Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: In Jeopardy
Author: Sutphen, Van Tassel, 1861-1945
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "In Jeopardy" ***

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



scanned images of public domain material from the Google
Print archive.



IN JEOPARDY



BOOKS BY
VAN TASSEL SUTPHEN

       *       *       *       *       *

  IN JEOPARDY
  THE CARDINAL'S ROSE

       *       *       *       *       *

HARPER & BROTHERS, Publishers
Established 1817



IN
JEOPARDY


_By_
Van Tassel Sutphen

_Author of_
"The Cardinal's Rose," Etc.


HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
NEW YORK AND LONDON



Copyright, 1922
By Harper & Brothers



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE
      I.       I FIND SOME NEW RELATIONS                               3
     II.       THE SETTING OF THE STAGE                               25
    III.       HILDEBRAND OF THE "HUNDRED"                            40
     IV.       SOME HYPOTHETICAL QUESTIONS                            54
      V.       THE MISSING LINK                                       68
     VI.       "MADAME COLETTE MARINETTE"                             83
    VII.       THE WHISPERING GALLERY                                 99
   VIII.       ADVENTURING ON "SUGAR LOAF"                           106
     IX.       1-4-2-4-8                                             127
      X.       I RECEIVE AN ULTIMATUM                                138
     XI.       THE RIDER OF THE BLACK HORSE                          157
    XII.       SAFE FIND, SAFE BIND                                  171
   XIII.       LE CHIFFRE INDÉCHIFFRABLE                             180
    XIV.       ANOTHER BREAK IN THE CIRCLE                           192
     XV.       ONE CORNER OF THE VEIL                                202
    XVI.       AD INTERIM                                            211
   XVII.       THE MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S BALL                            217
  XVIII.       I BREAK A PROMISE                                     225
    XIX.       THE SEAT PERILOUS                                     235
     XX.       THE BLIND TERROR                                      255
    XXI.       A LOST CLUE                                           265
   XXII.       THE GRAPES OF WRATH                                   281
  XXIII.       THE END OF THE COIL                                   289



Chapter I

_I Find Some New Relations_


The letter which lay before me had been written in old-fashioned
longhand on the business stationery of the law firm of Eldon & Crawford,
their given address being Calverton, Maryland. For the third time I read
over the missive, although certainly it was short and to the point, its
meaning unmistakable. But judge for yourself.

  CALVERTON, MARYLAND,
  _June 22, 1919._

     MY DEAR SIR,--The funeral services for the late Francis Hildebrand
     Graeme Esqre., of "Hildebrand Hundred," King William County,
     Maryland, will be held at S. Saviour's Church, Guildford Corners,
     Maryland, on Thursday, June 24, 1919, at three o'clock post
     meridian.

     In view of the fact that you are a beneficiary under Mr. Graeme's
     will I am forwarding this communication by special delivery, in
     the hope that you may be able to attend the services and be present
     at the reading of the testament.

     I am enclosing a time schedule of the Cape Charles route, and would
     suggest that you take the morning express from Baltimore. By giving
     notice to the conductor the train will be stopped at Crown Ferry,
     the nearest railway point to "Hildebrand Hundred." If you will
     advise me by telegraph of your coming I will see that a conveyance
     is in waiting. Trusting that you may find it possible to make the
     journey, and taking the liberty of placing our legal services at
     your disposal,

     I remain, my dear sir,

  Your obedient servant,
  JOHN ELDON.
  HUGH HILDEBRAND, ESQRE.

Yes, this was all perfectly plain and understandable. Francis Graeme,
the distant cousin whom I had seen just once in my life, had died
suddenly at his Maryland home; as a member of the family and a
presumptive legatee it was my duty to offer the last respects in person.
Yet there had been something more or less odd about the whole business.
It had been the Civil War which had made a lasting breach between the
Northern and Southern branches of the Hildebrand family; for more than a
generation there had been no social intercourse whatever. Moreover,
during that period, the name had shown a tendency to disappear for good
and all, the usual fate of old families who live too close to the
ancestral soil and dislike the noisy wheels of the world's progress. The
late owner of the "Hundred" did not even bear the family patronymic, his
Hildebrand descent being on the distaff side. I, in turn, am an orphan,
without brothers or sisters; more than that I have no near relatives in
the paternal connection; indeed I had never heard of any immediate
bearers of my name until one day, some three months ago, when Francis
Graeme called at my Philadelphia office, introduced himself, claimed me
as kin, and carried me off to a luncheon which extended itself into
dinner and then lasted to a midnight supper. It had been a case of
liking at first sight, although Graeme was a man of forty-five or so,
while I lacked three years of thirty. However, years--mere years--don't
signify if people really "belong," and Graeme and I had lost no time in
laying the foundations of a friendship that promised a more than
ordinary degree of permanence. It had been arranged that I should come
down to "Hildebrand Hundred" for a long visit, but one thing after
another had happened to prevent; I had been presented with an actual law
case, Graeme was called West for a month, one of my college class
reunions had been scheduled for the first part of June; so it went. And
now poor Graeme was dead and nothing could be as we had planned it
during that long afternoon and night at the old University Club on
Walnut Street. Strange, I had not heard that he was ill, but our
correspondence had been most irregular, and most likely the attack had
been a sudden one--heart disease or perhaps a stroke. Of course I must
go down to Maryland, albeit the journey would be a depressing one; I
might even find it a little awkward to appear at the house in the
character of a new-found relative. I ought to explain that the family at
the "Hundred" now consisted of Miss Lysbeth Graeme and her cousin, Miss
Eunice Trevor. Of course I had never met either of them, but Graeme had
spoken of both girls at our first and only meeting; he seemed especially
fond of Lysbeth, or Betty, as he called her. Betty Graeme--rather an
attractive name I think--was some half dozen years my junior, and any
normal-minded young man would find the acquisition of a brand-new
feminine cousin an interesting possibility. But that was before this
distressing business of Francis Graeme's death, and I should feel more
or less the intruder. It was evident, however, that Mr. Eldon's letter
must have been sanctioned by Miss Graeme, and, I dare say, Graeme had
spoken to his daughter of having made my acquaintance, and warmly, too;
consequently, I should have to go and be decent, stay over night if that
were unavoidable, and then slip away Friday morning with my
legacy--perhaps a hundred dollars with which to procure the
mourning-ring so dear to the hearts of mid-Victorian novelists.

In spite of the special delivery stamp the letter had been delayed
somewhere, and it was not handed over to me until early Thursday
morning, the messenger awaking me out of an unusually sound sleep by the
simple expedient of keeping his finger pressed firmly upon the electric
push button of my tiny room-and-bath lodgings in the "Clarendon." When I
had rubbed the Sandman's dust out of my eyes, and had taken in the
general purport of the epistle, I glanced at the clock and saw that I
had less than an hour in which to make my toilet, settle my business
affairs and catch the train. Yet I made it easily enough, for, outside
of bath and breakfast, I had only to telephone the friend with whom I
shared a diminutive law office that I should not be back until Friday,
and that our progressive match at golf would have to be postponed to
that date. Happily or unhappily, as you choose to look at it, there were
no clients to put off and no real business exigencies to consider. Come
to think of it, I am not so sure that I was ever intended for the bench
and bar, and certainly the world has not gone out of its way to avail
itself of my store of legal knowledge. Mine was just the usual case of a
young man reading law because, on leaving the university, nothing more
tangible had presented itself. Moreover, the quarterly paid income from
my mother's estate is sufficient for my modest needs and perhaps
deprives me of any real incentive for hard work. Now the successful man
is usually self-made, meaning that he has been forced to play the role
of a creator and make something out of nothing. It makes me blush
sometimes when I reflect what would happen if that quarterly cheque ever
failed to turn up in the mail; had I anything of real value to offer the
world in exchange for shelter, raiment, and what my newsboy calls three
"squares" a day? Not that I am altogether a cumberer of the ground (as a
golfer I have been well-trained and always take care to replace my
divots), but there is no particular reason for my existence on this
planet, and there are not many people who would either know or care that
I was no longer of their number. Cynical? not at all; at least I had
not intended to give that impression. But my two years' war service
destroyed some illusion, even though I hadn't the luck to get across the
water.

Finally, I may call myself a decent enough chap when compared to the
ordinary run of men, and while I don't pretend to philanthropic
activities I can say quite honestly that there is no man, or woman
either, who may truthfully affirm being the worse off for having enjoyed
the distinction of my personal acquaintance. At best, this is only a
negative virtue, and there are times when I feel keenly that I ought to
be adding something definite to the world's stock of material good or
ethical treasure. I can't flatter myself that I possess anything more
than the one talent, and my quarterly dividend makes a convenient napkin
in which to enwrap it; the old allegory seems to fit my case precisely.
I dare say that life for me has been a trifle too pleasant and
well-ordered; people who live on Easy Street become more and more
attached to their _otium-cum-dig_; I have visions of myself less than a
score of years away: portly, tonsured, inclined to resent the existence
of boys and dogs, fussily addicted to carrying about to dinner parties
my own particular brand of pepper in a little, flat, silver box.
Perhaps if I should fall in love, but pooh! I have been invoking that
contingency so long and so unavailingly that it has lost a large portion
of its pristine appeal. No, I can't see that there is anything better
for me to do than to go on drawing my income, sitting religiously for at
least six hours a day in my office, sticking at golf until I finally get
the best of that hideous tendency to hook, and dining as usual on
Mondays with the Mercers _en famille_; in short, whittling my individual
peg to fit my allotted hole. I do think, however, that I'll tell Bob
Mercer he can count upon me for one evening a week at his Julian Street
settlement. Bob is the right sort of a cleric, and I know that he talks
by the card when he insists that giving and getting are really
interchangeable terms. But one always hates to make the effort and so
prove the truth of the assertion; it is infinitely less trouble to let
some other fellow get the true meaning and joy out of life while you
content yourself with the corner seat at the club fireside and the
comfortable certainty that the chef understands to a dot how you like
your cutlets and asparagus tips. Just the same I will speak to Bob--and
meanwhile I have awakened to the realization that it is ten minutes to
nine and that only a taxi-driver with no reverence for the speed laws
can deliver me at the Pennsylvania station in time for the southbound
train. I do make it, with a quarter of a minute to spare, and now I
remember that I have forgotten to send a wire to Mr. Eldon. I can
telegraph him at Wilmington, but there is small chance of its being
delivered in time; probably I shall have to rustle my own means of
conveyance to "Hildebrand Hundred." I shall have full two hours between
the arrival of my train at Crown Ferry and the time appointed for the
funeral. That ought to be sufficient even if I have to walk.

