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Title: The Crevice
Author: Burns, William J., 1861-1932, Ostrander, Isabel, 1883-1924
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE CREVICE

by


WILLIAM J. BURNS and ISABEL OSTRANDER

Illustrations by Will Grefé



[Illustration: "I supposed that father was working late over some papers
and I knew that I must not disturb him."]



New York
Grosset & Dunlap
Publishers

Copyright, 1915, by
W. J. Watt & Company



CONTENTS

  CHAPTER                                                         PAGE
        I PENNINGTON LAWTON AND THE GRIM REAPER                      1
       II REVELATIONS                                               16
      III HENRY BLAINE TAKES A HAND                                 29
       IV THE SEARCH                                                38
        V THE WILL                                                  53
       VI THE FIRST COUNTER-MOVE                                    66
      VII THE LETTER                                                78
     VIII GUY MORROW FACES A PROBLEM                                98
       IX GONE!                                                    104
        X MARGARET HEFFERMAN'S FAILURE                             116
       XI THE CONFIDENCE OF EMILY                                  134
      XII THE CIPHER                                               154
     XIII THE EMPTY HOUSE                                          171
      XIV IN THE OPEN                                              192
       XV CHECKMATE!                                               207
      XVI THE LIBRARY CHAIR                                        224
     XVII THE RESCUE                                               240
    XVIII THE TRAP                                                 255
      XIX THE UNSEEN LISTENER                                      272
       XX THE CREVICE                                              290
      XXI CLEARED SKIES                                            308



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

                                                                  PAGE

  "I supposed that father was working late over some
  papers and I knew that I must not disturb him."         Frontispiece

  With the cunning of a Jimmy Valentine he manipulated
  the tumblers. Ramon Hamilton, his discomfiture
  forgotten, watched with breathless interest.                      94

  Her head was thrown back, her eyes blazing: and as she
  faced him, she slowly raised her arm and pointed a
  steady finger at the recoiling figure.                           262



THE CREVICE



CHAPTER I

PENNINGTON LAWTON AND THE GRIM REAPER


Had New Illington been part of an empire instead of one of the most
important cities in the greatest republic in the world, the cry "The
King is dead! Long live the King!" might well have resounded through
its streets on that bleak November morning when Pennington Lawton was
found dead, seated quietly in his arm-chair by the hearth in the
library, where so many vast deals of national import had been first
conceived, and the details arranged which had carried them on and on
to brilliant consummation.

Lawton, the magnate, the supreme power in the financial world of the
whole country, had been suddenly cut down in his prime.

The news of his passing traveled more quickly than the extras which
rolled damp from the presses could convey it through the avenues and
alleys of the city, whose wealthiest citizen he had been, and through
the highways and byways of the country, which his marvelous mentality
and finesse had so manifestly strengthened in its position as a world
power.

At the banks and trust companies there were hurriedly-called
directors' meetings, where men sat about long mahogany tables, and
talked constrainedly about the immediate future and the vast changes
which the death of this great man would necessarily bring. In the
political clubs, his passing was discussed with bated breath.

At the hospitals and charitable institutions which he had so
generously helped to maintain, in the art clubs and museums, in the
Cosmopolitan Opera House--in the founding of which he had been leading
spirit and unfailingly thereafter, its most generous contributor--he
was mourned with a sincerity no less deep because of its admixture of
self-interest.

In aristocratic drawing-rooms, there were whispers over the tea-cups;
the luck of Ramon Hamilton, the rising young lawyer, whose engagement
to Anita Lawton, daughter and sole heiress of the dead financier, had
just been announced, was remarked upon with the frankness of envy,
left momentarily unguarded by the sudden shock.

For three days Pennington Lawton lay in simple, but veritable state.
Telegrams poured in from the highest representatives of State, clergy
and finance. Then, while the banks and charitable institutions
momentarily closed their doors, and flags throughout the city were
lowered in respect to the man who had gone, the funeral procession
wound its solemn way from the aristocratic church of St. James, to the
graveyard. The last extras were issued, detailing the service; the
last obituaries printed, the final pæans of praise were sung, and the
world went on its way.

During the two days thereafter, multitudinous affairs of more
imperative public import were brought to light; a celebrated murder
was committed; a notorious band of criminals was rounded up; a
political boss toppled and fell from his self-made pedestal; a
diplomatic scandal of far-reaching effect was unearthed, and in the
press of passing events, the fact that Lawton had been eliminated from
the scheme of things faded into comparative insignificance, from the
point of view of the general public.

In the great house on Belleair Avenue, which the man who was gone had
called home, a tall, slender young girl sat listlessly conversing with
a pompous little man, whose clerical garb proclaimed the reason for
his coming. The girl's sable garments pathetically betrayed her youth,
and in her soft eyes was the pained and wounded look of a child face
to face with its first comprehended sorrow.

The Rev. Dr. Franklin laid an obsequious hand upon her arm.

"The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of
the Lord."

Anita Lawton shivered slightly, and raised a trembling, protesting
hand.

"Please," she said, softly, "I know--I heard you say that at St.
James' two days ago. I try to believe, to think, that in some
inscrutable way, God meant it for the best when he took my father so
ruthlessly from me, with no premonition, no sign of warning. It is
hard, Dr. Franklin. I cannot coordinate my thoughts just yet. You must
give me a little time."

The minister bent his short body still lower before her.

"My dear child, do you remember, also, a later prayer in the same
service?"--unconsciously he assumed the full rich, rounded, pulpit
tones, which were habitual with him. "'Lord, Thou hast been our refuge
from one generation to another; before the mountains were brought
forth or ever the earth and world were made--'"

A low knocking upon the door interrupted him, and the butler
appeared.

"Mr. Rockamore and Mr. Mallowe," Anita Lawton read aloud from the
cards he presented. "Oh, I can't see them now. Tell them, Wilkes, that
my minister is with me, and they must forgive me for denying myself to
them."

The butler retired, and the Rev. Dr. Franklin, at the mention of two
of the most prominent and influential men in the city since the death
of Lawton, turned bulging, inquiring eyes upon the girl.

"My dear child, is it wise for you to refuse to see two of your
father's best friends? You will need their help, their kindness--a
woman alone in the world, no matter how exalted her position, needs
friends. Mr. Mallowe is not one of my parishioners, but I understand
that as president of the Street Railways, he was closely associated
with your dear father in many affairs of finance. Mr. Rockamore I know
to be a man of almost unlimited power in the world in which Mr. Lawton
moved. Should you not see them? Remember that you are under my
protection in every way, of course, but since our Heavenly Father has
seen fit to take unto Himself your dear one, I feel that it would be
advisable for you to place yourself under the temporal guidance of
those whom he trusted, at any rate for the time being."

"Oh, I feel that they were my father's friends, but not mine. Since
mother and my little sister and brother were lost at sea, so many
years ago, I have learned to depend wholly upon my father, who was
more comrade than parent. Then, as you know, I met Ramon--Mr.
Hamilton, and of course I trust him as implicitly as I must trust you.
But although, on many occasions, I assisted my father to receive his
financial confrères on a social basis, I cannot feel at a time like
this that I care to talk with any except those who are nearest and
dearest to me."

"But suppose they have come, not wholly to offer you consolation, but
to confer with you upon some business matters upon which it would be
advantageous for you to inform yourself? Your grief and desire for
seclusion are most natural, under the circumstances, but one must
sometimes consider earthly things also." The minister's evidently
eager desire to be present at an interview with the great men and to
place himself on a more familiar footing with them was so obvious that
Anita's gesture of dissent held also something of repugnance.

"I could not, Dr. Franklin. Perhaps later, when the first shock has
passed, but not yet. You understand that I like them both most
cordially. Those whom father trusted must be men of sterling worth,
but just now I feel as must an animal which has been beaten. I want to
creep off into a dark and silent place until my misery dulls a
little."

"You have borne up wonderfully well, dear child, under the severe
shock of this tragedy. Mrs. Franklin and I have remarked upon it. You
have exhibited the same self-mastery and strength of character which
made your father the man he was." Dr. Franklin arose from his chair
with a sigh which was not altogether perfunctory. "Think well over
what I have said. Try to realize that your only consolation and
strength in this hour of your deepest sorrow come from on High, and
believe that if you take your poor, crushed heart to the Throne of
Grace it shall be healed. That has been promised us. Think, also, of
what I have just said to you concerning your father's associates, and
when next they call, as they will, of course, do very shortly, try to
receive them with your usual gracious charms, and should they offer
you any advice upon worldly matters, which we must not permit
ourselves to neglect, send for me. I will leave you now. Mrs.
Franklin will call upon you to-morrow. Try to be brave and calm, and
pray for the guidance which will be vouchsafed you, should you ask it,
frankly and freely."

Anita Lawton gave him her hand and accompanied him in silence to the
door. There, with a few gentle words, she dismissed him, and when the
sound of his measured footsteps had diminished, she closed the door
with a little gasp of half relief, and turned to the window. It had
been an effort to her to see and talk with her spiritual adviser,
whose hypocrisy she had vaguely felt.

If only Ramon had come--Ramon, whose wife she would be in so short a
time, and who must now be father as well as husband to her. She
glanced at the little French clock on the mantel. He was late--he had
promised to be there at four. As she parted the heavy curtains, the
telephone upon her father's desk, in the corner, shrilled sharply.
When she took the receiver off the hook, the voice of her lover came
to the girl as clearly, tenderly, as if he, himself, stood beside
her.

"Anita, dear, may I come to you now?"

"Oh, please do, Ramon; I have been waiting for you. Dr. Franklin
called this afternoon, and while he was here with me Mr. Rockamore and
Mr. Mallowe came, but I could not see them. There is something I feel
I must talk over with you."

She hung up the receiver with a little sigh, and for the first time in
days a faint suspicion of a smile lightened her face. As she turned
away, however, her eyes fell upon the great leather chair by the
hearth, and her expression changed as she gave an uncontrollable
shudder. It was in that chair her father had been found on that
fateful morning, about a week ago, clad still in the dinner-clothes of
the previous evening, a faint, introspective smile upon his keen,
inscrutable face; his eyes wide, with a politely inquiring stare, as
if he had looked upon things which until then had been withheld from
his vision. She walked over to the chair, and laid her hand where his
head had rested. Then, all at once, the tension within her seemed to
snap and she flung herself within its capacious, wide-reaching arms,
in a torrent of tears--the first she had shed.

It was thus that Ramon Hamilton found her, on his arrival twenty
minutes later, and without ado, he gathered her up, carried her to the
window-seat, and made her cry out her heart upon his shoulder.

When she was somewhat quieted he said to her gently, "Dearest, why
will you insist upon coming to this room, of all others, at least
just for a little time? The memories here will only add to your
suffering."

"I don't know; I can't explain it. That chair there in which poor
father was found has a peculiar, dreadful fascination for me. I have
heard that murderers invariably return sooner or later to the scene of
their crime. May we not also have the same desire to stay close to the
place whence some one we love has departed?"

"You are morbid, dear. Bring your maid and come to my mother's house
for a little, as she has repeatedly asked you to do. It will make it
so much easier for you."

"Perhaps it would. Your mother has been so very kind, and yet I feel
that I must remain here, that there is something for me to do."

"I don't understand. What do you mean, dearest?"

She turned swiftly and placed her hands upon his broad shoulders. Her
childish eyes were steely with an intensity of purpose hitherto
foreign to them.

"Ramon, there is something I have not told you or any one; but I feel
that the time has come for me to speak. It is not nervousness, or
imagination; it is a fact which occurred on the night of my father's
death."

"Why speak of it, Anita?" He took her hands from his shoulders, and
pressed them gently, but with quiet strength. "It is all over now, you
know. We must not dwell too much upon what is past; I shall have to
help you to put it all from your mind--not to forget, but to make your
memories tender and beautiful."

"But I must speak of it. It will be on my mind day and night until I
have told you. Ramon, you dined with us that night--the night before.
Did my father seem ill to you?"

"Of course not. I had never known him to be in better health and
spirits." Ramon glanced at her in involuntary surprise.

"Are you sure?"

"Why do you ask me that? You know that heart-disease may attack one at
any time without warning."

Anita sank upon the window-seat again, and leaned forward pensively,
her hands clasped over her knees.

"You will remember that after you and father had your coffee and
cigars together in the dining-room, you both joined me?"

"Of course. You were playing the piano, ramblingly, as if your
thoughts were far away, and you seemed nervous, ill at ease. I
wondered about it at the time."

"It was because of father. To you he appeared in the best of spirits,
as you say, but I, who knew him better than any one else on earth,
realized that he was forcing himself to be genial, to take an interest
in what we were saying. For days he had been overwrought and
depressed. As you know, he has confided in me, absolutely, since I
have been old enough to be a real companion to him. I thought that I
knew all his business affairs--those of the last two or three years at
least--but latterly his manner has puzzled and distressed me. Then,
while you were in the dining-room, the telephone rang twice."

"Yes; the calls were for your father. When he was summoned to the wire
he immediately had the connection given to him on his private line,
here in the library. After he returned to the dining-room he did seem
slightly absent-minded, now that I think of it; but it did not occur
to me that there could have been any serious trouble. You know,
dearest, ever since the evening when he promised to give you to me, he
has consulted me, also, to a great extent about his financial
interests, and I think if any difficulty had arisen he would have
mentioned it."

"Still, I am convinced that something was on his mind. I tried to
approach him concerning it, but he was evasive, and put me off,
laughingly. You know that father was not the sort of man whose
confidence could be forced even by those dearest to him. I had been so
worried about him, though, that I had a nervous headache, and after
you left, Ramon, I retired at once. An hour or two later, father had a
visitor--that fact as you know, the coroner elicited from the
servants, but it had, of course, no bearing on his death, since the
caller was Mr. Rockamore. I heard his voice when I opened the door of
my room, after ringing for my maid to get some lavender salts. I could
not sleep, my headache grew worse; and while I was struggling against
it, I heard Mr. Rockamore depart, and my father's voice in the hall,
after the slamming of the front door, telling Wilkes to retire, that
he would need him no more that night. I heard the butler's footsteps
pass down the hall, and then I rose and opened my door again. I don't
know why, but I felt that I wanted to speak to father when he came up
on his way to bed."

Anita paused, and Ramon, in spite of himself, felt a thrill of puzzled
wonder at her expression, upon which a dawning look, almost of horror,
spread and grew.

"But he did not come, and after a while I stole to the head of the
stairs and looked down. There was a low light in the hall and a
brighter one from the library, the door of which was ajar. I supposed
that father was working late over some papers, and I knew that I must
not disturb him. I crept back to bed at last, with a sigh, but left my
own door slightly open, so that if I should happen to be awake when he
passed, I might call to him.

"Presently, however, I dozed off. I don't know how long I slept, but I
awakened to hear voices--angry voices, my father's and another, which
I did not recognize. I got up and by the night-light I saw that the
hands of the little clock on my dresser pointed to nearly three
o'clock. I could not imagine who would call on father so very late at
night, and I feared at first it might be a burglar, but my common
sense assured me that father would not stop to parley with a burglar.
While I stood wondering, father raised his voice slightly, and I
caught one word which he uttered. Ramon, that word sounded to me like
'blackmail!' Why, what is it? Why do you look at me so strangely?" she
added hastily, at his uncontrollable start.

"I? I am not looking at you strangely, dear; it is not possible that
you could have heard aright. It must have been simply a fancy of
yours, born of the state of your nerves. You could not really have
understood." But Ramon Hamilton looked away from her as he spoke, with
a peculiarly significant gleam in his candid eyes. After a slight
pause he went on: "No one in the world could have attempted to
blackmail your father. He was the soul of honor and integrity, as no
one knows better than you. Why, his opinion was sought on every public
question. You remember hearing of some of the political honors which
he repeatedly refused, but he could, had he wished, have held the
highest office at the disposal of the people. You must have been
mistaken, Anita. There has never been a reason for the word
'blackmail' to cross your father's lips."

"I know that I was not mistaken, for I heard more--enough to convince
me that I had been right in my surmise! Father was keeping something
from me!"

"Dear little girl, suppose he had been? Nothing, of course, that could
possibly reflect upon his integrity,--don't misunderstand me--but you
are only twenty, you know. It is not to be expected that you could
quite comprehend the details of all the varied business interests of a
man who had virtually led the finances of his country for more than
twenty years. Perhaps it was a purely business matter."

"I tell you, Ramon, that that man, whoever he was, actually dared to
threaten father. When I heard that word 'blackmail' in the angriest
tones which I had ever heard my father use, I did something mean,
despicable, which only my culminating anxiety could have induced me to
do. I slipped on my robe and slippers, stole half-way downstairs and
listened deliberately."

"Anita, you should not have done that! It was not like you to do so.
If your father had wished you to know of this interview, don't you
think he would have told you?"

"Perhaps he would have, but what opportunity was he given? A few hours
later, he was found dead in that chair over there; the chair in which
he sat while he was talking with his unknown visitor."

The young man sprang to his feet. "You can't realize what you are
saying; what you are hinting! It is unthinkable! If you let these
morbid fancies prey upon your mind, you will be really ill." His tones
were full of horror. "Your father died of heart-disease. The doctors
and the coroner established that beyond the shadow of a doubt, you
know. Any other supposition is beyond the bounds of possibility."

"Of heart-disease, yes. But might not the sudden attack have been
brought on by his altercation with this man? His sudden rage,
controlled as it was, at the insults hurled at him?"

"What insults, Anita? Tell me what you heard when you crept down the
stairs. You know you can trust me, dear--you must trust me."

"The man was saying: 'Come, Lawton, be sensible; half a loaf is better
than no bread. There is no blackmail about this, even if you choose to
call it so. It is an ordinary business proposition, as you have been
told a hundred times!'"

"'It's a damnable crooked scheme, as I have told you a hundred times,
and I shall have nothing to do with it! This is final!' Father's tones
rang out clearly and distinctly, quivering with suppressed fury. 'My
hands are clean, my financial operations have been open and
above-board; there is no stain upon my life or character, and I can
look every man in the face and tell him to go where you may go now!'

"'Oh, is that so!' sneered the other man loudly. Then his voice became
insinuatingly low. 'How about poor Herbert--' His tones were so
indistinct that I could not catch the name. Then he went on more
defiantly, 'His wife--' He didn't finish the sentence, Ramon, for
father groaned suddenly, terribly, as if he were in swift pain; the
man gave a little sneering laugh, and I could hear him moving about in
the library, whistling half under his breath in sheer bravado. I could
not bear to hear any more. I put my hands over my ears and fled back
to my room. What could it mean, Ramon? What is this about father and
some other man and his wife which the stranger dared to insinuate!
reflected upon father's integrity? Why should he have groaned as if
the very mention of these people hurt him inexpressibly?"

"I don't know, dear." Ramon Hamilton sat with his honest eyes still
turned from her. "You must have been mistaken; perhaps you even
dreamed it all." Anita Lawton gave an impatient gesture.

"I am not quite the child you think me, Ramon. Could that man have
meant to insinuate that father in his own advancement had trod upon
and ruined some one else, as financiers have always done? Could he
have meant that father had driven this man and his wife to despair? I
cannot bear to think of it. I try to thrust it from my thoughts a
dozen times a day, but that groan from father's lips sounded so much
like one of remorse that hideous ideas come beating in on my brain.
Was my father like other rich men, Ramon? He did not live for money,
although the successful manipulation of it was almost a passion with
him. He lived for me, always for me, and the good that he would be
able to do in this world."

"Of course he did, darling. No one who knew him could imagine
otherwise for a moment." He hesitated, and then added, "No one else
discovered this man's presence in the house that night? You have told
no one? Not the doctor, or the coroner, or Dr. Franklin?"

"Oh, no; if I had it would have been necessary for me to have told
what I overheard. Besides, it could have had no direct bearing on
daddy's death; that was caused by heart-disease, as you say. But I
believe, and I always will believe, that that man killed father, as
surely, as inevitably, as if he had stabbed or shot or poisoned him!
Why did he come like a thief in the night? Father's integrity, his
honor, were known to all the world. Why did that reference to this
Herbert and his wife cause him such pain?"

"I don't know, dear; I have no more idea than you. If you really,
really overheard that conversation, as you seem convinced you did, you
did well in keeping it to yourself. Let that hour remain buried in
your thoughts, as in your father's grave. Only rest assured that
whatever it is, it casts no stain upon your father's good name or his
memory." He rose and gathered her into his arms. "I must go now,
Anita; I'll come again to-morrow. You are quite sure that you will not
accept my mother's invitation? I really think it would be better for
you."

She looked deeply into his eyes, then drew herself gently from his
clasp. "Not yet. Thank her for me, Ramon, with all my heart, but I
will not leave my father's house just yet, even for a few days. I am
sure that I shall be happier here." He kissed her, and left the room.
She stood where he had left her until she heard the heavy thud of the
front door. Then, turning to the window, she thrust her slim little
hand between the sedately drawn curtains, and waved him a tender
good-by; then with a little sigh, she dropped among the pillows of the
couch, lost in thought.

"Whatever was meant by that conversation which I overheard," she
murmured to herself, "Ramon knows. I read it in his eyes."

The young man, as he made his way down the crowded avenue, was turning
over in his mind the extraordinary story which the girl he loved had
told him.

"What could it mean? Who could the man have been? Surely not Herbert
himself, and yet--oh! why will they not let sleeping dogs lie; why
must that old scandal, that one stain on Pennington Lawton's past have
been brought again to light, and at such a time? I pray God that Anita
never mentions it to anyone else, never learns the truth. By Jove, if
any complications arise from this, there will be only one thing for me
to do. I must call upon the Master Mind."



CHAPTER II

REVELATIONS


For two days Anita wandered wraithlike about the great darkened house.
The thought that Ramon was keeping something from her--that he and her
dead father together had kept a secret which, for some reason, must
not be revealed to her, weighed upon her spirits. Conjectures as to
the unknown intruder on the night of her father's death, and his
possible purpose, flooded her mind to the exclusion of all else.

In the dusk of the winter afternoon she was lying on the couch in her
dressing-room, lost in thought, when Ellen, tapping lightly at the
door, interrupted her reverie.

"The minister, Miss Anita--the Rev. Dr. Franklin--he is in the
drawing-room."

"Oh!" Anita gave a little movement of dismay. "Tell him that I am
suffering from a very severe headache, and gave orders that I was not
to be disturbed by anyone. He means well, Ellen, of course, but he
always depresses me horribly, lately. I don't feel like talking to him
this afternoon."

The maid retired, but returned again almost immediately with a
surprised, half-frightened expression on her usually stolid face.

"Please, Miss Anita, Dr. Franklin says he must see you and at once. He
seems to be excited and he won't take no for an answer."

"Ramon!" Anita cried, springing from the couch with swift apprehension.
"Something has happened to Ramon, and Dr. Franklin has come to tell me.
He may be injured, dead! Ah, God would not do that; He would not take
him from me, too!"

"Don't take on so, Miss Anita, dear," the faithful Ellen murmured, as
she deftly smoothed the girl's hair and rearranged her gown; "the
little man acts more as if he had a fine piece of gossip to pass
on--fidgeting about like an old woman, he is. Begging your pardon,
Miss, I know he is the minister, of course, and I ought to show him
more respect, but he forever reminds me of a fat black pigeon."

The remarks of the privileged old servant fell upon deaf, unheeding
ears. Anita, sobbing softly beneath her breath, flew down to the
drawing-room, where the pompous black-cloaked figure rose at her
entrance. But--was it purely Anita's fancy or had some indefinable
change actually taken place in the manner of her spiritual adviser?
The rather close-set eyes seemed to the girl to gleam somewhat coldly
upon her, and although he took both her hands in his in quick,
fatherly greeting, his hand-clasp appeared all at once to be lacking
in warmth.

"My poor child, my poor Anita!" he began unctuously, but she
interrupted him.

"What is it, Dr. Franklin? Has something happened to Ramon?" she asked
swiftly. "Please tell me! Now, without delay! Don't keep me in
suspense. I can tell by your face, your manner, that a new misfortune
has come to me! Does it concern Ramon?"

"Oh, no; it is not Mr. Hamilton. You need have no fears for him,
Anita. I have come upon a business matter--a matter connected with
your dear father's estate."

Anita motioned him to a chair. Seating herself opposite, she gazed at
him inquiringly.

"The settlement of the estate? Oh, the lawyers are attending to that,
I believe." Anita spoke a little coldly. Had Dr. Franklin come already
to inquire about a possible legacy for St. James'?

She was ashamed of the thought the next moment, when he said gently,
"Yes, but there is something which I must tell you. It has been
requested that I do so. It is a delicate matter to discuss with you,
but surely no one is more fitted to speak to you than I."

"Certainly, Doctor, I understand." She leaned forward eagerly.

"My dear, you know the whole country, the whole world at large, has
always considered your father to have been a man of great wealth."

"Yes. My father's charities alone, as you are aware, unostentatiously
as they were conducted, would have tended to give that impression.
Then his tremendous business interests--"

"Anita, at the moment of your father's death he was far from being the
King of Finance, which the world judged him to be. It is hard for me
to tell you this, but you must know, and you must try to believe that
your Heavenly Father is sending you this added trial for some sure
purpose of His own. Your father died a poor man, Anita. In fact, a
bankrupt." The girl looked up with an incredulous smile.

"Dr. Franklin, who could ever have asked you to come to me with such
an incredible assertion? Surely, you must know how preposterous the
very idea is! I do not boast or brag, but it is common knowledge that
my father was the richest man in the city, in this entire part of the
country, in fact. The thought of such a thing is absurd. Who could
have attempted to perpetrate such a senseless hoax, a ridiculous
insult to your intelligence and mine?"

The minister shook his head slowly.

"'Common knowledge' is, alas, not always trustworthy. It is only too
true that your father stood on the verge of bankruptcy. His entire
fortune has been swept away."

"Impossible!"

Anita started from her chair, impressed in spite of herself. "How
could that be? Who has told you this terrible thing?"

"The unfortunate news was disclosed to me confidentially by your late
father's truest friends and closest associates. Having your best
interests at heart, they feel that you should know the state of
affairs at once, and came to me as the one best fitted to inform
you."

"I cannot believe it!" Anita Lawton sank back with white, strained
face. "I cannot believe that it is true. How could such a thing have
happened? They must be mistaken--those who gave you such information.
Father was worth millions, at least. That I know, for he told me much
of his business affairs and up to the last day of his life he was
engaged in tremendous deals of almost national importance."

"Might he not have become so deeply involved in one of them that he
could not extricate himself, and ruin came?" Dr. Franklin insinuated.
"I know little of finance, of course; and those who wished you to know
gave me none of the details beyond the one paramount fact."

"I know, of course, who were your informants," Anita said. "No one
except my father's three closest associates had any possible
conception of how much he possessed, even approximately, for he was
always secretive and conservative in his dealings. Only to Mr.
Mallowe, Mr. Rockamore and Mr. Carlis did he ever divulge his plans to
the slightest extent. A bankrupt! My father a bankrupt? The very words
seem meaningless to me. Dr. Franklin, there must be some hideous
mistake."

"Unfortunately, it is no mistake, my poor child. These gentlemen you
mention, I may admit to you in confidence, were my informants."

"You say they gave you no details beyond the paramount fact of my
father's ruin? But surely they must have told you something more. I
have a right to know, Dr. Franklin, and I shall not rest until I do.
How did such a catastrophe come to him? There have been no gigantic
failures lately, no panics which could have swept him down. What
terrible mistake could he have made, he whose judgment was almost
infallible?"

The minister hesitated visibly, and when he spoke at last, it was as
if with a conscious effort he chose his words.

"I do not think it was any sudden collapse of some project in which he
was engaged, Anita, but a--a general series of misfortunes which
culminated by forcing him, just before his death, to the brink of
bankruptcy. You are a mere child, my dear, and could not be supposed
to understand matters of finance. If you will be guided by me you will
accept the assurance of your friends who truly have your best
interests at heart. Their statements will be confirmed, I know, by the
lawyers who are engaged in settling up the estate of your father. Do
not, I beg of you, inquire too closely into the details of your
father's insolvency."

Anita rose slowly, her eyes fixed upon the face of the minister, and
with her hands resting upon the chair-back, as if to steady herself,
she asked quietly:

"Why should I not? What is there which I, his daughter, should not
know? Dr. Franklin, there is something behind all this which you are
trying to conceal from me. I knew my father to be a multi-millionaire.
You come and tell me he was a pauper instead, a bankrupt; and I am not
to ask how this state of affairs came about? You have known me since I
was a little girl--surely you understand me well enough to realize
that I shall not rest under such a condition until the whole truth is
revealed to me!"

"I am your friend." The resonance in the minister's voice deepened.
"You will believe me when I tell you that it would be best for your
future, for the honor of your father's memory, to place yourself
without question in the hands of your true friends, and to ask no
details which are not voluntarily given you."

"'Best for my future!'" she repeated, aghast. "'For the honor of my
father's memory.' What do you mean, Dr. Franklin? You have gone too
far not to speak plainly. Do you dare--are you insinuating, that there
was something disgraceful, dishonorable about my father's insolvency?
You have been my spiritual adviser nearly all my life, and when you
tell me that my father was a bankrupt, that the knowledge comes to you
from his best friends and will be corroborated by his attorneys, I am
forced to believe you. But if you attempt to convince me that my
father's honor--his good name--is involved, then I tell you that it is
not true! Either a terrible mistake has been made or a deliberate
conspiracy is on foot--the blackest sort of conspiracy, to defame the
dead!"

"My dear!" The minister raised his hands in shocked amazement. "You
are beside yourself, you don't know what you are saying! I have
repeated to you only that which was told to me, and in practically the
same words. As to the possibility of a conspiracy, you will realize
the absurdity of such an idea when I deliver to you the message with
which I was charged. Your father's partner in many enterprises, the
Honorable Bertie Rockamore, together with President Mallowe, of the
Street Railways, and Mr. Carlis, the great politician, promised some
little time ago that they would stand in _loco parentis_ toward you
should your natural protector be removed. They desire me to tell you
that you need have no anxiety for the immediate future. You will be
cared for and provided with all that you have been accustomed to, just
as if your father were alive."

"Indeed? They are most kind--" Anita spoke quietly enough, but with a
curiously dry, controlled note in her voice which reminded the
minister of her father's tones, and for some inexplicable reason he
felt vaguely uncomfortable. "Please say to them that I do sincerely
appreciate their magnanimity, their charity, toward one who has no
right, legal or moral, to claim protection or care from them. But now,
Dr. Franklin, may I beg that you will forgive me if I retire? The news
you have brought me of course has been a terrible shock. I must have
time to collect my thoughts, to realize the sudden, terrible change
this revelation has made in my whole life. I am deeply grateful to
you, to my father's three associates, but I can say no more now."

"Of course, dear child." Dr. Franklin patted her hand perfunctorily
and arose with ill-concealed relief that the interview was at an end.
He could not understand her attitude of the last few moments and it
troubled him vaguely. She had received the news of her father's
bankruptcy with a girlish horror and incredulousness--which had been
only natural under the circumstances; but when it was borne in upon
her, in as delicate a way as he could convey it, that dishonor was
involved in the matter, she had, after the first outburst, maintained
a stony, ashen self-poise and control that were far from what he had
expected. It was the most disagreeable task he had performed in many a
day and he was heartily glad that it was over. Only his very great
desire to ingratiate himself with these kings of finance, who had
commissioned him to do their bidding, as well as the inclination to be
of real service to his young and orphaned parishioner, had induced him
to undertake the mission.

"You must rest and have an opportunity to adjust yourself to this new,
unfortunate state of affairs," he continued. "I will call again
to-morrow. If I can be of the slightest service to you, do not
hesitate to let me know. It is a sad trial, but our Heavenly Father
has tempered the wind to the shorn lamb; He has provided you with a
protector in young Mr. Hamilton, and with kind, true friends who will
see that no harm or deprivation comes to you. Try to feel that this
added grief and trouble will, in the end, be for the best."

The alacrity with which he took his departure was painfully obvious,
but Anita scarcely noticed it. Her mind was busy with the new, hideous
thought, which had assailed her at that first hint of dishonesty on
the part of her father--the thought that she was being made the victim
of a gigantic conspiracy.

As soon as she found herself alone, she flew to the telephone. "Main,
2785," she demanded.... "Mr. Hamilton, please.... Is that you,
Ramon?... Can you come to me at once? I need your advice and help.
Something has happened--something terrible! No, I cannot tell you over
the 'phone. You will come at once? Yes, good-by, Ramon dear."

She hung up the receiver and paced the floor restlessly. Almost
inconceivable as it had appeared to her consciousness under the first
shock of the announcement, she might in time have come to accept the
astounding fact of her father's insolvency, but that disgrace,
dishonor, could have attached itself to his name--that he, the model
of uprightness, of integrity could have been guilty of crooked
dealing, of something which must for the honor of his memory be kept
secret from the ears of his fellow-men, she could never bring herself
to believe. Every instinct of her nature revolted, and underlying all
her girlish unsophistication, a native shrewdness, inherited perhaps
from her father, bade her distrust alike the worldly, self-interested
pastor of the Church of St. James and the three so-called friends,
who, although her father's associates, had been his rivals, and who
had offered with such astounding magnanimity to stand by her.

Why had they offered to help her? Was it really through tenderness and
affection for her father's daughter, or was it to stay her hand and
close her mouth to all queries?

Why did not Ramon come? Surely he should have been there before this.
What could be detaining him? She tried to be patient, to calm her
seething brain while she waited, but it was no use. Hours passed while
she paced the floor, restlessly, and the dusk settled into the
darkness of early winter. Wilkes came to turn on the lights, but she
refused them--she could think better in the dark. The dinner-hour came
and went and twice Ellen knocked anxiously upon the door, but Anita,
torn with anxiety, would pay no heed. She had telephoned to Ramon's
office, only to find that he had left there immediately upon receiving
her message; to his home--he had not returned.

Nine o'clock sounded in silvery chimes from the clock upon the mantel;
then ten and eleven and at length, just when she felt that she could
endure no more, the front door-bell rang. A well-known step sounded
upon the stairs, and Ramon entered.

With a little gasp of joy and relief she flung herself upon him in the
darkness, but at an involuntary groan from him she recoiled.

"What is it, Ramon? What has happened to you?"

Without waiting for a reply she switched on the light.

Ramon stood before her, his face pale, his eyes dark with pain. One
arm was in a sling and the thick hair upon his forehead barely
concealed a long strip of plaster.

"Nothing really serious, dear. I had a slight accident--run down by a
motor-car, just after leaving the office. My head was cut and I was
rather knocked out, so they took me to a hospital. I would have come
before, but they would not allow me to leave. I knew that you would be
anxious because of my delay in coming, but I feared to add to your
apprehension by telephoning to you from the hospital."

"But your arm--is it sprained?"

"Broken. I had a nasty crash--can't imagine how it was that I didn't
see the car coming in time to avoid it. It was a big limousine with
several men inside, all singing and shouting riotously, and the
chauffeur, I think, must have been drunk, for he swerved the car
directly across the road in my path. They never stopped after they
had bowled me over, and no one seemed to know where they went."

"Then the police did not get their number?"

"No, but they will, of course. Not that I care, particularly; I'm
lucky to have got off as lightly as I did. I might have been killed."

"It was a miracle that you were not, Ramon. Do you know what I
believe? I don't think it was any accident, but a deliberate attempt
to assassinate you; to keep you from coming to me."

"What nonsense, dear! They were a wild, hilarious party, careless and
irresponsible. Such accidents happen every day."

"I am convinced that it was no accident. Ramon, I feel that I am to be
the victim of a conspiracy; that you are the only human being who
stands in the way of my being absolutely in the power of those who
would defraud me and defame father's name."

"Anita, what do you mean?"

"Dr. Franklin called upon me this afternoon; he left just before I
telephoned to you. He told me an astonishing piece of news. Ramon,
would you have considered my father a rich man?"

"What an absurd question, dear! Of course. One of the richest men in
the whole country, as you know."

"You say that he consulted you about his business affairs, and that
you knew of no trouble or difficulty which could have caused him
anxiety? His securities in stocks and bonds, his assets were all
sound?"

"Certainly. What do you mean?"

"I mean that my father died a pauper! That on the word of Mr.
Rockamore, Mr. Mallowe, Mr. Carlis and Dr. Franklin, he was on the
verge of dishonorable bankruptcy, into which I may not inquire."

"Good Heavens, they must be mad! I am sure that your father was at the
zenith of his successful career, and as for dishonor, surely, Anita,
no one who knew him could credit that!"

"Mr. Rockamore and the other two who were so closely associated with
him made a solemn promise to my father shortly before his death, it
seems, that they would care for and provide for me. They sent Dr.
Franklin to me this afternoon to explain the circumstances to me, and
to assure me of their protection. Save for you, they consider me
absolutely in their hands; and when I sent for you, you were almost
killed in the attempt to come to me. Ramon, don't you see, don't you
understand, there is some mystery on foot, some terrible conspiracy?
That unknown visitor, my father's death so soon after, and now this
sudden revelation of his bankruptcy, together with this accident to
you? Ramon, we must have advice and help. I do not believe that my
father was a pauper. I know that he has done nothing dishonorable; I
am convinced that the accident to you was a premeditated attempt at
murder."

"My God! I can't believe it, Anita; I don't know what to think. If it
turns out that there really is something crooked about it all, and
Rockamore and the others are concerned in it, it will be the biggest
conspiracy that was ever hatched in the world of high finance. You
were right, dear, bless your woman's intuition; we must have help.
This matter must be thoroughly investigated. There is only one man in
America to-day, who is capable of carrying it through, successfully. I
shall send at once for the Master Mind."

"The Master Mind?"

"Yes, dear--Henry Blaine, the most eminent detective the English-speaking
world has produced."

"I have heard of him, of course. I think father knew him, did he
not?"

"Yes, on one occasion he was of inestimable service to your father. I
will summon him at once."

Ramon went to the telephone and by good luck found the detective free
for the moment and at his service.

He returned to the girl. She noticed that he reeled slightly in his
walk; that his lips were white and set with pain.

"Ramon, you are ill, suffering. That cut on your head and your poor
arm--"

"It is nothing. I don't mind, Anita darling; it will soon pass. Thank
Heavens, I found Mr. Blaine free. He will get to the truth of this
matter for us even if no one else on earth could. He has brought more
notorious malefactors to justice than any detective of modern times;
fearlessly, he has unearthed political scandals which lay dangerously
close to the highest executives of the land. He cannot be cajoled,
bribed or intimidated; you will be safe in his hands from the
machinations of every scoundrel who ever lived."

"I have read of some of his marvelous exploits, but; what service was
it that he rendered to my father?"

"I--I cannot tell you, dearest. It was very long ago, and a matter
which affected your father solely. Perhaps some time you may learn the
truth of it."

"I may not know! I may not know! Why must I be so hedged in? Why must
everything be kept from me? I feel as if I were living in a maze of
mystery. I must know the truth."

She wrung her hands hysterically, but he soothed her and they talked
in low tones until Wilkes suddenly appeared in the doorway and
announced:

"Mr. Henry Blaine!"



CHAPTER III

HENRY BLAINE TAKES A HAND


A man stood upon the threshold: a man of medium height, with sandy
hair and mustache slightly tinged with gray. His face was alert and
keenly intelligent. His eyes shrewd, but kindly, the brows sloping
downward toward the nose, with the peculiar look of concentration of
one given to quick decisions and instant, fearless action.

His eyes traveled quickly from the young girl's face to Ramon
Hamilton, as the latter advanced with outstretched hand.

"Mr. Blaine, it was fortunate that we found you at liberty and able to
assist us in a matter which is of vital importance to us both. This is
Miss Anita Lawton, daughter of the late Pennington Lawton, who desires
your aid on a most urgent matter."

"Miss Lawton." Mr. Elaine bowed over her hand.

When they were seated she said, shyly: "I understand from Ramon--Mr.
Hamilton--that you were at one time of great service to my father. I
trust that you will be able to help me now, for I feel that I am in
the meshes of a conspiracy. You know that my father died suddenly,
almost a week ago."

"Yes, of course. His death was a great loss to the whole country, Miss
Lawton."

"Something occurred a few hours before his death, of which even the
coroner is unaware, Mr. Blaine. I told Mr. Hamilton what I knew, but
he advised me to say nothing of it, unless further developments
ensued."

"And they have ensued?" the detective asked quietly.

"Yes."

Anita then detailed to Mr. Blaine the incident of her father's
nocturnal visitor. As she told him the conversation she had overheard,
it seemed to her that the eyes of the detective narrowed slightly, but
no other change of expression betrayed the fact that the incident
might have held a significance in his mind.

"The voice was entirely strange to you?" he asked.

"Yes; I have never heard it before, but it made such an impression
upon me that I think I would recognize it instantly whenever or
wherever I might happen to hear it."

"You caught no glimpse of the man through the half-opened door?"

"No, I was not far enough downstairs to see into the room."

"And when you fled, after hearing your father groan, you returned
immediately to your room?"

"Yes. I closed my door and buried my face deeply in the pillows on my
bed. I did not want to hear or know any more. I was frightened; I did
not know what to think. After a time I must have drifted off into an
uneasy sort of sleep, for I knew nothing more until my maid came to
tell me that Wilkes, the butler, wished to speak to me. My father had
been found dead in his chair. No one in the household seemed to know
of my father's late visitor, for they made no mention of his coming. I
would have told no one, except Ramon, but for the fact that this
afternoon my minister informed me that my father, instead of being the
multi-millionaire we had all supposed him, had in reality died a
bankrupt."

The detective received this information with inscrutable calm. Only by
a thoughtful pursing of his lips did he give indication that the news
had any visible effect upon him.

Anita continued, giving him all the details of the minister's visit,
and the magnanimous promise of her father's three associates to stand
in _loco parentis_ toward her.

It was only when she told of summoning her lover, and the accident
which befell him on his way to her, that that peculiar gleam returned
again to the eyes of Mr. Blaine, and they glanced narrowly at the
young man opposite him.

"As I told Ramon, I cannot help but feel that it is not true. My
father could not have become a pauper, much less could he, the soul of
honor, have been guilty of anything derogatory to his good name. Until
a few days prior to his death, he had been in his usual excellent
spirits, and surely had there been any financial difficulties in his
path he would have retrenched, in some measure. He made no effort to
do so, however, and in the last few weeks has given even more
generously than usual to the various philanthropic projects in which
he was so interested. Does that look as if he was on the verge of
bankruptcy? He bought me a string of pearls on my birthday, two months
ago, which for their size are considered by experts to be the most
perfectly matched in America. A fortnight ago, he presented me with a
new car. Only three days before his death he spoke of an ancient
château in France which he had desired to purchase. Oh, the whole
affair is utterly inexplicable to me!"

"We will take the matter up at once, Miss Lawton. The main thing that
I must impress upon you for the present is to acquiesce with the
utmost docility and unsuspicion in every proposition made to you by
the three men, Carlis, Mallowe and Rockamore; in other words, place
yourself absolutely in their hands, but keep me informed of every move
they make. You understand that the most important factor in this case
is to keep them absolutely unsuspecting of your distrust, or that you
have called me to your assistance. I must not be seen coming here or
to Mr. Hamilton's office, nor must you come to mine. I will have a
private wire installed for you to-morrow morning, by means of which
you can communicate with me, or one of my operatives, at any hour of
the day or night, in the presence of anyone. This telephone will
connect only with my office, but the number will be, supposedly, that
of your dressmaker, and if you require aid, advice, or the presence of
one of my operatives, you have merely to call up the number and say:
'Is my gown ready? If it is, please send it around immediately.' Let
me know through this medium whatever occurs, and take absolutely no
one into your confidence."

"I understand, Mr. Blaine; and I will try to follow your instructions
to the letter. Oh, by the way, there is something I wish to tell you,
which no one, not even Mr. Hamilton, knows, much less my father's
friends, or my minister. Four years ago, my father financed a
philanthropic venture of mine, the Anita Lawton Club for Working
Girls. It is not a purely charitable institution, but a home club,
where worthy young women could live by paying a nominal sum--merely to
preserve their self-respect--and be aided in obtaining positions.
Stenographers, telephone and telegraph operators, clerks, all find
homes there. No one knew, however, that under my management, the club
grew in less than a year not only to have paid for itself, but to have
yielded a small income, over and above expenses. I did not tell my
father--I don't know why, perhaps it was because I inherited a little
of his business acumen, but I manipulated the net income in various
minor undertakings, even in time buying small plots of unimproved
real-estate, meaning after a year or two more to surprise my father
with the result of my venture, but his death intervened before I could
tell him about it."

"Your father's associates, then, believe you to be without funds or
private income of your own?" the detective asked.

"Yes, Mr. Blaine. And whatever money is necessary for the investigation,
will, of course, be forthcoming from this source."

"Let me strongly advise you to make no mention of it to anyone
else; let these men believe you to be utterly within their power
financially. And now, Miss Lawton, I will leave you, for I have work
to do." The detective rose. "The private wire will be installed
to-morrow morning. Remember to be absolutely unsuspicious, to appear
deeply grateful for the kindness offered you; receive these men
and your spiritual adviser whenever they call, and above all, keep me
informed of everything that occurs, no matter how insignificant or
irrelevant it may seem to you to be. Keep me advised on even the
smallest details--anything, everything concerning you and them."

Thus it was, that when two days later, President Mallowe of the
Street Railways, called upon his new ward, she received him with
downcast eyes, and a charmingly deferential manner. His long-nosed,
heavy-jowled face, with the bristling gray side-whiskers, flushed
darkly when she placed her trembling little hand in his and shyly
voiced her gratitude for his great kindness to her.

"My dear young lady, this has been a most sad and unfortunate affair,
but I have come to assure you again of the sentiments of myself and my
associates toward you. We come, your self-appointed guardians; we will
see that no financial worriments shall come to you. Remember, my dear,
that I have three married daughters of my own, and I could not permit
the child of my old friend to want for anything. You may remain on
here in this house, which has been your home, indefinitely, and it
will be maintained for you in the manner to which you have always been
accustomed."

"Remain here in my home?" Anita stammered. "Why it--it is my home,
isn't it?"

"You must consider it as such. I do not like to tell you this, but it
is necessary that you should know. I hold a mortgage of eighty
thousand dollars on the house, but I have never recorded it, because
of my friendship and close affiliation with your father. I shall not
have it recorded now, of course, but there is a slight condition,
purely a matter of business, which in view of the fact that through
your coming marriage you will have a home of your own, Mr. Rockamore,
Mr. Carlis and myself, feel that we should agree upon. Your father has
a shadowy interest in some old bonds which have for years been
unremunerative. Should they prove of ultimate value, we feel that they
should be transferred to us as our reimbursement for the present large
sum which we shall lay out for you."

"Of course, Mr. Mallowe. That would only be just. I am glad that I may
perhaps have an opportunity to repay some of the kindness which in
your great-hearted charity, you are now bestowing upon me. I will see
that my father's attorneys attend to the matter, as soon as possible.
It may be some little time before the estate is settled, as of course
it must be horribly complicated and involved, but I will bring this to
their immediate attention."

"You are a very brave young woman, Miss Lawton, and I am glad that you
are taking such a clear-sighted view of this double catastrophe which
has come upon you. Ah, I had almost forgotten; here is a duplicate of
the mortgage which I hold upon this house, which your father made out
to me some months ago."

Anita scarcely glanced at it, but laid it quietly by upon the table,
as though it were of small interest to her.

"Mr. Mallowe, although I understand that Mr. Rockamore, being a
promoter, was more closely associated with my father in various
projects than you, I believe that he always considered you his best
friend. Can you tell me what it was which brought my father's affairs
to such a pass as this?"

"Dear young lady, do not ask me. It is a painful subject to discuss,
and as you are a mere child, you cannot be supposed to understand the
financial manoeuvres of a man of your father's passion for gigantic
operations. Years of success had possibly made him overconfident; and
then you know, we are none of us infallible; we are liable to make
mistakes, at one time or another. Your father interested himself
daringly in many schemes which we more conservative ones would have
hesitated to enter; indeed, we not only hesitated, but repeatedly
declined when your father placed the propositions before us. As you
know, unfortunately, he was a man who would have resented any attempt
at advice, and although for a long time we have seen his approaching
financial downfall, and have helped him in every way we could to avert
it, he would not relinquish his plans while there was yet time. Do not
ask me to go into any further details. It is really most distressing.
Your father's attorneys will understand the matter fully when the
estate is finally settled."

"I cannot understand it," Anita murmured. "I thought my father's
judgment almost infallible. However, Mr. Mallowe, I cannot express my
gratitude to you and my father's other associates for your great
kindness toward me. Believe me, I am deeply affected by it. I shall
never forget what you have done."

"Do not speak of it, dear Miss Lawton. I only wish for your sake that
your poor father had heeded poorer heads than his, but it is too late
to speak of that now. We will do all in our power to aid you, rest
assured of that. Should you require anything, you have only to call
upon Mr. Rockamore, Mr. Carlis or myself."

When he had bowed himself out, Anita flew to the table, seized the
duplicate of the mortgage which he had given her, and slipped it
between the pages of a book lying there. Then she went directly to her
dressing-room where on a little stand near her bed reposed a telephone
instrument which had not been there three days previously.

"Grosvenor 0760," she demanded, and when a voice replied to her at the
other end of the wire, she asked querulously, "Is not my new gown
ready yet? If it is, will you kindly send it over at once? I have also
found your last quarterly bill, and I think there is something wrong
with it. I will send it back by the messenger, who brings my gown.
Thank you; good-by."

She took an envelope from the desk and returning to the drawing-room
slipped the duplicate mortgage within it and sealed it carefully.

When, a few minutes later, a tall, dark, stolid-faced young man
appeared, with a large dressmaker's box, she placed the envelope in
his hand.

"For Mr. Blaine," she whispered. "See that it reaches him immediately."

A half hour afterward, Ramon Hamilton went to the telephone in his
office, and heard the detective's voice over the wire.

"Mr. Hamilton, have you among the letters and documents at your office
the signature of the person we were discussing the other day?"

"Why, yes, I think so. I will look and see. If I have do you wish me
to send it around to you?"

"No, thank you. A messenger boy will call for it in a few minutes."

Wondering, Ramon Hamilton shuffled hastily through the paper in the
pigeon-holes of his desk until he came to a letter from Pennington
Lawton. He carefully tore off the signature, and when the messenger
boy appeared, gave it to him. He would not have been so puzzled, had
he seen the great Henry Blaine, when a few minutes had elapsed, seated
before the desk in his office, comparing the signature of the torn
slip which he had sent with that affixed to the duplicate mortgage.

A long, close, breathless scrutiny, with the most powerful magnifying
glasses, and the detective jumped to his feet.

"That's no signature of Pennington Lawton," he exulted to himself. "I
thought I knew that fine hand, perfectly as the forgery has been done.
That's the work of James Brunell, by the Lord!"



CHAPTER IV

THE SEARCH


Henry Blaine, the man of decision, wasted no time in vain thought.
Instantly, upon his discovery that the signature of Pennington Lawton
had been forged, and that it had been done by an old and well-known
offender, he touched the bell on his desk, which brought his
confidential secretary.

"Has Guy Morrow returned yet from that blackmail case in Denver?"

"Yes, sir. He's in his private office now, making out his report to
you."

A moment later, there entered a tall, dark young man, strong and
muscular in build, but not apparently heavy, with a smooth face and
firm-set jaw.

"I haven't finished my report yet, sir--"

"The report can wait. You remember James Brunell, the forger?"

"James Brunell?" Morrow repeated. "He was before my time, of course,
but I've heard of him and his exploits. Pretty slick article, wasn't
he! I understand he has been dead for years--at least nothing has been
heard of his activities since I have been in the sleuth game."

"Did you ever hear of any of his associates?"

"I can't say that I have, sir, except Crimmins and Dolan; Crimmins
died in San Quentin before his time was up; Dolan after his release
went to Japan."

"I want to find Brunell. His closest associate was Walter Pennold. I
think Pennold is living somewhere in Brooklyn, and through him you may
be able to locate Brunell--"

Morrow shrugged his shoulders.

"A retired crook in the suburbs. That's going to take time."

"Not the way we'll work it. Listen."

The next morning, a tall, dark young man, strong and muscular in
build, with a smooth face and firm-set jaw, appeared at the Bank of
Brooklyn & Queens, and was immediately installed as a clerk, after a
private interview with the vice-president.

His fellow clerks looked at him askance at first, for they knew there
had been no vacancy, and there was a long waiting list ahead of him,
but the young man bore himself with such a quiet, modest air of
_camaraderie_ about him that by the noon hour they had quite accepted
him as one of themselves.

During the morning a package came to the bank and a letter which read
in part:

    ... I am returning these securities to you in the hope that
    you may be able to place them in the possession of Jimmy
    Brunell. They belong to him, and my conscience is responsible
    for their return. I don't know where to find him. I do know
    that at one time he did some banking at the Brooklyn & Queens
    Institution. If he does not do so now, kindly hold these
    securities for Jimmy Brunell until called for, and in the
    meantime see Walter Pennold of Brooklyn.

With the package and letter came a request from Henry Blaine which
those in power at the Brooklyn & Queens Bank were only too glad to
accede to, in order to ingratiate themselves with the great
investigator.

In accordance with this request, therefore, the affair was made known
by the bank-officials to the clerks as a matter of long standing
which had only just been rediscovered in an old vault, and the
subordinates discussed it among themselves with the gusto of those
whose lives were bounded by gilt cages, and circumscribed by rules of
silence. It was not unusual, therefore, that the new clerk, Alfred
Hicks, should have heard of it, but it was unusual that he should find
it expedient to make a detour on his way to work the next morning
which would take him to the gate of Walter Pennold's modest home.
Perhaps the fact that Alfred Hicks' real name was Guy Morrow and that
a letter received early that morning from Henry Blaine's office,
giving Pennold's address and a single line of instruction may have had
much to do with his matutinal visit.

