guarded well," he said. "I want you to understand that
I am holding you responsible for him. I'll be back to-morrow evening and
have another talk with him. Give him something to eat now and then, and
fix him so he can sleep, but watch him all the time!"

"I was figurin' on goin' to the city this mornin', boss," one of the men
spoke up.

"You'll do as I say!" the masked man cried.

"But----"

"Don't argue with me, you dog!"

Farland saw the man's eyes flash fire for a moment. And then the masked
man faced toward him again, his eyes glittering through his mask.

"Sometimes it isn't healthy to know whose picture is in the rogues'
gallery!" he said.

He went from the room. After a short argument one of the men remained to
guard Farland, and the other went away. Farland spent a night of agony.
His guards fixed the bonds so that he could be a bit more comfortable,
and yet he got little sleep.

Jim Farland was considering a big idea now. He had thrown the masked man
off guard by intimating that he might be a crook with a record, when, as
a matter of fact, the detective did not believe him to be anything of
the sort. Now Farland knew where to begin working, but he had to win his
freedom first.

Night passed, morning came, and the long day of agony began. Farland had
his hands untied and was given some food. Then his wrists were lashed
again and his ankles loosened, and he was allowed to walk around the
room for an hour or so, two of the men watching him closely. The one to
whom the masked man had applied the epithet, "dog," appeared surly.

After they had bound him again and stretched him upon the couch, they
guarded him one at a time, evidently secure in the belief that he could
not escape. Jim Farland thought a day never had seemed so long. All the
time he was busy with his thoughts. He had a plan of campaign outlined
now; he wanted to be at work.

Once more the evening came. Farland, who had been sleeping for a few
minutes, awoke and turned over to find that his guard had been changed
again. The man who had been called a dog was on duty.

"How long are you going to keep me tied up like this?" Jim Farland
asked.

"Don't ask me. Ask the high and mighty boss," was the sneering reply.

"You don't seem to stand very high with him."

"Aw, he makes me sick sometimes."

"It'd make me sick, too, if anybody called me a dog," Farland declared.

The man before him did not reply to that, but Farland could see the
anger burning in his face.

"Come closer," Farland whispered.

The man obeyed instantly.

"Can anybody overhear what I say to you?"

"No. Everybody's gone--but they'll be back soon."

"Why are you working for these people?"

"Coin, of course--and precious little of it I've seen so far," was the
reply.

"Then you haven't any other interest in this business? Maybe we can make
a deal."

"What sort of a deal?"

"The man I work for is worth a million," Farland said. "Help me escape,
and I'll give you five hundred dollars."

"Got it with you?"

"The biggest part of it," Farland replied.

He told the truth, too, for he always carried plenty of money while
working on a case.

"Suppose I simply take it away from you," the guard said.

"In the first place, I don't think you are that kind of a man. And you
want to get square with the man who called you a dog, don't you?"

"What's your scheme?"

"Simply let me go, right now. It is dusk outside already. Tell me how to
get to town the quickest way. I'll give you almost all I have on me;
I'll need a little to use to get back to the city. To-morrow I'll meet
you some place and give you the rest. In addition I'll give you a chance
to get out without being arrested for your part in abducting me and
holding me here."

The man spent a few minutes in thought.

"I'll fix you so you can slip your bonds," he said, "and I'll hand your
automatic back to you. It is there in the cupboard. But I don't want you
to make a get-away while I'm guarding you--see? I don't exactly love the
man who'll guard you next. I'll fix it so you can handle him. Wait for
five minutes after he comes and I have gone. I will be away for an hour
or so, and the escape can happen while I'm not here."

"That suits me," Farland said.

"What about the money?"

"You'll get it just as soon as I get my hands loose."

The guard walked to the hall door and opened it, peered out into the
hall and listened. Then he hurried back to the couch and cut Jim
Farland's bonds. Farland took the money from one of his inside pockets
and handed it over. The guard got the weapon from the cupboard and gave
it to Farland.

The detective stretched himself down on the couch again, and the guard
adjusted the ropes on his ankles and wrists so that they would appear to
be all right. Farland slipped the automatic beneath the small of his
back, where he could reach it quickly.

It was half an hour later before the guard was changed and Farland's
friend hurried away, warning him with a glance that he should not make a
move too soon. He had declined to meet the detective the following day
and get the few dollars still due him; he would rather use what he
already had in getting out of town, he had said.

Farland made no attempt to talk with the new guard. He pretended to be
tired, almost exhausted and sleepy. The guard sat beside the table,
smoking and glancing at a newspaper now and then, apparently of the
opinion that Farland was safely a prisoner.

After waiting for about half an hour, the detective began moving his
ankles and wrists gently. Gradually the ropes fell away. He reached one
hand beneath his back and grasped the automatic. Then he sat up quickly
on the couch and covered the guard.