The ride over the Cape Charles route is not particularly interesting;
moreover, it was infernally dusty, and the food provided by the buffet
on the Pullman seemed extraordinarily unappetizing. Where on earth does
the company procure such tasteless provender? Everything tastes so
desiccated and deodorized, the mere shadow of really substantial viands,
a veritable feast of Barmecide. There was the usual delay owing to a
freight wreck, and my two hours of leeway had shrunken to a scant sixty
minutes by the time I had alighted at the little flag station of Crown
Ferry.

Not a very inviting place, this shabby way station set in a wilderness
of jack-pine and hackberry trees. There was not a soul in sight, outside
of the depressed looking individual who served as general utility man
and who apparently resented the intrusion of a stranger upon his lonely
domain. To my inquiry concerning the possibility of obtaining some sort
of conveyance, he returned a monosyllabic "Nope," and he showed not the
smallest inclination to give me any real assistance in finding my way to
"Hildebrand Hundred"; he pointed out the general direction, with a lean,
tobacco-stained finger, and let it go at that.

There was no house in sight, nothing but the two rutted tracks of a
sandy country road leading off toward the west and bifurcating itself a
couple of hundred yards away from the station--"deepo" in the
vernacular. I understood, from the scant information vouchsafed me, that
I was to take the left-hand fork, and after prevailing upon the agent,
in consideration of two of my choice cigars, to take temporary charge of
my kit-bag, I started off on my three-mile tramp.

Once through the belt of scrubby woodland, the appearance of the country
began to change for the better, and the further I traveled from the
coast line the more rolling and diversified it became. The sand gave
place to loam, an improvement in which the highway shared, the fields
were neatly fenced, and, with the added attractions of oak and hickory
groves, the landscape began to appeal; this was good farming land and a
pleasant place of rural residence.

I passed several farm houses, but since the day was unusually cool for
the month of June and as I rather enjoyed the exercise of walking, I
concluded not to bother about hiring a trap. A farmer whom I
encountered, at a cross-roads where there was a little cluster of half a
dozen houses, informed me that S. Saviour's Church was distant about a
mile; but already it was half after two o'clock and I realized that I
should not have time to present myself at the house before the funeral
cortège started. The obvious procedure was for me to wait at the church
until the party from "Hildebrand Hundred" had arrived; I could then
introduce myself to Mr. Eldon and be assigned to my proper position
among the mourners.

"Or if you like," continued my new acquaintance, "you can save more'n
half way to the church by cuttin' across the Thaneford property. You go
in by that stile yander," and he pointed a hundred yards down the road.

I felt a trifle doubtful about the propriety of taking a short cut
across private grounds, and said as much. "You are quite sure that Mr.
Thaneford doesn't object?" I asked.

"Of co'se he objects," declared my rural friend, who now informed me
that his name was Greenough and that he was the newly elected sheriff of
the county. "He objects powerful. But the Co'te has decided that it's a
public right-of-way. And when the law gives a man his rights he's bound
to maintain them."

"Why the right-of-way?" I asked.

"The Thaneford property was a royal grant," explained Sheriff Greenough,
"but S. Saviour's had been built before that, and the folks here in
Guildford Corners retained right of access to their parish church. By
the road it's full a mile."

"A relic of the established church of colonial days," I remarked.
"Nowadays no one is obliged to attend S. Saviour's."

"No," admitted the Sheriff, "and I'm a Baptis' myself. But we keep our
rights, for nobody knows when we may want to use 'em."

Since Mr. Thaneford was apparently unreconciled to the exercise of
ancient ecclesiastical privilege, I was about to say that I, as a
stranger, did not propose to become a party to the controversy; but a
glance at my watch showed me that I would have to take the short cut if
I hoped to reach the church by three o'clock.

"Mr. Graeme's funeral?" inquired Greenough. "Well, he was a good man and
a good neighbor. I'd be there myself if I hadn't business at the
Co'te-house to look after. Yes, sir, straight ahead and you can't miss
the path. Glad to have obliged you, sir; good evening."

Beyond the stile the path ran across a piece of meadow land; thence
through a hardwood grove, rising gently to a little plateau upon which
the mansion was situated. The house was of the Georgian period with the
usual pretentious portico; it seemed badly out of repair and was
surrounded by unkempt lawns, paddocks, and gardens. I saw that the path
would lead me within a comparatively short distance of the house, and I
rather sympathized with the owner's resentment at the invasion of his
privacy under cover of law. Yet I must go on, and I quickened my pace so
as to get out of sight of the house as quickly as possible.

A powerfully built young man came around the corner of what, in its day,
must have been a very considerable glass-house, and confronted me. Not a
pleasant face, with its prominent cheekbones and black V of eyebrows
furrowing the low, heavy forehead. "What are you doing on this
property?" he demanded with a truculency that made me dislike him
instantly and completely.

"It's a public right-of-way," I retorted.

"We don't admit that," he said hotly. "The case has been appealed; if
necessary, we'll carry it to Washington."

Well what was I to do? I had no desire to get into a dispute with this
rustic boor, and yet it was imperative for me to go on if I were to
reach the church in time for the service. Much as I disliked the man I
must put myself in the position of asking a favor from him.

"I presume that I am addressing Mr. Thaneford?" I began inquiringly.

"I'm John Thaneford--what then?"

"As you see, I am a stranger here. At the Corners I was told that I
could take this short cut and so save time and distance in reaching the
church."

"Oh, S. Saviour's!"

"Yes. I am a relative of the late Mr. Francis Graeme and came this
morning from Philadelphia to attend the funeral."

John Thaneford looked up sharply, the V of eyebrows narrowing. "I didn't
know Graeme had any kin in Philadelphia," he said suspiciously. "Or, for
that matter, anywhere."

"That may be true so far as the Graeme side of the family is concerned,"
I rejoined. "My name is Hildebrand."

"Hildebrand!" He stared at me even more intently than before, and I
fancied that there was a subtle note of dismay in the ejaculation. I
determined to follow up the advantage, if advantage it was.

"Hugh Hildebrand, to be precise," I continued, eyeing him steadily. "We
are of the Northern branch, and since the Civil War there has been
little or no intercourse with the family of the 'Hundred.'"

"Yet you come to Francis Graeme's funeral. Why?"

My temper flashed up. "And what damned business is that of yours, Mr.
John Thaneford!" I snapped out. "Am I to pass or not?"

For an instant he glowered, and I saw the pupils of his coal-black eyes
contract to a pin point. Then he took an evident pull upon himself; he
spoke with a marked change of demeanor, almost courteously.

"I'm afraid I've been acting rather rudely," he said, and stepped aside
out of the path. "But these country bullies have been most annoying of
late, insisting upon their so-called rights out of mere, petty spite.
It's part of their creed, you know, to hate a gentleman." I nodded. I
could see now that John Thaneford was by no means the rustic lout of my
first impressions. Not that I liked him any the better, but at least we
spoke the same language.

"It's a silly fiction," he went on, "this alleged necessity of access to
the parish church. Nowadays, everybody at the Corners goes to the
Baptist or Methodist meeting-house, and S. Saviour's congregation is
gathered chiefly in the churchyard. Outside the Graeme and Thaneford
families there ar'n't more than a dozen regular parishioners, and the
church is only opened for service once a month."

By this time we were walking side by side in the direction of the house.
For some inscrutable reason Mr. John Thaneford had made up his mind to
be decently polite; indeed the effort was plainly apparent.
Consequently, I could do no less than fall in with his new mood.

"I suppose S. Saviour's is a colonial foundation," I remarked.

"Yes, even to the inevitable Queen Anne Communion plate. But the
countryside has changed and the bigger estates have been cut up into
small holdings. That always brings in a different set of people. And the
old and the new don't mix well."

"Precisely. And so there are empty pews at S. Saviour's."

"More of them every year. A young chap comes over from Lynn the first
Sunday in the month and holds service; so I'm told, at least. Otherwise,
the church is only opened for weddings, christenings, and funerals; and
the latter outnumber both the former. What's the answer?" He laughed
cynically.

"It's a pity," I said regretfully. "I always hate to see the old order
displaced. But surely if someone took the lead--well, why not
yourself?"

"I haven't been inside the building since I used to get whaled for not
knowing my catechism. And I've small use for parsons," he continued,
dourly.

We walked on in silence, that hostile silence which sooner or later is
sure to declare itself between two natures essentially antagonistic.
Since John Thaneford and I could not be friends, nor even remain
indifferent, we should never have met at all. But the fact had been
accomplished and we should have to put up with it; I fell to wondering
if he, too, sensed the vague presentiment of future clash and struggle;
in the meantime I was uncomfortable; I wanted to get away.

"The original right-of-way turns here," said Thaneford suddenly, "but I
can take you across the lawn, and thence it is only a step, through a
fir plantation, to the churchyard. Besides, I want you to meet my
father; he will be interested in knowing you since the Hildebrands and
the Thanefords have been neighbors for seven generations; yes and kin,
too, as we reckon such things down here. My mother was a sister of old
Richard Hildebrand, and that makes me a second or third cousin of this
Francis Graeme, who inherited the family property, although he did not
bear the family name. If it were a question of direct descent either you
or I might have put in a better claim to the 'Hundred.'" He looked at me
slantingly as though to assure himself that the idea had not already
presented itself to my mind. I murmured an unintelligible assent; what
was coming now?