Be that as it may, Morrow, the dapper young bank-clerk, found in the
Pennold household a grizzled, middle-aged man, with shifty,
suspicious eyes and a moist hand-clasp; behind him appeared a
shrewish, thin-haired wife who eyed the intruder from the first
with ill-concealed animosity.

He smiled--that frank, winning smile which had helped to land more men
behind the bars than the astuteness of many of his seniors--and said:
"I'm a clerk in the Brooklyn & Queens Bank, Mr. Pennold, and we have a
box of securities there evidently belonging to one Jimmy Brunell. No
one knows anything about it and no note came with it except a line
which read: 'Hold for Jim Brunell. See Walter Pennold of Brooklyn.'
Now you're the only Walter Pennold who banks with the B. & Q. and I
thought you might like to know about it. There are over two hundred
thousand dollars in securities and they have evidently been left there
by somebody as conscience-money. You can go to the bank and see the
people about it, of course. In fact, I understand they are going to
write you a letter concerning it, but I thought you might like to know
of it in advance. In case this Mr. Brunell is alive, they will pay him
the money on demand, or if dead, to his heirs after him."

The middle-aged man with the shifty eyes spat cautiously, and then,
rubbing his stubby chin with a hairy, freckled hand, observed:

"Well, young man, I'm Pennold, all right. I do some business with the
Brooklyn & Queens people--small business, of course, for we poor
honest folk haven't the money to put in finance that the big
stock-holders have. I don't know where you can find this man Brunell,
haven't heard of him in years, but I understand he went wrong. Ain't
that so, Mame?"

The hatchet-faced woman nodded her head in slow and non-committal
thought.

Pennold edged a little nearer his unknown guest and asked in a tone of
would-be heartiness. "And what might your name be? You're a
bright-looking feller to be a bank-clerk--not the stolid, plodding
kind."

Morrow chuckled again.

"My name is Hicks. I live at 46 Jefferson Place. It's only a little
way from here, you know." He swung his lunch-box nonchalantly. "Of
course, bank-clerking don't get you anywhere, but it's steady, such as
it is, and I go out with the boys a lot." He added confidentially:
"The ponies are still running, you know, even if the betting-ring is
closed--and there are other ways--" He paused significantly.

"I see, a sport, eh?" Pennold darted a quick glance at his wife.
"Well, don't let it get the best of you, young feller. Remember what I
told you about Jimmy Brunell--at least, what the report of him was. If
I hear anything of where he is, I'll let the bank know."

"I'll be getting on; I'm late now--" Morrow paused on the bottom step
of the little porch and turned. "See you again, Mr. Pennold, and your
wife, if you'll let me. I pass by here often--I've been boarding with
Mrs. Lindsay, on Jefferson Place, for some time now. By the way, have
you seen the sporting page of the _Gazette_ this morning? Al Goetz
edits it, you know, and he gives you the straight dope. There'll be
nothing to that fight they're pulling off Saturday night at the Zucker
Athletic Club--Hennessey'll put it all over Schnabel in the first
round. Good-by! If you hear anything of this Brunell, be sure you let
me or the bank know!"

For a long moment after his buoyant stride had carried him out of
sight around the corner, Walter Pennold and his wife sat in thoughtful
silence. Then the woman spoke.

"What d'ye think of it all, Wally?"

"Dunno." The gentleman addressed drew from his pocket a blackened,
odoriferous pipe and sucked upon it. "Must be some lay, of course.
I'll go up to the bank and find out what I can, but I don't think that
young feller, Hicks, is in on it. I've been in the game for forty
years, and if I'm a judge, he's no 'tec. Fool kid spendin' more'n he
earns and out for what coin he can grab. I'll look up that landlady of
his, too, Mame; and if he's on the level there, and at the bank--"

"And if those securities are at the bank, he ought to be willin' to
come in with us on a share," the wife supplemented shrewdly. "But it
seems like some kind of a gag to me. You knew all Jimmy Brunell's jobs
till he got religion or somethin', and turned honest--I can't think of
any old crook who'd turn over that money to him, two hundred thousand
cold, because his conscience hurt him, can you? You know, too, how
decent and respectable Jimmy's been livin' all these years, putting up
a front for the sake of that daughter of his; suppose this was a
put-up game to catch him--what do the bulls want him for?"

"I ain't no mind-reader. I'll look up this business of securities, and
then if the young feller's talked straight, we'll try to work it
through him, if we can get to him, and I guess we can, so long as I
ain't lost the gift of the gab in twenty years. We'll be as good,
sorrowing heirs as ever Jimmy Brunell could find anywheres."

Before Walter Pennold could reach the bank, however, an unimpeachably
official letter arrived from that institution, confirming the news
imparted by the bank-clerk concerning the securities left for James
Brunell. Pennold, going to the bank ostensibly to assure those in
authority there of his cordial willingness to assist in the search for
the heir, incidentally assured himself of Alfred Hicks' seemingly
legitimate occupation. A later visit to Mrs. Lindsay of 46 Jefferson
Place convinced him that the young man had lived there for some months
and was as generous, open-handed, easy-going a boarder as that
excellent woman had ever taken into her house. Just what price was
paid by Henry Blaine to Mrs. Lindsay for that statement is immaterial
to this narrative, but it suffices that Walter Pennold returned to the
sharp-tongued wife of his bosom with only one obstacle in his thoughts
between himself and a goodly share of the coveted two hundred thousand
dollars.

That obstacle was an extremely healthy fear of Jimmy Brunell. It was
true that there had been no connection between them in years, but he
remembered Jimmy's attitude toward the "snitcher," as well as toward
the man who "held out" on his pals; and behind his cupidity was a
lurking caution which was made manifest when he walked into the
kitchen and found Mrs. Pennold with her shriveled arms immersed in the
washtub.

"Say, Mame, the young feller, Hicks, is all right, and so is the bank;
but how about Jimmy himself? If I can fix the young feller, and we can
pull it off with the bank, that's all well and good. But s'pose Jimmy
should hear of it? Know what would happen to us, don't you?"

"If he ain't heard of them securities all this time they've been lyin'
forgotten in the bank, it's safe he won't hear of 'em now unless you
tell him," retorted his shrewder half, dryly. "Of course, if he's
lived straight, as he has for near twenty years as far as we know, and
he finds it out, he'll grab everything for himself. Why shouldn't he?
But s'pose the bulls are after him for somethin', and the bank's
hood-winked as well as us, where are we if we mix up in this? Tell me
that!"

"There's another side of it, too, Mame."

Pennold walked to the window, and regarded the sordid lines of washed
clothes contemplatively. "What if Jimmy has been up to somethin' on
the quiet, that the bulls ain't on to, and this bunch of securities is
on the level? If I went to him on the square, and offered him a
percentage to play dead, wouldn't he be ready and willin' to divide?"

"Of course he would; he's no fool," returned Mrs. Pennold shortly.
"But let me tell you, Wally, I don't like the look of that 'See Walter
Pennold of Brooklyn,' on the note in the bank. S'pose they was trying
to trace him through us?"

"You're talkin' like a blame' fool, Mame. Them securities has been
there for years, forgotten. Everybody knows that me and Brunell was
pals in the old days, but no one's got nothin' on us now, and he give
up the game years ago."

"How d'you know he did?" persisted his wife doggedly. "That's what you
better find out, but you've gotter be careful about it, in case this
whole thing should be a plant."

"You don't have to tell me!" Pennold grumbled. "I'll write him first
and then wait a few days, and if anyone's tailing me in the meantime,
they'll have a run for their money."

"Write him!"

"Of course. You may have forgotten the old cipher, but I haven't. You
know yourself we invented it, Jimmy and me, and the police tried their
level best to get on to it, but failed."

"You can't address it in cipher, and if you're tailed you won't get a
chance to mail it, Wally. Better wait and try to see him without
writing."

For answer Pennold opened a drawer in the table, drew forth a grimy
sheet of paper and an envelope, and bent laboriously to his task. It
was long past dusk when he had finished, and tossed the paper across
the table for his wife's perusal. This is what she saw:

[Illustration: An image of a coded message is shown here in the text.]

When she had gazed long at the characters, she shook her head at him,
and a slow smile came over her face.

"You've forgotten a little yourself, Wally. You made a mistake in the
_k_."

He glanced half-incredulously at it, and then laid his huge, rough
hand on her thin hair in the first caress he had given her in years.

"By God, old girl, you're a smart one! You're right. Now listen.
You've got to do the rest for me, the hardest part. Mail it."

"How? If we're tailed--"

"There'll be only one on the job, if we are, and I'll keep him busy
to-morrow morning. You go to the market as usual, then go into that
big department store, Ahearn & McManus'. There's a mail chute there,
next the notion counter on the ground floor. Buy a spool of thread or
somethin', and while you're waitin' for change, drop the letter in the
box. You used to be pretty slick in department stores, Mame--"

"Smoothest shoplifter in New York until I got palsy!" she interrupted
proudly, an unaccustomed glow on her sallow face. "I'll do it, Wally;
I know I can!"

The next morning Alfred Hicks was a little late in getting to his work
at the bank--so late, in fact, that he had only time to wave a cordial
greeting to his new friends in their cages as he passed. He paused,
however, that evening, with a pot of flowering bloom for Mrs.
Pennold's dingy, not over-clean window-sill, and a packet of tobacco
which he shared generously with his host. He talked much, with the
garrulous self-confidence of youth, but did not mention the matter of
the securities, and left the crafty couple completely disarmed.

Neither on entering nor leaving did Hicks appear to notice a short,
swarthy figure loitering in the shadow of a dejected-looking ailanthus
tree near the corner. It would have appeared curious, therefore, that
the lurking figure followed the bank-clerk almost to his lodgings, had
it not been for the fact that just before Jefferson Place was reached
the figure sidled up to Hicks' side and whispered:

"No news yet, Morrow. Pennold went this morning to old Loui the
Grabber and tried to borrow money from him, but didn't get it. I heard
the whole talk. Then he went to Tanbark Pete's and got a ten-spot.
After that, he divided his time between two saloons, where he played
dominoes and pinochle, and his own house. I've got to report to H. B.
when I'm sure the subject is safe for the night. Have you found
anything yet?"

"Only that I've got him on the run. If he knows where our man is,
Suraci, he'll go after him in a day or two. Meantime, tell H. B., in
case I don't get a chance to let him know, that the securities stunt
went, all right, and my end of it is O. K."

The next day, and the following, Pennold did indeed set for the young
Italian detective a swift pace. He departed upon long rambles, which
started briskly and ended aimlessly; he called upon harmless and
tedious acquaintances, from Jamaica to Fordham; he went--apparently
and ostentatiously to look for a position as janitor--to many
office-buildings in lower Manhattan, which he invariably entered and
left by different doors. In the evenings he sat blandly upon his own
stoop, smoking and chatting amiably if monosyllabically with his wife
and their new-found friend, Alfred Hicks, while his indefatigable
shadow glowered apparently unnoticed from the gloom of the ailanthus
tree.

On Thursday morning, however, Pennold betook himself leisurely to the
nearest subway station, and there the real trial of strength between
him and his unseen antagonist began. From the Brooklyn Bridge station
he rode to the Grand Central; then with a speed which belied his
physical appearance, he raced across the bridge to the downtown
platform, and caught a train for Fourteenth Street. There he swiftly
turned north to Seventy-second Street--then to the Grand Central,
again to Ninety-sixth, and so on, doubling from station to station
until finally he felt that he must be entirely secure from pursuit.

He alighted at length at a station far up in the Bronx, and after
looking carefully about he started off toward the west, where the
mushroom growth of the new city sprang up in rows of rococo brick and
stone houses with oases of green fields and open lots between. He
turned up a little lane of tiny frame houses, each set in its trim
garden, and stopped at the fourth cottage.

With a last furtive backward glance, Pennold mounted the steps and
rang the bell nervously. The door was opened from within so suddenly
that it seemed as if the man who faced his visitor on the threshold
must have been awaiting the summons. He stepped quickly out, shutting
the door behind him, and for a short space the two stood talking in
low tones--Pennold eagerly, insistently, the other man evasively,
slowly, as if choosing his words with care. He was as erect as Pennold
was shambling and stoop-shouldered, and although gray and lined of
features, his eyes were clear and more steady, his chin more firm, his
whole bearing more elastic and forceful.

He did not invite his visitor to enter, and the colloquy between them
was brief. It was significant that they did not shake hands, but
parted with a brief though not unfriendly nod. The tall man turned and
re-entered his house, closing the door again behind him, while
Pennold scuttled away, without a farewell glance. It might have been
well had he looked once more over his shoulder, for there, crouching
against the veranda rail where he had managed to overhear the last of
the conversation, was that short, swarthy figure which had followed so
indefatigably on his trail for three days--which had clung to him,
closely but unseen, through all his devious journey of that morning.
Suraci had not failed.

He tailed Pennold to his home, then went in person with his report to
the great Blaine himself, who heard him through in silence, and then
brought his mighty fist down upon his desk with a blow which made the
massive bronze ink-well quiver.

"That's our man! You've got him, Suraci. Good work! Now wait a little;
I want you to take some instructions yourself over to Morrow."

The next day the Pennolds missed the cheery greeting of their new
friend, the bank-clerk. Since the acquaintanceship had been so
recently formed, it was odd that they should have been as deeply
concerned over his defection as they were. They said little that
evening, but when his absence continued the second day, Pennold
himself ambled down to the Brooklyn & Queens Bank and reluctantly
deposited twenty dollars, merely for the pleasure of a chat with young
Hicks. The latter's cheery face failed to greet him, however, within
its portals, and a craftily worded inquiry merely elicited the
information that he was no longer connected with that institution.

"What do you make of it, Mame?" he asked anxiously of his wife when he
reached home. His step was more shambling than ever, and his hands,
clutching his hat-brim, trembled more than her gnarled, palsied ones.

"I'll tell you what I think when I've been around to Mrs. Lindsay's
this afternoon--to 46 Jefferson Place."

"What're you goin' to do there? You can't ask for him, very well,"
objected her spouse.

"Do?" she retorted tartly. "What would I do in a boarding-house? Look
for rooms for us, of course, and inquire about the other lodgers to be
sure it's respectable for a decent, middle-aged, married couple. Do
you think I'm goin' lookin' for a long-lost son? The life must be
gettin' you at last, Wally! Your head ain't what it used to be."

But Mrs. Pennold's vaunted astuteness gained her little knowledge
which could be of value to her in their late acquaintance. Mrs.
Lindsay was a beetle-browed, enormously stout old lady, with a stern
eye and commanding presence, who looked as if in her younger days she
might well have been a police-matron--as indeed she had been. She had
two double rooms and a single hall bedroom to show for inspection, and
she waxed surprisingly voluble concerning the vacancy of the latter,
at the first tentative mention of her other lodgers, by her visitor.

"As nice a young man as ever you'd wish to see, ma'am. I don't have
none but the most refined people in my house. Lived with me a year and
a half, Mr. Hicks did, except for his vacation--regular as clockwork
in his bills, and free and open-handed with his tips to Delia. Of
course, he wasn't just what you might call steady in his goings-out
and comings-in, but there never was nothin' objectionable in his
habits. You know what young men is! He had a fine position in a bank
here in Brooklyn, but I don't think the company he kep' was all that
it might have been. Kind of flashy and sporty, his friends was, and I
guess that's what got him into trouble. For trouble he was in, ma'am,
when he paid me yesterday in full even to the shavin' mug which I'd
bought for his dresser, and meant him to keep for a present--and
picked up bag and baggage and left. I always did think Friday was an
unlucky day! He stood in the vestibule and shook both my hands, and
there wasn't a dry eye in his head or mine!

"'Mis' Lindsay!' he says to me, just like I'm tellin' it to you. 'Mis'
Lindsay, I can't stay here no longer. I wisht to heavings I could, for
you've given me a real home,' he says, 'but I'm not at the bank no
more, and I'm going away. I'm in trouble!' he says. 'I needn't tell
you where I'm goin' for I ain't got a friend who'll ask after me or
care, but I just want to thank you for all your kindness to me, an' to
ask you to accept this present, and give this dollar-bill to Delia,
when she comes in from the fish-store.'

"This is what he give me as a present, ma'am!" Mrs. Lindsay pointed
dramatically to a German silver brooch set with a doubtful garnet, at
her throat. "And I was so broke up over it all, that I forgot and give
Delia the whole dollar, instead of just a quarter, like I should've
done. I s'pose I'd ought to write to his folks, but I don't know where
they are. He comes from up-State somewheres, and I never was one to
pry in a boarder's letters or bureau-drawers. I'm just worried sick
about it all!"

Mrs. Lindsay would have made a superb actress.

When the interview was at an end and Mrs. Pennold had rejoined her
husband, they discussed the disappearance of Alfred Hicks from every
standpoint and came finally to the conclusion that the young
bank-clerk's sporting proclivities had brought him to ruin.

Meanwhile, in a modest cottage in Meadow Lane, in the Bronx, a small
card reading "Room to Let" had been removed from the bay window, and
just behind its curtains a young man sat, his eyes fastened upon the
house across the way--the fourth from the end of the line. He was a
tall, dark young man with a smooth face and firm-set jaw, and his new
land-lady knew him as Guy Morrow.

All at once, as he sat watching, the door of the cottage opened, and a
girl came out. There was nothing remarkable about her; she was quite a
common type of girl: slender, not too tall, with a wealth of red-brown
hair and soft hazel eyes; yet there was something about her which made
Guy Morrow catch his breath; and throwing caution to the winds, he
parted the curtains and leaned forward, looking down upon her. As she
reached the gate, his gaze drew hers, and she lifted her gentle eyes
and looked into his.

Then her lids drooped swiftly; a faint flush tinged her delicate face,
and with lowered head she walked quickly on.

Guy Morrow sank back in his chair, and after the warm glow which had
surged up so suddenly within him, a chill crept about his heart. What
could that slender, brown-haired, clear-eyed girl be to the man he had
been sent to spy upon--to Jimmy Brunell, the forger?



CHAPTER V

THE WILL


Henry Blaine sat in his office, leisurely turning over the pages of a
morning newspaper; his attitude was one of apparent idleness, but the
occasional swift glances he darted at the clock and a slight lifting
of his eyebrows at the least sound from without betokened the fact
that he was waiting for some one or something.

His eyes scanned the columns of each page with seeming carelessness,
yet their keen glances missed not one significant phrase. And suddenly
his gaze was transfixed by a paragraph tucked away in a corner of the
second page.

It was merely an account of trouble between capital and labor in a
distant manufacturing city, and a hint of an organized strike which
threatened for the immediate future. The great detective was not at
all a politician, and the social and economic conditions of the day
held no greater import for him than for any other conscientious,
far-seeing citizen of the country, yet he sat for a long moment with
wrinkled brow and pursed lips, musing, while the newspaper dropped
unheeded upon the desk.

His reverie was suddenly interrupted by the sharp, insistent tinkling
of the telephone; a clear, girlish voice came to him over the wire:

"Is this Grosvenor 0760? This is Miss Lawton speaking. An alteration
must be made at once in that last gown you sent me, and it is
imperative that I see you in person concerning it. It will be
inconvenient for me to have you come here this morning. Where shall I
see you? At your establishment or--"

She paused suggestively, and he replied with a hurried question.

"It is absolutely necessary, Miss Lawton, that you see me in person?
You are quite sure?"

"Absolutely." Her voice held a ring of earnestness and something more
which caused him to jump to a lightning-like decision.

"Very well. I will meet you in twenty minutes at your Working Girls'
Club. I am an architect, remember, and you wish to build a new and
more improved institution of the same order on another site.
Therefore, you have met me there to show me over the old building and
suggest changes in its plans for the new one. You understand, Miss
Lawton? My name is Banks, remember, and--be a few minutes late."

"I understand perfectly. Thank you. Good-by."

The receiver at the other end of the line clicked abruptly, and the
detective sprang to his feet.

A quarter of an hour later Blaine presented himself at the Anita
Lawton Club, where a trim maid ushered him into a tiny office. There,
behind the desk, sat a girl, and at sight of her, the detective,
master of himself as he was, gave an imperceptible start.

There was nothing remarkable about her; she was quite a common type of
girl: slender, not too tall, with a wealth of red-brown hair, and soft
hazel eyes; yet she reminded Blaine vaguely but insistently of some
one else--some one whom he had encountered in the past.

He recovered himself at once, and presented the card which announced
him as the senior member of the firm of Banks and Frost, architects.

"Whom did you wish to see, sir?" The girl turned slowly about in her
swivel chair and regarded him respectfully but coolly. Her voice was
low and gentle and distinctly feminine, yet it brought to him again
that haunting sense of resemblance which the first vision of her had
caused.

"Miss Lawton," he replied, quietly.

"But Miss Lawton is not here." The girl's surprise was unfeigned.

"I have an appointment to meet her here at this time. She may perhaps
have been detained. She has arranged to go over the club building with
me. As you see by my card, I am an architect and she is planning more
extensive work, I believe, along the lines instituted here--at least
that is the impression she has given my firm. I will wait a short
time, if I may. You are connected with the official work of the
club?"

"I am the secretary." The girl paused and then added, "I understand
perfectly, sir. Will you be seated, please? Miss Lawton had not told
me of her appointment here with you. She will without doubt arrive
shortly."

Henry Blaine seated himself, and as she started to turn back to her
desk, he asked quickly:

"You must find the work here very interesting, do you not? We--our
firm--have erected several philanthropic institutions of learning and
recreation, but none precisely on this order. Miss Lawton has shown us
the plans of this present club and we consider the arrangement of the
dormitories particularly ingenious, with regard to economy of space
and the requisite sunlight and air."

"Oh, yes!" The girl turned toward him swiftly, her face suffused with
interest. "Miss Lawton drew all the plans herself, and they were not
changed in the least. I don't see how they could possibly be improved
upon. Miss Lawton has done splendid work here, sir; the club has been
a wonderful success since it was first opened."

"It must have been." The detective paused, then added easily, "I know
that her late father was very proud of her executive ability.
You--er--you educate young women here, do you not, and train them for
positions?"

"We not only train the members of the club, but obtain positions for
them, with reputable business firms," the girl answered.

"Indeed?" Blaine asked, with apparent surprise. "What sort of
positions do the members of your club fill?"

"Whatever they are capable of acquiring a working knowledge of.
Filing clerks, stenographers, secretaries, switchboard operators,
telegraphers, even governesses. We have never had a failure, and I
think it is because Miss Lawton gives not only her personal
attention, but real love and faith to each girl. She is--wonderful."

The face of the young woman was rapt as she spoke, and Blaine could
guess without further explanation that she herself was a protégée of
Miss Lawton's, and a grateful one--unless she were playing a part. If
so, she was an actress of transcendent ability.

"You say that you have never had a failure. That must, indeed, be
encouraging," Blaine remarked, tentatively. "Perhaps we might arrange
later with you or Miss Lawton to place one or two of your clerks or
stenographers. We are enlarging our offices--"

"Good morning!" a fresh young voice interrupted him, and Anita Lawton
stood upon the threshold. "Did Mr. Banks come yet?--ah, yes, I see.
How do you do?"

Blaine arose, and Anita gave him her hand cordially. His quick eyes
observed that in passing she patted the shoulder of her secretary
affectionately, and the girl looked up at her quickly, with eyes
aglow. The truth was no longer concealed from his discernment. The
girl was staunch in every fiber of her being.

"Miss Lawton, I am sorry, but I have really not any too much time this
morning. If we could proceed to business at once."

"Certainly. If you will come this way, Mr. Banks--" At the door she
paused, and turned to the secretary: "I will see you later, dear."

Anita led the detective swiftly through the wide, clean halls and up
the stairs, explaining in clear, distinct tones the floor-plan. On the
second floor she opened the door leading into a little ante-room at
the front of the house just over the office, and when they were
seated, she said quickly, with rising excitement, although her voice
was carefully hushed.

"Mr. Bl--Banks, I have something to show you--my father's will! It was
discovered, or rather, produced, yesterday. The lawyers who have
charge of the estate--Anderson & Wallace, you know--seem to me to be
perfectly disinterested, and honest, but I am so hedged in on every
hand by a stifling feeling of deceit and treachery that I feel I can
trust no one save you and Mr. Hamilton--not even poor old Ellen, my
maid, who has been with me since I was born!"

"I quite understand, Miss Lawton, and I realize how difficult the
situation is for you, but I want you to trust no one--at least, to
the extent of giving them your confidence. Now about the will; it was
produced by your late father's attorneys?"

"No, by President Mallowe, of the Street Railways. It appears that
Father left it in his charge. Mr. Anderson drew it; his partner, Mr.
Wallace, witnessed it; and they both assure me that it is absolutely
authentic. Here it is."

She opened her bag and handed a long envelope to him, but at first his
attention was held by what she had said, and he frowned as he repeated
quickly:

"'Authentic?' I trust you did not show any suspicion that you doubted
for a moment that it was genuine?"

"Oh, by no means! It was Mr. Anderson himself who took especial pains
to assure me of its authenticity."

Blaine regarded the envelope reflectively for a moment before he
raised the flap. Why had the attorney considered it necessary to
assure his late client's daughter that the will which he had himself
drawn was genuine?

The will was short and to the point. In it Pennington Lawton left
everything of which he died possessed to his daughter, unconditionally
and without reservation.

"Of course, Miss Lawton, since you are only twenty, and your father
has named no guardian or trustee, the courts will at once appoint one,
and I have no hesitation in saying that I believe the guardian so
appointed will be one of your father's three associates, presumably
Mr. Mallowe. However, that will make little difference in our
investigation, and, since it is claimed that all your father's huge
fortune is lost, the matter of a guardian cannot tie our hands in any
way. Now, just a moment, please."

He drew from his pocket a small but powerful magnifying glass and the
slip of paper which Ramon Hamilton had sent him, on which was the
signature of the late Pennington Lawton. Through the microscope he
carefully compared it with that affixed to the will and then looked up
reassuringly.

"It is quite all right, Miss Lawton. In my estimation the will is
authentic and your father's signature genuine." He folded the paper,
slipped it in its envelope and returned it to her. "There is one thing
now which I must most earnestly caution you against. Do not sign any
paper, no matter who wishes it or orders it--no matter if it is the
most trivial household receipt. Do not write any letters yourself, or
notes to any one, even to Mr. Hamilton; you understand they might be
intercepted. If anyone wishes you to sign a paper relating to the
matter of your father's estate, say you cannot do so until you have
shown it in private to Mr. Hamilton--that you have promised you will
not do so. Any other papers you can easily evade signing. As for your
private correspondence, obtain a social secretary, and permit her to
sign everything--one whom you can trust--say, one of your girls from
here, that girl downstairs, for instance. What is her name?"

Anita Lawton rose, and a peculiar pained expression passed over her
features.

"I am sorry, Mr. Blaine--really, really I am sorry. I cannot tell you
her name. That was one of the conditions under which she came to us
here--that is why I have given her an official position here in the
Club. She is staunch and faithful and true; I know it, I feel it; and
she is too high-principled to pass under any name not her own. I know
and am heartily in sympathy with the reason for her secretiveness. You
know that I trust you implicitly, but I know you would not have me go
back on my word when once it has been given."

"Certainly not, Miss Lawton. I realize that many of your protégées
here may come of unfortunate antecedents. If you feel that you can
trust her, use her. Do you feel equally sure of the other members of
your Club?"

"Absolutely. I feel that they all really love me; that they would do
anything for me they could in the world, and yet I have done so little
for them--only given them the little help which I was able to bestow,
which we should all do for those less fortunate than ourselves.... Why
did you ask me, Mr. Blaine, if I felt that I could trust the girls who
have placed themselves under my care?"

"Because we may have need of them in the future. They may be of the
most vital assistance to us in this investigation, should events turn
out as I anticipate and they prove worthy of the charge it may be
necessary for me to impose on them. But enough of that for now. If at
any time you wish to see me, personally, telephone me as you did this
morning and I will meet you here."

The detective left her in the office of the secretary, and as he made
his adieus to them both he cast a last quick, penetrating glance at
the girl behind the desk. Again that vague sense of resemblance
possessed him. With whom was she connected? Why was her name so
significantly withheld?

In the meantime Guy Morrow, from his post of observation in the window
of the little cottage on Meadow Lane, had watched the object of his
espionage for several fruitless days--fruitless, because the actions
of the man Brunell had been so obviously those of one who felt
himself utterly beyond suspicion.

The erect, gray-haired, clear-eyed man had come and gone about his
business, without the slightest attempt at concealment. A few of the
simplest inquiries of his land-lady had elicited the fact that the
gentleman opposite, old Mr. Brunell, was a map-maker, and worked at
his trade in a little shop in the nearest row of brick buildings
just around the corner--that he had lived in the little cottage since
it had first been erected, six years before, alone with his
daughter Emily, and before that, they had for many years occupied a
small apartment near by--in fact, the girl had grown up in that
neighborhood. He was a quiet man, not very talkative, but well liked
by his neighbors, and his daughter was devoted to him. According
to Mrs. Quinlan, Guy Morrow's aforesaid land-lady, Emily Brunell was a
dear, sweet girl, very popular among the young people in the
neighborhood, but she kept strictly at home in her leisure hours and
preferred her father's companionship to that of anyone else. She
was employed in some business capacity downtown, from nine until
six; just what it was Mrs. Quinlan did not know.

Morrow kept well in the background, in case Mr. Pennold should put in
an appearance again, but he did not. Evidently that conversation
overheard by Suraci had been a final one, concerning the securities at
least, and no one else called at the little cottage door over the way,
except a vapid-faced young man to whom Morrow took an instant and
inexplicable dislike.

Morrow made it a point to visit and investigate the little shop at an
hour when he knew Brunell would not be there, and found in the cursory
examination possible at that time that its purpose seemed to be
strictly legitimate. A shock-headed boy of fifteen or thereabout was
in charge, and the operative easily succeeded in engaging his stolid
attention elsewhere while, with a bit of soft wax carefully palmed in
his left hand, he succeeded in gaining an impression of the lock on
the flimsy door. From this he had a key made in anticipation of orders
from his chief, requiring a thorough search of the little shop--orders
which for the first time in his career, he shrank from.

He made no effort to scrape an acquaintance with Brunell himself, but
frequently encountered, as if by accident, the daughter Emily, on her
way to and from the subway station. If she recognized in him the young
lodger across the street, she made no sign, and as the days passed,
Morrow, the man, despaired of gaining her friendship, save through her
father, whom Morrow--the operative--had received orders not to
approach personally.

Before he had seen her, had he known that the old forger possessed a
daughter, he would have laid his plans to worm himself into the
confidence of the little family through the girl, but having once laid
eyes upon her face in all its gentle, trusting purity, every manly
instinct in him revolted at the thought of making her a tool of her
father's probable downfall.

There was a third member of the Brunell household whom Morrow had
observed frequently seated upon the doorstep, or on one of the lower
window sills--a small, scraggly black kitten, with stiff outstanding
fur, and an absurdly belligerent attitude whenever a dog chanced to
pass through the lane. It waited in the doorway each night for the
return of its mistress, and in the soft glow of the lamplight which
streamed from within, he had seen her catch the little creature up
affectionately and cuddle it up against her neck before the door
closed upon them.

One afternoon in the early November twilight, as Morrow was returning
to his own door after shadowing Brunell on an aimless and chilly walk,
he saw the kitten lying curled up just outside its own gate, and an
inspiration sprang to his ingenious mind. He seated himself upon the
steps of Mrs. Quinlan's front porch and waited until the darkness had
deepened sufficiently to cloak his nefarious scheme. Then, with soft
beguiling tone--and a few _sotto voce_ remarks, for he hated
cats--Morrow began a deliberate attempt to entice the kitten across to
him.

"Come here, kitty, kitty," he called softly. "Come, pussy dear! Come
here, you mangy, rat-tailed little beast! Come cattykins."

At his first words the kitten raised its head and regarded him with
yellow eyes gleaming through the dusk, in unconcealed antagonism. But,
at the soft, purring flattery of his voice, the gleam softened to a
glow of pleased interest, and the little creature rose lazily,
stretched itself, and tripped lightly over to him, its tail erect in
optimistic confidence.

Morrow picked it up gingerly by the neck and tucked it beneath his
coat, stroking its head with a reluctant thumb, while it purred loudly
in sleepy content, at the warmth of its welcome. The hour was
approaching when Emily Brunell usually made her appearance, and he
trusted to luck to keep the little animal quiet until she had entered
her home and discovered its loss, but the fickle goddess failed him.

The kitten grew suddenly uneasy, as if some intuition warned it of
treachery, and tried valiantly to escape from his grasp, and never did
Spartan boy with wolf concealed beneath his tunic suffer more
tortures than Morrow with the wretched little creature clawing at his
hands.

Would Emily Brunell never come? What could be keeping her to-night, of
all nights? Morrow gripped the soft, elusive bundle of fur with
desperate firmness and looked across the street. Evidently he was not
the only one impatient for her arrival. The doorway opposite had
opened, and Jimmy Brunell stood peering anxiously forth into the
darkness.

At that moment the kitten emitted a fearsome yowl, which Morrow
smothered hastily with his coat. He fancied that the old man turned
his head quickly and glanced in his direction, and never had the
operative felt guiltier.

Brunell, however, retired within, closing the door after him, and the
kitten's struggles gradually grew weaker and finally ceased.

Morrow felt a horrible fear surging up within him that he had
strangled the little beast, and his grasp gradually relaxed. Then he
opened his overcoat cautiously and peered within. The kitten was
sleeping peacefully, and he heaved a sigh of relief, glancing up just
in time to see Emily Brunell pass quickly through her own gate and up
to the door.

He sat motionless on the steps of Mrs. Quinlan's, and his patience was
rewarded when after a few moments the Brunell's door re-opened and he
heard the girl's voice calling anxiously: "Kitty! Kitty!"

Morrow rose with unfeigned alacrity and crossing the road, opened the
little gate without ceremony and mounted the steps of the porch.

"I beg your pardon," he said blandly. "Is this your kitten?
It--er--wandered across the street to me and fell asleep under my
coat. I board just over the way, you know, with Mrs. Quinlan. My name
is Morrow."

The girl gave a little cry of relieved anxiety, and caught the kitten
in her arms.

"Oh, I am so glad! I was afraid it was lost, and it is so tiny and
defenseless to be out all alone in the cold and darkness. Thank you so
much, Mr. Morrow. I suppose it was waiting for me, as it usually does,
and grew restless at my delay, poor little thing! It was kind of you
to comfort it!"

Feeling like an utter brute, Morrow stammered a humble disclaimer of
her undeserved gratitude, and moved toward the steps.

"Oh, but it was really kind of you; most men hate cats, although my
father loves them. I should have been home much earlier but I was
detained by some extra work at the club where I am employed."

"The club?" he repeated stupidly.

"Yes," replied the girl, quietly, cuddling the kitten beneath her
chin. "The Anita Lawton Club for Working Girls."

She caught herself up sharply, even as she spoke, and a look almost of
apprehension crossed her ingenuous face for a moment, and was gone.

"Thank you again for protecting my kitten for me," she said softly.
"Good-night."

Guy Morrow walked down the steps and across to his own lodgings with
his brain awhirl. The investigation, through the medium of a small
black kitten, had indeed taken an amazing turn. Jimmy Brunell's
daughter was a protégée of the daughter of Pennington Lawton!



CHAPTER VI

THE FIRST COUNTER-MOVE


The little paragraph in the newspaper, which, irrelevant as it
would seem, had caught the keenly discerning eye of Henry Blaine,
grew in length and importance from day to day until it reached a
position on the first page, and then spread in huge headlines over
the entire sheet. Instead of relating merely the incidents of a
labor strike in a manufacturing city--and that city a far-distant
one--it became speedily a sociological question of almost national
import. The yellow journals were quick to seize upon it at the
psychological moment of civic unrest, and throw out hints, vague
but vast in their significance, of the mighty interests behind the
mere fact of the strike, the great financial question involved, the
crisis between capital and labor, the trusts and the common people,
the workers and the wasters, in the land of the free.

Henry Blaine, seated in his office, read the scare-heads and smiled
his slow, inscrutable, illuminating smile--the smile which,
without menace or rancor, had struck terror to the hearts of the
greatest malefactors of his generation--which, without flattery or
ingratiation, had won for him the friendship of the greatest men in
the country. He knew every move in the gigantic game which was being
played solely for his attention, long before a pawn was lifted from
its place, a single counter changed; he had known it, from the moment
that the seemingly unimportant paragraph had met his eyes; and he
also knew the men who sat in the game, whose hands passed over the
great chessboard of current events, whose brains directed the moves.
And the stakes? Not the welfare of the workingmen in that distant
city, not the lifting of the grinding heel of temporal power from
the supine bodies of the humble--but the peace of mind, the
honorable, untarnished name, the earthly riches of the slender
girl who sat in that great darkened house on Belleair Avenue.

Hence Blaine sat back quietly, and waited for the decisive move which
he knew to be forthcoming--waited, and not in vain. The spectacular
play to the gallery of one was dramatically accomplished; it was
heralded by extras bawled through the midnight streets, and full-page
display headlines in the papers the next morning.

Promptly on the stroke of nine, Henry Blaine arrived at his office,
and as he expected, found awaiting him an urgent telegram from the
chief of police of the city where the strike had assumed such colossal
importance, earnestly asking him for his immediate presence and
assistance. He sent a tentative refusal--and waited. Still more
insistent messages followed in rapid succession, from the mayor of
that city, the governor of that state, even its representative in the
Senate at Washington, to all of which he replied in the same emphatic,
negative strain. Then, late in the afternoon, there eventuated that
which he had anticipated. Mohammed came to the mountain.

Blaine read the card which his confidential secretary presented, and
laid it down upon the desk before him.

"Show him in," he directed, shortly. He did not rise from his chair,
nor indeed change his position an iota, but merely glanced up from
beneath slightly raised eyebrows, when the door opened again and a
bulky, pompous figure stood almost obsequiously before him.

"Come in, Mr. Carlis," he invited coolly. "Take this chair. What can I
do for you?"

It was significant that neither man made any move toward shaking
hands, although it was obvious that they were acquainted, at least.
The great detective's tone when he greeted his visitor was as
distinctly ironical as the latter's was uneasy, although he replied
with a mirthless chuckle, which was intended to be airily nonchalant.

"Nothing for me, Mr. Blaine--that is, not to-day. One can never tell
in this period of sudden changes and revolt, when our city may be
stricken as another was just a few hours ago. There is no better,
cleaner, more honestly prosperous metropolis in these United States
to-day, than Illington, but--" Mr. Carlis, the political boss who had
ruled for more than a decade in almost undisputed sway, paused and
gulped, as if his oratorical eloquence stuck suddenly in his throat.

The detective watched him passively, a disconcerting look of inquiring
interest on his mobile face. "It is because of our stricken sister
city that I am here," went on the visitor. "I know I will not be in
great favor with you as an advocate, Mr. Blaine. We have had our
little tilts in the past, when you--er--disapproved of my methods of
conducting my civic office and I distrusted your motives, but that is
forgotten now, and I come to you merely as one public-spirited citizen
to another. The mayor of Grafton has wired me, as has the chief of
police, to urge you to proceed there at once and take charge of the
investigation into last night's bomb outrages in connection with the
great strike. They inform me that you have repeatedly refused to-day
to come to their assistance."

Blaine nodded.

"That is quite true, Mr. Carlis. I did decline the offers extended to
me."

"But surely you cannot refuse! Good heavens, man, do you realize what
it means if you do? It isn't only that there is a fortune in it for
you, your reputation stands or falls on your decision! This is a
public charge! The people rely upon you! If you won't, for some reason
of your own, come to the rescue now, when you are publicly called
upon, you'll be a ruined man!" The voice of the Boss ascended in a
shrill falsetto of remonstrance.

"There may be two opinions as to that, Mr. Carlis," Blaine returned
quietly. "As far as the financial argument goes, I think you
discovered long ago that its appeal to me is based upon a different
point of view than your own. You forget that I am not a servant of the
public, but a private citizen, free to accept or decline such offers
as are made to me in my line of business, as I choose. This affair is
not a public charge, but a business proposition, which I decline. As
to my reputation depending upon it, I differ with you. My reputation
will stand, I think, upon my record in the past, even if every yellow
newspaper in the city is paid to revile me."

Carlis rested his plump hands upon his widespread knees, and leaned as
far forward, in his eager anxiety, as his obese figure would permit.

"But why?" he fairly wailed, his carefully rounded, oratorical tones
forgotten. "Why on earth do you decline this offer, Blaine? You've
nothing big on hand now--nothing your operatives can't attend to.
There isn't a case big enough for your attention on the calendar! You
know as well as I do that Illington is clean and that the lid is on
for keeps! The police are taking care of the petty crimes, and
there's absolutely nothing doing in your line here at the moment. This
is the chance of your career! Why on earth do you refuse it?"

"Well, Mr. Carlis, let us say, for instance, that my health is not
quite as good as it was, and I find the air of Illington agrees with
it better just now than that of Grafton." Blaine leaned back easily in
his chair, and after a slight pause he added speculatively, with
deliberate intent, "I didn't know you had interests there!"

The Boss purpled.

"Look here, Blaine!" he bellowed. "What d'you mean by that?"

"Merely following a train of thought, Mr. Carlis," returned the
detective imperturbably. "I was trying to figure out why you were so
desperately anxious to have me go to Grafton--"

"I tell you I am here at the urgent request of the mayor and the chief
of police!" the fat man protested, but faintly, as if the unexpected
attack had temporarily winded him. "Why in h--ll should I want you to
go to Grafton?"

"Presumably because Grafton is some fourteen hundred miles from
Illington," remarked Blaine, his quietly unemotional tones hardening
suddenly like tempered steel. "Going to try to pull off something here
in town which you think could be more easily done if I were away?
Cards on the table, Mr. Carlis! You tried to bribe me in a case once,
and you failed. Then you tried bullying me and you found that didn't
work, either. Now you've come again with your hook baited with
patriotism, public spirit, the cry of the people and all the rest of
the guff the newspapers you control have been handing out to their
readers since you took them over. What's the idea?"

The Boss rose, with what was intended for an air of injured dignity,
but his fat face all at once seemed sagged and wrinkled, like a
pricked balloon.

"I did not come here to be insulted!" he announced in his most
impressive manner. "I came, as I told you, as a public-spirited
citizen, because the officials of another city called upon me to urge
you to aid them. I have failed in my mission, and I will go. I am
surprised, Blaine, at your attitude; I thought you were too big a man
to permit your personal antagonism to me to interfere with your
duty--"

For the first time during their interview Blaine smiled slightly.

"Have you ever known me, Mr. Carlis, to permit my personal antagonism
to you or any other man to interfere with what I conceive to be my
duty?"

Before he replied, the politician produced a voluminous silk
handkerchief, and mopped his brow. For some reason he did not feel
called upon to make a direct answer.

"Well, what reason am I to give to the Mayor of Grafton and its
political leaders, for your refusal? That talk about me trying to get
you out of Illington, Blaine, is all bosh, and you know it. _I'm_
running Illington just as I've run it for the last ten years, in spite
of your interference or any other man's, and I'm going to stay right
on the job! If you won't give any other reason for declining the call
to Grafton, than your preference for the air of Illington, then the
bets go as they lay!"

He jammed his hat upon his head, and strode from the room with all
the ferocity his rotund figure could express. The first decisive move
in the game had failed.

The door was scarcely closed behind him, when Blaine turned to the
telephone and called up Anita Lawton on the private wire.

"Can you arrange to meet me at once, at your Working Girls' Club?" he
asked. "I wish to suggest a plan to be put into immediate operation."

"Very well. I can be there in fifteen minutes."

When the detective arrived at the club, he was ushered immediately to
the small ante-room on the second floor, where he found Anita
anxiously awaiting him.

"Miss Lawton," he began, without further greeting than a quick
handclasp, "you told me, the other day, that your girls here were all
staunch and faithful to you. Your secretary downstairs had previously
informed me that they were trained to hold positions of trust, and
that you obtained such positions for them. I want you to obtain four
positions for four of the girls in whom you place the most implicit
confidence."

"Why, certainly, Mr. Blaine, if I can. Do you mean that they are to
have something to do with your investigation into my father's
affairs?"

"I want them to play detective for me, Miss Lawton. Have you four
girls unemployed at the moment?--Say, for instance, a filing clerk, a
stenographer, a governess and a switchboard operator, who are
sufficiently intelligent and proficient in their various occupations,
to assume such a trust?"

"Why, yes, I--I think we have. I can find out, of course. Where do you
wish to place them?"

"That is the most difficult part of all, Miss Lawton. You must obtain
the positions for them. These three men who stand in _loco parentis_
toward you, as you say, and your spiritual adviser, Dr. Franklin, who
so obviously wishes to ingratiate himself with them, would none of
them refuse a request of this sort from you at this stage of the game,
particularly if they are really engaged in a conspiracy against you.
Go to these four men--Mr. Mallowe first--and tell them that because of
the sudden, complete loss of your fortune, your club must be
disorganized, and beg them each to give one of your girls, special
protégées of yours, a position. Send your filing clerk to Mr. Mallowe,
your most expert stenographer to Mr. Rockamore, your switchboard
operator to Mr. Carlis, and your governess into the household of your
minister. I have learned that he has three small children, and his
wife applied only yesterday at an agency for a nursery governess. The
last proposition may be the most difficult for you to handle, but I
think if you manage to convey to the Reverend Dr. Franklin the fact
that your three self-appointed guardians have each taken one of your
girls into their employ, in order to help them, and that his following
their benevolent example would bring him into closer _rapport_ with
them, no objection will be made--provided, of course, the young woman
is suitable."

"I will try, Mr. Blaine, but of course I can do nothing about that
until to-morrow, as it is so late in the afternoon. However, I can
have a talk with the girls, if they are in now--or would you prefer to
interview them?"

"No, you talk with them first, Miss Lawton, and to-morrow morning
while you are arranging for their positions I will interview them and
instruct them in their primary duties. I will leave you now. Remember
that the girls must be absolutely trustworthy, and the stenographer
who will be placed in the office of Mr. Rockamore must be particularly
expert."

After the detective had taken his departure, Anita Lawton descended
quickly to the office of the secretary.

"Emily," she asked, "is Loretta Murfree in, or Fifine Déchaussée?"

"I think they both are, Miss Lawton. Shall I ring for them?"

"Yes, please, Emily; send them to me one at a time, in the ante-room,
and let me know when Agnes Olson and Margaret Hefferman come in. I
wish to talk with all four of them, but separately."

Loretta Murfree was the first to put in an appearance. She was a
short, dumpy, black-haired girl of twenty, and she bounced into the
room with a flashing, wide-mouthed smile.

"How are you, dear Miss Lawton? We have missed you around here so much
lately, but of course we knew that you must be very much occupied--"

She stopped and a little embarrassed flush spread over her face.

"I have been, Loretta. Thank you so much for your kind note, and for
your share in the beautiful wreath you girls sent in memory of my dear
father."

"Sure, we're all of us your friends, Miss Lawton; why wouldn't we be,
after all you've done for us?"

"It is because I feel that, that I wanted to have a talk with you this
afternoon. Loretta, if a position were offered to you as filing clerk
in the office of a great financier of this city, at a suitable salary,
would you accept it, if you could be doing me a great personal service
at the same time?"

"Would I, Miss Lawton? Just try me! I'd take it for the experience
alone, without the salary, and jump at the chance, even if you
weren't concerned in it at all, but if it would be doing you a service
at the same time, I'm more than glad."

"Thank you, Loretta. The position will be with an associate of my
father's, I think, President Mallowe of the Street Railways. You must
attend faithfully to your duties, if I am able to obtain this place
for you, but I think the main part of your service to me will consist
of keeping your eyes open. To-morrow morning a man will come here and
interview you--a man in whom you must place implicit confidence and
trust, and whose directions you must follow to the letter. He will
tell you just what to do for me. This man is my friend; he is working
in my interests, and if you care for me you must not fail him."

"Indeed I won't, Miss Lawton! I'll do whatever he tells me.... You
said that I was to keep my eyes open. Does that mean that there is
something you wish me to find out for you?" she asked shrewdly.

"I cannot tell you exactly what you are to do for me, Loretta. The
gentleman whom you are to meet to-morrow morning will give you all the
details." Anita Lawton approached the girl and laid her hand on her
shoulder. "I can surely trust you? You will not fail me?"

The quick tears sprang to the Irish girl's eyes, and for a moment
softened their rather hard brilliance.

"You know that you can trust me, Miss Lawton! I'd do anything in the
world for you!"

Anita Lawton held a similar conversation with each of the three girls,
with a like result. To Fifine Déchaussée, a tall, refined girl, with
the colorless, devout face of a religieuse, the probability of
entering a minister's home, as governess for his children, was most
welcome. The young French girl, homesick and alone in a strange land,
had found in Anita Lawton her one friend, and her gratitude for this
first opportunity given her, seemed overwhelming. Margaret Hefferman
rejoiced at the possible opportunity of becoming a stenographer to the
great promoter, Mr. Rockamore; and demure, fair-haired little Agnes
Olson was equally pleased with the prospect of operating a switchboard
in the office of Timothy Carlis, the politician.

Meantime, back in his office, Henry Blaine was receiving the personal
report of Guy Morrow.

"The old man seems to be strictly on the level," he was saying. "He
attends to his own affairs and seems to be running a legitimate
business in his little shop, where he prints and sells maps. I went
there, of course, to look it over, but I couldn't see anything crooked
about it. However, when I left, I took a wax impression of the lock,
in case you wanted me to have a key made and institute a more thorough
investigation, at a time when I would not be disturbed."

"That's good, Morrow. We may need to do that later. At present I want
you merely to keep an eye on them, and note who their visitors are.
You've been talking with the girl you say--the daughter?"

"Yes, sir--" The young man paused in sudden confusion. "She's a very
quiet, respectable, proud sort of young woman, Mr. Blaine--not at all
the kind you would expect to find the daughter of an old crook like
Jimmy Brunell. And by the way, here's a funny coincidence! She's a
protégée of Miss Lawton's, employed in some philanthropic home or
club, as she calls it, which Pennington Lawton's daughter runs."

"By Jove!" Blaine exclaimed, "I might have known it! I thought there
was something familiar about her appearance when I first saw her! No
wonder Miss Lawton had promised not to divulge her name. It's a small
world, Morrow. I'll have to look into this. Go back now and keep your
eye on Jimmy."

"Very well, sir." Guy Morrow paused at the door and turned toward his
chief. "Have you seen the late editions of the evening papers, Mr.
Blaine? They're all slamming you, for refusing to accept the call to
Grafton, to investigate those bomb outrages last night."

Henry Blaine smiled.

"There won't be any more of them," he remarked quietly. "That strike
will die down as quickly as it arose, Morrow; the whole thing was a
plant, and the labor leaders and factory owners themselves were merely
tools in the hands of the politicians. That strike was arranged by our
friend Timothy Carlis, to get me away from Illington on a false
mission."

"You don't think, sir, that they suspect--"

"No, but they are taking no chances on my getting into the game. They
don't suspect yet, but they will soon--because the time has come for
us to get busy."



CHAPTER VII

THE LETTER


The next morning, when Ramon Hamilton presented himself at Henry
Blaine's office in answer to the latter's summons, he found the great
detective in a mood more nearly bordering upon excitability than he
could remember having witnessed before. Instead of being seated calmly
at his desk, his thoughts masked with his usual inscrutable
imperturbability, Blaine was pacing restlessly back and forth with the
disquietude, not of agitation, but of concentrated, ebullient energy.

"I sent for you, Mr. Hamilton," he began, after greeting his visitor
cordially and waving him to a chair, "because we must proceed actively
with the investigation into the alleged bankruptcy of Pennington
Lawton. We have been passive long enough for me to have gathered some
significant facts, but we now must make a salient move. The time
hasn't yet come for me to step out into the open. When I do, it will
be a tooth-and-nail fight, and I must be equipped with facts, not
theories. I want some particulars about Mr. Lawton's insolvency, and
there is no one who could more naturally inquire into this without
arousing suspicion than you."

"I don't need to tell you, Mr. Blaine, how anxious I am to do anything
I can to help you, for Miss Lawton's sake," Ramon Hamilton replied
eagerly. "I should like to have looked into the matter long
ago--indeed, I felt that suspicion must have been aroused in the
minds of Mallowe and his associates by the fact that I accepted the
astounding news of the bankruptcy as unquestioningly as Miss Lawton
herself, unless they thought me an addlepated fool--but I didn't want
to go ahead without direct instructions from you."

"I did not so direct you, Mr. Hamilton, for a distinct purpose. I
wished the men we believe to be responsible for the present conditions
to be slightly puzzled by your attitude, so that when the time came
for you to begin your investigation, they would be more completely
reassured. In order to make your questioning absolutely bona fide, I
want you to go first this morning to the office of Anderson & Wallace,
the late Mr. Lawton's attorneys, and question them as if having come
with Miss Lawton's authority. Don't suggest any suspicion of there
being any crookedness at work, but merely inquire as fully as possible
into the details of Mr. Lawton's business affairs. They will, in their
replies, undoubtedly bring in Mr. Mallowe, Mr. Rockamore and Mr.
Carlis, which will give you a cue to go quite openly and frankly to
one of the three--preferably Mallowe--for corroboration. Knowing that
you come direct from the late Mr. Lawton's attorneys, he will be only
too glad to give you whatever information he may possess or may have
concocted--and so lay open to you his plan of defense."

"Defense? You think, then, Mr. Blaine, that they anticipate possible
trouble--exposure, even? Surely such astute, far-seeing men as Mallowe
and Rockamore are, at least, would not have attempted such a gigantic
fraud if they'd anticipated the possibility of being discovered!
Carlis has weathered so many storms, so many attacks upon his
reputation and civic honor, that he may have felt cocksure of his
position and gone into this thing without thought for the future, but
the other two are men of different caliber, men with everything in the
world to lose."

