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Title: That Affair at Elizabeth
Author: Stevenson, Burton Egbert, 1872-1962
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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                      THAT AFFAIR AT ELIZABETH

                       BY BURTON E. STEVENSON

    AUTHOR OF "THE MARATHON MYSTERY," "THE HOLLADAY CASE," ETC.


    NEW YORK
    HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY
    1907

    COPYRIGHT, 1907,
    BY HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY

    _Published October, 1907_

    THE QUINN & BODEN CO. PRESS
    RAHWAY, N. J.



CONTENTS


I. AN URGENT SUMMONS

II. A BRIDE'S VAGARY

III. THE LOVER'S STORY

IV. A STRANGE MESSAGE

V. DEEPER IN THE MAZE

VI. AN ASTONISHING REQUEST

VII. TANGLED THREADS

VIII. THE PATH THROUGH THE GROVE

IX. THE OLD SORROW

X. THE MYSTERIOUS LIGHT

XI. AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE

XII. WORD FROM THE FUGITIVE

XIII. PURSUIT

XIV. RECALLED TO THE FRONT

XV. A BATTLE OF WITS

XVI. THE SECRET OF THE CELLAR

XVII. A TRAGEDY UNFORESEEN

XVIII. A NEW TURN TO THE PUZZLE

XIX. UNDER SUSPICION

XX. AN APPEAL FOR ADVICE

XXI. CROSS-PURPOSES

XXII. LIGHT AT LAST!

XXIII. THE STORY

XXIV. THE SECRET

XXV. THE REVELATION

XXVI. THE RETURN

XXVII. THE CURTAIN LIFTS



THAT AFFAIR AT ELIZABETH



CHAPTER I

An Urgent Summons


"That seems to be all right, Lester," said Mr. Royce, and handed the
papers back to me. "I'll be mighty glad when we get that off our hands."

So, I knew, would the whole force of the office, for the case had been
an unusually irritating one, tangling itself up in the most unexpected
ways, until, with petitions and counter-petitions and answers and
demurrers and what not, we were all heartily tired of it. I slipped the
papers into an envelope and shot them into a pigeon-hole with a sigh of
relief.

"I think that'll end it," I said. "I don't see how there can be any
further delay."

"No," agreed our junior, "neither do I. Are the papers in the Griffin
case ready?"

"Not yet; I doubt if they will be ready before this afternoon."

"Well, they can wait," he said, and glanced at his watch. "I want to
catch the ten-ten for Elizabeth."

"For Elizabeth?"

"Yes. I know it's a mighty awkward time for me to leave, but it's an
engagement I've got to keep. You've heard me speak of Burr Curtiss?"

"Yes," I said; "I seem to remember the name."

"He's been one of my best friends for the past ten years. I met him
first at Yale, and a liking sprang up between us, which grew stronger as
time went on. I played a sort of second fiddle to him, then, for he was
president of the class in his senior year and was voted the most popular
man in it. He came to New York, as soon as he was graduated, and got a
place on the construction staff of the Pennsylvania road. He was
assigned to one of the western divisions, and I didn't see anything of
him for two or three years, but finally he was recalled, and we used to
hobnob at the University Club. Since my marriage, he comes around to
smoke a pipe with me occasionally and talk over old times. He's a social
fellow, likes companionship, and, my wife says, is just the man to make
a woman happy; so when he wrote me a note, two months ago, announcing
his engagement, we were naturally curious concerning the woman in the
case--for his ideals were high--too high, I always told him."

Mr. Royce paused and sat for a moment smiling out the window at the grey
wall of the building opposite.

"I remember it was one evening early last winter," he went on at last,
"that Curtiss happened in and, as we sat smoking together, our talk
somehow turned to women. It was then I learned what an idealist he was.
The woman to win his heart must be accomplished, of course; witty,
knowing the world, and yet unsoiled by it, capable of original thought,
of being her husband's intellectual companion--so much for the mental
side. Physically--well, physically he wanted a Venus de Milo or Helen of
Troy, nothing less. I laughed at him. I pointed out that beautiful women
are seldom intellectual. But he was obdurate. He protested that he would
capitulate on no other terms. I retorted that, in that case, he would
probably remain a bachelor."

"But," I remarked, "it seems to me that this friend of yours is a trifle
egotistical. What has he to offer in exchange for such perfection?"

"Well," said Mr. Royce slowly, "it would be a good bargain on both
sides. Given such a woman, I could fancy her longing for such a man as
Curtiss, just as he would long for her. I've told you something of his
mental calibre--physically, he's the handsomest man I ever saw. And it
seems to me he gets handsomer every year. In our college days, he was
rather too stout, too girlish-looking, but hard work and contact with
the world have rubbed all that away. George!" he added, "the children of
such a pair would be fit for Olympus!"

"And did he find her?" I asked, curious for the rest of the story.

"After I got his note," said my companion, "I hunted him up at his
apartments as soon as I could. He let me in himself, got out his cigars,
and sat down opposite me fairly beaming. I looked him over--I had never
before seen a man who seemed so supremely happy.

"'So,' I asked at last, 'you've found her?'

"'Yes,' he said; 'yes.'

"'The woman you were looking for?'

"'The very woman.'

"'That impossible ideal?'

"'An ideal, yes; but not impossible, since she exists in the flesh and I
have found her.'

"'Well, you're a lucky dog,' I said. 'Tell me about her.'

"So he told me--quite a Laura Jean Libbey story. She was everything, it
seemed, that could be desired in a woman.

"'And beautiful?' I asked him.

"For reply, he brought out a photograph from his desk. I tell you,
Lester, it fairly took my breath away. I felt as though I were looking
at a masterpiece--say Andrea del Sarto's Madonna. And I would as soon
have thought of marrying the one as the other. It was like snatching a
star down out of heaven.

"Curtiss was leaning back in his chair watching me, and he smiled as I
looked up.

"'Well?' he asked.

"I went over and shook hands with him--I couldn't find words to tell him
what I felt.

"'But where has she been?' I demanded. 'How does it happen she was left
for you?'

"'She's been abroad for five or six years,' he explained.

"'That's no answer,' I said. 'Why isn't she a queen, then; or a duchess,
at least?'

"'She's had chances enough, I dare say,' and he smiled at my enthusiasm.
'I agree with you that she's worthy to wear a crown; but then, you see,
she has ideals, too. Perhaps none of the kings she met measured up to
them.'

"'And you did?'

"'She's good enough to think so.'

"I had been idling over the photograph, and my eyes happened to fall
upon some lines written across the back--I didn't know them, then, but
I've looked them up, since:--

          'My days were sunless and my nights were moonless,
    Parched the pleasant April herbage and the lark's heart's outbreak
      tuneless,
    If you loved me not!'

"I tell you, Lester," and there was a little break in our junior's
voice, "I was overwhelmed. You know, love--passion--the real thing the
poets write about--has grown mighty rare in this world. We're too
commercial for it, I suppose; too much given to calculating chances. But
here I was, face to face with it. Well, I was unequal to the
situation--I didn't know what to say, but he helped me.

"'The date hasn't been set, yet,' he said, 'but it will be some time in
June; and the reason I'm telling you all this is that I'm going to ask a
favour of you. It's to be a church wedding and I want you to be best
man. I hope you won't refuse.'

"I was glad of the chance to be of service and told him so," concluded
Mr. Royce, glancing again at his watch and rising hastily. "The
wedding's to be at noon to-day. You see I'm cutting it rather fine. I'd
intended to go down yesterday afternoon, but that Barnaby petition upset
my plans. I'll be back to-night or in the morning at the latest. In the
meantime, if anything imperative turns up, a telegram to the Sheridan
House at Elizabeth will catch me."

"Very well," I replied and made a note of the address. "But don't worry
about the work here. I'll get along all right."

"Of course you will," he agreed, and an instant later, the door closed
behind him.

But more than once in the course of the morning, I was inclined to think
that I had spoken too confidently. Mr. Graham, our senior partner, had
broken down about a month before, under a stress of work which had been
unusual, even for our office, and had been ordered away for a long
vacation; one or two members of the office force had resigned to accept
other positions, and the task of filling their places was one which
required thought and care; so for the time being, we were extremely
short-handed.

That morning, perversely enough, it seemed to me that the work piled up
even more rapidly than usual, and it was not until the mellow chimes of
Trinity, marking the noon hour, floated through the open window, that I
succeeded in clearing away the most pressing portion of the morning's
business, and leaned back in my chair with a sigh of satisfaction. That
Marjoribanks case was now ours; Mr. Royce would approve....

No doubt, at this very moment, he was before the altar of the Elizabeth
church, listening to the low responses. I had only to close my eyes to
picture the scene--the dim, flower-decked interior; the
handsomely-gowned, sympathetically-expectant audience; the bride,
supremely beautiful in her veil and orange blossoms, her eyes downcast,
the warm colour coming and going in her cheeks....

"Telegram, sir," said a voice, and I swung around to find the office-boy
at my elbow. "For you, sir," he added.

I took the yellow envelope and tore it open absently, my mind still on
the vision my fancy had conjured up. Then, as my eyes caught the words
of the message, I sat bolt upright with a start. It read:

     "Come to Elizabeth by first train. Don't fail us."

     "ROYCE."



CHAPTER II

A Bride's Vagary


Two minutes later, I was speeding downward in the elevator, having
paused only long enough to give a word of instruction to the head clerk.
A glance at my watch showed me that if I would catch the 12.38, I had no
time to lose; but luckily a cab was passing at the moment, and I jumped
aboard the boat for Jersey City just as the gates were closing.

Not until I was safely aboard the train did I give myself time to
conjecture what this imperative summons meant, but during the half-hour
run to the little New Jersey city, I had ample time to try to puzzle it
out.

One thing was quite certain--it was no ordinary emergency which had
moved Mr. Royce to summon me from the office at a time when I was so
badly needed there. I got out the telegram again, and read it, word by
word. It affected me as a wild cry for help would have done, at
midnight, in some lonely place--and it was just that--a wild cry for
help! But why had he needed aid, when he himself was so clear-sighted,
so ready-witted, so fertile of resource? What was this astounding
occurrence which confronted him, this crisis so urgent and over-whelming
that it had shaken and startled him out of his self-control? The message
itself was proof of his deep excitement. Apparently he had wired for me
instinctively, finding himself suddenly in the toils of some dilemma,
which left him dazed and nerveless.

Ever since the time when I had succeeded, more by luck than anything
else, in discovering the whereabouts of Frances Holladay, and solving
the mystery of her father's death, our junior partner had conceived a
tremendously exalted opinion of my abilities as an untangler of abstruse
problems, and never lost an opportunity of referring to me such as came
in his way. Every firm of practising lawyers knows how frequently a case
hinges upon some puzzling point of evidence--how witnesses have a way of
disappearing--and Graham & Royce had their full share of such perplexing
tangles. It had come to be one of the unwritten rules of the office that
such points should be referred to me, and while I was by no means
uniformly successful in solving them, I always took a lively pleasure in
the work. It was no doubt that habit which had caused our junior to turn
to me in this emergency. I could guess how terrifying it must have been
to overwhelm so completely a man so well-balanced and self-controlled--I
could almost see the trembling hand with which he had penned the
message.

So it was with a certain quickening of the pulse that I stepped from the
train at the triangular Elizabeth station, and an instant later, Mr.
Royce had me by the hand.

"I've a carriage over here, Lester," he said, drawing me toward it, and
I noticed that he was fairly quivering with excitement. "I thought you
could make this train," he added, as we took our seats and the driver
whipped up smartly. "I knew you wouldn't lose any time, and I can't tell
you how glad I am to have you here. Curtiss is all broken up--doesn't
know which way to turn. Neither do I. I had just sense enough to send
you that wire."

"I thought it was a mystery of some sort," I said, beginning to tingle
in sympathy with him. "What has happened?"

"The bride-to-be has disappeared," answered Mr. Royce simply;
"vanished--skipped out!"

For a moment, I scarcely understood. It seemed preposterous to suppose
that I had heard aright.

"Disappeared!" I echoed helplessly. "Skipped out!"

"Yes, skipped out!" and Mr. Royce crushed his unlighted cigar savagely
in his fingers and hurled it through the carriage window. "I haven't the
slightest doubt that she deliberately ran away."

The sight of his emotion calmed me a little.

"At the last moment?" I questioned.

"Practically at the last moment--less than an hour before the time set
for the ceremony. She was getting ready for it--was in her
wedding-dress, in fact. I tell you, Lester----"

"Wait," I said, putting out a restraining hand. "Begin at the beginning.
What's her name?"

"Marcia Lawrence."

"And she's the 'ideal' Curtiss imagined he'd found?"

"Yes," said Mr. Royce slowly, "and so far as I can judge from what I've
seen and heard, she really was as nearly perfect as any woman can be."

"Yet she 'skipped out'!"

"That's why I'm so upset--she was the last woman in the world to do such
a thing!"

"Tell me about her," I said.

"I don't know very much; but I do know that she wasn't a mere
empty-headed chit. She was an accomplished and cultured woman. I've
already told you how her beauty affected me."

I paused a moment to consider it--I was fairly nonplussed. It seemed
incredible that such a woman should, under any conceivable
circumstances, deliberately desert her lover at the altar!

"And in her wedding-gown!" I murmured, half to myself.

"Yes, in her wedding-gown!" repeated our junior, passing his hand
feverishly across his eyes. "It's unbelievable! It's--I can't find any
word to describe it. I can scarcely believe I'm awake."

"Perhaps she found she didn't love him," I suggested.

"At the last moment?"

"Stranger things have happened."

"I don't believe it!' A woman like Marcia Lawrence knows her own heart
before she goes that far!"

"Suppose we say sudden insanity?"

"Well-balanced women don't go mad merely because they're going to get
married."

"Then she didn't run away," I said.

Mr. Royce looked at me quickly.

"You mean----"

But the carriage stopped with a jolt and the driver jerked open the
door.



CHAPTER III

The Lover's Story


I paused, as soon as we reached the pavement, for a look about me. We
were evidently in the fashionable quarter of the town. The street was
wide, well-kept, and shaded by stately elms. The houses which stretched
away on either hand had that spaciousness, that air of dignity and
quiet, which bespeaks wealth and leisure. Here was no gaudy
architecture, no flamboyant flourish of the newly-rich; rather the
evidence of families long-settled in their present surroundings and
long-accustomed to the luxuries of a cultured and generous existence.

But it was to the house directly before us that I gave the closest
scrutiny. It was a large one, two-storied, with a wide veranda running
across the entire front. It stood well back from the street, and was
sheltered on each side by magnificent trees. The grounds seemed to be
very extensive and were beautifully kept. Along the pavement, a curious
crowd was loitering, kept in motion by a policeman, but staring at the
house as though they expected to read the solution of the mystery in its
inexpressive front.

Mr. Royce nodded to the officer, and we passed through the gate. As we
went up the walk, I noticed that the blinds were closely drawn, as
though it were a house of mourning--and, indeed, dead hopes enough lay
there!

A maid admitted us, and when my companion inquired for Mr. Curtiss, led
the way silently along the hall. In the dim light, I could see the
decorations of palms and wreaths of smilax, relieved here and there by a
mass of gorgeous bloom, and through a door to the right I caught a
glimpse of many tables, set ready for the luncheon which was never to be
eaten. There was something ghostly about the deserted rooms--something
chilling in the thought of this arrested gaiety, these hopes for
happiness so rudely shattered. It recalled that vision which had so
astonished poor Pip--the vision of Miss Havisham, decked in her yellow
wedding finery, sitting at her gilded dressing-table in the darkened
room, with the bride-cake cobwebbed and mouldy, and the chairs set ready
for the guests who were never to arrive. Only here, I reflected, the
clocks should be stopped at noon, not at twenty minutes to nine!

We turned into a room which I saw to be the library, and a man sprang up
as we entered.

"Royce!" he cried, and there was in his tone such an agony of entreaty
that I knew instantly who he was.

"No; no news, Burr," said our junior; "but here's Mr. Lester, and if any
one can suggest a solution of this mystery, I'm sure he can. Lester,
this is Burr Curtiss."

As I shook hands with him, I told myself that Mr. Royce's description
had been well within the truth. I could join with him in saying that I
had never seen a handsomer man or a more attractive one, though in his
eyes, as I met them, misery and anxiety were only too apparent.

"It was very kind of you to come, Mr. Lester," he said.

"Not at all," I protested. "I only hope I can be of some service."

"Royce has told you----"

"Only the bare facts," I said. "I'd like to have all the details of the
story, if you'll be so kind as to give me them."

"Certainly," he assented instantly, as we sat down. "That's what I wish
to do--I know how important details are."

He paused for a moment, to be sure of his self-control, and I had the
chance to look at him more closely. His face was not only comely, it was
strong, magnetic. The black hair and eyes bespoke a vigorous
temperament; the full beard, closely cropped, served rather to
accentuate the fine lines of mouth and chin. There was no superfluous
flesh about the face--no puffiness; it was thin with the healthy
thinness which tells of a busy life, and browned by exposure to wind and
sun. It was, altogether, a manly face, not the merely handsome one which
I had rather expected. My eyes were drawn especially to his hand as he
passed it hastily across his forehead--a hand firm, white, with slightly
tapering fingers--an artist's hand which one would scarcely connect with
an engineer of construction.

"There's really very little I can tell you," he said, at last. "When I
saw Marcia this morning----"

His voice choked, and he paused, unable, for the moment, to go on.

"Let us begin farther back than that, Mr. Curtiss," I suggested, knowing
that the beginning was the hardest part. "Mr. Royce tells me you were
classmates. When did you graduate from college?"

"Seven years ago."

"And you came at once to New York?"

"Yes, to take the examination for the Pennsylvania road."

"You were given a place on the road at once?"

"Yes--not a very important place, but one with a chance for promotion,
which was all I asked. I was stationed at Pittsburg for three years and
then called east to work on the division between New York and
Philadelphia. A year ago, I was made assistant at the headquarters
office."

"Rather a remarkable career," I commented, smiling.

"Not at all," he protested quickly. "I liked the work, and I was well
equipped."

I saw that I should have to revise my opinion of him--certainly he was
not conceited.

"When did you meet Miss Lawrence?" I asked.

"Last December--the tenth, to be quite accurate--just six months ago
to-day----"

Again his voice trailed away into a sort of hoarse whisper, though he
tried desperately to control it.

"Won't you tell me about it?"

"Is it necessary?" he questioned miserably. "I--I don't want to talk."

"I know you don't, and I don't want to make you. But if I'm to help, I
must know the whole story."

"Pardon me, Mr. Lester," he said, pulling himself together by a mighty
effort. "Of course you must. Only give me time. I'm--I'm----"

"All the time in the world," I assured him, and settled back in my chair
to listen.

"We had a bad grade-crossing just east of Elizabeth," he began, after a
moment, in a steadier tone. "It was an ugly place, with the driveway
coming down a stiff hill and meeting our tracks at an angle which
prevented a clear view of them. We kept a flagman there, of course, but
nevertheless accidents happened right along. A skittish horse, once
started down the hill and frightened perhaps by the whistle and rumble
of the approaching train, would be pretty hard to stop."

I nodded. I had seen just such murderous crossings.

"So the company determined to build a viaduct there, and last December
sent me out to look over the ground. I reached there about nine o'clock
in the morning, and by noon had all my data and was ready to come back
to the city.

"'Can you flag this train for me, John?' I asked the flagman, as I heard
a whistle down the line.

"'No, sir,' he answered; 'can't do it, sir. That's the limited, but
there'll be a local along ten minutes after it.'

"'All right,' I said, and went up the bank a bit to sit down and wait
for it.

"The limited whistled again, just around the curve, and then I heard the
flagman give a yell and start up the hill, waving his flag like mad. I
jumped up and saw that a buggy containing two women had just started
down and that the horse was beyond control. It didn't take me above a
minute to run over, get the horse by the bridle, and stop him. I held
the track record for everything up to the half-mile while I was at
Sheff," he added, with a little apologetic smile.

I nodded again; only, I thought, I should like to hear the flagman tell
the story.

"The horse had knocked me about a bit," he went on, "and kicked me on
the legs once or twice, so when I let go the bridle I was a little
wobbly--made a fool of myself, I suppose. Anyway, I was bundled into the
buggy and taken back to Elizabeth, where the women lived."

"Yes," I encouraged him, for he seemed to have come to a full stop; "and
then?"

"Well, they took me home with them and fixed me up as though I were a
plaster baby. The elder woman introduced herself as Mrs. Lawrence and
the younger as her daughter Marcia. They made me stay for tea----"

He stopped again.

"I don't know how to tell the rest, Mr. Lester," he blurted out. "Only
Marcia Lawrence was the divinest woman I ever met. Royce used to laugh
at me for having an ideal."

"Yes, he told me," I said.

"Well, I knew instantly that I'd found her. And she was very good to
me--better than I knew how to deserve. Three months ago, she promised to
be my wife--we were to have been married at noon to-day----"

He sat with bowed head and working face, unable to go on.

"We were happy--she was happy, I know it!" he cried fiercely, after a
moment. "There wasn't a cloud--not a single cloud! It was too perfect, I
suppose--too perfect for this world. I've heard that perfect things
don't last. But I don't understand--I can't understand!"

"Mr. Royce told me she'd disappeared," I said gently.

"Disappeared utterly!" He was on his feet now and striding madly up and
down the room, his self-control gone from him. "There wasn't a cloud, I
tell you; not the slightest breath of suspicion or distrust or
unhappiness. Last night, some of her friends here gave a little
reception for her, and she was the gayest of the gay. This morning,
about ten o'clock, I called to see her; she seemed very happy--kissed me
good-bye until we should meet at the church."

A convulsive shudder shook him. I saw how near he was to breaking down.

"Let me tell the rest, Burr," said a low voice from the door, and I
turned to see a woman standing there--a woman dressed in black, with a
face of unusual sweetness, but shadowed by a great sorrow.



CHAPTER IV

A Strange Message


I guessed in a breath who she was, and my heart went out to her in
instant pity. Yet a second glance told me that it was not the shadow of
this recent sorrow which lay across her face. Time alone could grave
those lines of calm endurance, could give to the eyes that look of quiet
resignation, to the mouth that curve of patient suffering; and only a
deep spiritual faith could preserve and heighten the sweetness and
gentleness of a countenance so marked.

"This is Mr. Lester, Mrs. Lawrence," said our junior, quickly, and
placed a chair for her. "We've asked Mr. Lester to help us," he added.

She closed the door behind her and came forward as we rose,
acknowledging the introduction with the faintest of bows.

"Thank you," she said. "Lucy told me you had returned, Mr. Royce," she
went on, a little tremulously, "and I was anxious to know if you had any
news."

"Not yet. Mr. Curtiss was just telling Mr. Lester----"

"Yes," she interrupted, "I saw how he was suffering and I wished to
spare him, if I could."

"My dear Mrs. Lawrence," broke in Curtiss, "you must think only of
sparing yourself."

"Still," I suggested, "it's possible that Mrs. Lawrence can help us a
great deal, if she will."

She was holding herself admirably in hand, and I thought her in much
less danger of breaking down than Curtiss himself. Perhaps the old
sorrow had taught her how to bear the new one.

"I shall be glad to help you all I can," she said, and smiled a faint
encouragement.

It seemed brutal to question her at such a time, but I saw it must be
done and I nerved myself to do it.

"Mrs. Lawrence," I began, "has any possible explanation of your
daughter's flight occurred to you?"

"No," she answered quickly, and with an emphasis that rather startled
me. "It seems to me utterly unexplainable. Even yet, I can scarcely
believe it!"

"She left no message for you?"

"Not a word; she simply disappeared."

"And you had no warning?"

"Warning?" she repeated, facing around upon me. "No!"

"Nor suspected that there was anything amiss?"

"Not for an instant."

"Since there _was_ something amiss, why did your daughter not confide in
you?"

"I have asked myself the same question. I am utterly unable to answer
it."

"She was in the habit of coming to you with her troubles?"

"Always. There was the most perfect confidence between us."

"And yet she concealed this?"

"She did not conceal it!" she protested. "She could not have concealed
it from my eyes, even had she wished to. There was nothing to conceal.
There was absolutely nothing wrong the last time I saw her."

"And that was?"

"Only a few minutes before she disappeared."

"Will you tell me just what happened?" I suggested, as gently as I
could. "Every detail you can remember."

She sat for a moment with compressed lips, steadying herself.

"There's very little to tell," she began. "She was quite her usual self
this morning, so far as I could see, and very happy. Two or three of her
girl friends came in to see her for a moment, to talk over the final
arrangements, and she was giving some directions about the decorations
when Mr. Curtiss called. After he had gone, she made a last trip through
the house to see that all was right, and then started upstairs to dress.
Half an hour later, she came to my room in her wedding-gown to ask how
she looked, and I had never seen her looking more beautiful. Only
perfect happiness can give such beauty to a woman. I remember thinking
what a joy it was to me that she had found a man whom she could love as
she loved----"

A half-stifled, choking sob from Curtiss interrupted her. She turned and
stretched out her hand to him, with a gesture of infinite affection.

"I finished dressing," she continued, "and then went to Marcia's room,
but she wasn't there. Her maid said she'd been called downstairs for a
moment. I came down, and found that the decorator had wanted her opinion
of the final touches. She had left him, to go upstairs again, as he
supposed. It was then nearly half-past eleven, and the bridesmaids began
to arrive. I supposed Marcia was in the grounds somewhere, and sent two
of the servants to look for her and to tell her it was time to start for
the church. They came back saying she was not to be found. Then I began
to be alarmed, thinking that she had perhaps been taken suddenly ill,
and we searched the house and grounds systematically, but found no trace
of her. At last, it seemed just possible that she had gone on to the
church, and the bridesmaids hurried into the carriages and drove
away--but she wasn't there--only Burr waiting for her----"

She stopped with a sudden tremulousness.

"Thank you," I said. "There's one question I must ask, Mrs. Lawrence,
before I can go to work intelligently. You will pardon it. Had your
daughter ever had any attachment previous to this one?"

I saw Curtiss glance at her quickly. That solution of the problem had
occurred to him, then, too!

"Not the shadow of one," answered Mrs. Lawrence instantly, and perhaps
it was only my fancy that the accent of sincerity was a trifle forced.
"I have been Marcia's companion and confidante all her life, and I am
sure that no man ever distinctly interested her until she met Mr.
Curtiss."

"But she no doubt interested many men," I suggested.

"Yes, but never with intention."

"That only makes the case more desperate sometimes."

"I don't believe there were any desperate cases. You will remember," she
added, "that we lived much abroad, and so had few intimate
acquaintances. Besides, Marcia was--well--extremely patriotic. She often
said that she would marry only an American--and an American who lived at
home and was proud of his country. One doesn't meet many of that kind in
Europe."

"No," I agreed. Whatever my doubts might be, it was clearly impossible
at present to proceed any further along that line of inquiry.

And what other line lay open? It seemed to me that I had come to an
impasse--a closed way--which barred further progress.

I sat silent a moment, pondering the problem. Perhaps Mrs. Lawrence held
the key to it, and I turned to look at her. She was seemingly sunk in
reverie, and her lips moved from time to time, as though she were
repeating to herself some fragmentary words. She seemed more
self-possessed in the presence of this catastrophe than one would have
expected. Perhaps she knew where her daughter was; perhaps Miss Lawrence
had not really fled. There was nothing to show that she had left the
house. It seemed impossible that a woman clad as she had been could have
fled, in broad day, without attracting some one's notice. But whether
she had fled or not, I reflected, the mystery remained the same.
Certainly, she had not appeared at the altar to keep her promise to Burr
Curtiss.

"Mrs. Lawrence," I asked, "what reason have you to believe that your
daughter left the house?"

She started from her reverie, and sat staring at me as though scarce
understanding.

"Why," she said at last, "what else could she have done? She has
disappeared----"

"You're sure she isn't concealed somewhere about the place?"

"Concealed?" and she paled a little under my eyes. "Oh, no; that's
impossible! We've searched everywhere!"

"And you think she went of her own free will?"

"She could scarcely have been abducted," she retorted. "Marcia is a
strong girl, and a single scream would have alarmed the house."

"That's true," I agreed. "Your room is near hers?"

"Just across the hall."

The wish flashed into my brain to look through the house; perhaps I
should be able to arrange it.

"There's no pit or hole or trap or anything of that sort into which she
could have fallen?"

"Oh, no; nothing of the sort."

"Nor closet nor chest into which she could have accidentally locked
herself?" I went on, remembering the fate of the bride in the old song.

"No; besides, we've looked in them all. We've searched everywhere--every
corner. She's not in the house--I'm quite sure of that."

"And yet you say she loved Mr. Curtiss?"

"Loved him devotedly."

"Then what possible reason could she have for deserting him? Why should
she----"

A knock at the door interrupted me. Mrs. Lawrence, who was sitting
nearest it, rose quickly and opened it. I caught a glimpse, in the
semi-darkness of the hall, of a woman in a maid's cap and apron. She
gave her mistress a letter, whispering, as she did so, a swift sentence
in her ear.

I heard Mrs. Lawrence's low exclamation of surprise, as she held the
letter up to the light and read the superscription. Then she turned
swiftly toward us, her face pale with emotion.

"It's a note!" she cried. "A note from Marcia! It will explain!" and she
handed the envelope to Curtiss.

"A note?" he stammered. "Addressed to me?"

"In Marcia's writing. Read it. It will explain," she repeated.

He took it with trembling hand, went to the window, and tore it open. I
saw his lips quivering as he read it; I saw the white intensity with
which Mrs. Lawrence watched his face; I was conscious, too, of another
presence in the room, and I glanced around to see that the maid stood
leaning forward in the open doorway, her eyes sparkling with eagerness,
her mouth working, her hands clasping and unclasping convulsively. There
was something sinister in her dark, expressive face, in her
attitude--something almost of exulting, of triumph----

Curtiss crushed the letter in his hand with a quick movement of despair,
and turned to us distraught, flushed, astounded.

"It tells nothing," he faltered; "nothing. It--it--I can't believe it!
Read it, Mr. Lester," and he held the sheet of paper toward me.

There were only a few lines upon it:--

     "Dearest: I cannot be your wife--how shall I tell you? It is
     quite, quite impossible. Oh, believe me, sweetheart, nothing
     but the certainty of that could keep me from you. I am fleeing;
     I cannot see you, cannot speak to you; there can be no
     explanation; only I shall love you always! Is it wrong to write
     that now, I wonder? Please do not attempt to follow me, to seek
     me out; that will only mean sorrow for us both--sorrow and
     shame. Perhaps some day, when the wound heals--will it ever
     heal?--I can tell you, can bear to see you. But oh, not now!

     "MARCIA LAWRENCE."



CHAPTER V

Deeper in the Maze


I sat for a moment half-dazed, with this astonishing note in my fingers.
Then I read it through again--there could be no doubting the sincerity
of the writer, her passionate earnestness. "I cannot be your wife ... it
is quite, quite impossible." But why was it impossible? Clearly not from
any lack of affection. If the note proved anything, it proved that
Marcia Lawrence loved Burr Curtiss far beyond the usual application of
the word.

Why, then, had she fled? "There can be no explanation." There was
nothing left but flight; the marriage was impossible. But why should it
be impossible? Was not that too strong a term? Yet she no doubt believed
it. Something had happened; there had been some sudden and startling
revelation--the revelation of a secret so hideous that, rather than
betray it, rather than risk an explanation, she had fled. But that was
such a desperate thing to do; such a suicidal thing; and a woman does
not throw away her happiness thoughtlessly!

I glanced at Curtiss, who had sunk down again into his chair and sat
staring straight before him. Was there in his past some unnamable stain
which had lain hidden till this last moment; which this stainless woman
had shrunk from, horrified?

Or was there, after all, another man? A man, perhaps, whom she had never
intentionally encouraged, yet who had fallen thrall to her, none the
less, who had determined to possess her, and who, by some trick, some
desperate throw, had managed, at the last moment, to snatch her away
from Curtiss? Had she fled from the house of her own volition? Was there
any possible explanation of such a flight? None, except that she had
suddenly found herself face to face with the fact that she no longer
loved the man she was about to marry--face to face with a future so
intolerable that any shame, any disgrace, was preferable to it. Yet as I
looked again at the note's wording, I recognised anew the absurdity of
such a theory. Whatever the solution of the mystery, there could be no
doubting Marcia Lawrence's love for Burr Curtiss; whomever she had loved
in the past, it was certain that now she loved only him. And even in
Mrs. Lawrence's attitude, I seemed to discern an affection for him more
intense than is usually bestowed upon a son-in-law--at least, until he
has been tested in the crucible of marriage.

There could be, I told myself, only one other explanation. Marcia
Lawrence had been abducted. It was true, as her mother had pointed out,
that a single scream would have alarmed the house; but perhaps that
scream had never been uttered. It could have been prevented easily
enough. And there had been no one with her at the time except her maid.
Her maid! And I sat suddenly upright; I felt that I had found the key!

"It was your daughter's maid gave you this, Mrs. Lawrence?" I asked.

"Yes," she answered, turning toward me with a start which told me that
she had again sunk into reverie. "She said she had just found it on
Marcia's dresser."

"It's strange," I said, "that it wasn't found before this. You were in
your daughter's room, I suppose, after she disappeared?"

"Yes; several times."

"And you didn't see this note?"

"No; I did not notice it."

"Is the maid an old servant?"

"Yes," she said; "Lucy has been in the family for many years."

"And you've always found her perfectly trustworthy?"

"I have no cause of complaint against her," she answered, and though her
voice showed no sign of emotion, I saw a sudden trembling seize her and
shake her convulsively for a moment. Was it fear? Was it anger? Was
it----?

Curtiss saw it, too, and, attributing it to a very different cause,
moved impatiently in his chair. I felt that I was hampered by these
witnesses. I must get rid of them, if I was to have freedom of
action--and without freedom of action I could do nothing.

I turned again to the sheet of paper in my hand and examined it with
care. It was an ordinary linen, unruled. I held it to the light and
tried to decipher the watermark, but only two letters were on the sheet,
"Re." The remainder of the word had been cut away when the sheet was
trimmed to its present size. It seemed to me scarcely to possess the
quality which one would expect in Miss Lawrence's writing-paper. The
writing was in a woman's hand, a little irregular; but haste and stress
of emotion would account for that. As I examined the writing more
closely, I thought the ink seemed strangely fresh--scarcely dry, in
fact; and yet, if the maid's story were true, the note had been lying
upon the dresser for nearly three hours. And lying there unnoticed!

"There's no doubt that Miss Lawrence wrote this?" I asked.

"None whatever," answered Curtiss, with a quick shake of the head. "It's
her writing--I knew it instantly."

I read the note again, and, satisfied that I had it almost by heart,
handed it back to him.

"Of course, Mr. Curtiss," I said, "you must decide one thing before we
go any farther. Will you try to follow her, even though she expressly
forbids it?"

He sat with knitted brow and quivering mouth, reading the note word by
word.

"Yes," he said brokenly, at last. "Yes, I'll try to follow her. I'll do
everything I can to find her. I can't live without her!"

"But if the marriage be really impossible?" I suggested.

"Impossible!" and he turned upon me hotly. "How could it be? What could
make it impossible? I tell you, sir, there's nothing on earth can keep
us apart."

"But this," and I leaned forward and tapped the note.

"Yes--that--I can't explain it. At least, the only explanation I can
give is that it's a hideous mistake."

"A mistake? But Miss Lawrence wasn't an emotional woman?" I questioned.
"Not a woman to be carried away by a moment's passion?"

"Oh, no! Quite the contrary."

"Not a woman who would jump at a conclusion?" I persisted. "Not a woman
who would condemn a man unheard--who would overlook the possibility of
mistake and be convinced by what we lawyers call circumstantial
evidence?"

"She was not such a woman at all," he said decidedly. "She was just the
opposite of all that."

"That makes it more difficult," I pointed out.

"I know; I've thought it all out, as well as I'm able--only there's a
blank wall I can't get past. Besides, if there's a reason, I have the
right to know it."