"Put 'em up!" he commanded.

The guard whirled from the table and sprang to his feet, surprise
written on his countenance. Farland had arisen now, and advancing toward
him.

"Walk past me to the couch!" the detective commanded.

The guard started to obey. He was holding his hands above his head and
seemed to be afraid that his captor would shoot. But as he came opposite
Farland, he lurched to one side and made an attempt to grapple with him.

The detective did not fire. He sprang aside himself, swung the
automatic, and crashed it against the other man's temple. The guard
groaned once and dropped to the floor.

"Thought you might try something like that!" Jim Farland growled.
"Couldn't have pleased me better--won't have to waste time tying you up
now. You'll be dead to the world for a few minutes at least!"

Farland darted to the door, opened it, went into the hall and closed the
door again. He passed through the house noiselessly. He could hear two
men in conversation in a rear room, and he knew that he would have to be
cautious until he was at some distance from the old dwelling, unless he
wanted a battle on his hands.

He got out of the place without being discovered, and reached the edge
of a grove not far away. There he found the lane, and near the end of it
was a powerful roadster, its engine dead and its lights extinguished.

Farland listened a moment, then went forward and examined the machine.
He knew the model, and he was an excellent driver. Once more he stopped
to listen. Then he sprang behind the wheel and operated the starter.

He drove slowly down the lane, the engine almost silent, the car
traveling slowly. He proceeded in that manner until he had reached the
highway. There he switched on the lights, put on speed, and sent the
powerful car roaring along the winding road toward the river.

Jim Farland, being a modest man, never did tell the entire story of that
night. He drove like a fiend, narrowly escaping collision a score of
times. He made his way along the roads running alongside the broad
river, and finally came opposite the city. He crossed over a bridge,
drove through the streets with what speed he dared, left the car at a
public garage with certain instructions, and hurried to a telephone.

He was unable to get either Sidney Prale or Murk, for at that hour they
were on their way to the Griffin residence. Farland telephoned to his
wife to say that he was all right, but would not be home until some time
during the day. Then he engaged a taxicab and began his work.

He knew where to start now. An idea had come to him in that old house
far up the river, a suspicion, a feeling of certainty that he was on the
right track. Jim Farland was no respecter of persons that night.

When morning came he stopped only for a cup of coffee, and then worked
on. He dashed from one place to another, running up a taxicab bill that
made the chauffeur smile. He interviewed important gentlemen,
threatening some and cajoling others, but always getting the information
that he desired.

At two o'clock the following afternoon he stood on a certain corner near
Madison Square, his suspicion almost proved, his investigation at an
end.

"Now for the big bluff!" Jim Farland said to himself.

He fortified himself with another cup of coffee, got into the taxicab
again, and started downtown. He was smoking one of his big, black
cigars, puffing at it as if in deep contentment, not looking at all like
a man who had been kept a prisoner a night and a day, and had been busy
since that experience.

The taxicab stopped before an office building, as Jim Farland had
ordered. The detective pulled out his last money and paid the chauffeur.

"You're got more coming, son, but this is all I have with me," Farland
said. "Drop in at my office any time after ten to-morrow morning and get
it."

"Yes, Mr. Farland--and thanks!"

"You're a good boy, but keep your mouth shut!" Farland told him.

Then he hurried into the office building, went to the elevator nearest
the entrance, and ascended to the floor where George Lerton had his
suite of offices.

The office boy stepped to the railing.

"Mr. Lerton busy?" Farland asked.

"He is alone in his private office, sir," said the boy, who regarded the
detective with admiration and awe. After Farland's other visit, the
youth had decided to be a detective when he grew up.

"I am to go right in--important business," Farland said. "Never mind
announcing me."

The willing boy opened the gate, and Farland hurried across to the door
of the private office. He paused there a moment and seemed to pull
himself together, as if making sure before entering the room of
questions he wanted to ask and information he wanted to gather. Then he
threw the door open, stepped quickly inside, closed the door, and turned
the key.

Lerton was sitting at his desk with his back to the door. He made no
move until he heard the key turned. Then he whirled around in his desk
chair.

"I--Great Scott, Farland, how you startled me!" he exclaimed. "I thought
it was my secretary."

"Pardon me for butting in this way, but I am in a deuce of a hurry and
told the boy it was all right," Farland said.

"You'll smash my office discipline doing things like this. But, sit
down, man! What is it now? Has that cousin of mine been acting up again,
or are you going to pester me with a lot of fool questions about things
I don't know anything about?"

Farland had seated himself in the chair at the end of the desk, within
four feet of George Lerton. He had tossed his hat to a table and twisted
the cigar into one corner of his mouth. Now he stared Lerton straight in
the eyes.