"And colossal, unearned wealth to gain--don't forget that, Mr.
Hamilton. Men of different caliber, I grant you, but all three in the
same whirlpool of crime, bound by thieves' law to sink or swim
together. It is because they are astute and far-seeing that they must
inevitably have considered the possibility of exposure and safeguarded
themselves against it with bogus corroborative proof. If that proof is
in tangible form, and we can lay our hands on it, we shall have them
where we want them. Now go back to your office, Mr. Hamilton, and
dictate this letter to your stenographer, having it left open on your
desk for your signature. Don't wait for the letter to be typed, but
proceed at once to the office of Anderson & Wallace. You, as a lawyer,
will of course know the form of inquiry to use."

The detective handed Ramon Hamilton a typewritten sheet of paper from
his desk; and the young man, after hastily perusing it, gazed with a
blank stare of amazement into Blaine's eyes.

"I can't make this out," he objected. "Who on earth is Alexander
Gibbs, and what has he to do with Miss Lawton's case? This letter
seems to inform one Alexander Gibbs that I have retained you to
recover for us the last will and testament of his aunt, Mrs. Dorothea
Gibbs. I have no such client, and I know no one in--what's the
address?--Ellenville, Sullivan County."

Blaine smiled.

"Of course you don't, Mr. Hamilton. Nevertheless, you will sign that
letter and your secretary will mail it--that is, after it has lain
open upon your desk for casual inspection for a considerable length
of time. One of my operatives will receive it in Ellenville."

"But what has it to do with the matter in hand?" Ramon asked.

"Everything. I understand that you employ quite an office force, for
an attorney who has so recently been admitted to the bar, and who has
necessarily had little time yet to build up an extensive practice.
There may be a spy in your office--remember that as Miss Lawton's
fiancé and her only protector in this crisis, you are the one whom
they would safeguard themselves against primarily. When I called you
up this morning, to ask you to come here, you very indiscreetly
mentioned my name over the telephone. Your entire office force will
know that you have been to consult me--this letter will throw them off
the track should there be a spy among them, and will also give you a
legitimate excuse to call upon me frequently in the immediate future.
You realize that we also must safeguard ourselves, Mr. Hamilton."

The young man reddened.

"Of course. I did not think--I called you by name inadvertently," he
stammered. "I'll be more discreet in the future, Mr. Blaine."

"Memorize the gist of the letter on your way to your office--particularly
the name and address--and place it securely in your vest pocket. When
you have left your office to go to Anderson & Wallace, destroy it
carefully. You had best, perhaps, stop in the lavatory of some
restaurant or public bar and burn it, or tear it into infinitesimal
pieces. Remember that everything depends upon you now--upon your
discretion and diplomacy."

Hamilton followed Blaine's instructions to the letter, and an hour
after he had left the detective he was closeted with the senior member
of the firm of Anderson & Wallace.

"My dear Mr. Hamilton, we have had so little time," Mr. Anderson
expostulated. "Remember that Mr. Lawton's death occurred little more
than a fortnight ago, and even the most cursory examination has shown
us that his affairs were in a most chaotic condition. It will take us
weeks, months, to settle up so involved an estate.

"At present we can give you little information. It is by no means
certain that Mr. Lawton was an absolute bankrupt--we have not yet
assured ourselves that nothing can be saved from the wreckage. You
cannot imagine how aghast, thunderstruck, we were, when this present
state of affairs was made known to us. We have been Mr. Lawton's
attorneys for more than twenty years, and we thought that we knew
every detail of his multifarious transactions, but for some reason
which we cannot fathom he saw fit, within the last two years, to
change his investments without taking us into his confidence--and with
disastrous results."

"Mr. Lawton was always conservative. He took no one fully into his
confidence," Ramon Hamilton replied guardedly.

"You knew, of course, that he had ideas about the disposal of his vast
wealth which many other financiers would consider peculiar. He would
never invest in real estate, to our knowledge. His millions were
placed entirely in stocks and bonds, and for years he had stated that
his object was, in the event of his death, to save his daughter and
the trustees from unnecessary trouble over real-estate matters. This
makes his later conduct all the more inexplicable. Mr. Mallowe has
told me that Mr. Lawton made several suggestions to him and to his
associates, Mr. Rockamore and Mr. Carlis, to go with him into the
unfortunate speculations which ultimately caused his ruin. They were
far-seeing enough to refuse."

"Just what were these speculations, Mr. Anderson?"

"I can't tell you at this moment. You'll understand that we don't wish
to make any statement until we can do so definitely, and we are still,
as I said, quite at sea. We'll try to straighten everything out as
soon as possible, and give you and Miss Lawton a full report. In the
meantime, why not consult Mr. Mallowe? He can give you more explicit
information concerning the late Mr. Lawton's speculation and final
insolvency than we shall be able to do for some time; or possibly, Mr.
Rockamore, or even Mr. Carlis might enlighten you. All three seem to
have been more conversant with Mr. Lawton's affairs than we, his
attorneys."

The dignified old gentleman's voice held a note of pained resentment,
with which Ramon Hamilton could not help but sympathize.

"I will adopt your suggestion, Mr. Anderson, and call upon Mr. Mallowe
at once. I can no more understand than you can how it happens that Mr.
Lawton should have confided to such an extent in his business
associates, to the exclusion of you and Mr. Wallace--to say nothing of
his own daughter; but doubtless there were financial reasons which
we'll learn. I will take up no more of your valuable time, but will
try to see Mr. Mallowe immediately. If I learn any facts you're not
now in possession of, I'll let you know at once."

Mr. Mallowe, when approached over the telephone, welcomed most
cordially the proposed interview with Miss Lawton's fiancé. When the
latter arrived, he was greeted with a warm, limp hand-clasp, and
seated confidentially close to the president of the Street Railways.

"Mr. Anderson did well to suggest your coming to me, Mr. Hamilton,"
the magnate remarked unctuously. "I believe I am in a position to give
you a more comprehensive idea of the circumstances which brought about
my esteemed friend's unfortunate financial collapse at the time of his
death than my colleagues, because I was closer to him in many ways,
and I am confident that he regarded me as his best friend. However, I
don't feel that I can, in honor, violate the confidence of the dead by
giving any details just now--even to you and Miss Lawton--of matters
which have not yet been fully substantiated by the attorneys. I know
only from Mr. Lawton's own private statements that he was interested,
to the point one might almost say of mania, in a gigantic scheme from
which we, his friends, tried in vain to dissuade him. He urged me
especially to go in on it with him, but because of the very position I
hold, it would have been impossible for me to consider it, even if my
better judgment hadn't warned me against it."

"Can't you give me some idea of the nature of this scheme?" Ramon
asked. "I can't believe, any more easily than Miss Lawton can, that
there could have been anything that was not thoroughly open and
above-board about her father's dealings. Surely, there can be no
reason for this extraordinary secrecy, particularly as the newspapers
had given to the world at large the unauthorized statement, from a
source unknown to Miss Lawton or myself, that Pennington Lawton died a
bankrupt!"

The young man drew himself up sharply, as if fearful of having said
too much, and for a moment there was silence. Then Mr. Mallowe leaned
back easily in his chair and, removing his tortoise-shell rimmed
eyeglasses, tapped the desk thoughtfully with them as he replied:

"That was regrettable, of course, Mr. Hamilton. It must have been
distressing in the extreme to Miss Lawton, coming just at this time,
but it would have had to be revealed sooner or later, you know--such a
stupendous fact could not be hidden. There is no extraordinary secrecy
about the matter. When the attorneys have completed their settlement
of the estate, everything will be clear to you and Miss Lawton. I must
naturally decline to give you any explanation which would be, just
now, merely an uncorroborated opinion. I appreciate your feelings in
this sudden, almost overwhelming trouble which has come to Miss
Lawton, and I sympathize with both of you most heartily; but one must
have patience. You will pardon me, but you are both very young, and
that is the hardest lesson of all for you to learn."

His watery eyes beamed in fatherly benevolence upon Ramon, and Anita's
fiancé felt his gorge rising. The older man reminded him irresistibly
of a cat licking its chops before a canary's cage, and it was with
difficulty he restrained himself to remark coldly:

"You told me at the beginning of this interview, Mr. Mallowe, that
I did well in coming to you, since you could give me a more
comprehensive idea of the circumstances than anyone else, yet you
have disclosed nothing beyond a few vague suggestions--to any other
man I should have said, insinuations--and generalities which we
were already familiar with. Can't you give me any real information?"

"My dear boy, I intend to tell you all that I know and can verify."
The silky smoothness of the magnate's tones had deepened in spite of
himself, with a steely undernote.

"I don't know when the project which spelled his ruin was first
conceived by Mr. Lawton, but I believe that he started to put it into
active operation over three years ago. He went into it with his usual
cold nerve, and then, when the pendulum did not swing his way he kept
heaping more and more of his securities on the pyre of his ambition
and pride in himself, until he was forced to obtain large loans. That
he did seek and obtain such loans I can prove to you at the present
moment, in one instance at least, for it was through me the affair was
negotiated. I think he fully realized his enormous error, but refused
to admit it even to himself, and strove by sheer force of will-power
to carry a hopeless scheme to success."

"Sought loans! He--Pennington Lawton required loans and obtained them
through you?" Ramon almost started from his chair. "Mr. Mallowe, you
will forgive me, but I can scarcely credit it. I know, of course, that
financiers, even those who conduct their operations on a far lesser
scale than Mr. Lawton, frequently seek loans, but your manner and your
speech just now led me to believe that you had some other motive in
doing what you did for Mr. Lawton. From what you have told me I gather
that it was owing more to your friendship for him, than to your
financial relations, that he called upon you at that time."

"And it was to my friendship at that time that he appealed, Mr.
Hamilton."

"Appealed? I cannot imagine Pennington Lawton appealing to any man.
Why should he appeal to you?"

"Because, my dear boy, he was in a mighty bad fix when he had need to
call upon me. Oh, by the way, I have the letter here in my safe--I
found it only the other day."

"The letter? What letter?"

"The letter Mr. Lawton wrote me from Long Bay asking me to get Mr.
Moore's help in the matter--here it is."

Mallowe went to his safe, and opening it, withdrew from an inner
drawer a paper which he presented to the young lawyer. After a cursory
examination Ramon placed it upon the desk before him, and turning to
Mr. Mallowe said:

"I am awfully sorry to have annoyed you with this matter, but you
understand exactly how Miss Lawton and I feel about it--"

"Of course, Mr. Hamilton, I realize the situation fully. I am glad to
have had this opportunity to explain to you how the matter stood as
far as I personally was concerned. You know I will do anything that I
can for Miss Lawton and I trust that you will call upon me."

He rose with ponderous significance as if to state tacitly that the
interview was at an end, but the younger man did not stir from his
chair.

"This letter came to you--when did you say, Mr. Mallowe?"

"When Pennington Lawton and his daughter were at The Breakers at Long
Bay, about two years ago last August, as nearly as I can remember."

"If you still had the envelope, we could obtain the exact date from
the postmark," Ramon suggested significantly. "The letter I see is
only headed 'Saturday.'"

"Yes, it is unfortunate that I did not keep it," the magnate retorted
a little drily. "It was by the merest, most fortunate chance that the
letter itself came to light. However, I cannot see at this late date
what difference it could possibly make when the letter was mailed,
since it establishes beyond any possibility of doubt the fact that it
_was_ mailed. As to the matter of the negotiation of the loan, I would
prefer that you apply to Mr. Moore himself for the particulars
concerning it. I am sure that he will be quite as glad as I have been
to give you such definite information as he possesses."

This time the dismissal could not be ignored, and Ramon Hamilton took
his departure, but not before he had marked well the particular drawer
within the safe from which the letter had been taken.

As he went down the corridor, a saucy, red-cheeked young woman with
business briskness in her manner came from an inner office and smiled
boldly at him. She was Loretta Murfree, the new filing clerk who had
been installed only that morning in Mr. Mallowe's office.

Had Ramon known her to be the protégée of Anita Lawton and the spy of
Henry Blaine, he might have glanced at her a second time.

The young man proceeded straight to the offices of Charlton Moore,
the banker, and found that an interview was readily granted him.
Mr. Moore remembered the incident of the loan, and his private
accounts showed that it had been made on the sixteenth of August two
years previously.

"Mr. Mallowe arranged the matter with you for Mr. Lawton, did he not?"
Ramon asked.

"Yes, it was a purely confidential affair. Mr. Carlis came with
him to interview me. They did not at first tell me that Mr. Lawton
positively desired the loan, but they made tentative arrangements
asking if I would be in a position to give it to him should he desire
it, and they said they came to me at this early date desiring to make
no definite statement. Mr. Lawton had told them that once before I had
accommodated him by carrying a note confidentially at his request.
Of course I did not care to commit myself, as you can readily
understand, Mr. Hamilton, until I was assured the proposition was
bona fide.

"Mr. Mallowe and Mr. Carlis suggested that I call Mr. Lawton up on the
private wire in his office, but the matter was so delicate that as
long as he had not come to me in person I did not care to telephone
him. Mr. Mallowe showed me a letter which he had recently received
from Pennington Lawton corroborating his statement. But in the matter
of the amount desired we could not definitely distinguish the figures.
Mr. Mallowe was sure that it was three hundred and fifty thousand
dollars. Mr. Carlis was equally certain that it was three hundred and
eighty-five thousand. To make certain of the matter they called Mr.
Lawton up from my office here in my presence, and he stated that the
sum desired was three hundred and fifty thousand dollars. There was
only one odd thing about the entire transaction, and that was a remark
Mr. Mallowe made as he was leaving. After the negotiations had been
completed he turned and said, 'You understand, Mr. Moore, that Mr.
Lawton is so careful, so secretive, that he does not wish this matter
ever mentioned to him personally, even if you think yourself
absolutely alone with him.'"

"Mr. Lawton was a very peculiar man in many ways," Ramon said
meditatively. "His methods of conducting his affairs were not always
easily understood. The negotiations were then completed shortly
thereafter?"

"Yes, within a few days. I turned the amount required over to Mr.
Mallowe and Mr. Carlis, and accepted Mr. Lawton's note. I will show it
to you if you care to see it."

"That will not be necessary, Mr. Moore, but I am going to make a
request that may seem very strange to you. Should it be necessary,
would you be willing to show that note to some one whom I may bring
here to you--some one who may prefer not to see you personally, but
merely to be permitted to examine the note in the presence of some
responsible people of your own choosing?"

"Certainly, Mr. Hamilton. I think I can safely promise that. But what
does it mean--is there anything wrong with Pennington Lawton's note?"

"Not that I am aware of, Mr. Moore," Ramon answered, laughing rather
shortly. "I am unable to explain just now, but I think the name of
Pennington Lawton carries with it a sufficient guarantee that the note
will be honored when it is presented."

An hour later, at the close of the busiest day he had experienced
since his graduation from the law school, young Hamilton presented
himself at Henry Blaine's office. The detective listened in silence to
his story, and at its conclusion remarked quietly: "You did well, Mr.
Hamilton. I am going to call one of my operatives and ask you to
repeat to him in detail the location of that safe in Mallowe's office
and the drawer which contains Mr. Lawton's letter from Long Bay."

"Anyone would think you meant to steal it, Mr. Blaine."

Young Hamilton's laugh was now unrestrained. "There couldn't possibly
be anything wrong with the note or the entire transaction. Mr. Moore
proved that when he told me how Mr. Mallowe and Carlis called up Mr.
Lawton in his presence on his private wire and discussed the
negotiations."

"Are you sure that they did, Mr. Hamilton?" The detective suddenly
leaned forward across his desk, his body tense, his eyes alight with
fervid animation. "Are you sure Pennington Lawton ever received that
message?"

"He must have. According to Mr. Moore, the two men used Mr. Lawton's
private wire, the number of which was known only to a few of his
closest intimates and which of course was not listed."

"But some one who knew that the telephone message was coming might
readily have been in Lawton's office seated at his desk, alone, and
replied to it in the financier's name. Do you understand, Mr.
Hamilton? The note may be a forgery, the letter may be a forgery; that
we shall soon know. If it is, and the money so obtained from Moore has
been converted to the use of the three confederates whom we suspect to
have formed a conspiracy to ruin Miss Lawton, then her father's entire
fortune might have been seized upon in virtually the same way."

Henry Blaine rose and paced back and forth as if almost oblivious of
the other's presence. "The mortgage of his was forged--we have proved
that," he continued. "Why, then, should not every other available
security have been stolen in practically the same way?" he continued.

"But how would anyone dare? The whole thing is too bare-faced," Ramon
expostulated. "A man like Mr. Moore could not have been imposed upon
by a mere forgery."

"But if that note proves to be a forgery, Mr. Hamilton, and the
letter as well--we shall have picked up a tangible clue at last. I
think I am beginning to see daylight."

Late that night in the huge suite of offices of President Mallowe of
the Street Railways, a very curious scene took place. The stolid
watchman who had been on uneventful duty there for twenty years had
made his rounds for the last time. With superb nonchalance, he settled
himself for his accustomed nap in his employer's chair. From the
stillness and gloom of the semi-deserted office-building two stealthy
figures descended swiftly upon him, their feet sinking noiselessly
into the rich pile of the rugs. A short, silent struggle, a cloth
saturated with chloroform pressed heavily over his face, and the
guardian of the premises lay inert. The shorter, more stocky of the
two nocturnal visitors, without more ado switched on a pocket electric
light and made a hasty but thorough survey of the room. The taller one
shrank back inadvertently from the drug-stilled body in the chair,
then resolutely turned and knelt beside his companion before the safe.
He dreaded to think of what discovery might mean. If he, Ramon
Hamilton, were to be caught in the act of burglarizing, his career as
a rising young lawyer would be at an end. The risk indeed was great,
but he had promised Henry Blaine every aid in his power to help the
girl he loved.

After a minute examination, the operative proceeded to work upon the
massive safe door. With the cunning of a _Jimmy Valentine_ he
manipulated the tumblers. Ramon Hamilton, his discomfiture forgotten,
watched with breathless interest while the keen, sensitive fingers
performed their task. Soon the great doors swung noiselessly back and
the manifold compartments within were revealed.

The young lawyer pointed out the drawer from which he had seen
President Mallowe remove the letter that morning, and it, too, yielded
quickly to the master-touch of the expert. There, on the very top of a
pile of papers, lay the written page they sought.

"He'll be all right. We haven't done for him, have we?" Ramon Hamilton
whispered anxiously, pointing to the watchman's unconscious form, as,
their mission accomplished, they stole from the room.

"Surest thing you know. He'll come to in half an hour, none the
worse," the operative responded. "We made a good clean job of it."

Henry Blaine could hardly suppress his elation when they laid the
letter before him on their return to his office.

"It's a forgery, just as I suspected," he exclaimed, with supreme
satisfaction. "Look, Hamilton; I'll show you how it was done."

"It is incredible. I can scarcely believe it. I know Pennington
Lawton's handwriting as well as I know my own, and I could swear that
his fingers guided the pen. His writing was as distinctive as his
character."

"It's that very fact," the detective returned, "which would have made
it easier to copy; but, as it happens, you are partially right. This
was not a forgery in the ordinary sense. Those are Pennington Lawton's
own words before you, in his own handwriting."

"Then how--" the young lawyer inquired, in a bewildered tone.

Henry Blaine smiled.

"You do not intend to specialize in criminal law, do you, Mr.
Hamilton?" he remarked whimsically. "If you do, you will have to be
up in the latest tricks of the trade. The man who forged this
letter--the same man, by the way, forged the signature on that
mortgage--accomplished it like this: He took a bundle of Mr. Lawton's
old letters, cut out the actual words he desired, and pasted 'em
in their proper order on the letter paper. Then he photographed this
composite, and electrotyped it--that is, transferred it to a
copperplate, and etched it. Then he re-photographed it, and in
this way got an actual photograph of a supposedly authentic
communication. There is only one man in this country who is capable
of such perfect work. I know who that man is and where to find him."

"Then if you can locate him before he skips, and make him talk, you
will have won the victory," Ramon exclaimed, jubilantly.

But the detective shook his head.

"The time is not yet ripe for that. The man is, in my estimation, a
mere tool in the hands of the men higher up. He may not be able to
give us any actual proof against them, and our exposure of him will
only tip them off--put 'em on their guard. We needn't show our hand
just yet."

"What's the next move to be, then?" the young lawyer asked. "I don't
mean, of course, that I wish to inquire into your methods of handling
the case--but have you any further commissions for me?"

"Only to accompany me to-morrow morning to the office of Charlton
Moore and let me examine that note which Mr. Lawton presumably gave
two years ago. Afterward, I have four little amateur detectives of
mine to interview--then I think we'll be able to proceed straight to
our goal."

The note also, as Henry Blaine had predicted, proved to be a forgery
and to have been executed by the same hand as the letter.

[Illustration: With the cunning of a Jimmy Valentine he manipulated the
tumblers. Ramon Hamilton, his discomfiture forgotten, watched with
breathless interest.]

The detective betrayed to the unsuspecting banker no sign of his
elation at the discovery, but following their interview he returned to
his office and sent for the four young girls whom he had taken from
the Anita Lawton Club and installed in the offices of the men he
suspected.

The first to respond was Margaret Hefferman, who had been sent as
stenographer to Rockamore, the promoter.

"You followed my instructions, Miss Hefferman," asked Blaine. "You
kept a list for me of Mr. Rockamore's visitors?"

"Yes, sir. I have it here in my bag. I also brought carbon copies of
two letters which Mr. Rockamore dictated and which I thought might
have some bearing on the matter in which you are interested--although
I could not quite understand them myself."

"Let me see them, please."

Blaine took the documents and list of names, scanning them quickly and
sharply with a practised eye. The names were those of the biggest men
in the city--bankers, brokers, financiers and promoters. Among them,
that of President Mallowe and Timothy Carlis appeared frequently. At
only one did Henry Blaine pause--at that of Mark Paddington. He had
known the man as an employee of a somewhat shady private detective
agency several years before and had heard that he had later been
connected in some capacity with the city police, but had never come
into actual contact with him.

What business could a detective of his caliber have to do with
Bertrand Rockamore?

The letters were short and cryptic in their meaning, and significant
only when connected with those to whom they were addressed. The first
was to Timothy Carlis; it read:

    Your communication received. We must proceed with the utmost
    care in this matter. Keep me advised of any further
    contingencies which may arise. P. should know or be able to
    find out. The affair is to his interests as much as ours.

                                                           B. R.

The second was addressed to Paddington:

    Have learned from C. that your assistants are under espionage.
    What does it mean? Learn all particulars at once and advise.

                                                              R.

"You have done well, Miss Hefferman," said Blaine as he looked up from
the last of the letters. "I will keep these carbon copies and the
list. Let me know how often Mr. Mallowe and Timothy Carlis call, and
try particularly to overhear as much as possible of the man
Paddington's conversation when he appears."

When the young stenographer had departed, Fifine Déchaussée
appeared. She was the governess who had been sent to the home of
Doctor Franklin, ostensibly to care for his children, but in reality
to find, if possible, what connection existed between Carlis,
Mallowe, Rockamore and himself. The young Frenchwoman's report was
disappointingly lacking in any definite result--save one fact. The
man Paddington had called twice upon the minister, remaining the
second time closeted with him in his study for more than an hour.
Later, he had intercepted her when she was out with the children in
the park; but she had eluded his attentions.

"I wish you hadn't done so. If he makes any further attempt to talk
with you, Mademoiselle Déchaussée, encourage him, draw him out. If he
tries to question you about yourself and where you came from, don't
mention the Anita Lawton Club, but remember his questions carefully
and come and tell me."

"Certainly, m'sieur, I shall remember."

Agnes Olson and Laurette Murfree, the switchboard operator to Carlis
and filing clerk to Mallowe, respectively, added practically the same
information as had the two preceding girls. Mark Paddington, the
detective, had been in frequent communication with each of their
employers. When the young women had concluded their reports and
gone, Blaine telephoned at once to Guy Morrow, his right-hand
operative, and instructed him to watch for Paddington's appearance
in the neighborhood of the little house in the Bronx, where they had
located Brunell, the one-time forger.



CHAPTER VIII

GUY MORROW FACES A PROBLEM


Morrow, meanwhile, had slowly become aware that he had a problem of
his own to face, the biggest of his life. Should he go on with his
work? In the event that James Brunell proved, indeed, to be guilty of
the forgeries of which he was suspected by the Master Mind, it would
mean that he, Morrow, would have betrayed the father of the girl he
felt himself beginning to care for. Dared he face such a tremendous
issue?

His acquaintance with Emily Brunell had progressed rapidly in the few
days since his subterfuge had permitted him to speak to her. He had
met her father and found himself liking the tall, silent man who went
about the simple affairs of his life with such compelling dignity and
courteous aloofness. Brunell had even invited him to his little shop
and shown him with unsuspecting enthusiasm his process for making the
maps which were sold to the public schools.

Morrow had seen no evidence of anything wrong, either in the little
shop or the home life of the father and daughter; nor had he observed
Paddington--who was well known to him--in the neighborhood.

Even in these few mornings it had become a habit with him to watch for
Emily and walk with her to her subway station, and as frequently as he
dared, he would await her arrival in the evening. After his last
telephone conversation with Blaine, he called upon the two in the
little house across the way, determined to find out, if possible, if
the man Paddington had come into their lives. He felt instinctively
that James Brunell would prove a difficult subject to cross-examine.
The man seemed to be complete master of himself, and were he guilty,
could never be led into an admission, unless some influence more
powerful than force could be brought to bear upon him.

But the girl, with her clear eyes and unsuspecting, inexperienced
mind, could easily be led to disclose whatever knowledge she
possessed, particularly if her interest or affections were aroused. It
seemed cowardly, in view of his newly awakened feelings toward her,
but he had committed far more unscrupulous acts without a qualm, in
the course of his professional work.

Brunell was out when he called, but Emily led him into the little
sitting-room, and for a time they talked in a desultory fashion.
Morrow, who had brought so many malefactors to justice by the winning
snare of his personality, felt for once at a loss as to how to
commence his questioning.

But the girl herself, guilelessly, gave him a lead by beginning, quite
of her own accord, to talk of her early life.

"It seems so strange," she remarked, confidingly, "to have been so
completely alone all of my life--except for Daddy, of course."

"You have no brothers or sisters, Miss Brunell?" asked the detective.

"None--and I never knew my mother. She died when I was born."

Morrow sighed, and involuntarily his hand reached forward in an
expression of complete sympathy.

"Daddy has been mother and father to me," the girl went on
impulsively. "We have always lived in this neighborhood, ever since I
can remember, and of course we know everyone around here. But with my
downtown position and Father's work in the shop, we've had no time to
make real friends and we haven't even cared to--before."

"Before when?" he asked with a kindly intonation not at all in keeping
with the purpose which had actuated him in seeking her friendship.

"Before you brought my kitten back to me." She paused, suddenly
confused and shy, then added hurriedly, "We have so few guests, you
know. Daddy, somehow, doesn't care for people--as a rule, that is. I'm
awfully glad that he has made an exception with you."

"But surely you have other friends--for instance, that young fellow
I've noticed now and again when he called upon you."

Morrow's thoughts had suddenly turned to that unknown visitor toward
whom he had taken such an unaccountable dislike.

"Young fellow--what young fellow?" Emily Brunell's voice had changed,
slightly, and a reserved little note intruded itself which reminded
Morrow all at once of her father.

"I don't know who he is--I'm such a newcomer in the neighborhood, you
know; but I happened to see him from my window across the way--a
short, dapper-looking young chap with a small, dark mustache."

"Oh! _that_ man." Her lip curled disdainfully. "That's Charley
Pennold. He's no friend of mine. He just comes to see Father now and
again on business. I don't bother to talk to him. I don't think Daddy
likes him very much, either."

She caught her breath in sharply as she spoke, and looked away from
Morrow in sudden reserve. He felt a quick start of suspicion, and
searched her averted face with a keen, penetrating glance.

If this Charley Pennold, whoever he might be, wished to see James
Brunell on legitimate business, why did he not go to his shop openly
and above-board in the day-time? Could he be an emissary from some one
whom the old forger had reason to evade? If he were, did Emily know
for what purpose he came, and was she annoyed at her own error in
involuntarily disclosing his name?

"He is a map-maker, too?" leaped from Morrow's lips.

"He is interested in maps--he gives Daddy large orders for them, I
believe."

Emily spoke too hurriedly, and her tones lacked the ring of sincerity
which was habitual with them.

The trained ear of the detective instantly sensed the difference, and
his heart sank.

So she had lied to him deliberately, and her womanly instinct told her
that he knew it.

She began to talk confusedly of trivialities; and Morrow, seeing that
it would be hopeless to attempt to draw her back to her unguarded
mood, left her soon after--heartsick and dejected.

Should he continue with his investigations, or go to Henry Blaine and
confess that he had failed him? Was this girl, charming and innocent
as she appeared, worth the price of his career--this girl with the
blood of criminals in her veins, who would stoop to lies and deceit to
protect them? Yet had not he been seeking deliberately to betray her
and those she loved, under the guise of friendship? Was he any better
than she or her father?

Then, too, another thought came to him. Might she not be the tool,
consciously or unconsciously, of a nefarious plot?

He felt that he could not rest until he had brought his investigations
to a conclusion which would be satisfactory to himself, even if he
decided in the end, for her sake, never to divulge to Henry Blaine the
discoveries he might make.

A few days later, however, Morrow received instructions from Blaine
himself, which forced his hand. The time had come for him to use the
skeleton-key which he had had made. He must proceed that night to
investigate the little shop of the map-maker and look there for
the evidence which would incriminate him--the photographic and
electrotyping apparatus.

Early in the evening he heard Emily's soft voice as she called across
the street in pleasant greeting to Miss Quinlan, but he could not
bring himself to go out upon the little porch and speak to her,
although he did not doubt his welcome.

He waited until all was dark and still before he started upon his
distasteful errand. It was very cold, and the streets were deserted. A
fine dry snow was falling, which obliterated his footprints almost as
soon as he made them, and he reached the now familiar door of the
little shop without meeting a soul abroad save a lonely policeman
dozing in a doorway. He let himself into the shop with his key and
flashed his pocket lamp about. All appeared the same as in the
day-time. The maps were rolled in neat cases or fastened upon the
wall. The table, the press, the binder were each in their proper
place.

Morrow went carefully over every inch of the room and the curtained
recess back of it, but could find no evidence such as he sought. At
length, however, just before the little desk in the corner where James
Brunell kept his modest accounts, the detective's foot touched a metal
ring in the floor. Stepping back from it, he seized the ring and
pulled it. A small square section of the flooring yielded, and the
raising of the narrow trap-door disclosed a worn, sanded stone
stairway leading down into the cellar beneath.

Blaine's operative listened carefully but no sound came from the
depths below him; so after a time, with his light carefully shielded,
he essayed a gingerly descent. On the bottom step he paused. There was
small need for him to go further. He had found what he sought. Emily
Brunell's father was a forger indeed!



CHAPTER IX

GONE!


Guy Morrow, after a sleepless night, presented himself at Henry
Blaine's office the next morning. The great detective, observing his
young subordinate with shrewd, kindly eyes, noted in one swift glance
his changed demeanor: his pallor, and the new lines graven about the
firm mouth, which added strength and maturity to his face. If he
guessed the reason for the metamorphosis, Blaine gave no sign, but
listened without comment until Morrow had completed his report.

"You obeyed my instructions?" he asked at length. "When you discovered
the forgery outfit in the cellar of Brunell's shop, you left
everything just as it had been--left no possible trace of your
presence?"

"Yes, sir. There's not a sign left to show any one had disturbed the
place. I am sure of that."

"Not a foot-print in the earth of the cellar steps?"

"No, sir."

"And the outfit--was there any evidence it had been used lately?"

"No--everything was dust-covered, and even rusty, as if it had not
even been touched in months, perhaps years. The whole thing might be
merely a relic of Jimmy Brunell's past performances, in the life he
gave up long ago."

Morrow spoke almost eagerly, as if momentarily off his guard, but
Blaine shook his head.

"Rather too dangerous a relic to keep in one's possession, Guy, simply
as a souvenir--a reminder of things the man is trying to forget, to
live down. You can depend on it: the outfit was there for some more
practical purpose. You say Paddington has not appeared in the
neighborhood, but another man has--a man Brunell's daughter seems to
dislike and fear?"

"Yes, sir. There's one significant fact about him, too--his name. He's
Charley Pennold. It didn't occur to me for some time after Miss
Brunell let that slip, that the name is the same as that of the
precious pair of old crooks over in Brooklyn, the ones Suraci and I
traced Brunell by."

"Charley Pennold!" Blaine repeated thoughtfully. "I hadn't thought of
him. He's old Walter Pennold's nephew. The boy was running straight
the last I heard of him, but you never can tell. Guy, I'm going to
take you off the Brunell trail for a while, and put you on this man
Paddington. I'll have Suraci look up Charley Pennold and get a line on
him. In the meantime, leave your key to the map-making shop with me. I
may want to have a look at that forgery outfit myself."

"You're going to take me off the Brunell trail!" Morrow's astonishment
and obvious distaste for the change of program confronting him was
all-revealing. "But I'll have to go back and make some sort of
explanation for leaving so abruptly, won't I? Will it pay to arouse
their suspicions--that is, sir, unless you've got some special reason
for doing so?"

Blaine's slow smile was very kindly and sympathetic as he eyed the
anxious young man before him.

"No. You will go back, of course, and explain that you have obtained
a clerkship which necessitates your moving downtown. Make your peace
with Miss Brunell if you like, but remember, Guy, don't mix sentiment
and business. It won't do. I may have to put you back on the job there
in a few days, and I know I can depend on you not to lose your head.
She's a young girl and a pretty one; but don't forget she's the
daughter of Jimmy Brunell, the man we're trying to get! Pennington
Lawton had a daughter, too; remember that--and she's been defrauded of
everything in the world but her lover and her faith in her father's
memory." His voice had gradually grown deeper and more stern, and he
added in brisk, businesslike tones, far removed from the personal
element. "Now get back to the Bronx. Come to me to-morrow morning, and
I'll have the data in the Paddington matter ready for you."

The young detective had scarcely taken his departure, when Ramon
Hamilton appeared. He was in some excitement, and glanced nervously
behind him as he entered, as if almost in fear of possible pursuit.

"Mr. Blaine," he began, "I'm confident that we're suspected. Here's a
note that came to me from President Mallowe this morning. He asks if I
inadvertently carried away with me that letter of Pennington Lawton's
written from Long Bay two years ago, in which I had shown such an
interest during our interview the other day. He has been unable to
find it since my departure. That's a rather broad hint, it seems to
me."

"I should not consider it as such," the detective responded. "Guilty
conscience, Mr. Hamilton!"

"That's not all!" the young lawyer went on. "He says that a curious
burglary was committed at his offices the night after my interview
with him--his watchman was chloroformed, and the safe in his private
office opened and rifled, yet nothing was taken, with the possible
exception of that letter. Mallowe asks me, openly, if I knew of an
ulterior motive which any one might have possessed in acquiring it,
and even remarks that he is thinking of putting you, Mr. Blaine, on
the mysterious attempt at robbery. That would be a joke, wouldn't it,
if it wasn't really, in my estimation at least, a covert threat. Why
should he, Mallowe, take me into his confidence about an affair which
took place in his private office? He did not make the excuse of
pretending to retain me as his attorney. I think he was merely warning
me that he was suspicious of me."

"Probably a mere coincidence," Blaine observed easily.

"I wonder if you'll think so when I tell you that twice since
yesterday my life has been attempted." Ramon spoke quietly enough, but
there was a slight trembling in his tones.

"What!" Blaine started forward in his chair, then sank back with an
incredulous smile, which none but he could have known was forced.
"Surely you imagine it, Mr. Hamilton. Since your automobile accident,
when you were run down and so nearly killed on the evening you sent
for me to undertake Miss Lawton's case, you may well be nervous."

As he spoke he glanced at the other's broken arm, which was still
swathed in bandages.

"But these were no accidents, Mr. Blaine, and I have always doubted
that the first one was, as you know. Yesterday afternoon, a new
client's case called me down to the sixth ward, at four o'clock. In
order to reach my client's address it was necessary to pass through
the street in which that shooting affray occurred which filled the
papers last evening. Two men darted out of a house, shot presumably
at each other, then turned and ran in opposite directions without
waiting to see if either of the shots took effect. You know that isn't
usual with the members of rival gangs down there. Remember, too, Mr.
Blaine, that it was prearranged for me to walk alone through that
street at just that psychological moment. It seemed to me that neither
man shot at the other, but both fired point-blank at me. I dismissed
the idea from my mind as absurd, the next minute, and would have
thought no more about it, beyond congratulating myself on my fortunate
escape, had not the second attempt been made."

"The sixth ward--" Blaine remarked, meditatively. "That's Timothy
Carlis' stamping ground, of course. But go on, Mr. Hamilton. What was
the second incident?"

"Late last night, I had a telephone message from my club that my best
friend, Gordon Brooke, had been taken suddenly ill with a serious
attack of heart-trouble, and wanted me. Brooke has heart-disease and
he might go off with it at any time, so I posted over immediately. The
club is only a few blocks away from my home, so I didn't wait to call
my machine or a taxi, but started over. Just a little way from the
club, three men sprang upon me and attempted to hold me up. I fought
them off, and when they came at me again, three to one, the idea
flashed upon me that this was a fresh attempt to assassinate me.

"I shouted for help, and then ran. When I reached the club I found
Brooke there, sitting in a poker game and quite as well as usual. No
telephone message had been sent to me from him. I tried this morning,
before I came to you, to have the number traced, but without success.
Do you blame me now, Mr. Blaine, for believing, after these three
manifestations, that my life is in actual danger?"

"I do not." The detective touched an electric button on his desk. "I
think it will be advisable for you to have a guard, for the next few
days, at least."

"A guard!" Ramon repeated, indignantly. "I'm not a coward. Any man
would be disturbed, to put it mildly, over the conviction that his
life was threatened every hour, but it was of her I was thinking--of
Anita! I could not bear to think of leaving her alone to face the
world, penniless and hedged in on all sides by enemies. But I want no
guard! I can take care of myself as well as the next man. Look at the
perils and dangers you have faced in your unceasing warfare against
malefactors of every grade. It is common knowledge that you have
invariably refused to be guarded."

"The years during which I have been constantly face to face with
sudden death have made me disregard the possibility of it. But I shall
not insist in your case, Mr. Hamilton, if you do not wish it; and
allow me to tell you that I admire your spirit. However, I should like
to have you leave town for a few days, if your clients can spare
you."

"Leave town? Run away?" Ramon started indignantly from his chair, but
Blaine waved him back with a fatherly hand.

"Not at all. On a commission for me, in Miss Lawton's interests. Mr.
Hamilton, you have known the Lawtons for several years, have you
not?"

"Ever since I can remember," the young lawyer said with renewed
eagerness.

"Two years ago, in August, Pennington Lawton and his daughter were at
'The Breakers,' at Long Bay, were they not?"

"Yes. Anita and I were engaged then, and I ran out myself for the
week-end."

"I want you to run out there for me now. The hotel will be closed at
this time of year, of course, but a letter which I will give you to
the proprietor, who lives close at hand, will enable you to look over
the register for an hour or two in private. Turn to the arrivals for
August of that year, and trace the names and home addresses on each
page; then bring it back to me."

"Is it something in connection with that forged letter to Mallowe?"
asked Ramon quickly.

"Perhaps," the detective admitted. He shrugged, then added leniently,
"I think, before proceeding any further with that branch of the
investigation, it would be well to know who obtained the notepaper
with the hotel letterhead, and if the paper itself was genuine. Bring
me back some of the hotel stationery, also, that I may compare it with
that used for the letter."

A discreet knock upon the door heralded the coming of an operative, in
response to Blaine's touch upon the bell.

"There has been a slight disturbance in the outer office, sir," he
announced. "A man, who appears to be demented, insists upon seeing
you. He isn't one of the ordinary cranks, or we would have dealt with
him ourselves. He says that if you will read this, you will be glad to
assent to an interview with him."

He presented a card, which Blaine read with every manifestation of
surprised interest.

"Tell him I will see him in five minutes," he said. When the operative
had withdrawn, the detective turned to Ramon.

"Who do you think is waiting outside? The man who threatened
Pennington Lawton's life ten years ago, the man whose name was
mentioned by the unknown visitor to the library on the night Lawton
met his death: Herbert Armstrong!"

"Good heavens!" Ramon exclaimed. "What brings him here now? I thought
he had disappeared utterly. Do you think it could have been he in the
library that night, come to take revenge for that fancied wrong, at
last?"

"That is what I'm going to find out," the detective responded, with a
touch of grimness in his tones.

"But you don't mean--it isn't possible that Mr. Lawton was murdered!
That he didn't die of heart-disease, after all!"

"I traced Armstrong to the town where he was living in obscurity, and
followed his movements." Blaine's reply seemed to be purposely
irrelevant. "I could not, however, find where he had been on the night
of Mr. Lawton's death. Now that he has come to me voluntarily, we
shall discover if the voice Miss Lawton overheard in that moment when
she listened on the stairs, was his or not.... Come back this
afternoon, Mr. Hamilton, and I will give you full information and
instructions about that Long Bay errand. In the meantime, guard
yourself well from a possible attack, although I do not think another
attempt upon your life will be made so soon. Take this, and if you
have need of it, do not hesitate to use it. We can afford no
half-measures now. Shoot, and shoot to kill!"

He opened a lower drawer in his massive desk and, drawing from it a
business-like looking revolver of large caliber, presented it to the
lawyer. With a warm hand-clasp he dismissed him, and, going to the
telephone, called up Anita Lawton's home.

"I want you to attend carefully, Miss Lawton. I am speaking from my
office. A man will be here with me in a few minutes, and I shall seat
him close to the transmitter of my 'phone, leaving the receiver off
the hook. Please listen carefully to his voice. I only wish you to
hear a phrase or two, when I will hang up the receiver, and call you
up later. Try to concentrate with all your powers, and tell me
afterward if you have ever heard that voice until now; if it is the
voice of the man you did not see, who was in the library with your
father just before he died."

He heard her give a quick gasp, and then her voice came to him, low
and sweet and steady.

"I will listen carefully, Mr. Blaine, and do my best to tell you the
truth."

The detective pulled a large leather chair close to the telephone, and
Herbert Armstrong was ushered in.

The man was pitiful in appearance, but scarcely demented, as the
operative had described him. He was tall and shabbily clothed, gaunt
almost to the point of emaciation, but with no sign of dissipation.
His eyes, though sunken, were clear, and they gazed levelly with those
of the detective.

"Come in, Mr. Armstrong." Blaine waved genially toward the arm-chair.
"What can I do for you?"

The man did not offer to shake hands, but sank wearily into the chair
assigned him.

"Do? You can stop hounding me, Henry Blaine! You and Pennington Lawton
brought my tragedy upon me as surely as I brought it upon myself, and
now you will not leave me alone with my grief and ruin, to drag my
miserable life out to the end, but you or your men must dog my every
foot-step, spy upon me, hunt me down like a pack of wolves! And why?
Why?"

The man's voice had run its gamut, in the emotion which consumed him,
and from a menacing growl of protest, it had risen to a shrill wail of
weakness and despair.

Henry Blaine was satisfied.

"Excuse me, Mr. Armstrong," he said gently. "The receiver is off my
telephone, here at your elbow. It would be unfortunate if we were
overheard. If you will allow me--"

But he got no further. Quick as he was, the other man was quicker. He
sprang up furiously, and dashed the telephone off the desk.

"Is this another of your d--d tricks?" he shouted. "If it is, whoever
was listening may hear the rest. You and Pennington Lawton between
you, drove my wife to suicide, but you'll not drive _me_ there! I'm
ruined, and broken, and hopeless, but I'll live on, live till I'm
even, do you hear? Live till I'm square with the game!"

His violence died out as swiftly as it had arisen, and he sank down in
the chair, his face buried in his bony hands, his thin shoulders
shaken with sobs.

Blaine quietly replaced the telephone and receiver, and seated
himself.

"Come, man, pull yourself together!" he said, not unkindly. "I'm not
hounding you; Lawton never harmed you, and now he is dead. He was my
client and I was bound to protect his interests, but as man to man,
the fault was yours and you know it. I tried to keep you from making a
fool of yourself and wrecking three lives, but I only succeeded in
saving one."

"But your men are hounding me, following me, shadowing me! I have come
to find out why!"

"And I would like to find out where you were on a certain night last
month--the ninth, to be exact," responded Blaine quietly.

"What affair is it of yours?" the other man asked wearily, adding:
"How should I know, now? One night is like another, to me."

"If you hate Pennington Lawton's memory as you seem to, the ninth of
November should stand out in your thoughts in letters of fire," the
detective went on, in even, quiet tone. "That was the night on which
Lawton died."

"Lawton?" Herbert Armstrong raised his haggard face. The meaning of
Blaine's remark utterly failed to pierce his consciousness. "The date
doesn't mean anything to me, but I remember the night, if that's what
you want to know about, although I'm hanged if I can see what it's got
to do with me! I'll never forget that night, because of the news which
reached me in the morning, that my worst enemy on earth had passed
away."

"Were you in Illington the evening before?" asked Blaine.

"I was not. I was in New Harbor, where I live, playing pinochle all
night long with two other down-and-outs like myself, in a cheap hall
bed-room--I, Herbert Armstrong, who used to play for thousands a game,
in the best clubs in Illington! And I never knew that the man who had
brought me to that pass was gasping his life away! Think of it! We
played until dawn, when the extras, cried in the street below, gave us
the news!"

"If you will give me the address of this boarding-house you mention,
and the names of your two friends, I can promise that you will be
under no further espionage, Mr. Armstrong."

"I don't care whether you know it or not, if that's all you want!" The
gaunt man shrugged wearily. "I'm tired of being hounded, and I'm too
weak and too tired to oppose you, even if it did matter."

He gave the required names and addresses, and slouched away, his
animosity gone, and only a dull, miserable lethargy sagging upon his
worn body.

When the outer door of the offices had closed upon him, Henry Blaine
again called up Anita Lawton. This time her voice came to him
sharpened by acute distress.

"I did not recognize the tones of the person's voice, Mr. Blaine, only
I am quite, quite sure that he was not the man in the library with my
father the night of his death. But oh, what did he mean by the
terrible things he said? It could not be that my father brought ruin
and tragedy upon any one, much less drove them to suicide. Won't you
tell me, Mr. Blaine? Ramon won't, although I am convinced he knows all
about it. I must know."

"You shall, Miss Lawton. I think the time has come when you should no
longer be left in the dark. I will tell Mr. Hamilton when he comes to
me this afternoon for the interview we have arranged that you must
know the whole story."

But Ramon Hamilton failed to appear for the promised interview. Henry
Blaine called up his office and his home, but was unable to locate
him. Then Miss Lawton began making anxious inquiries, and finally the
mother of the young lawyer appealed to the detective, but in vain.
Late that night the truth was established beyond peradventure of a
doubt. Ramon Hamilton had disappeared as if the earth had opened and
engulfed him.



CHAPTER X

MARGARET HEFFERMAN'S FAILURE


The disappearance of Ramon Hamilton, coming so soon after the sudden
death of his prospective father-in-law, caused a profound sensation.
In the small hours of the night, before the press had been apprised of
the event and when every probable or possible place where the young
lawyer might be had been communicated with in vain, Henry Blaine set
the perfect machinery of his forces at work to trace him.

It was dawn before he could spare a precious moment to go to Anita
Lawton. On his arrival he found her pacing the floor, wringing her
slim hands in anguish.

"He is dead." She spoke with the dull hopelessness of utter
conviction. "I shall never see him again. I feel it! I know it!"

"My dear child!" Blaine put his hands upon her shoulders in fatherly
compassion. "You must put all such morbid fancies from your mind. He
is not dead and we shall find him. It may be all a mistake--perhaps
some important matter concerning a client made it necessary for him to
leave the city over night."

She shook her head despairingly.

"No, Mr. Blaine. You know as well as I that Ramon is just starting in
his profession. He has no clients of any prominence, and my father's
influence was really all that his rising reputation was being built
upon. Besides, nothing but a serious accident or--or death would keep
him from me!"

"If he had met with any accident his identity would have been
discovered and we would be notified, unless, as in the case when he
was run down by that motor-car, he did not wish them to let you know
for fear of worrying you."

Blaine watched the young girl narrowly as he spoke. Was she aware of
the two additional attempts only the day before on the life of the man
she loved?

"He merely followed a dear, unselfish impulse because he knew that in
a few hours at most he would be with me; but now it is morning! The
dawn of a new day, and no word from him! Those terrible people who
tried to kill him that other time to keep him from coming to me in my
trouble have made away with him. I am sure of it now."

The detective breathed more freely. Evidently Ramon Hamilton had had
the good sense to keep from her his recent danger.

"You can be sure of nothing, Miss Lawton, save the fact that Mr.
Hamilton is _not_ dead," Henry Blaine said earnestly. "You do not
realize, perhaps, the one salient fact that criminal experts who deal
with cases of disappearance have long since recognized--the most
difficult of all things to conceal or do away with in a large city is
a dead body."

Anita shivered and clasped her hands convulsively, but she did not
speak, and after a scarcely perceptible pause, the detective went on:

"You must not let your mind dwell on the possibilities; it will only
entail useless, needless suffering on your part. My experiences have
been many and varied in just such cases as this, and in not one in
fifty does serious harm come to the subject of the investigation. In
fact, in this instance, I think it quite probable that Mr. Hamilton
has left the city of his own accord, and in your interests."

"In my interests?" Anita repeated, roused from her lethargy of sorrow
by his words, as he had intended that she should be. "Left the city?
But why?"

"When he called upon me yesterday morning I told him of a commission
which I wished him to execute for me in connection with your
investigation. I gave him some preliminary instructions and he was to
return to me in the afternoon for a letter of introduction and to
learn some minor details of the matter involved. He did not appear at
the hour of our appointment and I concluded that he had taken the
affair into his own hands and had gone immediately upon leaving my
office to fulfill his mission."

"Oh, perhaps he did!" The young girl started from her chair, her dull,
tearless eyes suddenly bright with hope. "That would be like Ramon; he
is so impulsive, so anxious to help me in every way! Where did you
send him, Mr. Blaine? Can't we telephone, or wire and find out if he
really has gone to this place? Please, please do! I cannot endure this
agony of uncertainty, of suspense, much longer!"

"Unfortunately, we cannot do that!" Blaine responded, gravely. "To
attempt to communicate with him where I have sent him would be to show
our hand irretrievably to the men we are fighting and undo much of the
work which has been accomplished. He may communicate with you or
possibly with me, if he finds that he can contrive to accomplish it
safely."

"Safely? Then if he has gone to this place, wherever it is, he is in
danger?" Anita faltered, tremblingly.

"By no means. The only danger is that his identity and purpose may be
disclosed and our plans jeopardized," the detective reassured her
smoothly. "I know it is hard to wait for news, but one must school
oneself to patience under circumstances such as this. It may be
several days before you hear from Mr. Hamilton and you must try not to
distress yourself with idle fears in the meantime."

"But it is not certain--we have no assurance that he really did go
upon that mission." The light of hope died in her eyes as she spoke,
and a little sob rose in her throat. "Oh, Mr. Blaine, promise me that
you will leave no stone unturned to find him!"

"My dear child, you must trust in me and have faith in my long years
of experience. I have already, as a precautionary measure, started a
thorough investigation into Mr. Hamilton's movements yesterday, and in
the event that he has not gone on the errand I spoke of, it can only
be a question of hours before he will be located. You did not see him
yesterday?"

"No. He promised to lunch with me, but he never came nor did he
telephone or send me any word. Surely, if he had meant to leave town
he would have let me know!"

"Not necessarily, Miss Lawton." Blaine's voice deepened persuasively.
"He was very much excited when he left my office, interested heart and
soul in the mission I had entrusted to him. Remember, too, that it was
all for you, for your sake alone."

"And I may not know where he has gone?" Anita asked, wistfully.

"I think, perhaps, that is why Mr. Hamilton did not communicate with
you before leaving town," the detective replied, significantly. "He
agreed with me that it would be best for you not to know, in your own
interests, where he was going. You must try to believe that I am
doing all in my power to help you, and that my judgment is in such
matters better than yours."

"I do, Mr. Blaine. Indeed I do trust you absolutely; you must believe
that." She reached out an impulsive hand toward him, and his own
closed over it paternally for a moment. Then he gently released it.

Anita sighed and sank back resignedly in her chair. There was a
moment's pause before she added:

"It is hard to be quiescent when one is so hedged in on all sides by
falsehood and deceit and the very air breathes conspiracy and
intrigue. I have no tangible reason to fear for my own life, of
course, but sometimes I cannot help wondering why it has not been
imperiled. Surely it would be easier for my father's enemies to do
away with me altogether than to have conceived and carried out such an
elaborate scheme to rob me and defame my father's memory. But I will
try not to entertain such thoughts. I am nervous and overwrought, but
I will regain my self-control. In the meantime, I shall do my best to
be patient and wait for Ramon's return."

Henry Blaine felt a glow of pardonable elation, but his usually
expressive face did not betray by a single flicker of an eyelash
that he had gained his point. He knew that Ramon Hamilton had never
started on that mission to Long Bay, but if the young girl's
health and reason were to be spared, her anxiety must be allayed.
Courageous and self-controlled as she had been through all the grief
and added trouble which besieged her on every hand, the keen
insight of the detective warned him that she was nearing the
breaking-point. If she fully realized the blow which threatened
her in the sudden disappearance of her lover, together with the
sinister events which had immediately preceded it, she would be
crushed to the earth.