"Yes," I assented heartily. "Undoubtedly you have the right to know it.
There we're on solid ground. Well, that point is settled, then. And now
I must ask you another question, Mr. Curtiss, which you may resent, but
which it is absolutely necessary I should ask if I'm to be of any help
to you."

"I think I can guess what it is, Mr. Lester," and he smiled grimly.
"Since Marcia disappeared, I've reviewed carefully my whole past life,
and I can find nothing in it which would justify, in the slightest
degree, such an action. I've not been a saint, but at least I've never
been dishonourable nor dissolute. Does that answer the question?"

"Perfectly," I said. There could be no doubting his utter truthfulness.
"And your family history?"

"Is neither long nor brilliant. My father and mother both died when I
was a baby. I was raised by my grandparents."

"They lived in New York?"

"No; on Long Island. My grandfather's name was John Curtiss. He managed
an estate belonging to a New York banker. He was an honest and
honourable man."

"And he is dead?"

"Yes; he and his wife have been dead ten years and more."

"You have no brothers or sisters?"

"No; nor any other near relatives."

That was the end of that theory, then. If the secret did not concern
Curtiss, it must concern Miss Lawrence herself. More and more I felt
that she was the victim of a plot. Of the maid's complicity, I had not
the shadow of a doubt--but was Mrs. Lawrence a party to it, too?

I turned back to her. She was, apparently, so busy with her own thoughts
that she paid no heed to what was passing. How explain her calmness, her
lack of interest? How, except on the theory that she knew where her
daughter was, had assisted in her disappearance and approved of it? I
felt my blood warm suddenly in Curtiss's behalf. If he had been the
victim of an adventuress, it should be my business to expose her!

But a second glance at Mrs. Lawrence's face showed me the folly of such
a thought. She was no adventuress--she was a gentle, cultured Christian
woman, who had suffered, as all mortals must, but had still preserved
her sweetness and serenity, as few mortals do. Yet more and more was I
perplexed by that indefinable abstraction in her behaviour, which seemed
somehow out of tune with the circumstances. Perhaps she was really more
moved than she seemed to be; perhaps her apparent indifference was in
reality only an admirable self-control. I fancied that it had given way
for an instant when she was telling us the story of her daughter's
disappearance. If I could only hit upon some way to startle her out of
her self-possession, I might yet learn----

She turned suddenly and met my eyes. She flushed painfully--perhaps she
read my thought; and instantly I blamed myself for my clumsiness in
permitting my suspicion to appear in my face. It was a mischance not
easily retrieved.

"I have told you all I know," she said, rising quickly, and answering
the question I had not uttered. "I feel the need of rest. If I can help
you in any way, command me."

"Thank you," I answered, and opened the door for her.

She paused on the threshold--glanced around--her eyes rested on Burr
Curtiss's dreary face. In an instant, she was beside him, bending over
him with infinite tenderness.

"Dear boy," she said, so low I could scarcely hear her, and smoothed
back his hair with a gesture almost motherly, "dear boy, don't worry so.
I'm sure it will all come right."

He looked up and smiled at her tremulously. With a quick impulsiveness,
she stooped and kissed him, then went rapidly from the room, leaving me,
at least, more puzzled than before at this sudden glimpse of unsuspected
depths of tenderness.

I closed the door after her and turned back to Curtiss.

"Has Mrs. Lawrence favoured your suit for her daughter's hand?" I asked.

"Favoured it?" he repeated. "Yes, from the very first."

"Then, in your opinion, she couldn't have had anything to do with this
disappearance--advised it, perhaps assisted in it?"

"No," he said decidedly; "that's absurd."

"And yet----" I began.

"If you knew her," he interrupted, "you would see its absurdity. She has
always been most kind to me. You saw----"

"Yes," I nodded.

"She has always been like that. She has treated me as a dearly beloved
son ever since we told her of our engagement."

"There has been no cloud?"

"Not the slightest! She seemed to share in her daughter's happiness and
in mine. She has told me more than once that she thought fate had made
us for each other."

"And she helped on the wedding-day?"

"In a thousand ways. She and Marcia worked together upon the trousseau.
She helped with all the plans. Surely, Mr. Lester, if she objected, she
wouldn't have waited till the last minute to make her objection known."

"Most certainly she would not," I agreed.

"Besides," Curtiss added hoarsely, "I don't believe that even her mother
could have kept Marcia from me."

"She's a widow?" I asked.

"Yes. Her husband has been dead ten or twelve years. Marcia is the only
child."

"She seems to have had her share of sorrow," I remarked. "Her face shows
it."

"She has not been quite well lately; but she was always a
little--well--sad, it seemed to me; serious, you know; smiling
sometimes, but rarely laughing. I've fancied she grieved for her
husband; but I really know nothing about it."

"She doesn't look very strong," I hazarded, in the hope that Curtiss
really knew more than he supposed.

"She isn't strong; but I've never seen her really ill. She is subject to
spells of depression, so Marcia told me. Of course, I've known her only
six months."

So there _was_ an old trouble, as I had thought, beside which this new
one seemed of little moment. She had been schooled by suffering; perhaps
I had misjudged her in thinking her indifferent. But it was evident that
I could get no further information from Curtiss.

"You were at the church," I asked, "when you heard that Miss Lawrence
had disappeared?"

"Yes," he answered hoarsely. "Royce brought me word."

"And you came straight here?"

"Yes."

"And searched for her?"

"Where could I search? I was utterly at sea. I--I don't remember just
what I did at first."

"But you didn't search the house nor the grounds?"

"Why should I have done that when Mrs. Lawrence had already done it
thoroughly?" he demanded.

"True," I assented. After all, I had no right to shake his faith in her
upon a mere suspicion.

"I was overwhelmed," he added. "I was too dazed to think. Royce said
he'd wire for you. I'm glad he did, for I'm utterly unable to decide
what to do. I should like you to advise me."

"Well, Mr. Curtiss," I said, "there's plainly only one thing to be
done--that is, to find Miss Lawrence and demand an explanation from her
own lips. Whether or not this is the wisest course, may be open to
question--but if I were in your place, I think I'd do just as you are
doing and take the risk."

"But to find her--how can I do that? I can't set a detective on her
track."

"No, of course not," I agreed; "but I think we can get along without a
detective."

"We must. Detectives talk too much, and this thing mustn't get into the
papers."

"I don't see how you can prevent that. It was to have been a church
wedding, wasn't it?"

"Yes; a church wedding."

"With an invited list of guests?"

"Certainly."

"And they were present at the church, weren't they?"

Curtiss groaned and I saw the perspiration start out across his
forehead.

"Present!" echoed Mr. Royce. "I should say they were--the church was
crowded. And we were waiting there in the minister's study, worrying
because it was so late, when word came----"

"Don't!" protested Curtiss, with a despairing gesture. "I'd never
thought of that. I've been thinking only of myself. Of course the papers
will have it!" and he groaned again.

"Well, there's no use worrying about it," interposed Mr. Royce. "What is
done is done. The thing is to find Miss Lawrence, and if anybody can
find her, Lester can. I'm sure that five minutes' talk with her will
straighten out the whole tangle. There's been an absurd mistake of some
sort."

"No doubt," I assented, though in my heart I did doubt it very much. At
any rate, the five minutes' talk could do no harm.

"Now you go away somewhere for a day or two, and leave this thing in our
hands," added our junior. "What you need is rest. Don't worry any more
than you can help. Let us know where you are, and we'll wire you as soon
as we have any information. That's good advice, isn't it, Lester?"

"Very good," I said. "I hope Mr. Curtiss will follow it."

"No, no," he protested. "I can't go away--I must stay here--I couldn't
stand it to go away."

"May I speak to you frankly, Mr. Curtiss?" I asked quietly.

"Please do," he said. "Speak as frankly as you like."

"Well, then," I began, "you'll pardon me for saying it, but I don't
believe you can help us any, just at present. Besides, you need to pull
yourself together."

"That's true," he agreed, and glanced at his trembling hands.

"Take my advice," I went on earnestly, "and Mr. Royce's advice. Leave
Elizabeth for a little while. There isn't much chance of my finding Miss
Lawrence for a day or two. You must get your calmness and
self-possession back, for you'll need them."

"Yes," he said hoarsely; "yes, I'll need them. Very well, I'll do as you
say, Mr. Lester. Only it's deuced selfish of me to throw my troubles on
your shoulders this way."

"Selfish nothing!" cried our junior. "Where will you go?"

"I don't know," answered Curtiss helplessly.

"Go to one of the beaches near New York. The sea-air and surf will do
you good. Let us know where you are; then, if we want you, we won't have
any trouble finding you, and you can get back here in an hour or two."

"There's one thing Mr. Curtiss can do," I said. "A photograph of Miss
Lawrence might prove a great help."

"Why, of course," he assented, and thrust his hand into an inner pocket.
But, after an instant's hesitation, he drew it out empty. "I can't give
you that one," he said; "I must keep that one. I'll send you another.
You're at the Sheridan?"

"Yes."

"I'll leave it there for you. But please don't use it unless you
absolutely have to."

"I won't use it at all, if I can avoid it," I assured him. "I promise
you that it won't go out of my hands."

"Thank you," he said. "I knew you'd understand. As soon as you have any
news you'll wire me?"

"The very moment. I want you to rely on us."

"I will."

"And not worry."

"I'll try not to," and he was gone.

As the door closed behind him, Mr. Royce looked at me with a somewhat
guilty countenance.

"You see, I've got you into it again, Lester," he began. "I hope you
don't mind."

"I don't. Rather the contrary."

"It's a little out of our line," he added. "But for a friend--and I
certainly pity the poor fellow--we lawyers have to do peculiar things
sometimes."

"I've done more peculiar ones than this," I said. "This is, at bottom,
merely a matter of finding an important witness who is missing."

"Thank you, Lester," he said, and held out his hand. "I didn't want to
seem to be imposing on you."

"You're not," I assured him again, and rose. "Now I think I'd better be
getting to work."

"Can I be of any help?" he asked, rising too. "If not, I'll take the
four-ten back to New York. I think Curtiss needs a little looking after.
I'll hunt him up and take him with me. Besides, my wife is so wrought-up
over this affair that she wants to get home."

"Very well," I assented. "Curtiss will need some one to protect him from
the reporters. It's a wonder they haven't treed him before this."

"They tried to," said Mr. Royce, smiling grimly. "I succeeded in keeping
them off. He was too preoccupied to notice. There's nothing else I can
do?"

"No, I think not. If I need you, I'll wire."

"You won't need me," and he smiled again. "You know I'm no good at this
kind of work."

"I know you'll be working harder than I will, keeping up with things at
the office."

"Don't worry about that. You intend to stay here?"

"Yes; but only for a day or two, I trust. I can't think it a very
difficult task to find a young woman who has run away in broad daylight
in her wedding finery. Somebody must have seen her--that is, if she ran
away at all."

"No doubt," he agreed. "Of course you'll find her--it's not about that
I'm worrying so much; it's about her motive for doing such a thing. It
seems preposterous to suppose that any woman in her right mind would run
away half an hour before her wedding. Curtiss saw her at ten o'clock and
found her happy, yet an hour later she had taken this desperate step. I
wonder, Lester, if you realise just how desperate it was?"

"Yes," I said; "I think I do."

"Well, I'm free to confess I didn't until I saw its effect on my wife.
Why, Lester, it was suicidal--it means social ostracism--no less. Even
if it doesn't altogether ruin her life, it will always shadow it. It's
something she can never outlive."

"Yes," I said again; "it's all that."

"And yet she was a thoughtful, self-controlled, well-balanced woman, who
would foresee all this--who would realise the consequences more clearly
than we can do. Lester--what was it drove her to it?"

"Ah, if I only knew! But I'm going to find out!"

"I hope you will--and yet I fear it, too. I'm afraid to think of it--I'm
afraid to try to guess the secret--I'm afraid I'll unearth some grisly,
loathsome skeleton, which should never have seen the light! But I'm sure
of one thing," he added, his face hardening. "I think you suspected,
too."

"What was that?"

"Whatever the secret is, Mrs. Lawrence knows it."

"Yes," I agreed, "I believe she does."

"And had a hand in her daughter's disappearance."

"Yes," I said again, "I think that very likely."

He stood for a moment longer, looking at me as though half-inclined to
say something more; then he shook hands abruptly and left the room.

As I turned to sit down again, I noticed, in the chair from which I had
arisen, something white crushed into one corner of the seat. I picked it
up. It was a handkerchief of dainty lace and it was damp--with tears?



CHAPTER VI

An Astonishing Request


I sat down again and examined my find more closely. I am no connoisseur
of lace, yet even I could appreciate the handkerchief's exquisite
beauty. But how came it here, crushed into a corner of this chair? Whose
was it? Some instinct--or was it merely a delusive hope?--told me that
it belonged to Marcia Lawrence--that it was she who had left it
here--that the tears which dampened it were her tears, tears of bitter,
bitter sorrow for dead hopes and a future which had changed from gold to
grey. She had stolen into the library for a moment's peace, that she
might face her sorrow and decide what she must do. She had left it----

But I shook myself together impatiently. All this was merely theorising;
I must lay my foundation first, get my facts; then perhaps it might be
possible to build a theory which would prove the right one. Thus far in
the investigation, I felt that I had been met with evasion rather than
with frankness; I suspected that an attempt was being made to puzzle and
bewilder me; I could see that my presence in the house was unwelcome to
Mrs. Lawrence. Well, my stay would be a short one; I dropped the
handkerchief into my pocket, opened the door, and stepped out into the
hall.

The front door was open and two men were tugging an immense palm through
it. Another was engaged in taking down the wreaths of smilax. By the
tenderness with which he handled them I recognised the decorator. He
stopped and looked at me inquiringly as I went toward him.

"I've come down from New York," I explained, "at the request of Mr.
Curtiss to assist him in finding Miss Lawrence. You, I believe, are the
last person who is known to have seen her. I'd like to ask you a few
questions."

"Go ahead," he said, beaming with self-importance. "I'll be glad to tell
you anything I know, sir."

"Do you remember what time it was when you called Miss Lawrence down to
have a last look at the decorations?"

"It must have been nearly half-past eleven, sir. I remember hearing a
clock strike eleven and thinking it'd take me about half an hour to get
through."

"Did you notice anything peculiar in her behaviour?"

"Peculiar? No, sir. She was very kind and said some nice things about my
work."

"She did not seem sad nor depressed?"

"Oh, no, sir; quite the contrary."

"When she left you, did she return upstairs?"

"I think so, sir. At least, she started for the stairs. I stepped into
the dining-room for a moment to make sure everything was all right, and
when I came out again she was gone."

"Was there any one else in the hall?"

"No, sir; I think not; not just at that moment, though of course people
were passing back and forth through it all the time."

"Did you notice a man loitering about--a stranger--middle-aged,
dark-complexioned, with a dark beard or moustache--rather striking in
appearance--perhaps a little dissolute?"

"No, sir," he answered, with a stare of surprise. "I didn't see any
stranger about the whole morning--nobody I didn't know."

I confess I was rather disappointed; I had hoped that my shot would
tell.

"And you heard no unusual noise--no scream, nor anything of that sort."

"No, sir; though I was so busy and worried I dare say I wouldn't have
heard a cannon-shot."

"When did you learn that something was wrong?"

"I heard Mrs. Lawrence asking if any one had seen her daughter. Then she
sent some of the servants to look for her."

"What time was that?"

"About ten minutes after I had spoken to her."

"Yes--what then?"

"Well, I didn't pay much attention, at first; but when the bridesmaids
came, they raised such a hullabaloo that I couldn't help but take
notice."

"What did Mrs. Lawrence do?"

"Why, she tried to quiet them--I must say she was the coolest one in the
house--except one."

"Who was that?"

"Miss Lawrence's maid. She just sat there on the stairs and glowered and
grinned and chewed her nails and never said a word. She gave me the
creeps. I could swear she knew all about it and was glad of it."

I repressed a chuckle of satisfaction. Here was better luck than I had
expected.

"How was Miss Lawrence dressed when you saw her?" I asked.

"All in rustly white. I judged it was her wedding-dress."

"And you say she seemed quite as usual?"

"Yes, sir; only, of course, excited, as any woman would be--though calm,
too, and with a sort of deep glow in her eyes when she looked at you. I
can't describe it, sir; but I remember thinking that the man who was to
get her was a mighty lucky fellow. Did you know her, sir?"

"No," I said; "I've never seen her."

"Ah," he added, closing his eyes for an instant, "if you'd seen her
then, you'd never forget it. I never will. I never saw another woman to
touch her!" and he turned away to his work, with the vision he had
conjured up evidently still before him.

As I started along the hall, I saw through the open front door a
mail-carrier coming up the walk. I hastened to meet him--this was
another fortunate chance.

"How many deliveries do you make a day out here?" I asked, as he came up
the steps with a bundle of letters in his hand--I could guess the
belated congratulations which were among them!

"Only two--morning and afternoon," he answered.

"What time in the morning?"

"About nine o'clock, usually."

"It was about that time this morning?"

"Yes, sir; maybe ten minutes after nine."

"Who took the mail?"

"I put it in the box here in the vestibule, as I always do," he said,
and suited the action to the word.

I watched him as he walked away. So it had not been a letter which had
caused Miss Lawrence's sudden panic. That reduced the possibilities to
two. Either she had received a visitor or a telegram. I must endeavour
to----

A voice at my elbow aroused me.

"Mrs. Lawrence wishes to see you, sir," it said.

I turned, to find standing beside me the woman who had brought the note
to Mrs. Lawrence in the library--the woman whose attitude of malignant
triumph had so startled me. I blessed the chance which made it possible
for me to question her alone.

"Very well," I said. "Are you Mrs. Lawrence's maid?"

"No, sir; I'm Miss Marcia's maid."

"Ah!" I said, and permitted myself to look at her more closely. She was
a woman apparently somewhat over thirty. She had very black hair and
eyes, and her face, while not actually repellent, had in it a certain
fierceness and hardness far from attractive. A fiery and emotional
nature was evident in every line of it--a sinister nature, too, it
seemed to me--and I remembered her as I had seen her standing in the
library door, exulting in another's misery. I pictured her as the
decorator had described her, sitting on the stair, grinning and biting
her nails in a kind of infernal triumph. Why should Miss Lawrence have
chosen such a woman to attend her? As I looked at her, I saw the folly
of attempting to win her confidence--the whip was the only weapon that
could touch her--and it must be wielded mercilessly.

"Mrs. Lawrence wishes to see you," she said again, and I fancied there
was defiance in the eyes she turned upon me for the merest instant.

"In a moment. Was it you who found the note your mistress left for Mr.
Curtiss?"

"Yes, sir," and she glanced at me again, this time with a quick
suspicion.

"It was on her dressing-table, I believe?"

"Yes, sir."

"How did you happen to find it?"

"I just happened to see it, sir."

"It was lying in plain sight?"

"Yes, sir."

"Not concealed in any way--nothing lying over it?"

She hesitated an instant, and shot me another quick glance before she
answered.

"I believe not, sir," she said at last.

"Of course it wouldn't be concealed," I said reassuringly. "Miss
Lawrence probably left it where she thought it would be most quickly
seen, don't you think so?"

"Yes, sir; I suppose so."

"And her dressing-table was a very conspicuous place?"

"Yes, sir; very conspicuous."

"In that case," I said slowly, "it seems most peculiar that the letter
wasn't discovered at once."

She flushed hotly under my gaze and opened her lips to reply, but
thought better of it and started hastily up the stair. I followed her in
silence; but I had much to think about. What connection had she with
Miss Lawrence's disappearance? What connection could she have? Miss
Lawrence would scarcely make a confidante of her maid, more especially
of such a maid as this! At the stairhead I held her back for a final
question.

"When did you see your mistress last?"

"When she left her room to go downstairs to look at the decorations,"
she answered, so docilely that I was inclined to believe her former
defiance wholly my imagination.

"You remained behind in the room?"

"Yes, sir."

"And she did not return?"

"No, sir."

"Then how do you explain the presence of the letter on the dresser?"

She flushed again, more hotly than before; she realised that I had
caught her in a lie.

"I--I can't explain it, sir," she stammered. "I didn't consider it any
of my business," she added fiercely.

"I think you'll find it difficult to explain," I said, with irony; "even
more difficult than how it came to lie there unperceived for nearly
three hours. You'll pardon me if I find the story hard to believe."

"It's nothing to me whether or not you believe it!" she retorted and
made a motion to go on again.

"No," I said; "wait a moment. Which is her room?"

"This one here," and she pointed to a half-open door just beside us.

Ignoring her gesture of protest, I pushed the door back and stepped
inside.

The room was a large and pleasant one, well lighted and looking out upon
the grove at the east side of the house. There was some little disorder
apparent, and over a chair at the farther side of the room I saw a veil
lying--no doubt the bridal veil. For the moment I did not seek to see
more, but turned back into the hall.

"Nothing there," I said, as though my inspection of the room was ended.
"I suppose you helped Miss Lawrence to dress?"

"Yes, sir."

"And she had on her wedding-gown when she went downstairs?"

"Yes, sir, all but the veil."

"What was the colour of the gown?"

"White, sir," she answered, with evident contempt. "White satin made
very plain."

"With a train?"

"Yes, sir, with a train."

"Thank you," I said. Plainly, a woman garbed in that fashion must be a
marked object, wherever she went. Then, seeing that the maid waited for
further questions, I added, "That is all, I believe."

She opened a door just across the hall and motioned me to precede her. I
found myself in a pleasant sitting-room, and looked about for Mrs.
Lawrence, but she was not there. The maid went to an inner door which
stood half-open, and knocked.

"In a moment," called a low voice, and I heard a rustle of draperies.
Instinctively I knew that Mrs. Lawrence had been upon her knees.

But I was not prepared for the deep distress which I saw in her
countenance the instant she appeared upon the threshold. So worn and
drawn was it, so changed even in the brief time since I had seen her
last, that I scarcely knew her. What had happened? Was her self-control
giving way under the strain, or had there been some new shock, some more
poignant blow which she had been unable to withstand?

She came straight to me where I stood staring, perhaps a little
brutally, and lifted tear-dimmed eyes to mine.

"Mr. Lester," she said, in a choked voice, "I must ask that this search
for Marcia cease."



CHAPTER VII

Tangled Threads


I stared at her a moment without replying--so she _was_ guilty! So she
_did_ know! I heard the opening of the door as the maid left the room,
and the sound somehow restored me a portion of my self-control.

"Cease? But why?" I asked. "Surely----"

"Marcia has said that the marriage is impossible," she interrupted. "Is
not that enough?"

"Mr. Curtiss does not think so. And if it is impossible, he, at least,
has a right to know why."

"Marcia has decided not; she has no wish to bring reproach to the memory
of a respected man, who----"

She checked herself--but she had already said too much.

"Then you know why your daughter left so suddenly?" I questioned. "But
an hour ago, you said you didn't know."

"I did not then," she murmured.

"I have no wish to know," I went on rapidly, noting her sudden pallor.
"I have no right to know. But I'm here to find Miss Lawrence so that Mr.
Curtiss can, at least, have a last talk with her. That seems a
reasonable demand. Do you know where she is?"

"No!" she answered explosively.

"She is not in this house?"

"Assuredly not; I have already told you she is not here."

"I fancied perhaps she had returned."

"Such a suspicion is absurd."

"You've had no word from her?"

"Not a single word."

"Then it wasn't she who told you the cause of her disappearance?"

"She told me nothing."

I had no need to ask who it was; some instinct told me it was the maid.

"And you saw her last----"

"When she left me to dress, as I've already told you. I've been speaking
the truth, Mr. Lester."

"Pardon me," I said; "I hadn't the least doubt of it; but I'm sure you
can appreciate my position, can look at it from Mr. Curtiss's side.
Perhaps you suspect where Miss Lawrence is, without being absolutely
certain. If you would tell me----"

She stopped me with a sudden gesture; I saw that I had touched the
truth.

"Or, at least," I persisted, pressing my advantage, "if you know why
your daughter fled, you might yourself tell Mr. Curtiss----"

Again she stopped me.

"The secret is not mine," she said hoarsely.

"Whose is it? Who has the right to tell?"

"No one!"

"And you will let it wreck two lives?"

I saw the spasm of pain which crossed her face. She must yield; a moment
more, and I should know the secret!

"To-morrow--give me till to-morrow!" she cried. "Perhaps you're right--I
must think--I cannot decide now--instantly. There are so many things to
consider--the dead as well as the living."

"Very well," I agreed. "I will call to-morrow morning----"

"At eleven--not before."

"To-morrow at eleven, then. And I hope you'll decide, Mrs. Lawrence, to
help me all you can. The living come before the dead."

She bowed without replying, and seeing how deadly white she was, I
checked the words which rose to my lips and let myself out into the
hall.

The maid was standing just outside the door. I wondered how much she had
heard of what had passed within.

"One moment," I said, as she started for the stairway, and I stepped
again into Miss Lawrence's room.

It had grown too dark there to see anything distinctly, for this room
was not flooded, as her mother's had been, by the last rays of the sun,
but in a moment I switched on the light. The maid stared from the
threshold, her face dark with anger, but not daring to interfere.

"This is the dressing-table, isn't it?" I asked, walking toward it.

"Yes, sir," she answered sullenly.

"It was here you found the letter?"

"Yes, sir."

"You persist in that farce?" I demanded, wheeling round upon her.

She did not answer, only stared back without flinching. I realised that
here was a will not easily overcome.

"Very well," I said quietly at last, "I shall get along, then, in spite
of you," and I returned to my inspection of the room.

There was a writing-desk in one corner, with pens, ink, and paper. I
picked up a sheet of paper and looked at it; I dipped a pen in the ink
and wrote a few words upon it; then I blotted it, folded it, and placed
it in my pocket.

"Now we can go," I said, and switched off the light.

She led the way down the stairs without replying.

"My hat is in the library," I said, as we reached the foot, and I turned
down the lower hall.

The library was even darker than the room upstairs had been, for the
trees around the house seemed to shadow especially the windows of this
wing. I noted how the windows extended to the floor and opened upon a
little balcony. One of the windows was open, and I went to it and looked
out. A flight of steps connected one end of the balcony with the ground,
and I fancied from the steps I could discern a faint path running away
among the trees.

A convulsive sob at the door brought me around. It was the maid, who had
entered and was glaring at me with a face to which the growing darkness
gave an added repulsiveness. The sob, which had more of anger than of
sorrow in it, had burst from her involuntarily, called forth, no doubt,
by her inability to hinder me in my investigations, to show me the door,
to kick me out. I could see her growing hatred of me in her eyes, in the
grip of the hands she pressed against her bosom; and a certain
reciprocal anger arose within me.

"Here is a handkerchief of your mistress," I said, plunging my hand into
my pocket and drawing forth the square of lace. "Please return it to her
wardrobe. It's valuable," I added, with a sudden burst of inspiration;
"especially so, since it's her bridal handkerchief."

The shot told. She took the handkerchief with a hand that shook
convulsively, and I determined to risk a second guess.

"She left it here," I said. "She left it here when she went out by
yonder window and ran through the grove. Shall I tell you where she
went? But you know!"

"I do not!" burst from her. "It's a lie!"

"You know," I repeated remorselessly. "You followed her there. It was
there she wrote that note which you brought back with you and which you
_found_ on her dresser."

"No, no!" The words were two sobs rather than two articulate sounds.

"Don't lie to me! If the note was written here, why did she use a
writing-paper different from her own? You're playing with fire! Take
care that it doesn't burn you!"

But I had touched the wrong note.

"Burn me!" she cried. "You think you can frighten me! Well, you can't!
I'm not that kind."

And, indeed, as I looked at her, I saw that she spoke the truth.

"Very well," I said; "do as you think best. I've warned you," and
without waiting for her to answer, I passed before her down the hall,
not without the thought that she might plunge a knife into my back--she
was certainly that kind! I opened the door myself and closed it behind
me, then started down the walk. But in a moment, I dodged aside among
the trees and hastened around the house. I was determined to follow that
path which started from the library balcony--I must see whither it led.



CHAPTER VIII

The Path through the Grove


I had no trouble in finding the path and in following it through the
grove, noting how the trees screened it from the street. I reached a
hedge enclosing a garden which the path skirted, and finally a second
hedge, which seemed to be the one bounding the estate. The path led to a
gate which opened upon the grounds of a cottage just beyond. I could see
that there was a garden and that the cottage was covered with vines, but
no further details were discernible.

Suddenly a light flashed out from one of the windows, and I saw a woman
moving about within, no doubt preparing supper. But at that moment, I
caught the sound of hurried footsteps along the path behind me and
shrank aside into the shadow of the trees just in time to avoid another
woman whom, as she dashed past, I recognised as the dark-faced maid. She
crossed the garden without slackening her pace and entered the house. I
saw her approach the other woman, pause apparently to speak a word to
her, and then the two disappeared together.

What was happening within this house? Was it here that Miss Lawrence had
found refuge? And as I turned this question over and over in my mind,
staring reflectively at the lighted window before me, it seemed to me
more and more probable that I had already reached the end of my search.
The fugitive must have escaped by some avenue screened from the public
gaze, else she would surely have been noticed. She must have known a
place of refuge before she started; a woman of her self-poise would not
rush wildly forth with no goal in view. And, lastly, that goal must have
been close at hand, or she could not have escaped discovery.

The house before me answered all of these conditions; but how could I
make certain that Miss Lawrence was really there? Suppose I burst in
upon her, what could I say? I could not ask her to tell _me_ the
story--indeed, I would not even know her if I met her face to face. I
must see the photograph, first, which Curtiss had promised to leave for
me at the hotel.

Besides, I asked myself--and in this matter, I confess, I was very
willing to be convinced--would it not be wiser, more merciful, to wait
till morning, till the first shock was past, till she had time to rally
a little, to get her calmness back? Then, I could dare to approach her,
to show her how she had wronged Burr Curtiss, to persuade her to see
him. It were better for both her and Curtiss that they should not meet
for a day or two; they would have need of all their courage; all their
self-control, for that meeting must reveal a secret which it chilled me
to think of. At least, I would try to force no entrance to the cottage
now. I shrank from any show of violence. Curtiss would countenance
nothing of that sort.

To approach the cottage now, while the maid was within, would be a
tactical error--would be to court failure. She could easily prevent my
seeing her mistress--she would, no doubt, shut the door in my face. Why
should I show her that I suspected Miss Lawrence's place of refuge? Why
put her on her guard and urge the fugitive to farther flight? How much
wiser to wait until the maid was absent, till I could make sure of
seeing Miss Lawrence, and then calmly and clearly lay the case before
her. Yes, decidedly, I would wait. I even found it in my heart to regret
that I had already showed the maid so much of my suspicions. I would
better have kept them to myself.

Convinced by this last argument, I made my way back to the street; and
as I passed the Lawrence grounds I was impressed again by their extent
and excellent order. At the front gate a curious crowd still lingered,
staring at the silent, darkened house, whose drawn blinds gave no hint
of life within, or listening to the knowing gossip of three or four
alert young fellows whom I recognised as reporters. There was still a
policeman there, and he was quite willing to be drawn into talk--to tell
all he knew, and much that he did not know.

"Who lives in that cottage back yonder?" I asked, after an unimportant
question or two.

"The Kingdon sisters," he answered. "The youngest one works in the
Lawrence house--a maid or something."

The crowd had collected about us and was listening with ears intent; I
caught a quick glitter of interest in the eyes of the reporters; so I
ended the talk abruptly by asking the way to the Sheridan House.

"Right down this street, sir," he said. "You can't miss it--a big square
building on the corner."

As I thanked him and turned away, I caught the cry of newsboys down the
street, and in a moment they were among the crowd and were selling their
papers right and left. Both the _Leader_ and the _Journal_, stirred to
unusual enterprise by the day's events, had evidently made use of the
largest and blackest type at their command to add emphasis to their
headlines. I bought copies of both papers, and hurried on to the
Sheridan, for I was becoming disagreeably conscious that I had eaten no
lunch that day. I found the hotel without difficulty, and after
registering, sat down in the office and opened the papers. The
reporters, no doubt, would save me a lot of trouble.

The scene at the church had been even more sensational than I had
pictured it, for evidently the Lawrences were a more important family
socially than I had imagined, and the list of guests had been
correspondingly large. They had gathered, had gossiped, had admired the
decorations and criticised each other's gowns; a murmur of satisfaction
had greeted the whispered announcement that the groom and his best man
were waiting in the study; the organist played a selection or two and
then stopped, expectant, ready to begin the wedding march. The ringing
of bells and blowing of whistles announced the noon hour, but the bride
had not arrived. Then, from somewhere, came the sudden whisper that
something was wrong. A shiver ran through the crowd as two carriages
drew up at the church door. Heads were craned and a sigh of relief ran
around as the bridesmaids were seen to alight. But where was the bride?
There was no bride! The bride had disappeared!

Uneasiness changed to wonder, wonder to astonishment, as the details
were gradually gleaned from the exclamations of the excited young women;
tongues began to wag, innocently at first, then, inevitably, with a
touch of malice, for the bride's action had been a direct affront to all
these people. Many of them, usually well-bred, waited in the hope of
catching a glimpse of the groom's face as he hurried away. Both he and
Mrs. Lawrence had been protected from the reporters, but the decorator
and some of the Lawrence servants had evidently made the most of their
opportunities, for the papers had the details of the disappearance
substantially as I had learned them. And nobody had been found who had
seen the bride leave the house, or had caught a glimpse of her during
her flight.

That was the gist of the information contained in the papers. Both of
them gave space to much speculation as to the reason for this remarkable
event, but plainly both were wholly at sea and had no theory to fit the
facts. So, finally, I folded them up, put them in my pocket, made a
hasty toilet, and went in to dinner. That over, I again sought the
reading-room and lighted a reflective cigar.

I had said to Mrs. Lawrence that the cause of her daughter's
disappearance--the mystery underlying it--did not concern me; yet that
was by far the most interesting feature of the case. To trace the girl
must prove an easy task--indeed, I fancied it already as good as
accomplished. But to probe the secret--ah, that would not prove so easy!
There was no reason why I should attempt it, and yet I could not keep my
mind from dwelling on it with a sort of fascination. For I knew it was
no ordinary secret--it was something dark and terrifying--something
beside which a woman's happiness and reputation had seemed a little
thing.

Before I could hope to make any further progress in that direction, I
realised that I needed to know more of the family--of its history and
social standing. Besides, I must be armed cap-à-pie before I went to
that interview which I had determined to seek, in the morning, with
Marcia Lawrence.

"Beg pardon, sir," said a voice at my elbow, and looking up, I saw the
hotel clerk standing there. "This is Mr. Lester, isn't it?"

"Yes," I answered.

"I have a package here for you," he went on, and handed me a square
envelope. "It was left here for you this afternoon."

"Oh, yes," I said; "thank you," and I slipped the envelope into my
pocket. "You've had rather an exciting time here to-day," I added.

"You mean the wedding that didn't come off?" he asked, smiling. "It
_has_ torn the town wide open, and no mistake."

"So I judged from the papers. The Lawrences are pretty prominent, aren't
they?"

"Yes; top-notchers; especially in church circles. I'll bet Dr. Schuyler
is all broken up."

"Dr. Schuyler?"

"Pastor of their church--First Presbyterian--that big church just down
the street yonder. They've been great pets of his."

"He was to have performed the ceremony?"

"Sure. They wouldn't have had anybody else. Nice old fellow, too.
Besides, he's been their pastor for years."

Here was the source I had been looking for--the source from which I
might draw detailed and accurate information, if I could only reach it.

"I suppose that house next to the church is the parsonage," I ventured.
I had never seen the church, but it seemed a safe shot.

"Yes; the one this side of it."

I nodded.

"I thought so. Thank you for giving me the package," I added, and
glanced at my watch and rose.

"Oh, that's all right, sir," he answered, and turned away to his desk.

As for me, I lost no time in starting out upon my errand. I would see
Dr. Schuyler--I would put the case before him, and ask his help. It was
nearly eight o'clock, doubtless well past his dinner hour, and I
resolved to seek the interview at once.