"You look like a madman!" Lerton said. "Why on earth are you looking at
me like that? You look as if you were ill----"

The expression in Farland's face made him stop, and he appeared to be a
bit disconcerted.

"Why did you kill Rufus Shepley?" Jim Farland demanded suddenly in a
voice that seemed to sting.

Lerton's face went white for an instant. His jaw dropped and his eyes
bulged.

"Are--are you insane?" he gasped. "What on earth do you mean by this?
I'll call a clerk and----"

"The door is locked," Farland said, taking the automatic from his
pocket. "You raise your voice, touch a button or make any move that I do
not like, and I'll plug you and say afterward that I had placed you
under arrest and had to shoot when you tried to escape. Answer my
question, Lerton! You are at the end of your rope! Why did you kill
Rufus Shepley and then try to hang the crime on your cousin, Sidney
Prale?"

"This is preposterous!" Lerton exclaimed.

"Oh, I've got the goods on you, Lerton! I wouldn't be here talking like
this if I didn't! You're going to the electric chair!"

Lerton laughed rather nervously. "I always thought that you were a good
detective, Jim, but I am beginning to have doubts now," he said. "What
has put such an idea into your head?"

"Facts gathered and welded together," Farland told him. "Don't try to
carry out the bluff any longer, Lerton. And don't call me Jim. I never
allow murderers to get familiar with me!"

"This has gone far enough!" the broker exclaimed. "I'll have to ask you
to leave my office, sir!"

"I expect to do that little thing before long, and you are going with
me," Farland said.

There was a knock at the door.



CHAPTER XXVI

THE TRUTH COMES OUT


Farland did not take his eyes off George Lerton.

"If you have touched a button and called some fool clerk, I'll manhandle
you!" he promised. "Kindly consider yourself a prisoner!"

The knock was repeated, and Farland, still keeping his eyes on the man
at the desk, backed to the door and turned the key. Then he took up a
position where he could continue watching George Lerton and keep an eye
on the door at the same time.

"Come in!" he called.

The door was hurled open. At the same instant, the office boy who had
opened it was thrust aside. Sidney Prale sprang into the private office
and stood glaring at his cousin. Behind him was Murk, and behind Murk
were Kate Gilbert and her maid.

"Quite a gathering!" Farland said, grinning. "I'm glad that you are
here. Kindly close and lock the door, Murk, with that young office
gentleman on the outside!"

Murk obeyed. George Lerton sprang to his feet.

"What is the meaning of this intrusion?" he demanded. "Has my office
been turned into a rendezvous for maniacs?"

"Sit down!" Sidney Prale cried. He had not taken his eyes off Lerton,
had not even turned to speak to Jim Farland, had not even wondered how
Farland had escaped and come here.

Lerton dropped back into his chair, wetting his thin lips, his eyes
furtive now.

"You miserable cur!" Sidney Prale went on, advancing toward his cousin.
"I should handle this affair myself. I should have you in Honduras, and
fasten you to a tree and beat you until you are senseless."

"These insults----"

"Are deserved, you beast!" Prale cried. "So, when I went away ten years
ago, you sold out Mr. Griffin and put the blame for it on me, did you?
You wrecked that good man's faith in me, turned influential men against
me, had me persecuted when I returned."

Jim Farland gave a shout of delight. "That right, Sid?" he cried, "Then
I have the connecting link! So George Lerton has been causing you all
this trouble, has he? I understand a lot more now. Lerton killed Rufus
Shepley, also!"

"It's a lie! You are trying to save Prale by accusing me!" Lerton cried.

"Why, we've got you, you weak fool!" said Farland. "I knew you in that
old farmhouse despite your mask. Your hands gave you away--I recognized
them."

"And he's the man who tried to bribe me!" Murk cried. "I can tell it by
his hands, too!"

"You tried to smash Prale's alibi," Jim Farland continued. "You had him
followed that night and you sent those notes to the barber and the
clothing merchant, with money in them."

"And you betrayed yourself when you began using violence," Prale put in.
"You were too vindictive. You showed that you had some good reason of
your own for wanting to drive me away from New York quickly!"

"Oh, we've got you!" Farland repeated. "You are as good as in the
electric chair now!"

George Lerton looked as if he might have been in it. He was breathing in
gasps, and his face was white. His eyes held an expression of terror.

"I guess--you've got me!" he said. "But I'll never--go to the chair!"

Farland stepped across to him. "Get it off your chest!" he suggested.

"I--I'll talk about it--yes!" George Lerton said. "I--I sold out
Griffin. I wanted money, and I hated Griffin because he had put Sidney
Prale over me. Then Sid had his trouble with the girl and ran away. I
fixed things so it looked as if he had been the guilty one.