"You must try to rest." Blaine rose and motioned toward the window
through which the cold rays of the wintry sun were stealing and
putting the orange glow of the electric lights to shame. "See. It is
morning and you have had no sleep."

"But you must not go just yet, Mr. Blaine! I cannot rest until I know
who that man was whose voice I heard over your telephone this morning.
What did he mean? He said that his wife committed suicide; that he
himself had been ruined! And all through my father and you! It cannot
be true, of course; but I must know to what he referred!"

"I will tell you. It is best that you should know the truth. Your
father was absolutely innocent in the matter, but his enemies and
yours might find it expedient to spread fake reports which would only
add to your sorrow. You know, you must remember since your earliest
childhood, how every one came to your father with their perplexities
and troubles and how benevolently they were received, how wisely
advised, how generously aided. Not only bankers and financiers in the
throes of a panic, but men and women in all walks of life came to him
for counsel and relief."

"I know. I know!" Anita whispered with bowed head, the quick tears of
tender memory starting in her eyes.

"Such a one who came to him for advice in her distress was the wife of
Herbert Armstrong. She was a good woman, but through sheer ignorance
of evil she had committed a slight indiscretion, nothing more than the
best of women might be led into at any time. We need not go into
details. It is enough to tell you that certain unscrupulous persons
had her in their power and were blackmailing her. She fell their
victim through the terror of being misunderstood, and when she could
no longer accede to their demands she came to your father, her
husband's friend, for advice. Herbert Armstrong was insanely jealous
of his wife, and in your father's efforts to help her he unfortunately
incurred the unjust suspicions of the man. Armstrong brought suit for
divorce, intending to name Mr. Lawton as corespondent."

"Oh, how could he!" Anita cried, indignantly. "The man must have
been mad! My father was the soul of honor. Every one--the whole
world--knows that! Besides, his heart was buried, all that he did
not give to me, deep, deep in the sea where Mother and my little
brother and sister are lying! He never even looked at another
woman, save perhaps in kindness, to help and comfort those who
were in trouble. But when did you come into the case, Mr. Blaine?
That man whose voice I heard to-day must have been Herbert Armstrong
himself, of course. Why did he say that you, as well as my father,
were responsible for his tragedy?"

"Because when Mr. Lawton became aware of Armstrong's ungovernable
jealousy and the terrible length to which he meant to go in his effort
to revenge himself, he--your father--came to me to establish Mrs.
Armstrong's innocence, and his, in the eyes of the world. Armstrong's
case, although totally wrong from every standpoint, was a very strong
one, but fortunately I was able to verify the truth and was fully
prepared to prove it. Just on the eve of the date set for the trial,
however, a tragedy occurred which brought the affair to an abrupt and
pathetic end."

"A tragedy? Mrs. Armstrong's suicide, you mean?" asked Anita, in
hushed tones. "How awful!"

"She was deeply in love with her husband. His unjust accusations and
the public shame he was so undeservedly bringing upon her broke her
heart. I assured her that she would be vindicated, that Armstrong
would be on his knees to her at the trial's end. Your father tried to
infuse her with courage, to gird her for the coming struggle to defend
her own good name, but it was all of no use. She was too broken in
spirit. Life held nothing more for her. On the night before the case
was to have been called, she shot herself."

"Poor thing!" Anita murmured, with a sob running through her soft
voice. "Poor, persecuted woman. Why did she not wait! Knowing her own
innocence and loving her husband as she did, she could have forgiven
him for his cruel suspicion when it was all over! But surely Herbert
Armstrong knows the truth now. How can he blame you and my father for
the wreck which he made of his own life?"

"Because his mind has become unhinged. He was always excitable and
erratic, and his weeks of jealous wrath, culminating in the shock of
the sudden tragedy, and the realization that he had brought it all on
himself, were too much for him. He was a broker and one of the most
prominent financiers in the city, but with the divorce fiasco and the
death of Mrs. Armstrong, he began to brood. He shunned the friends who
were left to him, neglected his business and ultimately failed.
Sinking lower and lower in the scale of things, he finally disappeared
from Illington. You can understand now why I thought it best when you
told me of the conversation you had overheard in the library here a
few hours before your father's death, and of the mention of Herbert
Armstrong's name, to trace him and find out if it was he who had come
in the heart of the night and attempted to blackmail Mr. Lawton."

"I understand. That was why you wanted me to hear his voice yesterday
and see if I recognized it. But it was not at all like that of the man
in the library on the night of my father's death. And do you know, Mr.
Blaine"--she leaned forward and spoke in still lower tones--"when I
recall that voice, it seems to me, sometimes, that I have heard it
before. There was a certain timbre in it which was oddly familiar. It
is as if some one I knew had spoken, but in tones disguised by rage
and passion. I shall recognize that voice when I hear it again, if it
holds that same note; and when I do--"

Blaine darted a swift glance at her from under narrowed brows. "But
why attribute so much importance to it?" he asked. "To be sure, it may
have some bearing upon our investigation, although at present I can
see no connecting link. You feel, perhaps, that the violent emotions
superinduced by that secret interview, added to your father's
heart-trouble, indirectly caused his death?"

Anita again sank back in her chair.

"I don't know, Mr. Blaine. I cannot explain it, even to myself, but I
feel instinctively that that interview was of greater significance
than any one has considered, as yet."

"That we must leave to the future." The detective took her hand, and
this time Anita rose and walked slowly with him toward the door.
"There are matters of greater moment to be investigated now. Remember
my advice. Try to be patient. Yours is the hardest task of all, to sit
idly by and wait for events to shape themselves, or for me to shape
them, but it must be. If you can calm your nerves and obtain a few
hours' sleep you will feel your own brave self again when I report to
you, as I shall do, later to-day."

Despite his night of ceaseless work, Henry Blaine, clear-eyed and
alert of brain, was seated at his desk at the stroke of nine when
Suraci was ushered in--the young detective who had trailed Walter
Pennold from Brooklyn to the quiet backwater where Jimmy Brunell had
sought in vain for disassociation from his past shadowy environment.

"It has become necessary, through an incident which occurred
yesterday, for me to change my plans," Blaine announced. "I had
intended to put you on the trail of a young crook, a relative of
Pennold, but I find I must send you instead to Long Bay to look up a
hotel register for me and obtain some writing paper with the engraved
letter-head from that hotel. You can get a train in an hour, if you
look sharp. Try to get back to-night or to-morrow morning at the
latest. Find out anything you can regarding the visit there two years
ago last August of Pennington Lawton and his daughter and of other
guests who arrived during their stay. Here are your instructions."

Twenty minutes' low-voiced conversation ensued, and Suraci took his
departure. He was followed almost immediately by Guy Morrow.

"What is the dope, sir?" the latter asked eagerly, as he entered.
"There's an extra out about the Hamilton disappearance. Do you think
Paddington's had a hand in that?"

"I want you to tail him," Blaine replied, non-committally. "Find out
anything you can of his movements for the past few weeks, but don't
lose sight of him for a minute until to-morrow morning. He's supposed
to be working up the evidence now for the Snedecker divorce, so it
won't be difficult for you to locate him. You know what he looks
like."

"Yes, sir. I know the man himself--if you call such a little rat a
man. We had a run-in once, and it isn't likely I'd forget him."

"Then be careful to keep out of his sight. He may be a rat, but he's
as keen-eyed as a ferret. I'd rather put some one on him whom he
didn't know, but we'll have to chance it. I wouldn't trust this to
anyone but you, Guy."

The young operative flushed with pride at this tribute from his chief,
and after a few more instructions he went upon his way with alacrity.

Once more alone, Henry Blaine sat for a long time lost in thought. An
idea had come to him, engendered by a few vague words uttered by Anita
Lawton in the early hours of that morning: an idea so startling, so
tremendous in its import, that even he scarcely dared give it
credence. To put it to the test, to prove or disprove it, would be
irretrievably to show his hand in the game, and that would be suicidal
to his investigation should his swift suspicion chance to be
groundless.

The sharp ring of the telephone put an end to his cogitations. He put
the receiver to his ear with a preoccupied frown, but at the first
words which came to him over the wire his expression changed to one of
keenest concentration.

"Am I speaking to the gentleman who talked with me at the working
girls' club?" a clear, fresh young voice asked. "This is Margaret
Hefferman, Mr. Rockamore's stenographer--that is, I was until ten
minutes ago, but I have been discharged."

"Discharged!" Blaine's voice was eager and crisp as he reiterated her
last word. "On what pretext?"

"It was not exactly a pretext," the girl replied. "The office boy
accused me of taking shorthand notes of a private conversation between
my employer and a visitor, and I could not convince Mr. Rockamore of
my innocence. I--I must have been clumsy, I'm afraid."

"You have the notes with you?"

"Yes."

"The visitor's name was Paddington?"

"Yes, sir."

Blaine considered for a moment; then, his decision made, he spoke
rapidly in a clear undertone.

"You know the department store of Mead & Rathbun? Meet me there in the
ladies' writing-room in half an hour. Where are you now?"

"In a booth in the drug-store just around the corner from the building
where Mr. Rockamore's offices are located."

"Very good. Take as round-about a route as you can to reach Mead &
Rathbun's, and see if you are followed. If you are and you find it
impossible to shake off your shadow, do not try to meet me, but go
directly to the club and I will communicate with you there later."

"Oh, I don't think I've been followed, but I'll be very careful. If
everything is all right, I will meet you at the place you named in
half an hour. Good-by."

Henry Blaine paced the floor for a time in undisguised perturbation.
His move in placing inexperienced girls from Anita Lawton's club in
responsible positions, instead of using his own trained operatives,
had been based not upon impulse but on mature reflection. The girls
were unknown, whereas his operatives would assuredly have been
recognized, sooner or later, especially in the offices of Carlis and
Rockamore. Moreover, the ruse adopted to obtain positions for Miss
Lawton's protégées had appeared on the surface to be a flawlessly
legitimate one. He had counted upon their loyalty and zeal to outweigh
their possible incompetence and lack of discretion, but the stolid
German girl had apparently been so clumsy at her task as to bring
failure upon his plan.

"So much for amateurs!" he murmured to himself, disgustedly. "The
other three will be discharged as soon as excuses for their dismissal
can be manufactured now. My only hope from any of them is that French
governess. If she will only land Paddington I don't care what
suspicions the other three arouse."

Margaret Hefferman's placid face was a little pale when she greeted
him in the ladies' room of the department store a short time later.

"I'm so sorry, Mr. Blaine!" she exclaimed, but in carefully lowered
tones. "I could have cut my right hand off before I would hurt Miss
Lawton after all she has done for me, and already the first thing she
asks, I must fail to do!"

"You are sure you were not followed?" asked the detective, disregarding
her lamentations with purposeful brusqueness, for the tears stood in
her soft, bovine eyes, and he feared an emotional outburst which would
draw down upon them the attention of the whole room.

"Oh, no! I made sure of that. I rode uptown and half-way down again to
be certain, and then changed to the east-side line."

"Very well." He drew her to a secluded window-seat where, themselves
almost unseen, they could obtain an unobstructed view of the entrance
door and of their immediate neighbors.

"Now tell me all about it, Miss Hefferman."

"It was that office boy, Billy," she began. "Such sharp eyes and soft
walk, like a cat! Always he is yawning and sleepy--who would think he
was a spy?"

Her tone was filled with such contempt that involuntarily the
detective's mobile lips twitched. The girl had evidently quite lost
sight of the fact that she herself had occupied the very position in
the pseudo employ of Bertrand Rockamore which she derided in his
office boy.

He did not attempt to guide her in her narrative of the morning's
events, observing that she was too much agitated to give him a
coherent account. Instead, he waited patiently for her to vent her
indignation and tell him in her own way the substance of what had
occurred.

"I had no thought of being watched, else I should have been more
careful," she went on, resentfully. "This morning, only, he was
late--that Billy--and I did not report him. I was busy, too, for there
was more correspondence than usual to attend to, and Mr. Rockamore was
irritable and short-tempered. In the midst of his dictation Mr.
Paddington came, and I was bundled out of the room with the letters
and my shorthand book. They talked together behind the closed door for
several minutes and I had no opportunity to hear a word, but presently
Mr. Rockamore called Billy and sent him out on an errand. Billy left
the door of the inner office open just a little and that was my
chance. I seated myself at a desk close beside it and took down in
shorthand every word which reached my ears. I was so much occupied
with the notes that I did not hear Billy's footsteps until he stopped
just behind me and whistled right in my ear. I jumped and he laughed
at me and went in to Mr. Rockamore. When he came out he shut the door
tight behind him and grinned as if he knew just what I had been up to.
I did not dare open the door again, and so I heard no more of the
conversation, but I have enough, Mr. Blaine, to interest you, I
think."

She fumbled with her bag, but the detective laid a detaining hand on
her arm.

"Never mind the notes now. Go on with your story. What happened after
the interview was over?"

"That boy Billy went to Mr. Rockamore and told him. Already I have
said he was irritable this morning. He had seemed nervous and excited,
as if he were angry or worried about something, but when he sent for
me to discharge me he was white-hot with rage. Never have I been so
insulted or abused, but that would be nothing if only I had not failed
Miss Lawton. For her sake I tried to lie, to deny, but it was of no
use. My people were good Lutherans, but that does not help one in a
business career; it is much more a nuisance. He could read in my face
that I was guilty, and he demanded my shorthand note-book. I had to
give it to him; there was nothing else to be done."

"But I understood that you had the notes with you," Blaine commented,
then paused as a faint smile broke over her face and a demure dimple
appeared in either cheek.

"I gave to him a note-book," she explained naïvely. "He was quite
pleased, I think, to get possession of it. No one can read my
shorthand but me, anyway, so one book did him as much good as another.
He tried to make me tell him why I had done that--why I had taken down
the words of a private conference of his with a visitor. I could not
think what I should say, so I kept silent. For an hour he bullied and
questioned me, but he could find out nothing and so at last he let me
go. If now I could get my hands on that Billy--"

"Never mind him," Blaine interrupted. "Rockamore didn't threaten you,
did he?"

"He said he would fix it so that I obtained no more positions in
Illington," the girl responded, sullenly. "He will tell Miss Lawton
that I am deceitful and treacherous and I should no longer be welcome
at the club! He said--but I will not take up your so valuable time by
repeating his stupid threats. Miss Lawton will understand. Shall not I
read the notes to you? I have had no opportunity to transcribe them
and indeed they are safer as they are."

"Yes. Read them by all means, Miss Hefferman, if you have nothing more
to tell me. I do not think we are being overheard by anyone, but
remember to keep your voice lowered."

"I will, Mr. Blaine."

The girl produced the note-book from her bag and swept a practised eye
down its cryptic pages.

"Here it is. These are the first words I heard through the opened
door. They were spoken by Mr. Rockamore, and the other, Paddington,
replied. This is what I heard:

"'I don't know what the devil you're driving at, I tell you.'

"'Oh, don't you, Rockamore? Want me to explain? I'll go into details
if you like.'

"'I'm hanged if I'm interested. My share in our little business deal
with you was concluded some time ago. There's an end of that. You're a
clever enough man to know the people you're doing business with,
Paddington. You can't put anything over on us.'

"'I'm not trying to. The deal you spoke of is over and done with and
I guess nobody'll squeal. We're all tarred with the same brush. But
this is something quite different. We were pretty good pals,
Rockamore, so naturally, when I heard something about you which might
take a lot of explaining to smooth over, if it got about, I kept my
mouth shut. I think a good turn deserves another, at least among
friends, and when I got in a hole I remembered what I did for you, and
I thought you'd be glad of a chance to give me a leg up.'

"'In other words you come here with a vague threat and try to
blackmail me. That's it, isn't it?'

"'_Blackmail_ is not a very pleasant term, Rockamore, and yet it is
something which even you might attempt. Get me? Of course the others
would be glad to help me out, but I thought I'd come to you first,
since I--well, I know you better.'

"'How much do you want?'

"'Only ten thousand. I've got a tip on the market and if I can raise
the coin before the stock soars and buy on margin, I'll make a fine
little _coup_. Want to come in on it, Rockamore?'

"'Go to the devil! Here's your check--you can get it certified at the
bank. Now get out and don't bother me again or you'll find out I'm not
the weak-minded fool you take me for. Stick to the small fry,
Paddington. They're your game, but don't fish for salmon with a
trout-fly.'

"'Thanks, old man. I always knew I could call on you in an emergency.
I only hope my tip is a straight one and I don't go short on the
market. If I do--'

"'Don't come to me! I tell you, Paddington, you can't play me for a
sucker. That's the last cent you'll ever get out of me. It suits me
now to pay for your silence because, as you very well know, I don't
care to inform my colleagues or have them informed that I acted
independently of them; but I've paid all that your knowledge is worth,
and more.'

"'It might have been worth even more to others than to you or your
colleagues. For instance--'

"Then Billy came up behind me and whistled," concluded Miss Hefferman,
as she closed her note-book. "Shall I transcribe this for you, Mr.
Blaine? We have a typewriter at the club."

"No, I will take the note-book with me as it is and lock it in my safe
at the office. Please hold yourself in readiness to come down and
transcribe it whenever it may be necessary for me to send for you. You
have done splendidly, Miss Hefferman. You must not feel badly over
having been discovered and dismissed. You have rendered Miss Lawton a
valuable service for which she will be the first to thank you.
Telephone me if anyone attempts to approach you about this affair, or
if anything unusual should occur."

Scarcely an hour later, when Henry Blaine placed the receiver at his
ear in response to the insistent summons of the 'phone, her voice came
to him again over the wire.

"Mr. Blaine, I am at the club, but I thought you should know that
after all, I was--what is that you say--shadowed this morning. Just a
little way from Mead & Rathbun's my hand-bag was cut from my arm. It
was lucky, _hein_, that you took the note-book with you? As for me, I
go out no more for any positions. I go back soon as ever I can, by
Germany."



CHAPTER XI

THE CONFIDENCE OF EMILY


All during that day and the night which followed it, the search for
Ramon Hamilton continued, but without result. With the announcement of
his disappearance, in the press, the police had started a spectacular
investigation, but had been as unsuccessful as Henry Blaine's own
operatives, who had been working unostentatiously but tirelessly since
the news of the young lawyer's evanescence had come.

No one could be found who had seen him. When he left the offices of
the great detective on the previous morning he seemed to have vanished
into thin air. It was to Blaine the most baffling incident of all that
had occurred since this most complex case had come into his hands.

He kept his word and called to see Anita in the late afternoon. He
found that she had slept for some hours and was calmer and more
hopeful, which was fortunate, for he had scant comfort to offer her
beyond his vague but forceful reassurances that all would be well.

Early on the following morning Suraci returned from Long Bay and
presented himself at the office of his chief to report.

"Here are the tracings from the register of 'The Breakers' which you
desired, sir," he began, spreading some large thin sheets of paper
upon the desk. "The Lawtons spent three weeks there at the time you
designated, and Mr. Hamilton went out each week-end, from Friday to
Monday, as you can see here, and here. They had no other visitors and
kept much to themselves."

Blaine scanned the papers rapidly, pausing here and there to
scrutinize more closely a signature which appeared to interest him. At
length he pushed them aside with a dissatisfied frown, as if he had
been looking for something which he had failed to find.

"Anything suspicious about the guests who arrived during the Lawtons'
stay?" he asked. "Was there any incident in connection with them
worthy of note which the proprietor could recall?"

"No, sir, but I found some of the employees and talked to them. The
hotel is closed now for the winter, of course, but two or three of the
waiters and bell-boys live in the neighborhood. A summer resort is a
hot-bed of gossip, as you know, sir, and since Mr. Lawton's sudden
death the servants have been comparing notes of his visit there two
years ago. I found the waiter who served them, and two bell-boys, and
they each had a curious incident to tell me in connection with the
Lawtons. The stories would have held no significance if it weren't for
the fact that they all happened to concern one person--a man who
arrived on the eighth of August. This man here."

Suraci ran his finger down the register page until he came to one
name, where he stopped abruptly.

"Albert Addison, Baltimore, Maryland," read Blaine. Then, with a
sudden exclamation he bent closer over the paper. A prolonged scrutiny
ensued while Suraci watched him curiously. Reaching into a drawer, the
Master Detective drew out a powerful magnifying glass and examined
each stroke of the pen with minute care. At length he swung about in
his chair and pressed the electric button on the corner of the desk.
When his secretary appeared in response to the summons, Blaine said:

"Ask the filing clerk to look in the drawer marked 'P. 1904,'
and bring me the check drawn on the First National Bank signed
_Paddington_."

While the secretary was fulfilling his task the two waited in silence,
but with the check before him Henry Blaine gave it one keen, comparing
glance, then turned to the operative.

"Well, Suraci, what did you learn from the hotel employees?"

"One of the bell-boys told me that this man, Addison, arrived with
only a bag, announcing that his luggage would be along later and that
he anticipated remaining a week or more. This boy noticed him
particularly because he scanned the hotel register before writing his
own name, and insisted upon having one of two special suites; number
seventy-two or seventy-six. Seventy-four the suite between, was
occupied by Mr. Lawton. They were both engaged, so he was forced to be
content with number seventy-three, just across the hall. The boy
noticed that although the new arrival did not approach Mr. Lawton or
his daughter, he hung about in their immediate vicinity all day and
appeared to be watching them furtively.

"Late in the afternoon, Mr. Lawton went into the writing-room to
attend to some correspondence. The boy, passing through the room on
an errand, saw him stop in the middle of a page, frown, and tearing
the paper across, throw it in the waste-basket. Glancing about
inadvertently, the bell-boy saw Addison seated near by, staring at Mr.
Lawton from behind a newspaper which he held in front of his face as
if pretending to read. The boy's curiosity was aroused by the eager,
hungry, expectant look on the stranger's face, and he made up his
mind to hang around, too, and see what was doing.

"He attended to his errand and returned just in time to see Mr. Lawton
seal the flap of his last envelope, rise, and stroll from the room.
Instantly Addison slipped into the seat just vacated, wrote a page,
crumpled it, and threw it in the same waste-basket the other man had
used. Then he started another page, hesitated and finally stopped and
began rummaging in the basket, as if searching for the paper he
himself had just dropped there. The boy made up his mind--he's a sharp
one, sir, he'd be good for this business--that the stranger wasn't
after his own letter, at all, but the one Mr. Lawton had torn across,
and in a spirit of mischief, he walked up to the man and offered to
help.

"'This is your letter, sir. I saw you crumple it up just now. That
torn sheet of paper belongs to one of the other guests.'

"According to his story, he forced Addison's own letter on him, and
walked off with the waste-basket to empty it, and if looks could kill,
he'd have been a dead boy after one glance from the stranger. That was
all he had to tell, and he wouldn't have remembered such a trifling
incident for a matter of two years and more, if it hadn't been for
something which happened late that night. He didn't see it, being off
duty, but another boy did, and the next day they compared notes. They
were undecided as to whether they should go to the manager of the
hotel and make a report, or not, but being only kids, they were afraid
of getting into trouble themselves, so they waited. Addison departed
suddenly that morning, however, and as Mr. Lawton never gave any sign
of being aware of what had taken place, they kept silent. I located
the second boy, and got his story at first hand. His name is Johnnie
Bradley and he's as stupid as the other one is sharp.

"Johnnie was on all night, and about one o'clock he was sent out to
the casino on the pier just in front of the hotel, with a message.
When he was returning, he noticed a tiny, bright light darting quickly
about in Mr. Lawton's rooms, as if some one were carrying a candle
through the suite and moving rapidly. He remembered that Mr. Lawton
and his daughter had motored off somewhere just after dinner to be
gone overnight, so he went upstairs to investigate, without mentioning
the matter to the clerk who was dozing behind the desk in the office.
There was a chambermaid on night duty at the end of the hall, but she
was asleep, and as he reached the head of the stairs, Johnnie observed
that some one had, contrary to the rules, extinguished the lights near
Mr. Lawton's rooms. He went softly down the hall, until he came to the
door of number seventy-four. A man was stooping before it, fumbling
with a key, but whether he was locking or unlocking the door, it did
not occur to Johnnie to question in his own mind until later. As he
approached, the man turned, saw him, and reeled against the door as if
he had been drinking.

"'Sa-ay, boy!' he drawled. 'Wha's matter with lock? Can't open m'
door.'

"He put the key in his pocket as he spoke, but that, too, Johnnie did
not think of until afterward.

"'That isn't your door, sir. Those are Mr. Pennington Lawton's rooms,'
Johnnie told him. 'What is the number on your key?'

"The man produced a key from his pocket and gave it to Johnnie in a
stupid, dazed sort of way. The key was numbered seventy-three.

"'That's your suite, just across the hall, sir,' Johnnie said. He
unlocked the door for the newcomer, who muttered thickly about the
hall being d----d confusing to a stranger, and gave him a dollar.
Johnnie waited until the man had lurched into his rooms, then asked if
he wanted ice-water. Receiving no reply but a mumbled curse, he
withdrew, but not before he had seen the light switched on, and the
man cross to the door and shut it. The stranger no longer lurched
about, but walked erectly and his face had lost the sagged, vapid,
drunken look and was surprisingly sober and keen and alert.

"The two boys decided the next day that Addison had come to 'The
Breakers' with the idea of robbing Mr. Lawton, but, as I said, nothing
came of the incident, so they kept it to themselves and in all
probability it had quite passed from their minds until the news of Mr.
Lawton's death recalled it to them."

Suraci paused, and after a moment Blaine suggested tentatively:

"You spoke of a waiter, also, Suraci. Had he anything to add to what
the bell-boys had told you, of this man Addison's peculiar behavior?"

"Yes, sir. It isn't very important, but it sort of confirms what the
first boy said, about the stranger trying to watch the Lawtons,
without being noticed himself, by them. The waiter, Tim Donohue, says
that on the day of his arrival, Addison was seated by the head waiter
at the next table to that occupied by Mr. Lawton, and directly facing
him. Addison entered the dining-room first, ordered a big luncheon,
and was half-way through it when the Lawtons entered. No sooner were
they seated, than he got up precipitately and left the room. That
night, at dinner, he refused the table he had occupied at the first
meal, and insisted upon being seated at one somewhere back of Mr.
Lawton.

"This Donohue is a genial, kind-hearted soul, and he was a favorite
with the bell-hops because he used to save sweets and tid-bits for
them from his trays. Johnnie and the other boy told him of their
dilemma concerning number seventy-three, as they designated Addison,
and he in turn related the incident of the dining-room. The boys told
me about him and where he could be found. He's not a waiter any
longer, but married to one of the hotel chamber-maids, and lives in
Long Bay, running a bus service to the depot for a string of the
cheaper boarding houses. He corroborated the bell-hops' story in every
detail, and even gave me a hazy sort of description of Addison. He was
small and thin and dark; clean shaven, with a face like an actor,
narrow shoulders and a sort of caved-in chest. He walked with a slight
limp, and was a little over-dressed for the exclusive, conservative,
high-society crowd that flock to 'The Breakers.'"

"That's our man, Suraci--that's Paddington, to the life!" Blaine
exclaimed. "I knew it as soon as I compared his signature on this
check with the one in the register, although he has tried to disguise
his hand, as you can see. I'm glad to have it verified, though, by
witnesses on whom we can lay our hands at any time, should it become
necessary. He left the day after his arrival, you say? The morning
after this boy, Johnnie, caught him in front of Mr. Lawton's door?"

"Yes, sir. The bell-hops don't think he came back, either. They don't
remember seeing him again."

"Very well. You've done splendidly, Suraci. I couldn't have conducted
the investigation better myself. Do you need any rest, now?"

"Oh, no, sir! I'm quite ready for another job!" The young operative's
eyes sparkled eagerly as he spoke, and his long, slim, nervous fingers
clasped and unclasped the arms of his chair spasmodically. "What is
it? Something new come up?"

"Only that disappearance, two days ago, of the young lawyer to whom
Miss Lawton is engaged, Ramon Hamilton. I want you to go out on that
at once, and see what you can do. I've got half a dozen of the best
men on it already, but they haven't accomplished anything. I can't
give you a single clue to go upon, except that when he walked out of
this office at eleven o'clock in the morning, he wore a black suit,
black shoes, black tie, a black derby and a gray overcoat with a
mourning band on the sleeve--for Mr. Lawton, of course. Outside the
door there, he vanished as if a trap had opened and dropped him
through into space. No one has seen him; no one knows where he went.
That's all the help I can offer you. He's not in jail or the morgue or
any of the hospitals, as yet. That isn't much, but it's something.
Here's a personal description of him which the police issued
yesterday. It's as good as any I could give you, and here are two
photographs of him which I got from his mother yesterday afternoon.
Take a good look at him, Suraci, fix his face in your mind, and then
if you should manage, or happen, to locate him, you can't go wrong. I
know your memory for faces."

The "shadow" departed eagerly upon his quest, and Blaine settled down
to an hour's deep reflection. He held the threads of the major
conspiracy in his hands, but as yet he could not connect them, at
least in any tangible way to present at a court of so-called justice,
where everyone, from the judge to the policeman at the door could, and
inevitably would, be bought over, in advance, to the side of the
criminals. It was a one-man fight, backed only with the slender means
provided by a young girl's insignificant financial ventures, against
the press, the public, a corrupt political machine of great power, the
desperate ingenuity of three clever, unscrupulous minds brought to
bay, and the overwhelming influence of colossal wealth. Henry Blaine
felt that the supreme struggle of his whole career was confronting
him.

The unheard-of intrepidity of conception, the very daring of the
conspiracy, combined with the prominence of the men involved,
would brand any accusation, even from a man of Henry Blaine's
celebrated international reputation, as totally preposterous, unless
substantiated. And what actual proof had he of their criminal
connection with the alleged bankruptcy of Pennington Lawton?

He had established, to his own satisfaction, at least, that the
mortgage on the family home on Belleair Avenue had been forged, and by
Jimmy Brunell. The signature on the note held by Moore, the banker,
and the entire letter asking Mallowe to negotiate the loan had been
also fraudulent, and manufactured by the same hand. Paddington, the
private detective with perhaps the most unsavory record of any
operating in the city, was in close and constant communication with
the three men Blaine held under suspicion, and probably also with
Jimmy Brunell. Lastly, Brunell himself was known to be still in
possession of his paraphernalia for the pursuit of his old nefarious
calling. Paddington, on Margaret Hefferman's testimony, had assuredly
succeeded in mulcting the promoter, Rockamore, of a large sum in a
clear case of blackmail, but on the face of it there was no proof that
it was connected with the matter of Pennington Lawton's insolvency.

The mysterious nocturnal visitor, on the night the magnate met his
death, was still to be accounted for, as was the disappearance of
Ramon Hamilton; and in spite of his utmost efforts, Henry Blaine was
forced to admit to himself that he was scarcely nearer a solution, or
rather, a confirmation of his steadfast convictions, than when he
started upon his investigation.

Unquestionably, the man Paddington held the key to the situation. But
how could Paddington be approached? How could he be made to speak?
Bribery had sealed his lips, and only greed would open them. He was
shrewd enough to realize that the man who had purchased his services
would pay him far more to remain silent than any client of Blaine's
could, to betray them. Moreover, he was in the same boat, and must of
necessity sink or swim with his confederates.

Fear might induce him to squeal, where cupidity would fail, but the
one sure means of loosening his tongue was through passion.

"If only that French girl, Fifine Déchaussée, would lead him on, if
she had less of the saint and more of the coquette in her make-up, we
might land him," the detective murmured to himself. "It's dirty work,
but we've got to use the weapons in our hands. I must have another
talk with her, before she considers herself affronted by his
attentions, and throws him down hard--that is, if he's making any
attempt to follow up his flirtation with her."

Blaine's soliloquy was interrupted by the entrance of Guy Morrow,
whose face bore the disgusted look of one sent to fish with a bent pin
for a salmon.

"I found Paddington, all right, sir," he announced. "I tailed him
until a half-hour ago, but I might as well have been asleep for all I
learned, except one fact."

"Which is--" the detective asked quickly.

"That he went to Rockamore's office yesterday morning, remained an
hour and came away with a check for ten thousand dollars. He proceeded
to the bank, had it certified, and deposited it at once to his own
account in the Merchants' and Traders'. He evidently split it up,
then, for he went to three other banks and opened accounts under three
different names. Here's the list. I tailed him all the way."

He handed the Master Detective a slip of paper, which the latter put
carefully aside after a casual glance.

"Then what did he do?"

"Wasted his own time and mine," the operative responded in immeasurable
contempt. "Ate and drank and gambled and loafed and philandered."

"Philandered?" Blaine repeated, sharply.

"In the park," returned the other. "Spooning with a girl! Rotten
cold it was, too, and me tailing on like a blamed chaperon! After he
made his last deposit at the third bank, he went to lunch at Duyon's.
Ate his head off, and paid from a thick wad of yellowbacks. Then
he dropped in at Wiley's, and played roulette for a couple of
hours--played in luck, too. He drank quite a little, but it only
seemed to heighten his good spirits, without fuddling him to any
extent. When he left Wiley's, about five o'clock, he sauntered
along Court Street, until he came to Fraser's, the jeweler's. He
stopped, looked at the display window for a few minutes, and then, as
if on a sudden impulse, turned and entered the shop. I tailed him
inside, and went to the men's counter, where I bought a tie-clasp,
keeping my eye on him all the time. What do you think he got? A gold
locket and chain--a heart-shaped locket, with a chip diamond in the
center!"

"The eternal feminine!" Blaine commented; and then he added half under
his breath: "Fifine Déchaussée's on the job!"

"What, sir?" asked the operative curiously.

"Nothing, Guy. Merely an idle observation. Go on with your story."

"Paddington went straight from the jeweler's to the Democratic Club
for an hour, then dined alone at Rossi's. I was on the look-out for
the woman, but none appeared, and he didn't act as if he expected
anybody. After dinner he strolled down Belleair Avenue, past the
Lawton residence, and out to Fairlawn Park. Once inside the gates, he
stopped for a minute near a lamp-post and looked at his watch, then
hurried straight on to Hydrangea Path, as if he had an appointment to
keep. I dropped back in the shadow, but tailed along. She must have
been late, that girl, for he cooled his heels on a bench for twenty
minutes, growing more impatient all the time. Finally she came--a
slender wisp of a girl, but some queen! Plainly dressed, dark hair and
eyes, small hands and feet and a face like a stained-glass window!

"They walked slowly up and down, talking very confidentially, and once
he started to put his arm about her, but she moved away. I walked up
quickly, and passed them, close enough to hear what she was saying:
'Of course it is lonely for a girl in a strange country, where she has
no friends.' That was all I got, but I noticed that she spoke with a
decidedly foreign accent, French or Spanish, I should say.

"Around a bend in the path I hid behind a clump of bushes and waited
until they had passed, then tailed them again. I saw him produce the
locket and chain at last, and offer them to her. She protested and
took a lot of persuading; but he prevailed upon her and she let him
clasp it about her neck and kiss her. After that--Good Lord! They
spooned for about two hours and never even noticed the snow which had
begun to fall, while I shivered along behind. About half-past ten they
made a break-away and he left her at the park gates and went on down
to his rooms. I put up for the night at the Hotel Gaythorne, just
across the way, and kept a look-out, but there were no further
developments until early this morning. At a little after seven he left
his apartment house and started up State Street as if he meant
business. Of course I was after him on the jump.

"He evidently didn't think he was watched, for he never looked around
once, but made straight for a little shop near the corner of Tarleton
Place. It was a stationery and tobacco store, and I was right at his
heels when he entered. He leaned over the counter, and asked in a low,
meaning tone for a box of Cairo cigarettes. The man gave him a long,
searching glance, then turned, and reaching back of a pile of boxes on
the first shelf, drew out a flat one--the size which holds twenty
cigarettes. He passed it quickly over to Paddington, but not before I
observed that it had been opened and rather clumsily resealed.

"Paddington handed over a quarter and left the shop without another
word. He went directly to a cheap restaurant across the street, and,
ordering a cup of coffee, he tore open the cigarette box. It contained
only a sheet of paper, folded twice. I was at the next table, too far
away to read what was written upon it, but whatever it was, it seemed
to give him immense satisfaction. He finished his coffee, returned to
his rooms, changed his clothes, and went directly to the office of
Snedecker, the man whose divorce case he is trying to trump up.
Evidently he's good for a day's work on that, so I thought I could
safely leave him at it, and report to you."

"Humph! I'd like to have a glimpse of that communication in the
cigarette box, but it isn't of sufficient importance, on the face of
it, to show our hand by having him waylaid, or searching his rooms,"
Blaine cogitated aloud. "I'll put another man on to-morrow morning.
Leave the address of the tobacconist with my secretary on your way
out, and if there is another message to-morrow, he'll get it first.
You needn't do anything more on this Paddington matter; I think the
other end needs your services more; and since you've already broken
ground up there, you'll be able to do better than anyone else. I want
you to return to the Bronx, get back your old room, if you can, and
stick close to the Brunells."

Back in his old rooms at Mrs. Quinlan's, Guy sat in the window-seat at
dusk, impatiently awaiting the appearance of a slender, well-known
figure. The rain, which had set in early in the afternoon, had turned
to sleet, and as the darkness deepened, the rays from a solitary
street lamp gleamed sharply upon the pavement as upon an unbroken
sheet of ice.

Presently the spare, long-limbed form of James Brunell emerged from
the gloom and disappeared within the door of this little house
opposite. Morrow observed that the man's step lacked its accustomed
jauntiness and spring, and he plodded along wearily, as if utterly
preoccupied with some depressing meditation. A light sprang up in the
front room on the ground floor, but after a few moments it was
suddenly extinguished, and Brunell appeared again on the porch. He
closed the door softly behind him, and strode quickly down the street.
There was a marked change in his bearing, a furtiveness and eager
haste which ill accorded with his manner of a short time before.

Scarcely had Brunell vanished into the encroaching gloom, when his
daughter appeared. She, too, approached wearily, and on reaching the
little sagging gate she paused in surprised dismay at the air of
detached emptiness the house seemed to exude. Then a little furry
object scurried around the porch corner and precipitated itself upon
her. She stooped swiftly, gathered up the kitten in her arms and went
slowly into the house.

Morrow ate his supper in absent-minded haste, and as soon as he
decently could, he made his way across the street.

Emily opened the door in response to his ring and greeted him with
such undisguised pleasure and surprise that his honest heart quickened
a beat or two, and it was with difficulty that he voiced the plausible
falsehood concerning his loss of position, and return to his former
abode.

Under the light in the little drawing-room, he noticed that she looked
pale and careworn, and her limpid, childlike eyes were veiled
pathetically with deep, blue shadows. As he looked at her, however, a
warm tint dyed her cheeks and her head drooped, while the little smile
still lingered about her lips.

"You are tired?" he found himself asking solicitously, after she had
expressed her sympathy for his supposed ill fortune. "You found your
work difficult to-day at the club?"

"Oh, no,"--she shook her head slowly. "My position is a mere sinecure,
thanks to Miss Lawton's wonderful consideration. I have been a little
depressed--a little worried, that is all."

"Worried?" Morrow paused, then added in a lower tone, the words coming
swiftly, "Can't you tell me, Emily? Isn't there some way in which I
can help you? What is it that is troubling you?"

"I--I don't know." A deeper, painful flush spread for a moment over
her face, then ebbed, leaving her paler even than before. "You are
very kind, Mr. Morrow, but I do not think that I should speak of it to
anyone. And indeed, my fears are so intangible, so vague, that when I
try to formulate my thoughts into words, even to myself, they are
unconvincing, almost meaningless. Yet I feel instinctively that
something is wrong."

"Won't you trust me?" Morrow's hand closed gently but firmly over
the girl's slender one, in a clasp of compelling sympathy, and
unconsciously she responded to it. "I know that I am comparatively
a new friend. You and your father have been kind enough to extend your
hospitality to me, to accept me as a friend. You know very little
about me, yet I want you to believe that I am worthy of trust--that
I want to help you. I do, Emily, more than you realize, more than I
can express to you now!"

Morrow had forgotten the reason for his presence there, forgotten his
profession, his avowed purpose, everything but the girl beside him.
But her next words brought him swiftly back to a realization of the
present--so swiftly that for a moment he felt as if stunned by an
unexpected blow.

"Oh, I do believe that you are a friend! I do trust you!" Emily's
voice thrilled with deep sincerity, and in an impetuous outburst of
confidence she added: "It is about my father that I am troubled.
Something has happened which I do not understand; there is something
he is keeping from me, which has changed him. He seems like a
different man, a stranger!"

"You are sure of it?" Morrow asked, slowly. "You are sure that it
isn't just a nervous fancy? Your father really has changed toward you
lately?"

"Not only toward me, but to all the world beside!" she responded. "Now
that I look back, I can see that his present state of mind has been
coming on gradually for several months, but it was only a short time
ago that something occurred which seemed to bring the matter, whatever
it is, to a turning-point. I remember that it was just a few days
before you came--I mean, before I happened to see you over at Mrs.
Quinlan's."

She stopped abruptly, as if an arresting finger had been laid across
her lips, and after waiting a moment for her to continue, Morrow asked
quietly:

"What was it that occurred?"

"Father received a letter. It came one afternoon when I had returned
from the club earlier than usual. I took it from the postman myself,
and as father had not come home yet from the shop, I placed it beside
his plate at the supper table. I noticed the postmark--'Brooklyn'--but
it didn't make any particular impression upon me; it was only later,
when I saw how it affected my father, that I remembered, and wondered.
He had scarcely opened the envelope, when he rose, trembling so that
he could hardly stand, and coming into this room, he shut the door
after him. I waited as long as I could, but he did not return, and the
supper was getting cold, so I came to the door here. It was locked!
For the first time in his life, my father had locked himself in, from
me! He would not answer me at first, as I called to him, and I was
nearly frightened to death before he spoke. When he did, his voice
sounded so harsh and strained that I scarcely recognized it. He told
me that he didn't want anything to eat; he had some private business
to attend to, and I was not to wait up for him, but to go to bed when
I wished.

"I crept away, and went to my room at last, but I could not sleep. It
was nearly morning when Father went to bed, and his step was heavy and
dragging as he passed my door. His room is next to mine, and I heard
him tossing restlessly about--and once or twice I fancied that he
groaned as if in pain. He was up in the morning at his usual time, but
he looked ill and worn, as if he had aged years in that one night.
Neither of us mentioned the letter, then or at any subsequent time,
but he has never been the same man since."

"And the letter--you never saw it?" Morrow asked eagerly, his
detective instinct now thoroughly aroused. "You don't know what that
envelope postmarked 'Brooklyn' contained?"

"Oh, but I do!" Emily exclaimed. "Father had thrust it in the stove,
but the fire had gone out, without his noticing it. I found it the
next morning, when I raked down the ashes."

"You--read it?" Morrow carefully steadied his voice.

"No," she shook her head, with a faint smile. "That's the queer part
of it all. No one could have read it--no one who did not hold the key
to it, I mean. It was written in some secret code or cipher, with
oddly shaped figures instead of letters; dots and cubes and
triangles. I never saw anything like it before. I couldn't understand
why anyone should send such a funny message to my father, instead of
writing it out properly."

"What did you do with the letter--did you destroy it?" This time the
detective made no effort to control the eagerness in his tones, but
the girl was so absorbed in her problem that she was oblivious to all
else.

"I suppose I should have, but I didn't. I knew that it was what my
father had intended, yet somehow I felt that it might prove useful in
the future--that I might even be helping Father by keeping it, against
his own judgment. The envelope was partially scorched by the hot
ashes, but the inside sheet remained untouched. I hid the letter
behind the mirror on my dresser, and sometimes, when I have been quite
alone, I took it out and tried to solve it, but I couldn't. I never
was good at puzzles when I was little, and I suppose I lack that
deductive quality now. I was ashamed, too: it seemed so like prying
into things which didn't concern me, which my father didn't wish me to
know; still, I was only doing it to try to help him."

Morrow winced, and drew a long breath. Then resolutely he plunged into
the task before him.

"Emily, don't think that I want to pry, either, but if I am to help
you I must see that letter. If you trust me and believe in my
friendship, let me see it. Perhaps I may be able to discover the key
in the first word or two, and then you can decipher it for yourself.
You understand, I don't wish you to show it to me unless you really
have confidence in me, unless you are sure that there is nothing in it
which one who has your welfare and peace of mind at heart should not
see."

He waited for her reply with a suffocating feeling as if a hand were
clutching at his throat. A hot wave of shame, of fierce repugnance and
self-contempt at the rôle he was forced to play, surged up within him,
but he could not go back now. The die was cast.

She looked at him--a long, searching look, her childlike eyes dark
with troubled indecision. At length they cleared slowly and she
smiled, a faint, pathetic smile, which wrung his heart. Then she rose
without a word, and left the room.

It seemed to him that an interminable period of time passed before he
heard her light, returning footsteps descending the stairs. A wild
desire to flee assailed him--to efface himself before her innocent
confidence was betrayed.

Emily Brunell came straight to him, and placed the letter in his
hands.

"There can be nothing in this letter which could harm my father, if
all the world read it," she said simply. "He is good and true; he
has not an enemy on earth. It can be only a private business
communication, at the most. My father's life is an open book; no
discredit could come to him. Yet if there was anything in the cryptic
message written here which others, not knowing him as I do, might
misjudge, I am not afraid that you will. You see, I do believe in
your friendship, Mr. Morrow; I am proving my faith in you."



CHAPTER XII

THE CIPHER


It was a haggard, heavy-eyed young man who presented himself at Henry
Blaine's office, early the next morning, with his report. The
detective made no comment upon his subordinate's changed appearance
and manner, but eyed him keenly as with dogged determination Guy
Morrow told his story through to the end.

"The letter--the cipher letter!" Blaine demanded, curtly, when the
operative paused at length. "You have it with you?"

Morrow drew a deep breath and unconsciously he squared his shoulders.

"No, sir," he responded, his voice significantly steady and
controlled.

"Where is it?"

"I gave it back to her--to Miss Brunell."

"What! Then you solved it?" the detective leaned forward suddenly, the
level gaze from beneath his close-drawn brows seeming to pierce the
younger man's impassivity.

"No, sir. It was a cryptogram, of course--an arrangement of cabalistic
signs instead of letters, but I could make nothing of it. The message,
whatever it is, would take hours of careful study to decipher; and
even then, without the key, one might fail. I have seen nothing quite
like it, in all my experience."

"And you gave it back to her!" Blaine exclaimed, with well-simulated
incredulity. "You actually had the letter in your hands, and
relinquished it? In heaven's name, why?"

"Miss Brunell had shown it to me in confidence. It was her property,
and she trusted me. Since I was unable to aid her in solving it, I
returned it to her. The chances are that it is, as she said, a matter
of private business between her father and another man, and it is
probably entirely dissociated from this investigation."

"You're not paid, Morrow, to form opinions of your own, or decide the
ethics, social or moral, of a case you're put on; you're paid to obey
instructions, collect data and obtain whatever evidence there may be.
Remember that. Confidence or no confidence, girl or no girl, you go
back and get that letter! I don't care what means you use, short of
actual murder; that cipher's got to be in my hands before midnight.
Understand?"

"Yes, sir, I understand." Morrow rose slowly, and faced his chief.
"I'm sorry, but I cannot do it."

"You can't? That's the first time I ever heard that word from your
lips, Guy." Henry Blaine shook his head sadly, affecting not to notice
his operative's rising emotion.

"I mean that I won't, sir. I'm sorry to appear insubordinate, but
I've got to refuse--I simply must. I've never shirked a duty
before, as I think you will admit, Mr. Blaine. I have always carried
out the missions you entrusted to me to the best of my ability, no
matter what the odds against me, and in this case I have gone ahead
conscientiously up to the present moment, but I won't proceed with it
any further."

"What are you afraid of--Jimmy Brunell?" asked the detective,
significantly.

The insult brought a deep flush to Morrow's cheek, but he controlled
himself.

"No, sir," he responded, quietly. "I'm not going to betray the trust
that girl has reposed in me."

"How about the trust another girl has placed in me--and through me, in
you?" Henry Blaine rose also, and gazed levelly into his operative's
eyes. "What of Anita Lawton? Have you considered her? I ought to
dismiss you, Guy, at this moment, and I would if it were anyone else,
but I can't allow you to fly off at a tangent, and ruin your whole
career. Why should you put this girl, Emily Brunell, before everything
in the world--your duty to Miss Lawton, to me, to yourself?"

"She trusted me," returned Morrow, with grim persistence.

"So did Henrietta Goodwin, in the case of Mrs. Derwenter's diamonds;
so did the little manicure, in the Verdun blackmail affair; so did
Anne Richardson, in the Balazzi kidnaping mystery. You made love to
all of them, and got their confessions, and if your scruples and
remorse kept you awake nights afterward, you certainly didn't show any
effect of it. What difference does it make in this case?"

"Just this difference, Mr. Blaine"--Morrow's words came with a rush,
as if he was glad, now that the issue had been raised, to meet it
squarely--"I love Emily Brunell. Whatever her father is, or has done,
she is guiltless of any complicity, and I can't stand by and see her
suffer, much less be the one to precipitate her grief by bringing her
father to justice. I told you the truth when I said that the cipher
letter was an enigma to me. I could not solve the cryptogram, nor will
I be the means of bringing it to the hands of those who might solve
it. I don't want any further connection with the case; in fact, sir, I
want to get out of the sleuth game altogether. It's a dirty business,
at best, and it leaves a bad taste in one's mouth, and many a black
spot in one's memory. I realize how petty and sordid and treacherous
and generally despicable the whole game is, and I'm through!"

"Through?" Henry Blaine smiled his quiet, slow, illuminating smile,
and walking around the table, laid his hand on Morrow's shoulder.
"Why, boy, you haven't even commenced. Detective work is 'petty,' you
said? 'Petty' because we take every case, no matter how insignificant,
if it can right a wrong? You call our profession 'sordid,' because we
accept pay for the work of our brains and bodies! Why should we not?
Are we treacherous, because we meet malefactors, and fight them with
their own weapons? And what is there that is 'generally despicable'
about a calling which betters mankind, which protects the innocent,
and brings the guilty to justice?"

Morrow shook his head slowly, as if incapable of speech, but it was
evident that he was listening, and Blaine, after a moment's pause,
followed up his advantage.

"You say that you love Miss Brunell, Guy, and because of that, you
will have nothing further to do with an investigation which points
primarily to her father as an accomplice in the crime. Do you realize
that if you throw over the case now, I shall be compelled to put
another operative on the trail, with all the information at his
disposal which you have detailed to me? You may be sure the man I have
in mind will have no sentimental scruples against pushing the matter
to the end, without regard for the cost to either Jimmy Brunell or
his daughter. Naturally, being in love with the girl, her interests
are paramount with you. I, too, desire heartily to do nothing to cause
her anxiety or grief. Remember that I have daughters of my own. As I
have told you, I firmly believe that the old forger is merely a
helpless tool in this affair, but my duty demands that I obtain the
whole truth. If you repudiate the case now, give up your career, and
go to work single-handed to attempt to protect her and her father by
thwarting my investigation, you will be doing her the greatest injury
in your power. The only way to help them both is to do all that you
can to discover the real facts in the case. When we have succeeded in
that, we shall undoubtedly find a way to shield old Jimmy from the
brunt of the blame.

"Don't forget the big interests, political and municipal, at work in
this conspiracy. They would not hesitate to try to make the old
offender a scape-goat, and you know what sort of treatment he would
receive in the hands of the police. Play the game, Guy; stick to the
job. I'm not asking this of you for my own investigation. I have a
dozen, a score of operatives who could each handle the branch you are
working up just as well as you. I ask it for the sake of your career,
for the girl herself, and her father. I tell you that instead of
incriminating old Jimmy, you may be the means of ultimately saving
him.--Go back to Emily Brunell now, get that letter from her by hook
or crook, and bring it to me."

The detective paused at length and waited for his answer. It was long
in coming. Guy Morrow stood leaning against his desk, his brows drawn
down in a troubled frown. Blaine watched the outward signs of his
mental struggle warily, but made no further plea. At last the young
operative raised his head, his eyes clear and resolute, and held out
his hand.

"I will, sir! Thank you for giving me another chance. I do love the
girl, and I want to help her more than anything else in the world, but
I'll play the game fairly. You are right, of course. I can be of more
assistance to her on the inside than working in the dark, and it would
be better for everyone concerned if the truth could be brought to
light. I'll get the letter, and bring it to you to-night."

Morrow was waiting at the foot of the subway stairs that evening when
Emily appeared. The crisp, cold air had brought a brilliant flush to
her usually pale cheeks, and her sparkling eyes softened with tender
surprise and happiness when they rested on him. He thought that she
had never appeared more lovely, and as they started homeward his hand
tightened upon her arm with an air of unconscious possession and pride
which she did not resent.

"May I come over after supper?" he asked, softly, as they paused at
her gate. "I have something to tell you--to ask you."

"Won't you come in and have supper with me?" she suggested shyly.
"Caliban and I will be all alone. My father will not be home until
late to-night. He telephoned to me at the club and told me that he had
closed the shop for the day and gone down-town on business."

A shadow crossed her face as she spoke, the faint shadow of hidden
trouble which he had noticed before. It was an auspicious moment, and
Morrow seized upon it.

"I will, gladly, if you will let me wash the dishes," he replied, with
alacrity.

"We will do them together." The brightness which but an instant
before had been blotted from her face returned in a warm glow, and
side by side they entered the door.

With Caliban, the black kitten, upon his knees, Morrow watched as she
moved deftly about the cheerful, spotless kitchen preparing the simple
meal. He made no mention of the subject which lay nearest his heart
and mind, and they chattered as gaily and irresponsibly as children.
But when supper was over, and they settled themselves in the little
sitting-room, a curious constraint fell upon them both. She sat
stroking the kitten, which had curled up beside her, while he gazed
absently at the rosy gleam of the glowing coals behind the isinglass
door of the little stove, and for a long time there was silence
between them.