Lights had sprung up along the street, casting long shadows under the
trees which edged either side. The windows of the houses gleamed through
the darkness, and here and there, where the blinds had not been drawn, I
caught glimpses of families gathered together about a paper, with heads
eagerly bent. From the dim verandas, I heard the murmur of excited
gossip--and I knew too well what it was all about. To-night, this city,
from end to end, could have but a single all-absorbing subject to
discuss--to wonder at and chatter over with that insatiable curiosity
which we inherit from the monkeys.

But I had not far to go. The tall, straight spire of a church told me
that I had reached my destination, and I turned in at the gate of a
house which was unmistakably the parsonage. The maid who took my card at
the door returned in a moment to say that Dr. Schuyler was in his study
and would see me. I followed her and found the clergyman seated beside a
table upon which were lying the evening papers. A glance at them showed
me what he had been reading, and his perturbed face bespoke great inward
agitation. He was a small man of perhaps sixty years, with snow-white
hair and beard and a delicate, intellectual face. He arose to greet me,
my card still in his fingers, and then motioned me to a chair.

"Candidly, Mr. Lester," he said, "I was half-inclined to excuse myself.
This has been a trying day for me. But I saw that you had come from New
York."

"Yes, and on an errand which, I fear, may not be very welcome to you,
Dr. Schuyler."

"Not connected with the deplorable affair of to-day, I hope?"

"Yes, sir; connected with that."

"But," and he glanced again at my card apprehensively, "you are not
a--reporter?"

"Oh, no," I laughed. "I can easily guess how they've been harassing you.
I'm acting for Mr. Curtiss," I added, resolving quickly that the best
thing I could do was to tell him the whole story so far as I knew it,
which I did, as briefly as possible. He heard me to the end with intent,
interested face. "I think you'll agree with me, Dr. Schuyler," I
concluded, "that my client is quite right in deciding to demand an
explanation."

"Yes," he answered, after a moment's thought, "I suppose he is--I'm sure
he is. It's the most extraordinary thing I ever heard of--and the most
deplorable. Until this moment, I had hoped that they had gone away to be
married elsewhere."

"Hoped?" I asked.

"Yes, hoped. I've seen them together, Mr. Lester, and it seemed to me an
ideal attachment. I can conceive of nothing which could keep them apart.
Has any explanation of it occurred to you?"

"Only one," I said, "that Miss Lawrence has been married before, but
thought her husband dead, and discovered that he was still alive only at
the last moment."

But the clergyman shook his head.

"You don't know Miss Lawrence?" he asked.

"No," I answered.

"You would see the absurdity of such a theory if you did."

"I fancied it might have happened when she was very young," I explained;
"when she was abroad, perhaps. I've even pictured the man to myself as
an adventurer, French or Italian, a man of the world, polished, without
heart, perhaps even base at bottom--a man who would not hesitate to take
advantage of her girlish innocence."

My companion smiled faintly.

"I see you have a lively imagination, Mr. Lester," he said. "Don't let
it run away with you."

"She would not be the first to succumb to such a one," I retorted.

"No, nor the last, I fear. Have you worked out the rest of the story?"

"Granting the premises, the rest is easy enough. She soon found him out
and took refuge with her mother. The scoundrel was bought off and
disappeared. She supposed him dead; but at the last moment, he appeared
again."

Dr. Schuyler had listened with half-closed eyes. Now he opened them and
looked at me amusedly.

"It sounds like some of the yellow-backs I used to read in my
unregenerate youth," he commented. "I fancy you must have read them too,
Mr. Lester. Now I want you to dismiss that theory," he went on, more
earnestly. "I tell you, once for all, it's ridiculous and untrue. Rest
assured that whatever the secret is, it does not in any way reflect upon
her."

"Then that leaves us all at sea," I pointed out. "There can be no
question of her love for Curtiss."

"None whatever. As I said, I've seen them together, and I'm sure she
loved him devotedly. Of his feeling for her you have, of course, been
able to judge for yourself. I've looked forward to the wedding with much
pleasure, for it seemed to me the least worldly one that I had ever been
asked to consecrate. It is a singular coincidence, though----" He
stopped suddenly and glanced about the room. "Of course, this
conversation is between ourselves, Mr. Lester?"

"Certainly," I assented. "I would wish to have it so."

"With that understanding, I shall be glad to help you, if I can. I was
about to say that it is a very singular coincidence that something of
the same sort happened many years ago to Mrs. Lawrence."



CHAPTER IX

The Old Sorrow


"To Mrs. Lawrence?" I repeated. Here was a coincidence, indeed! Could it
be, I asked myself again, that this thing had been deliberately
arranged? But I dismissed the thought as ridiculous.

"I will tell you the story so far I know it," said the clergyman. "It is
no breach of trust to do so, for it was public property at the time,
though long since forgotten. I should not recall it now but for the fact
that it may shed some light upon to-day's occurrence."

"Perhaps it will," I agreed.

"Mrs. Lawrence," began my companion, "was born at Scotch Plains about
fifty years ago. Her father's name was Hiram Jarvis. He had made a
comfortable fortune in the dry-goods business in New York, and had built
himself a country-house at Scotch Plains, going in to New York every
morning and returning every evening. Scotch Plains is a very small
place--a mere village--but has a number of handsome country homes. It is
not on the railroad, but lies about a mile back of Fanwood, which is its
station. It has a little Presbyterian church, and when I graduated in
'65 from Princeton seminary, I received a call to it, which I accepted.
Mr. Jarvis and his daughter were members of my congregation--the former,
indeed, being the president of the board of trustees."

I nodded my interest. Plainly I had done well in coming to Dr. Schuyler.

"Jarvis was a tall, straight, austere Scotchman of the old school,"
continued the clergyman, "with a belief in predestination and eternal
punishment, which was--well--rather fanatical, even for those days. His
daughter was a beautiful girl of seventeen or eighteen. Her mother had
died some years before and she was left solely in her father's care,
without brothers or sisters. There was an aunt in New York City, a
younger sister of her father, and married to a banker named Heminway,
but she seemingly took little interest in the girl. Her character--or so
I judged the few times I saw her--was much like her brother's, tempered,
perhaps, with a little more worldliness. I think she's still living; at
least, I've never heard of her death. She has been a widow for many
years.

"So the girl grew up in the lonely house, with only her father to care
for. I sometimes thought his treatment of her a little severe--he would
rarely permit her to take part in even the most innocent
merry-making--and I often found myself pitying her. But I concluded it
was none of my business--a conclusion which was cowardly, perhaps; but
that was my first charge, and Jarvis was quite a terrifying man."

I could well believe it, and said so.

"There was another member of my congregation," went on Dr. Schuyler,
"concerning whom I had doubts of quite an opposite character--that was
young Boyd Endicott. The Endicott place lay just beyond the Jarvis
house, which it quite overshadowed, for the Endicotts were very wealthy.
The father did not belong to my church--nor, indeed, to any church--and
I seldom met him. He had been associated with Jim Fisk in some
operations which seemed to me of questionable honesty--though Fisk's
reputation may have prejudiced me unduly. But his wife was a lovely
Christian woman, and devoted to her children."

"Her children?" I repeated. The story interested me so intensely that I
wanted every detail.

"There were two, a girl of seventeen or eighteen, named Ruth; and Boyd,
who was about nineteen, and a junior at Princeton. I had heard something
of his college escapades while I was at the seminary, but the first time
I saw him was when he came home for the holidays. He was a handsome boy,
dark, with a face that showed his breeding; but he was the wildest, most
untamable I ever knew. When he came walking into church with his mother,
it used to amuse me to see how Mr. Jarvis would glare at him; he
considered him a firebrand of hell, and didn't scruple to say so. And
young Endicott would stare back--at Jarvis, as I thought, but I saw my
mistake afterwards.

"There was more or less trouble of a personal kind between the two.
Endicott's dog killed some of the Jarvis chickens, and Jarvis shot the
dog. Endicott rode over the Jarvis land, and Jarvis swore out a warrant
against him for trespass--mere persecution, the villagers thought
it,--and there were other differences of a similar nature, which were
ended only when the boy went back to school.

"Of course, Mr. Lester, I don't know all the steps in the affair; but on
Christmas Eve, just a year later, there came a great knocking at my
door, and when I opened it, there on the step stood Jarvis, with such a
face as I had never seen on a man before. He stamped in and flung a
sheet of paper down on the table.

"'Read that!' he said, in a stifled voice. 'Read that, man! Oh, that I
should have bred a harlot!'

"I was too astonished to reply, but I picked up the paper and read it.
It was a note from his daughter--I forget the exact words--but she told
him that she had secretly married Boyd Endicott, knowing that she could
never win his consent, and prayed for his forgiveness. They were going
far away, she said; she would not see him again for a long time, and
hoped he would think kindly of her. It was a touching note, Mr. Lester."

The good man's voice choked and he paused to regain control of it. As
for me, I thought of that other note I had read a few hours since.

"He was like a man crazed," continued Dr. Schuyler, at last. "He
wouldn't listen to reason; he demanded only that I accompany him, while
he sought his daughter out and made sure that she and young Endicott
were really married. He swore that he would follow them to the ends of
the earth that he might see them wedded with his own eyes. A heavy storm
was raging, but I could not deny him; he had his buggy at the door, and
we drove away to the Fanwood station. There the agent told us that Miss
Jarvis had taken the afternoon train for New York. There was no other
train for an hour, so we waited. Jarvis tramped up and down the station
like a wild thing. And then, just before the train was due, there came a
telegram for him. It was from his sister and stated that Mary had
reached her home unattended and was very ill.

"That settled the matter, so far as I was concerned. I drove back home
again and Jarvis went on to New York. Unfortunately, in the first rage
of his discovery of his daughter's flight, he had given the servants
some hint of the affair, and it leaked out, but was gradually forgotten.
Mary Jarvis, after a long illness, went with her father for a visit to
Scotland, and did not return to her home at Scotch Plains for nearly
three years. She was greatly changed--older and with an air of sadness
which never quite left her.

"Her father was changed, too. He had left his daughter at his old home
in Scotland and hurried back--why I didn't guess till afterwards. He
became more crabbed and irritable than ever; he seemed to be withering
away, and his face grew to haunt me, it was so harried and anxious. I
suspected that he had become involved in business troubles of some sort,
for the country was on the verge of a panic, and once I tried to
approach the subject to offer him any help I could, but he stopped me
with such ferocity that I never tried again. Then, suddenly, came the
news that Endicott had been caught with Fisk in the ruin of Black
Friday; but while Fisk saved himself by repudiating his obligations,
Endicott had been bound in such a way that he could not repudiate--and
the man who had bound him was Hiram Jarvis."

The speaker paused and leaned back for a moment in his chair, his face
very stern.

"That was his revenge," he added. "But I doubt if he foresaw how bitter
it was to be. For Endicott shot himself; the place was sold, and the
widow and her daughter came to live here in Elizabeth, where they had
relatives."

"But the boy," I asked; "where was he?"

"He was killed two days after that Christmas Eve in a railroad wreck
somewhere in the West--I have forgotten exactly where. His body was
brought home to Scotch Plains and buried there."

"In the West?" I repeated. "What was he doing in the West?"

"I don't know," answered Dr. Schuyler. "I've never been able to
understand it."

"Were he and Miss Jarvis already married? Or did they expect to be
married afterwards?"

"Well," said Dr. Schuyler slowly, "I inferred from the note that they
were already married. But I may have been mistaken in thinking so. I
know that her father did not believe it."

"And you say that you've never been able to understand why, after all,
they did not go away together--why Miss Jarvis went to New York and
Endicott to the West?"

Dr. Schuyler hesitated.

"Of course," he said, after a moment, "the most obvious explanation is
that Endicott deserted her; and yet that would have been so unlike him,
for he was not a vicious or selfish fellow, Mr. Lester, but generous,
honourable, warm-hearted, despite his other faults, which were merely, I
think, faults of youth. I've never believed that he deserted her.
Perhaps, at the last moment, her courage failed; or perhaps there was a
mistake of some sort, a misunderstanding which kept them apart."

I pondered it for a moment, then put it aside. That was not the mystery
I had set myself to solve.

"Well, Miss Jarvis evidently got over it," I remarked, "since she
afterwards became Mrs. Lawrence."

"That is one way of looking at it," he assented; "but I've always
thought that she was so far from getting over it that she never greatly
cared what became of her afterwards."

"Was it so bad as that?"

"It was as bad as it could possibly be. She did not return from Scotland
for two years and more. It was about a year later that she married
Lawrence, who was a business associate of her father, and lived here at
Elizabeth. I had been called to the pastorate of the church here and
performed the ceremony."

"Lawrence must have been considerably older than she, then," I
suggested.

"Oh, much older. He was a widower, without children. I always fancied
that her father had arranged the match. He had completely broken down,
and knew he hadn't long to live."

"And there was only one child of this marriage?"

"Only one--Marcia."

"How long has Mrs. Lawrence been a widow?"

"Oh, for twenty years and more."

"She has lived here ever since?"

"She has kept her home here, but she was abroad with her daughter for a
long time--six or seven years, at least. She was very fond of
France--and so was Marcia, perhaps because she was born there."

"Born there?" I repeated, in some surprise.

"Yes. Mr. Lawrence had a very severe illness a few months after his
marriage--I don't remember just what it was--and his doctor ordered him
to the south of France for a long rest. His wife, of course, accompanied
him, and Marcia was born there. I think that is all the story, Mr.
Lester."

"Not quite all," I said. "There is still a loose end. What became of
Mrs. Endicott and her daughter--I think you said there was a daughter?"

"Yes--Ruth. One of the loveliest girls I ever knew. They came here from
Scotch Plains, as I've said, to make their home with Mrs. Endicott's
sister, Mrs. Kingdon."

He noticed my start of astonishment, and paused to look at me
inquiringly.

"I beg your pardon," I said, "but the name struck me. Miss Lawrence's
maid is named Kingdon."

"Yes; she's a niece of Mrs. Endicott. I've sometimes thought that it was
because of this relationship that Mrs. Lawrence was so kind to her and
to her sister."

"Kind to them?" I repeated. "In what way?"

"She gave them the cottage they live in," he explained, "and has helped
them in many other ways. The younger girl, Lucy, has a place in her
household, where her duties, I fancy, are purely nominal. Her sister is
supposed to take in sewing, but she really does very little."

"And they are Mrs. Endicott's nieces?"

"Yes--her sister's children."

"And Boyd Endicott's cousins?"

"Precisely."

I felt a little glow of excitement, for here was a clue which might lead
me out of the labyrinth--a loose end, which, grasped firmly, might serve
to unravel this tangled skein.

"Please go on," I said. "You have not yet told me what became of Mrs.
Endicott and her daughter."

"They made their home with Mrs. Kingdon, who was also a widow. Mrs.
Kingdon had had much trouble--her husband had died in an asylum for the
insane--and they had a hard time to get along. But Mrs. Endicott died
within a year."

"And Ruth?" I questioned.

"Ruth was a lovely girl--I shall never forget her--with the same dark,
passionate beauty her brother had. She possessed artistic talent which
seemed to me of an unusual order, and she fancied that she could make a
living by painting portraits. But she soon found that there was no
market for her work here in Elizabeth, and that she needed years of
training before she could hope to be successful elsewhere. So she was
forced to give it up."

"And then?" I prompted, for I saw by his hesitation that there was still
something coming, and I was determined to have the whole story.

"I have already told you that Mr. Lawrence was a widower. His first wife
was an invalid for a long time before her death, and when Ruth Endicott
found she could not make a living with her brush, she accepted the
position of companion to Mrs. Lawrence. I do not fancy the place was a
pleasant one, but she kept it until Mrs. Lawrence's death."

I leaned back in my chair and closed my eyes for an instant in the
effort to straighten out this story, which was always turning back upon
itself. What mystery was there--what mystery could there be--in the
lives of the Kingdons and the Lawrences and the Endicotts, which had led
up to the tragedy for which I was seeking an explanation?

"Well, and after that?" I asked, giving it up with a sigh of despair and
turning back to the clergyman.

"There isn't much more to tell. After Mrs. Lawrence's death, Ruth
Endicott remained for a time as Lawrence's housekeeper. But she had
overworked herself--she seemed the very embodiment of health, and taxed
her strength too heavily. She broke down very suddenly, and died, if I
remember rightly, in Florida, where the elder Kingdon girl had taken
her. She was the last of the Endicotts."

"The last of the Endicotts. The last of the Endicotts." I repeated the
words over and over to myself. It may have been a presentiment, or
merely an idle fancy, but something whispered in my ear--some impalpable
presence warned me--that I had not yet heard the last of her. "Ruth
Endicott." There was a something in the name--a melody, the vision it
evoked of a dark and brilliantly beautiful woman--which haunted me.

And yet, what possible connection could she have with the mystery which
I had started to investigate? Thirty years dead--how could any fact
connected with her drive Marcia Lawrence forth into hiding at the hour
of her wedding? The utter absurdity of the thought was so apparent that
I put it impatiently from me.

"You knew Mr. Lawrence, of course?" I asked, at last.

"Oh, yes," and he hitched uneasily in his chair, as though approaching
an unwelcome topic. "But I did not know him well. He was what the world
calls a hard man--somewhat harsh and cold, though perfectly free from
positive vice. He was thoroughly respected."

"He seems to have left a large property."

"Yes; one of the largest in Elizabeth. Mrs. Lawrence, of course,
inherited her father's, also."

"Both she and her daughter are members of your church?"

"Two of the most faithful. They give largely to charity; they are really
Christian women."

We sat silent for a moment. To me, at least, the mystery seemed deeper
than ever.

"Has it occurred to you, Mr. Lester," asked the clergyman hesitatingly,
"that perhaps Miss Lawrence discovered something in Mr. Curtiss's
past----"

"Yes," I interrupted. "I put that before Curtiss squarely, and he
assured me there was nothing she could discover. I'm sure he spoke the
truth. Besides, in that case, why should Miss Lawrence flee? Why not
merely dismiss him? Her flight seems to argue some guilt on her part."

"Yes," nodded my companion; "yes."

"Some guilt, too," I added, "of a very remarkable kind, which she was
not conscious of until this morning, and which then appeared suddenly
before her in such hideous shape that flight was her only resource. That
seems inconceivable, doesn't it?"

Dr. Schuyler dropped his head back against his chair with a little sigh
which bespoke utter fatigue.

"Yes," he said, "inconceivable--the whole thing is inconceivable. It's a
kind of horrible nightmare. I can't make anything of it. My brain is in
a whirl."

"I'm taxing your patience too long," I protested, rising instantly. "You
need rest. Only let me thank you for your kindness."

He held out his hand with a smile.

"I seem only to have made dark places darker," he said. "If you succeed
in untangling the snarl, I should like to hear about it."

"You shall," I promised and took myself back to the hotel. I felt that
there was nothing more to be done that night, and so mounted to my room.

As I started to undress, I remembered suddenly the envelope Curtiss had
sent me. I got it out and opened it, and my heart leaped with a sudden
suffocating sympathy as I looked at the photograph within. A Madonna,
indeed! Mr. Royce had chosen the right word, had paid a fitting tribute
not only to her beauty but to the spotless soul behind it. For the face
was essentially girlish, virginal--there was no shameful secret back of
that clear, direct gaze. It was sweet, frank, winning--a strong face,
too, showing intellect and training; no ordinary woman, I told myself;
not one, certainly, to be swayed by momentary passion, to yield to an
unreasoning impulse. No, nor one to fall victim to an adventurer; for
this was a woman with ideals and high ones--a woman whose clear eyes
could detect any specious imposture at a glance. A fitting mate for Burr
Curtiss--the appointed mate--and yet not his! Not his! Snatched from him
by a desperate act. Desperate! If I, a man hardened by contact with the
world, could feel that, how much more poignantly must she have felt
it--with what horror must she have shrunk from it--with what agony
yielded!

As I gazed at her, it seemed to me that there was something familiar in
the face--in the set of the eyes, the shape of the forehead--something
familiar in the expression, in the poise of the head, which puzzled and
eluded me. A resemblance to her mother, I decided at last, and so put
the photograph away and went to bed.

But sleep did not come easily. Ever before my eyes there danced a vision
of that vine-embowered cottage opening from the Lawrence grounds. There,
I felt, lay the key to the mystery; it was to it I must turn for the
clue which would lead me out of this labyrinth. There was some secret
about these Kingdon sisters which defied and worried me. Dr. Schuyler's
explanation of their connection with Mrs. Lawrence did not in the least
satisfy me. That she should keep them near her, shower them with gifts,
merely because of an old fondness for a cousin of theirs, seemed to me
exceedingly improbable. There must be some other reason, some more
compelling one than that.

It was much more likely, I told myself, remembering the passionate
fierceness of the younger sister, that the gifts were intended to
placate, not to reward; that they were the outgrowth of fear, not of
affection. Fear of what? I could not even guess. Fear of the exposure of
some secret, perhaps--and the thought stung me to a sudden attention.

Had the gifts been in vain? Had the secret been exposed? Was it they who
had whispered in Marcia Lawrence's ear the story which had broken the
marriage, caused her flight, ruined her future? Was that their revenge
for some old injury? Had they waited till the last moment to make it
more complete, more crushing? But if they, indeed, had so avenged
themselves, would she have fled to them for refuge? Would she not rather
have fled from them with loathing?

I felt that I was entangling myself in a web of my own weaving. I put
the problem from me, but it pursued me even past sleep's portals. I
dreamed that I was staring over the hedge at the Kingdon cottage, at a
lighted window. Three women were in the room, as I could see from the
shadows thrown upon the blind. They were walking up and down, seemingly
in great excitement. I fancied that I could hear the sound of voices,
but I could distinguish no words. Then suddenly, two of the women sprang
upon the third. She struggled desperately, but their hands were at her
throat, choking her life away. She turned toward me, the curtain seemed
to lift, and I beheld the agonised face of Marcia Lawrence.

I tried to leap the hedge, but could not stir. Some power beyond me
seemed to hold me fast; some mighty weight bound me to the spot. A
moment longer the struggle lasted, while I stood staring; I felt her
eyes on mine, I knew that she had seen me. She held out an imploring
hand; then, when I made no sign in answer, despair swept across her
face, she seemed to realise her helplessness, and collapsed into the
arms of her assailants with a scream so shrill, so terrible that it
startled me awake.



CHAPTER X

The Mysterious Light


It was some moments before I could think clearly, so real and vivid had
that vision been. I threw out my arms to assure myself that I was still
in bed; I could scarcely believe that I was not really shivering behind
the hedge, staring across at that lighted window and the dreadful drama
it revealed. I was bathed in perspiration and yet felt chilled to the
very marrow.

Indeed, my teeth were chattering as I groped my way to the light, turned
it on, and looked at my watch. It was nearly one o'clock. The night was
clear and pleasant, with a faint breeze stirring. There was no moon, but
the stars were shining so brightly that one looked for it instinctively.

I knew it was no use to return to bed until my nerves were quieter; and,
indeed, that vision had banished all desire for sleep; so I filled my
pipe, lighted it, drew up a chair and sat down by the open window. The
street below was deserted; and for an instant I found myself wondering
that it was not thronged with people, roused by the scream which had
awakened me. Then I remembered that there had been no scream, that I had
simply dreamed it.

But I had only to close my eyes to see again that lighted window and the
shadows on the blind. It seemed even clearer to me than it had been in
the dream. I could see every detail of the struggle, and I opened my
eyes abruptly so that I might escape the end. There was something
supernatural about it; I had never dreamed a dream like that before--a
dream which, waking, I could rehearse at pleasure. Perhaps it was not
wholly a vision; perhaps it had some foundation in reality, some
telepathic origin. I had read of such things, sceptically; but some of
the phenomena of thought transference had, I knew, been accepted,
reluctantly enough, even by the scientific world.

Was it not possible that Marcia Lawrence had been lured to the Kingdon
cottage or taken there against her will? Who could say how that old
injury done the Endicotts would flower and fruit? Who could say what
hatred, what desire for vengeance, rankled in the hearts of the
Kingdons? I remembered how the face of the maid had darkened with
malice, how her eyes had blazed with infernal joy, as she stood there in
the door of the library, thinking herself unseen. Her sister I knew
nothing of, but if they resembled each other as sisters usually do, I
could well believe them capable of any cruelty. Was it not possible that
Marcia Lawrence was in their hands? Was it not possible that my dream
possessed a basis of reality? I had been thinking of her all the
evening; I had gone to sleep with the problem of her disappearance still
on my mind; I had been studying her photograph--I was, in a word, in
spiritual touch with her, responsive to any suggestion emanating from
her--we were tuned to the same pitch. Such, I fancied, was the
explanation of the phenomena which a telepathist would give. She had
sent that cry into the night, and I, being en rapport with her, had
heard it--had witnessed the tragedy which called it forth. Perhaps the
struggle was not yet ended; perhaps, even at this moment----

I sprang to my feet, hurried into my clothes, caught up my hat, opened
my door and ran noiselessly down the stair. I would solve this problem
to-night, if it could be solved. I had been wrong in turning away from
the Kingdon cottage the evening before; I should, at least, have made an
effort to discover if Marcia Lawrence were really there. But it had not
occurred to me then that she could be in any danger. I had thought too
much of what Curtiss would wish me to do; too little of what the
necessities of the case required. Well, I would not make that mistake a
second time.

As I look back upon my frame of mind at that moment and consider the
impulse which sent me forth from my room at that hour of the night, I
realise how overwrought I was. At a distance, in cold blood, it seems an
absurd thing to have done; yet, under the same conditions, I should no
doubt behave again in much the same way. And even admitting its
absurdity, I am not prepared to say, in view of the event, that there
was not back of it some instinct worth following. There are forces in
nature not yet explained or recognised, and I am still inclined to think
that it was one of these which drew me forth upon that midnight errand.

In a very fever of impatience, I hurried along the street, under the
trees, meeting no one except a patrolman. I heard him stop, as I passed
him, and knew that he was looking back after me, but I kept on without
pausing, and heard him finally start on again. In a minute more I
reached the Lawrence place, and stopped in the shadow of a tree for a
look around. The house loomed through the darkness grim and gloomy, with
no light showing anywhere. I leaped the fence, assured that I was
unseen, and pushed my way forward through the grove toward the path
which led to the cottage.

Beneath the trees, the darkness was absolute and I could go forward but
slowly; yet, starting from the library steps, I found the path without
difficulty, and felt my way cautiously along it, until I came to the
hedge which marked the limits of the Kingdon place. I examined the house
with care, but there was fronting me no lighted window upon which a
tragedy could be pictured. Indeed, I saw no vestige of a light and was
about to conclude that my midnight pilgrimage had been in vain, when my
eye was caught by a faint glimmer near the ground. At first, I was not
sure it was a light at all; then I decided that it was a reflection of
some sort, or perhaps a phosphorescent glow. But as I stared at it, with
eyes contracted, it suddenly took shape in the darkness, and I saw that
the light proceeded from a small ventilator set in the foundation of the
house.

Trembling with excitement, I softly opened the gate and entered the
grounds. Here, with nothing between me and the stars, I suddenly found
myself in what seemed a veritable blaze of light. I was seized with
panic lest I be seen and scurried into the shadow of the house, then
dropped beside the ventilator and examined it.

It was of the ordinary type--a plate of iron some six or eight inches
square, perforated with holes perhaps half an inch in diameter, and set
in the foundation about six inches from the ground.

I applied an eye to one of the holes and endeavoured to see what lay
beyond. For a moment, I saw absolutely nothing; then I perceived in
front of me a stretch of clay, which ended abruptly at a distance of six
or eight feet. A few inches above the level of my eye were the beams
supporting the floor of the cottage. But it was only a glance I gave to
these details, though I found them afterwards photographed upon my
brain; it was the space beyond which fixed my attention--the space where
the clay bank before me dropped abruptly to what was no doubt the cellar
of the cottage.

It was from this space that the light proceeded, but of what lay within
it I could see almost nothing--only enough, indeed, to fire my
curiosity. For from time to time a shadow moved between me and the
light--a shadow which showed that the cellar was not empty. The light, I
judged, had been placed on a stool or table on the opposite side of the
cellar. From the way it varied, now bright, now dim, I decided it was a
candle, and that the motions of the person working near it caused the
flame to flicker. These motions would continue for a time with
considerable regularity; then they would cease while the worker
evidently stopped to rest, and then begin again.

Who was this person and what was this work which must be done at such an
hour? In vain I sought an answer. I pressed my ear to the ventilator,
but could hear nothing; nothing, at least, beyond the faintest of faint
sounds, which gave me no clue to what was happening within. I peered
through the little orifice moment after moment, until the shadows grew
confused and blurred and my eyes ached under the strain.

I rose to rest myself. Then it suddenly occurred to me that the cellar
must have a window. Skirting the house cautiously, I at last came to it.
But it was closed and curtained so effectually that only a faint glimmer
here and there betrayed the light within. I listened, but could hear no
sound.

Fairly nonplussed, I returned to the hedge and sat down against it to
consider. The shadow had given me no indication of whether the worker
was man or woman; yet to the first question I had asked myself there
could be only one answer. It was one or both of the Kingdon women who
were working in the cellar--both, I finally decided, since it was
improbable that one could spend the night there without the knowledge of
the other. But what were they doing?

To this I could find no answer. It was not merely an errand, because the
light remained. Minute after minute I sat there, until I heard a clock
somewhere strike two, and still the light remained. I crept forward to
the ventilator and peered through again. The shadows were moving
backward and forward, just as they had been an hour before. There was
something uncanny about them, and I shivered as I watched. It seemed to
me that they were made by some person alternately rising and stooping,
but why should any one do that for hours at a time? Some subtle
association of ideas brought before my eyes the vision which had
confronted Jean Valjean on that night when he had peered through the
grated window into the Convent of Little Picpus--the dim light, the vast
hall, the motionless figure on the floor before the cross. Was some such
explanation to be sought here? Were these long-continued risings and
stoopings a series of genuflexions before some shrine--a penance,
perhaps, imposed for some transgression? The thought seemed absurd. But
I could think of no other explanation of these singular motions.

At last, weary with long staring, I went back to my seat beside the
hedge and waited. Half an hour passed, then I saw the glimmer at the
ventilator suddenly disappear, and a moment later, a light gleamed
through the kitchen window. It went on toward the front of the house,
and I saw the shadow of a woman's figure on the blind as it passed the
window in front of me. Only one shadow--there was only one woman in the
house, or, at least, only one awake and moving about. There had been
only one in the cellar.

My resolution was taken. I went straight forward to the door at the side
of the house and knocked sharply. At the same instant, the light
vanished. I waited a moment, then knocked again, more loudly.

"Who's there?" called a voice, so harsh, so fierce, that it fairly
startled me.

"Open the door," I said. "I wish to see Miss Lawrence."

"This is not Miss Lawrence's home," cried the voice.

"I know it; but she's here."

"She's not here!" and the voice rose to a scream. "Be off, or I'll fire
through the door!"

What sort of fury was this, I asked myself, and I stepped to one side to
be out of range of a possible bullet.

"Be off!" screamed the voice again. "I'll fire, I swear it! The law will
justify me."

There could be no question of that; it would be worse than folly to
attempt to force an entrance with this fury opposing me, so I retreated
again to the hedge and sat down to see what would happen. But nothing
happened, and deciding at last that Miss Kingdon, or whoever it was had
answered me, had gone to bed, I turned my steps toward the hotel just as
the dawn was tingeing the east with grey.

And one thing I determined on--I would purchase a revolver. Only a fool
ventures unarmed into the tiger's den.



CHAPTER XI

An Old Acquaintance


I arose betimes in the morning, despite the fact that I had been up most
of the night, for I was determined to gain entrance to the Kingdon
cottage and force an interview with Marcia Lawrence before I went to my
appointment with her mother. Day had taken from my dream nothing of its
vividness, but my nerves were normal again, and I could approach the
task with a coolness which had not been possible the night before. That
Marcia Lawrence had taken refuge with the Kingdons, I did not for an
instant doubt; it was my business to prove it--to gain entrance to her
presence and persuade her to grant Burr Curtiss a final interview.

There was another mystery about the cottage which piqued and puzzled me.
What was the meaning of that light in the cellar? What work had been
going forward there, hour after hour? Whose was that shrill and violent
voice which had threatened me through the door? And how had it been
possible for the other inmates of the house to sleep on undisturbed
through all that commotion? If Miss Lawrence were really there, would
she not have heard me?

I descended to the dining-room, revolving this problem in my mind, so
intent upon it that I brushed into a man at the door. I turned to
apologise and saw his face light up at sight of me.

"Why, hello, Lester," he cried, holding out his hand. "This is luck!"

"Hello, Godfrey," I answered, returning his clasp with interest. "Glad
to see you."

"Not half so glad as I am to see you. Come over here to this side-table
where we can talk in peace. Quite like the Studio, isn't it?"

I laughed responsively at the memory of that night when Jim Godfrey, of
the _Record_, for purposes of his own, had kidnapped me and entertained
me with a superb dinner at the famous Sixth Avenue resort. I had met him
occasionally since, and had found him always the same genial, generous,
astute fellow he had proved himself then. Trained on the detective
force, he had been for some years the _Record's_ star reporter, and was
employed only on what the newspapers love to call _causes célèbres_. Of
course, I knew instantly what "_cause_" it was had brought him to
Elizabeth.

"Here on business?" he asked, as we sat down.

"Yes. And you?"

"Oh, I came down last night to write up this Lawrence-Curtiss affair.
You've heard about it?"

He was looking at me keenly.

"Yes," I answered steadily, determined to keep him from guessing my
connection with it; "I read about it in the papers last night. Queer
affair, wasn't it?"

"Mighty queer. You haven't happened to form a theory about it, have
you?"

I laughed outright. He had come to me for a theory once before, and here
he was at his old trick.

"I haven't enough data to form a theory," I said.

"Well, maybe I can furnish you with more. I did some pretty lively work
last night, and covered all the details I could think of."

"I haven't seen this morning's _Record_," I said. "Of course it's all
there."

"Not quite all. I don't want to give the other fellows too much rope.
They're all tied up in a knot, now, and I want them to stay that way."

"The 'other fellows,' I suppose, are your esteemed contemporaries?"

"In plain English, my hated rivals. But I don't mind telling you. You
treated me square in the Holladay case. The boys told me afterwards how
you refused to give me away."

"All right; fire ahead," I said, and cut my steak.

"Well," he began, "I saw at once, after I'd looked over the field and
found out that it was impossible to see either Curtiss or Mrs. Lawrence,
that the persons who could probably tell me most about the inside
workings of this affair were the servants in the Lawrence house.
Evidently there must have been trouble of some sort there; and it
probably would not escape the servants' notice. So I went after them."

I nodded, but kept my eyes on my plate. Here was luck, indeed!

"There are five of them," he went on; "an outside man, who takes care of
the grounds and horses; a cook, two house-girls, and a maid. The outside
man is the husband of the cook; they and the house-girls stay at the
place, and the maid lives with her sister in a cottage just off the
grounds."

"And could they tell you anything?" I asked.

"Neither the man, the cook, nor the house-girls could tell me a thing.
They'd all been busy preparing for the wedding, and didn't know anything
was wrong until the maid, whose name is Lucy Kingdon, told them Miss
Lawrence had disappeared. The house-girls had been passing back and
forth all the time, and had caught a glimpse of Miss Lawrence now and
then, but had noticed absolutely nothing unusual, had seen no stranger
about the place, nor heard any outcry. One of them passed Miss Lawrence
in the hall as she was talking with the decorator, and says that she was
radiant with happiness.

"But the maid?" I asked, anxious to hear what he had got from her.

"Ah, she was different. She's been with the family a long time. She
seems to be a kind of privileged character--a trusted confidante; though
why any one should wish to trust her is beyond me--she's not an
attractive woman, rather the reverse."

"And what did she tell you?"

"She didn't tell me anything," answered Godfrey, with some heat. "She
beat about the bush and finally got angry. But I'm sure of one thing,
and that is that she knows where Miss Lawrence is. Indeed," he added,
"I'm pretty certain that Miss Lawrence passed the night in the Kingdon
cottage."

"Why?" I asked, with lively interest at this confirmation of my own
belief.

"I don't know--just a sort of intuition. And then--they wouldn't let me
in to see."

"Oh--you tried to get in, did you?"