"And it follows logically that we two are kin. How does that strike
you, Cousin Hugh Hildebrand," he added coolly.

"Better than being thrown out as a trespasser," I answered with the most
convincing imitation of a smile that I could conjure up. "But I think I
ought to be getting along; it's ten minutes to three."

"Remember that you are now south of Mason and Dixon's line," he
rejoined, "and time is made only for slaves. But come along," and he led
me, inwardly protesting, across the weedy expanse of what had once been
a handsome piece of ornamental grass to where an old man sat in a big
arm-chair under the shade of the most beautiful white oak that I had
ever beheld in my life, an almost perfectly symmetrical ball of limbs
and foliage. Then I looked at Fielding Thaneford and straightway forgot
about the wonders of inanimate nature.

Certainly a very old man, and yet his skin was of a remarkable texture
and quality, apparently as fine and softly pink as that of a baby. The
resemblance to an infant was intensified by one distinguishing
characteristic of the massive head and features--the total absence of
any hirsute adornment; there was not a vestige of hair, beard,
eyelashes, or eyebrows, and the effect was singularly repulsive. Yet he
did not seem to be afflicted with the ordinary infirmities of senility,
for he turned at the slight noise of our approaching footsteps and the
eye that scanned me was of a cold, bright blue, indicative of a keen and
finely coordinated intelligence.

"Father," said John Thaneford in his hatefully false voice of assumed
cordiality, "this is our cousin, Hugh Hildebrand, of Philadelphia."

I fancied that the placid figure in the great chair stiffened slightly
at the sound of my name. But otherwise he made no movement or sign,
continuing to gaze upon me with those unflinching eyes, as horrible in
their total lack of lashes as the optics of a vulture.

"He is here to be present at the funeral of Cousin Francis Graeme."
Again that coldly devouring gaze passed over me; involuntarily I
shivered and stepped back. What was the impression that was being made
upon me? Not of malignancy certainly, nor even of ordinary
cold-bloodedness; there was something too detached about this singular
personality to suggest any kind of commonplace, healthy passion; if the
crater had ever existed it had long since cooled to slag and ashes.
There was but one fitting adjective--inhuman. Whatever spirit it was
that still held its abode behind that fresh, childlike masque it
endured altogether of its own volition and outside the sphere of those
blessed, understandable things of our common life. In the world but not
of it, if one may use that divine metaphor in its inverted sense. The
babe possesses innocence in that it has never come into contact with sin
and death, and a man may finally withdraw himself from the defilements
of this naughty world and become again as a little child. Yet without
repentance and so without grace. Lucifer himself could never assume the
role of penitent, but he may easily take front rank as an ethical
philosopher. And so Fielding Thaneford and I looked upon one another.
Either might have put out a touching hand, and yet a thousand leagues
could not have spanned the abyss that separated us. And in that selfsame
moment the bell of S. Saviour's began to toll for the passing of him who
had been master of "Hildebrand Hundred," and kin, through the blood tie,
to one and all of us who waited and listened.

Fielding Thaneford had turned his eyes away, and they were fixed on the
road winding far below the plateau on which stood "Thane Court"; in the
distance appeared a stately moving cortège, the hearses and the
carriages containing the mourners; there was a flutter of sable
draperies and of funeral plumes; the old man looked, but remained
immobile and impassive. With a nod of acknowledgment and farewell to
John Thaneford I made my own way down the slope and into the shadow of
the plantation of firs. There still remained the faint traces of a path,
and presently it led me to the brick wall surrounding the churchyard, a
wall built after the curious serpentine pattern generally ascribed to
the inventive genius of Thomas Jefferson, and still to be seen at the
University of Virginia. A door, painted a dull, faded green, had
evidently been the private approach of the Thaneford family in days gone
by, but now it was secured by a huge, rusty padlock, and I was obliged
to skirt the wall and so reach the open lawn upon which the church
faced.



Chapter II

_The Setting of the Stage_


S. Saviour's, with its tiny portico and steeple of distinctly
Christopher Wren design, presented an interesting study in colonial
architecture. It was built of brick, with solid, white wooden shutters,
and the side walls were mantled by a wonderful growth of true English
ivy. There was no central entrance, access to the interior being
afforded by two side doors at the extreme ends of the portico. The
reason for this unusual arrangement became apparent upon entering the
church, the shallow chancel, together with the pulpit and lectern, being
situated at the front end of the edifice, with the pews facing toward
the entrance doors. This made it rather awkward for the late comers, as
the laggards were obliged to meet the united gaze of the congregation
already seated; also the ladies of S. Saviour's enjoyed exceptional
opportunities for appraising the interesting features of their
neighbors' costumes. Doubtless this singular reversal of the ordinary
ecclesiastical plan had been adopted purposely, so as to carry out the
principle of orientation. The church happened to face directly east, and
consequently the chancel and sanctuary had to be placed opposite their
usual positions, a curious survival of mediævalism.

Under the trees two or three ancient surreys had been parked, and a
glance through the side windows disclosed an audience of perhaps a dozen
persons, small farmers of the neighborhood and their wives, people to
whom a public function of any nature offered acceptable diversion from
the routine of daily life. Of the old-time gentry of the countryside
there was not a single representative present; then I literally lost my
breath in amazement as John Thaneford brushed past me without a word,
strode into the church, and seated himself in a large, square pew,
furnished, after the manorial fashion, with carpet, table and chairs;
evidently the ecclesiastical freehold of the Thaneford family. Yet why
should I feel any particular degree of surprise? The Graemes and the
Thanefords were "kin," and it was simple decency that John Thaneford
should show his cousin the last tribute of respect; his presence was
perfectly natural and proper, and assuredly it was none of my business
to either question or resent it. At this moment I became aware that the
funeral procession had arrived at the gate, and I took up a convenient
position for presenting myself to the attention of Mr. Eldon; I fancied
that it would not be a difficult task to identify him.

There were but three coaches in the queue, the first containing the
undertaker and his assistants, the second conveying two heavily veiled
ladies, presumably the daughter and niece of Francis Graeme; and the
third occupied by an elderly couple who could be none other than Mr. and
Mrs. Eldon. I stepped forward as the latter party alighted.

"Mr. Eldon?" I inquired. "I am Hugh Hildebrand."

Mr. Eldon extended a plump, warm hand. "So glad you were able to get
here," he whispered. "This is Mrs. Eldon. You must sit with Miss Trevor
and Betty; wait, and I'll explain it to them."

The clergyman in his robes was standing at the door, and the service was
about to begin. I took my designated position, walking immediately
behind the two chief mourners; and we followed the great, black
cloth-covered coffin into the stillness of the sacred edifice.

The committal office was said at the graveside in the Hildebrand family
plot, a walled enclosure set off from the general churchyard and
entered through a lych-gate beautifully fashioned from black bog oak
that resembled ebony in color and closeness of grain. Strange, how the
attention strays even upon occasions such as this; for I found myself
contemplating the lych-gate with absorbed interest, trying to think
where I had seen its prototype; doubtless in some English parish
churchyard. Then, as I heard the symbolic clod falling from the hand of
the officiating minister, I recalled myself to reality--earth to earth,
dust to dust. The slender, black-garbed figure on my right shook
slightly and swayed against my shoulder; instantly I put out my hand to
steady her. Up to this moment my participation in the ceremony had been
of a purely formal nature, but now some underlying and compelling force
was drawing me into the circle of sorrow; the dead man was of my blood,
and this was the passing of something in the universe that was akin to
my very self.

John Thaneford had not been present at the interment. After the church
service he had met and engaged Mr. Eldon in earnest conversation for
perhaps half a minute; then he had taken a visibly hurried departure.

The funeral party returned to the church, and the coaches drove up to
the carriage-block. "This is Mr. Hugh Hildebrand," announced Mr. Eldon,
as he presented me to the two ladies. "Miss Graeme and Miss Trevor," he
continued with a touch of old-time courtliness, his top-hat held at a
strictly ceremonious angle, "Mr. Hildebrand."

Miss Trevor merely bowed, but Miss Graeme smiled--such a frank, friendly
smile--and held out her hand. There are people who greet you with a
reserve which at least temporarily chills, and there are others who make
you feel that this particular meeting is the one they have been
pleasurably anticipating from the very beginning of created things. And
so, when I felt the strong, warm pressure of Betty Graeme's palm, how
could I help being flattered, even intrigued. I concluded that my new
cousin must have liked me on sight, and I was quite ready to return the
compliment in kind. Under the heavy, black veil I could discern a
symmetrical oval of countenance, and imagination easily supplied the
customary accessories of vermilion lips, challenging eyes, and perfumed
tresses. In reality, I should never in the world have been able to
recognize Betty Graeme by the sense of sight alone, but I should know
that handclasp anywhere; and that was enough.

"Of course you are coming back to the house," said Miss Graeme. "Will
you ride with us--but I see that Mr. Eldon has arranged to take you with
him. Are you ready, Eunice?"

Sitting opposite Mr. and Mrs. Eldon in the big, lumbering landau of
_ante-bellum_ days I began my explanations and apologies.

"That doesn't matter in the least," interrupted Mr. Eldon. "We'll send
over to Crown Ferry for your bag, and after you get the railroad dust
washed away you can make your peace with Betty. The important thing is
that you are here now."

"I hadn't expected to remain at the 'Hundred' for more than an hour or
two," I continued. "There is an up train through at six o'clock, and I
had arranged to stay over at Baltimore."

"I'm afraid that you'll have to put up with us for this particular
night," rejoined Mr. Eldon. "Perhaps longer," and the shadow of an
enigmatical smile passed over his pleasantly curved lips.

"But at a time like this!" I protested. "Remember that I met Mr. Graeme
only once, and that I am an entire stranger to his niece and daughter.
Even Southern hospitality has its limits, and I don't want to overstep
them."