At length he turned to her and spoke. "Emily," he began, "I told you
out there by your gate to-night that I had something to ask of you,
something to tell you. I want to tell you now, but I don't know how to
begin. It's something I've never told any girl before."

Her hands paused, resting with sudden tenseness upon Caliban's soft
fur, and slowly she averted her face from him. He swallowed hard, and
then the words came in a swift, tender rush.

"Dear, I love you! I've loved you from the moment I first saw you
coming down the street! You--you know nothing of me, save the little I
have told you, and I came here a stranger. Some day I will tell you
everything, and you will understand. You and your father admitted me
to your friendship, made me welcome in your home, and I shall never
forget it. It may be that some time I shall be able to be of service
to you, but remember that whatever happens, no matter how you reply to
me now, I shall never forget your goodness to me, and I shall try to
repay it. I love you with all my heart and soul; I want you to be my
wife, dear! I never knew before that such love could exist in the
world! You have your father, I know, but, oh, I want to protect you
and care for you, and keep all harm from you forever."

"Guy!" Her voice was a mere breathless whisper, and her eyes blurred
with sudden tears, but he slipped his arm about her, and drew her
close.

"Emily, won't you look at me, dear? Won't you tell me that you care,
too? That at least there is a chance for me? If I have spoken too
soon, I will await patiently and serve you as Jacob served for Rebecca
of old. Only tell me that you will try to care, and there is nothing
on this earth I cannot do for you, nothing I will not do! Oh, my
darling, say that you care just a little!"

There was a pause and then very softly a warm arm stole about his
neck, and a strand of rippling brown hair brushed his cheek lightly as
her gentle head drooped against his shoulder.

"I--I do care--now," she whispered. "I knew that I cared when
you--went away!"

The minutes lengthened into an hour or more while Morrow in the thrall
of his exalted mood forgot for the second time in the girl's sweet
presence his battle between love and duty: forgot the reason for his
coming, the mission he was bound to fulfill--the letter he had
promised his employer to obtain.

For many minutes Guy Morrow and Emily forgot all else but the
new-found happiness of the love they had just confessed for each
other. Morrow had even forgotten that most-important letter which,
after many misgivings, he had solemnly promised his employer to
obtain from Emily. It was a phrase which fell from her own lips that
recalled him to the stern reality of the situation.

"My father!" she exclaimed, starting from Morrow's arms in sudden
confusion. "What do you suppose Father will say?"

"We will tell him when he returns." Morrow spoke with reassuring
confidence, but a swift feeling of apprehension came over him. What
indeed would Jimmy Brunell say? The thought of lying to Emily's father
was repugnant beyond expression, and yet what account could he give of
himself, of his profession and earlier career? What credentials, what
proof of his integrity and clean, honest life could he present to the
man whose daughter he sought to marry? At the first hint of
"detective" the old forger would inevitably suspect his motive and
turn him from the house, forbidding Emily to speak to or even look
upon him again. There was an alternative, and although he shrank from
it as unworthy of her faith and trust in him, Morrow was forced to
accept it as the only practicable solution to the problem confronting
him.

"Oh, no, don't let us tell him--yet!" Unconsciously Emily smoothed the
way for him. "I don't mean to deceive him, of course, or keep anything
from him which it is really necessary that he know at once, but it
seems too wonderful to discuss, even with Father, just now. It is like
a fairy promise, like moonshine, which would be dispelled if we
breathed a word of it to anyone."

"Of course, dearest, if it is your wish, we will say nothing now," he
returned slowly. In his heart a fierce wave of self-contempt at his
own hypocrisy surged up once more, but he forced it doggedly down. He
had promised his chief to play the game, and after all it was for the
sake of the girl beside him, that he might be able, when the
inevitable moment of disclosure came, to be of real service to her and
her unfortunate father, and to shield her from the brunt of the blow.
"I should not like your father to think that we deceived him, but
perhaps it would be as well if we kept our secret for a little time.
Later, when I have succeeded in landing a good, permanent position
with a prospect of advancement, I can go to him with greater
assurance, and ask him for you."

"Poor Father!" sighed Emily, with a wistful, tremulous little smile.
"We have been inseparable ever since I can remember. He has lived only
for me, and I cannot bear to think of leaving him--especially now,
when he seems weighed down with some secret anxiety, which he will
share with no one, not even me. I feel that he needs me, more than
ever before. It wrings my heart, Guy, to see him age before my very
eyes, and to know that he will not confide in me, I may not help him!
He seems to lean upon me, upon my presence near him, as if somehow I
gave him strength. Although he maintains a steadfast silence, his eyes
never leave me, and such a sad, hungry expression comes into them
sometimes, almost as if he were going away from me forever, as if he
were trying to say farewell to me, that I have to turn away to hide my
tears from him."

"Poor little girl! It must make you terribly unhappy." Morrow paused,
and then added, as if in afterthought: "Perhaps when we tell your
father that we care for each other, that when I have proved myself you
are going to be my wife, he may confide in me--that is, if he is
willing to give you to me. You know, dear, it is easier sometimes for
a man to talk to another of his private worries, than to a woman,
even the one nearest and dearest to him in all the world. I may
possibly be of assistance to him. You told me last night that the
change in him had been coming on gradually for several months. When
did it first occur to you that he was in trouble?"

"I don't know. I can't remember. You see, I didn't realize it until
that letter came, and then I began to think back, and the significance
of little things which I had not noticed particularly when they
occurred, was borne in upon me. Although I have no reason for
connecting the two happenings beyond the fact that they coincided, I
cannot help feeling that Mr. Pennold--the young man whom you have
observed when he called to see my father--has something to do with the
state of things, for it was with his very first appearance, more than
two years ago, that my father became a changed man."

"Tell me about it," Morrow urged, gently. "Can you remember, dear,
when he first came?"

"Oh, yes. We have so few visitors--Father doesn't, as a rule,
encourage new acquaintances, you know, Guy, although he did seem to
like you from the very beginning--that the reception of a perfect
stranger into our home as a constant caller puzzled me. It occurred on
a Sunday afternoon in summer. I was sitting out on the porch reading,
when a strange young man came up the path from the gate, and asked to
see my father. I called to him--he was weeding the flowerbed around
the corner of the house--and when he came, I went up to my room,
leaving them alone together. I didn't go, though, until I had seen
their meeting, and one thing about it seemed strange to me, even then.
The stranger, Mr. Pennold, evidently did not know my father, had
never even seen him before, from the way he greeted him, but when
Father first caught sight of his face, his own went deathly white and
he gripped the porch railing for a moment, as if for support.

"'You wished to see me?' he said, and his voice sounded queer and
hollow and dazed, like a person awaking from sleep. 'What can I do for
you?'

"'This is Mr. James Brunell?' the young man asked. 'You are a
map-maker, I understand. I have come to ask for your estimate on a
large contract for wall-maps for suburban schools. If you can spare a
half-hour, we can talk it over now, sir, in private. I have a letter
of introduction to you from an old acquaintance. My name is Pennold.'

"'I know.' My father smiled as he spoke, an odd, slow smile which
somehow held no mirth or welcome. 'I noted the family resemblance at
once. A relative of yours was at one time associated with me in
business.'

"The young man laughed shortly.

"You mean my uncle, I guess. He's retired now. Well, Mr. Brunell,
shall we get to business?'

"I left them then, and when I came downstairs from my room, the young
man had gone. Father was standing in the window over there, with a
letter crushed in his hand. He turned when I spoke to him, and, oh,
Guy, if you had seen his face at that moment! I almost cried out in
fear! It was like one of the terrible, despairing faces in Dante's
description of the Inferno. He looked at me blankly as if he scarcely
recognized me; then gradually that awful expression was blotted out,
and his old sweet, sunny smile took its place.

"'Well, little girl!' he said. 'Our Sunday together was spoiled,
wasn't it, by that young fellow's intrusion?'

"'Not spoiled,' I replied, 'if he brought you work.'

"The smile faded from Father's face, and he responded very gravely,
with a curious, halting pause between the words:

"'Yes. He has brought me--work.'

"I forgot all about that episode, in the weeks and months which
followed. Charley Pennold called irregularly. Sometimes he would come
three or four times a week, then again we would not see him for two or
three months. Father was busier than ever in the shop, and, Charley
Pennold's orders must have been very profitable, for we've had more
money in the last two years than ever before, that I can remember. And
yet Father has been melancholy and morose at times, as if he were
brooding over something, and his disposition has changed steadily for
the worse, although in the last few months the difference in his moods
has become more marked. Then, when that letter came he seemed to give
himself wholly up to whatever it is which has obsessed him."

"Emily, will you let me see the letter again?" Morrow asked suddenly.
"If you really care for me, and will be my wife some day, your
troubles and vexations are mine. I want you to let me take the letter
home with me to-night. I feel that if I can study it for a few hours
undisturbed, I shall be able to read the cipher. I'll promise, dear,
to bring it back the very first thing in the morning."

"Of course, you may have it, Guy!" The young girl rose impulsively,
and went to the little desk in the corner. "I hid it last night after
you had gone, among some old receipts; here it is. You need not return
it to-morrow. Keep it for several days, if you like, until you have
studied it thoroughly. I don't see how you or any one could solve it
without possessing the key, but I should feel as if a load were taken
off my shoulders if you will try."

She gave him the letter, and after a long, tender farewell, he took
his departure. Going straight to his room at Mrs. Quinlan's, he
lighted the lamp, so that if Emily chanced to look over the way, she
would fancy him at work upon the cryptogram. Morrow waited until the
little house opposite was plunged in darkness; then very stealthily he
crept down the stairs and let himself out, the precious letter
carefully tucked into an inside pocket.

Morrow proceeded at once to Blaine's office and found his chief
awaiting him.

"Here's the letter, sir," he announced, as he placed the single sheet
of paper on the desk before the detective. "I can't make anything out
of it, but you probably will. It's curious, isn't it! Why, for
instance, are those little dots placed near some of the crazy figures,
and not others?"

Blaine picked the letter up, and examined it with eager interest.

"It's comparatively simple," he remarked, as he spread it flat upon
the desk, and taking up pen and paper, copied it rapidly. "Symbolic
cryptograms are usually decipherable, with the expenditure of a little
time and effort. There is a method which is universally followed, and
has been for ages. For instance, the letter _e_ is recognized as being
the most frequently used, in ordinary English, of the whole alphabet;
after that the vowels and consonants in an accepted rotation which I
will not take up our valuable time in discussing with you now, since
we will not even need to use it, in this case.--Here, take this copy,
and see if you can follow me."

He passed the sheet of paper across to his operative and Morrow gazed
again upon the curiously shaped characters which from close scrutiny
had become familiar, yet still remained maddeningly baffling to him:

[Illustration: An image of a coded message is shown here in the text.]

"Now," resumed Blaine, "presupposing that in an ostensibly friendly
message beginning with a word of four letters, that word is _dear_,
and we've two important vowels to start with. We know the letter was
addressed to Brunell, from an old partner in crime. We will assume,
therefore, that the two words of three letters each, following _dear_
are either _old Jim_, _old man_, or _old boy_. Let us see how it works
out."

The detective scribbled hastily on a pad for several minutes, then
leaned back in his chair, with a sigh of satisfaction.

"It can only be _boy_," he announced. "That gives us a working start
of eight letters. Add to that the fact that this character is printed
twice consecutively in three different places"--he pointed to the
figure =[.= as he spoke--"which confirms the supposition that it is
_l_, and you have this result immediately."

Blaine handed the pad across to Morrow, who read eagerly:

    _Dear Old Boy._

    _B-- -o-ey -o---- -o yo- -ro- old --ore le-- ---a-d --a- ---y
    --are -or -olle----- -or yo--o r--- --ll -all o- yo- ---r-day
    a- -o-r -e-._

The operative started to speak, but checked himself, and listened
while Henry Blaine went on slowly but steadily.

"Each letter gained helps us to others, you see, Guy. For instance
_-o-ey_ must be _money_; the character following _yo_ three times in
different places must be _u_; the word _---r-day_ can only be
_Thursday_; _-all_ is _call_; _a-_ is _at_; and _-o-r_ is _four_. That
gives us eight more letters, and makes the message read like this."
Blaine wrote it down and handed the result to Morrow, who read:

    _Dear Old Boy._

    _B-- money com-n- to you from old score left un-a-d -hat -s my
    share for collect-n- for you? No ris- --ll call on you
    Thursday at four. -en._

"It looks easy, now," admitted Morrow. "But I never should have
thought of going about it that way. I suppose the sixth word is
_coming_. That gives us _i_ and _g_."

"Right you are," Blaine chuckled. "Knowing, too, that the message came
from Walter Pennold, we can safely assume that _-en_ is _Pen_. Use
your common sense alone, now, and you will find that the message
reads: 'Dear old boy. Big money coming to you from old score left
unpaid. What is my share for collecting for you? No risk. Will call on
you Thursday at four. Pen.'

"The word _risk_ was misspelled _risl_. Evidently Pennold was a little
bit rusty in the use of the old code. Our bait landed the fish all
right, Guy. The money we planted in the bank of Brooklyn and Queens
certainly brought results. No wonder poor old Jimmy Brunell was all
broken up when he received such a message. More crafty than Pennold,
he realized that it was a trap, and we were on his trail at last.
We've got him cinched now, but he's only a tool, possibly a helpless
one, in the hands of the master workmen. We'll go after them, tooth
and nail, for the happiness and stainless name of two innocent young
girls, who trust in us, and we'll get them, Guy, we'll get them if
there is any justice and honor and truth left in the world!"



CHAPTER XIII

THE EMPTY HOUSE


"Don't spare them now. Get the truth at all costs."

With the last instructions of his chief ringing in his ears, the
following morning Guy Morrow set out for Brooklyn, to interview his
erstwhile friends, the Pennolds, in his true colors.

Mame Pennold, who was cleaning the dingy front room, heard the click
of the gate, and peered with habitual caution from behind the frayed
curtains of the window. The unexpected reappearance of their young
banking acquaintance sent her scurrying as fast as her palsied legs
could carry her back to the kitchen, where her husband sat luxuriously
smoking and toasting his feet at the roaring little stove.

"Wally, who d'you think's comin' up the walk? That young feller,
Alfred Hicks, who skipped from the Brooklyn and Queens Bank!"

"Good Lord!" Walter Pennold took his pipe from his lips and stared at
her. "What d'you s'pose brought him back? Think he's broke, an' wants
a touch?"

"No-o," his wife responded, somewhat doubtfully. "He looked
prosperous, all right, by the flash I got at him, an' he's walkin'
real brisk and businesslike. Maybe he's back on the job."

"'Tain't likely, not after the way he left his boarding place, if that
Lindsay woman didn't lie." Pennold laid aside his pipe and frowned
thoughtfully, as steps echoed from the rickety porch and a knock
sounded upon the door. "He's a lightweight, every way you take
him--he'd never stick anywhere."

"Maybe he's come to try an' get you into somethin'," Mame suggested.
"Don't you go takin' up with a bad penny at your time o' life, Wally.
He might know somethin' an' try blackmail, if he's real up against
it."

"Well, go ahead an' open the door!" ordered Walter impatiently. "We're
straight with the bank. If he's workin' there again we ain't got
nothin' to worry about, an' if he ain't, we got nothin' against him.
Let him in."

With obvious reluctance, Mame shuffled through the hall and obeyed.

"Hello, Mrs. Pennold!" Guy greeted her heartily, but without offering
his hand. He brushed past her half-defensive figure with scant
ceremony, and entered the kitchen. "Hello, Pennold. Thought I might
find you home this cold morning. How goes it?"

"Same as usual." Pennold rose slowly and looked at his visitor with
swiftly narrowed eyes. There was a new note in the young man's voice
which the other vaguely recognized; it was as if a lantern had
suddenly flashed into his face from the darkness, or an authoritative
hand been laid upon his shoulder. He motioned mechanically toward a
chair on the other side of the stove, and added slowly: "S'prised to
see you, Al. Didn't expect you'd be around here again after your
get-away. Workin' once more?"

"Oh, I'm right on the job!" responded Guy briskly. He drew the chair
close to the square deal table, so close that he could have reached
out, had he pleased, and touched his host's sleeve. Pennold seated
himself again in his old position, significantly half-turned, so that
when he glanced slyly at his visitor it was over his shoulder, in the
furtive fashion of one on guard.

"Ain't back with the Brooklyn and Queens, are you?" he asked.

"No. It got too slow for me there. I found something bigger to do."

Mame Pennold, who had been hovering in the background, came forward
now and faced him across the table, her shrewd eyes fastened upon
him.

"Must have easy hours, when you can get off in the morning like this?"
she observed. "Didn't forget your old friends, did you?"

"No, of course not. I hadn't anything more important to do this
morning, so I thought I'd drop in and see you both."

His hand traveled to his breast pocket, and at the gesture, Mame's
gaunt body stiffened suddenly.

"Didn't come to inquire about our health, did you?" she shot at him,
acrimoniously.

"I came to see you about another matter--"

"Not on the trail of old Jimmy Brunell still, on that business of the
bonds found at the bank?" Walter's voice was suddenly shrill with
simulated mirth. "Nothin' in that for you, Al; not a nickel, if that's
what you're here for."

"I'm not on Brunell's trail. I've found him," Morrow returned quietly;
and in the tense pause which ensued he added dryly: "You led me to
him."

"So that's what it was, a plant!" Walter started from his chair, but
Mame laid a trembling, sinewy hand upon his shoulder and forced him
back.

"What d'you mean, young man?" she demanded. "What do we know about old
Brunell?"

"You wrote him a letter--you knew where to find him."

"I only wish we did!" she ejaculated. "We didn't write him! You must
be crazy!"

"'Big money coming to you from old score left unpaid. What is my share
for collecting for you?'" quoted Morrow, adding: "I have a friend who
is very much interested in ciphers, and he wanted me to ask you about
the one you use, Pennold. His name is Blaine. Ever hear of him?"

"Blaine!" Mame's voice shrank to a mere whisper, and her sallow face
whitened.

"Blaine! Henry Blaine? The guy they call the Master Mind?" Pennold's
shaking voice rose to a breaking cry, but again his wife silenced
him.

"Suppose we did write such a letter--an' we ain't admittin' we did,
for a minute--what's Blaine got on us?" demanded Mame, coolly. "It's
no crime, as I ever heard, to write a letter any way you want to. Who
are you, young man? You're no bank clerk!"

"He's a 'tec, of course! Shut up your fool mouth, Mame. An' as for
you, d--n you, get out of this house, an' get out quick, or I'll call
the police myself! We've been leadin' straight, clean, respectable
lives for years, Mame an' me, an' nobody's got nothin' on us! I ain't
goin' to have no private 'tecs snoopin' in an' tryin' to put me
through the third degree. Beat it, now!"

He rose blusteringly and advanced toward Morrow with upraised fist,
but the other, with the table between them, drew from his pocket a
folded paper.

"Not so fast, Pennold. I have a warrant here for your arrest!"

"Don't you believe him, Wally!" shrilled Mame. "It's a fake! Don't you
talk to him! Put him out."

"The warrant was issued this morning, and I am empowered to arrest
you. You can look at it for yourselves; you've both seen them before."
He opened the paper and spread it out for them to read. "Walter
Pennold, alias William Perry, alias Wally the Scribbler, number 09203
in the Rogues' Gallery. First term at Joliet, for forgery; second at
Sing Sing for shoving the queer. This warrant only holds you as a
suspicious character, Pennold, but we can dig up plenty of other
things, if it's necessary; there's a forger named Griswold in the
Tombs now awaiting trial, who will snitch about that Rochester check,
for one thing."

"Don't let him bluff you, Wally." Mame faced Morrow from her husband's
side. "They can't rake up a thing that ain't outlawed by time. You've
lived clean more'n seven years, an' you're free from the bulls. They
can't hold you."

"I haven't any warrant yet for you, Mrs. Pennold," observed Morrow,
imperturbably. "I admit that it's more than seven years since every
department-store detective was on the look-out for Left-handed Mame. I
believe you specialized in furs and laces, didn't you?"

"What's it to you? You can't lay a finger on me now!" the woman
stormed, defiantly.

"Not for shop-lifting or forgery--but how about receiving stolen
goods?"

The shot found an instant target. Walter Pennold slumped and crumpled
down into his chair, his arms outspread upon the table. He laid his
head upon them, and a single dry, shuddering sob tore its way from his
throat. The woman backed slowly away, and for the first time a shadow
as of approaching terror crossed her hard, challenging face.

"Stolen goods!" she repeated. "What are you tryin' to put over? Do
you think we're so green at the game that you can plant the goods here
an' get us put away on the strength of a past record? You're a--"

"Nothing like it!" Morrow leaned forward impressively. "We don't have
to do any planting, Mame. It's a good deal less than seven years since
the Mortimer Chase's silver plate lay in your cellar."

"Silver plate--in our cellar!" echoed Mame in genuine amazement.

She stepped forward again, her shrewish chin out-thrust, but Walter
Pennold raised his face, and at sight of it she stopped as if turned
to stone.

"It's no use!" he cried, brokenly. "They've got me, Mame!"

"Got you? They'll never get you!" her startled scream rang out.
"Wally, d'you know what the next term means? It's a lifer, on any
count! I don't know what he means about any silver plate, but it's a
bluff! Don't let him get your nerve!"

"Is it a bluff, Pennold?" asked Morrow, with dominant insistence.

The broken figure huddled in the chair shuddered uncontrollably.

"No, it ain't," he muttered. "I--I held out on you, Mame! I knew you
wouldn't risk it, so I didn't say nothin' to you about it, but the
money was too easy to let get by. The old gang offered me five hundred
bucks just to keep it ten days, and pass it on to Jennings. He came
here with a rag-picker's cart, you remember? You wondered what I was
givin' him, an' I told you it was some rolls of old carpet I got from
that place I was night watchman at, in Vandewater Street. I hid the
stuff under the coal--"

"Shut up!" cried Mame, fiercely. "You don't know what you're sayin'.
Wally, hold your tongue for God's sake! Where's your spirit? Are you
goin' to break down now like a reformatory brat, you that had 'em all
guessin' for twenty years!"

The gaunt woman had recovered from the sudden shock of her husband's
unexpected revelation and now towered protectingly over his collapsed
form, her palsied hands for once steady and firm upon his shoulders,
while her keen eyes glittered shrewdly at the young operative
confronting them.

"Look here!" she said, shortly. "If you wanted us for receiving stolen
goods, you wouldn't come around here with a warrant for Wally's arrest
as a suspicious character, an' you wouldn't have worked that Brunell
plant. What's your lay?"

"Information," responded Morrow, frankly. "The police don't know where
the plate was, for those ten days, and there's no immediate need
that they should. Blaine cleaned up that case eventually, you
know--recovered the plate and caught the butler in Southampton, under
the noses of the Scotland Yard men. I want to know what you can
tell me about Brunell--and about your nephew, Charley Pennold."

Walter opened his lips, but closed them without speech, and his wife
replied for him.

"We're no snitchers," she said coldly. "There's nothin' we can tell.
Jimmy Brunell's run straight for near twenty years, so far as we
know."

"And Charley?" persisted Morrow.

"It's no use, Mame," Walter Pennold repeated, dully. "If I go up
again, it means the end for me. Charley's got to take his chance, same
as the rest of us. God knows I tried to do the right thing by the boy,
same as Jimmy did by his daughter, but Charley's got the blood in
him. It's hell to peach on your own, but it's worse to hear that iron
door clank behind you, and to know it's for the last time! After all,
there ain't nothin' in what we can tell about Charley that a lot of
other people wouldn't spill, an' nothin' that could land him behind
the bars. I ain't the man I was, or I'd take my medicine without
squealin', but I can't face it again, Mame, I can't! I'm an old man
now, old before my time, perhaps, but it's been so long since I
smelled the prison taint, so long since I had a number instead of a
name, that I'd die now, quick, before I'd rot in a cell!"

The terrible, droning monotone ceased, and for a moment there was
silence in the squalid little room. The woman's face was as impassive
as Morrow's, as she waited. Only the tightening of her hands upon her
husband's shoulders, until her bony knuckles showed white through the
drawn skin, betrayed the storm of emotion which swept over her, at the
memories evoked by the broken words.

"I'm not asking you to snitch, Pennold," Morrow said, not unkindly.
"We know all we want to about Brunell's life at present--his home in
the Bronx, and his little map-making shop--and we're not trying to
rake up anything from the past to hold over him now; it is only some
general information I want. As to your nephew, you've got to tell me
all you know about him, or it's all up with you. Blaine won't give you
away, if you'll answer my questions frankly and make a clean breast of
it, and this is your only chance."

Pennold licked his dry lips.

"What do you want to know?" he asked, at last.

"When did Jimmy Brunell turn his last trick?"

"Years ago; I've forgotten how many. It's no harm speakin' of it now,
for he did his seven years up the river for it--his first and only
conviction. That was the time old Cowperthwaite's name was forged to
five checks amounting to thirty thousand, all told, and Jimmy was
caught on the last."

"Where was his plant?"

"In a basement on Dye Street. The bulls never found it. He was running
a little printer's shop in front, as a blind--oh, he was clever, old
Jimmy, the sharpest in his line!"

"What became of his outfit, when he was sent up?"

"Dunno. It just disappeared. Some of his old pals cribbed it, I guess,
or Jimmy may have fixed it with them to remove it. He was always
close-mouthed, and he never would tell me. I knew where his plant was,
of course, and I went there myself, after he was sent up and the coast
was clear, to get the outfit, to--to take care of it for him until he
came out. Oh, I ain't afraid to tell now; it's so long ago! I could
take you to the place to-day, but the outfit's gone."

"And when he had served his term, what happened?"

"He came out to find that his wife was dead, and Emily, the little
girl that was born just after he went up, was none too well treated by
the people her mother'd had to leave her with. He'd learned in the
pen' to make maps, an' he opened a little shop an' made up his mind to
live straight, an'--an' so far as I know, he has." Pennold faltered,
as if from weakness, and for a moment his voice ceased. Then he went
on: "I ain't seen him for a long time, but we kept track of each
other, an' when you come with that cock-an'-bull story about the
bonds, and the bank backed you up in it, why I--I went to see him."

"You wrote him first. Why did you send a cipher letter?"

"Because I suspicioned the whole thing was a plant, just like it
turned out to be, an' I didn't want to get an old pal into no trouble.
The cipher's an old one we used years ago, in the gang, an' I know he
wouldn't forget it. I never thought he'd squeal on me to Blaine!"

"He didn't. The letter--er--came into Blaine's possession, and he read
it for himself."

"He did?" Pennold looked up quickly, with a flash of interest on his
sullen face. "He's a wonder, that Blaine! If he'd only got started the
other way, the way we did, what a crook he would have made! As it is,
I guess we ain't afraid of all the organized police on earth combined,
as much as we are of him. It's a queer thing he ain't been shot up or
blown into eternity long ago, an' yet they say he's never guarded. He
must be a cool one! Anyhow, I'm glad Jimmy didn't squeal on me; I'd
hate to think it of him. When I went to see him about the bonds, he
wouldn't have nothin' to do with them. Swore they was a plant, he did,
an' warned me off. He seemed real excited, considerin' he had nothin'
to worry about, but I took his word for it, an' beat it. That's the
last I seen of him."

"Did you send your nephew to him?"

"Me?" Pennold's tones quickened in surprise. "I ain't seen him in a
long while, an' I don't believe he even remembers old Jimmy; he was
only a kid when Jimmy went up the river. What would I send Charley
for, when I'd gone myself an' it hadn't worked?"

It was evident to Morrow that the man he was interrogating was
ignorant of Brunell's connection with the Lawton case, and he changed
his tactics.

"Tell me about Charley. You say you tried to do right by him."

"Of course I did! Wasn't he my brother's boy?" Pennold hunched over
the table, and continued eagerly: "Mame kept him clean an' fed, an' we
sent him to public school, just like any other kid. But it wasn't no
use. He had it in him to go wrong, without the wit to get away with
it. He was caught pinchin' lead piping when he was sixteen, an' sent
to Elmira for three years. Them three years was his finish. When he
came out he'd had what you'd call a graduate course in every form of
crookedness under the sun, from fellers harder an' cleverer than he'd
ever thought of bein', an' he was bitter besides, an' desperate. There
wasn't no chance for him then, an' he just drifted on down the line. I
never heard of him turnin' a real trick himself, an' he never got
caught at nothin' again, but he chummed in with the gang, an' he
always seemed to have coin enough. I ain't seen him in more'n a year.
The last I heard of him, he was workin' as a stool-pigeon an' snitcher
for the worst scoundrel of the lot."

"Who was that?" asked Morrow.

Pennold hesitated and then replied with dogged reluctance.

"I dunno what that's got to do with it, but the feller's name is
Paddington, an' he's the worst kind of a crook--a 'tec gone wrong. At
least, that's what they say about him, but I ain't got nothin' on him;
I don't believe I ever seen the man, that I know of. He's worked on a
lot of shady cases; I know that much, an' he's clever. More'n a dozen
crooks are floatin' around town that would be up the river if he told
what he knew about 'em; so naturally, he owns 'em, body an' soul. Not
that Charley's one that'd go up--he's only in it for the coin--but I'd
rather see him get pinched an' do time for pullin' off somethin' on
his own account, than runnin' around doin' dirty work for a man who
ain't in his father's class, or mine. He's a disgrace; that's what
Charley is--a plain disgrace."

Pennold's voice rang out in highly virtuous indignation. Morrow
forbore to smile at the oblique moral viewpoint of the old crook.

"What does he look like?" he asked. "Short and slim, isn't he, with a
small dark mustache?"

"That's him!" ejaculated Pennold disgustedly. "Dresses like a dude,
an' chases after a bunch of skirts! Spreads himself like a ward
politician when he gets a chance! He's my nephew, all right, but as
long as he won't run straight, same as I'm doin' now, I'd rather he'd
crack a crib than play errand boy for a man I wouldn't trust on
look-out!"

"Where does Charley live?" asked Morrow.

"How should I know? He hangs out at Lafferty's saloon, down on Sand
Street, when he ain't off on some steer or other--leastways he used
to."

Morrow folded the warrant slowly, in the pause which ensued, and
returned it to his pocket while the couple watched him tensely.

"All right, Pennold," he said, at last. "I guess I won't have to use
this now. If you've been square, an' told me all you know, you won't
be bothered about that matter of the Mortimer Chase silver plate. If
you've kept anything back, Blaine will find it out, and then it's
good-night to you."

"I ain't!" returned Pennold, with tremendous eagerness. "I've told you
everything you asked, an' I don't savvy what you're gettin' at,
anyway. If you're tryin' to mix Jimmy Brunell up in any new case
you're dead wrong; he's out of the game for good. As for Charley, he
wouldn't know enough to pick up a pocket-book if he saw one lyin' on
the sidewalk, unless he was told to!"

"Well, I may as well warn both of you that you're watched, and if you
try to make a get-away, you'll be taken up--and it won't be on
suspicion, either. Play fair with Blaine, and he'll be square with
you, but don't try to put anything over on him, or it'll be the worse
for you. It can't be done."

Morrow closed the door behind him, leaving the couple as they had been
almost throughout the interview--the woman erect and stony of face,
the man miserable and shaken, crouched dejectedly over the table. But
scarcely had he descended the steps of the ramshackle little porch
when the voice of Mame Pennold reached him, pitched in a shrill key of
emotional exultation.

"Oh, Wally, Wally! Thank God you ain't a snitcher! Thank God you
didn't tell!"

The voice ceased suddenly, as if a hand had been laid across her lips,
and after a moment's hesitation, Morrow swung off down the path,
conscious of at least one pair of eyes watching him from behind the
soiled curtains of the front room.

What had the woman meant? Pennold obviously had kept something back,
but was it of sufficient importance to warrant his returning and
forcing a confession? Whether it concerned Brunell or their nephew
Charley mattered little, at the moment. He had achieved the object of
his visit; he knew that Pennold himself had no connection with the
Lawton forgeries, nor knowledge of them, and at the same time he had
learned of Charley's affiliation with Paddington. The couple back
there in the little house could tell him scarcely more which would aid
him in his investigation, but the dapper, viciously weak young
stool-pigeon, if he could be located at once, might be made to
disclose enough to place Paddington definitely within the grasp of the
law.

Guy Morrow boarded a Sand Street car, and behind the sporting page of
a newspaper he kept a sharp look-out for Lafferty's saloon. He came to
it at last--a dingy, down-at-heel resort, with much faded gilt-work
over the door, and fly-specked posters of the latest social function
of the district's political club showing dimly behind its unwashed
windows.

He rode a block beyond--then, alighting, turned back and entered the
bar. It was deserted at that hour of the morning, save for a
disconsolate-looking individual who leaned upon one ragged elbow,
gazing mournfully into his empty whisky glass at the end of the
narrow, varnished counter. The bartender emerged from a door leading
into the back room, with a tall, empty glass in his hand, and Morrow
asked for a beer. As he stood sipping it, he watched the bartender
replenish the empty unwashed glass he had carried with a generous
drink of doubtful looking absinthe and a squirt from a syphon.

"Bum drink on a cold morning," he observed tentatively. "Have a whisky
straight, on me?"

"I will that!" the bartender returned heartily. "This green-eyed fairy
stuff ain't for me; it's for a dame in the back room--one of the
regulars. She's been hittin' it up all the morning, but it don't seem
to affect her--funny, too, for she ain't a boozer, as a general thing.
Her guy's gone back on her, an' she's sore. I'll be with you in a
minute."

He vanished into the back room with the glass, and before he returned,
the disconsolate individual had slunk out, leaving Morrow in sole
possession. If this place was indeed the rendezvous of the gang of
minor criminals with which Charley Pennold had allied himself, he had
obviously come at the wrong time to obtain any information concerning
him, unless the voluble bartender could be made to talk, and that
would be a difficult matter.

"Look here!" Morrow decided on a bold move, as the bartender
reappeared and placed a bottle of whisky between them. He leaned
forward, after a quick, furtive glance about him, and spoke rapidly,
with a disarming air of confidential frankness. "I'm in an awful hole.
I'm new at this game, and I've got to find a fellow I never saw, and
find him quick. He hangs out here, and the big guy sent me for him."

"What big guy?" The cordiality faded from the bartender's ruddy
countenance and he stepped back significantly.

"You know--Pad!" Morrow shot back on a desperate bluff. "The fellow's
name's Charley Pennold, and Pad wants him right away. He didn't tell
me to ask you about him, but he made it pretty plain to me that he'd
got to get him."

"Say!" The bartender approached cautiously. He rested one hand upon
the counter, keeping the other well below it, but Morrow did not
flinch. "What's your lay?"

"Anything there's coin in," returned the operative, with a knowing
leer. "Anything from planting divorce evidence to shoving the queer.
I've been working for a pal of Pad's in St. Louis for three or four
years--that's why I'm strange around here. Pad's up in the air about
something, and wants this Charley-boy right away, and he tells me to
look here for him and not come back without him, see? This is on the
level. If you know where he is, be a good fellow and come across, will
you?"

The bartender felt under the counter for the shelf, and then raised
his hand, empty, toward the bottle.

"I guess you're all right," he remarked. "Anyway, I'll take a chance.
What's your moniker?"

"Guy the Blinker," returned Morrow promptly. "Guess you've heard of
me, all right. I pulled off--but I haven't got time to chin now. I got
to find this boy if I want to keep in with Pad, and there's coin in
it."

"Sure there is," the bartender affirmed. "But he's a queer one--the
big guy, as you call him. What's his game? Why, only this morning, he
tipped Charley off to beat it, and Charley did. Maybe he thinks the
kid's double-crossed him."

Morrow's heart leaped in sudden excitement at this astounding news,
but he controlled himself, and replied nonchalantly:

"Search me. He told me I'd find this Charley-boy here; that's all I
know. He isn't talking for publication--not Pad."

"You bet not!" The bartender nodded. Then he jerked a grimy thumb in
the direction of the back room. "Why, the dame in there, cryin' into
her absinthe, is Charley's girl. She's a queen--straight as they make
'em, if she does work the shops now and then--and Charley was fixin'
to hook up with her next month, preacher-fashion, and settle down. Now
he gets the office and skips without a word to her, and she's all
broke up over it!"

The door at the rear opened suddenly, and a girl stood upon the
threshold. She was tall and slender, and her face showed traces of
positive beauty, although it was bloated and distorted with weeping
and dissipation, and her big black eyes glittered feverishly.

"What's that you're sayin' about Charley?" she demanded half-hysterically.
"He's gone! He's left me! I don't believe Pad gave him the office, and
if he did, Charley's a fool to beat it! They've got nothin' on him--it's
Pad who's got to save his own skin!"

"Shut up, Annie!" advised the bartender, not unkindly. "Pad's sent
this here feller for him, now!"

"Then it was a lie--a lie! Pad didn't tell him to beat it--he's gone
on his own account, gone for good! But I'll find him; I'll--"

The girl suddenly burst into a storm of sobs, and, turning, reeled
back into the inner room.

"You see!" the bartender observed, confidentially, as the door swung
shut behind her. "She thinks he's gone off with another skirt; that's
the way with women! I knew Pad had given him the office, though. I got
it straight. You're right about Pad bein' up in the air. He must have
bitten off more than he can chew, this time. I heard Reddy Thursby
talkin' to Gil Hennessey about it, right where you're standin', not
two hours ago. They're both Pad's men--met 'em yet?"

Morrow shook his head, not trusting himself to speak, and the
loquacious bartender went on.

"It was Reddy brought the word for Charley to skip, and he dropped
somethin' about a raid on some plant up in the Bronx. Know anything
about it?"

For a moment the rows of bottles on their shelves seemed to reel
before Morrow's eyes, and his heart stood still, but he forced himself
to reply:

"Oh, that? I know all about it, of course. Wasn't I in on the ground
floor? But that's only a fake steer; this Charley-boy hasn't got
anything to do with it, that I know of. Maybe the big guy thought he
hadn't got out of the way, and sent me to find out. No use my hanging
round here any longer, anyhow. I'll amble back and tell Pad he's gone.
Swell dame, that Annie--some queen, eh? Let's have one more drink and
I'll blow!"

With assurances of an early return, Morrow contrived to beat a retreat
without arousing the suspicions of the bartender, but he went out into
the pale, wintry, sunlight with his brain awhirl. To his apprehensive
mind a raid on a plant in the Bronx could mean only one place--the
little map-making shop of Jimmy Brunell. Something had happened in his
absence; some one had betrayed the old forger. And Emily--what of
her?

Morrow sped as fast as elevated and subway could carry him to the
Bronx. Anxious as he was about the girl he loved, he did not go
directly to the house on Meadow Lane, but made a detour to the little
shop a few blocks away.

Morrow's instinct had not misled him. Before he had approached within
a hundred feet of the shop he knew that his fears had been justified.

The door swung idly open on its hinges, and the single window gave
forth a vacant stare. Within everything was in the wildest disorder.
The table which served as a counter, the racks of maps, the high
stool, the printing apparatus, all were overturned. The trap door
leading into the cellar was open, and Morrow flung himself wildly down
the sanded steps. The forger's outfit had disappeared.

What had become of Jimmy Brunell? His purpose served, had Paddington
betrayed him to the police, or had some warning reached him to flee
before it was too late?

With mingled emotions of fear and dread, Morrow emerged from the
little dismantled shop and made the best of his way to Meadow Lane.
The Brunell cottage appeared much as usual as he neared it, and for
an instant hope surged up within him. Emily would be at the club, of
course. If her father had been arrested, or had succeeded in getting
away safely alone, she would not know of it until she came back in the
evening. He would wait for her, intercept her, and tell her the whole
truth.

Instead of entering his own lodgings, he crossed the road, and paused
at the Brunells' gate. Something forlorn and desolate in the
atmosphere of the little home seemed to clutch at his heart, and on a
swift impulse he strode up the path, ascended the steps of the porch
and peered in the window of the living-room. Everything in the usually
orderly room was topsy-turvy, and everywhere there was evidence of
hurried flight. From where he stood the desk--her desk--was plainly
visible, its ransacked drawers pulled open, the floor before it strewn
with torn and scattered papers. Its top was bare, amid the surrounding
litter, and even his photograph which he had recently given her, and
which usually stood there in the little frame she had made for it with
her own hands, was gone.

A chill settled about his heart. Had Brunell been captured, and police
detectives searched the house, his picture could hold no interest for
them. Had the old forger fled alone, he would not have taken so
insignificant an object from among all his household goods and
chattels. Emily alone would have paused to save the photograph of the
man she loved from the wreckage of her home; Emily, too, had gone!

Scarcely knowing what he was doing, and caring less, Morrow rushed
across the street, and descended upon Mrs. Quinlan, his landlady, at
her post in the kitchen.

"What's happened to the Brunells?" he demanded breathlessly.

"Land's sakes, but you scared me, Mr. Morrow!" Mrs. Quinlan turned
from the stove with a hurried start, and wiped her plump, steaming
face on her apron. "I should like to know what's happened myself. All
I do know is that they've gone bag and baggage--or as much of it as
they could carry with them--and never; a word to a soul except what
Emily ran across to say to me."

"What was it?" he fairly shouted at her. But there were few interests
in Mrs. Quinlan's humdrum existence, and seldom did she have an
exciting incident to relate and an eager audience to hang upon her
words. She sat down ponderously and prepared to make the most of the
present occasion.

"I thought it was funny to see a man goin' into their yard at five
o'clock this mornin', but my tooth was so bad I forgot all about him
and it never come into my mind again until I seen them goin' away. I
sleep in the room just over yours, you know, Mr. Morrow, an' my tooth
ached so bad I couldn't sleep. It was five by my clock when I got up
to come down here an' get some hot vinegar, an' I don't know what made
me look out my winder, but I did. I seen a man come running down the
lane, keepin' well in the shaders, an' looking back as if he was
afraid he was bein' chased, for all the world like a thief. While I
looked, he turned in the Brunells' yard an' instead of knocking on the
door, he began throwin' pebbles up at the old man's bedroom winder.
Pretty soon it opened and Mr. Brunell looked out. Then he come down
quick an' met the man at the front door. They talked a minute, an' the
feller handed over somethin' that showed white in the light of the
street lamp, like a piece of paper. Mr. Brunell shut the door an' the
man ran off the way he had come. I come down an' got my hot vinegar
an' when I got back to my room I seen there were lights in Mr.
Brunell's room an' Emily's, an' one in the livin'-room, too, but my
tooth was jumpin' so I went straight to bed. About half an hour after
you'd left for business I was shakin' a rug out of the front
sittin'-room winder, when Emily come runnin' across the street.

"'Oh, Mrs. Quinlan!' she calls to me, an' I see she'd been cryin'.
'Mrs. Quinlan, we're goin' away!'

"'For good?' I asked.

"'Forever!' she says. 'Will you give a message to Mr. Morrow for me,
please? Tell him I'm sorry I was mistaken. I'm sorry to have found him
out!'

"She burst out cryin' again an' ran back as her father called her from
the porch. He was bringin' out a pile of suit-cases and roll-ups, and
pretty soon a taxicab drove up with a man inside. I couldn't see his
face--only his coat-sleeve. They got in an' went off kitin' an' that's
every last thing I know. What d'you s'pose she meant about findin' you
out, Mr. Morrow?"

He turned away without reply, and went to his room, where he sat for
long sunk in a stupor of misery. She had found out the truth, before
he could tell her. She knew him for what he was, knew his despicable
errand in ingratiating himself into her friendship and that of her
father. She believed that the real love he had professed for her had
been all a mere part of the game he was playing, and now she had gone
away forever! He would never see her again!

"By God, no!" he cried aloud to himself, in the bitterness of his
sorrow. "I will find her again, if I search the ends of the earth. She
shall know the truth!"



CHAPTER XIV

IN THE OPEN


Guy Morrow's resolve to find Emily Brunell at all costs, stirred him
from the apathy of despair into which he had fallen, and roused him to
instant action. Leaving the house, he went to the nearest telephone
pay station, where he could converse in comparative privacy, and
called up Henry Blaine's office, only to discover that the master
detective had departed upon some mission of his own, was not expected
to return until the following morning, and had left no instructions
for him.

This unanticipated set-back left Morrow without definite resource. As
a forlorn hope he telephoned to the Anita Lawton Club, only to learn
that Miss Brunell had sent in her resignation as secretary early that
morning, but told nothing of her future plans, except that she was
leaving town for an indefinite period.

There was nothing more to be learned by another examination of the
dismantled shop, and the young operative turned his steps reluctantly
homeward. A sudden suspicion had formed itself in his mind that Blaine
himself, and not the police, had been responsible for the raid on the
forger's little establishment--that Blaine had done this without
taking him into his confidence and was now purposely keeping out of
his way.

When the early winter dusk came, Guy could endure it no longer, but
left the house. Drawn irresistibly by his thoughts, he crossed the
road again, and entering the Brunells' gate, he strolled around the
deserted cottage, to the back. At the kitchen door a faint, piteous
sound made him pause. It was an insistent, wailing cry from within,
the disconsolate meowing of a frightened, lonely kitten.

Caliban had been left behind, forgotten! Emily's panic and haste must
have been great indeed to cause her to forsake the pet she had so
tenderly loved! Much as he detested the spiteful little creature, he
could not leave it to starve, for her sake.

Morrow tried the kitchen door, but found it securely bolted from
within. The catch on the pantry window was loose, however, and Morrow
managed to pry it open with his jackknife. With a hasty glance about
to see that he was not observed, he pushed up the window and clambered
in, closing it cautiously after him. He stumbled through the
semi-obscurity and gloom into the kitchen; instantly the piteous cry
ceased and Caliban rose from the cold hearth and bounded gladly to
him, purring and rubbing against his legs. Mechanically he stooped and
stroked it; then, after carefully pulling down the shades, he lighted
the lamp upon the littered table, and looked about him. Everything
bore evidence, as had the living-room, of a hasty exodus. The fire was
extinguished in the range, and it was filled to the brim with flakes
of light ashes. Evidently Brunell or his daughter had paused long
enough in their flight to burn armfuls of old papers--possibly
incriminating ones.

On the table was the débris of a hasty meal. Morrow poured some milk
from the pitcher into a saucer and placed it on the floor for the
hungry kitten; then, taking the lamp, he started on a tour of
inspection through the house. Everywhere the wildest confusion and
disorder reigned.

Morrow turned aside from the door of Emily's room, but entered her
father's. There, save for a few articles of old clothing strewn about,
he found comparative order and neatness. The simple toilet articles
were in their places, the narrow bed just as Jimmy Brunell had left it
when he sprang up to admit his nocturnal visitor.

On the floor near the bureau on which the lamp stood, something white
and crumpled met Morrow's eye; he stooped quickly and picked it up. It
was a large single sheet of paper, and as the operative smoothed it
out, he realized that it must be the message which had been hurriedly
brought to Brunell in the early hour before the dawn. The paper had
lain just where he had dropped it, crushed from his hand after reading
the warning it contained.

Morrow turned up the wick of his own lamp and stared curiously at the
missive. The sheet of paper was ruled at intervals, the lines and
interstices filled with curious hieroglyphics, and at a first glance
it appeared to the operative's puzzled eyes to be a mere portion of a
page of music. Then he observed that old figures and letters, totally
foreign to the notes of a printed score, were interspersed between the
rest, and moreover only the treble clef had been used.

"Oh, Lord!" he groaned to himself. "It's another cryptogram, and I
don't believe Blaine himself will be able to solve this one!"

He stared long and uncomprehendingly at it; then with a sigh of
baffled interest he folded it carefully and placed it in his pocket.
As he did so, there came a sudden sharp report from outside, the
tinkle of a broken window pane, and a bullet, whistling past his ear,
embedded itself in the wall behind him!

Instinctively Morrow flung himself flat upon the floor, but no second
shot was fired. Instead, he heard the muffled receding of flying
footsteps from the sidewalk, and an excited cry or two as neighboring
windows were raised and curious heads were thrust out.

Hastily extinguishing the lamp, Morrow felt his way to the kitchen,
where he pocketed Caliban with scant ceremony and departed swiftly the
way he had come, through the pantry window. By scaling a back-yard
wall or two he found an alley leading to the street; and making a
detour of several blocks, he returned to his lodgings, to find Mrs.
Quinlan waiting in great excitement to relate her version of the
revolver shot.

Morrow listened with what patience he could muster, and then handed
Caliban over to her mercy.

"It's Miss Brunell's cat," he explained. "You'll take care of it for a
day or two, at least, won't you? I expect to hear from her soon, and
I'd like to be able to restore it to her."

"Well, I ain't what you would call crazy about cats," the landlady
returned, somewhat dubiously, "but I couldn't let it die in this cold.
I'll keep it, of course, till you hear from Emily. Where did you find
it?"

"Over in their yard," he responded, with prompt mendacity. "I was in
the neighborhood and heard the shot fired, so I ran in to have a look
around and see if anyone was hurt, and I came across this poor little
chap yowling on the doorstep. I won't want any supper to-night, Mrs.
Quinlan. I'm going out again."

Within the hour, Morrow presented himself at Henry Blaine's office.
This time he did not wait to be told that the famous investigator
was out, but writing something on a card, he sent it in to the
confidential secretary.

In a moment he was admitted, to find Blaine seated imperturbably
behind his desk, fingering the card his young operative had sent in to
him.

"What is it, Guy?" he asked, not unkindly. "You say you have a
communication of great importance."

"I think it is, sir," returned the other, stiffly. "At least I have
the message which warned Brunell of your raid upon his shop. It's
another cipher, a different one this time."

"Indeed? That's good work, Guy. But how did you know it was a warning
to old Jimmy of the raid? Could you read it?"

Morrow shook his head.

"No, and I don't see how anyone else could! It must have been a
warning of some sort, for it was what caused them both, old Jimmy and
his daughter, to run away. Here it is."

He passed the cryptogram over to his chief, who studied it for a while
with a meditative frown, then laid it aside and listened in a
non-committal silence to his story. When the incidents of the day had
been narrated, Blaine said:

"That was a close call, Guy, that shot from the darkness. It must have
come from the opposite side of the street, of course, from before your
own lodgings. The bullet glanced upward in its course, didn't it?"

"No, sir. That's the funny part of it! The spot where it is embedded
in the wall is very little higher than the hole in the window pane."

"And Mrs. Quinlan's, where you board, is directly opposite?"

"Yes. It's the only house on the other side of the street for fifty
feet or more on either side."

"Then you'd better look out for trouble, Guy. That shot came from your
own house, probably from the window of your own room, if it is the
second floor front, as you say. There's a traitor in camp. Any new
lodgers to-day that you know of?"

"No, sir," Morrow replied, startled at the theory evolved by his
chief. "But how do you account for the fact that I distinctly heard
some one running away immediately after the shot was fired?"

"It was probably a look-out, or a decoy to draw investigation away
from the house had a prompt pursuit ensued. Be careful when you go
back, Guy, and don't take any unnecessary chances."

"I'm not going back, sir," the younger man returned, with quiet
determination. "I'm sorry, but I'm through. I wanted to resign before,
to protect the woman I love from just this trouble which has come upon
her, but you overruled me, and I listened and played the game fairly.
Now I've lost her, and nothing else matters under the sun except that
I must find her again and tell her the truth, and I mean to find her!
Nothing shall stand in my way!"

"And your duty?" asked Blaine quietly.

"My duty is to her first, last, and all the time! I know I have no
right, sir, to ask that I should be taken into your confidence in
regard to any plans you make in conducting an investigation, but I
think in view of the exceptional conditions of this case that I might
have been told in advance of the raid you intended, so that I might
have spared Emily much of the trouble which has come upon her, or at
least have told her the truth, and squared myself with her, and known
where she was going. I've got to find her, sir! I cannot rest until I
do!"

"And you shall find her, Guy. I promise you on my word that if you
are patient all will be well. It is not my custom to explain my
motives to my subordinates, but as you say, this case is exceptional,
and you have been faithful to your trust under peculiarly trying
circumstances. I raided Jimmy's little shop last night and carried
off his forgery outfit because I had received special information of
a confidential nature that Paddington intended to make the same
move and lay it to the work of the police, not only to scare poor
old Jimmy out of town, but to obtain possession of the outfit himself
and destroy the evidence, in case the old forger was caught and
lost his spirit and confessed, implicating him. I did not know the
raid would be discovered and the warning take effect so soon. I had
arranged to have the Brunells watched and tailed later in the day, but
they escaped my espionage.

"I shall at once set the wheels in motion to discover the number of
the taxicab in which they went away, and I will leave no stone
unturned to find their ultimate destination and see that no harm comes
to either of them; you may depend upon that. I don't mind going a
little further with this subject with you now than I have before, and
I'll tell you confidentially that I believe whatever part Jimmy played
in this conspiracy, in forging the letter, note, and signatures, was a
compulsory one; and in the end we shall be able to clear him. You know
that I am a man of my word, Guy. I want you to go on with this case
under my instructions and leave the search for the Brunells absolutely
in my hands. Will you do this, on my assurance that I will find
them?"

"If I can have your word, sir, that at the earliest possible moment I
may go to her, to Emily, and tell her the truth," Morrow replied,
earnestly. "You don't know what it means to me, to have her feel that
I have been such a dog as not to mean a word of all that I said to
her, to have her believe that it was all part of a plan to trap her
into betraying her father. It drives me almost mad when I think of it!
This inaction, the suspense of it, is intolerable."

"Then go home and find out who fired at you from the window of your
own house. Watch the Brunell cottage, too--there will be developments
there, if I'm not mistaken. To-morrow I may want you to go out on
another branch of this investigation--the search for Ramon Hamilton."