"I certainly did--tried my level best, but couldn't make it. Those
Kingdon sisters are a pair of Tartars. Both of them were there. The
elder one was a beauty when she was young, I fancy, but she's seen some
trying times since, to judge from her face. She's got mighty handsome
eyes, even yet--and my! how they can flash. Well, they sent me to the
right-about as soon as they learned my errand. I tried all my wiles," he
added, with a little rueful smile, "and in vain."

"But intuition's hardly enough to go on," I suggested.

"Of course there's more than that. It's the only house she could have
reached without being seen. There's a path leads to it through a grove
which screens it from the street. If she'd gone in any other direction,
she'd have had to venture out into the open, where somebody would have
been sure to see her. Remember, she was in her wedding-dress, and there
were probably a good many people standing around watching the house, as
they always do at these fashionable weddings."

Perhaps something in my face betrayed me; at any rate, he looked at me
with a sudden intent interest.

"See here, Lester," he said, "I believe you're in on this thing
yourself."

"Not for publication."

"Agreed. Now let's have it."

"Well," I explained, "I'm working for Curtiss. I'm trying to find Miss
Lawrence. He thinks he's entitled to an explanation."

Godfrey nodded quickly.

"Any man would think so," he said. "How are you going about it?"

"I'm going to take advantage of the hint you just gave me."

"And go to the Kingdon house?"

"Yes. I believe Miss Lawrence is there, myself. I thought so last night
when I came to it after following that path through the grove."

"So you'd discovered it, too! Well, I wish you luck. Of course, we may
be all wrong. I don't believe there are any other pointers I can give
you," he added, "or I'd be glad to. I suppose you saw Mrs. Lawrence?"

"Oh yes."

"How was she affected?"

"Not so deeply as you'd expect," I said.

He gazed at me with narrowed eyes.

"Has it occurred to you, Lester," he said, at last, "that Miss Lawrence
may not have gone away of her own accord at all; that there may be a
plot against her; that she was forced to go, or perhaps even shut up in
some room in the Lawrence house?"

"Yes; I'd thought of it. I even put it to Mrs. Lawrence."

"And what did she say?"

"She laughed at me. She said her daughter was a strong girl, who
wouldn't let herself be abducted without a struggle, and that a single
scream would have alarmed the house."

"But suppose she'd been drugged," suggested Godfrey. "Then she would
have neither screamed nor struggled."

"Last night," I said, "I was half-inclined to believe that something of
the sort had happened. I'd forgotten one fact which absolutely disproves
it. She left a note behind her--or, at least, wrote it and sent it back
after she ran away."

"Ah--she did?"

"Yes--a note saying the marriage was impossible, though her love was
unaltered, and that Curtiss wasn't to attempt to find her."

Godfrey sat suddenly upright with grim countenance.

"Then there's only one explanation of it," he said. "There's only one
thing could make a girl drop everything and run away like that--only one
thing in the world. She's already married, and her first husband's
turned up."

"I'd thought of that, too; but her mother swears her daughter never had
a love affair previous to this one."

"Of course she'd say so. Has any other possible explanation occurred to
you?"

"No," I answered frankly. "And I've tried mighty hard to find another."

"Let's go back a bit. The discovery--whatever it was--was made at the
last moment."

"Yes--at the moment she left the decorator and started upstairs to get
her veil."

"Was it made accidentally?"

"I don't know."

"But I do. It was _not_ accidentally--it was by design. Things don't
happen accidentally, just in the nick of time."

"No," I agreed, "they don't."

"It was his revenge," continued Godfrey, with growing excitement. "He
wanted to get even, and he waited till the last moment. It was certainly
artistic."

"If he really wanted to crush her," I suggested, my lips trembling with
the horror of the thought, "he'd have waited a little longer."

Godfrey stared at me with glittering eyes.

"You're right," he agreed, after a moment. "He didn't want to get even,
then; he wanted her back. So he sent a letter----"

"It wasn't a letter. Perhaps it was a telegram."

"No, it wasn't a telegram--I looked that up. Are you sure it wasn't a
letter?"

"Yes. The morning mail was delivered shortly after nine. She was happy
as usual until the moment of her disappearance, two hours later. If it
wasn't a letter or a telegram, he must have come in person."

Godfrey sat for a moment with intent face.

"I hardly think so," he said, at last. "Some one would have noticed a
stranger, and I made special inquiries on that point, though it was a
lover I was looking for, not a husband. I rather imagined that there was
another man in the case, and that, at the last moment, she decided to
marry him and ran away to do it."

"No," I said decidedly, "she was in love with Curtiss--passionately in
love with him."

"Well, lover or husband, I don't believe he came in person. I think it
much more probable that the warning came from inside the house."

"From the maid," I suggested.

"Precisely," he nodded. "From the maid."

Then, suddenly, I recalled the sweet face, the clear gaze----

"It's a pretty theory, Godfrey," I said; "but I don't believe it. Have
you ever seen Miss Lawrence?"

"No--not even her photograph. I tried to get one and failed," he added,
with rueful countenance.

"She's a beautiful woman--she's more than that--she's a good woman.
There's something Madonna-like about her."

"Most of the famous Madonnas," he said, smiling, "however virginal in
appearance, were anything but Madonna-like in behaviour--Andrea del
Sarto's, for instance."

With a little shiver, I remembered Mr. Royce's phrase--it was to the del
Sarto Madonna he had compared her! Could I be wrong in my estimate of
her, after all?

"There's no other theory will explain her flight," he repeated.
"Presuming, of course, that she was sane."

"She was very sane," I said, in a low voice. "She was a self-controlled,
well-balanced woman."

"And that she still loves Curtiss."

"I'm sure she does."

"Then you'll find I'm right. But come," he added, rising, "I've got some
work to do. I'll try to meet you as you come away from the Kingdon
cottage. I'm curious to know what luck you'll have."

He left me at the hotel door and hurried away toward the business part
of the town, while I turned in the opposite direction. Godfrey's
confidence in his theory weighed upon me heavily. He was right in saying
that it seemed the only tenable one, and yet, with the memory of Miss
Lawrence's pure face before me, I could not believe it. I could not
believe that those clear eyes sheltered such a secret. I could not
believe that anything shameful had ever touched her. She had kept
herself unspotted from the world. And I would prove it!

As I reached the Kingdon house and turned in at the gate, I remembered
with a smile the resolution I had made the night before to buy a
revolver. It seemed absurd enough in the light of the clear day--that I
should arm myself against two women!

There was a flower-bed on either side the walk, well-kept and in a riot
of bloom, and along the hedges and about the house were others.
Evidently the women who lived here not only loved flowers, but had ample
time to tend them. As I approached the house, I saw that the blinds were
drawn, and there seemed no sign of life about the place, but the door
was opened almost instantly in answer to my knock.

The woman who opened it, I knew at once for the elder Miss Kingdon, and
my eyes were caught and my attention held by the bold, virile beauty of
her face--a beauty which had, in a way, burnt itself out by its very
fierceness. She resembled her sister, and yet there was something higher
and finer about her. She gave me the impression of one who had passed
through a fiery furnace--and not unscathed! I wondered, as Godfrey had,
at the dark splendour of her eyes; I could fancy how they would burn and
sparkle once she was roused to anger.

"This is Miss Kingdon?" I asked.

She bowed.

"I'm going to ask a favour, Miss Kingdon," I said, "the favour of a few
moments' conversation."

"Are you a reporter?" she demanded, without seeking to soften the
harshness of the question, and in an instant I knew that it was she who
had threatened me through the door the night before, for the voice was
the same and yet not the same. Then it had been edged and broken by a
kind of frenzy; now it was almost domineering in its cool insolence.
What was it had so shaken her? Fear at my knock at that hour of the
night? Yet she seemed anything but a woman easily alarmed.

"No, I'm not a reporter," I answered, smiling as well as I could to hide
the tumult of my thoughts. "My name is Lester, and I'm acting for Mr.
Curtiss. I hope you'll grant my request."

She looked at me more closely, and her lips curved derisively.

"I've heard of you," she said.

"From your sister, no doubt. I had the pleasure of meeting her yesterday
afternoon."

I could not wholly keep the irony out of my tone.

"I guess you didn't find out much from her," she retorted.

"Not half as much as she knew. I hope you'll be more frank with me."

She hesitated a moment longer, then stood aside.

"Very well; come in," she said, and as I entered, she pointed the way
into a room at the right.

It was a large, pleasant room, well furnished and in excellent taste. On
my first glance around, my eyes were caught and held by a portrait which
occupied the place of honour on the wall opposite the front windows. It
was a woman's head, life-size, evidently done from life, crude enough in
execution, but of a woman so brilliantly beautiful that her face seemed
to glow through the canvas, to rise superior to the lack of skill with
which the artist had depicted her. There was something familiar about
it, too--at least, I fancied so--and then I shook the thought away
impatiently.

"Well?" asked a voice, and I turned to see that Miss Kingdon was waiting
for me to speak. "Sit down," she added abruptly, and herself sat down
opposite me, and gazed at me with fierce eyes that never wavered.

"Mr. Curtiss is naturally anxious," I began, "to find Miss Lawrence and
to hear from her own lips the reason for her flight. He even thinks he
has a certain right to know that reason. I'm trying to find where Miss
Lawrence is."

"And why do you come here?" she asked with compressed lips.

"Because," I answered boldly, "I believe that Miss Lawrence came here
when she left her home. She went first into the library, where she sat
for a while until she decided what to do; then she opened the library
window, descended from the balcony, and ran here along the path which
leads through the trees to that gate out yonder. You received her and
refused to allow any one to see her."

"I refused to allow the reporters to see her!" she cried. "Surely, you
would have done as much!"

"Yes," I said, repressing as well as I could the sudden burst of triumph
which glowed within me. "Yes--perhaps I should. But you'll not refuse
me?"

She smiled grimly.

"That was cleverly done, Mr. Lester," she said. "Fortunately it's no
longer a question of my consent or refusal."

"Miss Lawrence isn't here?"

"No; Miss Lawrence left here late last night."

"And went----"

"Ah, that I shall not tell."

I looked at her again and saw that by arguing I should be simply wasting
my time. I saw something else, too--this woman also knew the reason for
Marcia Lawrence's flight.

But she was looking at me with a sudden white intensity.

"It was you," she said hoarsely, "who knocked at the door in the middle
of the night."

"Yes," I admitted, fascinated by her burning gaze, "it was I."

"Why did you do that?"

"I don't exactly know," I answered lamely, not daring to tell the truth.
"I was passing the house and saw a light----"

"Where?" she demanded, her face contracting in a quick spasm.

"In the window yonder," and I heard her deep breath of relief. "I
thought perhaps it was Miss Lawrence."

"It was I," she said, and I saw she was visibly forcing herself to go
on. "I had been putting away some fruit in the cellar. Your knock at
that hour startled me."

"Quite naturally," I assented. "I wonder at myself now for knocking."

"How did you happen to be passing the house at that time?" she asked
suddenly.

"I'd been awakened by a bad dream and found I couldn't go to sleep
again, so decided to walk a little. I walked in this direction, I
suppose, because I was thinking about Miss Lawrence."

She was looking at me keenly, but saw that I spoke the truth and again
gave a quick sigh of relief.

"Miss Lawrence was not here then?" I questioned, deciding to become the
inquisitor in my turn.

"Oh, no; she had left several hours earlier. I was alone in the
house--which rendered your knock all the more disquieting. My sister
remained with Mrs. Lawrence last night," and she rose to indicate that
my audience was at an end.

I rose somewhat reluctantly. I felt that she could tell me so much more,
if she would. It was provoking to be so near success, and yet not to
succeed.

"I'm sorry," I said, "that you refuse to tell me where Miss Lawrence has
gone. I don't believe you're acting wisely--nor is she in running away.
She should be brave enough to stay and face Mr. Curtiss. He has a
right----"

"There are others who have rights," she cried, her self-control suddenly
deserting her. "There are others who have waived their rights, and torn
their hearts, and withered in silence----"

She stopped abruptly, and I saw the tremor which swept through her as
she controlled herself.

"That is all," she said more calmly, but with working face. "Your
parrot-like talk of Mr. Curtiss's rights provoked me," and she moved
toward the door.

I paused for a last glance at the portrait, and again I was struck by
its likeness to some one I knew.

"That is a most remarkable picture," I said. "The person who painted it
seems to have been clumsy enough, and yet there is something vital and
bewitching about it."

There was a signature scrawled in one corner, and I bent closer to
decipher it.

"It was painted by a cousin of mine," said Miss Kingdon indifferently.

And suddenly the scrawl became intelligible.

"'Ruth Endicott,'" I read, with a quick glow of interest.

"What do you know of her?" she demanded, looking at me sharply.

"Nothing," I answered, as indifferently as I could. "Only, I should be
interested to know how she developed. She seems to have had great
talent."

"That was the last picture she ever painted," said Miss Kingdon shortly;
then her eyes flamed suddenly and her face darkened, as she stepped
close to the portrait and stared at it. "She was beautiful--beautiful!"
she murmured hoarsely, and I knew that Ruth Endicott's last painting had
been a portrait of herself.

And yet it was scarcely a portrait, either, for the features were barely
indicated. But, gazing at it, one saw a woman there--a woman real and
vital--and knew instinctively that she was beautiful. It was what I
suppose would be called an impressionistic picture, but it differed from
most impressionistic pictures in showing imagination in the artist
instead of demanding it from the observer.

But why should that pictured face seem so familiar? Not in lineament,
but in poise and expression it recalled some one vividly. There was no
doubting the resemblance, but grope in my memory as I might, I could not
place it.

"When you are quite ready," said Miss Kingdon, in a voice quivering with
impatience, "I shall be glad to show you out."

I turned to find her glaring at me almost like a beast at bay. With an
imperious gesture, which checked on my lips any questions I would have
asked, she led the way out into the hall.

"You are at liberty to search the house," she said coldly, intercepting
the glance I shot about me, "if you doubt my statement that Miss
Lawrence is no longer here."

The thought flashed through my mind that I would welcome a chance to
take a look into the cellar, and inspect the fruit which it had taken
hours to arrange, but I did not dare suggest it.

"No," I protested; "I believe you," and in another moment I was in the
street.

Godfrey was awaiting me.

"Well?" he asked.

"Not there," I said.

"But she was there?"

"Yes; it was there she took refuge--you were right about that; but she
left late last night. I don't know how or where. Miss Kingdon refused to
tell me."

He pondered this an instant with half-closed eyes.

"I don't think she can slip through our fingers," he said, at last.
"Every one about here knows her."

"If she took the train," I suggested, "the agent may remember."

"Yes," he agreed. "And by the way," he added suddenly, "it _was_ a
letter which caused all this trouble."

"A letter?"

"Yes; a special-delivery letter. It was delivered at 11.15 o'clock
yesterday morning. The boy mounted the steps and was going to ring the
bell, when Miss Lawrence herself, who was just starting up the stairs,
saw him and came to the door, which was open, and took the letter. It
was addressed to her and she signed for it."

"Where was it from?" I asked.

"It was from New York, and across the front, in a bold hand, was
written, 'Important--read at once.'"



CHAPTER XII

Word from the Fugitive


I glanced at my watch; it wanted still half an hour of eleven o'clock.

"Let's walk on together," I said; "this needs talking over. A
special-delivery letter from New York, then, causes Marcia Lawrence, a
well-poised, self-possessed, happy woman, to flee from the man she
loves, to wreck her life, throw away her future----" I stopped in
despair. Really, I felt for the moment like tearing my hair.

"It seems incredible, doesn't it?" asked Godfrey, smiling at my
bewildered countenance.

"Incredible? Why, it's more than that--it's--it's--I don't know any word
strong enough to describe it. Godfrey, what is this secret?"

"I know what it isn't."

"Well, what isn't it, then?"

"It isn't about Curtiss. We've looked into his life--I just got a report
from Delaney--and he's as straight as a string."

"And the women?"

"With the women it isn't so easy. You see, they were in Europe for six
or seven years, and it's hard to follow them. However, we're on their
track, and I have hopes."

"Hopes?"

"Of proving my theory the right one. Depend upon it, Lester, there's
either a lover or a husband in the background somewhere."

But again I remembered the photograph.

"A lover, perhaps," I admitted, "but not a husband, Godfrey. There's no
stain like that on her--there's no stain at all. She's spotless--I'll
stake my soul upon it!"

He was gazing at me curiously.

"You seem mighty certain about it," he commented.

For an instant, I had an impulse to show him the photograph. But I
stifled it.

"I _am_ certain," I answered lamely. "Certain your theory's all wrong."

"Well, I'm going to stick to it till I find a better one."

"Are you going to make it public?"

"No, not till we've something more to back it. We've wired our European
correspondents to look up the record of the women while they were
abroad. We'll wait till we get reports from them, which will be
to-morrow or the day after. Let's see if we can find out which way Miss
Lawrence went last night."

We had reached the hotel, and, as he spoke, Godfrey turned into it.

"The ticket agent boards here," he said, "and I took care to make
friends with him. I thought perhaps he might be able to help me. Ah,
there he is now. Wait a moment."

He hurried forward and intercepted a well-dressed man who was just
leaving the office. I saw them stop for a moment's low-toned
conversation; then Godfrey turned back towards me.

"No," he said, "no luck. Miss Lawrence bought no ticket at the station
here last night, nor did either of the Kingdons. The agent was on duty
from six o'clock till midnight. But he suggests a very simple way in
which she could have escaped notice, had she wished. She had merely to
enter the train without buying a ticket, and pay her fare direct to the
conductor. I'm inclined to think that's what she did--providing, of
course, that she left town at all."

"I think she's left," I said; "and that's no doubt the way she did it."

"Now, I'll have to say good-bye," he added. "I don't think I shall stay
here much longer--the case isn't worth it. When do you go back?"

"I don't know, yet," I answered. "I've got to have something to take to
Curtiss. I can't go back empty-handed."

"I'll let you know if I hear anything," he said. "Our correspondent here
will be on the lookout for developments. My sympathies are all with
Curtiss. I want to help you."

"Thank you," I said. "Good-bye."

I watched him for a moment, as he hurried down the street; then I turned
back towards the Lawrence house. Yes, Godfrey evidently wished to help
me; and yet, while he had given me a lot of what he called "interesting
information," and had treated me to a no-less-interesting theory, he had
only made the mystery more impenetrable than ever.

"Beg pardon, sir," said a voice, and somebody ran into me.

I glanced up to see that it was a pert-looking boy, wearing a cap with
"W. U." on the front. We were just at the Lawrence gate.

"All right," I said. "No harm done," and entered.

Not till I was half-way up the walk, did it occur to me that the boy had
probably come out of the gate--that he had brought a message--from whom?
for whom?

I rang the bell, and a girl admitted me; but it was not Lucy Kingdon,
whom I had hoped to see. She showed me into the library, and took my
card. She must have met her mistress in the hall, for it was only a
moment before the rustle of approaching skirts announced her. As she
entered, I noticed with a quick leap of the heart that she held crushed
in her hand a sheet of yellow paper.

"Good-morning, Mr. Lester," she said, quite composedly, and it was
evident that she had entirely conquered the agitation which had racked
her the evening before. "Sit down, please," and she herself sank into a
chair. "I've been thinking over what you said to me yesterday
afternoon," she continued, "and I believe that you were right. Mr.
Curtiss unquestionably has the right to know what it is that takes his
promised wife away from him, and to decide if he shall permit it to take
her away forever."

"Then it's not _impossible_ that she should be his wife?" I questioned
quickly. "Your daughter was mistaken?"

"She perhaps thought it impossible at first; but I don't see it so. She
has been moved, I should say, by a sense of faithfulness to the dead. I
don't think--I can't think--that he will take it so seriously as she
does. He will look at it from a man's point of view; he won't shrink
from it as she did; besides, he'll see that it is no fault in her, that
she's just as she always was, sweet, pure, and lovable. She herself will
take it less seriously when she has time to think it over."

"Yes," I agreed, striving to conceal from her the fact that I did not in
the least understand. "No doubt of that. The first shock when she read
the letter----"

"The letter?" she broke in. "Which letter?"

"But I thought you knew!"

"I knew nothing of any letter," she said, her face suddenly white.

"Yesterday morning," I said, "just as Miss Lawrence was going upstairs
after looking at the decorations, a boy came to the door with a
special-delivery letter from New York. It was addressed to her--marked
'Important, read at once.' She took it and came into this room, and it
was here she learned this secret----"

But Mrs. Lawrence was no longer listening. She was sitting there,
staring straight before her, her face livid.

"A letter!" she repeated hoarsely. "A letter! I don't understand. I
thought she had been told--I thought that woman had told her--I was sure
of it. Yes--that must have been it--I cannot be mistaken--the letter had
nothing to do with it. It was that woman. She had waited all these
years, and then----"

There was a step at the door, and Lucy Kingdon's dark face appeared. She
was going past, but at the sight of us, she hesitated, and then stopped
on the threshold.

"Did you call, ma'am?" she asked, shooting me at the same time a glance
so venomous that I recoiled a little.

"No!" said Mrs. Lawrence, and it seemed to me that there was abhorrence
in the look she turned upon the other woman. "Yet stay," she added
quickly. "Go to your sister. Tell her I wish to see her--here--at once."

I saw the girl's start of surprise; she half-opened her lips to speak,
then glanced at me again and closed them.

"Very well, ma'am," she said, and left the room.

Mrs. Lawrence turned to me, still breathing quickly under the stress of
the emotion which shook her.

"You must leave me to solve this mystery, Mr. Lester," she said rapidly,
"by myself and in my own way. I must find who it is that has dared to
meddle in my family affairs. I was prepared to forgive--but there are
some things which can never be forgiven--however deeply one may
pity----"

She checked herself; perhaps she saw the intentness of my interest.

"But that is no concern of yours," she went on more calmly, and I could
not but admit the justice of the rebuke. "You're seeking Marcia. In that
I would help you, if I could, but I don't know where she is. As soon as
I do know, I will summon Mr. Curtiss; I promise you that. Perhaps you
will find her without my help. If you do, tell Mr. Curtiss to go to her
and demand an explanation; it is due him, and she has my full permission
to tell him everything. Then let him decide whether she shall be his
wife. We will both bow to his decision."

"But you've heard from her?" I persisted.

"Only this," she answered, and thrust a crumpled piece of paper into my
hand, then turned and left the room.

I smoothed it out and read the message at a glance, noting that it was
dated from New York:--

     "I am safe. Do not worry. Will write.

     "Marcia."



CHAPTER XIII

Pursuit


My work at Elizabeth was done. Whatever mystery this house contained,
whatever the secrets of the Kingdons and the Lawrences, my business was
not with them. I had only to return to New York and place this message
in Burr Curtiss's hands. I would counsel him to wait until Marcia
Lawrence chose to reveal herself--I was sure it would not be long. A few
days' respite would be wise for both of them; they would be calmer, more
self-controlled, better able to meet bravely and sensibly what must be
the one crisis of their lives. But a great load was lifted from me. Mrs.
Lawrence had assured me that the marriage was not impossible; loving
each other as they did, I knew that nothing short of the impossible
could stand between them. So they would win through, at last.

Cheered by this thought, I left the house and made my way to the hotel.

"When's the next train to New York?" I asked.

"There's one on the Pennsylvania, sir, in ten minutes," said the clerk.
"'Bus just leaving."

I ran out and got aboard, and a moment later we were bumping over the
uneven pavement. I took a final look up the shady street; it was the
last time I should see it. What was going on, I wondered, in that big
house among the trees? Had Miss Kingdon answered the imperative summons
sent her? Had there already been an explanation, a revelation of the
mystery? Had she confessed that it was indeed she who revealed the
secret? Was Mrs. Lawrence right in thinking the letter from New York had
no connection with it?

The 'bus stopped abruptly, and I clambered down to the platform and got
my ticket. It was still some minutes till train time, and while I
waited, a train on the Jersey Central tracks stood puffing a moment, and
then started on for Philadelphia. The little station was built in the
triangle where the two lines crossed; trains were passing almost every
minute, and I reflected how easy it would be for a person not familiar
with the place to get confused and to take the wrong train.

There came a growing rumble, a shrieking of brakes. A moment more and we
were off.

I glanced at my watch. It was nearly twelve o'clock. I should be at the
office in, say, forty-five minutes. I would wire Curtiss at once, and
the rest would be in his hands. My connection with the case would end.
And yet, it was not without a certain regret that I would relinquish
it--for I had not solved the mystery; that was, if anything, more
impenetrable than when I had first approached it. Godfrey's specious
theory--which I had myself at first believed--I put aside, for, even
from the broken sentences which had fallen from Mrs. Lawrence's lips, I
could see that it was not the right one. If Marcia Lawrence had fled in
order to protect the memory of the dead, there could be no question of a
living husband. But though I rejected that explanation, it was evident
that, with the data at hand, I could form no adequate one to replace it.

I went over in my mind every phase of the affair from first to last; I
endeavoured to sift out the significant incidents, and to reject the
immaterial; I tried to weld them into a compact mass, but they would not
be welded. There was nothing to connect them, no common thread upon
which they could be strung; all that I had in my possession was a bundle
of facts which seemed to be flatly self-contradictory.

I remembered Mrs. Lawrence's astonishment when I had mentioned the
existence of the letter. What had she said? "I thought it was that
woman!" Which woman? Evidently the elder Kingdon, since she had at once
sent for her. That had been my suspicion--that it was she or her sister
who had betrayed the secret. Yet the letter would seem to prove that it
was some one else. And it struck me as significant that at no time had
Mrs. Lawrence appeared to suspect the maid.

Was there really any connection, I wondered, between that old tragedy in
Mrs. Lawrence's life and this in the life of her daughter? I reviewed
again the story Dr. Schuyler had told me. How the lives of the Endicotts
and the Kingdons and the Lawrences had intertwined! I got out my
notebook and sketched a rough table showing their relationship, which
looked somewhat as here shown.

                                       Unknown
                                          |
                             |-------------------------|
    Hiram Jarvis-Wife (name unknown)     Mrs. Kingdon-Kingdon
        Endicott-Wife (name unknown)
                            |                          |
                |--------------------|       |--------------------|
    Henry Lawrence-Mary     Ruth Endicott   Harriet Kingdon Lucy Kingdon
    Jarvis-Boyd Endicott
                 |
           Marcia Lawrence

As I gazed down at this, two names seemed to stand out more vividly than
all the rest. I closed my eyes and called before me the faces of two
beautiful women. I had never seen either of them in the life--of one, I
had only a photograph; of the other I had seen only a crude portrait in
the parlour of the Kingdon cottage--but they had somehow assumed for me
personalities distinct and vivid. Marcia Lawrence and Ruth Endicott--the
tragedy of fate linked them together. Beautiful, young, accomplished,
reared amid gentle surroundings, both had tasted the bitterness of life.
From the very house whence Marcia Lawrence fled, Ruth Endicott had
started on her hopeless search for health.

The train slowed up for Jersey City, and in a moment was rolling under
the great shed. Twenty minutes later, I opened our office door. Mr.
Royce had gone out for lunch--which reminded me that I had missed mine
again--but he came in almost immediately.

"Well?" he cried, as he crossed the threshold, and came forward with
expectant face.

"You'd better wire Curtiss to come back," I said.

"You've news for him?"

I nodded.

"I knew you'd have!" he said exultantly, and drew a pad of telegraph
forms toward him and wrote a rapid message. "Curtiss is staying at a
little place on Jamaica Bay. He was afraid to go any farther away, I
suppose. He ought to be here in an hour," he added, and called a boy and
gave him the message.

Then he swung around to me again.

"Now let's have the story," he prompted. "I know there's a story."

"Yes," I said; "there's a story. I was just----"

The door burst open with a crash, and in came Burr Curtiss himself.

"I couldn't stay away any longer!" he cried. "I was eating my heart out.
Have you any news?"

"Sit down, Curtiss, and pull yourself together," interposed our junior,
catching him by the arm. "This won't do. I just wired you to come on.
You must have met the boy."

"I believe I did knock over a youngster just outside the door."

"Well, there's no damage done, I guess. Since you're here, Lester can go
right ahead with the story."

"But one thing first," interrupted our client. "Did you find out where
she went, Mr. Lester?"

"No," I answered. "But I have a message from her."

"Thank God!" he murmured, and sank back in his chair. I guessed what his
fear had been--that Marcia Lawrence was no longer among the living.

Looking at him closely, I was shocked at the change a single day had
wrought in him. His eyes were bloodshot from want of sleep, his face
pale and drawn, his hair and beard unkempt. In a word, he had ceased to
be the handsome, well-groomed man the world knew as Burr Curtiss.

I related my doings briefly, including only the essential points. Then I
placed the message in his hands. He read it, his face quivering.

"But this tells us nothing," he said hoarsely, looking up at me with
piteous eyes.

"Except that she was in New York this morning--and wants to fight her
battle out by herself."

Curtiss was on his feet, his face livid.

"But she sha'n't fight it out by herself!" he cried. "Do you think I'm
such a coward as that--to stand back, not offering to help?"

"Perhaps you can't help," I interposed.

"Don't talk nonsense!" he retorted. "I beg your pardon, Mr. Lester, but
I'm overwrought--I can't choose my words. But it _is_ nonsense. I love
her--of course I can help. Don't you see, it's not herself she's
thinking of--she's trying to spare _me_."

I nodded. Perhaps it was for his sake that Marcia Lawrence had taken
that wild step. That would be like a woman.

"You may be right," I said. "I'd never thought of that solution, but
Mrs. Lawrence's last words to me would seem to point that way. She said
that the matter would rest in your hands--that it would be for you to
choose, after you'd heard the story."

"I don't want to hear the story!" Curtiss cried. "Good God! What do I
care for the story! I've made my choice, once and forever! I want her!
Of course it was to spare me she ran away! She'd never think of
herself!"

I might have retorted that it had been a rather questionable form of
mercy; that she could scarcely have inflicted on him any suffering more
acute than that which he had undergone. But I forbore; instead, I took
the telegram again and studied it.

"If you really wish to find her," I said, "perhaps this will give us a
clue."

"I do wish to find her."

"This form will tell us which station this message was sent from, I
think. Wait here a minute," and I crossed the hall to the brokerage
offices of Sims & Wesson. "May I speak to your operator?" I asked of the
junior partner.

"Certainly," he said, and waved me to the little room where the
instruments were clicking merrily away.

"Can you tell me what these characters mean?" I asked, placing the
message before the operator and pointing to the row of figures and
letters at the top of it--"61CWDDSA8PD."

"The sixty-one," he said, "means that this was the sixty-first message
received at Elizabeth this morning; 'CW' means that the message was
filed at the Christopher Street office--corner Christopher and West;
'DD' and 'SA' are the initials of the operators who sent and received
the message; '8PD' means that there are eight words in the message and
that it was prepaid. It's the regular form used on all Western Union
messages."

"Thank you," I said, and hurried back across the hall elated, for I had
learned more than I had dared to hope.

"Well?" asked Curtiss, looking up with anxious face.

"The message was filed at the Christopher Street office," I said,
"Christopher and West streets----"

"West Street?" echoed Mr. Royce. "What on earth was she doing there?"

"She could have been doing only one thing," I pointed out exultantly.
"When a woman goes down to the docks, it must be----"

"To take a boat!"

"Just so! And when she goes to that particular portion of the docks, it
must be to take a trans-Atlantic liner."

Curtiss stared at me for a moment as though not understanding; then he
rose heavily to his feet.

"Well, I can follow her even there," he said, and started for the door.

But Mr. Royce had him by the arm.

"My dear Curtiss!" he protested. "Think what a wild-goose chase you're
starting on!"

"Better than sitting idle here," retorted Curtiss doggedly; and I could
not but agree with him.

"Perhaps we can narrow the search down a little," I said. "Suppose we
drive around to the West Street office."

"Just what I was about to do," said Curtiss, and led the way to the
elevator.

During that drive across town, we found little to say. Curtiss was deep
in his own thoughts, and I saw from the way Mr. Royce looked at him, how
anxious he was concerning him. But at last we reached our destination.

"Can you give me any description of the person who sent this message?" I
asked, and spread out the telegram before the man at the desk. "Perhaps
you'll let us see the original."

He glanced at the message and then at us.

"No question of a mistake, I hope?" he said. "The message reads straight
enough."

"No," I answered; "rather a question of preventing a mistake. I hope you
won't refuse us."

He glanced us over again and seemed to understand.

"It's a little irregular," he said; "but I guess I can do it."

He opened a drawer, and ran through a sheaf of papers.

"Here it is," he said, and laid a sheet before us. "You see the message
was correctly sent."

"Yes," I agreed; but it was not at the message I was looking; it was at
the sheet upon which it was written--a sheet which had embossed at the
top the words "S. S. _Umbria_."

"Who sent the message?" I asked.

"It was brought in by a messenger from the Cunard line pier."

"What time did the _Umbria_ sail?"

"She was to have sailed at twelve o'clock, but was delayed by a little
accident of some sort. Perhaps she's still at her pier."

I thanked fortune that I had told our cabman to wait; I think Curtiss
would have been crazed by any delay. As it was, we rushed from the
office and crowded in.

"The Cunard pier!" cried Mr. Royce, "and in a hurry!" and he waved a
bill under the cabman's nose.

Not until we were under way did Curtiss speak.

"Did you see?" he asked, in a voice which shook convulsively. "The
message was in Marcia's writing."

"Yes," I said. "I recognised it."

"We must catch the boat. Why don't that fellow whip up?"

"He's going as fast as he can," said Mr. Royce. "Sit still, Curtiss,"
and he threw an arm about him.

What a ride that was over the cobble-stones! Half a dozen times I
thought a collision inevitable, but we had fallen into skilful hands,
and were safely piloted through openings in the crowd of vehicles where
it seemed a hand-barrow could not hope to go.

"Here we are!" cried cabby, and we tumbled out. He had done his best to
earn his tip, and got it.

The pier was crowded, but we forced our way along it with scant regard
for the feelings of other people. Had the ship sailed--were we in
time----

"She's gone," said Mr. Royce, as we gained the front of the crowd. "See
there."

There she was, headed squarely down the stream, just gathering speed.
There was a flutter of hand-kerchiefs from her deck, we could see the
people crowding against the rail in their eagerness to wave a last
good-bye----

Curtiss, who had been staring at her stupidly, suddenly flushed and
pulled himself erect.

"There she is!" he cried. "See--standing alone by that forward boat."

I stared with all my eyes. There was indeed a figure there--a woman clad
in black--but the face was the merest blur.

"You think so?" I asked incredulously.

"I know so!" and he swung sharp round, his face alight with eagerness.
"Come--there must be some way to catch her--a tug----"

He accosted the first blue-coated official he could find, but that
worthy shook his head. No tug could catch the _Umbria_ now; besides,
there was none at hand to make the trial. By the time one could be
secured, the ship would be far down the bay, settling into her speed.
What was the trouble--a lady on board?

"Well, the best you can do is to meet her at Liverpool when she lands,"
he said.

"Meet her?" echoed Curtiss. "But how?"

"Take the _Oceanic_. She'll sail in half an hour from Pier 48, just
below here. She'll reach Liverpool ahead of the _Umbria_--perhaps a day
ahead."

I saw Curtiss's lips tighten with sudden resolution.

"Thank you," he said. "I'll do it."

There was nothing to be said. He was past arguing with, even had we felt
like arguing--which I, for one, did not.

"I'll cable," he promised, as we stood in the shadow of the big liner,
"and let you know if I find her."

"Have you money enough?" asked Mr. Royce. "Don't hesitate to say so, if
you haven't."

Curtiss laughed bitterly.

"Oh, I've enough!" he said. "Quite a roll, in fact. I'd expected to
spend it on a honeymoon!"

"You'll have the honeymoon yet," said Mr. Royce, with a certainty I
thought a little forced. "What will you do for clothes?"

"I can make out some way till I get to the other side--the steward can
help me."

Mr. Royce was again looking at him anxiously.

"I don't like it," he said, "your running off this way. You'll kill
yourself."

"Oh, I'll be all right," Curtiss assured him. "A sea-voyage is just what
would have been prescribed for me," and he attempted a smile.