Mr. Eldon brushed my objections away with a commanding wave of his hand.
"Not much danger of that," he said. "You are one of the family, duly
accredited and acknowledged. So unless there is some pressing--I should
say imperative--necessity for your going North to-night----"

"Oh, not at all," I interrupted. "Not the least necessity, if that is
what you mean."

"Of course you must stay," put in Mrs. Eldon. "Betty expects it, and she
would never understand any conventional excuse."

Another carriage, driven at a much faster pace than the ancient Eldon
bays were capable of achieving, had drawn up from behind, and was now
passing us. To my surprise, I saw that the back seat was occupied by
John Thaneford and his father; no salutations were exchanged, and the
Thaneford equipage rolled onward in a cloud of dust. Mr. Eldon noticed
my evident astonishment, and proceeded to enlighten me. "Yes, they are
going to the 'Hundred.' You know that the will is to be read immediately
following the return of the funeral party from the church."

"As they always do in English novels of the Trollope period."

"I dare say it is one of our imported Maryland customs. The Thanefords
are blood relations, and, _ipso facto_, that gives them a right to be
present at the reading of the testament."

"Relations, but not necessarily friends," I hazarded, and Mr. Eldon
looked surprised.

"I should have explained that I have already made the acquaintance of
Mr. Fielding Thaneford and his son," I went on, and Mr. Eldon
registered, in movie parlance, still greater astonishment. I proceeded
to tell of my chance encounter.

"Fielding Thaneford never misses a Hildebrand funeral," remarked Mr.
Eldon, and there was a peculiar sense of dryness in his tone. "Moreover,
this is the second occasion of the sort within a twelvemonth."

"Mr. Graeme succeeded his maternal great uncle, I believe."

"Yes, that was old Richard Hildebrand who reigned at the 'Hundred' for
over half a century. Fielding Thaneford married his much younger sister,
Jocelyn, and consequently young John really stood closer in the line of
inheritance than did Francis Graeme, the latter being one step further
removed. But there was no entail and old Richard could devise the
property as he saw fit."

"A disappointment then to the Thanefords?"

"Well, there's the 'Hundred'; you can judge for yourself."

We had turned out of the main road, and, having passed through a pair of
finely wrought iron entrance gates, we were now proceeding along an
avenue of noble lindens. Across the stretch of ornamental water on our
right appeared the really imposing facade of "Hildebrand Hundred"; I
scanned the edifice with a keen and growing interest; this was the
ancestral home of all the Hildebrands, and a sudden emotion held me in
grip.

The house was built of yellow brick imported, so Mr. Eldon informed me,
from Holland. The entrance porch, two stories in height, was of
semi-circular design with columns of limestone, and the fenestration
above the principal entrance embodied the familiar Palladian motive. The
main part of the building was almost a square, but it was balanced by
wings on either side. At the extreme rear was another rectangular
extension, one story and a half in height, oblong in shape, and
surmounted by a squat dome. "The library," explained Mr. Eldon, as the
curving driveway carried us past the terrace commanded by the lofty
windows of this subsidiary structure. "That stained glass is English,
and the experts pronounce it to be of unusually fine quality."

"Rather surprising when one thinks of all the bad glazing in our
churches," I remarked interestedly.

"Well, if you know or care much about such things you'll find the
'Hundred' glass worth your attention." He turned to his wife: "Ellen, my
dear, if you will take charge of our guest, I'll get my papers together
and meet you in the library. The sooner the formality is over the better
for Eunice and Betty."

Alighting, in our turn, at the entrance porch I followed Mrs. Eldon
through the great doors and into a handsome octagonal hall, paved with
black and white marble squares, with its well open to the roof beams. On
the right, splendid mahogany folding-doors gave into the dining room,
and the corresponding room on the left was evidently the drawing room.
At the back of the hall the principal staircase rose in two
semi-circular sweeps, meeting at a landing place on the first floor
level and connecting with longitudinal galleries on either side of the
hall. Of the two wings, the one on the left contained the ballroom and
picture gallery, while that on the right was taken up with the kitchen,
pantries, and other offices. Passing under the staircase landing and
proceeding along a comparatively narrow corridor, lined on either side
by glazed bookcases, one entered the library extension at the extreme
end of the house.

"Will you go in and wait for a few minutes," whispered Mrs. Eldon. "John
never knows where all his papers are, and I must help him sort them
out." I bowed and walked on.

At the library door an imposing figure of a negro butler relieved me of
my hat, gloves and stick; I slipped into a seat near the entrance and
looked about me with no small degree of curiosity. The Thanefords,
father and son, were established near the fireplace, directly opposite
the entrance door, but since they did not look up at my appearance nor
pay the smallest attention to my half bow of salutation I was perfectly
content to maintain the _status quo_ of non-intercourse.

The apartment was assuredly one of noble proportions, being full forty
feet in length by perhaps twenty-five in width. The ceiling of this
story and a half extension must have been at least sixteen feet in
height. The shallow dome had a diameter of fourteen feet or so; it was
unpierced by windows and the painting in distemper which ornamented its
smooth convexity represented the classic adventure of Jason and the
Golden Fleece.

The fireplace was of Caen stone with the family arms of the Hildebrands
sculptured in the central panel. Not being versed in heraldic lore I may
say briefly that the shield bore checkerboards and conventionalized
lilies in alternate quarterings, while the crest was a mailed arm
holding a burning torch or cresset. This last was interesting to me, for
we Northern Hildebrands have always used as our crest a battlemented
tower with flames issuing from its summit. But the motto: "Hildebrande à
moy," is shared in common by both branches of the family.

The side walls had no openings and were lined from top to bottom with
book shelves. The unusual height of the ceiling made narrow iron
balconies necessary in order to give access to the upper shelves, and
these galleries were reached by spiral staircases placed behind grilles
in the dark corners on the entrance side. The end wall was pierced by
four immense windows, two on either side of the fireplace, and these
were filled with the English stained glass of which Mr. Eldon had
spoken. They really seemed to be excellent examples of the art, and I
proceeded to examine them with interest.

The designs were of Scriptural origin, Old Testament scenes to be exact,
and I note them in order from left to right.

The window at the extreme left depicted the youthful Joseph journeying
to Dothan and wearing his coat of many colors; in the background his
jealous brethren are awaiting his coming and fomenting their unfraternal
conspiracy.

The window adjoining the fireplace on the left represented the rebellion
of the sons of Korah and their terrible fate in being swallowed up alive
by the gaping earth; the black and menacing sky, shot through with the
red zigzag of the lightning, seemed exceedingly realistic.

In the companion window on the right was shown the return of the
Israelitish spies from the coveted land of Canaan, bearing great
clusters of purple grapes from the valley of Eschol; in the distance,
Jericho, with Rahab's house perched high upon the city wall and
distinguished by its hanging cord of scarlet.

The fourth window, the one at the extreme right, reproduced the contest
on Mount Carmel between Elijah and the pagan prophets, the fire from
heaven consuming the burnt offering of Jehovah, the terror-stricken
flight of the hierophants of Baal, and the little cloud, like to a man's
hand, arising from the sea. Of the four windows this last one was
perhaps the most interesting, although all of them were excellent in
composition, substantially and skilfully leaded, and gorgeously rich in
color. I don't know why we can't make such reds and blues in this
country, but of course the old established English firms have been
perfecting their formulas and processes throughout the centuries.

Since three of the four walls were lined with bookcases, and the
remaining one had to provide for the windows and fireplace there was no
available space for pictures, but on the blank wall above the central
entrance door hung a magnificent tapestry depicting the tragic fate of
Actæon devoured by his own hounds. The polished black oak floor was
covered with Eastern rugs, and a fine silver-tip grizzly bearskin lay on
the hearthstone. The couches and big, comfortable reading chairs were
upholstered in dark green leather, very handsome and substantial, while
directly under the dome stood a massive, flat-topped library desk made
of teakwood. The accompanying swivel-chair was mounted on a bronze
mushroom foot firmly secured to the floor by means of bolts; it was so
placed that the occupant had his back to the windows, with the light
coming over his shoulder after the proper fashion for comfort.

I have been particular in thus describing the furnishings and internal
economy of the library, for in this room lay the very heart of the
mystery so soon to present itself; later on I was destined to make
myself acquainted with every square inch of its large area, only to fail
in my attempt to discover its menacing secret. Fortunate indeed that
Betty's feminine intuition asserted itself in the nick of time. But I
must not anticipate the solution of the problem while the prime factors
in the equation still remain unstated. Enough then to acquaint the
reader with the general disposition of the stage upon which the drama
was shortly to unfold itself.

The great room was very quiet, the evening shadows were beginning to
lengthen, and still we waited.



Chapter III

_Hildebrand of the "Hundred"_


It must have been close to an hour before Mr. Eldon joined us; evidently
his papers had been in more than usual confusion. A few minutes later
the ladies appeared, together with a dozen or more negro servants
connected in various capacities with the estate. John Thaneford jerked
himself to his feet in apparently unwilling acknowledgment of the social
amenities; his father, sitting impassively upright in an immense leather
chair, looked more than ever like some gigantic, impossible infant. Miss
Graeme went over and spoke a few words to him, but he barely nodded in
reply; Buddha himself could not have improved upon that colossal,
immemorial serenity. I had hoped that Betty would say something to me,
but she contented herself with the briefest of smiles in my direction. A
pretty girl? Why, yes, I suppose she would be so considered, with her
slim, graceful figure and that pronounced type of Irish beauty--dark
hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes; but the eyes themselves of the clearest
cerulean blue, rubbed in with a smutty finger, as the saying goes. Yet
somehow one never thought over-much of how fair Betty Graeme might be to
look upon; perhaps it was just her perfect and altogether adorable
femininity which made her different from other women; she entered the
room, and forthwith all eyes were inevitably focused upon her; when the
gods arrive the half-gods go, as Mr. Emerson acutely remarked. A
phenomenon then, but I can't account for it and don't intend to try.
Personality, magnetism--but these are just words, and she was Betty
Graeme. A line from an old, half forgotten mediæval romance came back to
me as I gazed upon her: "By God's Rood! that is the one maid in the
world for me."