"Very good, sir, I'll try," Morrow promised with obvious reluctance.
"I know how busy you are and how much every day counts in this matter
just now; but for God's sake, do what you can to find the Brunells for
me!"

Blaine repeated his assurances, and Morrow returned to the Bronx with
considerably lightened spirits. The sight of the little cottage across
the way, dark and deserted, brought a pang to his heart, but it also
served to remind him of the duty which lay before him. He must find
out whose hand had fired that shot at him from the house which had
given him shelter.

Mrs. Quinlan had not yet retired. He found her reading a newspaper in
the kitchen, with Caliban curled up in drowsy content beside the
stove.

"Cold out, ain't it?" she observed. "I went round to the store, an' I
like to've froze before I got back. They said they'd send the things,
but they didn't."

"I'll go get them for you," offered Morrow. "Was it the grocery to
which you went?"

"No, the drug store. I--I've got a new lodger upstairs at the back--an
old gentleman who's kind of sickly and rheumatic, and he asked me to
get some things for him. Thank you just the same, Mr. Morrow, but
there ain't no hurry for them." Mrs. Quinlan's wide, ingenuous face
flushed, and for a moment she seemed curiously embarrassed. Could she
have guessed that the revolver shot which had created so much
excitement that afternoon had been fired from beneath her roof?

"A new lodger!" repeated Morrow. "Came to-day, didn't he?"

"No, yesterday," she responded quickly--too quickly, the operative
fancied. The ruddy flush had deepened on her cheek, and she added, as
if unable to restrain the question rising irresistibly to her lips:
"What made you think he came to-day?"

"I thought this afternoon that I heard furniture being moved about in
the room directly over mine," he returned, with studied indifference.

"Oh, you did!" Mrs. Quinlan affirmed. "That's my room, you know. I was
exchanging my bureau for the old gentleman's."

"Let me see; that makes four lodgers now, doesn't it?" Morrow remarked
thoughtfully, as he toasted his back near the stove. "Peterson, the
shoe clerk; Acker, the photographer; me--and now this old gentleman.
What's his name, by the way?"

"Mr.--Brown." Again there was that obvious hesitation, followed by a
hasty rush of words as if to cover it. "Yes, my house is full now, and
I think I'm mighty lucky, considering the time of year. Just think,
it's most Christmas! The winter's just flyin' along!"

The next morning, from his bed Morrow heard the clinking of china on a
tray as Mrs. Quinlan laboriously carried breakfast upstairs to her new
boarder. Guy rose quickly and dressed, and when he heard her
descending again he flung open his door and met her face to face,
quite as if by accident. She started violently at the sudden encounter
and nearly dropped the tray.

"Land sakes, how you scared me, Mr. Morrow!" she exclaimed. "You're up
earlier than usual. I'll have your breakfast ready in the dining-room
in ten minutes."

She hurried on quickly, but not before the operative's keen eyes had
noted in one lightning glance the contents of the tray. Upon it was a
teapot, as well as one for coffee, and service for two. Peterson and
Acker had both long since gone to their usual day's work. Mrs. Quinlan
had lied, then, after all. She had two new lodgers instead of the
single rheumatic old gentleman she had pictured; two, and one of them
had entered his own room, and from the window fired that shot across
the street at him, as he bent over the lamp in the Brunell cottage. He
had one problematic advantage--it was possible that he had not been
recognized as the intruder in the deserted house. He must contrive by
hook or crook to obtain a glimpse of the mysterious newcomers, and
learn the cause of their interest in the Brunells and their affairs.
They were in all probability emissaries of Paddington's--possibly one
of them was Charley Pennold himself.

At that same moment Henry Blaine sat in his office, receiving the
report of Ross, one of his minor operatives.

"I tried the tobacconist's shop yesterday morning, sir, but there
wasn't any message there for Paddington, and although I waited around
a couple of hours he didn't show up," Ross was saying. "This morning,
however, I tried the same stunt, and it worked. I wasn't any too quick
about it, either, for Paddington was just after me. I strolled in,
asked for a package of Cairos and gave the man the office, as you told
me. He handed it over like a lamb, and I walked out with it, straight
to that little café across the way. I had four of the boys waiting
there, and my entrance was a signal to them to beat it over and buy
enough tobacco to keep the shopkeeper busy while I made a getaway from
the dairy-lunch place. I only went three doors down, to a barber's,
and while I was waiting my turn there I watched the street from behind
a newspaper.

"In about ten minutes Paddington came along, walking as if he was in
quite a hurry. He went into the tobacconist's, but he came out quicker
than he had entered, and his face was a study--purple with rage one
minute, and white with fear the next. I don't believe he knows yet
who's tailing him, sir, but he looks as if he realized we had him
coming and going. He went straight over to the little restaurant, with
murder in his eye, but he only stayed a minute or two. I tailed him
home to his rooms, and he stamped along at first as if he was so mad
he didn't care whether he was followed or not. When he got near his
own street, though, he got cautious again, and I had all I could do to
keep him from catching me on his trail--he's a sharp one, when he
wants to be, and he's on his mettle now."

"I know the breed. He'll turn and fight like any other rat if he's
cornered, but meanwhile he'll try at any cost to get away from us,"
Blaine responded. "You have him well covered, Ross?"

"Thorpe is waiting in a high-powered car a few doors away, Vanner in a
taxi, and Daly is on the job until I get back. He won't take a step
to-day without being tailed," the operative answered, confidently.
"Here's the cigarette box, sir. I opened it as soon as I got in the
restaurant, to see if it was the real goods and not a plant, as you
instructed. It's the straight tip, all right. There were no cigarettes
inside, only this single sheet of paper covered with little
marks--looks like music, only it isn't. I don't know much about
sight-reading, but some of those figures couldn't be played on any
instrument!"

Henry Blaine opened the little box and drew from it the bit of folded
paper, which he spread out upon the desk before him. A glance was
sufficient to show him that it was another cryptic message, similar to
that which Guy Morrow had found in the Brunells' deserted cottage, and
which he had vainly studied until far into the night.

"Very good, Ross. Get back on the job, now, and report any developments
as soon as you have an opportunity."

When the operative had gone, Blaine drew forth the cryptogram received
the previous evening and compared the two. They were identical in
character, although from the formation of the letters and figures, the
message each conveyed was a different one. The first had baffled him,
and he scrutinized the second with freshly awakened interest:

[Illustration: An image of a coded message is shown here in the text.]

The three lines fascinated him by their tantalizing problem, and he
could not take his eyes from them. The musical notes could be easily
read in place of letters, of course, with the sign of the treble clef
as a basic guide, but the other figures still puzzled him.

All at once, a word upon the lowest line which explained itself caught
his eye; then another and another, until the method of deciphering the
whole message burst upon his mind. One swift gesture, a few eagerly
scrawled calculations, and the truth was plain to him.

Calling his secretary, he hastily dictated a letter.

"I want a copy of that sent at once, by special delivery, to every
physician and surgeon in town, no matter how obscure. See to it that
not one is overlooked. Even those on the staffs of the different
hospitals must be notified, although they are the least likely to be
called upon. Above all, don't forget the old retired one, those of
shady professional reputation and the fledglings just out of medical
colleges. It's a large order, Marsh, but it's bound to bring some
result in the next forty-eight hours."

With the closing of the door behind his secretary, Henry Blaine rose
and paced thoughtfully back and forth the length of his spacious
office. The problem before him was the most salient in its importance
of any which had confronted him during his investigation of the Lawton
mystery--probably the weightiest of his entire career. Should he,
dared he, throw caution to the winds and step out into the open, in
his true colors at last?

It was as if he held within his hands the kernel of the mystery, yet
surrounded still by an invulnerable shield of cunning and duplicity
with which the master criminals had so carefully safe-guarded their
conspiracy. He held it within his hands, and yet he could not break
the shell of the mystery and expose the kernel of truth to justice.
There seemed to be no interstice, no crevice into which he might
insert the keen probe of his marvelous deductive power. And yet his
experience told him that there must be some rift, some hiatus in the
scheme. If only he could discover that rift, could prove beyond a
shadow of a doubt the facts which he had circumstantially established,
he would not hesitate to lay his hands upon the culprits, high in
power and influence throughout the country as they were, and bring
them before any court of so-called justice, however it might be
undermined by bribery and corruption.

He had accomplished much, working as a mole works, in the dark. Could
he not accomplish more by declaring himself; could he not by one bold
stroke lay bare the heart of the mystery?

Seating himself again at his desk, he took the telephone receiver from
its hook and called up Anita Lawton at her home--not upon the private
wire he had had installed for her, but on the regular house wire.

"Oh, Mr. Blaine, what is it! Have you found him? Have you news for me
of Ramon?" Her voice, faint and high-pitched with the hideous suspense
of the days just past, came to him tremulous with eagerness and an
abiding hope.

"No, Miss Lawton, I am sorry to say that I have not yet found Mr.
Hamilton, but I have definite information that he still lives, at
least," he returned. "I hope that in a few days, at most, I may bring
him to you."

"Thank heaven for that!" she responded fervently. "I have tried so
hard to believe, to have faith that he will be restored to me, and yet
the hideous doubt will return again and again. These days and nights
have been one long, ceaseless torture!"

"You have taken my advice in regard to receiving your visitors?"

"Oh, yes, Mr. Blaine. My three guardians have been unremitting in
their attentions, particularly Mr. Rockamore, who calls daily. He has
just left me."

"Miss Lawton, I have decided that the time has come for us to declare
ourselves openly--not in regard to the mystery of your father's
insolvency, but concerning the disappearance of Ramon Hamilton. I want
you to call his mother up on the telephone as soon as I ring off, and
tell her that you have resolved to retain me, on your account, to find
him for you. Should she put forward any objections, over-rule her and
refuse to listen. I will be with you in an hour. In the meantime,
should anyone call, you may tell them that you have just retained me
to investigate the disappearance of your fiancé. Tell that to anyone
and everyone; the more publicity we give to that fact the better. The
moment has arrived for us to carry war into the enemy's camp, and I
know that we shall win! Keep up your courage, Miss Lawton! We're done
with maneuvering now. You've borne up bravely, but I believe your
period of suspense, in regard to many things, is past. Before this day
is done, they will know that we are in this to fight to the
finish--and to fight to win!"



CHAPTER XV

CHECKMATE!


Henry Blaine was allowed scant opportunity for reflection, in the hour
which intervened between his telephone message to Anita and the time
of his appointment with her. Scarcely had he hung up the receiver once
more when his secretary announced the arrival of Fifine Déchaussée.

Had not Blaine been already aware of her success with Paddington, as
the scene in the park an evening or two previously denoted, he would
have been instantly apprised by her manner that something of vital
import had occurred. There was an indefinable change, a subtle
metamorphosis, which was conveyed even in her appearance. Her
delicate, Madonna-like face had lost its wax-like pallor and was
flushed with a faint, exquisite rose; the wooden, slightly vacant
expression was gone; she walked with a lissome, conscious grace which
he had not before observed, and the slow, enigmatic smile with which
she greeted him held much that was significant behind it.

"You did not keep your appointment with me yesterday--why, mademoiselle?"
asked Blaine, quietly.

"Because it was impossible, m'sieu," she returned. "I could not get
away. Madame--the wife of M'sieu Franklin--would not allow me to leave
the children. This is the first opportunity I have had to come."

"And what have you to report?" he asked, watching her narrowly.

She shrugged her shoulders.

"Very little, M'sieu Blaine. Yesterday the president of the Street
Railways, M'sieu Mallowe, called on the minister, and remained for
more than an hour. I could not hear their conversation--they were in
the library; but just as M'sieu Mallowe was taking his departure I
passed through the hall, and heard him say:

"'You must try to persuade her, Mr. Franklin; you have more influence
over her than anyone else, even I. Miss Lawton must really go away for
a time. It is the only thing that will save her health, her reason!
She can do nothing here to aid in the search for young Hamilton, and
the suspense is killing her. Try to get her to take our advice and go
away, if only for a few days.'"

"What did Dr. Franklin reply?"

"I did not hear it all. I could not linger in the hall without
arousing suspicion. Dr. Franklin agreed that Miss Lawton was ill and
should go away, and he said he would try to induce her to go--that
M'sieu Mallowe was undoubtedly right, and he was delighted that he
took such an interest in Miss Lawton."

She paused, and after a moment Blaine asked:

"And that is all?"

"Yes, m'sieu." The French girl half turned as if to take her
departure, but he stayed her by a gesture.

"You have nothing else to report? How about Paddington?" He shot the
question at her tersely, his eyes never leaving her face, but she did
not flinch.

"M'sieu Paddington?" she repeated demurely. "I have nothing to tell
you of him."

"You didn't try, then, to lead him on, as I suggested--to get him to
talk about Miss Lawton, or the people who were employing him? You have
not seen him?"

"M'sieu Blaine, I could not do that!" she cried, ignoring his last
question. "I would do much, anything that I could for Miss Lawton, but
she would be the last to ask of me that I should lead a man on to--to
make love to me, in order to betray him! I will do anything that is
possible to find out for Miss Lawton and for you, m'sieu, all that I
can by keeping my ears open in the house of the minister, but as to
M'sieu Paddington--I will not play such a rôle with any man, even to
please Miss Lawton."

"Yet you have been meeting him in the park." The detective leaned
forward in his chair and spoke gently, as if merely reminding the girl
of some insignificant fact which she had presumably forgotten, yet
there was that in his tone which made her stiffen, and she replied
impulsively, with a warning flash of her eyes:

"What do you mean, m'sieu? How do you know? I--I told you I had
nothing to report concerning M'sieu Paddington, nothing which could be
of service to Miss Lawton, and it is quite true. I--I did meet M'sieu
Paddington in the park, but it was simply an accident."

"And was the locket and chain an accident, too? That locket which you
are wearing at the present moment, mademoiselle?"

"The locket--" Her hand strayed to her neck and convulsively clasped
the bauble of cheap, bright gold hanging there. "What do you know of
my locket, M'sieu Blaine?"

"I know that Paddington purchased it for you two or three days
ago--that he gave it to you that night in the park, and you allowed
him to take you in his arms and kiss you!"

"Stop! How can you know that!" she stormed at him, stepping forward
slightly, a deep flush dyeing her face. "He did not tell you! You have
had me watched, followed, spied upon! It is intolerable! To think that
I should be treated as if I were unworthy of trust. I have been
faithful, loyal to Miss Lawton, but this is too much! I have not
questioned M'sieu Paddington; I know nothing of his affairs, but I
like him, I--I admire him very much, and if I desire to meet him, to
receive his attentions, I shall do so. I am not harming Miss Lawton,
who has been my _patronne_, my one friend in this strange, big
country. M'sieu Paddington does not know that I am working at Dr.
Franklin's under your instructions, and I shall never betray to him
the confidence Miss Lawton has reposed in me. But I shall do no more;
it is finished. That I should be suspected--"

"But you are not, my dear young woman!" interposed Blaine, mildly. "It
was not you who was followed, spied upon, as you call it. For Miss
Lawton's sake, because she is in trouble, we are interested just now
in Paddington's movements, and naturally my operative was not aware
that it was to meet you he went to the park."

"_N'importe!_" Fifine exclaimed. The color had receded from her face,
and a deathly white pallor had superseded it. She retreated a step or
two, and continued defiantly: "This afternoon I resign from the
service of Dr. Franklin! I do not believe that M'sieu Paddington is an
enemy of Miss Lawton; nothing shall make me believe that he, who is
the soul of honor, of chivalry, would harm her, or cause her any
trouble, and I do not like this work, this spying and treachery and
deceit! That is your profession, m'sieu, not mine; I only consented
because Miss Lawton had been kind to me, and I desired to aid her in
her trouble, if I could. But that he--that I--should be suspected and
watched, and treated like criminals, oh, it is insufferable. To-day,
also, I leave the Anita Lawton Club. You shall find some one else to
play detective for you--you and Miss Lawton!"

With an indignant swirl of her skirts, she turned and made for the
door, in a tempest of rage; but on the threshold his voice stayed
her.

"Wait! Miss Lawton has befriended you, and now, because of a man of
whom you know nothing, you desert her cause. Is that loyalty,
mademoiselle? We shall not ask you to remain at Dr. Franklin's any
longer; Miss Lawton does not wish unwilling service from anyone. But
for your own sake, go back to the club, and remain there until a
position is open to you which is to your liking. You are a young girl
in a strange country, as you say, and at least you know the club to be
a safe place for you. Do not trust this man Paddington, or anyone
else; it is not wise."

"I shall not listen to you!" she cried, her voice rising shrill and
high-pitched in her excitement. "You shall not say such things of
M'sieu Paddington! He is brave and good, while you--you are a spy, an
eavesdropper, a delver into the private affairs of others. I do not
know what this trouble may be, which Miss Lawton is in, and I am sorry
for her, that she should suffer, but I shall have nothing more to do
with the case, nor with you, m'sieu! _Au revoir!_"

"Whew!" breathed Blaine to himself, as the door closed after her with
a slam. "What a firebrand! She may not have actually betrayed us to
Paddington in so many words, but it isn't necessary to look far for
the one who warned him that he was being watched, and put him on his
guard, all unknowingly, that the whole scheme in which he is so deeply
involved, was in jeopardy. Oh, these women! Let them once lose their
heads over a man, and they upset all one's plans!"

Blaine arrived promptly within the hour at the house on Belleair
Avenue. Anita Lawton received him as before in the library. He
observed with deep concern that she was a mere shadow of her former
self. The slenderness which had been one of her girlish charms had
become almost emaciation; her eyes were glassily bright, and in the
waxen pallor of her cheeks a feverish red spot burned.

She smiled wanly as he pressed her hand, and her pale lips trembled,
but no words came.

"My poor child!" the great detective found himself saying from the
depths of his fatherly heart. "You are positively ill! This will never
do. You are not keeping your promise to me."

"I am trying hard to, Mr. Blaine." Anita motioned toward a chair and
sank into another with a little gasp of sheer exhaustion. "You have
never failed yet, and you have given me your word that you would bring
Ramon back to me. I try to have faith, but with every hour that
passes, hope dies within me, and I can feel that my strength, my will
to believe, is dying, too. I know that you must be doing your utmost,
exerting every effort, and yet I cannot resist the longing to urge you
on, to try to express to you the torture of uncertainty and dread
which consumes me unceasingly. That my father's fortune is gone means
nothing to me now. Only give me back Ramon alive and well, and I shall
ask no more!"

"I hope to be able to do that speedily," Blaine returned. "As I told
you over the telephone, I have positive proof that he is alive, and a
definite clue as to his whereabouts. You must ask me nothing further
now--only try to find faith in your heart for just a few days, perhaps
hours, longer. You 'phoned to Mrs. Hamilton, as I suggested?"

"Yes. She demurred at first, dreading the notoriety, and not--not
appearing to believe in your ability as I do, but I simply refused to
listen to her objections. Mr. Carlis called me up shortly afterward,
and wanted to know if I would be able to receive him this afternoon,
on a matter connected with my finances, but I told him I had retained
you to search for Ramon, and was expecting you at any moment. He
seemed greatly astonished, and warned me of the--he called it
'useless'--expense. He begged me not to be impatient, to wait until I
had time to think the matter over and consult himself and Mr. Mallowe,
saying that they were both doing all that could be done to locate
Ramon, and Mr. Rockamore was, also, but I told him it was too late,
that you were on your way here."

"That was right. I am glad you told him. The fact that you have
retained me to search for Mr. Hamilton will appear as a scoop in every
evening paper which he controls, now, and the more publicity given to
it, the better. You told me over the 'phone that Mr. Rockamore calls
upon you every day?"

"Yes. I try to be cordial to him, but for some reason which I can't
explain I dislike him more than either of the others. I don't know why
he comes so often, for he says very little, only sits and stares at
that chair--the chair in which my father died--until I feel that I
should like to scream. It seems to exert the same strange, uncanny
influence over him as it does over me--that chair. More than once,
when he has been announced, I have entered to find him standing close
beside it, looking down at it as if my father were seated there once
more and he was talking to him, I don't in the least know why, but the
thought seems to prey on my mind--perhaps because the chair fascinates
me, too, in a queer way that is half repulsion."

"You are morbid, Miss Lawton--you must not allow such fancies to grow,
or they will soon take possession of you, in your weakened state, and
become an obsession. Tell me, have you heard anything from the club
girls we established in your guardian's offices?"

"Oh, yes! I had forgotten completely in my excitement and joy over
your news of Ramon, vague though it is, that there was something
important which I wanted to tell you. Since Margaret Hefferman's
dismissal, all my girls have been sent away from the positions I
obtained for them--all except Fifine Déchaussée."

"And she resigned not an hour ago," remarked the detective rather
grimly, supplementing the fact, with as many details as he thought
necessary.

Anita listened in silence until he had finished.

"Poor girl! Poor Fifine! What a pity that she should fancy herself in
love with such a man as you describe this Paddington to be! She must
be persuaded to remain in the club, of course; we cannot allow her to
leave us now. I feel responsible for her, and especially so since it
was indirectly because of me, or while she was in my service, at any
rate, that she met this man. If she is all that you say, she could
never be happy if she married him."

"There's small chance of that. He has a wife already. She left him
years ago, and runs a boarding-house somewhere on Hill Street, I
believe," Blaine replied. "I don't fancy he'll add bigamy to the rest
of his nefarious acts. But tell me of the other girls. They did not
report to me."

"Poor little Agnes Olson was dismissed yesterday. She is a spineless
sort of creature, you know, without much self-assurance, or
initiative, and I believe she had quite a scene with Mr. Carlis
before she left. She was on the switchboard, if you remember, and
as well as I was able to understand from her, he caught her listening
in on his private connection. She reached the club in an hysterical
condition, and I told them to put her to bed and care for her. I
ought to be there myself now, at work, for I have lost my best helper,
but I am too distraught over Ramon to think of anything else. My
secretary--the girl you saw there at the club and asked me about, do
you remember?--did not appear yesterday, but telephoned her
resignation, saying she was leaving town. I cannot understand it,
for I would have counted on her faithfulness before any of the
rest, but so many things have happened lately which I can't
comprehend, so many mysteries and disappointments and anxieties, that
I can scarcely think or feel any more. It seems as if I were really
dead, as if my emotions were all used up. I can't cry, even when I
think of Ramon--I can only suffer."

"I know. I can imagine what you must be trying to endure just now,
Miss Lawton, but please believe that it will not last much longer. And
don't worry about your secretary; Emily Brunell will be with you again
soon, I think."

"Emily Brunell!" repeated Anita, in surprise. "You know, then?"

"Yes. And, strange as it may seem, she is indirectly concerned in the
conspiracy against you, but innocently so. You will understand
everything some day. What about the Irish girl, Loretta Murfree?"

"President Mallowe's filing clerk? He dismissed her only this morning,
on a trumped-up charge of incompetence. He has been systematically
finding fault with her for several days, as if trying to discover a
pretext for discharging her, so she wasn't unprepared. She's here now,
having some lunch, up in my dressing-room. Would you like to talk with
her?"

"I would, indeed," he assented, nodding as Anita pressed the bell.
"She seemed the brightest and most wide-awake young woman of the lot.
If anyone could have obtained information of value to us, I fancy she
could. Did she have anything to say to you about Mr. Mallowe?"

"I would rather she told you herself," Anita replied, hesitatingly,
with the ghost of a smile. "Whatever she said about him was strictly
personal, and of a distinctly uncomplimentary nature. There is nothing
spineless about Loretta!"

When the young Irish girl appeared in response to Anita's summons, her
eyes and mouth opened wide in amazement at sight of the detective.

"Oh, sir, it's you!" she exclaimed. "I was going down to your office
this afternoon, to tell you that I had been discharged. Mr. Mallowe
himself turned me off this morning. I'm not saying this to excuse
myself, but it was honestly through no fault of mine. The old
man--gentleman--has been trying for days to get rid of me. I knew it,
so I've been especially careful in my work, and cheerful and smiling
whenever he appeared on the scene--like this!"

She favored them with a grimace which was more like the impishly
derisive grin of a street urchin than a respectful smile, and
continued:

"This morning I caught him mixing up the letters in the files with his
own hands, and when he blamed me for it later, I saw that it was no
use. He was bound to get rid of me in some way or another, so I didn't
tell him what I thought of him, but came away peaceably--which is a
lot to ask of anybody with a drop of Irish blood in their veins, in a
case like that! However, I learned enough while I was in that office,
of his manipulations of the street railway stock, to make me glad I've
got a profession and am not sitting around waiting for dividends to be
paid. If the people ever wake up, and the District Attorney indicts
him, I hope to goodness they put me on the stand, that's all."

"Why has he tried to get rid of you? Do you think he suspected the
motive for your being in his employ?" asked Blaine, when she paused
for breath.

"No, he couldn't, for I never gave him a chance," she responded. "He's
a sly one, too, padding around the offices like a cat, in his soft
slippers; and he looks for all the world like a cat, with the sleek
white whiskers of him! Excuse me, Miss Lawton, I don't mean to be
disrespectful, but he's trying, the old gentleman is! I think he got
suspicious of me when Margaret Hefferman made such a botch of her job
with Mr. Rockamore, and yesterday afternoon when Mr. Carlis caught
Agnes Olson listening in--oh, I know all about that, too!--he got
desperate. That's why he mixed up the files this morning, for an
excuse to discharge me."

"How did you know about Agnes Olson?" asked Blaine quickly. "Did she
tell you?"

"No, I heard it from Mr. Carlis himself!" returned Loretta, with a
reminiscent grin. "He came right straight around to Mr. Mallowe and
told him all about it, and a towering rage he was in, too! 'Do you
think the little devil's sold us?' he asked. Meaning no disrespect to
you, Miss Lawton, it was you he was talking about, for he added: 'She
gets her girls into our offices on a whining plea of charity, and they
all turn out crooked, spying and listening in, and taking notes.
Remember Rockamore's experience with the one he took? Do you suppose
that innocent, big-eyed, mealy-mouthed brat of Pennington Lawton's
suspects us?'

"'Hold your tongue, for God's sake!' old Mr. Mallowe growled at him.
'I've got one of them in there, a filing clerk.'"

"'Then you'd better get rid of her before she tries any tricks,'
Mr. Carlis said. 'I believe that girl is deeper than she looks, for
all her trusting way. I always did think she took the news of her
father's bankruptcy too d--n' calmly to be natural, even under the
circumstances. Kick her protégée out, Mallowe, unless you're
looking for more trouble. I'm not.'"

"What did Mr. Mallowe reply?" Blaine asked.

"I don't know. His private secretary came into the office where I was
just then, and I had to pretend to be busy to head off any suspicion
from him. Mr. Carlis left soon after, and I could feel his eyes boring
into the back of my neck as he passed through the room. Mr. Mallowe
sent for me almost immediately, to find an old letter for him, from
one of the files of two years ago, and it was funny, the suspicious,
worried way he kept watching me!"

"There is nothing else you can tell us?" the detective inquired.
"Nothing out of the usual run happened while you were there?"

"Nothing, except that a couple of days ago, he had an awful row with a
man who called on him. It was about money matters, I think, and the
old gentleman got very much excited. 'Not a cent!' he kept repeating,
louder and louder, until he fairly shouted. 'Not one more cent will
you get from me. This systematic extortion of yours must come to an
end here and now! I've done all I'm going to, and you'd better
understand that clearly.' Then the other man, the visitor, got angry,
too, and they went at it hammer and tongs. At last, Mr. Mallowe must
have lost his head completely, for he accused the other man of robbing
his safe. At that, the visitor got calm and cool as a cucumber, all of
a sudden, and began to question Mr. Mallowe. It seems from what I
heard--I can't recall the exact words--that not very long ago, the
night watchman in the offices was chloroformed and the safe ransacked,
but nothing was taken except a letter.

"'You're mad!' the strange man said. 'Why in h--l should anybody take
a letter, and leave packets of gilt-edged bonds and other securities
lying about untouched?'

"'Because the letter happens to be one you would very much like to
have in your possession, Paddington,' the old gentleman said. Oh, I
forgot to tell you that the visitor's name was Paddington, but that
doesn't matter, does it? 'Do you know what it was?' Mr. Mallowe went
on. 'It was a certain letter which Pennington Lawton wrote to me from
Long Bay two years ago. Now do you understand?'"

"'You fool!' said Paddington. 'You fool, to keep it! You gave your
word that you would destroy it! Why didn't you?'

"'Because, I thought it might come in useful some day, just as it has
now,' the old gentleman fairly whined. 'It was good circumstantial
evidence.'

"'Yes--fine!' Paddington said, with a bitter kind of a laugh. 'Fine
evidence, for whoever's got it now!'

"'You know very well who's got it!' cried Mr. Mallowe. 'You don't pull
the wool over my eyes! And I don't mean to buy it back from you,
either, if that's your game. You can keep it, for all I care; it's
served its purpose now, and you won't get another penny from me!'

"Well, I wish you could have heard them, then!" Loretta continued,
with gusto. "They carried on terribly; the whole office could hear
them. It was as good as a play--the strange man, Paddington denying
right up to the last that he knew anything about the robbery, and Mr.
Mallowe accusing him, and threatening and bluffing it out for all he
was worth! But in the end, he paid the man some money, for I remember
he insisted on having the check certified, and the secretary himself
took it over to the bank. I don't know for what amount it was drawn."

"Why didn't you tell me that before, Loretta?" asked Anita,
reproachfully. "I mean, about the--the names Mr. Carlis called me, and
his suspicions. I wish I'd known it half an hour ago, when he
telephoned to me!"

"That's just why I didn't tell you, Miss Lawton!" responded Loretta,
with a flash of her white teeth.

"Mr. Blaine told me to report to him this afternoon, and I meant to,
but he didn't tell me to talk to anyone else, even you. When you asked
me to undertake this for you, you said I was to do just what Mr.
Blaine directed, and I've tried to. It was on the tip of my tongue to
tell you, but I thought I'd better not, at least until I had seen Mr.
Blaine. I was sure that if I said anything to you about it, you would
let Mr. Carlis see your resentment the next time he called, and then
he and Old Mr. Mallowe would get their heads together, and find out
that their suspicions of all of us girls were correct. You wouldn't
want that."

"Miss Murfree is quite right," Blaine interposed. "You must be very
careful, Miss Lawton, not to allow Mr. Carlis to discover that you
know anything whatever of that conversation--at least just yet."

"I'll try, but it will be difficult, I am afraid," Anita murmured. "I
am not accustomed to--to accepting insults. Ah! if Ramon were only
here!"

Wilkes, the butler, appeared at the door just then, with a card, and
Anita read it aloud.

"Mr. Mallowe."

"Oh, gracious, let me go, Miss Lawton!" exclaimed Loretta. "I've told
you everything that I can think of, and if he sees me, it will spoil
Mr. Blaine's plans, maybe?"

"Yes, he must not find you here!" the detective agreed hurriedly.
"I'll communicate with you at the club if I need you again, Miss
Murfree. You have been of great service to both Miss Lawton and
myself."

When they were alone for the moment before the street-railway
president appeared, Blaine turned to Anita.

"You will try to be very courageous, and follow whatever lead I give
you?" he asked. "This interview may prove trying for you."

Anita had only time to nod before Mr. Mallowe stood before them. He
paused for a moment, glanced inquiringly at Blaine and then advanced
to Anita with outstretched hand. If he had ever seen the detective
before, he gave no sign.

"My dear child!" he murmured, unctuously. "I trust you are feeling a
little stronger this afternoon--a little brighter and more hopeful?"

"Very much more hopeful, thank you, Mr. Mallowe," returned the young
girl, steadily. "I have enlisted in my cause the greatest of all
investigators. Allow me to present Mr. Henry Blaine."

"Mr. Blaine," Mallowe repeated, bowing with supercilious urbanity. "Do
I understand that this is the private detective of whom I have heard
so much?"

Blaine returned his salutation coolly, but did not speak, and Anita
replied for him.

"Yes, Mr. Mallowe, Mr. Blaine is going to find Ramon for me!"

Mallowe shook his head slowly, with a mournful smile.

"Ah! my dear!" he sighed. "I do not want to dampen your hopes, heaven
knows, but I very much fear that that will be an impossible task, even
for one of Mr. Blaine's unquestioned renown."

"Still, it is always possible to try," the detective returned, looking
levelly into Mallowe's eyes. "Personally, I am very sanguine of
success."

"Everything is being done that can be of any use now," the other man
observed hurriedly. "Do I understand, Mr. Blaine, that Miss Lawton has
definitely retained you on this case?"

Blaine nodded, and Mallowe turned to Anita.

"Really, my dear, you should have consulted me, or some other of your
father's old friends, before taking such a step!" he expostulated. "It
will only bring added notoriety and trouble to you. I do not mean to
underestimate Mr. Blaine's marvelous ability, which is recognized
everywhere, but even he can scarcely succeed in locating Mr. Hamilton
where we, with all the resources at our command, have failed. Mark my
words, my dear Anita; if Ramon Hamilton returns, it will be
voluntarily, of his own free will. Until--unless he so decides, you
will never see him. It is too bad to have summoned Mr. Blaine here on
a useless errand, but I am sure he quite understands the situation
now."

"I do," responded the detective quietly. "I have accepted the case."

"But surely you will withdraw?" The older man's voice rose cholerically.
"Miss Lawton is a mere girl, a minor, in fact--"

"I am over eighteen, Mr. Mallowe," interposed Anita quietly.

"Until your proper guardian is appointed by the courts," Mallowe
cried, "you are nominally under my care, mine and others of your
father's closest associates. This is a delicate matter to discuss now,
Mr. Blaine," he added, in calmer tones, turning to the detective, "but
since this seems to be a business interview, we must touch upon the
question of finances. I know that the fee you naturally require must
be a large one, and I am in duty bound to tell you that Miss Lawton
has absolutely no funds at her disposal to reimburse you for your time
and trouble. Whatever fortune she may be possessed of, she cannot
touch now."

"Miss Lawton has already fully reimbursed me--in advance," returned
Henry Blaine calmly. "That question need cause you no further concern,
Mr. Mallowe, nor need you have any doubt as to my position in this
matter. I'm on this case, and I'm on it to stay! I'm going to find
Ramon Hamilton!"



CHAPTER XVI

THE LIBRARY CHAIR


"Paddington's on the run!" Ross, the operative, announced to Henry
Blaine the next morning, jubilantly. "He left his rooms about an
hour after I got back on the job, and went to Carlis' office.
He only stayed a short time, and came out looking as black
as a thunder-cloud--I guess the interview, whatever it was,
didn't go his way. He went straight from there to Rockamore, the
promoter. I pretended an errand with Rockamore, too, and so got into
the outer office. The heavy glass door was closed between, and I
couldn't hear anything but a muffled growling from within, but they
were both angry enough, all right. Once the stenographer went in and
came out again almost immediately. When the door opened to admit her,
I heard Paddington fairly shout:

"'It's your own skin you're saving, you fool, as well as mine! If I'm
caught, you all go! Carlis thinks he can bluff it, and Mallowe's a
superannuated, pig-headed old goat. He'll try to stand on his
reputation, and cave in like a pricked balloon when the crash comes. I
know his kind; I've hounded too many of 'em to the finish. But you're
a man of sense, Rockamore, and you know you've got to help me out of
this for your own sake. I tell you, some one's on to the whole game,
and they're just sitting back and waiting for the right moment to nab
us. They not only learn every move we make--they anticipate them! It's
every man for himself, now, and I warn you that if I'm cornered in
this--'

"'Hold your tongue!' Rockamore ordered. 'Can't you see--'

"Then the door closed, and I couldn't hear any more. The voices calmed
down to a rumble, and in about twenty minutes I could hear them
approaching the door. I decided I couldn't wait any longer, and got
outside just in time to give Paddington a chance to pass me. He seemed
in good humor, and I guess he got what he was after--money, probably,
for he went to his bank and put through a check. Then he returned to
his rooms, and didn't show up again until late afternoon, when he went
away up Belleair Avenue, to the rectory of the Church of St. James. He
didn't go in--just talked with the sexton in the vestibule, and when
he came down the steps he looked dazed, as if he'd received a hard
jolt of some sort. He couldn't have been trying to blackmail the
minister, too, could he?"

"Hardly, Ross. Go on," Blaine responded. "What did he do next?"

"Nothing. Just went back to his rooms and stayed there. It seemed as
if he was afraid to leave--not so much afraid to be found, but as if
he might miss something, if he left. He even had his dinner sent in
from a restaurant near there. Knowing him, I might have known what it
was he was waiting for--he's always chasing after some girl or
other."

"There was a woman in it, then?" asked the detective, quietly.

"You can bet there was--very much in it, sir!" the operative chuckled.
"She came along while I watched--a tall, slim girl, plainly dressed in
dark clothes, but with an air to her that would make you look at her
twice, anywhere. She hesitated and looked uncertainly about her, as if
she were unfamiliar with the place and a little scary of her errand,
but at last she made up her mind, and plunged in the vestibule, as if
she was afraid she would lose her courage if she stopped to think.

"For a few minutes her shadow showed on the window-shades, beside
Paddington's. They stood close together, and from their gestures, he
seemed to be arguing or pleading, while she was drawing back and
refusing, or at least, holding out against him. At last they fell into
a regular third-act clinch--it was as good as a movie! After a moment
she drew herself out of his arms and they moved away from the window.
In a minute or two they came out of the house together, and I tailed
them. They walked slowly, with their heads very close, and I didn't
dare get near enough to try to hear what they were discussing so
earnestly. But where do you suppose he took her? To the Anita Lawton
Club for Working Girls! He left her at the entrance and went back to
his own rooms, and he seemed to be in a queer mood all the way--happy
and up in the air one minute, and down in the dumps the next.

"He didn't stir out again last night, but early this morning he went
down to the office of the Holland-American line, and purchased two
tickets, first-class to Rotterdam, on the _Brunnhilde_, sailing next
Saturday, so I think we have the straight dope on him now. He means to
skip with the girl."

"Saturday--two days off!" mused Blaine. "I think it's safe to give him
his head until then, but keep a close watch on him, Ross. The purchase
of those tickets may have been just a subterfuge on his part to throw
any possible shadow off the trail. Did you ascertain what name he took
them under?"

"J. Padelford and wife."

"Clever of him, that!" Blaine commented. "If he really intends to fool
this girl with a fake marriage and sail with her for the other side,
he can explain the change of names on the steamer to her by telling
her it was a mistake on the printed sailing-list. Once at sea, without
a chance of escape from him, he can tell her the truth, or as much of
it as he cares to, and she'll have to stick; that type of woman always
does. She might even come in time to take up his line, and become a
cleverer crook than he is, but we're not going to let that happen.
We'll stop him, right enough, before he goes too far with her. What's
he doing now?"

"Walking in the park with her. She met him at the gates, and Vanner
took the job there of tailing them, while I came on down to report to
you."

"Good work, Ross. But go back and take up the trail now yourself, if
you're fit. And here, you'd better take this warrant with you; I swore
it out against him several days ago, in case he attempted to bolt. If
he tries to get the girl into a compromising situation, arrest him.
Let me know if anything of importance occurs meanwhile."

As Ross went out, the secretary, Marsh, appeared.

"There's an elderly gentleman outside waiting to see you, sir," he
announced. "He does not wish to give his name, but says that he is a
physician, and is here in answer to a letter which he received from
you."

"Good! They pulled it off, then! We were only just in time with those
letters we sent out yesterday, Marsh. Show him in at once."

In a few moments a tall, spare figure appeared in the doorway, and
paused an instant before entering. He had a keen, smooth-shaven,
ascetic face, topped with a mass of snow-white hair.

"Come in, Doctor," invited the detective. "I am Henry Blaine. It was
good of you to come in response to my letter. I take it that you have
something interesting to tell me."

The doctor entered and seated himself in the chair indicated by
Blaine. He carried with him a worn, old-fashioned black leather
instrument case.

"I do not know whether what I have to tell you will prove to have any
connection with the matter you referred to in your letter or not, Mr.
Blaine. Indeed, I hesitated about divulging my experience of last
night to you. The ethics of my profession--"

"My profession has ethics, too, Doctor, although you may not have
conceived it," the detective reminded him, quietly. "Even more than
doctor or priest, a professional investigator must preserve inviolate
the secrets which are imparted to him, whether they take the form of a
light under a bushel or a skeleton in a closet. In the cause of
justice, only, may he open his lips. I hold safely locked away in my
mind the keys to mysteries which, were they laid bare, would disrupt
society, drag great statesmen from their pedestals, provoke
international complications, even bring on wars. If you know anything
pertaining to the matter of which I wrote you, justice and the ethics
of your profession require you to speak."

"I agree with you, sir. As I said, I am not certain that my
adventure--for it was quite an adventure for a retired man like
myself, I assure you--has anything to do with the case you are
investigating, but we can soon establish that. Do you recognize the
subject of this photograph?"

The doctor drew from his pocket a small square bit of cardboard, and
Blaine took it eagerly from him. One glance at it was sufficient, and
it was with difficulty that the detective restrained the exclamation
of triumph which rose to his lips. Upon the card was mounted a tiny,
thumbnail photograph of a face--the face of Ramon Hamilton! It was
more like a death-mask than a living countenance, with its rigid
features and closed eyes, but the likeness was indisputable.

"I recognize it, indeed, Doctor. That is the man for whom I am
searching. How did it come into your possession?"

"I took it myself, last night." The spare figure of the elderly
physician straightened proudly in his chair. "When your communication
arrived, I did not attach much importance to it because it did not
occur to me for a moment that I should have been selected, from among
all the physicians and surgeons of this city, for such a case. When
the summons came, however, I remembered your warning--but I
anticipate. Since my patient of last night is your subject, I may as
well tell you my experiences from the beginning. My name is
Alwyn--Doctor Horatius Alwyn--and I live at Number Twenty-six Maple
Avenue. Until my retirement seven years ago I was a regular practising
physician and surgeon, but since my break-down--I suffered a slight
stroke--I have devoted myself to my books and my camera--always a
hobby with me.

"Well--late last night, the front door-bell rang. It was a little
after eleven, and my wife and the maid had retired, but I was
developing some plates in the dark-room, and opened the door myself.
Three men stood there, but I could see scarcely anything of their
faces, for the collars of their shaggy motor coats were turned up,
their caps pulled low over their eyes, and all three wore goggles.

"'Doctor Alwyn?' asked one of the men, the burliest of the three,
advancing into the hall. 'I want you to come out into the country with
me on a hurry call. It's a matter of life and death, and there's five
thousand dollars in it for you, but the conditions attached to it are
somewhat unusual. May we come into your office, and talk it over?'

"I led the way, and listened to their proposition. Briefly, it was
this: a young man had fallen and injured his head, and was lying
unconscious in a sanitarium in the suburbs. There were reasons which
could not be explained to me, why the utmost secrecy must be
maintained, not only concerning the young man's identity, but the
location of the retreat where he was in seclusion. They feared that he
had suffered a concussion of the brain, possibly a fractured skull,
and my diagnosis was required. Also, should I deem an operation
necessary, I must be prepared to perform it at once. They would take
me to the patient in the car, but when we reached our destination, I
was to be blindfolded, and led to the sickroom, where the bandage
would be removed from my eyes. I was to return in the same manner. For
this service, and of course my secrecy, they offered me five thousand
dollars.

"Although that would not have been an exorbitant sum for me to obtain
for such an operation in the days of my activities, it looked very
large to me now, especially since some South American securities in
which I invested had declined, but I did not feel that it would be
compatible with my dignity and standing to accept the conditions which
were imposed. I was, therefore, upon the point of indignantly
declining, when I suddenly remembered your letter, and resolved to see
the affair through.

"It occurred to me, while I was selecting the instruments to take with
me, that it would not be a bad idea to take also my latest camera, and
if possible obtain a photograph of the patient to show you. I managed
to slip it into my vest pocket, unobserved by my visitors. Here it
is."

Dr. Alwyn took the instrument case upon his knee and opening it,
produced what looked like a large old-fashioned nickel-plated watch of
the turnip variety. The doctor extended it almost apologetically.

"You see," he observed, "it is really more a toy than a real camera,
although it served admirably last night. I have had a great deal of
amusement with it, pretending to feel people's pulses, but in reality
snapping their photographs. It takes very small, imperfect pictures,
of course, as you can see from the print there on your desk, and only
one to each loading, but it can be carried in the palm of one's hand,
and it uses a peculiarly sensitive plate that will register a
snap-shot even by electric light. It had fortunately just been
reloaded before the advent of my mysterious visitors, and I resolved
to make use of it if an opportunity offered.

"The curtains were tightly drawn in the car, and as the interior
lights had been extinguished, we sat in total darkness. I could not,
of course, tell in what direction we were going, although the car had
been pointed south when we left my door. We appeared to be travelling
at a terrific rate of speed and swung around a confusing number of
curves.

"I tried at first to remember the turns, and their direction, but
there were so many that I very soon lost count. I think they took me
in a round-about way purposely, to confuse me. I have no idea how
long we drove, but it must have been well over two hours. At last we
struck a long up-grade, and one of my companions announced that we
were almost there.

"They bound my eyes with a dark silk handkerchief, and a moment later
the car swerved and turned abruptly in, evidently at a gateway, for we
curved about up a graveled driveway--I could hear it crunching beneath
the wheels--and came to a grinding stop before the door. They helped
me out of the car, up some shallow stone steps and across the
threshold.

"I was led down a thickly carpeted hall and up a single long flight of
stairs, to a door just at its head. We entered; the door closed softly
behind us; and the bandage was whipped from my eyes. There was only a
low night-light burning in the room, but I made out the outlines of
the furniture. There was a great bed over in the corner, with a
motionless figure lying upon it.

"'There's your patient, Doc; go ahead,' my burly friend said, and
accordingly I approached the bed, asking at the same time for more
light. The young man was unconscious, and in answer to a question of
mine the attendant who had sat at the head of the bed as we entered
informed me that he had been in a complete state of coma since he had
been brought there, several days before.

"I remembered the description in your letter of the subject for whom
you were searching, and I fancied, in spite of the bandages which
swathed his head, that I recognized him in the young man before me.
The lights flashed on full in answer to my request, and on a sudden
decision I drew the watch camera from my pocket, took the patient's
wrist between my thumb and finger as if to ascertain his pulse, and
snapped his picture. The result was a fortunate chance, for I did not
dare focus deliberately, with the eyes of the attendant and the three
men who had accompanied me, all directed at my movements.

"Then I gave the patient a thorough examination. I found a fracture at
the base of the brain--not necessarily fatal, unless cerebral
meningitis sets in, but quite serious enough. He was still bleeding a
little from the nose and ears. I washed them out, and packed the ears
with sterile gauze, leaving instructions that a specially prepared ice
cap be placed at once upon his head and kept there. That was all which
could be done at that time, but the patient should have constant,
watchful attention. He must either have suffered a severe backward
fall, or received a violent blow at the base of the skull, to have
sustained such an injury.

"When I had finished, they blindfolded me again, led me from the room,
and conveyed me home in the same manner in which I had come, with the
possible exception that the car in returning seemed to take a
different and more direct route; the journey appeared to be a much
shorter one, with fewer twists and turns. The same three men came back
to the house with me, and entered my office, where the burly one
turned over to me ten five-hundred-dollar bills. They left almost
immediately, and although it was close on to dawn, I went into my dark
room, and developed the negative of the thumbnail photograph I had
taken.

"The events of the night had been so extraordinary that when I did
retire, it was long before I could sleep. In the morning, I made a
couple of prints from the negative, then took the five thousand
dollars down and deposited it to my account in the bank."

"When I decided to come here, I ran over in my mind every moment of
the previous night's adventure, to catalogue my impressions. The habit
of years has made me methodical in all things, and I jotted them down
in the order in which they occurred to me, that I might not forget to
relate them to you. Memory plays one sad tricks, sometimes, when one
reaches my age. These notes may be of no assistance to you, sir, but
they are entirely at your service."

"I am eager to hear them, Doctor. I only wish all witnesses were like
you--my tasks would be lightened by half," Blaine said, heartily.

The elderly physician drew from his pocket a paper, at which he
peered, painstakingly.

"I have numbered them. Let me see--oh, yes. First, the burly man walks
with a slight limp in the right leg. Second, of the two men with him,
all I could note was that one spoke with a decided French accent and
had a hollow cough, tuberculous, I think; the other, who scarcely
uttered a word, was short and stocky, and of enormous strength. He
fairly lifted me into and out of the car when I was blindfolded at the
entrance of the place they called a sanitarium. Third, the car had a
peculiar horn; I have never heard one like it before. Its blast was
sharp and wailing, not like a siren, but more like the howl of a
wounded animal. I would know it again, anywhere. Fourth, there is a
railroad bridge very near the house to which I was taken--I distinctly
heard two trains thunder over the trestles while I was attending my
patient. Fifth, I should judge the place to be more of a retreat for
alcoholics or the insane, than for those suffering from accident, or
any form of physical injury. A patient in some remote part of the
house was undoubtedly a maniac or in the throes of an attack of
delirium tremens. I heard his cries at intervals as I worked, until
he quieted down finally.

"Sixth, the bedroom where my patient is lying is on the second floor,
the windows facing south and east; there was a moon last night, and
one of the curtains was partly raised. His door is just at the head of
the stairs on your right as you go up, and the stairs are on a
straight line with the front door--therefore the house faces south.
Seventh, when we returned to my home, and were in my office, the burly
man had to pull the glove off his right hand to get the wallet from
his pocket in order to pay me my fee, and I saw that two fingers were
missing--they had both been amputated at the middle joint. Also, when
they were leaving, I heard the man who spoke with an accent address
him as 'Mac.'"

"Mac! It's three-fingered Mac Alarney, by the Lord!" Blaine started
from his chair. "Why did I not think of him before! Doctor, you have
rendered to me and to my client an invaluable service, which shall not
be forgotten. Mac Alarney is a retired prize-fighter, in close touch
with all the political crooks and grafters in the city. He runs a sort
of retreat for alcoholics up near Green Valley, and bears a generally
shady reputation. Are you game to go back with me to-night for another
call on your patient? You will be well guarded and in no possible
danger, now or for the future. I give you my word for that. I may need
you to verify some facts."

The doctor hesitated visibly.

"I am not afraid," he replied, at last, "but I scarcely feel that it
is conformable with the ethics of my calling. I was called in, in my
professional capacity--"

"My dear Doctor," the detective interrupted him with a trace of
impatience in his tones, "your patient is one of the most widely known
young men of this city. He was kidnaped, and the police have been
searching for him for days. The press of the entire country has rung
with the story of his mysterious disappearance. He is Ramon
Hamilton."

"Good heavens! Can it be possible!" the physician exclaimed. "I assure
you, sir, I had no idea of his identity. He was to have married
Pennington Lawton's daughter, was he not? I have read of his
disappearance, of course; the newspapers have been full of it. And he
was kidnaped, you say? No wonder those ruffians maintained such
secrecy in regard to their destination last night! Mr. Blaine, I will
accompany you, sir, and give you any aid in my power, in rescuing Mr.
Hamilton!"

"Good! I'll make all the necessary arrangements and call for you
to-night at eight o'clock. Meanwhile, keep a strict guard upon your
tongue, and say nothing to anyone of what has occurred. Have you told
your wife of your adventure?"

"No, Mr. Blaine; I merely told her I was out on a sudden night
call. I decided to wait until I had seen you before mentioning the
extraordinary features of the case."

"You are a man of discretion, Doctor! Until eight o'clock, then. You
may expect me, without fail."

Doctor Alwyn left, and Blaine spent a busy half-hour making his
arrangements for the night's raid. Scarcely had he completed them when
the telephone shrilled. The detective did not at first recognize the
voice which came to him over the wire, so changed was it, so fraught
with horror and a menace of tragedy.

"It is you, Miss Lawton?" he asked, half unbelievingly. "What is the
matter? What has happened?"

"I must see you at once, _at once_, Mr. Blaine! I have made a
discovery so unexpected, so terrible, that I am afraid to be alone; I
am afraid of my own thoughts. Please, please come immediately!"

"I will be with you as soon as my car can reach your door," he
replied.

What could the young girl have discovered, shut up there in that great
lonely house? What new developments could have arisen, in the case
which until this moment had seemed plain to him to the end?

He found her awaiting him in the hall, with ashen face and trembling
limbs. She clutched his hand with her small icy one, and whispered:

"Come into the library, Mr. Blaine. I have something to tell you--to
show you!"

He followed her into the huge, somber, silent room where only a few
short weeks ago her father had met with his death. Coming from the
brilliant sunshine without, it was a moment or two before his eyes
could penetrate the gloom. When they did so, he saw the great leather
chair by the hearth, which had played so important a part in the
tragedy, had been overturned.

"Mr. Blaine,"--the girl faced him, her voice steadied and deepened
portentously,--"my father died of heart-disease, did he not?"

The detective felt a sudden thrill, almost of premonition, at her
unexpected question, but he controlled himself, and replied quietly:

"That was the diagnosis of the physician, and the coroner's findings
corroborated him."

"Did it ever occur to you that there might be another and more
terrible explanation of his sudden death?"

"A detective must consider and analyze a case from every standpoint,
you know, Miss Lawton," he answered. "It did occur to me that perhaps
your father met with foul play, but I put the theory from me for lack
of evidence."

"Mr. Blaine, my father was murdered!"

"Murdered! How do you know? What have you discovered?"

"He was given poison! I have found the bottle which contained it,
hidden deep in the folds of his chair there. It was no morbid fancy of
mine after all; my instinct was right! No wonder that chair has
exerted such a horrible fascination for me ever since my poor father
died in it. See!"

With indescribable loathing, she extended her left hand, which until
now she had held clenched behind her. Upon the palm lay a tiny flat
vial, with a pale, amber-colored substance dried in the bottom of it.
Blaine took it and drew the cork. Before he had time to place it at
his nostrils, a faint but unmistakable odor of bitter almonds floated
out upon the air and pervaded the room.