"But you've got the worst stateroom on board," and indeed the _Oceanic_
had been so crowded that he was fortunate to get that.

"No matter," said Curtiss. "I'd have gone if there'd been no place but
the steerage."

"There's one thing," I said. "Have you an enemy in New York who might
try to do you an injury? That would explain the letter, you know."

Curtiss thought for a moment with knitted brows. Then he shook his head.

"No," he said decidedly, "I have no enemy--certainly none who'd descend
to stabbing me in the back. Besides, what could even the most
unscrupulous enemy have written? How could he have hurt me? I can't
understand it," he added wearily.

"Neither can I," I agreed. "It's beyond reasoning about."

"An enemy might have written a lie," suggested Mr. Royce.

"But Marcia wouldn't have believed it," retorted Curtiss. "I know
her--she would have cast it from her. She trusted me. No; whatever the
secret, it was one whose truth she could not doubt."

And I agreed with him.

We shook hands with him, at last; and when the great White Star ship
swung out into the stream, he waved us a final good-bye from the deck.

"So he's gone," I said, as we rolled back down town again.

"Yes--and the question is whether he was wise to go--whether it can do
any good."

"I think he's wise," I said. "It's a real passion--as you yourself
pointed out to me."

"A real passion--yes," agreed our junior. "And yet--do you know, Lester,
at the bottom of it all, I suspect some hideous, unbelievable thing. It
turns me cold sometimes--trying to imagine what the secret is. It's a
sort of dim, vague, threatening monster."

"Yes; I've felt that way about it. I can't grasp it, and yet I feel that
it's there, just below the surface of things, ready to jump out and rend
us. Well, Curtiss will find out."

"I hope so, if only for his sake. He'll go mad if he doesn't--and so
will we, if we talk about it any more. I want you to look over those
papers in the Consolidated suit. It comes up this afternoon, you
know--and, by Jove! we'll have to hurry, or we'll be late for the
hearing."



CHAPTER XIV

Recalled to the Front


Never were slippers and easy-chair more welcome to me than they were
that night. I was thoroughly weary in mind as well as body, and as I
dropped into the chair and donned the slippers, I determined to go early
to bed, and to forget all about the Lawrence enigma. I was heartily glad
that I was rid of it; it had proved so baffling, so discouraging that I
rejoiced at the chance which had taken it out of my hands. Burr Curtiss
must puzzle it out for himself.

I fancied I could see him, pacing up and down the deck of the _Oceanic_,
staring ahead into the starlit night, bracing himself for that meeting
which would mean so much to him. I wondered what Marcia Lawrence's
thoughts were. Did she regret that she had fled? Did she already see the
fatal error of that step? Ah, if her lover were only beside her, there
on the deck, as he might have been but for that cruel irony of fate
which had swept her from him! She could not know that he was pursuing
her--that he would be the first to meet her as she stepped ashore at
Liverpool. How would she bear the shock of that meeting?

I had bought a copy of the last edition of the _Record_ as I came up
from dinner, and I shook it out and glanced over it. Apparently Godfrey
had discovered nothing new in the affair at Elizabeth, for the paper
made absolutely no reference to it, so far as I could discover. No doubt
he had returned to New York immediately after bidding me good-bye; by
this time he was probably deep in the untangling of some other mystery
for the benefit of the _Record's_ readers. Sensations of to-day eclipsed
those of yesterday, and I realised how quickly Burr Curtiss and his
affairs would drop from the public mind.

But as I laid the paper aside, and filled my pipe for a final smoke
before turning in, I told myself that I could scarcely hope that they
would drop so easily from my mind, however much I might wish it;
besides, I had left it unsolved and seemingly unsolvable, and a mystery
of that sort is not easily forgotten. It is like an unfinished book, an
unsettled case--it lives to oppress the mind and pique the imagination.

I knocked out my pipe impatiently. The place for me was in bed. I was
becoming obsessed by this affair. If I did not shake it off, it would
end by getting such a grip of me that I could not sleep at all, or I
would fall asleep only to be startled awake again as I had been the
night before. That was truly a terrifying prospect!

I started for my bedroom, when a tap at my door stopped me. I opened it
to find Mrs. Fitch, my landlady, on the threshold.

"A telegram for you, Mr. Lester," she said, and held it out to me. "I
told the boy to wait."

"Thank you," I said, and tore open the envelope. "There'll be no
answer," I added, a moment later, and shut the door somewhat hastily I
fear, but Mrs. Fitch's eyes are sharp ones, and I did not wish her to
see my face just then.

I dropped into my chair and read the message again:--

     "I advise you to return to Elizabeth at once. New developments
     in which you will be interested.

     "GODFREY."

"New developments!" Ah, Godfrey knew me well! For already my fatigue was
forgotten in the ardour of the chase, and a moment later I found myself
changing from slippers to shoes as fast as my fingers could handle the
laces.

Mrs. Fitch met me on the stair.

"Not going out again, Mr. Lester!" she protested. "Why, you'll kill
yourself."

"I can't help it, Mrs. Fitch," I said. "I've got to go."

"Not bad news, I hope?"

"No."

"And you'll be back soon?"

"Not to-night, I'm afraid."

"Oh, nonsense, Mr. Lester----"

But I left her protesting on the step, and hurried down the street. Mrs.
Fitch meant well, but she was sometimes a little in the way.

I took the elevated to Cortlandt Street, and hurried down to the ferry,
expecting every instant to hear the gong which announced the departure
of the boat. But I found that I had ten minutes to wait before there was
a train, and I spent them walking feverishly up and down the narrow
waiting-room, where the road's patrons are herded like cattle behind the
slatted gates.

At last the gates opened; there was the usual rush to the boat; the slow
crossing of the wide river, with the cool salt breeze coming in from the
ocean; the stampede to the coaches through the great Jersey City
station; and finally I found myself in a seat, with the train rumbling
out from under the long shed.

I stared out into the night, wondering what the new developments could
be. They must have been unusual and unexpected ones, to stir Godfrey to
sending me that telegram! But what _could_ they be? For the present, the
case was closed. Curtiss and Miss Lawrence were both in mid-ocean, and
any further developments must await their meeting. Besides, it was only
a few hours since I myself had left Elizabeth, and there had seemed no
prospect then of anything further happening there. Godfrey had announced
his own intention of leaving the place at once--he had said that the
case wasn't worth wasting any more time over. What, then, had detained
him?

Was it possible, I asked myself, that Marcia Lawrence had not sailed on
the _Umbria_, that the message had been merely a blind, that she had
foreseen that we would trace it to the West Street office, that she had
written it on a sheet of the steamer's paper for the purpose of
deceiving us? Yes, that was clearly possible. She may have returned
home, and Godfrey, discovering the return, had summoned me to be present
at her unmasking! I had really only half-believed that it was she whom
Curtiss had descried upon the _Umbria's_ forward deck. But if she had,
indeed, done all this, she must be far more deeply versed in deception
than I had supposed. I should hardly have given her credit for laying a
plan so adroit as that; but one can never judge a woman's capabilities.

Suddenly conscious again of my fatigue, I laid my head back against the
seat, and dozed away until the sharp call of the brakeman aroused me.
Not until I had left the train did I remember that Godfrey had appointed
no rendezvous. He might, perhaps, be awaiting me at the hotel, or, at
least, he had certainly left a message there for me, and I started up
the street.

But an inquiry of the clerk developed the fact that, while Godfrey was
still stopping there, he had gone out immediately after dinner, and had
left no message of any kind. For a moment I was fairly taken aback, so
confident had I been; but perhaps Godfrey had deemed a message
superfluous after the hint given in the telegram--I knew how he detested
the obvious. He had no doubt thought that hint sufficient--and it was.

Eleven o'clock was striking as I gained the street again, and turned my
steps toward the Lawrence place. If there were indeed any new
developments, it must be either there or at the cottage that they had
come to light. That was self-evident; that could be the only rendezvous;
it was there Godfrey was awaiting me. So I walked on rapidly, and in a
very few minutes reached my destination.

The house was dark and gloomy, as it had been the night before. I
entered the grounds and made a careful circuit of the place, but not a
glimmer of light could I detect at any of the windows. There was nothing
to indicate that any one was stirring, nor did I come upon any trace of
Godfrey, though I half expected to collide with him at any moment.
Plainly there was nothing to be discovered here, and at last I turned my
steps toward the path which led to the cottage.

Then suddenly I stopped, for it seemed to me that I had caught sight of
a dim figure flitting among the trees. I was facing the street, and the
glow from the arc lights there made a grey background against which I
fancied I saw a shadow moving. I strained my eyes--yes--there it was
again, approaching the house along the path.

I am no more superstitious than most men, yet, for an instant, the
notion seized me like an electric shock, that this was no earthly
visitant. But I shook myself together, and leaned forward watching it
from behind a sheltering tree. It went directly to the balcony steps,
and mounted them with a swiftness which showed how familiar it was with
the place. Had I been right in my conjecture, then? Had Marcia Lawrence
really come home again?

The question flashed through my brain like lightning. I had already
delayed too much; it was time that I did something!

In an instant I had gained the path and mounted the steps. One of the
windows was open. I passed through it into the library.

There was a sharp click and, in the sudden flare of light, I found
myself looking down the barrel of a revolver, behind which glared the
sinister face of Lucy Kingdon.



CHAPTER XV

A Battle of Wits


I saw the swift spasm of hatred which crossed her face, as she
recognised me; I even fancied that her finger tightened convulsively
upon the trigger, and I braced myself for the shock. But she did not
fire. Instead, she lowered her pistol with a grim little laugh.

"So it's you!" she said, and stood looking at me, her lips curving
maliciously.

"Yes," I answered. "Who did you think it was?"

"Oh, I don't know. A burglar, perhaps."

"You seem to have been prepared for him."

"I always carry this pistol when I go back and forth through the grounds
at night."

"And know how to use it, I dare say."

"I think I'd be able to defend myself."

"I'm sure of it. Do you often go back and forth at night?"

"It's sometimes late when I get through here."

"But this time," I pointed out, "you weren't leaving the house--you were
returning to it."

"Is that any of your business?" she asked, her eyes beginning to gleam.

"Perhaps not," I admitted.

"And yet you're capable of making a mystery out of it!" she sneered.
"Let me relieve your mind--I'm staying with Mrs. Lawrence. She sleeps
badly, and wishes me near her."

"And your exits and entrances are, I suppose, usually by the window?"

"It's the most convenient way."

"Mrs. Lawrence doesn't object, then, to your leaving it open?"

"I don't leave it open."

"You did just now."

She looked at me a moment without replying, then laughed a short, little
laugh of mingled amusement and vexation.

"I'll leave you to puzzle that out, I think," she said. "You're so
ingenious, you'll surely hit upon the explanation. I scarcely expected
to see you here again," she added. "You thought it worth while to
return?"

"Yes; there are one or two points which are not quite clear."

"And you expect to make them so?" she asked, with a mocking smile. "How?
By lurking around the house like a thief, and following women?"

There was something in her tone, her look, her attitude, which caught my
attention--a sort of confident triumph, as of one who plays for a high
stake and wins. She was no longer anxious and perturbed, as she had been
the day before--nay, that very morning. She thought it safe to flout me
openly.

"So you convinced Mrs. Lawrence that you and your sister were not
guilty?" I asked. "But of course you'd do that!"

"Guilty of what?" she demanded, flushing darkly.

"Guilty of causing Miss Lawrence's flight," I answered bluntly. "Of
wrecking her life."

"Do you believe that?"

"I know it!"

She laughed scornfully.

"You know a great deal, it seems."

"More than you think," I retorted.

She flushed again, and bit her lips to restrain their trembling.

"Though there's one thing I don't know," I went on, determined to strike
home, if I could. "I can't imagine why Miss Lawrence should have chosen
your house as a place of refuge. She must know that you hate her--that
you waited, like a snake in ambush, for the moment when the blow would
pierce most deeply; she must see that you are using her to avenge
yourself----"

A sharp click interrupted me, and I found myself in darkness. I heard
the closing of a door, the turning of a lock. When, after a moment's
groping along the wall, I found the electric button and switched on the
light again, I saw that the door leading from the library to the hall
was closed. I tried it--it was locked.

"Good-night, Mr. Lester," called a low mocking voice from the other
side. "Please turn off the light before you go, and close the window
after you. Another thing--I'd advise you not to disturb my sister again
to-night; it would really not be safe. And I hope you'll let me know
when you succeed in clearing up those little points you were speaking
of--I'm immensely interested in them."

She laughed again, and I heard her footsteps die away down the hall.

Feeling absurdly foolish, I switched off the light, and left the house.
Plainly, Lucy Kingdon had ceased to fear me. She believed that she had
won the fight, that her position was impregnable. Either she thought
that Marcia Lawrence had escaped, that we had not traced her to the
_Umbria_, or she knew that the telegram was a blind, and that we had
been misled by it. Which was right, I wondered. And she must have come
off well, too, in that interview with Mrs. Lawrence, which I would have
given so much to have overheard--must have convinced her of her
innocence, else she would not still be employed as a maid in the
Lawrence house, and retained so near her mistress. How had she done it?
How had she succeeded in blinding her mistress so completely?

Then a sudden thought stabbed through me. Was it possible, I asked
myself, that Mrs. Lawrence had been a party to the deception--that she
had knowingly assisted in the farce of the telegram, for my benefit?
But, as I reviewed her behaviour at our morning interview, I could not
believe it. She was no such consummate actress as that would imply. If I
was a dupe, then she was a dupe also.

Busy with this problem, I made my way through the grove along the path
back to the Kingdon cottage, and stood for a moment looking over the
hedge before opening the gate. There was a light in the room which I
took to be the dining-room, but even as I gazed at it, the light moved,
a shadow crossed the blind; the light reappeared in the kitchen, faded
and disappeared--then, a moment later, my heart leaped suffocatingly as
I perceived a glimmer of light at the ventilator in the foundation! What
was this woman doing in the cellar? What was the task that was going
forward there?

I entered the grounds and started forward along the hedge, when suddenly
a hand reached up from the shadow and held me fast. For an instant I
struggled fiercely to free myself--but only for an instant.

"Come, Lester, sit down," said a voice carefully repressed, but which I
nevertheless recognised as Godfrey's. "I was looking for you," he added,
as I dropped to the grass beside him.

"Oh, is it you, Godfrey?" I asked, much relieved. "I rather thought you
might be out this way, when I found you weren't at the hotel. What are
the developments?"

"Wait a minute. I wonder where that light has gone?"

"It's in the cellar," I said, and pointed out to him the faint glimmer
which marked the ventilator. "It was there last night. I sat here for
over an hour and watched it," and I told him briefly of my adventures of
the night before.

He listened without comment until I had finished.

"It's a pity you didn't tell me that this morning," he said.

"I didn't see that it was connected with the case in any way. Is it?"

"I don't know," he answered slowly. "Perhaps it is. Did Miss Kingdon
mention it when she saw you this morning?"

"Yes--she said she'd been in the cellar, putting away some fruit."

"Absurd! There's no fruit this early in the year. Besides, even if it
were true, she wouldn't have to repeat the process again to-night. What
else haven't you told me?"

I laughed and recounted my adventures from the moment Mrs. Lawrence gave
me her daughter's telegram until that other moment when Lucy Kingdon
left me alone in the darkened library.

He listened without interruption, his eyes on the glimmer of light at
the ventilator.

"Yes," he said, "I saw Lucy Kingdon leave the house a few minutes ago.
Her sister's alone there now. What do you suppose she's doing in the
cellar?"

"I can't imagine."

"You could see nothing?"

"Not a thing except her shadow moving back and forth."

"Moving back and forth?"

"Yes; it seemed to me that she was alternately rising and stooping, as
though she were going through some sort of exercise."

"She'd hardly go into the cellar at midnight to exercise."

"No, of course not. But that's the only explanation I could think of,
unless she's bowing up and down before an idol."

Godfrey laughed grimly.

"That would be a unique solution," he said. "Fancy our headlines: 'Devil
Worship at Elizabeth! Fantastic Midnight Orgies in a Cellar!' Wouldn't
that stir the public? But I'm afraid it's a little too fantastic. Could
you hear anything?"

"Only the faintest of faint sounds. I couldn't make anything of them."

"Well, there wouldn't be any sounds at all if she were merely bobbing up
and down before an idol. Was she alone last night?"

"Yes. Her sister spent the night with Mrs. Lawrence. Godfrey," I added,
"you haven't told me yet why you sent that telegram. Has Miss Lawrence
returned?"

"Not that I know of. Furthermore, I don't think she will return very
soon."

"Then you think she really sailed?"

"I think--I don't know what to think, Lester. Give me a moment more.
Isn't there a window to the cellar?"

"Yes, but it's closely curtained."

"Well, I'm going to take a look, myself," he said. "Wait here for me,
and be as patient as you can."

I saw him go cautiously forward toward the ventilator, and stoop down
before it. He remained there motionless for some moments, then
disappeared around a corner of the house. I sat there waiting for him,
thinking not without some chagrin, that, as usual, he had pumped me dry,
and given nothing in return. It was really unfair of Godfrey to expect
every one to play into his hands. And yet, I reflected, if he hadn't
wanted to be friendly, he would scarcely have taken the trouble to send
me that message.

I looked up to see his tall figure coming toward me through the
darkness. He dropped beside me, and sat for a moment silent--only, as I
caught a glimpse of his face, I was startled to see how white it was.

"I couldn't see a thing," he said, at last, "except a shadow moving up
and down, as you said. And I heard the sounds. The woman is working at
something in the cellar--something that requires time--something which
must be done secretly. I couldn't make anything out of the shadows, and
not much out of the sounds--at least, I fear it's only my imagination
which gave them the significance they had for me."

"What significance did they have?" I asked.

"I'm half afraid to tell you, Lester; you'll laugh at me. But as I bent
outside that ventilator yonder with my ear against it, I could have
sworn that the person inside was engaged in shovelling earth--shovelling
it into--a grave!"

A little shudder ran through me at the words; never was laughter farther
from my thoughts.

"A grave!" I stammered. "But whose grave?"

"I don't know--Marcia Lawrence's, perhaps."

"Marcia Lawrence sailed on the _Umbria_."

"You don't know she did. You don't even believe she did."

"Whether she did or not, who would kill her, and why?"

"Ah, if you come to the why and wherefore, I can't answer you--not yet."

"Besides," I went on, "the writing on the message left at the West
Street office was her writing."

"Perhaps it was only a good imitation--you can't be absolutely sure that
you've ever seen a sample of her writing. There's nothing to prove that
she wrote either the note or the message."

"But Curtiss identified them--he was sure the writing was hers."

"Curtiss wasn't in a condition to be sure of anything. But suppose it
was hers. She may have wished to blind her mother and Curtiss
completely--she may have wished them to think that she had really gone
abroad--she must have foreseen that you would trace the telegram. She
may have done all that before she came back here----"

"Came back here?" I repeated, suddenly finding a dozen arguments against
my own theory of half an hour before. "Walk into the lion's jaws?
Nonsense, Godfrey! Place herself in the power of the people who, I
suppose you think, killed her!"

"I don't think they killed her," Godfrey said composedly. "My belief is
that she killed herself to escape her husband--to get out of the tangle
in which she'd involved herself."

"Her husband! You cling to the husband then, do you?"

"More than ever. He's an Italian--a tall, well-built, handsome fellow,
with black eyes and a most becoming black moustache. He has a florid
complexion and can speak English, though with a strong accent. He smokes
cigarettes, which he rolls himself, and he has lost the tip of the
little finger of his left hand. He's fond of music; perhaps himself a
singer or musician, and it may have been as instructor that he first met
Miss Lawrence----"

I had been staring at Godfrey open-mouthed; I could restrain myself no
longer.

"But how do you know all this?" I gasped. "Or is it merely a fairy
tale?"

"It's not in the least a fairy tale, my dear Lester. I know it because
this estimable gentleman was himself in Elizabeth yesterday. The letter
which Miss Lawrence received appointed a rendezvous at the Kingdon
cottage. It was here she fled to see him--to buy him off, as she had
done once before."



CHAPTER XVI

The Secret of the Cellar


It was a moment before I fully understood the meaning of these
extraordinary words. When I did understand them, I saw crumbling before
me that elaborate structure which I had been at such pains to build--the
structure founded upon the assumption of Miss Lawrence's innocence. She
was only an adventuress, after all, then; or, more probably, only a weak
woman, swayed by an ungovernable passion, risking everything rather than
give up the man she loved; deceiving him, lying to him, taking the one
desperate chance that lay within her reach; pausing at nothing so she
might gain her end.

Or perhaps she had really believed that old mistake of hers buried past
resurrection. She may have thought him dead, this fascinating scoundrel
who had turned her girlish head. She may have thought herself free. But
even then her skirts were not wholly clean. She should have told her
lover; she should never have permitted this shadow to lie between
them--this skeleton, ready at any moment to burst from its closet. But
better far that it should burst out when it did, than wait until the sin
was consummated; an hour later, and the shackles had been forged past
breaking! If revenge on Marcia Lawrence was the object of the plot, the
conspirators had overleaped themselves. They should have waited until
the words were uttered which bound her to her second lover--then, had
they sprung their trap, how they might have racked her!

One other thing I understood--and marvelled that I had not understood
before. I saw what Mrs. Lawrence had meant by saying that the marriage
was not impossible--that the obstacle could be cleared away--that it
should be for Burr Curtiss to decide. But even he, I felt, would
hesitate to take for his wife a woman just emerging from the shadow of
the divorce court, however little she had been to blame for the tragedy
which drove her there--more especially since he must see that from the
very first she had not dealt fairly with him. A fault confessed may be
forgiven; a fault discovered is a different thing.

She had not been brave enough to confess; she had not trusted him; she
had deceived him. She had been guilty, guilty! Those were the words
which sang and sang in my brain and would not be stilled.

Her face was a siren's face--beautiful, innocent, virgin-fresh; and her
soul a siren's soul--merciless, selfish, hard. And I had fancied that
the soul was like the face! I had not thought that a face like that
could lie! Verily, of women I had much to learn!

"It was only by the merest accident I found it out," Godfrey was saying.
"It was the policeman who was on duty at the Lawrence place yesterday
morning who gave me the first hint. I'd already sounded him, as well as
everybody else about the place, as to whether any strangers had been
noticed loitering about, and they were all quite positive that no
stranger had passed the gate or entered the grounds during the morning.
After I left you, yesterday morning, I started back to the hotel to get
my things together, and in the hotel office I happened to meet the
policeman, whose name, it seems, is Clemley. He was off duty and seemed
anxious to talk, so I took him in to the bar, and got him a drink, and
pumped him a little on the off-chance of his knowing something he hadn't
told me.

"'And you're still sure,' I asked him after a while, 'that no strangers
went into the Lawrence house yesterday morning?'

"'Oh, yes, sir,' he answered. 'Perfectly sure. I was on duty there all
the time, you know. There were a good many people around, but I knew
them all. I've been a policeman here for twenty years, and there's
mighty few people I don't know. The only stranger I noticed the whole
morning was a fellow who stopped to ask me where Miss Kingdon lived.'

"You can guess, Lester, how my heart jumped when I heard that! Well, he
described him about as I described him to you----"

"Even to his being a musician?" I asked.

"Well, no," Godfrey laughed. "That was a long shot of my own. But he
told me the fellow was humming a tune all the time he wasn't talking. He
came along just about eleven o'clock, and asked where Miss Kingdon
lived; asked also what was going on at the Lawrence place, and seemed
much interested in what the policeman told him. He rolled a cigarette
and lighted it as he talked--rolled it, Clemley says, with one twist of
his fingers, so expertly that Clemley marvelled at it. Finally he went
on to the gate out yonder, and entered the yard. That was all Clemley
saw."

"Did he see him come out again?"

"No--he's certain he didn't come out while he was on duty, which was
till three o'clock in the afternoon. Of course, he may have left by some
other way. He could have gone out by the alley at the back of the lot,
if he'd wished to avoid being seen."

"And you believe Marcia Lawrence met him here?"

"I'm sure of it. There can be only one explanation of that letter--it
demanded a price for silence; threatened exposure--at the church itself,
perhaps, unless the money was paid. Miss Lawrence flew here with what
jewels and money she could lay her hands on at the moment, gave them to
him, and he left; or perhaps she only promised to reward him if he'd
keep the secret--it's doubtful if she had money enough at hand to buy
him off, for his demands wouldn't be modest. At any rate, she got rid of
him for the moment. But after he had gone, she reflected that she would
always be at his mercy, that she could never be Burr Curtiss's legal
wife. Suppose she should return to the house and carry through the farce
of a marriage ceremony, she would only be preparing for herself an agony
of suffering even more terrible than that which she was then enduring.
The time would surely come when she would be unmasked before her lover.
She could bear anything but that. She decided to end it--but to end it
in such a way that her secret would be safe forever. So she lured him
away upon another trail, then returned here and----" He finished with a
significant gesture at his throat.

I thought it over; then I shook my head.

"It won't do, Godfrey," I said. "It won't hold together. In the first
place, how did this fellow know about the Kingdons? If he met Miss
Lawrence here, they must be his accomplices."

"I believe they are."

"Granting that, I don't believe Miss Lawrence killed herself. I
certainly don't believe any such fantastic theory as that Miss Kingdon
is working away there in the cellar burying the body. Why should she
incur such a risk as that?"

"I've asked myself the same question, depend upon it, Lester."

"And found an answer to it?"

"Not yet."

"Miss Lawrence is on board the _Umbria_," I repeated, trying to convince
myself.

"Then what is Miss Kingdon doing in the cellar?"

"I don't know, but it's not what you think."

"Well," said Godfrey, rising suddenly, "I'm not going to theorise about
it any longer--I'm going to find out."

"To find out?" I echoed, rising too.

"Yes--I'm going to enter the house."

"But you'll be committing a felony."

"Oh, I don't think I'll have to break in. I believe that door yonder is
unlocked, Lester. Lucy Kingdon came out of it, and I'm pretty sure it
hasn't been locked since."

"That makes no difference," I pointed out. "If you turn the latch, you
are, legally, just as guilty as if you picked the lock."

"Well, I'm going to take the risk," and he stooped over and slipped off
his shoes. "Suppose you stay here and give the alarm if any one comes."

"That would make me an accessory just as much as going along," I
objected.

He laughed.

"Well, come along, then," he said, and started toward the house; then
stopped and turned toward me. "Have you got a revolver?"

"No; I thought of buying one last night, but this morning it seemed
ridiculous."

"I think it anything but ridiculous," said Godfrey quietly. "But perhaps
it's just as well. A revolver is a dangerous thing for any man who isn't
used to it to carry in his pocket. Now, move as silently as you can, and
no talking--not even a whisper."

I have never quite understood the uncontrollable impulse which urged me
forward. It was, I think, a feverish desire to know the truth, to solve
this mystery once and for all; but over that, and stronger than that,
was the longing to exonerate Miss Lawrence--to prove Godfrey in the
wrong. I did not stop then to reason about it; my brain was in a whirl;
but I somehow got my shoes off, and caught up with Godfrey just as he
cautiously tried the door. It was unlocked; we slipped inside and closed
it softly.

I fancy that I felt at that moment much as a thief feels who, having
entered a house, pauses to find if he has been detected, and to
determine the direction of his prey. But Godfrey seemed quite
self-possessed. He drew from his pocket a small electric torch, and sent
a slender beam of light quivering about the room. We were in a sort of
entry between kitchen and dining-room; the kitchen door stood ajar; we
opened it and passed through. Again I caught a faint gleam of light;
Godfrey crossed the room softly, entered what I saw afterwards to be a
pantry, and opened another door.

In an instant, a broad stream of yellow light poured through. It was the
door to the cellar.

Godfrey lay down cautiously upon the floor, and slowly dropped his head
through the opening. I was close behind him, and I caught a sound which
sent a sudden chill through me--a sound of shovelling. There was no
mistaking it--Godfrey had guessed right. I could hear the shovel scrape
against the dirt; I could hear the dirt dropped into a hole----

Godfrey rose to his feet, motioned me to follow, and crept softly down
the stair. Not until I was half-way down, did I perceive that the noise
came not from the main cellar, but from a sort of recess concealed from
us by an angle of the wall. I could see a head bobbing up and down, with
the regular rhythm of the shovel, a head which I recognised as belonging
to the elder Miss Kingdon.

We crept forward and gained the shelter of the other wall, when there
came a sudden sound of footsteps overhead. In an instant the light was
extinguished, and I heard the woman cross the cellar and go softly up
the stairs. Then a door opened and shut heavily, a voice called her
name, and the steps went on into the front part of the house.

My face was damp with perspiration, as Godfrey seized my hand and pulled
me forward, shooting a ray of light before us, round the wall into the
recess where Miss Kingdon had been labouring--only to pause,
shudderingly, at the brink of a--grave?

It was impossible to tell. Certainly it was a hole which roughly
resembled a grave, though its outlines were jagged and irregular. It was
filled with loose earth to within about a foot of the level of the
cellar floor. A pile of dirt was banked in one corner, and upon it lay a
pick and shovel.

"Here," whispered Godfrey, and thrust the torch into my hands. "Keep
your finger on this button. I'm going to find out what's buried here."

My hand was shaking so that I could scarcely hold the torch. I saw him
seize the shovel and step down into the hole. Then with a little shake
of his head, he laid it carefully down again, and, stooping, began
scooping the loose dirt from one end of the hole with his hands. I
scarcely breathed as I watched him. What _was_ buried here? What
dreadful thing was about to be revealed?

"Steady, Lester!" whispered Godfrey, and bent again to his task.

But it was foolish to suppose this a grave! It might have been dug for
any of a dozen purposes--perhaps the cellar needed draining--perhaps the
pipes were out of order--perhaps--but if it had been dug for an innocent
purpose why had Miss Kingdon chosen the middle of the night for the
work?

Godfrey stopped with a sudden exclamation, and dropped upon his knees.
He laboured for a moment with feverish energy.

"Now, Lester, here!" he said.

I bent down and shot a ray of light into the little hole which he had
made. Then, in sheer terror, I nearly dropped the torch, for, half
hidden by the clinging earth, lay a shoe--a shoe that was not empty!



CHAPTER XVII

A Tragedy Unforeseen


For an instant I stood so, rigid with horror, scarcely breathing,
scarcely daring to believe my eyes. Then Godfrey snatched the torch from
my nerveless fingers, and bent down into the grave.

"Good God!" he murmured, after a moment's inspection of what lay there.
"I would never have guessed this! This is a thousand times worse than I
imagined! Here, Lester, hold the light. I'll uncover the face," and
thrusting the torch into my hands, he attacked the loose earth at the
other end of the grave.

I, too, moved somehow to the other end, and threw the light down into
the shallow hole. Godfrey worked with desperate energy, hurling the dirt
right and left. I watched the flying hands in such an agony of horror as
I hope never again to experience; stared down into the deepening hole,
with the cold sweat starting out across my forehead at the thought of
what any instant might reveal.

Again Godfrey dropped to his knees, and I was conscious of a face
growing beneath his hands, almost as if he were calling it out of the
darkness. Clearer and clearer it grew, as he brushed away the clinging
clay; then he stood erect with a little sigh of mingled horror and
satisfaction.

Staring up at us was a face--not a woman's face--not Marcia Lawrence's
face--but a man's face, florid, heavy-jowled, with a black moustache;
dead, yet not calm in death, but contorted by a hideous grimace, as
though chuckling with satisfaction.

"Miss Lawrence may, indeed, have sailed on the _Umbria_," murmured
Godfrey, after a moment's silent contemplation of the ghastly
countenance. "She had every reason to flee--to the earth's end, if
possible. For she left her husband here!"

I could find no word of answer; my throat was dry, contracted; I felt
that I was suffocating. So this was the secret! No wonder we had not
guessed it!

"One can easily build up the story," went on Godfrey, in a voice
carefully lowered. "She came here called by the note, desperate, ready
for anything--ready even to kill the devil who'd written it. For he was
a devil, Lester--look at his face!"

It was in truth, repellent enough--doubly repellent now with that
triumphant leer upon it--cold and hard, with cruel lines about the
mouth; a bloated face, too, marked by dissipation and bestiality. I
shuddered at the thought that Marcia Lawrence may have once been in his
power--that he had tried to drag her down from her sweet girlish
innocence----

"He deserved it!" I said hoarsely. "He deserved it--and more!"

"Yes," agreed Godfrey, "no doubt he did. If she was ever in his hands,
she must have suffered the torments of hell."

He fell silent a moment, staring down at the face.

"But I don't understand," I burst out, forgetting for a moment to lower
my voice; "I can't understand----"

Godfrey laid his hand sternly upon my lips.

"Neither do I," he said; "but don't shout like that."

The words recalled me suddenly to a sense of our danger.

"We'd better get out of this," I whispered.

"Yes--and as soon as we can. We'll have to call in the police. Besides,"
he added grimly, "I've got to get off the story and it's getting late."

"The story?" I echoed, suddenly sick at heart.

"So far as I know it, Lester. There can be no doubt about this body, I
suppose?"

A curious sound behind me, as of a dog panting for breath, sent a sudden
chill through me. I raised the torch and sent a beam of light sweeping
about the cellar. It rested for an instant on a face peering at us
around a corner of the wall--a face so distorted, so demoniac, that it
seemed scarcely human. Then there was a flash of flame, a report, and
the torch crashed from my hand, while a gust of acrid smoke whirled into
my face.

I felt Godfrey clutch me and pull me down beside him into the
half-filled grave; I even fancied that I touched the staring face which
lay there. In an agony of horror I struggled to free myself, to stand
erect, ready to brave any danger rather than that, but he held me fast.

"Steady, Lester, steady," he whispered. "If she fires again, I'll drop
her," and I knew that he held his revolver in his hand.

"Don't do that!" I gasped. "Don't do that! You've no right to do that!"

"I have the right to defend myself," retorted Godfrey grimly, and
waited, his muscles tense.

But she did not fire again. Instead, there was a long, unbroken silence,
during which, it seemed to me, I could feel my hair whitening on my
head. I also became conscious of a stinging numbness in my right hand.
Minute after minute passed, and still no sound came from the outer
cellar. I felt that if the silence endured a moment longer, I should
shriek aloud.

"Lie still," whispered Godfrey, at last, "and I'll try to find the
torch. Did she hit you?"

"My hand feels numb."

"Let me see," and I felt his fingers touching it softly here and there.
"It's just a scratch, I think. But wait till I find the torch."

I heard him groping about for it; then for a time all was still again.
Suddenly, from an angle of the wall, a shaft of light shot about the
cellar. It was empty.

"All right, Lester," said Godfrey's voice. "Let's have a look at the
hand."

I got up unsteadily and went to him. A moment's examination showed that
my wound was indeed only a scratch. The bullet had grazed the back of
the hand and struck the wrist-bone a glancing blow.

"We'll have it dressed as soon as we can," said Godfrey. "And now the
next thing is to get out of this place alive. Our enemy is probably
lying in wait for us with a loaded gun at the top of the stairs. By the
way, I caught only the merest glimpse of the face. Did you recognise
it?"

"Yes," I said; "it was the elder Miss Kingdon."

Godfrey gave a little whistle.

"It looked positively devilish," he said. "It gave me the worst scare
I've had for a long time. Did you notice the eyes, how they glared at
us?"

"Yes," I said, and shivered a little.

"I confess I don't like the thought of going up those stairs," he went
on, "but there's no other way out. This window's too small. So we'll
have to chance it. Give me your hand."

I stretched out my uninjured hand. In an instant we were in darkness,
and I knew that he had exchanged the torch for his revolver.

"Come on," he whispered, and we started forward.

At the foot of the stair we paused for a moment, listening; but no sound
came from above. We mounted a step, two steps, three----

Suddenly I felt a convulsive pressure on my hand. From above came a
quick succession of sharp taps, as of some one rapping with his knuckles
upon the wall. It rose, fell, rose again----

Involuntarily we retreated to the foot of the stair and took refuge
against the farther wall. The light flashed out again, and I saw Godfrey
mopping his face with his handkerchief. As for myself, I was fairly
bathed in perspiration.

"What was it?" I asked hoarsely.