A revelation then, but love at first sight is by no means so common a
thing as youth is apt to suppose. Only when it does come there can never
be any doubt about it. I drew in my breath sharply, and the tense thrill
seemed to permeate every molecule and atom of my being. Then came the
reactionary thought: "But what can she be thinking of me?" and my
exalted spirits evaporated with startling suddenness. The very warmth
and kindliness with which she had at first greeted me only emphasized
the immensity of the distance that divided us. The goddess may
condescend to smile upon a mortal, but that does not imply that the poor
man is safely on the Mount Olympus list. Just then I happened to glance
up and caught the look bent upon her from under John Thaneford's
beetling eyebrows. That boor, that uncouth, rustic bully! And yet he was
of her class; they must have been playmates from childhood, the
Thaneford acres marched with the Hildebrand holdings--why not? and my
heart sank to my boots. Then I realized that I was on the point of
making a pretty considerable fool of myself, and I resumed my seat; Mr.
Eldon went through the usual preliminary hemmings and harrings, and the
company prepared itself to listen.

The crisp sheet of parchment crackled in the lawyer's hands, and now he
was reading, in an even monotone, the last will and testament of Francis
Graeme.

A few minor legacies to the servants and dependents, the bequest of a
thousand dollars for the endowment of S. Saviour's parish, and then: "To
Lysbeth Effingham Graeme, my dearly beloved daughter by adoption, I give
and bequeath the sum of one hundred thousand dollars, invested in first
mortgage bonds of the Southern Railway, the silver dinner service
bearing the Effingham coat-of-arms, and the four portraits of the Graeme
family now hanging in the long gallery at 'Hildebrand Hundred'; the
inheritance tax to be paid from the residue of my personal estate. I
furthermore bequeath to the said Lysbeth Graeme my gold hunting-case
watch, with the accompanying fob and seals, together with such articles
of _vertu_, not specifically enumerated in the annexed inventory of
Hildebrand goods and chattels, as she may select."

The speaker paused and cleared his throat; from some far corner of the
silent room came a half suppressed exhalation, the physical reaction
from tensely held emotion; I looked over at the elder Thaneford, and
noted wonderingly that he had risen from his chair and that the
extraordinary pink-and-white of his complexion had changed to a dull,
minatory brick-red; he seemed about to speak, and I held my breath.
Then, as Mr. Eldon indicated that he was on the point of resuming, the
old man yielded to the insistent pressure of his son's hand, and sank
back in his seat.

I suppose that I must have listened physically to that next paragraph,
but my mind was slow, deadly slow, in comprehending the full measure of
its import; then, suddenly, I understood.

To dispense with legal phraseology, the testator now directed that the
undivided estate of "Hildebrand Hundred," together with the remainder of
all personal property, should go to his friend and near kinsman, Hugh
Hildebrand, of Philadelphia, to be held by him and his heirs forever.

Well, you remember that I had been expecting the bequest of a small sum
of money for the purchase of some such trifle as a ring or a stick-pin;
and it took me a full minute to realize that this incredible thing had
actually happened: a man whom I had seen but once in my life had made me
his heir, and I was now the master of a great estate and a personage to
boot; I sat motionless, trying to sort out my ideas into some degree of
order and sequence.

Fielding Thaneford had found his feet again; he must, in his prime, have
been a big and powerful man, for he still overtopped his stalwart son by
full two inches of height. He looked particularly at Mr. Eldon, but with
a commanding sweep of his arm he seemed to draw the entire company into
the circle of his attention; he dominated us all by the sheer weight of
his will; he opened his mouth to speak, and we inclined our ears to
listen.

But the words trembling upon his lips never found utterance, for now a
terrible thing had happened and Fielding Thaneford fell to the floor and
lay there, his face twitching strangely. A paralytic stroke, of course,
but one must be an eye witness, see the victim actually struck down, to
realize the full import of such a tragedy. One moment the man stands
erect and serene in the unquestioned possession of all his godlike
qualities of mind and body; the next, he lies as inert and insensate as
an ancient tree trunk riven and felled by the lightning stroke. Fielding
Thaneford was an old man--nearly ninety, as I was later on to learn--but
so well preserved that it was difficult to realize that the hour of his
passing had struck. And the determining factor in this final equation is
so often comparatively insignificant. Here is a human being, an integral
member of the visible universe, by right enumerated in every taking of
the cosmic census: somewhere a minute blood vessel fails to perform its
function, and the number is instantly replaced by a cipher.

When the family physician, Doctor Marcy, finally arrived he directed
that the sick man should be put to bed at "Hildebrand Hundred"; in the
absence of a regular ambulance it would be unwise to try and get him
home. It was Betty who came and told me of the doctor's decision.

"You will have to make formal tender of your hospitality to John
Thaneford," she said.

"I!" I gazed at her in honest stupefaction.

"You are Hildebrand of the 'Hundred,'" she reminded me, her lip
trembling ever so slightly as she spoke.

"If you wish it so," I said humbly, and thereupon I went upstairs and
knocked at the door of the sick room. John Thaneford opened it, and
stood glowering as I delivered my message. I dare say I expressed myself
in bungling terms, but my awkwardness was easily outpaced by his
ungraciousness; he intimated curtly that neither he nor his father would
be dependent upon my hospitality an instant longer than might be
absolutely necessary. I proceeded to fume inwardly as I walked away, but
my irritation vanished the moment I rejoined Betty; somehow one could
not cherish mere pettiness in her serene presence.

"Can you spare me a few moments?" I asked, and with an assenting nod she
led the way back to the now deserted library. The westering sun was
pouring through the great windows, and the purple radiance from the
gigantic bunch of grapes borne by the Israelitish spies lay in a crimson
pool on the oaken floor; involuntarily I drew aside, unwilling to step
upon the apparently ensanguined spot. Betty divined instantly my
movement of repulsion. "It does suggest that very thing," she said, with
a little shiver. "Come over here by the chess table. Father and I were
accustomed to play every night; he used to wonder what sort of game you
would give him when you came on that long expected visit."

"Sorry, but I'm not a chess player. However, that doesn't matter now,
and I've brought you here to say that I don't propose to take advantage
of that will. Your father couldn't have meant it; it's your property and
you should have it. The whole thing is absurd; he couldn't have realized
what he was doing."

"You met my father at least for that one time," she retorted. "Did he
give you any reason to think that he didn't know his own mind, or that
the time would ever come when he wouldn't know it?"

I was silent. Certainly, infirmity of purpose was the very last thing to
be predicated of the more than ordinarily forceful personality of the
late Francis Graeme. But I am somewhat stubborn myself. "I don't care,"
I persisted. "'Hildebrand Hundred' isn't mine, and I won't take it."

Miss Graeme looked at me. "You know the will refers to me as only his
daughter by adoption," she said, "and I could have no right to inherit
the 'Hundred.' That was always clearly understood between us. He did
leave me all that he could call his own."

"I don't see how that matters. The estate belonged legally to Mr.
Graeme."

"Merely because Mr. Richard Hildebrand chose to ignore the claims of the
heir-at-law. And a blood relation at that."

"Meaning Mr. John Thaneford, I suppose."

Miss Graeme looked surprised. "Has Mr. Eldon been acquainting you with
the particulars of the family history?" she asked.

"I first learned of the actual facts from Mr. John Thaneford himself."

Now there was something more than surprise in my Cousin Betty's
demeanor; she seemed agitated, even uneasy.

"Apparently," I went on, "both the Thanefords resent what they consider
to be an alienation of the estate. I don't believe they will feel the
original wrong has been righted by my becoming the heir, even though I
happen to be the only titular Hildebrand among us all."

"But this is Maryland, you know, and many of the old English customs are
still in force. Not legally, of course, but practically."

"Such as primogeniture and the continuous entail," I suggested.

"Yes. But only among the old families, you understand. It's a purely
sentimental feeling."

"How long have the Hildebrands been at the 'Hundred'?"

"There was Lawrence Hildebrand----"

"My great-great-great-grandfather," I interjected.

"Yes. Well, he received a patent from the Crown. It must have been early
in the seventeenth century when the second Charles Stuart was giving
away principalities with both hands. There has been a Hildebrand as
master ever since, except for my poor father's brief reign."

"Brief?"

"Richard Hildebrand died in June, 1918. That is just a year ago."

"My father was proud of the old family connection," continued Miss
Graeme, after a little pause, "and at one time he even contemplated
changing his patronymic, and so becoming actually Hildebrand of the
'Hundred,' But he never quite got to the legal process, or perhaps he
then heard of you and that served to divert the current of his thoughts.
When was it that he hunted you up in Philadelphia?"

"It was in March."

"He liked you certainly, and he was most anxious to have you visit us at
the 'Hundred.' You were to come in the early part of June, I think."

"Yes, but that was the week of my college reunion, and I had to decline.
I wrote that I would accept for a later date--any time in July."

"I remember his being very much disappointed. But he must have made up
his mind finally about that time, for the will is dated May 20, a little
over a month ago. I dare say he was anxious to tell you of his wishes in
the matter."

"It's rather extraordinary, you'll admit. A man whom I had met but
once!"

"Well if one belongs at all, you know it. I think I can guess what was
in his mind; something like this: 'Hildebrand Hundred' ought to go back
to the direct heirs, and it was a choice between you and John Thaneford.
Only you were you, and a real Hildebrand besides. So there you are."

"You mean that I must accept, or let everything go to the younger
Thaneford?"

"I'm not a lawyer, but I think it would be that way. He is related by
blood, and as my father had no children of his own there are no direct
heirs."

A sudden thought presented itself. "How would _you_ like it settled?" I
asked, audaciously.