"Prussic acid!" he exclaimed. "It has the same outward effect as an
attack of heart-disease would produce, to a superficial examination.
Miss Lawton, how did you discover this?"

"By the merest accident. I have a habit of creeping in here, when I am
more deeply despondent than usual, and sitting for a while in my
father's chair. It calms and comforts me, almost as if he were with me
once more. I was sitting there just before I telephoned you, thinking
over all that had occurred in these last weeks, when I broke down and
cried. I felt for my handkerchief, but could not find it, and thinking
that I might perhaps have dropped it in the chair, I ran my hand down
deep in the leather fold between the seat and the side and back. My
fingers encountered something flat and hard which had been jammed away
down inside, and I dug it out. It was this bottle! Mr. Blaine, does it
mean that my father was murdered by that man whose voice I heard--that
man who came to him in the night and threatened him?"

"I'm afraid it does, Miss Lawton." Henry Blaine said slowly. "When you
hear that voice again and recognize it, we shall be able to lay our
hands upon the murderer of your father."



CHAPTER XVII

THE RESCUE


Precisely at the hour of eight that night, a huge six-cylinder
limousine drew up at the gate of Number Twenty-six Maple Avenue.
Half-way down the block, well in the shadow of the trees which gave to
the avenue its name, two more cars and a motor ambulance had halted.

Doctor Alwyn, who had been excitedly awaiting the arrival of the
detective, was out of his door and down the path almost before the car
had pulled up at his gate. Within it were three men--Blaine himself
and two others whom the Doctor did not know. Henry Blaine greeted him,
introduced his operatives, Ross and Suraci, and they started swiftly
upon their journey.

The doctor was plainly nervous, but something in the grim, silent,
determined air of his companions imparted itself to him. The lights in
the interior of the car had not been turned on, nor the shades
lowered, and after a few tentative remarks which were not encouraged,
Doctor Alwyn turned to the window and watched the brightly lighted
cross streets dart by with ever-increasing speed. Once he glanced
back, and started, casting a perturbed glance at the immovable face of
the detective, as he remarked:

"Mr. Blaine, are you aware that we are being followed?"

"Oh, yes. Give yourself no uneasiness on that score, Doctor. They are
two of my machines, filled with my men, and a Walton ambulance for
Mr. Hamilton. We will reach Mac Alarney's retreat in an hour, now.
There will be a show of trouble, of course, and we may have to use
force, but I do not anticipate any very strenuous opposition to our
removal of your patient, when Mac is convinced that the game is up. No
harm will come to you, at any rate; you will be well guarded."

The Doctor drew himself up with simple dignity, quite free from
bombast or arrogance.

"I am not afraid," he replied, quietly. "I am armed, and am fully
prepared to help protect my patient."

"Armed?" the detective asked, sharply.

For answer, Doctor Alwyn drew from his capacious coat pocket a huge,
old-fashioned pistol, and held it out to Blaine. The latter took it
from him without ceremony.

"A grave mistake, Doctor. I am glad you told me, in time. Fire-arms
are unnecessary for your own protection, and would be a positive
menace to our plans for getting your patient safely away. Gun-play is
the last thing we must think of; my men will attend to all that, if it
comes to a show-down."

The Doctor watched him in silence as he slipped the pistol under one
of the side seats. If his confidence in the great man beside him
faltered for the moment, he gave no sign, but turned his attention
again to the window. They were now rapidly traversing the suburbs,
where the houses were widely separated by stretches of vacant lots,
and the streets deserted and but dimly lighted. Soon they rattled over
a narrow railroad bridge, and Doctor Alwyn exclaimed:

"By George! This is the way we went last night! With all my careful
thought, I forgot about that bridge until this moment!"

Minutes passed, long minutes which seemed like hours to the
overstrained nerves of the Doctor, while they speeded through the open
country.

All at once, from just behind them came a hideous, wailing cry, which
swelled in volume to a screech and ended abruptly.

Doctor Alwyn grasped Blaine's arm.

"The motor-horn!" he gasped. "The car I was in last night!"

The detective nodded shortly, without speaking, and leaning forward,
stared fixedly out of the window. A long, low-bodied limousine
appeared, creeping slowly up, inch by inch, until it was fairly
abreast of them. The curtain at the window was lowered, and the
chauffeur sat immovable, with his face turned from them, as the two
cars whirled side by side along the hard, glistening road. Blaine
leaned forward, and pressed the electric bell rapidly twice, and there
began a curious game. The other car put on extra speed and darted
ahead--their own shot forward and kept abreast of it. It slowed
suddenly, and made as if to swerve in behind; Blaine's driver slowed
also, until both cars almost came to a grinding halt. Three times
these maneuvers were repeated, and then there occurred what the
detective had evidently anticipated.

The curtain in the other car shot up; the window descended with a bang
and a huge, burly figure leaned half-way out. Henry Blaine noiselessly
lowered their own window, and suddenly flashed an electric pocket
light full in the heavy-jowled face, empurpled with inarticulate
rage.

"Is that your man?" he asked, quickly.

"The one with the three fingers! Yes! That's the man!" whispered the
Doctor, hoarsely.

"That's Mac Alarney." Blaine pressed the electric bell again, and
their own car lunged forward in a spurt of speed which left the other
hopelessly behind, although it was manifestly making desperate efforts
to overtake and pass them.

"Do you suppose he suspected our errand?" the Doctor asked.

"Suspected? Lord bless you, man, he knows! He had already passed the
two open cars full of my men, and the ambulance. He'd give ten years
of his life to beat us out and reach his place ahead of us to-night,
but he hasn't a chance in the world unless we blow out a tire, and if
we do we'll all go back in the ambulance together, what's left of
us!"

Even as he spoke, there came a swift change in the even drone of their
engine,--a jarring, discordant note, slight but unmistakable, and a
series of irregular thudding knocks.

"One of the cylinder's missing, sir." Ross turned to the detective,
and spoke with eager anxiety.

"We'll make it on five." The quiet confidence in Blaine's voice, with
its underlying note of grim, indomitable determination, seemed to
communicate itself to the other men, and no further word was said,
although they all heard the thunder of the approaching car behind.

The Doctor restrained with difficulty the impulse to look backward,
and instead kept his eyes sternly fixed upon the trees and hedge-rows
flying past, more sharply defined shadows in the lesser dark.

Then, all at once, the shriek of a locomotive burst upon his ears, and
the roar and rattle of a train going over a trestle.

"The railroad bridge!" he cried, excitedly. "We're there, Mr.
Blaine!"

The noise of the passing train had scarcely died away, when from just
behind them the hideous shriek of Mac Alarney's motor-horn rose
blastingly three times upon the night air, the last fainter than the
others, as if the pursuing car had dropped back.

"He's beaten! He couldn't keep up the pace, much less better it,"
Blaine remarked. "Those three blasts sounded a warning to the guards
of the retreat. It was probably a signal agreed upon in case of
danger. We're in for it now!"

They swerved abruptly, between two high stone gateposts, and up a
broad sweep of graveled driveway. Lights gleamed suddenly in the
windows of the hitherto darkened house, which loomed up gaunt and
squarely defined against the sullen sky.

"Your men, in the other cars--" Doctor Alwyn stammered, as they came
to a crunching stop before the door. "Will they arrive in time to be
of service? Mac Alarney will reach here first--"

"My men will be at his heels," returned Blaine, shortly. "They held
back purposely, acting under my instructions. Come on now."

He sprang from the car and up the steps, and the Doctor found himself
following, with Ross and Suraci on either side. The driver turned
their car around and ran it upon the lawn, its searchlight trained on
the circling drive, its engine throbbing like the throat of an
impatient horse.

In response to the detective's vigorous ring, the door was opened by a
short, stocky man, at sight of whom the Doctor gave a start of
surprise, but did not falter. The man was clad in the white coat of a
hospital attendant, beneath which the great, bunchy muscles of his
shoulders and upper arms were plainly visible.

"Hello, Al!" exclaimed Blaine, briskly.

The veins on the thick bull neck seemed to swell, but there was no
sign of recognition in the stolid jaw. Only the lower lip protruded as
the man set his jaw, and the little, close-set, porcine eyes
narrowed.

"You were a rubber at the Hoffmeister Baths the last time I saw you,"
went on the detective, smoothly, as he deftly inserted his foot
between the door and jamb. "You remember me, of course. I'm Henry
Blaine. My friends and I have come here to-night on a confidential
errand, and I'd like a word in private with you."

The man he called "Al" muttered something which sounded like a
disclaimer. Then he caught sight of the Doctor's face over Blaine's
shoulder, and a spasm of black rage seized him.

"Oh, it's you, is it? You've snitched, d--n you! I'll do for you, for
this!"

He lunged forward, but Blaine, with a strength of which the Doctor
would not a moment before have thought him possessed, grasped the
ex-rubber and flung him backward, advancing into the hall at the same
time, while his two operatives and the Doctor crowded in behind him.

"Al" staggered, regained his balance, and came on in a blind rush,
bull neck lowered, long, monkey-like arms taut and rigid for the first
blow. Blaine set himself to meet it, but it was never delivered. At
that instant the whirring roar of a high-powered car, unmuffled,
sounded in all their ears, and a second machine drew up at the steps.

Its single passenger flung himself out and bounded up to the door.

"What in h--l does this mean?" he bellowed. "Didn't you hear my
horn?"

He stopped abruptly in sheer amazement, for Blaine had turned, with
beaming face and outstretched hand.

"Mac Alarney!" he exclaimed. "Thank the Lord you've come! This
thick-skulled boob wouldn't give me time for a word, and every minute
is precious! Come where I can talk to you, quick!"

Then, as if catching sight of the car in which Mac Alarney had come,
for the first time his eyes widened and he seemed struggling to
suppress an outburst of mirth.

"Great guns! Is that _your_ car, yours? Do you mean to tell me it was
you I was playing with, back there on the road? When I flashed the
light in your face I was sure you were Donnelley!"

As he uttered the name of the Chief of Police, Mac Alarney involuntarily
stepped backward, and a wave of startled apprehension swept the
amazement from his face, to be succeeded in turn by the primitive
craftiness of the brute instinct on guard.

"And what may you be wanting here, Mr. Blaine?" he demanded, warily.

"To beat the police to it!" Blaine replied in a gruff whisper, adding
as he jerked his thumb in the direction of the waiting Al. "Get rid of
him! We haven't got a minute, I tell you!"

"The police!" repeated the other man, sharply. "Sure, I passed two
cars full of plain-clothes bulls, with an ambulance trailing
them!--You can go now, Al."

Without giving the burly proprietor of the retreat time to discover
him for himself, Blaine pulled the astonished Doctor forward.

"Here's Doctor Alwyn, whom you brought here last night. The police
trailed you, and got his number, but fortunately when they began to
question him, he smelled a rat in the whole business and came to me.
They told him a man named Paddington had double-crossed you, but of
course I knew that was all rot, the minute I'd doped it out. You've
got a fortune under your roof this minute, and you don't know it, Mac!
That's the best joke of all! You're entertaining an angel unawares!"

"Say, what're you gettin' at, Mr. Blaine?" Mac Alarney's brows drew
close together, and he stared levelly from beneath them at the
detective's exultant face.

"That young man with the fractured skull in the corner room
upstairs--the one you brought Doctor Alwyn to attend last night--when
you know who he is you're going up in the air! I don't know who
brought him here, or what flim-flam line of talk they gave you, but
it's a wonder you haven't guessed from the start who he was, with the
papers full of it for days! Of course they must have given you a lot
of money to get him well, and hush it all up, when you were able to
pay the Doctor, here, five thousand dollars, but whatever they paid,
it's a drop in the bucket compared to the reward they expected to get.
Mac, it's Ramon Hamilton you've got upstairs!"

Blaine stepped back himself, as if the better to observe the effect of
what he manifestly seemed to believe would be astounding news, and
clumsily and cautiously the other tried to play up to his lead.

"Ramon Hamilton!" he echoed. "You're crazy, Blaine! You don't know
what you're talking about!"

"You'd better believe I do! See this photograph?" He held the tiny
thumbnail picture before Mac Alarney's amazed eyes. "The Doctor took
it last night, at the bedside of the young man upstairs, when you
thought he was feeling his pulse. That watch of his was in reality a
camera."

With a roar, the burly man turned upon the erect, unshrinking figure
of the gray-haired doctor, but Blaine halted him.

"Not so fast, Mac. If it hadn't been for him, you'd be in the hands of
the police now, remember, and they've only been waiting to get
something on you, as you know. You can't blame Doctor Alwyn for being
suspicious, after all the mysterious fuss you made bringing him here.
I know Ramon Hamilton well, and I recognized his face the instant it
was handed to me! I'm on the case, myself--Miss Lawton, the girl he's
going to marry, engaged me. I might have come and tried to take him
away from you, so as to cop all the reward myself, but as it is, we'll
split fifty-fifty--unless the police get here while we're wasting time
talking! Man, don't you see how you've been done?"

"You can bet your life I do--that is, if the young man I've got
upstairs is the guy you think he is," he added, in an afterthought of
cautious self-protection. The acid of the hint that Paddington had
betrayed him to the police had burned deep, however, as Blaine had
anticipated, and he walked blindly into the snare laid for him. "I'll
tell you all about how he come to be here, later, and I'll fix them
that tried to pull the wool over my eyes! Now, for the love of Heaven,
Mr. Blaine, tell me what to do with him before the bulls come! Thank
God, they can search the rest of the place, and welcome--I've got
nothin' here but a half-dozen souses, and two light-weights,
training."

"That's all right! You're safe if we can get him away without loss of
time. That ambulance you saw don't belong to the police; it's mine. I
saw them first, away back in the outskirts of the city, and I ordered
it to drop behind and take the short cut up through Wheelbarrow Lane.
It's waiting now under the clump of elms by the brook, up the road a
little--you know the spot! Bring him down and we'll take him there in
my car. You come too, of course, and Al, and help load him into the
ambulance. Then Al can come back, if you don't want to trust him, and
you go on with us, back to the city."

"Where you goin' to take him?" asked Mac Alarney, warily. "You can't
hide him from them in town."

"Who's talking about hiding him!" Blaine demanded, with contemptuous
impatience. "Your brain must be taking a rest cure, Mac! We'll go
straight to Miss Lawton, deliver the goods and get the reward, before
they beat us to it! It'll be easy to explain matters to her; she won't
care much about the story as long as she's got him again alive, and at
that you've only got to stick to the truth, and I'm right there to
back you up in it. Any fool could realize that you'd have produced him
and claimed the reward, if you had known who he actually was. Whoever
brought him here gave you the wrong dope and you fell for it, that's
all--For the Lord's sake, hurry!"

"You're right, Mr. Blaine. It's the only thing to do now. I fell for
their dope, all right, but they'll fall harder before I'm through with
them! Lend me your two men, here. There's no use having any of mine
except Al get wise. You and the Doctor wait in the car, and we'll
bring him out."

Henry Blaine motioned to his operatives, with a curt wave of his hand,
to follow Mac Alarney, and turning, he went out of the door and down
the steps to his car, with the Doctor at his heels.

"You don't suppose that he saw through your story, do you, Mr.
Blaine?" the latter queried in an anxious whisper, as they settled
themselves to wait with what patience they could muster. "Could that
suggestion of his have been merely a ruse to separate your assistants
from you?"

The detective smiled.

"Hardly, Doctor. It's part of my profession to have made a study of
human nature, and Mac Alarney's type is an open book to me. Added to
that, I've known the man himself for years, in an offhand way. I've
got his confidence, and now that he realizes he is in a hole, he's a
child in my hands, even if he thinks for the moment that as a
detective I'm about the poorest specimen in captivity. Steady now,
here they come!"

The large double doors had been thrown wide open and Mac Alarney, the
burly Al, and the two operatives appeared, bearing between them a
limp, unconscious, blanket-swathed form. As they eased it into the
back seat of the limousine, Blaine flashed his electric pocket light
upon the sleeping face.

"I knew I wasn't mistaken!" he whispered exultantly to Mac Alarney and
the Doctor. "It's young Hamilton, all right. Now, let's be off!"

The others crowded in, and they whirled down the drive and out once
more upon the wide State road, in the opposite direction to that in
which they had come. A bare half-mile away, and they came abruptly
upon the ambulance, screened by the clump of naked elms at the side of
the road.

"You get in first, Doctor," ordered Blaine, significantly. "You've got
to look after your patient now."

As the Doctor obeyed, Mac Alarney, with a shrewd gleam in his eyes,
turned to the detective.

"I think I'd better ride with him, too, Mr. Blaine," he observed. "You
don't know who you can trust these days. Your ambulance driver may
give you the slip."

"All right, Mac!" Blaine assented, with bluff heartiness. "We'll both
ride with him! Did you think I'd try to double-cross you, too? I can't
blame you, after the rotten deal that's been handed to you, but we
won't waste time arguing. Here's the stretcher. Come on, shove him
in!"

The Doctor had been wondering when the dénouement of this adventure
would be. Now it came without warning, with a startling suddenness
which left him dazed and agape.

The inert body of his patient was laid carefully beside him, and he
glanced out of the ambulance door in time to see Mac Alarney dismiss
his burly assistant, and turn to enter the vehicle. His foot was
already upon the lowest step, when the Doctor saw Blaine raise his
hand to his lips. A short, sharp blast of a whistle pierced the air,
and in an instant a dozen men had sprung out of the darkness and
leaped upon the two surprised miscreants. Then ensued a struggle,
brief but awful to the onlooker in its silent, grim ferocity, as the
two separate knots of men battled each about their central orbit. The
scuffle of many feet on the hard-packed road, the mutter of curses,
the dull thud of blows, the hoarse, strangulated breathing of men
fighting against odds to the last ounce of their strength, came to the
Doctor's startled ears in a confused babel of half-suppressed sound,
with the purring drone of the two engines as an undertone.

A minute, and it was all over. The thick-set Al went down like a
felled ox, and Mac Alarney wavered under an avalanche of blows and
crumpled to his knees. Handcuffed and securely bound, the two were
bundled into Blaine's waiting car.

"Paddington never double-crossed me!" groaned Mac Alarney, before the
door closed upon him. "But you did, Blaine! Just as I meant to get
him, I'll get you! I fell for your d--d scheme, and since you've got
the goods on me, I suppose I'll go up, but God help you when I come
out! I can wait--it'll be the better when it comes!"

"But the others--" queried the Doctor, as he and Blaine, with the
injured man between them, settled down in the ambulance for the slow,
careful journey back to the city. "That third man who came for me last
night--the one with the French accent and the cough--and the rest who
are in this kidnaping plot? Will you get them, too?"

"Ross and Suraci are enough to guard Mac Alarney and Al on their way
to the lock-up," the detective responded quietly. "The others will go
on up to the sanitarium and clean the place out. They'll get French
Louis, all right. And as for the rest who are concerned in this,
Doctor Alwyn, be sure that I intend to see that they get their just
deserts."

"And it is said that you have never lost a case!" the Doctor
remarked.

"I shall not lose this one." Blaine spoke with quiet confidence,
unmixed with any boastfulness. "I cannot lose; there is too much at
stake."

Late that night, Anita Lawton was awakened from a tortured, feverish
dream by the violent ringing of the telephone bell at her bedside. The
voice of Henry Blaine, fraught with a latent tension of suppressed
elation, came to her over the wire.

"Miss Lawton, I shall come to you in twenty minutes. Please be
prepared to go out with me in my car. No, don't ask me any questions
now. I will explain when I reach you."

His arrival found her dressed and restlessly pacing the floor of the
reception-room, in a fever of mingled hope and anxiety.

"What is it, Mr. Blaine?" she cried, seizing his hand and pressing it
convulsively in both of hers. "You have news for me! I can read it in
your face! Ramon--"

"Is safe!" he responded. "Can you bear a sudden shock now, Miss
Lawton? After all that has gone before, can you withstand one more
blow?"

"Oh, tell me! Tell me quickly! I can endure everything, if only Ramon
is safe!"

"I found him to-night, and brought him back to the city. I have come
to take you to him."

"But why--why did he not come with you? Does he not realize what I
have suffered--that every moment of suspense, of waiting for him, is
an added torture?"

"He realizes nothing." Blaine hesitated, and then went on: "It is best
for you to know the truth at once. Mr. Hamilton has suffered a severe
injury. He is lying almost at the point of death, but the physicians
say he has a chance, a good chance, for recovery, now that he is where
he can receive expert care and attention. How he came by his shattered
skull--he has a fracture at the base of the brain--we shall not know
until he recovers sufficient consciousness to tell us. At present, he
is in a state of coma, recognizing no one, nothing that goes on about
him. He will not rouse to hear your voice; he will not know of your
presence; but I thought that it would comfort you to see him, to feel
that everything is being done for him that can be done."

"Ah, yes!" she sobbed. "Take me to him, Mr. Blaine! Thank God, thank
God that you have found him! Just to look upon his dear face again, to
touch him, to know that at least he still lives! He must not die, now;
he cannot die! The God who has permitted you to restore him to me,
would not allow that! Take me to him!"

So it was that a few short minutes later, Henry Blaine tasted the
first real fruit of his victory, as he stood aside in the quiet
hospital room, and with dimmed eyes beheld the scene before him. The
wide, white bed, the silent, motionless, bandage-swathed figure upon
it, the slender, dark-robed, kneeling girl--only that, and the echo of
her low-breathed sob of love and gratitude. His own great, fatherly
heart swelled with the joy of work well done, of the happiness he had
brought to a spirit all but broken, and a sure, triumphant premonition
that the struggle still before him would be crowned with victory.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE TRAP


"You are ready, Miss Lawton? Nerves steady enough for the ordeal?"
asked Blaine the following morning.

"I am ready." Anita's voice was firm and controlled, and there was the
glint of a challenge in her eyes. A wondrous change had come over her
since the previous day. With the rescue of the man she loved, and the
certainty that he would recover, all the latent, indomitable courage
and fighting spirit which had come to her as an heritage from her
father, and which had made of him the ruler of men and arbiter of
events which he had been, arose again within her. The most crushing
weight upon her heart had been lifted; hope and love had revivified
her; and she was indeed ready to face the world again, to meet her
enemies, the murderers and traducers of her father, and to give battle
to them on their own ground.

"In a few moments, a man will enter this library--a man whom you know
well. You will be stationed behind the curtains at this window here,
and you must summon all your self-control to restrain yourself from
giving any start or uttering a sound of surprise which would betray
your presence. While I talk to him, I want you to try with all your
might to put from your mind the fact that you know him. Do not let his
personality influence you in any way, or his speech. Only listen to
the tones of his voice--listen and try to recall that other voice
which you heard here on the night of your father's death. If in his
tones you recognize that voice, step from behind those curtains and
face him. If not--and you must be absolutely sure that you do
recognize the voice, that you could swear to it under oath in a court
of justice, realizing that it will probably mean swearing away a man's
life--if you are not sure, remain silent."

"I understand, Mr. Blaine. I will not fail you. I could not be
mistaken; the voice which I heard here that night rings still in my
ears; its echo seems yet to linger in the room." Her gaze wandered to
the great leather chair, which had been replaced in its usual
position. "Now that you have restored Ramon to me, I want only to
avenge my father, and I shall be content. To be murdered, in his own
home! Poisoned like a rat in a trap! I shall not rest until the coward
who killed him has been brought to justice!"

"He will be, Miss Lawton! The trap has been baited again, and unless I
am greatly mistaken, the murderer will walk straight into it.--There
is the bell! I gave orders that you were to be at home to no one
except the man I expect and that he was to be ushered in here
immediately upon his arrival, without being announced--so take your
place, now, please, behind the curtains. Do not try to watch the
man--only listen with all your ears; and above all do not betray
yourself until the proper moment comes for disclosing your presence."

Without a word Anita disappeared into the window-seat, and the
curtains fell into place behind her. The detective had only time to
step in the shadow of a dark corner beside one of the tall bookcases,
when the door was thrown open. A man stood upon the threshold--a tall,
fair man of middle age, with a small blond mustache, and a monocle
dangling from a narrow black ribbon about his neck. From the very
correct gardenia in his buttonhole to the very immaculate spats upon
his feet, he was a careful prototype of the Piccadilly exquisite--a
little faded, perhaps, slightly effete, but perfect in detail. He
halted for a moment, as if he, too, were blinded by the swift change
from sunshine to gloom. Then, advancing slowly, his pale, protruding
eyes wandered to the great chair by the fireplace, and lingered as if
fascinated. He approached it, magnetized by some spell of his own
thoughts' weaving, until he could have stretched out his hand and
touched it. A pause, and with a sudden swift revulsion of feeling, he
turned from it in a sort of horror and went to the center-table. There
he stood for a moment, glanced back at the chair, then quickly about
the room, his eyes passing unseeingly over the shadowy figure by the
bookcase. Then he darted back to the chair and thrust his hand deep
into the fold between the back and seat. For a minute he felt about
with frenzied haste, until his fingers touched the object he sought,
and with a profound sigh of relief he drew it forth--a tiny flat
vial.

He glanced at it casually, his hand already raised toward his
breast-pocket; then he recoiled with a low, involuntary cry. The vial
was filled with a sinister blood-red fluid.

At that moment Blaine stepped from behind the bookcase and confronted
him.

"You have succeeded in regaining your bottle, haven't you, Mr.
Rockamore?" he asked, significantly. "Are you surprised to find within
it the blood of an innocent man?"

Rockamore turned to him slowly, his dazed, horror-stricken eyes
protruding more than ever.

"Blood?" he repeated, thickly, as if scarcely understanding. Then a
realization of the situation dawned upon him, and he demanded,
hoarsely: "Who are you? What are you doing here?"

"My name is Blaine, and I am here to arrest the murderer of Pennington
Lawton," the detective replied, his dominant tones ringing through the
room.

"Blaine--Henry Blaine!" Rockamore stepped back a pace or two, and a
sneer curled his thin lips, although his face had suddenly paled.
"I've heard of you, of course--the international meddler! What sort of
sensation are you trying to work up now, my man, by such a ridiculous
assertion? Pennington Lawton--murdered! Why, all the world knows that
he died of heart-disease!"

"All the world seldom knows the truth, but it shall, in this
instance," returned Blaine, trenchantly. "Pennington Lawton was
murdered--poisoned by a draught of prussic acid."

"You're mad!" Rockamore retorted, insolently. He tossed the
incriminating little vial carelessly on the blotter of the writing-desk,
and when he turned again to the detective his face, with its high,
thin, hooked nose and close-drawn brows, was vulture-like in its
malevolent intensity. "You don't deserve serious consideration! If
you make public such a ridiculous statement, you'll only be laughed at
for your pains."

"I shall prove it. The murderer's midnight visit, his secret
conference with his victim, did not proceed unwitnessed. His motive is
known, but his act was futile. It came too late."

"This is all very interesting, no doubt, or would be if it could be
credited. However, I cannot understand why you have elected to take me
into your confidence." Rockamore was livid, but he controlled himself
sufficiently to speak with a simulation of contemptuous boredom. "I
came here to see Miss Lawton, in response to an urgent call from her;
I don't know by what authority you are here, but I do know that I do
not propose to be further annoyed by you!"

"I am afraid that you will find yourself very seriously annoyed before
this affair comes to an end, Mr. Rockamore," said Blaine. "Miss
Lawton's butler summoned you this afternoon by my instructions, and
with gratifying promptness you came and did just what I expected you
would do--betrayed yourself irretrievably in your haste to recover the
evidence which now will hang you!"

The other man laughed harshly, a discordant, jarring laugh which
jangled on the tense air.

"Your accusation is too absurd to be resented. I knew that Miss Lawton
herself could not have been a party to this melodramatic hoax!"

Blaine walked to the desk before replying, and taking up the
crimson-tinged vial, weighed it in his hand.

"You did not find the poison bottle which you yourself thrust in that
chair the night Pennington Lawton died, Mr. Rockamore, because his
daughter discovered it and communicated with me," he said. "She
anticipated you by less than twenty-four hours. We have known from the
beginning of your nocturnal visit to this room; every word of your
conversation was overheard. It's no use trying to bluff it; we've got
a clear case against you."

"You and your 'clear case' be d--d!" the other man cried, his tones
shaking with anger. "You're trying to bluff me, my man, but it won't
work! I don't know what the devil you mean about a midnight visit to
Lawton; the last I saw of him was at a directors' meeting the
afternoon before his death."

"Then why has that chair--the chair in which he died--exerted such a
peculiar, sinister influence over you? Why is it that every time you
have entered this room since, you have been unable to keep away from
it? Why, this very hour, when you thought yourself unobserved, did you
walk straight to this chair and place your hand deliberately upon the
place where the poison bottle was concealed? Why did you recoil? Why
did that cry rise from your lips when you saw what it contained?"

"I touched the chair inadvertently, while I waited for Miss Lawton's
appearance, and my hand coming accidentally in contact with a hard
substance, mere idle curiosity impelled me to draw it out. Naturally,
I was startled for the moment, when I saw what it was." The man's
voice deepened hoarsely, and he gave vent to another sneering, vicious
laugh. As its echo died in the room, Blaine could have sworn that he
heard a quick gasp from behind the curtains of the window-seat, but it
did not reach the ears of Rockamore.

The latter continued, his voice breaking suddenly, with a rage at last
uncontrolled:

"I could not, of course, know that that bottle of red ink was a cheap,
theatrical trick of a mountebank, a creature who is the laughing-stock
of the press and the public, in his idiotic attempts to draw
sensational notoriety upon himself. But I do know that this effort has
failed! You have dared to plant this outrageous, puerile trap to
attempt to ensnare me! You have dared to strike blindly, in your mad
thirst for publicity, at a man infinitely beyond your reach. Your
insolence ceases to be amusing! If you try to push this ridiculous
accusation, I shall ruin you, Henry Blaine!"

"No man is beyond my reach who has broken the law." The detective's
voice was quietly controlled, yet each word pierced the silence like a
sword-thrust. "I have been threatened with ruin, with death, many
times by criminals of all classes, from defaulting financiers to petty
thieves, but I still live, and my fortunes have not been materially
impaired. I do not court publicity, but I cannot shirk my duty because
it entails that. And in this case my duty is plain. You, Bertrand
Rockamore, came here, secretly, by night, to try to persuade Mr.
Lawton to go in with you on a crooked scheme--to force him to, by
blackmail, if necessary, on an old score. Failing in that, you killed
him, to prevent the nefarious operations of yourself and your
companions from being brought to light!"

"You're mad, I tell you!" roared Rockamore. "Whoever stuffed you with
such idiotic rot as that is making gammon of you! That conversation is
a chimera of some disordered mind, if it isn't merely part of a
deliberate conspiracy of yours against me! You'll suffer for this, my
man! I'll break you if it is the last act of my life! Such a
conference never took place, and you know it!"

"'Come, Lawton, be sensible; half a loaf is better than no bread,'"
Blaine quoted slowly. "'There is no blackmail about this--it is an
ordinary business proposition.'

"'It's a damnable crooked scheme, and I shall have nothing to do with
it. This is final! My hands are clean, and I can look every man in the
face and tell him to go where you can go now!'

"You remember that, don't you, Rockamore?" Blaine interrupted himself
to ask sharply. "Do you also recall your reply?--'How about poor
Herbert Armstrong? His wife--'"

"It's a lie! A d--d lie!" cried Rockamore. "I was not in this room
that night! Such a conversation never occurred! Who told you of this?
Who dares accuse me?"

"I do!" A clear, flute-like voice, resonant in its firmness, rang out
from behind him as he spoke, and he wheeled abruptly, to find Anita
standing with her slender form outlined against the dark, rich velvet
of the curtains. Her head was thrown back, her eyes blazing; and as
she faced him, she slowly raised her arm and pointed a steady finger
at the recoiling figure. "I accuse you, Bertrand Rockamore, of the
murder of my father! It was I who heard your conversation here in this
room; it was I who found the vial which contained the poison you used
when your arguments and threats failed! I am not mistaken--I knew that
I could never be mistaken if I heard that voice again, shaken, as it
was that night, with rage and defiance--and fear! I knew that I should
hear it again some time, and all these weeks I have listened for it,
until this moment. Mr. Blaine, this is the man!"

[Illustration: Her head was thrown back, her eyes blazing: and as she
faced him, she slowly raised her arm and pointed a steady finger at the
recoiling figure.]

"Anita, you have lost your mind!" With the shock of the girl's
appearance, a steely calm had come to the Englishman, and although a
tremor ran through his tones, he held them well in leash. "My poor
child, you do not know what you are saying.

"As for you,"--he turned and looked levelly into Blaine's eyes,--"I am
amazed that a man of your perception and experience should for a
moment entertain the idea that he could make out a case of capital
crime against a person of my standing, solely upon the hysterical
pseudo-testimony of a girl whose brain is overwrought. This midnight
conference, which you so glibly quote, is a figment of her distraught
mind--or, if it actually occurred (a fact of which you have no proof),
Miss Lawton admits, by the words she has just uttered, that she did
not see the mysterious visitor, but is attempting to identify me as
that person merely by the tones of my voice. She has made no
accusation against me until this moment, yet since her father's death
she has heard my voice almost daily for several weeks. Come, Blaine,
listen to reason! Your case has tumbled about your ears! You can only
avoid serious trouble for both Miss Lawton and yourself by dropping
this absurd matter here and now."

"It is true that I did not recognize your voice before, but I have not
until now heard it raised in anger as it was that night--" began
Anita, but Blaine silenced her with a gesture.

"And the bottle of prussic acid which was found yesterday hidden in
the chair where just now you searched for it?" he demanded, sternly.
"The incontrovertible evidence, proved late last night by an autopsy
upon the body of Pennington Lawton, which shows that he came to his
death by means of that poison--how do you account for these facts,
Rockamore?"

"I do not propose to account for them, whether they are facts or
not," returned the other man, coolly. "Since I know nothing
whatever about them, they are beyond my province. Unless you wish
to bring ruin upon yourself, and unwelcome notoriety and possibly an
official inquiry into her sanity upon Miss Lawton, you will not
repeat this incredible accusation. Only my very real sympathy for
her has enabled me to listen with what patience I have to the
unparalleled insolence of this charge, but you are going too far. I
see no necessity for further prolonging this interview, and with
your permission I will withdraw--unless, of course," he added,
sneeringly, "you have a warrant for my arrest?"

To Anita's astonishment, Henry Blaine stepped back with a slight shrug
and Rockamore, still with that sarcastic leer upon his lips, bowed low
to her and strode from the room.

"You--you let him go, Mr. Blaine?" she gasped, incredulously. "You let
him escape!"

"He cannot escape." Blaine smiled a trifle grimly. "I'm giving him
just a little more rope, that is all, to see if he will help us secure
the others. His every move is under strict surveillance--for him there
is no way out, save one."

"And that way?" asked Anita.

The detective made no reply. In a few minutes he took leave of her and
proceeded to his office, where he spent a busy day, sending cables in
cipher, detailing operatives to many new assignments and receiving
reports.

Late in the afternoon replies began to come in to his cablegrams of
the morning. Whatever their import, they quite evidently afforded him
immense satisfaction, and as the early dusk settled down, his eyes
began to glow with the light of battle, which those closest to him in
his marvelous work had learned to recognize when victory was in
sight.

Suraci noted it when he entered to make his report, and the glint of
enthusiasm in his own eyes brightened like burnished steel.

"I relieved Ross at noon, as you instructed me, sir," he began, "in
the vestibule of Mr. Rockamore's apartment house. It was a good thing
that I had the six-cylinder car handy, for he surely led me a chase!
Ten minutes after I went on duty, Rockamore came out, jumped into his
automobile, and after circling the park, he turned south, zig-zagging
through side streets as if to cut off pursuit. He reached South-end
Ferry, but hovered about until the gates were on the point of closing.
Then his chauffeur shot the car forward, but before I could reach him,
Creghan stepped up with your warrant.

"'I'm sorry, sir,' I heard him say as I came up. 'I'm to use this only
in case you insist on attempting to leave the city, sir. Mr. Blaine's
orders.'

"Rockamore turned on him in a fury, but thought better of it, and
after a minute he leaned forward with a shrug, and directed the
chauffeur north again. This time he tried the Great Western Station,
but Liebler was there, waiting for him; then the North Illington
branch depot--Schmidt was on hand. As a forlorn hope he tried the
Tropic and Oriental steamship line,--one of their ships goes out
to-night,--but Norris intercepted him; at last he speeded down the
boulevard and out on the eastern post-road, but Kearney was on the job
at the toll-gate.

"He gave it up then, and went back to his rooms, and Ross relieved me
there, just now. The lights are flaring in the windows of his rooms,
and you can see his shadow--he's pacing up and down like a caged
animal!"

"All right, Suraci. Go back and tell Ross to have one of his men
telephone to me at once if Rockamore leaves his rooms before nine.
That will be all for you to-night. I've got to do the rest of the work
myself."

At nine o'clock precisely, Henry Blaine presented himself at
Rockamore's door. As he had anticipated he was admitted at once and
ushered into the Englishman's presence as if his coming had been
expected.

"I say, Blaine, what the devil do you mean by this game you're
playing?" Rockamore demanded, as he stood erect and perfectly poised
upon the hearth, and faced the detective. A faint, sarcastic smile
curved his lips, and in his pale eyes there was no hint of trouble or
fear--merely a look of tolerant, half-contemptuous amusement.
Immaculate in his dinner-coat and fresh boutonnière, his bearing
superb in his ease and condescension, he presented a picture of
elegance. Blaine glanced about the rich, somber den before he
replied.

"I'm not playing any game, Mr. Rockamore. Why did you try so
desperately to leave the city?"

The Englishman shrugged.

"A sudden whim, I suppose. Would it be divulging a secret of your
profession if you informed me why one of your men did not arrest me,
since all had warrants on the ridiculous charge you brought against me
this morning, of murdering my oldest and closest friend?"

"I merely wanted to assure myself that you would not leave the city
until I had obtained sufficient data with which to approach you," the
detective responded, imperturbably. "I have come to-night for a little
talk with you, Mr. Rockamore. I trust I am not intruding?"

"Not at all. As a matter of fact, after to-day's incidents I was
rather expecting you." Rockamore waved his unbidden guest to a chair,
and produced a gold cigarette-case. "Smoke? You perhaps prefer
cigars--no? A brandy and soda?"

"Thank you, no. With your permission, I will get right down to
business. It will simplify matters for both of us if you are willing
to answer some questions I wish to put to you; but, of course, there
is no compulsion about it. On the other hand, it is my duty to warn
you that anything you say may be used against you."

"Fire away, Mr. Blaine!" Rockamore seated himself and stretched out
his legs luxuriously to the open wood-fire. "I don't fancy that
anything I shall say will militate against me. I was an idiot to lose
my temper this morning, but I hate being made game of. Now the whole
situation merely amuses me, but it may become tiresome. Let's get it
over."

"Mr. Rockamore, you were born in Staffordshire, England, were you not?
Near a place called Handsworth?"

The unexpected question brought a meditative frown to the other man's
brow, but he replied readily enough:

"Yes, at Handsworth Castle, to be exact. But I can't quite gather what
bearing that insignificant fact has upon your amazing charge this
morning."

"You are the only son of Gerald Cecil Rockamore, third son of the Earl
of Stafford?" The detective did not appear to have heard the protest
of the man he was interrogating.

"Precisely. But what--"

"There were, then, four lives between you and the title," Blaine
interrupted, tersely. "But two remain, your father and grandfather.
Your uncles died, both of sudden attacks of heart-disease, and
curiously enough, both deaths occurred while they were visiting at
Handsworth Castle."

"That is quite true." The cynical banter was gone from Rockamore's
tones, and he spoke with a peculiar, hushed evenness, as if he waited,
on guard, for the next thrust.

"Lord Ashfrith, your father's oldest brother, and next in line to the
old Earl, was seated in the gun-room of the castle, sipping a brandy
and soda, and carving a peach-stone. Twenty minutes before, you had
brought the peaches in from the garden, and eaten them with him. He
was showing you how, in his boyhood, he had carved a watch-charm from
a peach-stone, and you were close at his side when he suddenly fell
over dead. Two years later, your Uncle Alaric, heir to the earldom
since his older brother was out of the way, dropped dead at a hunt
breakfast. You were seated next him."

"Are you trying to insinuate that I had anything to do with these
deaths?" Rockamore still spoke quietly, but there was a slight tremor
in his tones, and his face looked suddenly gray and leaden in the glow
of the leaping flames.

"I am recalling certain facts in your family history. When your Uncle
Alaric died, he had just set down his cordial glass, which had
contained peach brandy. An odd coincidence, wasn't it, that both of
these men died with the odor of peaches about them, an odor which
incidentally you had provided in both cases, for it was you who
suggested the peach brandy as a cordial at the hunt breakfast, and
induced your uncle to partake of it."

"It was a coincidence, as you say. I had not thought of it before."
The Englishman moistened his lips nervously, as if they suddenly felt
dry. "Uncle Alaric was a heavy, full-blooded man, and he had ridden
hard that morning, contrary to the doctor's orders. I suggested the
brandy as a bracer, I remember."

"An unfortunate suggestion, wasn't it?" Blaine asked, significantly.
The other man made no reply.

"There was another coincidence." The detective pursued relentlessly.
"The brandy-and-soda, which Lord Ashfrith was drinking at the moment
of his death, was naturally a pale amber color. So was the brandy
which your Uncle Alaric drank as he died. And prussic acid is
amber-colored, too, Mr. Rockamore! Lord Ashfrith was carving a
peach-stone when the end came, and the odor of peaches clung to his
body. Your Uncle Alaric partook of peach brandy, and the same odor
hovered about him in death. Prussic acid is redolent of the odor of
peaches!"

Rockamore started from his chair.

"I understand what you are attempting to establish by the flimsiest of
circumstantial evidence!" he sneered. "But you are away beyond your
depth, my man! May I ask where you obtained this interesting but
scarcely valuable information?"

"From Scotland Yard, by cable, to-day." Blaine rose also and faced the
other man. "An investigation was started into the second death, upon
the Earl's request, but it was dropped for lack of evidence. About
that time, Mr. Rockamore, you decided rather suddenly, and for no
apparent reason, to come to America, where you have remained ever
since."

"Mr. Blaine, if I were in the mood to be facetious, I might employ
your American vernacular and ask that you tell me something I don't
know! Come to the point, man; you try my patience."

"In view of recent developments, I am under the impression that
Scotland Yard would welcome your reappearance on British soil, but I
fear that will be forever impossible," Blaine said slowly. "Just as
you were beside your uncles when each met with his end, so you were
beside Pennington Lawton when death came to him! That has been proved.
Just as brandy and soda, and peach brandy, are amber-colored, so are
Scotch high-balls, which you and Pennington Lawton were drinking. No
odor of peaches lingered about the room, for Miss Lawton had lighted a
handful of joss-sticks in a vase upon the mantel earlier in the
evening, and their pungent perfume filled the air. But the odor of
peaches permeated the room when the tiny bottle which you hid in the
folds of the chair was uncorked--the odor of peaches rose above the
stench of mortifying flesh, when the body of your victim was exhumed
late last night for a belated autopsy! The heart would have revealed
the truth, had there been no corroborative evidence, for it was filled
with arterial blood--incontrovertible proof of death by prussic-acid
poisoning."

There was a tense pause, and then Rockamore spoke sharply, his voice
strained to the breaking point.

"If you are so certain of my guilt, Blaine, why have you come to me
secretly here and now? What is your price?"

"I have no price," the great detective answered, simply.

"Then why did you not arrest me at once? Why this purposeless
interview?"

"Because--" Blaine paused, and when he spoke again, a solemn hush,
almost of pity, had crept into his tones. "You come of a fine old
line, Mr. Rockamore, of a splendid race. Your grandfather, the aged
Earl, is living only in the past, proud of the record of his
forebears. Your father is a soldier and statesman, valuable to the
nation; his younger brother, Cedric, has achieved deserved fame and
glory in the Boer War. There remains only you. For the sake of the
innocent who must suffer with you, I have come to you to-night, that
you may have an opportunity to--prepare yourself. In the morning I
must arrest you. My duty is plain."

As he uttered the words, the craven fear which had struggled
through the malicious sneer on the other man's face faded as if an
obliterating hand had passed across his brow, and a look of
indomitable courage and resignation took its place. There was
something akin to nobility in his expression as he turned to the
detective with head proudly erect and shoulders squared.

"I thank you, Mr. Blaine," he said, simply. "I understand. I shall not
fail them--the others! You have been far more generous to me than I
deserve. And now--good-night. You will find me here when you come in
the morning."

But in the morning Henry Blaine did not carry out his expressed
intention. Instead, he sat at his desk, staring at the headlines
in a paper spread out before him. The Honorable Bertrand Rockamore
had been found dead on the floor of his den, with a bullet through
his head. He would never allow his man to touch his guns, and had
been engaged in cleaning one of them, as was his custom, in
preparation for his annual shooting trip to Florida, when in some
fashion it had been accidentally discharged.

"I wonder if I did the right thing!" mused Blaine. "He had the courage
to do it, after all. Blood will tell, in the end."



CHAPTER XIX

THE UNSEEN LISTENER


"There's a man outside who wishes to speak to you, sir. Says his name
is Hicks, but won't tell his business."

Blaine looked up from the paper.

"Never heard of him. What sort of a man, Marsh?"

"Old, white-haired, carries himself like an old family servant of some
sort. Looks as if he'd been crying. He's trembling so he can scarcely
stand, and seems deeply affected by something. Says he has a message
for you, and must see you personally."

"Very well. Show him in."

"Thank you for receiving me, sir." A quavering old voice sounded from
the doorway a moment later, and Blaine turned in his chair to face the
aged, erect, black-clad figure which stood there.

"Come in, Hicks." The detective's voice was kindly. "Sit down here,
and tell me what I can do for you."

"I bring you a message, sir." The man tottered to the chair and sank
into it. "A message from the dead."

Blaine leaned forward suddenly.

"You were--"

"Mr. Rockamore's valet, sir, and his father's before him. I loved him
as if he were my own son, if you will pardon the liberty I take in
saying so, and when he came to this country I accompanied him. He was
always good to me, sir, a kind young master and a real friend. It was
I who found him this morning--"

His voice broke, and he bowed his head upon his wrinkled hands. No
tears came--but the thin shoulders shook, and a dry sob tore its way
from the gaunt throat.

Blaine waited until the paroxysm had ceased, and then urged, gently:

"Go on, Hicks. You have something to tell me?"

"Yes, sir. The coroner and the press call it accidental death, but
I--may God forgive me for saying it--I know better! He left word where
none could find it but me, that you knew the truth, and he bade me
give you--this!"

He produced a large, square envelope from an inner pocket, and
extended it in his trembling hand to the detective. Without glancing
at it, Blaine laid it on the desk before him.

"Where did you discover this?"

"There is a flat, oblong casket of old silver, shaped somewhat like a
humidor--a family relic, sir--which stands upon the center-table in
the den. Whenever Mr. Rockamore had any message to leave for me in
writing, concerning his confidential business, which he did not wish
the other servants to have access to, he always slipped it into the
casket. After the coroner had come and gone this morning, and some of
the excitement had died down, I went back to the den, to straighten
it. I don't know why, but somehow I half suspected the truth. Perhaps
it was the expression of his face--so peaceful and resigned, with all
the hard, sneering lines the years had brought gone from it, so that
he looked almost like a boy again, the bonny boy who used to ride
helter-skelter on his pony through the lanes of Staffordshire, long
ago."

The aged man spoke half to himself and seemed to have fallen into a
reverie, which Blaine made no attempt to break in upon. At length he
roused himself with a little start, and went on.

"At any rate, when I had the room in order, and was standing by the
table taking a last look about, my hand rested on the casket, and
quite without thinking, sir, I raised the lid. There within it lay a
sealed envelope with my name on it! Inside was a certified check for
two thousand pounds made out to me--he didn't forget me, even at the
last--and that letter for you, together with a little note asking me
to--to take him home. Is it true, sir, that you do know the whole
truth?"

"I think I do," Blaine responded gravely. "I did the best I could for
your late master, Hicks, all that I could do which was compatible with
my duty, and now my lips are sealed. I cannot betray his confidence.
You intend to accompany the body to England?"

"Of course, sir," the old man said simply. "It was his last request of
me, who have never refused him anything in all his life. When I have
seen him laid beside the others of the House of Stafford, I will go
back to the castle, to his father, and end my days there. My course is
nearly run, and this great new country has no place in it for the
aged. I--I will go now, sir. I have much to attend to, and my master
is lying alone."

When the old servant had taken his departure, Henry Blaine picked up
the envelope. It was addressed in a firm, unshaken hand, and with a
last touch of the sardonic humor characteristic of the dead man, it
had been stamped with the seal of the renowned and honored House of
Stafford.

The detective broke the seal, and lifting the flap, drew out the
folded letter page and became immediately absorbed in its contents. He
read:

    In view of your magnanimity to-night, I feel that this
    explanation--call it a confession, if you will--is your due.
    If you consider it your duty to give it to the world at large,
    you must do so, but for God's sake be as merciful as you can
    to those at home, who will suffer enough, in all conscience,
    as the affair now stands.

    Your accusation was justified. I killed Pennington Lawton in
    the manner and for the reason which you alleged. I made an
    appointment by telephone just after dinner, to call upon him
    late that night. I tried by every means in my power to induce
    him to go in on a scheme to which, unknown to him, I had
    already committed him. He steadfastly refused. His death was
    the only way for me to obviate exposure and ruin, and the
    disgrace of a prison sentence. I anticipated his attitude and
    had come prepared. During a heated period of our discussion,
    he walked to the desk and stood for a moment with his shoulder
    turned to me, searching for a paper in his private drawer. I
    saw my chance, and seized upon it. I was standing before his
    chair, I may explain, watching him over its high back. I took
    the vial of prussic acid from my pocket, uncorked it and
    poured a few drops into his high-ball glass. I had recorked
    the vial, and was on the point of returning it to its
    hiding-place, when he turned to me. Had I raised my hand to my
    pocket he would have noticed the gesture; as it was, the back
    of the chair screened me, and on a sudden desperate impulse I
    thrust the vial deep in the leather fold between the seat and
    back.

    Lawton drank, and died. I left the house, as I thought,
    unnoticed and secure from detection. On subsequent visits to
    the house I endeavored to regain possession of the vial, but
    on each occasion I failed in my purpose, and at length it fell
    into the hands of Anita Lawton. I have no more to say. Of
    earlier events at home in England, which you and I discussed
    to-night, it is better that I remain silent. You, of all men,
    will appreciate my motive.

    And now, Blaine, good-night. Please accept my heartfelt thanks
    for the manner in which you handled a most difficult situation
    to-night. You have beaten me fairly at my own game. It may be
    that we shall meet again, somewhere, some time. In all
    sincerity, yours,

                                      ARTHUR BERTRAND ROCKAMORE.

The detective folded the letter slowly and returned it to its
envelope. Then he sat for long buried in thought. Rockamore had taken
the solitary loophole of escape from overwhelming disgrace left to
him. He had, as far as in him lay, expiated his crimes. What need,
then, to blazon them forth to a gaping world? Pennington Lawton had
died of heart-disease, so said the coroner. The press had echoed him,
and the public accepted that fact. Only two living persons beside the
coroner knew the truth, and Blaine felt sure that the gentle spirit of
Anita Lawton would be merciful--her thirst for vengeance upon her
father's murderer sated by his self-inflicted death--to those of his
blood, who, innocent, must be dragged in the mire by the disclosure of
his infamy.

When Henry Blaine presented himself an hour later at her home, he
found Anita inexpressibly shocked by the tragic event of the night.

"He was guilty!" she murmured. "He took his own life to escape falling
into your hands! That gunshot was no accident, Mr. Blaine. He murdered
my father in cold blood, but he has paid. I abhor his memory, and yet
I can find it in my heart to be sorry for him!"

In silence, the detective placed in her hands the letter of the dead
man, and watched her face as she slowly read it. When she looked up,
her eyes were wet, and a tiny red spot glowed in either cheek.

"Poor Father!" she moaned. "With all his leadership and knowledge of
men, he was helpless and unsuspecting in the hands of that merciless
fiend! And yet even he thought of his own people at the last, and
wanted to spare them. Oh, how I wish we could! If we might only keep
from them forever the knowledge of his wickedness, his crime!"

"We can, if you are willing."

Blaine met her look of startled inquiry, and replied to it with a
brief résumé of his interview of the previous evening with Rockamore.
When he added his suggestion that the matter of the way in which her
father came to his death be buried in oblivion, and the public left to
believe the first report, she was silent for a time.

"But the coroner who performed the autopsy night before last," she
remarked, at length, hesitatingly. "He will make the truth public,
will he not?"

"Not necessarily. That depends upon you. If you wish it, nothing will
ever be known."

"I think you are right, Mr. Blaine. Father's death has been avenged;
neither you nor I can do more. The man who killed him has gone to his
last account. Further notoriety and scandal cannot help Father, or
bring him back to me. It would only cause needless suffering to those
who are no more at fault than we ourselves. If the coroner can be
silenced, we will keep our secret, you and I."

"Unless,"--Blaine's voice was very grave--"unless it becomes necessary
to divulge it in order to get the rest of them within our grasp."

"The rest?" she looked up as if she had scarcely heard.

"Mallowe and Carlis and Paddington and the horde of lesser conspirators
in their hire. We must recover your father's immense fortune, and find
out how it was possible for them to divert it to their own channels.
There is Mr. Hamilton to be thought of, too--his injury, his
kidnaping! If we can succeed in unraveling this mysterious tangle of
events without recourse to the fact of our knowledge of the murder, well
and good. If not, we must make use of whatever has come to our hand.
With the rest of the malefactors brought to justice, you can afford to
be magnanimous even to the dead man who has done you the most grievous
wrong of all."