"I don't know," Godfrey answered, in the same tone. "But I know one
thing--if we stay down here much longer, we'll both of us lose our nerve
completely. I'm going to make a dash for it," and he started for the
cellar steps.

I followed him, clenching my teeth convulsively.

But again a sound from overhead stopped us--a quick step across the
floor, the opening of a door, and then a scream so shrill, so agonised,
that it made my heart stand still.

"Come on!" cried Godfrey, and dashed up the stair.

In an instant, we reached the top. The kitchen was dark, but a stream of
light poured through the open door from the room beyond. We sprang to
it. I saw it was the dining-room; a light stood on the table and for a
second I thought the room was empty. Then my ear caught a kind of dry
sobbing, which seemed to come from one corner.

In an alcove between the chimney and the wall was a closet. Its door was
open and, as we peered into it, I saw a woman's figure clothed in white
straining at some dark and heavy object.

Godfrey took but one glance at it.

"Good God!" he cried, and sprang into the closet. "Bring the light,
Lester."

So shaken by I knew not what new horror that I could scarcely walk, I
yet had self-control enough to obey. I tottered to the table, took up
the lamp, and returned to the closet door. The rays of the light fell
within, revealing the whole terrible scene--Lucy Kingdon and Godfrey
holding up a figure clothed in black, a figure which swayed and wabbled,
turning at last so that I caught a glimpse of the swollen, distorted
face--the same face which had glared at us around a corner of the cellar
wall.



CHAPTER XVIII

A New Turn to the Puzzle


How we got her down, I scarcely know. I dimly remembered bringing a
chair for Godfrey and holding up the body for a dreadful instant while
he severed the cord about the neck; but my first clear recollection is
of her form upon a bed in the adjoining room, with Godfrey bending over
her and Lucy Kingdon standing by with such a face of anguish and despair
that, for the first time since I had known her, I found it in my heart
to pity her.

She had snatched up some dark garment and thrown it over her
night-dress, and she stood looking down at the limp form on the bed,
with its hideous, staring face, as though struck to stone. All but her
lips--they opened and shut, drinking the air in gasps, and from moment
to moment she muttered to herself, "I should have known! I should have
known! I should have known!"

At last Godfrey stood erect and turned to her, and his face was very
tender.

"It's no use," he said gently. "Perhaps we'd better summon a physician;
but he can do nothing."

For a moment she did not seem to understand; then she suddenly threw her
black hair out of her eyes and fell on her knees beside the bed. She
caught one dead hand to her and fondled it and kissed it; while a great
wave of sobbing swept over her.

"I should have known!" she repeated. "I should have known! It was my
fault!"

I shuddered. Was it her fault? Had she been false to Marcia Lawrence,
and her sister true, and was this the result of that treachery?

At last she controlled herself and stood erect, still quivering, but
fairly calm. And some of her old proud, disdainful spirit returned to
her.

"This gentleman I know," she said, with a little gesture in my
direction, after looking at us a moment. "You," she added to Godfrey, "I
do not know."

"My name is Godfrey," he answered. "I'm a friend of Mr. Lester's."

"And what are you doing here?"

Not until then did I think of our strange appearance, shoeless, covered
from head to foot with yellow clay, spotted here and there with the
blood which had dripped from my wound--astonishing objects, truly, to
burst in upon a woman in the middle of the night! Even Godfrey, ready in
invention as was ever the wily Ulysses, found himself unable, for the
moment, to explain.

"I suppose you were lurking about the house," she went on, her face
darkening with sudden anger, "Mr. Lester, I know, has a fondness for
doing that. No doubt you're also an amateur detective."

But Godfrey had got back his self-possession.

"Something of the kind," he admitted good-humouredly. "We heard you
scream and rushed to your assistance."

"You were very kind!" she sneered; then her face changed. "The door was
locked," she said. "I locked it when I came home. How did you get in?"
She glanced through the dining-room and saw that the door was still
closed.

"It wasn't locked at the time we entered," explained Godfrey coolly.
"But that was nearly an hour ago. We were not lurking about the house,
Miss Kingdon, when we heard you scream. We were in the cellar."

He was watching her keenly, but she showed no sign of understanding.

"In the cellar?" she repeated, and scanned our soiled clothes. "What
were you doing there?"

"We were making some investigations," answered Godfrey composedly. "Your
sister discovered us there and took a shot at my friend here," and he
pointed to my bleeding hand. "Luckily her aim was bad. Didn't you hear
the shot?"

"No," she said, staring from one to the other of us, her anger and
insolence quite gone. "I heard no shot. I was asleep in the bed
here--the door was closed. Why did she shoot at you? Did she take you
for burglars?"

"No," said Godfrey, "I hardly think she took us for burglars."

"And yet you were burglars--she was justified in shooting."

"No doubt of that," Godfrey agreed. "We took the chance, and are not
complaining."

"You had no business in the cellar. You have no business here. You're
intruders. I don't wish you here. I insist that you leave."

"In a moment," said Godfrey.

"At once!" she cried, flushing darkly again. "Or I'll compel you to,"
and she made a motion toward the pillow of the bed.

"Oh, no, you won't, Miss Kingdon," protested Godfrey easily. "We won't
consent to be shot at any more to-night. We _have_ some business here,
and we're going to stay till it's completed. Since you didn't hear the
shot, will you kindly tell us what it was awakened you? Please believe
that we shall be glad to be of service to you. I fear you're going to
stand in need of us before long."

She hesitated, still looking at him; but there was no resisting the
stern kindness of his eyes, nor doubting that his warning was in
earnest.

"I came home about half an hour ago," she began, "or perhaps it's longer
than that----"

"Was your sister expecting you?"

"No; I had intended to stay with Mrs. Lawrence all night. But I found I
wasn't needed, and so came home."

"The side door was unlocked?"

"Yes, and that surprised me for a moment."

"Was your sister here at the time?"

"She was in the yard--she came in a moment later."

Godfrey and I exchanged a glance, which Miss Kingdon intercepted.

"Wasn't she in the yard?" she demanded. "What is this mystery?"

"We'll tell you in a moment," said Godfrey; "but please let us hear your
story first. You had been, you say, at the Lawrence house?"

"Yes; Mrs. Lawrence has been very nervous since Marcia disappeared. I
had been sitting with her until she went to sleep. I met Mr. Lester
there earlier in the evening," she added, and cast me a half-mocking
glance.

"Yes, he told me," said Godfrey. "He's been having an exciting time
to-night. Were you with Mrs. Lawrence last night?"

"Yes; I spent the entire night with her."

Again we exchanged a glance.

"And you say that you expected to stay there again to-night?"

"Yes; but my sister hasn't been well for the past two days, so, as soon
as Mrs. Lawrence fell asleep and I found she wouldn't need me, I hurried
home. I found Harriet very nervous and excited, and finally persuaded
her to take a soothing draught and go to bed. I was so tired that I fell
asleep almost at once, and I knew nothing more until I was awakened by
what seemed to be a kind of drumming on the head-board."

She stopped, shuddering. We, too, had heard that drumming!

"Yes," said Godfrey. "Your bed, I see, is backed against the closet
partition--tight against it. It no doubt makes a kind of
sounding-board."

"I suppose that's it. I felt for Harriet and found she wasn't there.
That startled me wide awake. Again I heard that drumming, and sprang out
of bed, lighted the lamp, and rushed to the closet to find that she
had----"

The words ended in a sob, which she tried in vain to repress. Godfrey
bent again over the figure on the bed.

"She used what is evidently a curtain cord," he said. "Don't look at
her, Miss Kingdon. The death is an easy one, whatever it may appear."

"But why did she do it?" demanded Lucy Kingdon. "Why should she get up
in the middle of the night, like that, and hang herself? What impulse
was it----"

She stopped suddenly, regarding us fixedly, her face livid, her eyes
agleam.

"It was you!" she cried hoarsely, pointing an accusing finger. "She
heard you in the cellar--you frightened her--you drove her to it!"

"That's nonsense, Miss Kingdon," broke in Godfrey sternly, "and you know
it! How could we drive her to suicide?"

"What was it, then?" she demanded. "I've had enough of this mystery."

Godfrey looked at her keenly.

"You really don't know?"

She shook her head, staring mutely up at him, fascinated by the purpose
in his face.

"She was deeply devoted to Miss Lawrence, wasn't she?"

"Yes."

"More devoted than you?"

A sudden flush overspread Lucy Kingdon's face, giving place in a moment
to deadly pallor.

"Perhaps," she admitted hoarsely. "But that had nothing to do with it.
That was no reason!"

"No," assented Godfrey; "not in itself. But it was at the bottom of
it--for it led to something totally unforeseen."

She shook herself together.

"You're speaking in riddles," she said. "It's scarcely fair."

"Pardon me," said Godfrey instantly. "I don't want to be unfair. Come
with me and I'll show you the cause of this act. Bring the lamp,
Lester."

Together we crossed the kitchen to the door which gave entrance to the
cellar stairs. It seemed to me that Miss Kingdon shrank back a little as
she saw where we were taking her. But it may have been only my fancy.
Certainly she followed promptly enough when Godfrey started down.

At the foot he paused.

"You've not been down here for some days, I take it, Miss Kingdon?" he
asked.

"No," she answered, her eyes glancing from right to left. "I very seldom
come down here. Harriet always attended to the household affairs. But I
see nothing wrong."

"Come this way," and he passed around the angle of the wall into the
recess.

"Some one has been digging," she said, as her eyes fell upon the heap of
dirt.

"Yes; what was this recess for, Miss Kingdon?"

"We had intended placing a furnace here," she said, "but after the house
was finished, we decided that a furnace wasn't needed. Who has been
digging here? You?" and her eyes again examined our earth-stained
clothes.

"It was your sister dug the hole, and then filled it again, as you see."

"My sister?"

"Yes--she worked at it last night, and again to-night, when she thought
herself secure from interruption."

"But why?" she asked, in bewilderment.

"Because she had something to conceal. This hole is a grave, Miss
Kingdon. See there."

He flashed a ray from his electric torch full upon the leering face
staring up at us.

Lucy Kingdon gazed down at it for a moment with distended eyes. Then,
with a deep sigh, she sank backward to the floor.



CHAPTER XIX

Under Suspicion


We carried her up the stair and placed her on a couch in the room where
her sister lay.

"She's only fainted," Godfrey said. "Put some water on her face and
chafe her hands. She'll soon come around. I must be off, or I'll miss my
scoop, after all."

"All right," I agreed. "I'll wait here. You'd better notify the police."

"I will. But I'll get my shoes first," and he hurried out into the yard,
while I got some cold water from the tap in the kitchen. "Here are
yours, too," he said, coming back with both pairs. "You'd better put
them on."

He had his own laced in a moment.

"I'll send the first officer I see," he promised, "and get back as soon
as I can. But don't wait for me. Get to bed as soon as you can."

I heard his steps die away down the street, and turned back into the
room where the two women lay. I was nearly dead for lack of sleep, and
found myself nodding more than once, as I sat there by the couch bathing
Lucy Kingdon's face. How Godfrey kept it up I could not understand, but
sleep never seemed to have a place in any of his plans.

But as moment after moment passed, and Lucy Kingdon showed no sign of
returning consciousness, growing alarm awakened me thoroughly. I soused
her head and face and chafed her wrists, but with no perceptible effect.
I could feel no pulse, could detect no respiration; perhaps this was
something more serious than a mere fainting spell. I should have told
Godfrey to summon a physician.

I was relieved at last to hear a step turn in at the gate, and a moment
later a patrolman appeared at the door--a rotund and somnolent German,
whose somnolency gave place to snorts of mingled terror and astonishment
when he saw the two bodies.

"Mein Gott!" he ejaculated. "Two of t'em!"

"No; only one as yet," I corrected. "But there may be two if something
isn't done to save this one pretty quick," and I bent again over Lucy
Kingdon and chafed her hands.

"Hass she fainted?" he asked.

"That or just naturally dropped dead," I said. "She's been like this for
fifteen or twenty minutes."

He came to the bed, stooped down, and pressed back one of her eyelids.

"She ain't dead," he said. "She's chust fainted. I know a trick," and
before I could interfere, he gave her ear a cruel tweak.

"Why, you scoundrel!" I began, but a sigh from the couch interrupted me.
I turned to see Lucy Kingdon's dark eyes staring up at me.

"You see," he said triumphantly. "I nefer knowed it to fail."

She stirred slightly, drew one hand across her eyes, then, with a long
sigh, turned over on her side.

"Come on out here," I said in a low tone, "and don't disturb her.
Sleep's the best thing for her now, if she can get it. Besides, I've
something to show you," and picking up the lamp, I led the way to the
kitchen and closed the door.

"Somet'ing else to show me?" he repeated, staring about at the walls.

"Yes; come along," and I started down the cellar stairs.

He followed me, breathing heavily. As I glanced over my shoulder I was
amused to see that he had drawn his revolver.

"This way," I said, and stepped into the recess. "See there!"

He turned livid as he gazed down into the grave, and his hands and face
grew clammy.

"Mein Gott!" he breathed. "Mein Gott!" and he returned his revolver to
his pocket, took off his helmet and wiped his forehead with a shaking
hand.

He said nothing more until we were back again in the kitchen. Then he
looked at me with glassy eyes.

"But who's t'e murderer?" he demanded. "Where's t'e guilty party?"

"I don't know," I answered. "That's for you to find out. As for me, I'm
going to bed."

"Wait a minute," he said, detaining me, as I started for the door. "Who
was t'at feller who told me to come here?"

"He was a reporter named Godfrey. He had nothing to do with it."

"But somebody must be arrested for t'is," and he looked at me in a way
that was most suggestive.

"Well, you're not going to arrest me," I retorted.

"What's t'at on your hand?" he asked, and caught my wrist and held it to
the light.

"It's blood," I said; "but it's my own," and then I was again suddenly
conscious of my strange appearance, and realised how unaccountable my
presence in this house must seem. "Oh, well," I said, "there's no use to
waste time arguing about it. I suppose you're right in holding me. Go
call your chief. I'll explain things to him."

"I can't leave you here," he protested. "T'e patrol box is at t'e
corner."

"All right; I'll go with you," I agreed. "I don't want to escape," and I
accompanied him to the box, and waited while he called up headquarters,
and sent in a brief but highly-coloured version of the tragedy.

Then we walked back to the house together. As we approached it, I was
startled to see a shadow flit across the kitchen blind.

"She mustn't go down there again," I said, and flung open the door.

Lucy Kingdon was standing with her hand on the knob of the door which
led to the cellar. She started around at my entrance, and stared at me,
but I saw no light of recognition in her eyes.

"Don't go down there," I said gently. "You'd better lie down again."

She permitted me to lead her back to the couch without protest or
resistance.

"Try to rest," I said. "There's nothing you can do. You must be strong
for to-morrow."

She lay down as obediently as a child, and closed her eyes. Her lips
moved for a moment; but at last I was relieved to note by her regular
breathing that she had apparently fallen asleep.

I returned to the dining-room and closed the door between, so that the
light and noise might not disturb her.

"Here t'ey are!" cried the patrolman, who had stationed himself at the
outer door, and I heard a wagon rattle up in front of the house.

Then half a dozen policemen came pouring into the yard, headed by a man
with grey hair and heavy black moustache, whom I saw to be the chief. He
stopped for a moment to listen to the story the patrolman had to tell,
then he turned sharply to me.

"Of course you'll have to explain your presence here," he began.

"My name's Lester; if you doubt it, here's my card," I said, cutting him
short. "Mr. Godfrey and I suspected something was wrong here. We looked
into it and found much more than we bargained for."

"Who's Mr. Godfrey?"

"The man who sent your patrolman here."

"How did you get so dirty?"

"Uncovering the dead man in the cellar."

"And your hand seems to be wounded."

"Yes; Harriet Kingdon shot me before she hanged herself."

"She discovered you in the cellar?"

"Yes."

He looked at me a moment longer without speaking.

"It's hardly probable," I added, "that if my friend and I had been
guilty of any crime, he'd have stopped to warn the police, and I'd have
waited here for you to come and take me."

"That's true," he assented; "but I don't quite see what your business
was here."

"My friend's a reporter on the New York _Record_," I explained.

"Oh, a reporter!" he repeated, instantly drawing the inference which I
hoped he would. "That explains it. But, of course, Mr. Lester, you, as a
lawyer, know that you had no right to enter a house in that way. It was
your duty to inform the police."

"There are emergencies," I protested, "in which one must take affairs
into one's own hands."

"I admit that; but whether this was one of them----"

"Doesn't it look as if it was?" I asked.

"Well, that's not for me to decide. I understand you're staying at the
Sheridan?"

"Yes--at least, I was staying there yesterday. I gave up my room, not
knowing that I'd need it again. I'm about dead for sleep."

He pondered for a moment, looking at my card.

"How do I know this is really your name?" he asked.

"You don't know it," I retorted, growing suddenly impatient. "But I'll
have a dozen people down from New York to identify me, if you doubt it.
Meanwhile, let me go to bed."

"All right," he said, pocketing the card with sudden decision. "But it
will have to be under guard. I don't want to place you under arrest, but
at the same time I can't run the risk of letting you get away. You've no
objection to the company of an officer?"

"None whatever, if he'll only let me sleep."

"All right. But you'd better have that hand dressed before you turn in.
We brought a doctor along on the off-chance of needing him. Suppose you
let him look at it."

"Thank you," I assented, and the doctor was summoned.

"It's not in the least serious," he assured me, after a moment's
examination, and the wound was soon washed and bandaged.

"That feels better," I said, as he pressed the last strip of plaster
into place. "Now I'm ready for bed."

"Sherman," said the chief to one of his men, "go with this gentleman.
Don't let him out of your sight till you hear from me. Let him go to
bed, if he wants to, and don't disturb him; but if he tries to escape,
stop him if you have to shoot him."

I did my best to repress a smile, and succeeded in turning it into a
yawn. After all, there was no need to offend these fellows
unnecessarily, and the chief was undoubtedly right in thinking me not
entirely clear of suspicion. So Sherman and I went down the street
together, in the grey light of the dawn--the second consecutive one that
I had witnessed--and we rather astonished the night clerk at the
Sheridan by mounting together to the room which was assigned to me. My
guardian sat down against the door, after assuring himself that escape
by the window was impossible. As for me, I tumbled into bed as quickly
as I could and fell asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow.

       *       *       *       *       *

I was awakened by some one roughly shaking me. I protested, fought
against it, but in vain. At last I opened my eyes, and saw that my
persecutor was Godfrey.

"Come, Lester," he said, "you've been sleeping ten hours. It's time you
were turning out."

I sat up in bed and rubbed my eyes. Then suddenly I remembered.

"Where's my jailer?" I asked, looking at the empty chair by the door.

"Oh, I cleared all that up. I didn't realise at first how suspicious our
actions might seem, and how hard it would be to explain them."

"It was lucky I didn't have to spend the night in jail," I laughed. "Are
those my trousers?"

"Yes; I had them cleaned--and they needed it. I had a hard time getting
my special off--the operator took me for a tramp--and no wonder."

"Were you in time?"

"Oh, yes; and a lovely scoop it was. The town's full of special men,
now, trying to work up the story."

"And how are they succeeding?"

"They're winding themselves up in the worst tangle you ever saw----"

"But you----"

"I'm tangled, too. That's one reason I woke you, Lester. I want to talk
to you."

"But surely," I said, "Lucy Kingdon can tell----"

"Lucy Kingdon is delirious, threatened with brain fever. The whole
affair is a deeper mystery than ever."



CHAPTER XX

An Appeal for Advice


A cold plunge wiped away the last vestiges of sleepiness, and ten
minutes later, I joined Godfrey in the dining-room, where he had ordered
lunch for both of us, and where we could talk undisturbed, since we were
its only occupants.

"I've been up only a few minutes myself," he began as I sat down. "But I
didn't get to bed till nearly noon. There was too much to do, this
morning."

"Tell me about it," I said. "I'm anxious to hear the developments."

"There aren't any."

"But you've cleared up the mystery of the murder?"

"Cleared it up! My dear Lester, we haven't been able to take the first
step toward clearing it up! We know the unknown was shot, but as to who
shot him, and why, we're utterly at sea."

"Once establish his identity----"

"That's just what we can't do. But perhaps I'd better tell you the whole
story."

"Yes, do," I said. "That's what I want to hear."

"Well," he began, "after I left you, I hurried downtown toward the
telegraph office, and it wasn't until I'd gone quite a way that I met a
patrolman. I stopped just long enough to tell him that he was needed at
the Kingdon place, for my time was getting short, and I couldn't afford
to waste a minute. It wasn't until afterwards that I thought of the
equivocal position you'd be in when the police arrived."

"I was certainly under suspicion," I laughed, "but there was no harm
done."

"After I got off my message, I stopped here at the hotel, and cleaned
up, for I was really a sight. I learned from the clerk that you'd
already arrived in custody of a policeman. I peeped in at you, and found
you sleeping like a log, not disturbed in the least by the presence of
the sentinel."

"The result of a clear conscience," I pointed out.

"So I told the cop, after he'd related your adventure with the chief.
Then I hurried back to the Kingdon place, and found that the coroner had
just arrived. He's an ambitious young fellow, named Haynes, and is
cleverer than the run of coroners. I introduced myself, told him what I
knew of the case and of your connection with it, and persuaded him to
recall the officer who was guarding you."

"The only thing that bothered me," I said, "was to explain our presence
in the house. How did you do it?"

Godfrey laughed.

"Oh, easily enough. We yellow journalists, you know, bear the reputation
of pausing at nothing. We're also credited with a sort of second sight
when it comes to nosing out news. I encouraged Haynes to believe that I
possessed both these characteristics. I dwelt upon the suspicious
circumstance of the light in the cellar, and led him to think that we
saw from the outside considerably more than we really did see. I didn't
tell him the whole truth, because I didn't want him to connect this
affair in any way with Miss Lawrence's disappearance. I want to work
that out for myself--it's my private property."

I nodded; neither did I desire that Miss Lawrence's name should be
connected with this tragedy--not, at least, until there was some
positive evidence against her. And I hoped against hope, knowing
Godfrey's persistence and cleverness, that no such evidence would be
found.

"After I'd convinced the coroner of our disinterested motives,"
continued Godfrey, "we went down to the cellar together, and, with the
help of a couple of policemen, dug up the body. One of the policemen
happened to be Clemley, who'd been stationed at the Lawrence place, and
he identified the man at once as the one who had asked him the way to
the Kingdon house. We got him out--and a good load he was--stripped back
his clothes, and found that he'd been shot in the breast. The wound was
a very small one, and there had been little external bleeding. There
were no burns upon the clothing, so the shot was fired from a distance
of at least five feet. The police surgeon ran in his probe, and found
that the bullet had passed directly through the heart, so that death was
instantaneous. From the expression of the face, I should say that the
victim had no suspicion of his danger--you remember that leer of
self-satisfaction. The course of the bullet was downward, which would
seem to indicate that he was sitting in a chair at the time, while his
murderer was standing up. He had been dead more than twenty-four hours.
The clay of the cellar was nearly as hard as rock, which accounts for
the fact that Harriet Kingdon was so long getting him buried."

"And it was she who fired the shot," I said, with conviction. "Marcia
Lawrence had nothing to do with it."

"Do you believe Lucy Kingdon knew anything about it?" he asked, looking
at me keenly.

"No--I'm sure she didn't."

"Then you apparently believe that one woman of only ordinary strength
could handle a body which taxed two strong men to lift! I tell you,
Lester, Harriet Kingdon unaided couldn't have taken that body to the
cellar and laid it in that grave. If Lucy Kingdon didn't aid her, who
did?"

"I don't know," I answered. "But it wasn't who you think."

"Well, I hope it wasn't--but I don't see any other way out."

"You don't know all the facts, yet," I pointed out. "And I'm not so sure
that Harriet Kingdon couldn't have handled the body alone. She didn't
have to lift it, but just drag it down the stairs and tumble it into the
hole. She could have done that, and removed the traces afterwards."

"But the body wasn't tumbled into the hole--it was laid in. Did you
notice its position--the feet were toward the inner wall. Do you suppose
she'd have dragged him by his legs?"

"She might have done anything, in her excitement," I persisted doggedly.
"You can't reason about what a woman would do under such circumstances."

"Perhaps not," Godfrey admitted; "but Haynes was struck with the idea,
too, that Harriet Kingdon must have had an accomplice. He believes, of
course, that the accomplice was her sister. I let him keep on believing
so--she can clear herself easily enough when the time comes; but just at
present I want him to think he knows the whole story."

"Yes," I agreed, "that's the best--keep the bomb from bursting as long
as you can."

"I'm not keeping it from bursting; but I can't explode it until I get it
properly charged. I see you're hoping I never will."

"Not with that charge!" I said fervently.

"Well, we won't talk about it now," said Godfrey, smiling at my
earnestness. "After the coroner had looked over the ground and got his
data, we lugged the body upstairs and examined it. It was that of a man
of about fifty, well-preserved, but showing marks of dissipation. The
tip of the little finger on his left hand was missing, as Clemley had
said. From his complexion, hair, and general appearance I should say
that he was undoubtedly an Italian. I've already told you how he was
killed."

"And you couldn't identify him."

"No."

"Nothing in his clothes--no letter, or anything of that sort?"

"Not a thing. There was some loose money in the trousers pockets, a
knife, a small comb, and a few other odds and ends, but no watch nor
pocketbook nor papers. However, I believe there had been. I fancied that
the inside pocket of the coat had been turned out and then hastily
shoved in again. One of the vest buttons was unbuttoned, and the lower
left-hand pocket of the vest certainly showed that a watch had been
carried in it."

"You mean these things had been removed?"

"I certainly do."

"But what was the motive of it all?" I demanded desperately.

"I don't know; I can't see clearly; but I'm sure of one thing, and that
is that it will lead back to Marcia Lawrence."

"I don't believe it!" I retorted. "I don't----"

The door opened and the clerk came in.

"Somebody wants you at the 'phone, Mr. Lester," he said; "long
distance," and he led the way to the booth.

It was Mr. Royce, and not until that moment did I remember that my
absence from the office was unexplained.

"I _was_ a little worried at first," he said, in answer to my question,
"but when I saw that special from Elizabeth in the _Record_ this
morning, I began to understand, especially when I called up your
landlady, and found you'd left the house in a hurry last night after
getting a telegram."

"Yes, it was from Godfrey."

"What's up? The clerk down there told me this morning that you'd come in
about daybreak looking like you'd been digging a sewer, and that a
policeman was guarding you in your room."

"Yes, I was suspected of murder for a while, but I'm not under guard any
longer. I'll get back to the office as soon as I can."

"Oh, take your time--I'm getting along fairly well. Of course I've read
the papers--there's no connection between this affair and that other
one, is there, Lester?"

"Godfrey thinks so," I answered, glancing around to make sure that the
door of the booth was securely closed. "He thinks the dead man was Miss
L.'s husband, and half believes she killed him."

I could hear Mr. Royce's inarticulate exclamation of disgust and anger.

"But of course that's all moonshine," I added.

"Moonshine! I should say so! Now, Lester, I want you to stay there till
you get this thing straightened out, if only for Curtiss's sake. I know
you can prove that any such theory as that is all bosh."

"I'll try to," I answered him, and hung up the receiver; but I confess
that I was not at all sure of my ability to accomplish the task.

As I left the booth, the clerk came toward me.

"There's a gentleman inquiring for you, Mr. Lester," he said. "He was
here about noon asking for you, but wouldn't have you disturbed. He's
over here in the parlour, waiting for you."

I followed him to the door of the parlour.

"This is Mr. Lester," he said to a white-haired old man who was pacing
nervously up and down, and left us alone together.

For a moment I did not recognise him, then as he came forward into the
clearer light, I found myself looking down into the face of Dr.
Schuyler.

"My dear Mr. Lester," he said, advancing with outstretched hand, "I hope
you will pardon this intrusion."

"It's not in the least an intrusion," I said, honestly glad to see him.

"Thank you. Let us sit down over here by the window, if you will. I do
not wish to run any risk of being overheard," and he glanced about
anxiously.

As I looked at him more closely, I saw that he was labouring under some
deep trouble or anxiety. His face was pale and haggard, and he fingered
his glasses with a nervousness which I knew was not habitual.

"The truth of the matter is," he went on, "that I feel the need of
advice--legal advice. I have friends here, of course, to whom I could
have gone; but I was told that you were interested in this case, and
from what I saw of you the other evening, I felt that I should like to
lay my difficulty before you. It is, as I said, a purely legal question,
or I should not have felt the need of any earthly counsel."

I thanked him for his confidence and begged him to continue.

"As I understand the law," he went on, "an insane person cannot be
punished for a crime."

"No," I said, "except by being confined in an asylum until cured--and
even that is largely discretionary."

"And what, in law, is considered insanity--what is the test for it?"

"Inability to distinguish right from wrong is the usual test. No man is
excused from responsibility for a crime, if he has the capacity and
reason sufficient to enable him to distinguish between right and wrong,
as to the particular act he is then doing."

I fancied I heard the clergyman breathe a sigh of relief.

"A person, then, may be sane as regards some things, and insane as
regards others?"

"Undoubtedly."

"Would the fact that a person had at one time been confined in an
asylum, and had occasional lapses from sanity afterward, tend to prove
that he was insane at the time of committing a crime?"

"It would tend to prove it very strongly; especially if the
circumstances under which the crime was committed were related in any
way to the cause of the insanity."

He paused a moment in deep thought.

"I cannot go that far," he said slowly, at last. "And yet--and yet--it
may be that you've hit upon the clue, Mr. Lester. I must have time to
think it over. Will you come to see me this evening?"

"Gladly," I said; "I only hope I can be of service."

"Thank you. I shall look for you between seven and eight. It may be that
I shall have something to tell you."

I watched him as he left the room, with a curious mixture of emotions.
What was it he would have to tell me? Who was it was insane? Was it----

And suddenly I seemed to catch a glimmer of the truth; I felt that,
however slowly and uncertainly, I was at last groping toward the light.



CHAPTER XXI

Cross-Purposes


Godfrey was waiting for me at the desk, and I felt him glance at me
keenly as I announced my readiness to accompany him.

"We'll go up to the Kingdon place," he said, "and see if the coroner has
made any discoveries. The clerk told me you had a visitor," he added, as
we reached the street.

"A client," I answered, with forced jocularity. "A clergyman in need of
legal advice."

"I thought I recognised him as he came out. It was Dr. Schuyler, wasn't
it?"

"Yes."

He glanced at me again, and then walked on in silence; but I felt the
reproach he did not utter.

"He's in trouble of some kind," I explained.

"Connected with this affair?"

"I think so. But I don't want it blazed forth in the _Record_ till I'm
sure."

"The _Record_ doesn't blaze forth everything I know," he said quietly.

"I know it doesn't, but you'd give it this--it would have a right to
this."

"Is it so important as all that?"

"I rather fancy it's the clue we've been looking for."

His eyes were shining now as he looked at me.

"That _is_ important," he said. "I should like to have it."

"I'm not absolutely sure," I said, again. "But I'm going to see him
again this evening. If there's anything I can tell you after that, I
will."

"That's fair enough," he assented. "The story, whatever it is, is bound
to be public property in a few days, I suppose?"

"It will probably come out at the inquest. When is the inquest?"

"It's been set for to-morrow; but it will probably be held open until
Lucy Kingdon can testify."

"You'll beat the world a day, then."

"That's what I like to do. But here we are, and there's Haynes at the
door."

We entered the yard, and Godfrey introduced me to the coroner. He
impressed me at once as alert and efficient, and he led the way into the
house, and asked that I tell him the story of the night before, which I
did as circumstantially as I could.

"I hope your wound isn't a bad one," he said, when I had finished,
glancing at my bandaged hand.

"Oh, no," I said; "a mere scratch. To tell the truth, I'd nearly
forgotten it."

"Here's the weapon the bullet came from," he added, and produced from
his pocket a small, pearl-handled revolver. "There are two chambers
empty. The other bullet flew straighter than the one fired at you, Mr.
Lester."

"You mean----"

"Yes, we probed for it and got it out. It had passed directly through
the heart, and lodged in the muscles of the back. There can be no
question that it came from this revolver."

"Whose revolver is it?" I asked.

"Presumably Miss Kingdon's. We've not been able to find any evidence on
that point. It wasn't bought here in Elizabeth. You see it's a foreign
make."

I could decipher upon the barrel the letters "C & I, Paris." Godfrey
examined it with eyes which were gleaming strangely. I watched him with
a curious sinking of the heart, but he handed it back to the coroner
without comment.

"Anything else?" he asked. "No trace of the watch?"

"No," and Haynes shook his head.

"How is Miss Kingdon?"

"A little quieter, but still delirious. She won't be able to testify
to-morrow. We've got a trained nurse for her--the doctor thinks she'd
better not be moved for a day or two."

"And no light as to the identity of the victim?"

"Not the slightest. I've found a cabman who saw him get off the 10.30
train from New York on the morning of the tenth. Then he went into a
drugstore near the depot, and asked to look at a directory, afterwards
asking the way to North Broad Street. He probably spoke to no one else
till he stopped to ask Clemley where the Kingdons lived."

"He'd never been here before, then."

"Evidently not. And he didn't know the Kingdons' address until he got
here."

"No," agreed Godfrey; "no. Well, you've evidently done everything that
could be done, Mr. Haynes. Perhaps something more will come out at the
inquest. It opens at ten o'clock, doesn't it?"

"Yes; here are your subpoenas," and he handed us each a paper.

"Very well," said Godfrey. "We'll be present, of course. Where will it
be held?"

"I thought it best to hold it right here," answered Haynes, "I want the
jury to be on the scene."

"But won't it disturb Miss Kingdon?"

"Not at all. There's a large front room which will answer nicely--and
I'll have the police keep everybody out who hasn't some business there.
Here's the room," and he opened a door and led the way into the room
beyond.

It was the one into which Miss Kingdon had shown me on the morning of my
memorable interview with her, and involuntarily my eyes sought the
portrait on the wall opposite the front windows. It was still there--as
alluring, astonishing, compelling as ever. Indeed, as I gazed at it now,
it seemed even more striking than it had when I saw it first.

"Look at that," I said, turning to Godfrey, but there was no need for me
to call his attention to the portrait. He had already seen it, and was
gazing at it in rapt admiration.

"Whose is it?" he demanded, at last. "Who painted it?"

I pointed to the name scrawled in the corner.

"'Ruth Endicott,'" he read slowly. "Well, and who was she?"

"That's her portrait," I said. "Does it remind you of any one?"

He looked at it for a moment in silence; then he shook his head.

"No, I can't say that it does. But who was Ruth Endicott?"

"Nobody in particular--a distant relative of the Kingdons."

Godfrey gazed at me sceptically.

"Really?" he asked.

"Really. This was the last picture she painted--of herself. You see how
crude it is."

"Crude--yes; but it's got power, Lester. The woman's _there_, somehow,
looking right out of the canvas. Did she die?"

"Yes; thirty years ago," and I told him the little I knew of Ruth
Endicott and her history.

He listened without comment, his eyes still on the bewitching face
gazing down from the wall at us.

"Well, it beats me," was his only remark, when I had ended, and with a
visible effort he tore himself away from the portrait, and turned to the
coroner, who had been waiting patiently until our inspection of the
painting was ended. "Is this where the inquest will be held?"

"Yes, sir; I'll have some chairs brought in. It won't last very long.
I'll have to adjourn it, of course, until Miss Kingdon can give her
testimony."

Godfrey nodded.

"Yes, you'll have to do that. Well, you may depend upon us--but I doubt
if our evidence will go very far toward solving the mystery."

       *       *       *       *       *

If the town had been glowing the night before over the disappearance of
Marcia Lawrence, it was fairly blazing now over this new mystery. In
fact, the one had quite eclipsed the other, and I was mightily relieved
to find that no one suspected any relation between them. I bought copies
of both the local papers, and observed again their prodigal use of black
type and exclamation points. Each of them devoted the whole front page
to the case, without, however, throwing any new light upon it. On
another page, one of them stated in a few lines that nothing further had
been heard from Miss Lawrence; the other contained no reference whatever
to the Lawrence affair, and had apparently forgotten all about it.