"I pretended to hate Sid for what he was supposed to have done. I
suggested the scheme of vengeance, and worked to get the influential men
together. Then he came back--with his million. I hated him all the more
because of that. I was afraid that, if he remained in New York, he would
find out the truth and I'd be exposed. I knew what that would mean, and
I was beginning to get rich.

"So I had him followed and watched. I trailed him myself and met him on
Fifth Avenue, and tried to get him to go away, and afterward denied that
I had seen him at all, for he was accused of the murder of Rufus
Shepley."

"Which was your deed!" Farland put in. "Go ahead--tell it all. Let us
see whether you were clever or merely an amateur at crime."

"Oh, I was clever enough!" Lerton boasted. "I--I killed Shepley because
he was about to have me arrested for embezzlement. I had been handling a
vast sum for him, aside from his regular business. While he was
traveling, I speculated with the money--and lost. He knew it. I could
not repay.

"I had an engagement with him that night at the hotel. The detective I
had working for me had reported that Sid had had a quarrel with Shepley,
and where he had gone afterward and what he had done. There I saw my
chance.

"I did not have myself announced at Shepley's hotel. I knew where his
suite was, so I slipped up to it without anybody seeing me, and knocked
at the door. He admitted me. I begged him to give me a little time to
repay the money, but he would not. He called me a thief, and said that I
must go to prison, that he would not have a hand in letting me remain at
liberty to rob other men.

"There was a steel letter opener on the table. I--I stabbed him with it,
and then I got away by the fire escape. Nobody saw me. I left him there
dead. I was almost frantic when I reached home. Then I saw how I could
have Sidney Prale accused and remove the menace of his presence also. I
would be safe if Prale were convicted of the murder. I would not have to
repay the Shepley money, and Prale never could reveal that I had
betrayed Mr. Griffin and the others instead of him.

"So I sent the notes and money to the barber and clothing merchant, and
they denied that Prale had visited them, thus smashing his alibi. I
denied that I had met him on the Avenue. I thought that I was safe. But
the barber and merchant told Farland the truth, and the police began to
think that Sid was not guilty.

"I grew almost frantic then. My one hope was in running Sid out of town
as quickly as possible, and so I did everything I could think of to
bring about that end."

"How about that fountain pen found beside the body?" Farland asked.

"When I was talking to Sid that night on the Avenue, his coat was open
and I saw the pen. Something seemed to tell me to take it, that it might
be used against him some time. As I clutched his lapel, begging him to
leave town, I took the pen from his pocket."

"Nothing but a plain dip, after all!" Farland sneered.

"I dropped it beside the body after I had killed Shepley. It was a part
of my plan. And--and I guess that is all!"

"I guess it is!" Sidney Prale said. "Mr. Griffin and I, and some other
men, made a little investigation last night and continued it this
morning. We found that you were the traitor who caused that financial
smash ten years ago. It may please you to know that Mr. Griffin is my
friend again, and that others are being informed of my innocence. Even
Coadley has come to me and asked to take my case again. But I was
clearing myself of the charge of business treason, and nothing more. I
did not connect you with the murder of Shepley."

"Well, I did connect him with it," Farland put in. "But when I sprung it
on him here this afternoon, I was running a bluff. I had some evidence,
but not enough to convict. You might have got away with it, Lerton, if
you had had any nerve. But you happen to be a rank coward--and a guilty
man!"

"You--you----" George Lerton gasped.

He had been holding two fingers in a pocket of his waistcoat. Now he
withdrew them and, before Farland could reach him, he had swallowed
something.

"You'll never----" he began, and then his head fell forward to the desk.
"Get the ladies outside, Murk!" Farland commanded suddenly. "And tell
that secretary out there to send in a call for a physician and the
police. Lerton was right--he'll never go to the electric chair!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Ten minutes later, Sidney Prale and Murk were waiting for the elevator
with Kate Gilbert and Marie, but each couple was standing at some
distance from the other.

"I have proved my innocence, and now I ask you to remember your promise
and grant me your friendship," Prale was telling Kate Gilbert.

"I shall remember," she said. "You have my address, haven't you? If you
haven't, ask Murk. He knows it. You sent him to spy on me, remember."

"Jim Farland did that," Prale protested.

Murk was talking to the gigantic Marie at that moment.

"You're mighty nice!" he was saying. "Say, I'd like to see you some
more. I've got an idea my boss will be calling on your mistress, and
when he does I might come up to the corner, and you might slip out and
meet me, and we might take a walk in the Park. You wouldn't want to stay
in the apartment and bother them, would you?"

"It would be a shame!" said Marie. "Which corner, Murk?"


THE END





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