"I think that you ought to carry out my father's wishes," she answered,
with a simplicity that made me a little ashamed of my disingenuous
attempt to inject a purely personal note into the discussion; for the
moment I had quite forgotten that this was a house of mourning. Miss
Graeme had risen, and I realized that the interview was at an end.

"You will want to go to your room," she said, as we walked out to the
entrance hall, our footsteps resounding hollowly upon its marble
pavement of alternate white-and-black chequers. She clapped her hands,
and a young negro servant presented himself. "Mr. Hildebrand is to have
the red room, Marcus," explained Miss Graeme. "Dinner is at seven," she
went on. "You won't mind if Eunice and I don't come down. You can have
your own meal served in your room, if you prefer."

"But there is Mr. Thaneford," I suggested. "Also Doctor Marcy."

My cousin Betty frowned. "I suppose they are our guests," she admitted,
and I experienced an odd thrill at the feeling of intimacy expressed in
that little word, "our."

"I think I had better do the honors in the dining room," I went on.

"I wish you would, then." She stopped at the lower step of the
staircase, and held out her hand. "Good night, Cousin Hugh."

Now it is possible to shake hands with hundreds and thousands of people,
and find it a perfectly uninteresting operation; it may even be a
painful one if you happen to be President of the Republic or the hero of
the passing hour. But now and then someone comes along whose hand seems
to fit, perhaps too fatally well, and that is different. And so when
Betty Graeme slid her slim white hand into mine I knew instantly that it
belonged there, always had belonged, and always would. An interesting
fact, this, in the natural history of selection, but it has to be
recognized by both parties to the transaction before it can be set down
as an absolute and accepted truth. It suddenly occurred to me that my
Cousin Betty was entirely too frank and cousinly in her behavior to
justify any jumping at conclusions. I was naturally exhilarated by the
astonishing change in my material fortunes, while she was in sorrow, a
sorrow whose full realization still lay before her. I must be patient
and wait. Wherefore I returned my Cousin Betty's parting word in kind,
and followed Marcus to the red room, where, left alone, I resorted to
the childish trick of pinching myself; could this really be I?



Chapter IV

_Some Hypothetical Questions_


Dinner was not a particularly cheerful meal. I had to take the head of
the table, and therefore sat in the chair so lately vacated by my Cousin
Francis Graeme. Really I should have preferred a decent delay in the
matter, but old Effingham, the family butler for two generations past,
would have it so, and any protest would have been both futile and
unseemly.

There were three of us at table, for Doctor Marcy was staying on to look
after the sick man, and would remain over night in default of the
regular nurse, who could not be secured until the next day. I liked the
doctor, a blunt, ruddy faced man of forty-five or so. He told me that he
was a graduate of Edinburgh, and that he had led an adventurous life for
several years after taking his medical degree, including service in the
British army during the Boer War. He had a curious scar running down the
left side of his jaw and extending nearly to the chin. Naturally I had
not commented upon the disfigurement, but somehow the subject of
insanity came up, and he told us of a remarkable experience of his
hospital days. A patient, subject to periodical fits of mania, was to be
operated upon, and Marcy was alone with him in a large room where the
instruments were kept. With his hands full of chisels, trephines, and
mallets Marcy went to cross the room, and chanced to trip on a rug,
falling headlong. Instantly the patient, an English army officer of
tremendous physique, was upon him, kicking him in the face with his
heavy, double-welted boots. Marcy, fearing that the madman might get
hold of the eight-pound mallet, rolled over and flung the whole lot of
instruments across the room; thereby he exposed the other side of his
head, and the consequence was another terrific kick on the left jaw.
With his mouth full of blood and broken teeth Marcy grappled with his
man, dragged him to where he could reach a push-button, and held him
until help arrived. The curious part of the affair lay in the fact that
up to the moment of the fall the patient had been perfectly sane,
talkative, and friendly. Marcy's sudden slip and defenseless position
had simply unchained the beast in the man. It must have been an Homeric
struggle, for Marcy himself, though comparatively short of stature,
possessed the most marvelous muscular development I have ever seen, his
forearm being bigger than the average man's leg. When I add that,
despite his terrible injuries, Marcy assisted that same afternoon at the
operation (which in the end restored the patient to perfect mental
health), it will be evident that there was little of the weakling about
him; as I have said, I liked him from the start.

John Thaneford ate and talked but little during the meal. He drank
several glasses of whiskey and water, and smoked a cigarette between
every course. The cloud of his sullen temper was oppressive, and both
the doctor and I felt relieved when he abruptly declined coffee, and
announced his intention of returning to the sick room. The elder
Thaneford still continued in a comatose condition, and really there was
nothing to do but wait for whatever change might come; accordingly
Doctor Marcy ran upstairs for a hasty look at his patient, and then
rejoined me in the library, where coffee and liqueurs had been served.

Effingham had taken his tray and retired to the pantry. Doctor Marcy
pulled at his cigar until it glowed redly; then he looked over at me.

"You're Hildebrand of the 'Hundred,' I hear," he began abruptly.

"Yes."

"Consequently you ought to know of something that has been bothering me
more than a little. Has it ever been intimated to you that there was
anything peculiar about the death of your cousin?"

"Francis Graeme! Why, no; nothing has been said to me."

"Well, I don't think his death was a natural one."

It startled me, the assured manner in which he spoke; in an instant, the
atmosphere of this quiet country room seemed to have grown tense and
heavy. "Go on," I said briefly.

"As you know," continued Doctor Marcy, "Mr. Graeme died suddenly on
Tuesday, June 21, presumably from heart failure or a cerebral
hemorrhage. As a matter of record, my routine certificate gives the
latter as the cause of death. The fact of a brain lesion was fully
established, as I'll explain later, but I'm not at all satisfied as to
the predisposing cause."

"Yes."

"You'll understand what I'm driving at when I tell you that I saw
Francis Graeme professionally that very morning, and I know that he was
in the best of health for a man of his age. He had been thinking of
taking out additional life insurance, and as I am the county examiner
for the company, he asked me to drop in Tuesday morning and go over him.
Mind you, I had been his regular physician for a number of years, long
before he came to the 'Hundred,' and I knew him inside and out. A
straighter, cleaner man never lived, and he had always kept himself in
top condition; I had never discovered the least sign of any degenerative
process.

"Well, I did come over, and I saw him in this very room where we are
sitting. He was cheerful as usual, and even joked me on the possibility
that I might at last uncover one of the insidious enemies to health that
so often make their appearance in middle life. But there was nothing,
absolutely nothing--heart, lungs, circulatory system--all in first-class
shape. As a matter of form, there would have to be a laboratory
analysis, but otherwise I was prepared to give him a clean bill of
health, and I told him so. He took it quite as a matter of course, and,
after arranging for a round of golf that same afternoon at the Lost
River Country Club, we parted. That was around ten o'clock, and at half
past two I had a telephone from the 'Hundred,' asking me to come over at
once. When I arrived I was taken in here. Graeme lay on the floor,
alongside the big library table. On his right temple there was a
noticeable contusion, triangular in shape. He was stone dead."

"Could you tell how long?"

"Probably a couple of hours."

"The wound, of course, was your first thought."

"Naturally. And in itself it was quite enough to have caused death.
Remember that it was on the temple, a vulnerable spot."

"An assailant then?"

"By hypothesis certainly. I may say that I have had some experience in
criminal cases; accordingly I was very careful not to disturb anything,
and up to this time I had only touched the man's wrist to assure myself
that the pulse was gone."

"Who was it that gave the alarm?"

"I am told that one of the servants, Effingham, to be precise, knocked
on the library door at about half past one o'clock, to announce the
serving of luncheon. He then went away without waiting for an answer
from Mr. Graeme; it seems that was his custom on the occasion of this
particular summons. A half hour later, when Mr. Graeme failed to appear
at the table, Miss Trevor told Effingham to go again and make sure that
his master had heard the message. I understood that occasionally Graeme
would not come to luncheon, especially if he happened to be more than
usually busy; he might appear an hour or so later, and forage around for
a glass of milk and a couple of biscuits."

"His tardiness then excited no surprise?"

"Apparently not. But Effingham went again to the library, and knocked
two or three times without getting any response."

"Must have been very alarming to Miss Graeme."

"Oh, luckily Betty wasn't at home. Miss Trevor was alone in the house,
and everything devolved upon her. Finally she decided to have the door
broken down, but after she had given the order Effingham reminded her
that it would not be necessary. A few months before Graeme had installed
a complete system of modern locks throughout the house, and the butler
had the master key in his possession."

"That's an interesting point."

"Yes--very. Well, Effingham went to the butler's pantry and got the
key."

"Oh, then it was not in his immediate possession after all?"

"I believe he was in the habit of keeping it behind the clock in the
pantry instead of with his regular bunch. Of course the idea was that
if any of the ordinary keys were lost, or indeed the whole lot of them,
he would still have the master key in reserve."

"Do you suppose that anyone else--especially among the other
servants--knew about the master-key and where it was kept?"

"Effingham is quite sure that no one did know, but really it's
impossible to say. You understand what darkies are--as curious as
magpies and quite as lighthanded. If one of them had chanced to see
Effingham hiding something behind the clock, he would be sure to
investigate for himself at the first convenient opportunity."

"While a clever thief, guessing that a master-key must be in existence,
would go straight to such a prominent object as a clock for his first
try. Curious, isn't it, how human nature prefers beaten trails, the old
ruts, the obvious grooves in which to run. Take the ordinary small
suburban house, with nobody home and everything supposed to be tightly
locked up. It's a one-to-three shot, at least, that the front door key
will be found neatly tucked away under the mat. But I shouldn't have
interrupted."

"The more light the better," nodded the doctor, helping himself to a
fresh cigar.