Could any good come of reviving it? Why need Dr. Schuyler interfere at
all? If it was Marcia Lawrence who was insane, the law could not touch
her, whatever she had done. Harriet Kingdon was dead, and the obloquy of
the crime could do her no injury. Besides, whoever had fired the
shot----

Then, suddenly, I remembered the revolver. That was going to prove an
awkward piece of evidence. Godfrey had suspected instantly who its owner
was; and he, certainly, would permit no sentimental considerations to
interfere with placing the whole truth before the public.

But perhaps I was mistaken, after all. Granted that Marcia Lawrence had
been subject to spells of derangement, that was no proof that she had
committed this crime. It might be, indeed, that that very infirmity was
the cause of her flight. She may have believed herself cured, and
accepted Curtiss in good faith, only to discover at the last moment that
she was not cured; or the impulse to flight may have seized her during a
sudden aberration caused by the excitement of her wedding-day. Aversion
to friends and kindred was, as I knew, one of the most common symptoms
of such derangement. Was this the key to the mystery? Was this the
explanation of her flight?

It was with my mind in this tumult that I approached Dr. Schuyler's
house, that evening, and rang the bell. He opened the door himself.

"I was expecting you," he said, and led the way to his study. "Sit down,
Mr. Lester. I've been thinking over what you told me, and it seems to me
that the world should know the whole truth."

My heart sank at the words.

"But what good will it do?" I questioned. "Of course, Dr. Schuyler, I
suspect what the secret is. What good will it do that the world should
know it?"

"It will at least turn loathing into pity; it will show that she was
justified, in so far as there can be justification for such an act. It
will show that she was not mentally responsible--therefore neither
legally nor morally guilty."

"I wasn't aware that she was regarded with loathing," I said. "In fact,
I didn't know that she was connected with this case at all in any one's
mind outside of ourselves and a friend of mine."

"Not connected with it!" Dr. Schuyler cried. "You astonish me!"

"The public doesn't know the facts, and I see no reason why they should.
You will answer me, perhaps, that it's a duty to protect the memory of
the dead; but the dead was guilty equally with the living."

"My dear sir," said Dr. Schuyler, staring at me in a way I found most
puzzling, "you're speaking in riddles. I confess that I don't in the
least understand you. What is it you propose?"

"What I propose," I said bluntly, "is this. Let Harriet Kingdon bear the
obloquy of the crime--it can't harm her now--besides, she largely
deserves it. My evidence and Godfrey's will show that Lucy Kingdon had
no hand in it, so there'll be no danger of wronging her. Let us see that
Marcia Lawrence is placed in proper hands and receives proper care.
Perhaps she may yet----"

"Marcia Lawrence!" he repeated hoarsely. "What has she to do with this
case, Mr. Lester?"

The question, the expression of his face, brought me to my feet. I was
trembling so that I caught at the chair for support. I saw it all. In an
instant, I saw it all!

"Then it wasn't Miss Lawrence----"

"Nonsense! Not at all!" he broke in testily. "It was Harriet Kingdon."



CHAPTER XXII

Light at Last!


I sank back into my chair, overcome by such a flood of relief and
thankfulness that I could not speak. But Dr. Schuyler laboured under no
such disability.

"I cannot understand," he said, and I saw by his flushed face that he
was genuinely angry, "how you could have got the preposterous idea that
Marcia Lawrence was connected in any way with this affair. Any sane man
would have seen the utter absurdity of such a theory."

"I see it now," I assented hoarsely.

"Why, Marcia Lawrence could no more be concerned in a thing like that,"
he went on hotly, "than--than a babe unborn. She could not be concerned
in anything wrong, or mean, or criminal. I want you to understand, Mr.
Lester, that she's absolutely spotless. If you knew her, I shouldn't
need to tell you."

"I've always believed it," I protested. "In my heart of hearts, I've
always believed it. We've been fools--we've been trying to make two
things fit which didn't fit. We imagined they must fit because they
happened so close together. I see now that it was merely a coincidence,
and I'm glad from the very bottom of my heart."

"You believed, then, that Miss Lawrence was really concerned in this
murder?"

"We thought her the active party in it."

"The active party! But on what grounds?"

"We thought the dead man was her husband--an adventurer who'd lured her
into a marriage while she was abroad. You'll remember I mentioned this
theory to you the other night."

"Yes, and I told you at the time how ridiculous I thought it."

"I've never wholly believed it," I repeated. "It wasn't mine. But it
seemed to fit the facts so perfectly, and when you intimated this
afternoon, as I thought, that Miss Lawrence was subject to spells of
insanity, I imagined that I understood the whole story."

He sat for a moment silent, regarding me from half-closed eyes; I saw
that he was considering whether he should speak or remain silent.

"I hope this mistake has gone no farther," he said, at last.

"No," I answered, and genuinely thankful I was that I could say so. "I
kept it absolutely to myself."

He breathed a sigh of relief.

"Then no harm has been done. I'm glad of that. I see that you're glad,
too."

"Yes," I said; "I am--more glad than I can say."

"And now that you understand the matter," he continued, "I suppose you
see it in a different light?"

"In a different light?"

"At least, you'll hardly advise now that I keep silent?"

"By no means," I asserted heartily. "I think it is clearly your duty to
tell all you know. You will absolve Harriet Kingdon from responsibility
for her act--as you said, change loathing to pity. Besides, if the dead
man deserved death, let the world know it."

"I don't know that he did," corrected my companion; "I know nothing
about him."

"But you suspect?" I prompted.

"Perhaps I do," he admitted, "but suspicion uttered is such a deadly
thing! What I do know came to me in the way so many things come to a
minister. I was asked for advice--I received a confidence----"

He stopped and pondered for a moment.

"I came very near telling you night before last," he continued, "when
you were asking me about the Kingdons--telling you, at least, as much as
I could without violating that confidence. But on second thought, I did
not see that any good would come of it, and so kept silent. Now,
circumstances absolve me from any obligation of secrecy and I can speak
freely.

"I told you the other evening that John Kingdon had died in an asylum
for the insane, and that his family had a hard struggle for existence.
After the mother's death, they had no means to maintain a home, and
Lucy, who was only a girl, went to the Lawrence house to help her
cousin, Ruth Endicott, who was housekeeper there, as I have said. The
elder daughter, Harriet, secured a position in New York--I think as
governess in a private family. She was called home, some time later, by
the illness of her cousin Ruth, whom she took to Florida, where Ruth
died. Mr. Lawrence was married soon afterwards, and Lucy Kingdon
remained in his house as maid, first to his wife and afterwards to his
daughter.

"Harriet Kingdon returned to New York and took up again her work of
teaching. About six months later, there was a quarrel of some sort
between her and her sister Lucy--a violent quarrel--and they ceased to
correspond or hold communication of any kind. Just how long a time
elapsed I don't know, but I should judge it was at least three years,
when a letter came to Lucy Kingdon from Bloomingdale hospital, stating
that her sister had been brought there a year before, violently insane,
that she was practically well again and wished to be taken away. Lucy
went after her at once and brought her home."

"Home?" I repeated.

"Yes; it was at that time that Mrs. Lawrence gave them the cottage in
which they still live. She virtually supported them for some time, until
Harriet was able to attend to the household duties, and Lucy to resume
her place as maid."

"Was Mr. Lawrence living at the time?"

"Yes; but it was generally understood that he had no part in these
benefactions. He was not a charitable man."

"And no reason was ever given for this generosity on Mrs. Lawrence's
part?"

"None but her interest in the family. This was only one of her many
charities."

I paused for a moment's thought. After all, there was nothing peculiar
about it. Mrs. Lawrence would naturally be interested in a family whom
she had known so well, and who had suddenly been reduced to such
desperate straits.

"Did you ever hear any explanation of Harriet Kingdon's madness?" I
asked at last.

"None but that of heredity--and that is an explanation I made to myself.
I'm pretty sure that no one here except her sister and Mrs. Lawrence
knew that she had been at Bloomingdale."

"Mrs. Lawrence knew it, then?"

"Oh, yes; it was from her I learned the story. She came to me for advice
a few months after Harriet Kingdon had been brought home. I don't think
she was ever wholly cured. She had slight relapses from time to time,
and it was during one of these, rather more violent than usual, that
Mrs. Lawrence came to me. I made an excuse for going to see her. But I
saw no reason for advising that she be sent to an asylum. I did advise,
however, that a specialist be brought down from New York to look at her,
and Mrs. Lawrence did this. He also advised against the asylum; he said
that rest, and quiet, and freedom from worry would, in time, afford
permanent relief. She certainly grew better as time went on, and, though
she was always somewhat peculiar, I have regarded her as wholly out of
danger of relapse, for several years past."

"And yet," I objected, harking back, "heredity of itself would hardly be
sufficient explanation. There must have been something to induce
insanity--some shock or grave trouble."

"Yes, I agree with you there. I have a theory, Mr. Lester, which some
chance words of yours this afternoon served greatly to strengthen. You
remember, you remarked that a recurrence of insanity would be very
likely if the circumstances attending it were related in any way to the
original cause. My theory is that this man whom Harriet Kingdon killed
was the cause of her insanity--that he'd wronged her."

"Yes," I agreed; "yes--and yet, how explain his presence here? If he'd
wronged her, he'd hardly seek her again."

"I don't know; there are queer depths in human nature. Unfortunately, I
see no way of proving the theory either right or wrong--of putting it to
the test; not, at least, until Lucy Kingdon recovers and chooses to
speak."

"I think I can put it to the test," I said, "if you'll permit me to lay
it before a friend. I must tell you, though, that he's a reporter, and
if the theory proves to be the right one, he'll use it."

"I see no objection to that," said Dr. Schuyler, after a moment's
thought; "provided, of course, that he doesn't use it unless it's fully
proved."

"I can promise that," I said.

"And whether it proves right or wrong, I should like to know."

"You shall, at the first moment. And, by the way," I added, "you were
speaking the other evening of Ruth Endicott. There is a rather
remarkable portrait belonging to the Kingdons which has her name in the
corner."

"Yes; I've seen it."

"Did she really paint it?"

"Oh, I think there's no doubt of that."

"Did she paint anything else?"

"She painted three or four crude portraits for people here in town, but
they've long since been banished to the garret--where they belong. She
had talent, but she lacked training."

"She interests me, somehow," I said. "I don't know why. Is the portrait
a good one?"

"It isn't a portrait--it's rather an impression of her. As an
impression, it's very good."

He opened his mouth as though to say something more, then thought better
of it.

"You haven't told me yet," he added, as I rose to go, "whether you've
heard anything more from Miss Lawrence. To-day's tragedy has so far
outdone yesterday's that I nearly forgot to ask you."

"I believe she's out in mid-ocean now," I said, and related briefly the
incident of the telegram and of Burr Curtiss's starting in pursuit.
"He'll meet her at Liverpool," I concluded, "and they can fight out
their battle there."

"Yes," he nodded. "God grant they find it not too bitter."

       *       *       *       *       *

Godfrey was awaiting me at the hotel, and I told him in detail of Dr.
Schuyler's revelation, pointing out at the same time--not without some
obvious exultation--how, at a breath, it overthrew his elaborately
developed theory.

"Well, we're all liable to make mistakes at times," he said
good-humouredly. "Now that we're on the right track, I don't think
there'll be much difficulty in working the whole thing out."

"Dr. Schuyler hopes you'll be able to, and so do I--though I don't see
just how you're going to do it."

"Oh, I think I'll be able to do it--you see, we've got a starting-point
now. But I'll have to go to New York. Won't you come along?"

I was tempted.

"How long will it take?" I asked.

"Not over three or four hours. You ought to get to bed by midnight, and
you can come down in the morning for the inquest."

I saw that he wanted me; the temptation was too strong to be resisted.

       *       *       *       *       *

An hour later we were in the office of the Bloomingsdale asylum.

"It was about twenty years ago that Miss Kingdon was admitted," said
Godfrey to the chief physician, whose interest he had enlisted, and who
had been busy getting out the records, "and she remained here about a
year before she was discharged as cured."

"There oughtn't to be any trouble finding it," said the chief. "In fact,
there ought to be a voluminous record of a case like that. Let me
see--Kingdon--Kingdon," and he ran his finger down an index. "No, I
don't see it--this covers five years."

"Perhaps she was registered under another name," I suggested.

"Yes, that's very likely," Godfrey admitted. "May I see the record,
doctor? Perhaps I'll be able to pick her out. Cases that stay here that
length of time aren't very common, are they?"

"No; they're rather exceptional; besides, twenty years ago, we hadn't so
many as we have to-day."

Godfrey was examining the index.

"If there's no other way, we can sift out the cases which answer in a
general way to the one we want, and investigate all of them. But I hope
that won't be necessary. Let me see--F--G--H----"

"There was an inquiry the other day about a case which was a good deal
like yours--only that was for an Italian woman--a Harriet Parello."

Godfrey's lips were twitching and his finger trembled a little as he ran
it down the column of names, but when he spoke, his tone was the most
casual.

"Yes," he said, "here she is--Harriet Parello. She was brought here from
West Twenty-seventh Street," and he named the number. "Not a very
savoury locality, is it, doctor?"

"No; though one can't tell what it was twenty years ago."

"That's true. I don't suppose you remember anything about her?"

"No; I wasn't here at that time."

Godfrey was still running down the column of names, and was seemingly
little interested in the Parello case.

"The husband rather impressed me," went on the chief. "Rather a handsome
fellow in his day, but now evidently a wreck--and a perfect brute
morally--or so I judge."

"What did he want?" inquired Godfrey negligently.

"He wanted to know what had become of her. I thought it peculiar he
should have waited so long to make inquiries."

"Were you able to help him out?"

"Oh, yes; our records give the history of every case."

Godfrey closed the index, evidently disappointed.

"I don't see any trace here of the case I'm looking for," he said.
"Maybe she didn't come here, after all. But I should like to look at the
records, doctor, just out of curiosity. This Parello case, now----"

The chief pulled a big ledger down from a shelf, referred to a number in
the index, and opened the book.

"Here it is," he said. "You see, she was suffering from emotional
insanity--homicidal mania--stayed nearly a year--was very violent at
first--gradually grew better and was finally discharged as cured. Her
sister, Miss Lucy Kingdon--why, wasn't that the name you were looking
for?"

"Yes; and this is the case. Please go ahead, doctor."

The chief looked at him for a moment in astonishment, then turned back
to his book.

"Her sister, Miss Lucy Kingdon, of Elizabeth, New Jersey, was notified
at her request," he continued, "and came after her. There have been no
reports since."

"That's all we need to know," said Godfrey, permitting some of his
satisfaction to appear in his face. "This record was shown to the
husband, I suppose?"

"Yes; I had no reason for refusing to show it."

"Most certainly not," agreed Godfrey. "And I must compliment you,
doctor, on the very thorough way in which your records are kept. Come,
Lester, we haven't any time to lose.

"Our chain is complete in every link," he added, when we were in our cab
again, rattling westward across the city. "Nothing can break it. All we
need now is to learn the story of the Parellos."

"And that's what we're going after?"

"Yes--but it's a chance. Twenty years, in a neighbourhood like that, are
certain to work great changes. It's a long chance. Ten to one, there'll
be nobody there who remembers Parello."

And he was right. The block in which was the number we sought had been
converted into a street-car barn. There were no longer any Italians in
the neighbourhood--it had become an outskirt of the negro quarter.

Godfrey took out his watch and glanced at it.

"Lester," he said, "I'm sorry, but I'll have to leave you. I've got to
set my subterranean machinery to work, and I'm afraid I can't take you
with me, much as I'd like to. The agents I'll have to use are shy of
strangers. Besides, I see you're getting sleepy."

"Yes," I confessed; "I am. I don't see how you hold up so well.
Good-night, then; and good luck. I hope you'll win out."

"Oh, I shall," he said confidently. "You take the cab. I'll use the
elevated. It's quicker, and every moment counts," and he waved me
good-bye.



CHAPTER XXIII

The Story


It was not until I unfolded my _Record_ at the breakfast table, next
morning, that I fully appreciated Godfrey's tremendous activity. I had
always known, of course, that he was energetic, indefatigable, and
fertile of expedient, but his results, remarkable as they often were,
were usually achieved with such apparent ease that I had never suspected
the extent of the downright hard work which lay back of them. Now, as I
looked over the paper before me, I understood and wondered.

I had left him at ten o'clock the night before, with the mystery still
unsolved and seemingly unsolvable, for the only clue in his possession
had led him to a blank wall. Yet here before me was the story. An entire
page was devoted to it--and an astonishing story it was, written with
verve and vividness, complete in every detail, and illustrated with
photographs and sketches of all the scenes and characters. There was the
Kingdon cottage, the grave in the cellar, the Kingdon sisters, the
murdered man, the pearl-handled revolver--even the coroner and the chief
of police. Many of the photographs had, of course, been collected the
day before, and some of them, no doubt, had been used in the afternoon
edition, but here they were welded into a homogeneous whole, complete
and satisfying. I could fancy the city editors of the other morning
papers turning green with envy as they read it.

And looking at the story, I understood, more clearly than I had ever
done, the wide appeal of the yellow press--it paid for the best talent
in the market; it handled its matter in a way to attract attention; it
told its stories in a style incisive and easily comprehensible, and
added the visual appeal of pictures, which gave the supreme touch of
reality. _And_ it got the news. Abstractly, I am anything but an admirer
of the yellow press; concretely, I have often found that to get the last
detail of any event--more especially of any event with a sensational or
mysterious side--I must have recourse to its columns, just as I had
recourse to them now.

As I read on, I marvelled more and more at the system which rendered
possible the securing of all these details in so short a
time--subterranean, Godfrey had called it; superhuman, I would have
said, and I determined that he should some day introduce me to it. He
had run down Parello, unmasked him, laid him bare in all his treachery
and vileness; the whole sordid, terrible story lay revealed--and as I
thought of Harriet Kingdon's sufferings and abasement, I did not wonder
that she had shot down the brute who was trying to drag her back to
them. Some of the details, I knew, Godfrey must have filled in for
himself, since there could be no way of verifying them at this late day;
but they fitted so closely with the rest of the structure that there
could be no doubt of their essential truthfulness.

Such, for instance, was the detail of their meeting. Parello had been a
teacher of music, and Godfrey shrewdly guessed that he must have met
Harriet Kingdon and become acquainted with her at the house where she
was employed as governess. The rest of the story could be easily built
up. He was a handsome and magnetic fellow, she a passionate and
attractive woman. He had struck a chord in her which she could not but
obey. He had seemed then to have a future before him; the brave exterior
gave no hint of the rottenness within. He had that grandiloquent way of
speaking of the future which is characteristic of the Latin races--that
sublime faith in himself which needed no justification. He had impressed
himself upon her as a genius who would one day astonish the world; and
if he had certain assertive peculiarities which jarred disagreeably at
times, why, was not all genius so? She began by admiring him; she ended
by yielding to him. No doubt she fancied that she was hitching her wagon
to a star.

Whether there had been a marriage was not certain; Godfrey believed
there had been. At any rate, Parello had introduced her to his friends
as his wife, and, for a time, all went well. Then the devil in the man
cropped out. He was naturally indolent. He quit teaching under the
pretext that he wished to compose a masterpiece, and forced her to
support him. No doubt she even yet believed in him; but he dragged her
down to depths unspeakable, trampling her into the very mire of the
Italian colony.

At last, he brought his real wife from Italy to live with him. This
swarthy vixen had added new torments to the unfortunate girl's position,
had devised new insults for her, and the end had been Bloomingdale. Up
to the very last, such was the nature of the woman, she had continued to
love the man, contented to be his dog, his slave, for the privilege of
being near him. Doubtless all this time her mind was weakening, and she
clung to him out of old habit. But with the sudden accession of madness,
hate had blazed up in her, white-hot, and she had attempted to stab him.
He had called the police, and she had been dragged away, cursing,
shrieking, a spectacle to shake the strongest nerves. It was in that
struggle that he had lost the end of his little finger. She had seized
it between her teeth and bitten it clean through. From a woman she had
changed into a monster.

But insanity of this type usually yields to treatment; and though
Harriet Kingdon's case proved to be of unusual obstinacy, patience and
careful nursing triumphed in the end, and reason was restored to her.
Restored, that is, as life is restored to a man stricken with heart
disease; resting not on the firm foundation of assured health, but on a
delicate balance which any shock may disturb.

Not until she was ready to leave the asylum, did her sister know her
whereabouts; I doubt if she ever knew the whole story of the sufferings
which went before. She had come for her, had taken her back to
Elizabeth, to the home which Mrs. Lawrence's kindness and generosity had
provided.

The Parellos had remained with the Italian colony, sinking lower and
lower. Parello, driven by his wife, the target of her abuse now that she
no longer had any other, endeavoured to resume his teaching, but he had
so coarsened in habits and appearance that the old doors were shut to
him. Still, he managed to scrape along, always on the verge of want.
Then, in a fortunate hour, his wife had been run down and killed by a
trolley car, he managed to exact damages for her death, and for the
moment found himself in affluence.

It was at this time that his thoughts turned to Harriet Kingdon. Why? It
is impossible to say. Perhaps he felt some revival of his old passion
for her; perhaps he may even have had some twinges of remorse; more
probably he realised that he was growing old; he wanted some one to wait
on him and slave for him, some one upon whom he could wreak his gusts of
passion. He had always believed himself irresistible to women; he knew
the dog-like devotion which Harriet Kingdon had had for him; he believed
that he had only to speak the word, and she would crawl back to him. But
he would do more than that; he would be generous; he would offer to make
her really his wife. Magnificent! Could she refuse such an offer as
that? The wife of Parello!

So he had made inquiries at the asylum, had learned her address, and had
taken the train for Elizabeth on the morning of that fatal tenth of
June. He had made his way to the Kingdon cottage, had found Harriet
Kingdon there alone, had entered, seated himself familiarly, perhaps
attempted some endearment. He was confident, self-satisfied. It was
better than he had hoped. Here was a comfortable home ready for him; a
wife who seemed to be making a good living. If it should be necessary,
he could no doubt find many pupils at Elizabeth, and if the pay was not
quite metropolitan, why, neither was the work. Here was a golden future;
yes, he would be generous; she should be his wife; he would forget all
that had happened....

But the sight of him had brought back the memory of her old infamy,
which her attack of madness and the years had partially blotted out; the
cloud rolled down upon her brain again, that white hate leaped to life.
She snatched up her revolver and shot him through the heart, even as he
sat there confidently smiling. Then, with a strength born of insanity,
she had dragged him to the cellar and dug a grave for him there.

The story was strong in every link; there could be no doubting it.

       *       *       *       *       *

Not until the inquest was finished, and we entered the train together to
return to New York, did I get the chance to talk quietly with Godfrey.

"You did great work," I said, as we sat down together.

"Yes," he agreed, smiling, "I was pleased with it myself. The story
developed beautifully."

"And clearly. Even the coroner's jury couldn't question it. There's no
possibility, now, of any one associating this affair with Miss
Lawrence's disappearance. If it had to happen, I'm glad that it happened
just when it did--it's served to make the public forget the other
mystery. I'm pleased for another reason," I added. "Lucy Kingdon won't
be called upon to tell that story on the stand. I don't like her nor
trust her, but I'm glad she'll be spared that ordeal."

"It would have been a trying one," Godfrey agreed. "The coroner tells me
that she's very ill. I feel guilty, in a way. I should have prepared her
for that horror in the cellar. I shouldn't have taken her without
warning to the brink of that grave."

"That wasn't the only cause of her illness," I said. "She had sins of
her own on her conscience. I don't understand even yet," I added, "why
that face should affect her so. She couldn't have recognised it, since
she'd never seen Parello."

"How do you know she never saw him? I'm decidedly inclined to think she
had--that he was the cause of that violent quarrel between her and her
sister which Dr. Schuyler mentioned. Lucy Kingdon, looking at the man
clear-eyed, saw him as he was and tried to dissuade her sister from the
entanglement; the elder woman, blinded by passion, wouldn't listen, and
the quarrel followed, in which both, no doubt, used words which they
afterwards regretted."

"Yes," I agreed, "perhaps you're right."

"Even if she'd never seen him," Godfrey added, "she must have suspected
who it was--there was only one man in the world whom her sister was
capable of killing. Or she might have imagined that it was some one
else. There's been nothing in all this, Lester, to disprove my original
theory about Miss Lawrence."

"Godfrey," I said impulsively, "I'm going to disprove it once and for
all. Look at this," and I thrust into his hands the photograph Burr
Curtiss had entrusted to me.

He gazed at it for some moments in silence. At last he handed it back to
me.

"Do you believe that theory now?" I asked.

"No," he answered, and sat staring straight before him, his lips
compressed.

"I knew you'd say so," I said. "I knew you'd see how impossible it was
that there should be any shameful secret in her life. I wavered once or
twice when every discovery we made seemed to confirm your theory, but I
never really believed it. I'd only to recall this photograph----"

"Why didn't you show it to me before?" he asked.

"Candidly, Godfrey," I answered, crimsoning a little, "I--I don't know."

"Oh, yes, you do!" he retorted. "You were afraid I'd chin it out of
you."

"Well, yes, I was," I admitted.

He looked at me curiously for a moment.

"I see you don't know me very well, even yet, Lester," he said, at last.
"I'm sorry you didn't let me see it. It would have saved me a wild-goose
chase. But then," he added, with a grim little laugh, "I might not have
stumbled upon this second tragedy. So perhaps it was as well, after all.
I forgive you."

"You think the photograph would have made the mystery clearer?" I asked.

"Clearer?" he echoed. "My dear Lester, it makes it more unexplainable
than ever. It converts it from a vulgar intrigue into the most puzzling
problem I ever had to deal with!"

I was staring at him in astonishment.

"I don't see how it can do that!" I protested.

"Don't you? Well, I'll tell you. I've already pointed out to you that,
so far as I could see, my theory was the only conceivable one which
would explain Marcia Lawrence's flight. I look at that photograph and
see at once that I must throw that theory aside. What have I left?
Nothing! That photograph shows me a pure, cultured, innocent woman; I
know that she loved devotedly the man she was to marry. Yet she
deliberately deserts him. I should say it was incredible, if I didn't
know it was true!"

"Then," I said, "while we've solved one mystery, the other is as deep as
ever."

"Deeper!" he corrected. "Miles deeper. In fact, it hasn't any bottom at
all, that I can see," and he sank back into his seat again, a deep line
between his eyebrows.



CHAPTER XXIV

The Secret


The dusk of evening was falling as we were ferried across to the city. I
bade Godfrey good-bye, and took a cab direct to my rooms, for I was
weary in body and spirit. But a bath and dinner improved both, and at
eight o'clock I was ringing at Mr. Royce's door, for I knew how anxious
he would be to hear my story, and besides, I owed him some reparation
for leaving him alone at the office.

He opened the door himself, and his face brightened at sight of me.

"Why, Lester!" he cried, and shook hands warmly. "Come in. I'm mighty
glad to see you."

"I thought you'd like to hear about it," I said.

"Of course I shall. It was like you to think of it."

"I wanted to talk it over with you. It may help to straighten things
out. I was afraid there wouldn't be time at the office."

"We are rushed there, and that's a fact. Suppose we go up to the den. We
can talk our talk out, there. Though," he added, as he led the way up
the stair, "we could do that anywhere to-night. I'm keeping bachelor's
hall. That affair at Elizabeth so upset my wife that she's gone away to
the mountains to get braced up. Here we are," and he threw open a door.

It was a cheery room, where he had gathered together the impedimenta
which had marked his progress through bachelordom, mementoes of his
college days, and such other possessions as were peculiarly his.

"Now," he said, when we were settled, "let's have the story. Of course
I've read the papers, but I hope you won't take that into account."

So I told it step by step, while he listened silently, save for an
occasional exclamation of astonishment.

"It's the most remarkable thing I ever heard," he said, when I had
finished. "I don't wonder that you believed at first that it had some
connection with the Lawrence affair."

"It was certainly a remarkable coincidence that they should happen
together as they did."

"And the first affair is as deep a mystery as ever?"

"Godfrey says it's deeper than ever. I showed him Miss Lawrence's
photograph as we came in on the train together, and after he'd looked at
it, he said it was the strangest puzzle he'd ever encountered. It's
absolutely unexplainable."

Mr. Royce smoked for a moment in silence.

"Of course there must be some explanation," he said, "and an adequate
one. Marcia Lawrence wouldn't have run away without good and sufficient
reason."

"No," I agreed, "but there's one thing certain--whatever the reason, it
isn't of a nature to render the marriage impossible. She was probably
overwrought when she wrote that note to Curtiss--something had upset her
so suddenly and completely that she couldn't see clearly."

"How do you know that?"

"Don't you remember her mother's last words to me? She said it would be
for Curtiss to decide."

"Yes, I remember. And I think there's no question as to what his
decision will be."

"No," I agreed. "Most men would be glad to get Marcia Lawrence upon any
terms."

"Not Curtiss--but then he's desperately in love. Maybe he'll be willing
to recede a shade or two from his ideal."

"He won't have to recede," I asserted confidently. "She's spotless,
whatever the secret."

"I hope so," agreed our junior slowly. "Well, they'll have to fight it
out together when they meet on the other side. If I were Curtiss, I'd be
mighty shaky about that meeting."

"And I. Of course," I added, "the whole mystery hinges on that letter
from New York. Godfrey imagined he knew the contents, but the event
showed how wide he was of the mark. He had a theory that the letter was
written by a disreputable, blackmailing husband of the girl, whom she'd
believed dead. That was his theory from the first--the only possible
explanation, he called it. Then, when he found that a picturesque
stranger had asked the way to the Kingdon cottage, he immediately
concluded that the letter had appointed a rendezvous, and that Miss
Lawrence had kept it. All of which was afterwards shown to be mere
moonshine."

"Not the first part of it," Mr. Royce objected. "There's been nothing to
disprove that."

"Nor anything to prove it."

"True--but it has a certain speciousness."

"Yes--all of Godfrey's theories have that. Do you remember what a
perfect one he built up in the Holladay case, and how it fell to pieces?
Well, I believe this is wilder yet. A look at Miss Lawrence's face will
show you she hasn't any past of that kind. Godfrey himself admits that
now."

My companion ran his fingers savagely through his hair.

"Of course I don't know anything about it," he said, "but I've already
told you how the affair affects me. Trust me, Lester, there's some
terrible secret just below the surface. I wanted to say as much to
Curtiss, but didn't quite dare. That's why I shiver at the thought of
that meeting. I pity him when he comes face to face with it. That
reminds me--I found an old photograph of him the other day." He turned
to his desk and, after a moment's search, brought out a card. "He gave
it to me when we were chums together at college," he added, and handed
it over to me.

It showed Curtiss as he was at twenty or twenty-one. The face was
plumper than I knew it, and the skin much fairer. The hair was worn
longer and the absence of beard or moustache revealed fully the
singularly pure lines of the lower portion of the face--a poetic face,
yet full of fire and vigour.

"We used to call him 'The Beaut.'," went on my companion. "I told you
that he was rather girlish-looking. Well, see here--here he is as the
soubrette, in a burlesque we got up in senior year."

He handed me a group picture including the whole company. The central
figure was a charming girl, with admirable arms, hands, shoulders--an
inimitable way of holding the head....

"Great Scott!" I shouted, springing to my feet. "Don't you see it? Don't
you see it, man?"

"See it? See what, Lester?" repeated Mr. Royce, in amazement. "What's
the matter, old fellow?"

"No, I haven't gone mad," I laughed, as he put a restraining hand on my
arm. "It's the key to the mystery," I added, as calmly as I could. "I'm
not going to tell you--I want you to see it for yourself. Come along."

He followed me down to the street without a word, though I could see how
his hand trembled as he took down his hat. I myself was quivering from
head to foot with excitement--with triumph. What a blind fool I had been
not to suspect it long ago. Godfrey had never seen Curtiss, or he would
have known the instant his eyes rested on that photograph!

Luckily, the journey was not a long one, or I could not have kept the
secret.

"Sit there," I said, when we reached my room, and I motioned him to a
chair near the table. I turned down the light and arranged my
properties--let me confess at once to a secret liking for the
dramatic--the unexpected. Then I turned up the light.

"Now look at them," I said, and pointed to the three photographs placed
side by side before him.

He stared at them--at Marcia Lawrence; at Burr Curtiss, smooth-faced and
girlish; at the soubrette....

I knew by the sudden deep breath he drew that he understood. There could
be no mistaking. Feature for feature they would not match at all; but
there was a tone, an expression, that little way of holding the head....

"Of course," he said slowly, at last. "Of course."

How easily it explained Marcia Lawrence's panic, her flight--there could
be no marriage, no explanation--only flight!

"There's one crucial test," I said, glancing at my watch. "I'll make it
this very evening."

       *       *       *       *       *

An hour later, I was shown for the third time into the study of Dr.
Schuyler at Elizabeth. He was sitting at his desk, just as I had found
him once before.

"Ah, Mr. Lester," he began.

"Dr. Schuyler," I interrupted, "I've a photograph here which I'm very
anxious for you to see. This is it--whose do you think it is?"

He took it with a glance of astonishment, moved over to the table, and
held it beneath the rays of the lamp.

"Why," he faltered, "why--it reminds me very strongly of young Boyd
Endicott, as he was when I knew him, thirty years ago."

My heart leaped.

"As a matter of fact, Dr. Schuyler," I said, "it's a photograph of Burr
Curtiss, as he was ten years ago."

He stared at me for a moment without understanding, then I saw the light
of comprehension in his eyes, and he sank heavily back into his chair.

"Poor woman!" he murmured hoarsely. "Poor woman!"

And all the way back to New York, I was wondering which of the women he
had meant. Which was the more to be pitied--the woman who, thirty years
before, had been whirled away from her lover by a trick of fortune; or
the younger one, innocent and unsuspecting, discovering, only at the
last moment, the horrible abyss yawning at her feet?

Which of the women had he meant?



CHAPTER XXV

The Revelation


Neither Mr. Royce nor myself was quite equal to the routine work of the
office next morning. We had solved the mystery, indeed; but so far from
bringing us relief, the solution had brought us a terrible unrest. Miss
Lawrence had chosen her words well when she had said that the marriage
was "quite, quite impossible." Yet who could have guessed a reason so
dark, so terrifying, so unanswerable! Small wonder that she had fled,
that her first thought had been to put the ocean between herself and her
lover. How could she meet him, how look him in the eyes, with that
secret weighing upon her? How would she face him when she found him
awaiting her at Liverpool? I shuddered at thought of that meeting. We
should have held Curtiss back; we should have known that it was no idle
whim, no empty fear which had driven her over-sea.

Resolutely I tried to put such thoughts behind me, and to apply myself
to the mass of work which had accumulated during my three days' absence.
Was it only three days? It seemed weeks, months, since that moment when
I opened the telegram from Mr. Royce which summoned me to Elizabeth.

But they would not be frowned down, for there were many questions still
unanswered. What had been Lucy Kingdon's connection with the mystery?
Above all, why had Mrs. Lawrence permitted the courtship to go on?
Perhaps she had not known--only at the last moment, after her daughter's
disappearance, had she suspected. No doubt, it was that sudden
revelation, confirmed, perhaps, by Lucy Kingdon, coming to her after she
had left us in the library, which had struck her white and tremulous,
which had urged her to tell me that the search must cease. Yet, even
then, she had spoken as though the marriage might be arranged, as though
it were not impossible! She had said that Curtiss himself should choose!
What had she meant by that? Was there some depth which we had not yet
touched, some turn to the tragedy which we did not suspect? Had we
really found the solution, after all?

My mind flew back to the Kingdon women, with a sort of fascination. What
had Harriet Kingdon meant by that wild outburst of hers?

"There are others," she had said, "who have waived their rights and torn
their hearts and withered in silence----"

What had she meant by that? What secret was it had torn her heart? Were
the words merely a meaningless outburst, an incoherent cry, the result
of a mind disordered? I could not bring myself to think so, but cudgel
my brain as I might, I could read no meaning into them. Yet it was for
her that Mrs. Lawrence had sent at that supreme moment when I revealed
to her the secret of the letter; it was of her she had spoken when she
cried, "I thought it was that woman!" Harriet Kingdon had known the
secret, then, and had kept silence.