"It shall be as you say--"

She broke off suddenly as her eyes, looking beyond Blaine's shoulder,
fell upon a silent figure in the doorway.

"Mr. Mallowe!" she cried. "When did you come? How is it that Wilkes
failed to announce you?"

"I arrived just at this moment." The smooth, unctuous tones floated
out upon the strained tension of the air. "I told Wilkes I would come
right up. He told me Mr. Blaine was with you, and I wish to
congratulate him on his marvelous success. Surely you do not mind the
liberty I took in announcing myself, my dear child?"

"Not at all," Anita responded, coldly. "To which success of Mr.
Blaine's do you refer, Mr. Mallowe?"

"Why, to his discovery of Ramon, of course." Mr. Mallowe looked from
one to the other of them as if nonplused by Anita's unexpected
attitude. Then he continued hurriedly, with a show of enthusiasm. "It
was wonderful, unprecedented! But how did Ramon come to be in Mac
Alarney's retreat, and so shockingly injured?"

"The same people who ran him down the day Miss Lawton sent for him to
come to her aid--the day she learned of her father's insolvency."
Blaine spoke quickly, before the girl had an opportunity to reply.
"The same people who on two other separate occasions attempted his
life!"

"You cannot mean to tell me that there is some conspiracy on foot
against Ramon Hamilton!" Mallowe's face was a picture of shocked
amazement. "But why? He is the most exemplary of young men, quite a
model in these days--"

"Because he is a man, and prepared to protect and defend to the last
ounce of his strength the thing which he loved better than life
itself--the thing which, but for him, stood helpless and alone,
surrounded by enemies and hopelessly entangled in the meshes of a
gigantic conspiracy!"

"You speak in riddles, Mr. Blaine." Mallowe's gray brows drew
together.

"Riddles which will soon be answered, Mr. Mallowe. Miss Lawton's
natural protector--her father--had been ruthlessly removed by--death.
Only Mr. Hamilton stood between her and the machinations of those who
thought they had her in their power. Therefore, Mr. Hamilton was also
removed, temporarily. Do I make myself quite clear now?"

"It is impossible, incredible! What enemies could this dear child here
have made, and who could wish to harm her? Besides, am I not here? Do
not I and my friends stand in _loco parentis_ to her?"

"As you doubtless are aware, one of Miss Lawton's pseudo-guardians, at
least, has involuntarily resigned his wardenship," Blaine remarked.

"You refer to the sudden death last night of my associate, Mr.
Rockamore?" Mallowe shook his head dolorously. "A terrible accident!
The news was an inexpressible shock to me! It was to comfort Miss
Lawton for the blow which the loss of this devoted friend must be to
her that I came to-day."

"I fancy the loss itself will be consolation enough, Mr. Mallowe. The
accident was tragic, of course. It takes courage to clean a gun,
sometimes--more courage, perhaps, than to spill into a glass an
ingredient not usually included in a Scotch highball, let us say."

"Mr. Blaine, if you are inclined to be facetious, sir, let me tell
you this is neither the time nor place for an attempt at a jest! When
Miss Lawton called you in, the other day, and engaged you to search
for Mr. Hamilton--"

"Oh, she didn't call me in then, Mr. Mallowe! I've been on the case
from the start, all this last month, in fact, and in close touch with
Miss Lawton every day."

Mallowe started back, the light of comprehension dawning swiftly in
his eyes, only instantly to be veiled with a film of craftiness.

"What case?" he asked. "Ramon Hamilton has not been missing for a
month."

"The case of the death of Pennington Lawton! The case of his
fraudulently alleged bankruptcy! The case of the whole damnable
conspiracy to crush this girl to the earth, to impoverish her and
tarnish the fair name and honored memory of her father. It's cards on
the table now, Mr. Mallowe, and I'm going to win!"

"You must be mad!" exclaimed the older man. "This talk of a conspiracy
is ridiculous, absurd!"

"Mr. Rockamore called me 'mad,' also, yesterday afternoon, standing
just where you stand now, Mr. Mallowe." The detective met the lowering
eyes squarely. "Yet he went home and--accidentally shot himself! A
curiously opportune shot that! Miss Lawton's enemies depended too
confidently upon her credulity in accepting without question the
unsubstantiated assertion of her father's insolvency. They did not
take into account the possibility that their henchman, Paddington,
might fail, or turn traitor; that Mac Alarney might talk to save his
own hide; that Jimmy Brunell's forgeries might be traced to their
source; that the books in the office of the Recorder of Deeds might
divulge interesting items to those sufficiently concerned to delve
into the files of past years! You discharged your clerk on the
flimsiest of excuses, Mr. Mallowe--but you did not discharge her quite
soon enough. Rockamore's stenographer, and the switchboard operator in
Carlis' office,--who, like your filing clerk, came from Miss Lawton's
club,--were also dismissed too late. As I have said, my cards are on
the table now. Are you prepared to play yours?"

For answer, Mallowe turned slowly to Anita, his face a study of pained
surprise and indignation.

"My dear girl, I do not understand one word of what this person is
saying, but he is either mad, or intoxicated with his success in
locating Ramon, to the extent that he is endeavoring to build up a
fictitious case on a maze of lies. Any notoriety will bring him
welcome publicity, and that is all he is looking for. I shall take
immediate steps to have his incomprehensible and dangerous allegation
suppressed. Such a man is a menace to the community! In the meantime,
I must beg of you to dismiss him at once. Do not listen to him, do not
allow him to influence you! You are only an impulsive, credulous girl,
and he is using you as a mere tool for his own ends. I cannot imagine
how you happened to fall into his clutches."

Anita faced him, straight and slim and tall, and her soft eyes seemed
fairly to burn into his.

"I am not so credulous as you think, Mr. Mallowe. I never for a moment
believed your assertion that my father died a pauper, and I took
immediate steps to disprove it. Doctor Franklin was your tool, when he
came to me with your message, but not I! And I shouldn't advise you to
try, at this late date, to 'suppress' Mr. Blaine. Many other
malefactors have attempted it, I understand, in the past, but I never
heard of any of them meeting with conspicuous success. You and my
other two self-appointed guardians must have been desperate indeed to
have risked trying to hoodwink me with so ridiculous and vague a story
as that of the loss of my father's fortune!"

"This is too much!" Mallowe stormed. "Young woman, you forget
yourself! Because of the evil suggestions, the malevolent influence of
this man's plausible lies, are you such an ingrate as to turn upon
your only friends, your father's intimate, life-long associates, the
people who have, from disinterested motives of the purest kindness and
affection, provided for you, comforted you, and shielded you from the
world? Anita, I cannot believe it of you! I will leave you, now. I am
positively overcome with this added shock of your ingratitude and
willful deceit, coming so soon after the blow of my poor friend's
death. I trust you will be in a thoroughly repentant frame of mind
when next I see you.

"As for you, sir!" He turned to the immovable figure of the detective.
"I will soon show you what it means to meddle with matters which do
not concern you--to pit yourself arrogantly against the biggest power
in this country!"

"The biggest power in this or any other country is the power of
justice." Blaine's voice rang out trenchantly. "When you and your
associates planned this desperate _coup_, it was as a last resort. You
had involved yourselves too deeply; you had gone too far to retrace
your steps. You were forced to go on forward--and now your path is
closed with bars of iron!"

"I will not remain here any longer to be insulted! Miss Lawton, I
shall never cross the threshold of this house again--this house, which
only by my charity you have been suffered to remain in--until you
apologize for the disgraceful scene here this morning. I can only hope
that you will soon come to your senses!"

As he strode indignantly from the room, Anita turned anxiously to
Henry Blaine.

"Oh, what will he do?" she whispered. "He is really a power, a
money-power, you know, Mr. Blaine! Where will he go now?"

"Straight to his _confrère_ Carlis, and tell him that the game is up."
The detective spoke with brisk confidence. "He'll be tailed by my men,
anyway, so we shall soon have a report. Don't see anyone, on any
pretext whatsoever, and don't leave the house, Miss Lawton. I will
instruct Wilkes on my way out, that you are to be at home to no one. I
must be getting back to my office now. If I am not mistaken, I shall
receive a visit without unnecessary delay from my old friend Timothy
Carlis, and I wouldn't miss it for the world!"

Blaine's prediction proved to have been well founded. Scarcely an hour
passed, and he was deep in the study of some of his earlier notes on
the case, when all at once a hubbub arose in his outer office. Usually
quiet and well-ordered, its customary stillness was broken by a
confused, expostulatory murmur of voices, above which rose a strident,
angry bellow, like that of a maddened wild beast. Then a chair was
violently overturned; the sudden sharp sound of a scuffle came to the
detective's listening ears; and the door was dashed open with a jar
which made the massive inkstand upon the desk quiver.

Timothy Carlis stood upon the threshold--Timothy Carlis, his face
empurpled, the great veins upon his low-slanting forehead standing out
like whipcords, his huge, spatulate hands clenched, his narrow, slit
eyes gleaming murderously.

"So you're here, after all!" he roared. "Those d--d fools out there
tried to give me the wrong steer, but I was wise to 'em. You buffaloed
Rockamore, and that senile old idiot, Mallowe, but you can't bluff me!
I came here to see you, and I usually get what I go after!"

"Having seen me, Carlis, will you kindly state your business and go?
This promises to be one of my busiest days. What can I do for you?"
Blaine leaned back in his chair, with a bland smile of pleased
expectancy.

"It ain't what you _can_ do; it's what you're _goin'_ to do, and no
mistake about it!" the other glowered. "You're goin' to keep your
mouth shut as tight as a trap, and your hands off, from now on! Oh,
you know what I mean, right enough. Don't try to work the surprised
gag on me!"

He added the latter with a coarse sneer which further distorted his
inflamed visage. Blaine, with an expression of sharp inquiry, had
whirled around in his swivel chair to face his excited visitor, and as
he did so, his hand, with seeming inadvertence, had for an instant
come in contact with the under ledge of his desk-top.

"I'm afraid, much as I desire not to prolong this unexpected
interview, that I must ask you to explain just what it is that I must
keep my hands off of, as you say. We will go into the wherefore of it
later."

Carlis glanced back of him into the empty hallway, then closed the
door and came forward menacingly.

"What's the good of beating about the bush?" he demanded, in a fierce
undertone. "You know d--n' well what I mean: you're butting in on the
Lawton affair. You've bitten off more than you can chew, and you'd
better wise yourself up to that, here and now!"

"Just what is the Lawton affair?"

"Oh, stow that bluff! You know too much already, and if I followed my
hunch, I'd scrag you now, to play safe. Dead men don't blab, as a
rule--though one may have, last night. I came here to be generous, to
give you a last chance. I've fought tooth and nail, myself, for my
place at the top, and I like a game scrapper, even if he is on the
wrong side. You've tried to get me for years, but as I knew you
couldn't, I didn't bother with you, any more than I would with a
trained flea, and I bear no malice. D--d if I don't like you,
Blaine!"

"Thank you!" The detective bowed in ironic acknowledgment of the
compliment. "Your friendship would be considered a valuable asset by
many, I have no doubt, but--"

"Look here!" The great political boss had shed his bulldozing manner,
and a shade of unmistakable earnestness, not unmixed with anxiety, had
crept into his tones. "I'm talking as man to man, and I know I can
trust your word of honor, even if you pretend you won't take mine. Is
anyone listening? Have you got any of your infernal operatives spying
about?"

Blaine leaned forward and replied with deep seriousness.

"I give you my word, Carlis, that no human ear is overhearing our
conversation." Then he smiled, and added, with a touch of mockery:
"But what difference can that make? I thought you came here to issue
instructions. At least, you so announced yourself on your arrival!"

"Because I'm going to make a proposition to you--on my own." Even
Carlis' coarse face flushed darkly at the base self-revelation.
"Pennington Lawton died of heart-disease."

He paused, and after waiting a full minute, Blaine remarked, quietly,
but with marked significance:

"Of course. That is self-evident, isn't it?"

"Well, then--" Carlis stepped back with a satisfied grunt. "He didn't
have a soul on earth dependent on him but his daughter. His great
fortune is swept away, and that daughter left penniless. But ain't
there lots of girls in this world worse off than she? Ain't she got
good friends that's lookin' out for her, and seein' that she don't
want for a thing? Ain't she goin' to marry a young fellow that loves
the ground she walks on--a rich young fellow, that'll give her
everything, all her life? What more could she want? _She's_ all right.
But the big money--the money Lawton made by grinding down the
masses--wouldn't you like a slice of it yourself, Blaine? A nice, fat,
juicy slice?"

"How?" An interested pucker appeared suddenly between the detective's
expressive brows, and Carlis laughed.

"Oh, we're all in it--you may as well be! You're on the inside, as it
is! The play got too high for Rockamore, and he cashed in; you've
bluffed old Mallowe till he's looking up sailing dates for Algiers,
but I knew you'd be sensible, when it came to the scratch, and divide
the pot, rather than blow your whistle and have the game pulled!"

"But it was old Mallowe"--Blaine's tone was puzzled--"who succeeded in
transferring all that worthless land he'd acquired to Lawton, when
Lawton wouldn't come in and help him on that Street-Railways grab,
which would have made him practically sole owner of all the suburban
real estate around Illington, wasn't it?"

"Sure it was!" laughed Carlis, ponderously. "But who made it possible
for Mallowe to palm off those miles of vacant lots--as improved city
property, of course--on Lawton, without his knowledge, and even have
them recorded in his name, but me? What am I boss for, if I don't own
a little man like the Recorder of Deeds?"

"I see!" Blaine tapped his finger-tips together and smiled slowly, in
meditative appreciation. "And it was your man, also, Paddington, who
found means to provide the mortgage, letter of appeal for a loan, note
for the loan itself, and so forth. As for Rockamore--"

"Oh, he fixed up the dividend end, watered the stock and kept the
whole thing going by phony financing while there was a chance of our
hoodwinking Lawton into going into it voluntarily. He was one grand
little promoter, Rockamore was; pity he got cold feet, and promoted
himself into another sphere!"

"All things considered, it may not be such a pity, after all!" Blaine
rose suddenly, whirling his chair about until it stood before him, and
he faced his amazed visitor from across it. "Now, Carlis, suppose you
promote yourself from my office!"

"Wh-what!" It was a mere toneless wheeze, but breathing deep of brute
strength.

"I told you when you first came in that this promised to be one of my
busiest days. You're taking up my time. To be sure, you've cleared up
a few minor points for me, and testified to them, but you haven't
really told me anything I didn't know. The game is up! Now--get out!"

He braced himself, as he spoke, to meet the mountain of flesh which
hurled itself upon him in a blind rush of Berserk rage--braced
himself, met and countered it. Never had that spacious office--the
scene of so many heartrending appeals, dramatic climaxes, impassioned
confessions and violent altercations--witnessed so terrific a
struggle, brief as it was.

"I'll kill you!" roared the maddened brute. "You'll never leave your
office, alive, to repeat what I've told! I'll kill you, with my bare
hands, first, d--n you!"

But even as he spoke, his voice ended in a surprised scream of agony,
which told of strained sinews and ripped tendons, and he fell in a
twisted, crumpled heap of quivering, inert flesh at the detective's
feet, the victim of a scientific hold and throw which had not been
included in his pugilistic education.

Instantly Blaine's hand found an electric bell in the wall, and almost
simultaneously the door opened and three powerful figures sprang upon
the huge, recumbent form and bound him fast.

"Take him away," ordered the detective. "I'll have the warrant ready
for him."

"Warrant for what?" spluttered Carlis, through bruised and bleeding
lips. "I didn't do anything to you! You attacked me because I wouldn't
swear to a false charge. I got a legal right to try to defend
myself!"

"You've convicted yourself, out of your own mouth," retorted Blaine.

The other looked into his eyes and quailed, but blustered to the end.

"Nobody heard, but you, and my word goes, in this town! What d'you
mean--convicted myself?"

For answer Blaine again touched that little spring in the protruding
under-ledge of his desk, and out upon the trenchant stillness, broken
only by the rapid, stertorous breathing of the manacled man, burst the
strident tones of that same man's voice, just as they had sounded a
few minutes before:

"'But the big money--the money Lawton made by grinding down the
masses--wouldn't you like a slice of it yourself, Blaine--a nice, fat,
juicy slice.... Oh, we're all in it, you may as well be!... The play
got too high for Rockamore, and he cashed in; you've bluffed old
Mallowe till he's looking up sailing dates for Algiers, but I knew
you'd be sensible, when it came to the scratch, and divide the pot,
rather than blow your whistle and have the game pulled.... Who made it
possible for Mallowe to palm off those miles of vacant lots--as
improved city property, of course--on Lawton without his knowledge,
and even have them recorded in his name, but me? What am I boss for,
if I don't own a little man like the Recorder of Deeds?'"

"What is it?" gasped the wretched Carlis, in a fearful whisper, when
the voice had ceased. "What is that--infernal thing?"

"A detectaphone," returned Blaine laconically. "You've heard of them,
haven't you, Carlis? When you asked me if we were alone, if any of my
operatives were spying about, I told you that no human ear overheard
our conversation. But this little concealed instrument--this unseen
listener--recorded and bore witness to your confession; and this is a
Recorder you do not own, and cannot buy!"



CHAPTER XX

THE CREVICE


"But I don't understand"--Guy Morrow's voice was plaintive, and he
eyed his chief reproachfully, as he stood before Blaine's desk,
twisting his hat nervously--"why you didn't nail him! You've got the
goods on him, all right; and now, just because you only had him
arrested on a charge of assault with intent to kill, he's gone and
used his influence, and got himself released under heavy bail. Oh, why
won't you go heeled or guarded? We can't afford to lose you, sir, any
of us, and now he'll do for you, as sure as shooting!"

"Who--Carlis?" Blaine spoke almost absently, as if the portentous
scene of two hours before had already almost slipped from his memory.
"Oh, he won't get away, and I'm not afraid of him! I let him go for
the same reason that I didn't have Mallowe arrested this morning--for
the same reason why I haven't stopped Paddington's philandering with
the French girl, Fifine: because a link is still missing in the chain;
the shell, the exterior of the whole conspiracy is in the hollow of my
hand, but I can't find the chink, the crevice into which to insert my
lever and split it apart, lay the whole dastardly scheme irrefutably
open to the light of day. I want to complete my case: in other words,
Guy--I want to win!"

"And you will, sir; you've never failed yet! Only I--I don't have any
luck!" The young man's haggard face grew wistful. "I want Emily
Brunell; I need her--and I seem farther from finding her than ever!"

"I didn't know that was your job!" the detective objected, with a
brusqueness which was not unkind. "I told you I'd take care of that,
in my own way. I thought I assigned you to the task of finding out who
fired at you, from the darkened window of your own room, when you were
in Brunell's house across the street; also I wanted a line on those
two mysterious boarders of Mrs. Quinlan's."

"Nothing doing on either count, sir," Morrow returned, ruefully. "I
can't get a glimpse of them, or a line on either of them; and as for
who tried to plug me--well, there isn't an iota of evidence, that I
can discover, beyond the bare fact. I didn't come to report, for
there's nothing to say, except that I'm sticking at it, and if I don't
get a sight of those two before long I'm going to burn a red sulphur
light some fine night, and yell 'fire!' I bet that'll bring the old
codger out, for all his rheumatism!"

"Not a bad idea," Blaine commented, adding dryly: "What did you come
for, then, Guy?"

"To find out if you had any news you were willing to tell me yet,
sir--of Emily?"

"Yes." The detective's slow smile was quizzical. "The most significant
news in the world."

"You've discovered their destination--hers and her father's?" the
young operative cried eagerly. "You traced their taxi, of course!"

"No."

"Then what is it?"

"Just that, Guy--that I haven't been able to trace the taxicab in
which they left their house. Think it over. Report to me when you've
got anything definite to tell me."

With a curt nod Blaine dismissed him, but he glanced after the
dejected, retreating figure with a very kindly, affectionate light in
his fatherly eyes. It was dusk when he was aroused from a deep study
of his carefully annotated résumé of the case by the excited jangle of
the telephone bell, to hear Guy Morrow's no less excited but joyous
voice at the other end of the wire.

"I've found her! I've found Emily! She loves me! She does! I made her
listen, and she understands everything! She don't mind a bit about my
hounding her father down, because she sees how it all had to be, and
the old man's a regular brick about it!"

"Where--"

"It was the kitten did it--that blessed Caliban! And think of it, sir;
I've always hated cats, ever since I was a kid! Emily says--"

"But how--"

"Maybe if the hall had been lighted--but Mrs. Quinlan's got that
parsimony peculiar to all landladies--and I trod on its tail, and it
was all up!"

"Morrow, are you a driveling idiot, or an operative? Are you
reporting, or exploding? If you called me up to tell me that you trod
on the tail of your landlady's parsimony, you don't need a job in a
detective bureau; you need a lunacy commission!" Blaine's voice was
vexed, but little smiling lines crinkled at the corners of his eyes.

"I beg your pardon, sir; I am almost crazy, I think--with happiness.
I've found Mr. Jimmy Brunell and his daughter. They are the two
mysterious boarders whom Mrs. Quinlan has been shielding all this
time, and I never even suspected it! It was Jimmy Brunell who fired
at me that night of the day they disappeared. He didn't recognize me,
and thought I was one of his enemies--one of Paddington's men, like
young Charley Pennold.

"You remember, I told you I found the kitten in the deserted house and
brought it home for Mrs. Quinlan to take care of? Well, she never
lights the gas until the very last minute, and late this afternoon,
about half an hour ago, I was stumbling along the second-floor hallway
to my room in the dark, when I stepped on the kitten. It yelled like
mad, and Emily heard it from her room above. Forgetting caution and
everything else, she opened the door and called it!

"Of course, when I heard her voice, I was upstairs two steps at a
time, with the cat under my arm clawing like a vixen. She was
perfectly freezing at first--not the cat; it's a he; I mean Emily. But
after I explained that when I'd gotten to care for her I only tried to
help her, she--oh, well, I'm going to let her tell you herself, if
you're willing, sir! I'll bring them both down to you now, if you say
so, she and her father. Jimmy Brunell's more than anxious to see you;
he wants to make a clean breast of the whole affair--tell all he knows
about the case; and I think what he's got to say will astonish you and
finish the whole thing--crack that nut you were talking to me about
this afternoon, provide the link in the chain, the crevice in the
crime cube! May I bring them?"

Blaine acquiesced, and after issuing his orders to the subordinates
about him, waited in a fever of impatience which he could scarcely
control, and which, had he stopped to think of it, would have
astonished him beyond measure. That he--who had daily, almost hourly,
awaited unmoved the appearance of men famous and infamous, illustrious
and obscure, should so agitatedly view the coming of this old
offender, was incomprehensible.

Yet although he had really learned little that was conclusive from
Guy's somewhat incoherent account, he felt, in common with his young
operative, that the crux of the matter lay here, to his hand, that
from the lips of this old ex-convict would fall the magic word which
would open to him the inner door of this mystery of mysteries--which
would prove, as the golden key of truth, absolute and unassailable.

After what seemed an incredibly long period of suspense, the door
opened and Marsh ushered them in--Morrow, his face wreathed in triumph
and smiles; a brown-haired, serene-eyed girl whom Blaine remembered
from his memorable interview with her at the Anita Lawton Club; and a
tall, grizzled, smooth-shaven man, who held himself proudly erect, as
if the weight of years had fallen from his shoulders.

"Yes, sir, I'm Brunell," the latter announced, when the incidental
salutations were over, "--Jimmy Brunell, the forger. I've lived
straight, and tried to keep the truth from my little girl, for her own
sake, but perhaps it is better as it is. She knows everything now, and
has forgiven much, because she's a woman like her mother, God bless
her! I've come of my own free will, to tell you all you want to know,
and prove it, too!"

"Sit down, all of you. Brunell, you forged the signature to the
mortgage on Pennington Lawton's home, at Paddington's instigation?"

"Yes, sir. And the signature on the note given for the loan from
Moore, and the whole letter supposed to be from Mr. Lawton to Mallowe,
asking him to procure that loan for him, and all the other crooked
business which helped sweep Mr. Lawton's fortune away. But I didn't
understand how big the job was, nor just what they were trying to put
over, or I wouldn't have done it. I wish to heaven I hadn't, now, but
it's too late for that; I can only do what's left me to help repair
the damage. I wish I'd taken the consequences Paddington threatened me
with, through Charley Pennold--curse them both!

"For it wasn't because of the money I did it, sir, although what they
offered me was a small fortune, and would have been a mighty hard
temptation in the old days. It was because if I refused they were
going to strike at me through my little girl, the one thing on earth
I've got left to love! They were going to have me sent up on an old
score which no one else even had suspected I'd been mixed up in. I
didn't know--until just now when this young friend here, Mr. Morrow,
told me--that it had been outlawed long years ago, and I can see that
they counted on my not knowing. How they found out about it, anyway,
is a mystery to me, but that Paddington is the devil himself! However,
if I didn't do the trick for them, they'd have me convicted, and once
out of the way, my little girl would be helpless in their hands. They
talked of sweatshops, and worse--"

The old man broke down, and shuddering, covered his face with his thin
fingers. But in a moment, before the pitying, outstretched hand of his
daughter could reach his shoulder, he had regained control of himself,
and resumed:

"I did what they asked of me--all they asked. But I was suspicious,
not only because they didn't take me fully into their confidence, but
because I knew Paddington and his breed; and also, Miss Lawton had
been kind to my little girl. If they meant any harm to Pennington
Lawton's daughter, or if their scheme, whatever kind of a hold-up it
was, failed to pan out as they expected, and they tried to make me the
scape-goat--well, I meant to protect myself and Lawton. My word would
have to be proof against theirs that they forced me into what I did,
but I could fix it so that I could prove to anybody, without any
doubt, that Lawton never wrote that note to Mallowe from Long Bay
about that loan two years ago, and that would sort of substantiate my
word that the signatures weren't his, either."

"How could you prove such a thing?" Blaine leaned forward tensely.

"Young Morrow, here, tells me that you've got that note--the note
asking Mallowe to arrange the loan for Lawton. Will you get it,
please, sir? I don't want to see it; I want you to read it to me, and
then I'll tell you something about it. They thought they were clever,
the rascals, but I fooled them at their own game! I cut out the words
from a bundle of Lawton's old letters which they gave me, and I
manufactured the note, all right. I did it, word for word, just like
they wanted me to--but I put my _own private mark_ on it, that they
couldn't discover, so that I could prove anywhere, any time, that it
was a forgery!"

In a concealed fever of excitement, the detective produced the fateful
note from his private file.

"That looks like it!" chuckled old Jimmy. "It's dated August
sixteenth, nineteen hundred and twelve, isn't it? Now, sir, will you
read it out loud, please?"

Blaine unfolded the single sheet of hotel note-paper, and looked once
more at the following message:

    My Dear Mallowe:

    Kindly regard this letter as strictly
    confidential. I desire to negotiate a private loan immediately,
    for a considerable amount,--three hundred
    and fifty thousand dollars, in fact,--but
    for obvious reasons, which you, as a man of
    discretion and financial astuteness second to
    none in this country, will readily understand, a
    public assumption of it by me would be disastrous
    to a degree, under the prevailing conditions. Ask
    Moore if he can arrange the matter for me, but
    feel him out tentatively first. If he does not see
    his way clear to it, let me know without delay,
    and I will come to Illington and confer with
    you.

    I am prepared, of course, to give him my personal
    note for same, but do not desire any direct
    dealings with him. In fact, it would be exceedingly
    dangerous to my interests if he ever mentioned
    it to me personally, even when he fancied
    himself alone with me. Impress this upon him.
    I will pay far above the legal rate of interest, of
    course. You can arrange this with him.

    I will go into the whole matter of this contingency
    confidentially with you when I see you. In
    the meantime, I know that I can rely upon you.

    Awaiting the earliest possible reply, and thanking
    you for the interest I know you will take
    in this affair,

                       Sincerely, your friend,

                            Pennington Lawton.

After glancing at it a moment Blaine read the letter aloud in a calm,
unemotional voice which gave no hint of the tumult within him. He had
scarcely finished when Jimmy Brunell, greatly excited, interrupted
triumphantly:

"That's it! That's the note! Don't see anything phony about it, do
you, sir? Neither did they! Now, leave out the 'My dear Mallowe,' and
beginning with the next as the first line, count down five lines. The
last letter of the last word on that line is _f_, _isn't it_? Omit a
line and take the last letter of the next, and so on for four
letters--that is, the last words of the four alternate lines beginning
with the fifth from the top are: _of_, _a_, _ask_, and _see_, and the
last letters of those four spell a word. That word is _fake_, and so
is the note, and the whole infernal business! _Fake_, from beginning
to end! I put my mark on it, sir, so it could be known for what it is,
in case of need. Now the need has come."

"By Jove, so it is!" Guy Morrow cried, unable to restrain himself
longer. "You're a wonder, Mr. Brunell!"

"You have rendered us a greater service than you know," supplemented
Blaine, the while his pulses throbbed in time to his leaping heart.
The crevice! The rift in the criminal's almost perfected scheme, into
which he had succeeded in inserting the little silver probe of his
specialized knowledge, and disclosed to a gaping world the truth! He
had found it at last, and his work was all but done.

"But what's to happen to me now?" The exultation had died out of his
voice, and Jimmy Brunell looked suddenly pinched and gray and tired,
and very, very old. "I don't care much what happens to me, but my
daughter--Emily--"

"I'll take care of her, whatever happens!" Guy's heart was in his
buoyant voice. "But you'll be all right. Don't you worry! Haven't you
got Mr. Blaine on your side?"

"I'll try to see that you don't suffer for your enforced share in the
Lawton conspiracy, Brunell. It seems to me that you've already gone
through trouble enough on that score, great as was the damage you
half-unwittingly wrought," Blaine remarked, reassuringly--adding:
"But why didn't you come forward before, and give your testimony?"

"There wasn't any court action," the old man returned, hesitatingly.
"And besides, I was afraid to come forward and tell what I knew,
because of Emily. I would have done it, though, as soon as I learned
they had robbed Miss Lawton of everything. I wasn't sure of that, you
see."

"One thing more!" Blaine pressed the bell which would summon his
secretary. "Why, if you had reformed, did you keep in your possession
all these years your forging apparatus?"

"I had it taken care of for me while I served my term, meaning to use
it again when I came out. I was bitter and revengeful, and I meant to
do everybody up brown that I could. But when I was free and found
my--my wife had gone and left me Emily, it seemed like a hostage from
her gentle spirit given to the world, that I wouldn't do any more
wrong. I kept the plant because I didn't know how to dispose of it so
no one else could use it, and as the years went by, I got more and
more scared at the thought of it.

"I was afraid both ways--afraid it would be discovered, but more
afraid I'd be found out if I tried to get rid of it. So I buried it in
the cellar of my little shop and did my level best to forget it. I'd
almost succeeded when, God knows how, Paddington found me. You know
the rest."

"You rang, sir?" Marsh, the secretary, had entered noiselessly.

"Yes. Have these two people--this young lady and her father--conducted
in my own limousine to my house, and made comfortable there until I
give you further directions as to what I wish done concerning them."

Blaine cut short the old forger's broken words of gratitude in his
brusquely kind fashion, but his heart imaged always the light in the
girl's soft eyes as she bent a parting glance upon him, like a
benediction, before the door closed.

"What are you going to do with them, sir?" young Morrow asked
anxiously when they were alone.

Henry Blaine paused a moment before replying.

"I might let him take his chance before the court, on the strength of
his years, and his having turned State's evidence voluntarily, Guy,
but he's an old offender, and Carlis' faction is strong. My racing car
will make ninety miles an hour, easily, and it can do it unmolested,
with my private sign on the hood. It can meet the Canadian express at
Branchtown at dawn. I've a little farm in a nice community in Canada,
not too isolated, and I'm going to make it over to you as part of your
reward for your work on the Lawton case....

"No, don't thank me! I'm sworn on the side of law and order, but
Justice is stern and sometimes blind because she will not see.
Remember, the Greatest Jurist Himself recommended mercy!"

Soon afterward, as they sat discussing the wind-up of the case, the
subject of the second set of cryptograms was broached, and Blaine
smiled at Morrow's utter bewilderment concerning them.

"Still puzzling about those, Guy? They weren't as simple as the first
one was, that of the system of odd-shaped characters and dots. The
later ones were the more difficult because they were of no set system
at all--I mean no one system, but a primitive conglomeration,
probably evolved by Paddington himself, based on script music and also
the old childish trick of writing letters shaped like figures, which
can be read by reversing the paper, and holding it up to the light.

"Just a minute, and we'll look at the two notes, the one you found in
Brunell's room in the deserted cottage, and the other which came to me
in the cigarette box meant for Paddington, from Mac Alarney. Then
we'll be able to see how they were worked out. And you'll see that
though they look extremely meaningless and confusing, they are in
reality extremely simple."

As he spoke, Blaine produced them from his desk drawer, and spread
them out before him.

"Before you examine them," he went on, "let me explain the musical
script idea on which they are fundamentally based, in case you are
unfamiliar with it. The sign '&' before a bar of music means that
music is written in the treble clef--that is, all the notes following
it are above the central _C_ on the piano keyboard. Thus"--here he
drew rapidly on a scrap of paper and passed a scrawled scale over to
the interested operative.

[Illustration: An image of a music scale diagram is shown here in the
text.]

"The dot on the line below the five lines which are joined together by
the sign of the treble clef is _C_. The dot on the space between that
and the first of the five lines is _D_. The dot on the first line is
_E_; on the next space is _F_, and so forth, in their alphabetical
order on the alternating lines and spaces. Do you see how easily, they
could be used as the letters of words in a cryptogram, by any one of
an ingenious turn of mind? Of course, each bar--that is, each section
enclosed by lines running straight up and down--represents a word. Now
for the rest of it:

"Leaving the script music idea aside, and taking the characters not so
represented in the cryptogram, we find that '3' when viewed from the
under side of the paper will look very much like an English _E_; 7
like _T_; 9 like _P_; 2 like _S_, and so forth.

"Try it. Here is the first note, the one you found. Puzzle out the
musical notes by their alphabetical nomenclature from the key I just
gave you on the scrap of paper there; then hold the note up to the
light, and read the other letters from the under side. Try it with
both notes, and tell me what you find."

Guy took the papers, and wonderingly spelled out the letters
represented by the musical notes, from the scale Blaine had given him.
Then turning the pages over, he held them up to the light, an
exclamation of absorbed interest escaping from him.

The great detective watched him in silence, until at last, with a
glowing sense of achievement, Guy read:

"'Beat it at once. You are suspected. Detective on trail. Rite old
address. I am sending funds as usual. If caught you get life sentence.
Pad.'"

Blaine nodded.

"Now, the other."

"'Patient still unconscious. Consultation necessary at once to save
life. Should he die advise Reddy what disposition to make of body.
Mac.'"

The last cryptogram proved the more easily decipherable, and when the
young operative had read it aloud, he looked up with a glowing face.

"By George, it's a world-beater! What put you on the right track?"

"The last one. I realized then that they were afraid the kidnaped man,
Ramon Hamilton, who had been grievously wounded, would die on their
hands, and that rather than face the results of such a contingency
they would attempt to obtain some obscure but experienced medical aid,
and in a way which would give the physician no inkling of his
patient's identity or whereabouts. I therefore sent out that circular
letter to every doctor in Illington, warning each one to come to me in
the event of his having received a mysterious summons. It worked, as
you know, and Doctor Alwyn responded."

"Well, if you hadn't been able to read the cryptogram, sir, the Lord
knows what would have happened!"

"And if you hadn't trodden on the cat's tail--" Blaine suggested
dryly.

[Illustration: An image of a coded message is shown here in the text.]

Guy glanced at him in sudden, swift comprehension.

"Why, look here, sir, I believe you knew that Emily and her father
were the two mysterious boarders at Mrs. Quinlan's, all the time! You
said it was significant that you hadn't been able to trace the number
of the taxicab in which they had run away from the neighborhood! There
never was a taxicab in all Illington which couldn't be traced by its
number! You knew, of course, that that story of Mrs. Quinlan's was a
fake, and then when I told you of the two concealed people there, you
had it all doped out! Oh, why didn't you tell me?"

"Because I didn't want you to precipitate matters just then, Guy," the
detective responded, kindly. "The house was watched--they couldn't get
away."

"That's a good one!" Young Morrow looked his self-disgust. "Hire
operatives on your staff, sir, and then have to set others to tail
them, and see that they don't get into trouble! Heavens, what an idiot
I am! I've found out one thing, though, from those cryptograms"--he
pointed to the cipher notes on the desk. "Music's a cinch! I can read
it already, and I'm going to start in and learn how to play on
something or other, the first chance I get! There's a fellow next door
to Mrs. Quinlan's with a clarinet--" He paused, and his face sobered
as he added: "But I forgot! I sha'n't be there any more."

Before Blaine could speak, there was a knock upon the door, and Marsh
entered with hurried circumspection. There was a look of latent,
shocked importance upon his usually impassive face, and he carried in
his hand a newspaper which was still damp from the press.

"I beg your pardon, sir, but I thought you would want to know at once.
There's been a murder! Paddington, the private detective, was found in
the Rhododendron Alley, just off the Mall in the park, stabbed to the
heart!"

Henry Blaine took the paper and spread it out upon the desk before
him, as Guy Morrow, with a soft, low whistle, turned away. The "extra"
imparted little more than the secretary's announcement had done. There
was no known motive for the crime, no clue to the murderer. When
found, the man had been dead for some hours.

"Well, sir," observed Guy at last, when the secretary had withdrawn,
"one by one they're getting away from us--and by the same route. First
Rockamore, now Paddington!"

Blaine looked up with a grim smile.

"Putting a woman wise to anything is like lighting a faulty
time-fuse: you never can tell when you're going to get your own
fingers blown off! But tell me something, Guy. What was that tune you
whistled a moment ago, when Marsh came in with the news? It had a
vaguely familiar ring."

"Oh, that?" asked the operative, with a sheepishly guileless air. "It
was just a bit from an English musical comedy of two or three years
back, I think. It's got a silly-sounding name--something like 'There's
a Boat Sails on Saturday--'"

Blaine's wry smile broadened to a grin of genuine appreciation, and
rising, he clapped the young man heartily on the shoulder.

"Right you are, Guy! And it won't be our job to search the sailing
lists. You may not always be able to see what lies under your nose,
but your perspective is not bad. Hell has only one fury worse than a
woman scorned, that I know of, and that is a woman fooled! We'll let
it go at that!"

The evening had already grown late, but that eventful day was not to
end without one more brief scene of vital import. Marsh presently
reappeared, this time bearing a card.

"'Mr. Mallowe,'" read Blaine, with a half-smile. "Show him in, Marsh,
and have your men ready. You know what to do. No, Guy, you needn't go.
This interview will not be a private one."

"Mr. Blaine!" Mallowe entered pompously and then paused, glancing
rather uncertainly from the detective to Morrow. It needed no keen
observer to note the change in the man since the scene of that
morning, at Miss Lawton's. He had become a mere shell of his former
self. The smug unctuousness was gone; the jaunty side-whiskers
drooped; his chalk-like skin fell in flabby folds, and his crafty
eyes shifted like a hunted animal's.

"Mr. Blaine, I had hoped for a strictly confidential conference with
you, but I presume this person to be one of your trusted assistants,
and it is immaterial now--the matter upon which I have come is too
pressing! Scandal, notoriety must be averted at all costs! I find that
a frightful, a hideous mistake has been made, and I am actually upon
the point of being involved in a conspiracy as terrible as that of
which my poor friend Pennington Lawton was the victim! And I am as
innocent as he! I swear it!"

"You may as well conserve your strength and your strategic ingenuity
for the immediate future, Mr. Mallowe. You'll need both," Blaine
returned, coolly. "If you've come here to make any appeal--"

"I've come to assert my innocence!" the broken man cried with a flash
of his old proud dignity. "I only learned this evening of the truth,
and that those scoundrels Carlis and Rockamore had implicated me! How
a man of your discernment and experience could believe for a moment
that I was a party to any fraudulent--"

Blaine pressed the bell.

"There is no use in prolonging this interview, Mr. Mallowe!" he said,
curtly. "All the evidence is in my hands."

"But allow me to explain!" The flabby face grew more deathlike, until
the burning eyes seemed peering from the face of a corpse.

Two men entered, and at sight of them, the former pompous president of
the Street Railways of Illington plumped to his fat, quaking knees.

"For God's sake, listen! You must listen, Blaine!" he shrieked. "I am
one of the prominent men of this country! I have three married
daughters, two of them with small children! The disgrace, the infamy
of this, will kill them! I will make restitution; I will--"

"Pennington Lawton had one daughter, unmarried, unprovided for! Did
you think of _her_?" asked Blaine, grimly. "I'm sorry for the innocent
who must suffer with you, Mr. Mallowe, but in this instance the law
must take its course. Lead him away."

When the wailing, quavering voice had subsided behind the closing
door, Henry Blaine turned to young Morrow with a weary look of pain,
age-old, in his eyes.

"Unpleasant, wasn't it?" he asked grimly. "I try to school myself
against it, but with all my experience, a scene like this makes me
sick at heart. I know the wretch deserves what is coming to him, just
as Rockamore knew when he unfalteringly sped that bullet--just as
Carlis knew when he heard his own voice repeated by the dictagraph.
And yet I, who make my living, and shall continue to make it, by
unearthing malefactors; I, who have built my career, made my
reputation, proved myself to be what I am by the detection and
punishment of wrong-doing--I wish with all my heart and soul, before
God, that there was no such thing as crime in all this fair green
world!"



CHAPTER XXI

CLEARED SKIES


Just as in autumn, the period of Indian summer brings a reminiscent
warmth and sunshine, so sometimes in late winter a day will come now
and then which is a harbinger of the not far-distant springtide, like
a promise, during present storm and stress, of better things to come.

Such a day, balmy and gloriously bright, found four people seated
together in the spacious, sunny morning-room of a great house on
Belleair Avenue. A young man, pale and wan as from a long illness, but
with a new steadiness and clarity born of suffering in his eyes; a
girl, slender and black-robed, her delicate face flushing with an
exquisite, spring-like color, her eyes soft and misty and spring-like,
too, in their starry fulfillment of love that has been tried and found
all-sufficing; another sable-clad figure, but clerically frocked and
portly; and the last, a keen-faced, kindly-eyed man approaching
middle-age--a man with sandy hair and a mustache just slightly tinged
with gray. He might, from his appearance and bearing, have been a
great teacher, a great philanthropist, a great statesman. But he was
none of these--or rather, let us say, he was all, and more. He was the
greatest factor for good which the age had produced, because he was
the greatest instrument of justice, the crime-detector of the
century.

The pale young man moved a little in his chair, and the girl laid her
hand caressingly upon his blue-veined one. She was seated close to
him--in fact, Anita was never willing, in these later days, to be so
far from Ramon that she could not reach out and touch him, as if to
assure herself that he was there, that he was safe from the enemies
who had encompassed them both, and that her ministering care might
shield him.

Doctor Franklin noted the movement, slight as it was, and cleared his
throat, importantly.

"Of course, my dear children," he began, impressively, "if it is your
earnest desire, I will perform the marriage ceremony for you here in
this room at noon to-morrow. But I trust you have both given the
matter careful thought--not, of course, as to the suitability of your
union, but the--I may say, the manner of it! A ceremony without a
social function, without the customary observances which, although
worldly and filled with pomp and vanity, nevertheless are befitted by
usage, in these mundane days, to those of your station in life, seems
slightly unconventional, almost--er--unseemly."

"But we don't care for the pomp and vanity, and the social observances,
and all the rest of it, do we, Ramon?" the girl asked.

Ramon Hamilton smiled, and his eyes met and held hers.

"We only want each other," he said quietly.

"But it seems so very precipitate!" the clergyman urged, turning as if
for moral support to the impassive figure of Henry Blaine. "So soon
after the shadow of tragedy has crossed this threshold! What will
people say?"

A little vagrant breeze, like a lost, unseasonable butterfly, came in
at the open window and stirred the filmy curtain, bearing on its soft
breath the odor of narcissus from the bloom-laden window-box.

"Oh, Doctor Franklin!" cried the girl, impulsively. "Don't talk of
tragedy just now! Spring is so near, and we love each other so! If
he--my dear, dead father--can hear, he will understand, and wish it to
be so!"

"As you will." The minister rose. "I gave you your name, Anita. I
consecrated your father's soul to Heaven, and his body to the dust,
and I will give his daughter in marriage to the man he chose for her
protector, whenever it is your will. But, Mr. Blaine, what do you say?
You seem to have more influence over Miss Lawton than I, although I
can scarcely understand it. Don't you agree with me that the world
will talk?"

"I do!" responded Henry Blaine fervently. "And I say--let it! It can
say of these two children only what I do--bless you, both! Sorrow and
suffering and tragedy have taken their quota of these young lives--now
let a little happiness and joy and sunshine and love in upon the
circumspect gloom you would still cast about them! You ministers are
steeped in the spiritual misery of the world, the doctors in the
physical; but we crime-specialists are forced to drink of it to its
dregs, physical, mental, moral, spiritual! And there is so much in
this tainted, sin-ridden world of ours that is beautiful and pure and
happy and holy, if we will but give it a chance!"

Doctor Franklin coughed, in a severely condemnatory fashion.

"Now that I have learned your opinion, in a broad, general way, Mr.
Blaine, I can understand your point of view in regard to that young
criminal, Charles Pennold, when at the time of the trial you used your
influence to have him paroled in your custody, instead of being sent
to prison, where he belonged."

"Exactly." Blaine's tone was dry. "I firmly believe that there are
many more young boys and men in our prisons, who should in reality be
in hospitals, or in sheltering, uplifting, sympathetic hands, than
there are criminals unpunished. And you, with your broadly,
professionally charitable point of view, Doctor," he added with keen
enjoyment, "will, I am convinced, be delighted to know that Charley
Pennold is doing splendidly. He will develop in time into one of my
most trusted, capable operatives, I have no doubt. He has the
instinct, the real nose, for crime, but circumstances from his birth
and even before that, forced him on the wrong side of the fence. He
was, if you will pardon the vernacular, on the outside, looking in.
Now he's on the inside, looking out!"

"I sincerely trust so!" the minister responded frigidly and turned to
the others. "I will leave you now. If it is your irrevocable desire to
have the ceremony at noon to-morrow, I will make all the necessary
arrangements. In fact, I will telephone you later, when everything is
settled."

"Oh, thank you, Dr. Franklin! I knew you wouldn't fail us!" Anita
murmured. "Don't forget to tell Mrs. Franklin that she will hear from
me. She must surely come, you know!"

When the door had closed on the minister's broad, retreating back,
Ramon Hamilton turned with a suspicion of a flush in his wan cheeks,
to the detective.

"If I'd gone to any Sunday school he presided over, when I was a
kiddie, I'd have been a train-robber now!" he observed darkly. "I'm
glad you lit into him about young Pennold, Mr. Blaine. He started
it!"

"But think of the others!" Anita Lawton turned her face for a moment
to the spring-like day outside. "Mr. Mallowe dead in his cell from
apoplexy, Mr. Carlis imprisoned for life, Mac Alarney and all the rest
facing long years behind gray walls and iron bars--oh, I know it is
just; I remember what they did to my father and to me; and yet somehow
in this glorious sunshine and with all the ages and ages just as
bright, spreading before me, I can find charity and mercy in my heart
for all the world!"

"Charity and mercy," repeated Ramon soberly. "Yes, dearest. But not
liberty to continue their crimes--to do to others what they did to
us!"

A spasm of pain crossed his face, and she bent over him solicitously.

"Oh, what is it, Ramon? Speak to me!"

"Nothing, dear, it's all right now. Just a twinge of the old pain."

"Those murdering fiends, who made you suffer so!" she cried, and added
with feminine illogicality: "I'm _not_ sorry, after all, that they're
in prison! I'm glad they've got their just deserts. Oh, Ramon, I've
been afraid to distress you by asking you, but did you tell the truth
at the trial--all the truth, I mean? Was that really all you
remember?"

"Yes, dear," he replied a trifle wearily. "When I left Mr. Blaine's
office that day, I was hurrying along Dalrymple Street, when just
outside the Colossus Building, a boy about fifteen--that one who is in
the reformatory now--collided with me. Then he looked up into my face,
and grasped my arm.

"'You're Mr. Hamilton, aren't you?' he gasped. 'Oh, come quick, sir!
Mr. Ferrand's had a stroke or something, and I was just running to get
help. You don't remember me, I guess. I'm Mr. Ferrand's new
office-boy, Frankie Allen. You was in to see him about ten days ago,
don't you remember?'

"Well, as I told you, 'Nita dearest, old Mr. Ferrand was one of my
father's best friends. His offices were in the Colossus Building, and
I _had_ been in to see him about ten days before--so in spite of Mr.
Blaine's warning, I was perfectly unsuspecting. Of course, I didn't
remember his office-boy from Adam, but that fact never occurred to
me, then. I went right along with the boy, and he talked so volubly
that I didn't notice we had gotten into the wrong elevator--the
express--until its first stop, seven floors above Mr. Ferrand's.
They must have staged the whole thing pretty well--Carlis and
Paddington and their crew--for when I stepped out of the express
elevator, there was no one in sight that I remember but the boy who
was with me. I pressed the button of the local, which was just
beside the express--there was a buzz and whirring hum as if the
elevator had ascended, and the door opened. As I stepped over its
threshold, I felt a violent blow and terrific pain on the back of my
head, and seemed to fall into limitless space. That was all I knew
until I woke up in the hospital where Mr. Blaine had taken me
after discovering and rescuing me, to see your dear face bending over
mine!"

"One of Paddington's men was waiting, and hit you on the head with a
window-pole, as you stepped into the open elevator shaft," Blaine
supplemented. "It was all a plant, of course. You only fell to the
roof of the elevator, which was on a level with the floor below. There
they carried you into the office of a fake company, kept you until
closing time, and got you out of the building as a drunkard, conveying
you to Mac Alarney's retreat in his own machine. Nobody employed in
the building was in their pay but the elevator man, and he's got his,
along with the rest! Paddington's scheme wasn't bad; if he'd only been
on the square, he might have made a very brilliant detective!"

"How terrible his death was!" Anita shuddered. "And how unexplainable!
No one ever found out who stabbed him, there in the park, did they?"

Blaine did not reply. He knew that on the day following the discovery
of the murdered man, one Franchette Durand, otherwise Fifine
Déchaussée, had sailed for Havre on the ill-fated _La Tourette_, which
had gone to the bottom in mid-ocean, with all on board. He knew also
that an hour before the French girl's last tragic interview with
Paddington, she had discovered the existence of his wife, for he
himself had seen to it that the knowledge was imparted to her. Further
than that, he preferred not to conjecture. The Madonna-faced girl had
taken her secret with her to her swiftly retributive grave in the
deep.

Blaine rose, somewhat reluctantly. Work called him, and yet he loved
to be near them in the rose-tinted high noon of their happiness.

"I'll be on hand to-morrow, indeed I will!" he promised heartily, in
response to their eager request.

"To-morrow! Just think!" Anita buried her glowing face in her lover's
shoulder for an instant, and then looked up with misty eyes. "Just
think, if it hadn't been for you, Mr. Blaine, there wouldn't be any
to-morrow! I don't mean about your getting my father's money all back
for me--I'm grateful, of course, but it doesn't count beside the
greater thing you have given us! But for you, there would _never_
have been any--to-morrow."

"That's true!" The young man's arm encircled the girl's slender waist
as they stood together in the glowing sunlight, but his other hand
gripped the detective's. "We owe life, our happiness, the future,
everything to you!"

And so Henry Blaine left them.

At the door he turned and glanced back, and the sight his eyes beheld
was a goodly one for him to carry away with him into the world--a
sight as old as the ages, as new as the hour, as prescient as the
hours and ages to come. Just a man and a maid, sunshine and happiness,
youth and love!--that, and the light of undying gratitude in the eyes
they bent upon him.



      *      *      *      *      *      *



Transcriber's note:

Archaic and variable spelling, as well as inconsistency in hyphenation,
has been preserved as printed in the original book except as indicated
in the list below.

Missing and extra quote marks, along with minor punctuation
irregularities, were silently corrected. However, punctuation has not
been changed to comply with modern conventions.

A List of Illustrations was added and illustrations have been moved,
when necessary, so that they are not in the middle of a paragraph.

The following changes were made to the text:

  Page 33: Was "insignficant" in the original text (keep me
           informed of everything that occurs, no matter how
           =insignificant= or irrelevant it may seem to you to be.)

  Page 48: Was "rococco" in the original text (where the
           mushroom growth of the new city sprang up in rows of
           =rococo= brick and stone houses)

  Page 96: Was "Déchausée" in the original text (When the
           young stenographer had departed, Fifine =Déchaussée=
           appeared.)

  Page 96: Was "Déchausée" in the original text (If he makes
           any further attempt to talk with you, Mademoiselle
           =Déchaussée=, encourage him, draw him out.)

  Page 171: Was "d' you" in the original text (What =d'you=
            s'pose brought him back?)

  Page 205: Was "Lawnot" in the original text (he took the
            telephone receiver from its hook and called up Anita
            =Lawton= at her home)

  Page 233: Was "offce" in the original text (three men came
            back to the house with me, and entered my =office=, where
            the burly one turned over to me ten five-hundred-dollar
            bills.)

  Page 261: Was "busines" in the original text (There is no
            blackmail about this--it is an ordinary =business=
            proposition.)

  Page 279: Was "_in loco parentis_" in the original text
            (Do not I and my friends stand =in _loco parentis_= to
            her?)

  Page 314: Was "MacAlarney's" in the original text (and got
            you out of the building as a drunkard, conveying you to
            =Mac Alarney's= retreat in his own machine.)





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