"Where was I? Ah, yes, at the opening of the door. Miss Trevor, so I
understand, hung back a little; a woman naturally shrinks from this sort
of thing, and Marcus, the house-boy, was the first person to enter. For
the instant it seemed as though the room was empty, and Effingham says
he heard Marcus exclaim: 'Marse Francis he done gone out!' Then as the
boy drew level with the high leather screen, standing at the right of
the big desk as one enters the room, he saw the body, yelled in terror,
and bolted. Miss Trevor had fainted----"

"When? Exactly when?" I broke in.

"I don't know," returned Marcy. "It may have been before she heard
Marcus scream, and it may have been after. I dare say everybody's nerves
were pretty tense by this time."

"Well, Effingham seems to have kept his head. He ordered out the other
servants, had Miss Trevor carried into the dining room, where she
quickly revived, and finally he telephoned for me."

"At Miss Trevor's request?"

"At Miss Trevor's request. That brings us up again to my arrival on the
scene, and my first hasty impressions.

"As I have said, Mr. Graeme lay face downward alongside the desk, just
hidden by the screen from the gaze of anyone entering the room from the
hall. Since the head was turned slightly to the right, the wound was not
visible unless one knelt, as I did, directly beside the body.

"Now a wound of this nature could have been received in two easily
understandable ways. Either Mr. Graeme, overcome with vertigo, had
fallen and hit his head against some sharp corner, or he had been
attacked and struck down by a weapon in the hands of some unknown
assailant.

"Hypothesis No. 1, or the accident theory. I can state positively that
Francis Graeme was not in the least subject to vertigo or fainting
spells, and there was nothing to indicate an ordinary trip-up and fall.
There is no rug at this point, the floor while smooth is not noticeably
slippery, and Graeme was dressed for golf, wearing rubber-soled shoes
which must have given him a particularly firm footing. Finally, there
was no apparent sharp corner on which his head could have struck. From
the position of the body it was clear that he had fallen entirely clear
of the writing-desk."

"That seems to dispose of the accident theory."

"Seems to--yes. But it's still a possibility that he might have fallen
and struck on something calculated to inflict an injury of this nature,
a something which was afterward removed."

"By whom?"

"Who knows? There was time enough for many things to happen between my
departure from the house and the discovery of the body. In the meantime
no one, supposedly, saw him. So nearly as I can determine, he died a
little after twelve o'clock, but the door was not opened until two. A
person who knew the house well could have secured the master-key,
entered the room, and left it again with little danger of detection."

"It's an impertinent observation, Doctor Marcy, but you say that _no
one_ saw Mr. Graeme alive after your departure from the library at ten
o'clock?"

"Oh, I have my alibi straight enough," smiled the doctor. "Miss Trevor
happened to be passing through the hall as I left the room. I stopped
and spoke to her, made some jesting remark about Graeme's being good for
a thousand years, more or less. At that same moment he came to the
library door and waved his hand to us both; then he turned back, and we
heard the click of the spring-latch. I believe that he usually set the
catch when he wanted to make sure of not being disturbed.

"Now we come to hypothesis No. 2, the possible assailant. The door
leading into the hall was locked. There are no roof openings. The
windows of stained glass in leaded frames are immovable; otherwise there
would be danger of the valuable glass being broken or knocked out
through an accidental jar. But for purposes of ventilation there is
inserted in each section a pridella. Ah, you don't understand--come over
here."

Doctor Marcy conducted me across the room to the window on the right of
the fireplace, the one depicting the return of the spies from the land
of Canaan. "You will notice," he said, "that there are three panels in
the window, each carrying a part of the general picture. Then, in the
lower part of the central panel, there is a small subsidiary scene; in
this particular case it represents a field of waving wheat in which
scarlet poppies are interspersed. This section is technically called the
pridella. Being small and exactly square in shape it can be easily
hinged. See, I pull the cord that controls the locking-catch--thus--and
this small window swings open.

"Tuesday the twenty-first of June was a warm day, and the pridella in
each of the large windows was in use. Now the available aperture is
about twenty inches by ten, the glass revolving on central pivots. A
boy, or a very small man, might possibly squeeze through, but the bottom
ledge of the window being some five feet above the terrace level he
would have to use a ladder or a pair of steps in order to reach it. Now,
as it chanced, that portion of the lawn lying adjacent to the library
terrace was in process of being mowed that morning. I saw the men at
work, two of the farm negroes. Assuredly they would have noticed any
attempt to scale the windows."

"They themselves are quite above suspicion, I suppose."

"Unquestionably. They are elderly men who have been employed at the
'Hundred' all their lives, and who bear excellent characters. Zack is
the local colored Baptist preacher, and Zeb is an assistant field
overseer. Impossible to suspect either, let alone both."

"Wouldn't they knock off for dinner at noon? Go to their cabins, I
mean."

"Ordinarily, yes. But on Tuesday Mandy, Zack's wife, went to Calverton,
and didn't return until late in the evening, or afternoon, as you would
say. Accordingly she made up pail dinners for both Zack and Zeb, the
latter being a boarder in their family. The men ate their food in the
shadow of the osage hedge directly opposite the terrace; Effingham saw
them and told me so."

"You seem to have covered the ground pretty thoroughly," I observed
approvingly.

"And for good reasons, too," remarked the doctor. "For if I really
believed the circumstances warranted the step it would be my duty to
communicate my suspicions to the coroner."

"Then you haven't done so!" I was surprised and doubtless my voice
showed it.

"No," assented Marcy deliberately. "In the first place I was determined
to keep every

[Note: There was a misprint here in the book. Instead of the end of this
paragraph, the preceding paragraph was duplicated.]

I started; I fancied that I had caught just the faintest suggestion of a
sigh. Let me explain that the great room was in darkness except for the
circle of yellow light cast by the shaded lamp that stood on a table at
my right. I listened intently, but I could hear nothing more.



Chapter V

_The Missing Link_


"I beg your pardon," repeated Doctor Marcy, looking at me uncertainly.

"I should beg yours, doctor," I answered as easily as I could. Some
sixth sense had made me aware that Betty Graeme was standing in the
shadow behind me. She must have heard more than enough already, and now
she would demand the whole truth. Assuredly I must protect her in her
evident desire to remain unnoticed.

"I didn't mean to interrupt," I continued, "but my cigarette was burning
my fingers--too much interested, you see."

"Secondly, then," went on Doctor Marcy, "I have found the missing
'something' that serves to link up the chain."

The doctor took a small key from his waist-coat pocket and proceeded to
unlock a compartment in the great, flat-topped desk, the latter
constructed after the usual design with a set of drawers, and other
storage places, on either side of a central well for the accommodation
of the writer's feet and legs. From this compartment he unearthed a
despatch box made of iron, an old-fashioned piece that might have come
down from Revolutionary days. It measured about fifteen inches, by ten,
by seven; and the corners were bound in brass.

"Yes, it could have done the business without a doubt," said Marcy,
answering my unuttered question. "The box must have been standing on the
floor near the screen. Francis Graeme rises, perhaps with the intention
of picking it up. He suffers a cerebral rush of blood, becomes dizzy,
falls, and strikes his head against this sharp corner. A severe blow in
the region of the temple may be instantaneously fatal."

There was a rustle of feminine garments, and my Cousin Betty came from
behind the screen and stood before us. "There is only one flaw in your
argument, doctor," she said, with just the thin edge of a tremor in her
high, sweet voice. "Where was that box when you first came in the room
and knelt by my--my father?"

"Sorry you had to know, my girl," said the doctor; he had risen and was
standing close to her, holding both her hands in his own big, warm
palms. "Sorry you had to know," he repeated. "But since it has come
about I shan't be keeping anything back. I wanted to spare you."

"Yes, I understand that," she returned, "and I'm grateful, too. Yet
after deciding that an inquest is not necessary, after signing a
certificate that death was due to natural causes, you're not satisfied
in your own mind. I come in here and find you telling my Cousin Hugh
that there is some mystery in the affair, that all is not straight and
aboveboard. You even offer a perfectly plausible explanation of what--of
what really happened. Yes, and I would have accepted it like everyone
else--only for one thing----"

"Yes?" queried the doctor.

"I'll put my question again. Where was that iron despatch-box when you
first entered the room, and saw--well, what you saw?"

Doctor Marcy waited a moment or two before replying. "There isn't any
doubt in my mind," he began, "but that your father did fall and that the
contusion on his forehead was caused by that actual iron box. I confess
that I didn't notice it when I first saw the body and knelt down to feel
the pulse. I assume that it had been accidentally pushed out of sight in
the angle formed by the screen and the desk; it was just there that I
found it later on."

"On your second visit to the room?"

"Yes."

"Well, suppose you tell Cousin Hugh what you were doing in the interval.
I want to see if his mind will work in the same direction as mine."

"I had stepped into the hall just in time to see you riding up the green
drive," said the doctor, "and I realized that someone must prepare you
for what had happened. I asked Miss Trevor to do it, but she insisted
that she could not go through the ordeal. Consequently, I put Effingham
on guard at the library door with instructions to let no one pass; then
I went down to the horse-block and assisted you to dismount. You saw
instantly that something was wrong, and you begged me to tell you the
truth. But I would not say a word until we were in the parlor. Then I
admitted that your father had met with an accident. Before I could
prevent it you had rushed into the hall and down to the library door."

"Go on," ordered Betty, as he hesitated. "Tell Cousin Hugh who was
standing there."

"It was Miss Trevor," said Doctor Marcy, dropping his voice and glancing
over at me.

"It wasn't the time to ask for an explanation," continued the doctor.
"You remember, Betty, that Eunice took you in her arms, and told you
very gently what had happened. She tried to persuade you not to go in
the room, but you refused to be put off. Effingham came and unlocked the
door; you and I went in and looked at him still lying by the side of the
big desk. It was then that I saw the despatch-box, and wondered why I
had not noticed it before, especially as it was just the link that I
needed to fit into the accident hypothesis."