Then, suddenly, it burst upon me what a hideous thing it was that she
had done by keeping silent. It was the letter, arriving at that last
desperate moment, which had snatched Marcia Lawrence and Burr Curtiss
from the horrible pit which yawned before them. The writing of that
letter was not an act of enmity, but of mercy. Harriet Kingdon had stood
by and uttered no word of warning--I shuddered at the utter fiendishness
of it! But who had written the letter? Then, in a flash, I knew!

"What is it, Lester?" demanded Mr. Royce, wheeling suddenly around. I
suppose some exclamation must have burst from me, though I was not
conscious of uttering any sound. "What is it? I can guess what you're
thinking of--I can't think of anything else."

"I believe," I answered, "that I know who it was wrote that letter to
Miss Lawrence."

"You do!" he cried. "Who was it?"

"Wait!" I said, and closed my eyes and pressed my hands tight against my
temples in the effort at recollection. "It was Mrs. Lawrence's aunt--her
father's sister. It was to her house she came when she ran away. It was
there, no doubt, that the child was born."

"And who is she?" asked our junior. "Where does she live?"

I made another desperate effort of memory. At last I had it.

"Her name is Heminway," I said. "I don't know her address, except that
it's somewhere in New York. She was married to a banker."

"Oh, I knew him--Martin Heminway," and Mr. Royce jerked down a directory
and ran feverishly through its pages. "Here it is--East Fifty-fourth
Street."

He closed the book with a bang and took down his hat.

"Where are you going?" I asked.

"I'm going to see her," he said. "You're coming, too. We'll get to the
bottom of this, for Curtiss's sake. Either we'll prove it a mistake, or
we'll prove beyond doubt that it's true."

Neither of us spoke during that long drive uptown. We were too
depressed, too anxious. Nor did we speak as we mounted the steps of the
old-fashioned brownstone and rang the bell. We were admitted. We were
shown into a room on the second floor, after some delay, where, in a
great padded chair, an old, old woman sat, thin and wrinkled, but with
eyes preternaturally bright.

"Mrs. Heminway," Mr. Royce began directly, "we're representing Mr. Burr
Curtiss. We feel that some explanation is due him of the sudden flight,
three days ago, of Marcia Lawrence, whom he was to marry; and we believe
that you're the one best fitted to tell us the whole story."

She did not answer for a moment, but sat peering up at us, plucking at
the arms of her chair with nervous, skinny hands.

"Of course he has a right to know!" she cried, in a high, thin voice,
like the note of a flute. "I thought the girl would tell him."

"But since she hasn't," said our junior, "I hope you will. I know it
won't be a pleasant task----"

She stopped him with a quick, claw-like gesture.

"I have never shrunk from any duty," she said, "however unpleasant. Sit
down, gentlemen. I will tell you the story."

       *       *       *       *       *

I am sure there was no evil in either of them--Boyd Endicott or Mary
Jarvis. They were rather another Mildred and Mertoun, caught in the grip
of circumstance and whirled asunder, by one of those ironical tricks
which fate sometimes loves to play. For, on the night of the elopement,
while Boyd Endicott, leaving Princeton on the eve of his Christmas
vacation, was waiting for his bride at Trenton, with every preparation
made to whirl her away to a new home in the West, she was speeding away
from him toward New York. She had taken the train at Fanwood and was to
change at Elizabeth. There, half dazed by the noise, bewildered by the
storm which was raging, tremulous with fright, confused in the tangle of
tracks, she had taken the wrong train.

Boyd Endicott waited through the night, with what agony of doubt one can
guess; then, when morning dawned, believing Mary Jarvis
faithless--believing she loved her father more than him--hot-blooded and
impetuous, he had boarded a train and journeyed alone into the West,
where they had planned to build up a new home together. He was never to
know the true story of that night, for there in the West, two days
later, his life had been crushed out.

Meanwhile, almost paralysed with fear, the girl arrived at New York. She
was ill, benumbed, chilled with the cold; darkness was coming on; she
knew not where to turn, and finally, in an agony of desperation, she
sought the home of Mrs. Heminway. The cause of her illness could not be
long concealed; she asserted that she was married, that she had been
Boyd Endicott's wife for nearly a year; but her father did not believe
her. For she had no marriage lines, she did not even know the name of
the minister before whom their vows had been uttered--she could tell
only of a long drive through the dashing rain one night when her father
had been detained in town; of a hasty ceremony; of the drive home again.
It was an incoherent story, at the best, and she told it in a
half-delirium which made it more incoherent still. Her father was nearly
mad with rage; in his first white wrath, he was for sending her forth
into the streets. But his sister reasoned with him--there was no need of
a public disgrace; she would take the child, the sight of it should
never offend him, nor should his daughter know aught concerning it.
Doubtless they would have made some effort to verify her story, but the
news of Boyd Endicott's death rendered that unnecessary. For their plan
was laid.

So the child was born--a boy--and the mother lay for days and weeks
hovering between life and death. When she came again to consciousness,
they told her that the child was dead--had never lived, indeed. They
told her, too--no doubt with a kind of fierce exulting--how Boyd
Endicott had met his end--a fit punishment from the hand of God! The
past was buried with him. It must be as though it had never been.

Mary Jarvis acquiesced. Life, it seemed, held nothing more for her. The
future, no less than the past, was to her a dark and lifeless thing. She
would have welcomed death, but it did not come. She grew slowly better,
and at last she was able to go with her father to Scotland, for a long
visit among his people there, while he hastened home for his
revenge--his pound of flesh. Whatever fault she had been guilty of, she
expiated by taking, without love--for she knew that love would never
come into her life again--the husband of her father's choosing. And
seemingly she had never suspected that her child was living; certainly
she never dreamed that her instinctive tenderness for her daughter's
lover was that of a mother for her son.

So the years passed, and cast a veil about this sorrow; not concealing
it, but rendering it less sharp, less poignant. To her daughter no
whisper of this secret ever came until that terrible moment when she
opened the letter marked "Important--read at once." The blow, of course,
must have fallen--it was right that it should fall--but oh! how it might
have been tempered. Here is what she read, in that half-darkened library
whither she had fled for refuge:

     "MARCIA LAWRENCE:--I suppose that you have never heard of me,
     yet I am your mother's only living relative, her father's
     sister. There are painful memories, perhaps, which have caused
     her to wish to forget me, and it is not to claim relationship
     or ask for love or sympathy that I write this letter, but to
     fulfil a sacred duty. A Merciful Providence turned my eyes,
     this morning, to an article in the _Tribune_, describing your
     approaching marriage, of which I have hitherto been kept in
     ignorance. From the name, age, and circumstances given
     concerning the bridegroom's life, I am certain he is your
     brother, your mother's son, born in sin in this house
     thirty-one years ago. So are the iniquities of the parents
     visited upon the children. Ex. 34:7; 20:5. See also Le. 20:10;
     I. Cor. 6:13; Ro. 6:23. I thank God that He has enabled me to
     prevent this last iniquity. If any doubt remains to you, ask
     your mother for the story, or come to me and I will tell it
     you.

     "MARGARET HEMINWAY."

One can guess how this horrible letter palsied her; how this first
face-to-face encounter with the world's sin and misery tortured and
sickened her. But she shook the weakness off--they would be seeking her
in a moment; she must flee, must hide herself, until she had time to
think, to adjust herself to this new, corroding fact which had come into
her life. So she sought the Kingdon cottage, the nearest, most
convenient refuge, and there had written that hasty, despairing note and
entrusted it to Lucy Kingdon, who had brought her a gown to replace that
mockery of satin. She had remained there, hidden, during the long
afternoon, secure in the knowledge that these women, whose devotion to
her had a peculiar intensity which she had not quite understood, would
not betray her.

Then, as soon as darkness fell, she had come to New York and sought Mrs.
Heminway. She must be quite certain; she must know the whole truth. And
that old, old woman, with all the grimness of her creed, told her the
story bluntly and cruelly, as she told it to us. The child had not died,
but had been placed with the family of the manager of her husband's
estate on Long Island, who himself did not know its history; who had, in
the end, adopted it and given it his name. There could be no mistaking.

I have called her merciless, for she seemed to glory in another's
anguish, counting it fit retribution and a punishment from the Lord. Yet
I trembled to think how more merciless she might have been had she
withheld the truth!

And when she had heard the story, Marcia Lawrence could no longer doubt.
But one great load was lifted from her, for she knew in her inmost heart
that the story of that wild night drive was true--she knew that her
mother had been guilty of no sin. There was a sweet comfort in the
thought which made her burden less, though it did not alter the problem
which she herself must face. She had been stabbed to the heart, and the
wound was bleeding still. She had gone forth from the house white with
agony; she wanted time to rest, to think, to grow accustomed to the
world again. She had a battle to fight; and, hastily purchasing such
clothing as she needed, she had taken the first boat for England, where
she hoped to hide herself until the tumult in her heart subsided, and
she had gathered courage to face the world and her lover.



CHAPTER XXVI

The Return


It was not until we were back at the office again that either Mr. Royce
or myself ventured a comment upon this extraordinary story. Even then,
we found very little to say. Nothing could be done to divert the blow;
nothing even to lessen its severity. Burr Curtiss and Marcia Lawrence
must endure their fate with such courage as they could; must forget; at
least, must strive to soften love into affection. How would they regard
each other, I wondered? Would the mere fact of revealed relationship
alter their old feeling, or would love survive to torture them? They had
in common no brotherly-and-sisterly instincts or experiences; they were
unchanged; they were still maid and lover, as they had always been.

The days passed, and in the stress of work at the office, the memory of
Burr Curtiss and his fortunes gradually became less vivid, until I began
to hope that, in time, it might really cease to worry me. But one
morning, Mr. Royce looked up from his paper, his eyes shining.

"The _Umbria_ reached Liverpool this morning," he said, in a voice not
wholly steady. "It's all over by this time. I wonder how they bore it?"

"Bravely, I've no doubt," I answered, but I trembled at thought of it.
How had she summoned courage to tell him?

"He'll come home, I think," added Mr. Royce, pursuing his own thoughts.
"They could hardly stay abroad together; their relationship, of course,
will always remain a secret----"

The office boy entered and laid a little envelope at his elbow. He tore
it open quickly and read its contents at a glance.

"It's a cable from Curtiss," he said, and passed it over to me.

     "_Oceanic_ delayed engine break-down," I read. "Reached
     Liverpool five hours after _Umbria_. Missed Marcia but
     searching for her. Cable care Hotel Adelphi."

Mr. Royce sat for a moment drumming nervously upon his chair-arm.

"He hasn't any chance of finding her in a place like that," he said, at
last. "Most probably she's gone on to London."

"Or to some place on the continent. There must be many places where
she'd feel at home."

"What would we better do? Shall we write out the story and mail it to
Curtiss? He'll get it in a week."

"He won't stay at Liverpool a week," I objected. "The letter might go
astray, and be opened by some one who had no right to read it."

"We might cable a mere outline."

I thought it over; but somehow my point of view had changed. Now that I
knew the story, it seemed to me that it was Marcia Lawrence's right to
decide what step should be taken next. Once she had recovered her
self-poise, she would see what course was best, and I was certain that
she would be brave enough, strong enough, to follow it unshrinking to
the end.

"Let us wait," I said. "A little delay can do no harm; just as haste can
do no good."

"Yes; I believe that's best," agreed our junior. "Nothing we can do will
help them. They must work out the problem for themselves."

"Besides," I added, "I've a feeling that Miss Lawrence will herself
decide to meet it squarely. She'll realise that Curtiss has a right to
know the story. I believe that she'll soon come home again, ready to
face him and tell him everything. She'll see that it's cowardly to stay
away. Then there's her mother--she'll think of her--of her misery and
loneliness. She won't leave her to live by herself in that great, gloomy
house. We're safe in leaving the future in her hands."

But in the days that followed, I came to doubt more and more whether
this policy was the best one. Had I not been thinking too much of Miss
Lawrence, and too little of our client? Perhaps if he knew the secret,
he would no longer wish to pursue her; he might prefer to wait, to give
time opportunity to heal the first rawness of the wound. Indeed, it was
conceivable that love might change to loathing. In that case, it were
better to have the crisis over with at once; to apply the knife before
the sore had a chance to harden or grow deeper. Such heroic action might
effect a cure. But I kept these doubts to myself; there was no use
disturbing our junior with them. I could see how he was suffering on his
friend's behalf. I could guess his fear that some dreadful tragedy would
mark the end.

The days passed, and we heard no more from

Curtiss, not a word to tell us how the search had progressed. Godfrey
came in to see me once or twice, but he had nothing new to tell; and of
course I had nothing to tell him. At last, he expressed the opinion that
we should never solve the mystery; and as the public had forgotten it
long since, he decided to waste no more time upon it.

Another visitor I had one afternoon, when Dr. Schuyler's card was
brought in to me. I ordered him shown in at once, and as I shook hands
with him, I noted that he seemed greyer and older than when I had seen
him last.

"Yes," he said, with a smile, interpreting my glance; "it's this trouble
which has been weighing upon me. I've tried to shake it off, but I
can't."

"Sit down," I said. "I'm glad to see you. And I wouldn't allow the
affair to worry me, if I were you."

"That's easy enough to say," he retorted, with a little shake of the
head. "But remember, Mr. Lester, Mrs. Lawrence and her daughter were two
of my dearest friends. And this tragedy has wrecked their lives. Is
there any news?"

"None at all, except that Curtiss missed the _Umbria_ at Liverpool, and
has not been able to find Miss Lawrence."

"Perhaps that was best."

"I'm inclined to think so myself," I agreed.

"There's one thing, though," he added suddenly. "Curtiss has no reason
to be ashamed of his birth."

I looked at him with quick interest.

"Then you've discovered----"

"Yes; the minister who married Mary Jarvis and Boyd Endicott. I couldn't
rest after you showed me that picture--after I knew that Mary Jarvis had
had a child. I felt that I must find out--for her sake, as well as for
my own. And so I set systematically to work. It was really not
difficult, for there were not more than six or eight places where the
ceremony could possibly have been performed. I took them one after
another, and soon found the right one--you see, I had the date,
approximately. Her story was true in every detail. They had driven to
Clearwater, about five miles north of Plainfield, a little village of
two or three hundred inhabitants. The minister who married them is still
living. He showed me the record, and he remembered the affair
distinctly. The night was a very bad one, and he had been aroused from
sleep by a loud knocking at the door. He had gone down, thinking that it
was some neighbour come to summon him to the bedside of some one taken
suddenly ill, and was surprised to find a handsome young fellow standing
on the doorstep. He explained his errand in a few words, and ten minutes
later, the thing was done. The minister's wife was the only witness. The
bride was very frightened and more than once seemed about to faint, but
managed to pull through, and was driven away with her husband a few
minutes after the ceremony has been performed."

The clergyman's face was glowing with satisfaction.

"It was a great thing to me," he added, "to be able to prove that Mary
Jarvis had told her father the truth."

"It seems strange," I said, "that he never made any attempt to verify
it."

"Ah, but he did," broke in Dr. Schuyler quickly. "He did verify it. At
least it could have been no one else in my opinion, from the description
given me by the minister at Clearwater. He was there and saw the record
only a few days after that Christmas Eve on which his daughter attempted
to run away."

"He never told his sister," I said, and told him of Mrs. Heminway's
story.

"It was like him," said my companion, after a moment's thought, "to keep
it to himself. Perhaps he feared his sister would feel some tenderness
for the child if she knew there was no shame attached to it. But
whatever his motive, I am glad that I know the truth."

"And I," I said. "It will be easier to tell Curtiss--if he must be
told."

"And Marcia."

"I don't believe she ever doubted."

"Perhaps not; but it will be good for her to know."

"Yes," I agreed, and fell a moment silent. How would the story end?

"Poor children!" said my companion, and rose with a little sigh. "They
must bear the burden with what strength they have. God send it be
sufficient! I must bid you good-bye, Mr. Lester. I feel better, now that
you know the truth. I want every one who knows the story to know this
part of it."

"They shall," I promised.

"And if there is any way that I can help----"

"You don't need to assure me of that," I interrupted. "I shall call upon
you without an instant's hesitation."

"Thank you," and he wrung my hand and was gone.

How would the story end? I asked myself the question again, as I sank
back into my seat. And I could find no answer to it.

But the end was nearer than I had thought.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was near closing time one afternoon, and we were finishing up some
odds and ends of work, when the door opened, and in came Burr Curtiss.
We were on our feet in an instant--Mr. Royce and I--and had him by the
hands. He was greatly changed--older and thinner, with an increased
lankness of jaw; but he had regained his equilibrium. He was no longer
dazed by the blow fate had dealt him. The firm-set lips told that he had
taught himself how to face the world and his own future.

We sat down after the first greetings, and then there was a little
pause. I was uncertain how to begin; I had a horror of opening old
wounds which I saw that Mr. Royce acutely shared.

"Well, I'm back," Curtiss began, seeing our hesitation and no doubt
understanding it. "I soon found out that I'd undertaken a hopeless
task."

"Then you didn't find her?" asked Mr. Royce.

"No," answered the other evenly. "I completely lost track of her after
she left Liverpool. I was able to trace her to the station, and to find
that she'd taken train for London, and that was all. So I decided that
the wisest thing for me to do was to come home. My boat got in an hour
ago--and I came straight here for news."

Our junior nodded.

"Yes--I think you did right to come back. But I haven't any news--at
least, I believe that she herself would wish to tell you----"

Curtiss started sharp around.

"Then you know?" he asked. "You know why she left me?"

Mr. Royce paused an instant, then chose the better way.

"Yes," he said. "Lester hit upon it, and we proved he was right."

Curtiss was out of his chair now; but he held himself well in hand.

"And you'll tell me?"

"It was nothing that reflects on either of you. It was something neither
of you could help nor do anything to alter."

"So it's bad news!" and his face turned suddenly livid.

"Sit down, Curtiss," said our junior imploringly. "It's hard enough, at
best--I--can't tell you at all if you take it that way."

Curtiss glanced at him again, then sat down.

"Now tell me," he said quietly, but I saw how his hands were trembling.

"I don't wonder she fled," began Mr. Royce, shrinking from the plunge.
"She couldn't face the world----"

"But me," cried Curtiss; "she could have faced me!"

"You least of all."

"Tell me," whispered Curtiss. "Let me judge of that."

There was no resisting him--it was his right to know--so our junior told
the story, as briefly as might be.

He bore it better than I had hoped. After a time, he was able to talk of
it quite calmly, to ask a question or two, to tell us something of his
own boyhood, and of the people who reared him.

"I never suspected," he concluded, "that John Curtiss and his wife
weren't really my grandparents. They told me my father and mother were
dead, and they certainly treated me as a child of their own. They had no
other children, and doubtless by the time I came of age to ask
questions, regarded me as wholly theirs. Mrs. Curtiss died when I was
sixteen, her husband three years later, just as I was ready to enter
college; and I found that he'd made me his sole heir, and that I was
worth some thirty thousand dollars. I went on to college, as they'd
wished me to. And now," he added, "what shall I do? Shall I go to
Elizabeth and see Mrs. Lawrence----"

It was plain that he could not think of her as his mother. She had never
been his mother. He had never known her as such; she had played no part
in his childhood. I knew that one of the questions I had asked myself
was answered: the mere revelation of kinship had made no difference in
his feeling for Marcia Lawrence. He loved her yet; he had that battle
still to fight. And she--was it the same with her? What a hideous irony
of fate!

"Mrs. Lawrence knew nothing of the story," I pointed out. "She may know
nothing of it, even yet. She doesn't suspect that her child lived. I
think her daughter means that she should never know, if it can be kept
from her."

"Then she shall never know from me," he said, and took a deep breath. "I
suppose that I'd better wait. Marcia can decide what's best to do. I--I
don't think I quite realise what it all means," and he passed his hand
before his eyes. "The best thing for me is to go to work. That'll give
me something else to think about."

"That's right," I said. "Thinking about this won't do any good--nothing
will."

"No," he agreed, his lips bloodless. "I begin to see that--to
understand----"

The door opened, and the office boy came in.

"Telegram, Mr. Lester," he said, and gave it to me.

It was:

     "Our Elizabeth correspondent wires Miss Lawrence home noon
     to-day.

     "GODFREY."



CHAPTER XXVII

The Curtain Lifts


For a moment I hesitated. Was it best to tell him? But a glance at his
drawn face decided me.

"The search is over," I said. "Miss Lawrence is home again," and I
handed him the message.

He read it at a glance, then started to his feet.

"Will you come with me, Mr. Lester?" he asked. "I know I've given you a
lot of trouble, but this will be the last, I think."

"You haven't given me a bit of trouble," I protested. "I'll be glad to
come."

"Thank you," he said simply, and held out his hand to Royce.

"You think it best to go?" the latter asked.

"Best? Oh, I'm not thinking of that! I'm going to her--I've got to see
her! I can't wait! I----"

He wrung our junior's hand without finishing the sentence; too
overwrought, indeed, to finish it--and strode from the room.

Mr. Royce held me back for a rapid word of warning.

"I'm glad you're going," he said. "He'll need some one. There's no
telling what'll happen. Good luck!"

       *       *       *       *       *

When we were in the train, with the lights of Jersey City flying past
us, I took occasion to examine Curtiss again. He was lying back in the
seat with his eyes closed, and the posture made his face seem even
lanker and grimmer than it had at first appeared. I saw that I must keep
my wits about me. When he awoke to a full realisation of the trick fate
had played him, he might, in his desperation----

"But you said Mrs. Lawrence told you she knew why Marcia had run away."

The voice fairly made me jump, it came so suddenly, so unexpectedly.

"She did," I answered, turning to find his dark eyes open and strangely
bright. "But of course she was mistaken. She fancied it was something
else, or she wouldn't have said what she did."

"What did she say? You've told me, but I've forgotten."

"She said that the marriage wasn't impossible--that the choice should be
left to you."

He pondered this a moment, then his lips curved into an ironical smile.

"No doubt another family secret!" he said. "One would think we were in
Corsica or Sicily! Well, we'll try to bear it. By the way, who's this
fellow Godfrey, who sent you that message?"

"He's a newspaper-man, a friend of mine--a mighty clever fellow."

His face grew grimmer still.

"More food for the yellow press," he said, with a harsh laugh. "They
certainly owe us a vote of thanks."

He was in a dangerous mood. I saw his face harden and darken as he gazed
out through the window. His lips moved, but no sound came from them.
Then they closed again, compressed and bloodless, and he settled back in
his seat as though he had taken a final resolution. I shuddered as I
tried to guess what it was. I could imagine but one end for a drama so
hideous as this.

And then, as I lay back in the seat, gazing at him, a sudden ray of
light flashed across my brain. That contour of the face--that poise of
the head--where had I seen them? Where but in the portrait of Ruth
Endicott which hung upon the wall of the Kingdon cottage! Since he
resembled his father, he would, of course, resemble her. Another link in
the chain, I told myself; and trembled to think how strong it was.

       *       *       *       *       *

Nothing about the house had changed. As we drove up to the door, I saw
that the blinds were still drawn, as they had been at the time of my
first visit, and no ray of light came through them. It seemed a house of
death, and a little shiver ran through me as Curtiss rang the bell.

There was a long delay; a delay that tortured me: for a dark vision
danced before me--the vision of a girl lying dead beneath the windows of
the library, with a portrait pressed close against her heart. So vivid
was it that I could not shake it off, and I nearly cried aloud as a
light was switched on the hall, and the door suddenly opened. I looked
up expectantly--but it was not Lucy Kingdon; it was a servant whose face
I did not remember. She took our cards and showed us into the room
which, when I had seen it last, was gay with flowers. Then she left us.
Not until she had gone did I remember that Lucy Kingdon was still
fighting a battle with death.

As moment followed moment, I found myself unconsciously gripping my
hands tighter and tighter about the arms of my chair. There seemed to be
about the house an atmosphere of terror. I could guess what agony of
suspense Curtiss was enduring and I saw him wipe the perspiration from
his forehead once or twice with a hand anything but steady. Perhaps she
would not come. Perhaps she was not yet brave enough. Or perhaps she
could not come----

There was a step at the door; a woman entered----

It was Mrs. Lawrence. She came forward with a smile of welcome. One
glance at her face told me that she did not yet suspect--that her
daughter had kept the secret.

"I knew you'd come," she said.

"Then she _is_ here?" asked Curtiss, gripping his hands behind him,
devouring her face with his eyes; feeling, perhaps, for the first time,
some instinct of sonship stirring within him.

"Yes, she's here," answered Mrs. Lawrence, still smiling at him. "She
came only a few hours ago and is very tired--too tired to talk, even to
me. She doesn't feel strong enough to come down to see you now."

What power was it drew my eyes to the tapestry at the inner door? I saw
it swing aside, almost imperceptibly; I caught the glimpse of a face,
white as marble, whose eyes dwelt upon Curtiss with a look of love, of
longing, that turned me a little giddy. She loved him yet! God pity them
both!

"But she told me," Mrs. Lawrence was saying, "that if you'll come
to-morrow morning, she'll see you. Oh, I can see how she's suffered! Too
much, I think! And you've suffered, too," she added, and her eyes
questioned his.

"Yes," he said. "I've suffered too."

"Thank God it's past! You see, I don't doubt you. I know that when you
hear the story----"

"I have heard it," Curtiss interrupted grimly, and I saw a spasm of pain
convulse the face at the door.

But Mrs. Lawrence was looking up at him, her eyes alight.

"And it will make no difference!" she cried. "It _can_ make no
difference--for you love her--I know it--I can see it--you love her just
as you always did!"

"Yes," said Curtiss hoarsely. "God help me, I love her just as I always
did!"

"Then you can't give her up--you won't--that would be cruel--would kill
her, I think--for it's no fault of hers----"

"Give her up!" echoed Curtiss, seized suddenly with a terrible
trembling. "No, I'll never give her up!"

"I knew it," she said triumphantly. "I knew I'd not misjudged you. And
there need be no scandal. No one need ever know!"

What was she saying? What infamy was she proposing? But not with the
joy-illumined face! Ah, she did not understand, and we should have to
tell her!

"It was wrong, I know," she went on, more calmly. "But when the mother
died, he wanted to take the child to rear it as his own--I had not given
him any--and since--since--there was a sorrow in my own life, I could
understand and forgive. It was a kind of penance--an atonement--and I
welcomed it. Besides, he was not wholly to blame, for she--but I'll
speak no ill of her. And I grew to love the child for her own sake--I
grew to forget that she was not really mine----"

Curtiss was clutching blindly at a chair, his face ghastly, his eyes
staring.

"I--I don't think I quite understand," he faltered, "You--you're
speaking of Marcia?"

"Of Marcia, certainly. But you said you knew the story."

She was looking at him intently, her face suddenly pale.

"Was it something else?" she asked. "Something else? Was it the letter?
Tell me!"

"No, no," he protested, and stopped, unable to go on.

"I don't think he heard it quite correctly, Mrs. Lawrence," I said,
seeing that he needed saving. "Do I understand you to say Miss Lawrence
isn't your daughter?"

"She's Ruth Endicott's daughter. She was housekeeper here and
she--she--But no matter. No one knew except her cousins, the Kingdons.
It was Harriet who took her away--to Florida--and she died there. They
promised to keep the secret--it was to their interest--we did everything
we could for them--I was kinder to them than they deserved. But I loved
the child--I had none of my own--I wanted to protect my husband's
memory--Where was the sin in----"

"Where is she?" demanded Curtiss hoarsely, but with a great light in his
eyes. "Where is she?"

"Then you don't mind? You won't----"

"Mind!" cried Curtiss. "Mind! Where is she?"

The curtains at the door were swept aside, and a woman appeared between
them--a woman regal, with glowing eyes, with smiling, tremulous lips----

Fool that I had been not to guess--not to see! It was the Endicott
strain, first and last--dark, passionate, virile--and I had shut my eyes
to it!

I saw him turn toward her, his face aflame with joy----

Then the hot tears blinded me, and I groped my way from the room, from
the house, out into the silent night; and I looked up at the quiet
stars, with Pippa's song singing in my heart----

    "God's in his heaven--
    All's right with the world!"


THE END



By BURTON E. STEVENSON


The Marathon Mystery

With five scenes in color by ELIOT KEEN.

An absorbing detective story of modern New York, especially original in
its plot and the fact that a young lawyer does the detective work; the
conclusion is most surprising.

"The author has stepped at once to the front ranks among American
writers of detective tales ... a yarn with genuine thrills," (and
comparing it with some of the most popular detective stories) "the
English is better and cleaner cut, the love passages are never maudlin,
there is throughout more dignity and sense, and the book shows
a far wider knowledge of the logical technique of detective
fiction."--_Bookman._

_N. Y. Sun_: "Distinctly an interesting story--one of the sort that the
reader will not lay down before he goes to bed."

_N. Y. Post_: "By comparison with the work of Anna Katharine Green ...
it is exceptionally clever ... told interestingly and well."

_N. Y. Tribune_: "The Holladay Case was a capital story of crime and
mystery. In the Marathon Mystery the author is in even firmer command of
the trick. He is skillful in keeping his reader in suspense, and every
element in it is cunningly adjusted to preserving the mystery inviolate
until the end."

_Boston Transcript_: "The excellence of its style, Mr. Stevenson
apparently knowing well the dramatic effect of fluency and brevity, and
the rationality of avoiding false clues and attempts unduly to mystify
his readers."

_Boston Herald_: "This is something more than an ordinary detective
story. It thrills you and holds your attention to the end. But besides
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therein."

_Town and Country_: "The mystery defies solution until the end. The
final catastrophe is worked out in a highly dramatic manner."


The Holladay Case

With Frontispiece by ELIOT KEEN.

A tale of a modern mystery of New York and Etretat that has been
republished in England and Germany.

This is one of the new and artistic style of detective stories, somewhat
in the vein of Conan Doyle. The tale begins with the finding of a New
York banker stabbed to death in his office. Suspicion falls on his
daughter. A kidnapping and pursuit over seas follow. The story contains
a minimum of horror and a maximum of ingenuity.

"Almost instantly commands the reader's attention."--_Critic._

_N. Y. Tribune_: "Professor Dicey recently said, 'If you like a
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ingeniously constructed and well written into the bargain."



BOOKS BY MAY SINCLAIR


THE HELPMATE

A story of married life.

"An advance upon 'The Divine Fire.'"--_London Times._

"The one novel on the divorce question."--_Boston Transcript._

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very plainly, which need to be said, which are rarely enough
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exists nowhere else in our literature."--_New York Times Saturday
Review._

"Masterly ... artistic to the core."--_Boston Advertiser._

"No criticism of trifles can leave in doubt the great distinction of her
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THE DIVINE FIRE

A story of a London poet.

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Divine Fire.'"--MARY MOSS in _The Atlantic Monthly_.

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that excites one's admiration.... Moreover, a real distinction of style,
besides being of absorbing interest from cover to cover."--_Dial._

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years."--OWEN SEAMAN in _Punch_ (London).


THE TYSONS

"Maintains a clinging grip upon the mind and senses, compelling one to
acknowledge the author's genius."--_Chicago Record-Herald._


SUPERSEDED

"Makes one wonder if in future years the quiet little English woman may
not be recognized as a new Jane Austen."--_New York Sun._


AUDREY CRAVEN

"It ranks high in originality, interest and power.... Audrey is a
distinct creation."--_Times Review._



BOOKS BY WILLIAM DE MORGAN

ALICE-FOR-SHORT

The story of a London waif, a friendly artist, his friends and family,
with some decidedly dramatic happenings.

"'Joseph Vance' was far and away the best novel of the year, and of many
years.... Mr. De Morgan's second novel ... proves to be no less
remarkable, and equally productive of almost unalloyed delight.... The
reader ... is hereby warned that if he skims 'Alice-for-Short' it will
be to his own serious loss.... A remarkable example of the art of
fiction at its noblest."--_Dial._

"Really worth reading and praising ... will be hailed as a masterpiece.
If any writer of the present era is read a half century hence, a quarter
century, or even a decade, that writer is William De Morgan."--_Boston
Transcript._

"It is the Victorian age itself that speaks in those rich, interesting,
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interesting as its predecessor.... Everywhere are wit, learning and
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Dicken's novels are remembered."--_Springfield Republican._


JOSEPH VANCE

A novel of life near London in the 50's.

"The book of the last decade; the best thing in fiction since Mr.
Meredith and Mr. Hardy; must take its place, by virtue of its tenderness
and pathos, its wit and humor, its love of human kind, and its virile
characterization, as the first great English novel that has appeared in
the twentieth century."--LEWIS MELVILLE in _New York Times Saturday
Review._

"No novel since Thackeray's own will give you so much honest comfort and
delight."--_World's Work._

"If the reader likes both 'David Copperfield' and 'Peter Ibbetson' he
can find the two books in this one."--_The Independent._

"A perfect piece of writing."--_New York Tribune._



OTHER BOOKS

MRS. E. L. VOYNICH'S THE GADFLY

An intense romance of the Italian rising against the Austrians early in
the nineteenth century.

"One of the most powerful novels of the decade."--_New York Tribune._


ANTHONY HOPE'S THE PRISONER OF ZENDA

Being the history of three months in the life of an English gentleman.
Illustrated by C. D. Gibson.


ANTHONY HOPE'S RUPERT OF HENTZAU

A sequel to "The Prisoner of Zenda." Illustrated by C. D. Gibson.

These stirring romances established a new vogue in fiction and are among
the most widely-read novels. Each has been successfully dramatized.


C. N. AND A. M. WILLIAMSON'S THE LIGHTNING CONDUCTOR

A humorous love story of a beautiful American and a gallant Englishman
who stoops to conquer. Two almost human automobiles play prominent
parts. There are picturesque scenes in Provence, Spain and Italy.

"Altogether the best automobile story of which we have knowledge, and
might serve almost as a guide-book for highway travel from Paris to
Sicily."--_Atlantic Monthly._


C. N. AND A. M. WILLIAMSON'S THE PRINCESS PASSES

Illustrated by Edward Penfield.

"The authors have duplicated their success with 'The Lightning
Conductor.' ... Unusually absorbing."--_Boston Transcript._


D. D. WELLS' HER LADYSHIP'S ELEPHANT

This humorous Anglo-American tale made an instantaneous hit.

"He is probably funny because he cannot help it.... Must consent to be
regarded as a benefactor of his kind without responsibility."--_The
Nation._


R. M. JOHNSTON'S LEADING AMERICAN SOLDIERS

Biographies of Washington, Greene, Taylor, Scott, Andrew Jackson, Grant,
Sherman, Sheridan, McClellan, Meade, Lee, "Stonewall" Jackson, Joseph E.
Johnson. With portraits.

The first of a new series of biographies of leading Americans.

"Performs a real service in preserving the essentials."--_Review of
Reviews._

"Very interesting.... Much sound originality of treatment, and the style
is clear."--_Springfield Republican._


AS THE HAGUE ORDAINS

Journal of a Russian Prisoner's Wife in Japan. Illustrated from
photographs.

"Holds a tremendous human interest.... Author writes with wit and a
delightfully feminine abandon."--_Outlook._

"This surprisingly outspoken volume ... could have been written only by
an extraordinarily able woman who knew the inside of Russian politics
and also had actual experience in Japanese war hospitals."--_Chicago
Record-Herald._


W. F. JOHNSON'S FOUR CENTURIES OF THE PANAMA CANAL

With 16 illustrations and 6 colored maps.

"The most thorough and comprehensive book on the Panama
Canal."--_Nation._


JOHN L. GIVENS' MAKING A NEWSPAPER


The author was recently with the _New York Evening Sun_.

Some seventy-five leading newspapers praise this book as the best
detailed account of the business, editorial, reportorial and
manufacturing organization of a metropolitan journal. It should be
invaluable to those entering upon newspaper work and a revelation to the
general reader.

THE OPEN ROAD

THE FRIENDLY TOWN

Compiled by E. V. Lucas.

Pretty anthologies of prose and verse from British and American authors,
respectively for wayfarers and the urbane.





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