"I don't think I have any theory," answered Doctor Marcy. "Up to this
moment my mind had been more concerned with the stark fact of Graeme's
death than with the predisposing cause. Of course I had taken the temple
bruise into account, and in a superficial way it seemed to explain
everything. But I really hadn't tried to formulate my ideas clearly. The
thought of you, Betty, had presented itself, and I was chiefly engaged
in wondering how you were to be told and how you would take the shock."

"But afterwards?" persisted Betty.

"Then I tried to build up the accident theory. Everything fitted
beautifully except for the little uncertainty about the despatch-box."

"May I ask a question or two," I interrupted.

"Surely."

"You say that you left Effingham to guard the library door while you
went to meet my Cousin Betty?"

"Yes."

"How long were you away?"

"Approximately five minutes."

"And when you again came to the library door Miss Trevor was standing
there and Effingham was gone?"

"Yes."

"Then it is possible that Miss Trevor may have entered the room--let us
say--for the purpose of replacing the despatch-box in its original
position?"

"Possible--yes."

"Which implies that she must have paid a previous visit to the room and
carried the box away?"

"If you like."

"We assume that the despatch-box held important papers belonging to Mr.
Graeme----"

"Including his will," interjected Miss Graeme.

"But I thought that Mr. Eldon----" I began in surprise.

"I was referring to an earlier will," returned my Cousin Betty. "But I
forget that you don't know about that. It reads exactly like the present
one except that John Thaneford is named as the residual heir."

"Did anyone, besides Mr. Eldon, know that a later will--the one in my
favor--had been made?"

"Yes. Father told Eunice and me that he had decided to make the change.
He had met you in Philadelphia and liked you. He made inquiries about
you and what he heard increased that liking. He had never cared
over-much for John, and had considered him only as representing the
Hildebrand family, the heirs of the blood. He was delighted to discover
that your relationship was quite as close as that of John Thaneford;
moreover, you possessed the advantage of bearing the actual name."

"Did Eunice offer any objection to the change?" asked Doctor Marcy.

"Why, no," returned Betty, knitting her brows. "Her advice in the matter
had not been asked, and she would hardly have offered it. I don't
remember that she said anything at all."

"How about you?"

Betty colored. "I did suggest to father that he needn't be in such a
hurry," she answered. And then with a quick glance at me: "You see,
Cousin Hugh, none of us had met you outside of father himself. You might
be very nice and probably were, but the acquaintance had been so short,
and he might have been deceived. We women tried to persuade him that he
had been a little hasty; we wanted him to wait until you had paid that
projected visit to the 'Hundred' and given us the chance to look you
over."

"We!" put in the doctor significantly. "So it appears that Eunice did
take a hand in the discussion."

"Oh, in that way--why, yes. We felt exactly alike about it, knowing that
father was apt to be too generous in his estimate of the people he met;
he had been cheated so many times."

I began to feel a trifle embarrassed, and Betty, in that wonderful way
of hers, divined it instantly. Not that she said anything. She just
looked at me again, and I understood that I need no longer consider
myself rated as a doubtful quantity; a mightily cheering thought I found
it.

"Was Eunice persistent in her endeavor to change Mr. Graeme's
resolution?" asked Doctor Marcy.

"You mean about cutting out John and putting in Mr. Hugh Hildebrand?"

"Yes."

"Persistent! Well, I dare say you could have called it that," replied
Betty thoughtfully. "She certainly said several times that John
Thaneford believed himself entitled to the property; she pointed out
that when father succeeded his cousin, Richard Hildebrand, he had as
much as promised to make such disposition of the 'Hundred.'"

"Which he really had done," I suggested. "The first will was in
existence; only now he proposed to alter it."

"Yes."

"Suppose Mr. Graeme had died intestate," I went on. "What then?"

"I dare say the real property would have gone to Betty as his legally
adopted daughter," answered Doctor Marcy.

"No, not legally," explained Betty, much to our surprise. "My name is
really Graeme, but it comes to me from my own father who was Francis
Graeme's older brother. I was only a baby when my parents died, and my
uncle simply took charge of me. It didn't seem necessary to take out
formal adoption papers, and anyhow it was never done."

"Oh, undoubtedly there would have been a lawsuit, in the event of no
will," remarked the doctor. "Both Betty and John Thaneford could put in
the claim of blood relationship; you, too, Mr. Hildebrand, if it comes
to that. Bear in mind there is no entail."

"Was Mr. John Thaneford aware that there had been a will drawn in his
favor?" I asked.

"I can't say, Cousin Hugh. Probably not, for even I never heard of it
until father announced that he intended to supersede it."

"When did that particular conversation take place?"

"To-day is Thursday; just a week ago then."

"Mr. Graeme himself may have spoken to Thaneford."

"About what?" put in Doctor Marcy. "The making of the first will, or the
fact that he had determined to alter it?"

"Well, he might have told him the whole story."

The doctor shook his head. "I doubt it very much," he said. "Graeme had
grown to dislike John Thaneford--dislike him intensely."

"Why?"

Doctor Marcy did not reply in words, but eyebrows rose significantly as
he glanced in Betty's direction.

"Confining ourselves to facts," continued the doctor, "it can be
established that a will was made in favor of John Thaneford, and that
Mr. Graeme had determined to set it aside. That first will was kept by
Mr. Graeme in this very despatch-box; it is there now."

Doctor Marcy selected another small key from his bunch, and opened the
iron box. "You know I am a co-executor with Henry Powers," he said, "and
so I am acting within my rights." He took out a number of legal papers,
and presently offered one for our inspection. It was a testamentary
document precisely like the will read by Mr. Eldon, except that the
residuary estate went to John Thaneford instead of Hugh Hildebrand. It
was dated some six months back.

"And was the second will, the one in my favor, also kept in this box?" I
asked.

"No," answered Doctor Marcy. "Mr. Eldon, who of course drew it, had
retained it in his own possession. You see, it had only been executed a
few days ago; to be exact, the Friday before Mr. Graeme's death. Perhaps
Mr. Eldon persuaded Mr. Graeme to let him keep it locked up in the
office safe, at least temporarily."

"Yet someone, who knew Mr. Graeme's habits and about this despatch-box,
may have come to the conclusion that the new will was kept in the same
place as the old one."

Doctor Marcy nodded. "It follows," he said meditatively, "that on the
morning of June 21 'someone' obtained possession of the master-key and
entered the library with a definite purpose in view, a purpose
identified with the contents of that iron despatch-box. That is your
idea?"

"And the obvious criticism is that the master-key would hardly have been
used at a time when Mr. Graeme was actually occupying the room."

"Well, 'someone' may have expected to find the tragical situation which
we know existed; a forewarning had been received that there would be no
human obstacle to the search for the iron despatch-box. Whereupon the
entrance was made and the box was found. There was no attempt to examine
its contents on the spot."

"Why not?"

"There was danger in remaining in the room, and the papers were too
numerous to be sorted out at a glance. Or some outside disturbance may
have occurred to frighten the intruder. At any rate, 'someone' withdrew,
taking the despatch-box along for leisurely examination."

"Then it was not this 'someone' who killed Mr. Graeme," I remarked.

"No one ever intimated it," returned the doctor. "Remember that Graeme
sat with his back to the fireplace and windows, and facing the entrance
door. It would not be easy for 'someone' to unlock the door, pass to the
vicinity of the writing desk, and strike the fatal blow--all without
attracting the attention of the victim. Now no sounds of a struggle were
heard by anyone, and there was nothing in the disposition of the body to
suggest a physical encounter. No, you can't get away from the plain and
simple facts: Mr. Graeme is taken with vertigo; he staggers and falls;
his temple comes into contact with the sharp corner of that iron
despatch-box; he becomes unconscious immediately, and shortly afterwards
he dies. What more do you want to know?"

"So that is what killed him?"

"If I were perfectly convinced of the truth of my own theory," returned
the doctor, "would I have ever intimated to you, Mr. Hildebrand, that
there was something odd about the business? Betty put her finger at once
upon what had been vaguely in my mind. _Where was that despatch-box when
I first entered the room and found Francis Graeme lying dead upon the
floor?_ I don't know, do you?"

"There ought to be an inquest," I declared. "And of course an autopsy.
You are willing?" I asked, turning to Betty.

"Yes."

"Then it is decided. Who is the coroner, Doctor Marcy?"

"John Thaneford."

For a moment I thought the doctor guilty of execrably bad taste in
making a joke of the matter; then I saw that he was in sober earnest.
"For some extraordinary reason," he explained, "Thaneford took it into
his head to try the political game. The local Democratic slate had
already been made up, but he was told that he could have one of the
minor offices. Accordingly, he accepted the nomination for coroner and
was elected by the usual party majority."

"Well, he is sworn to do his duty," I persisted.

"Surely."

"Suppose we present what evidence we have to-morrow, including, of
course, the withdrawal of your original death certificate, Doctor
Marcy."

"It may get me into all sorts of trouble," commented the doctor
ruefully. "But there's nothing else to be done; I see that clearly. The
bare thought that Francis Graeme, he of all men--sorry, Betty, my girl!
I dare say this is getting a bit too much for you."

My cousin Betty had broken down and was crying softly on Doctor Marcy's
broad shoulder; he petted her and talked to her as though she had been a
little child.

And so at last we parted for the night, Doctor Marcy taking up his
quarters in an anteroom adjoining the sick chamber, and Betty deciding
to seek companionship with Miss Trevor. I tumbled into bed at once, but
it was many an hour before sleep came to me.



Chapter VI

"_Madame Colette Marinette._"


Dr. Marcy was the first person to join me in the breakfast room the
following morning. To my surprise, he informed me that Mr. Fielding
Thaneford had passed a comfortable night and was better. "Of course I am
speaking in comparative terms," he added. "The old man has had a stroke
of apoplexy. He is partially paralyzed on the right side, and his power
of speech is gone entirely. He cannot recover, but he may linger on for
some time."

"A week?"

"Perhaps longer. It is impossible to say--and here comes John."

The younger Thaneford favored us with a short nod and an unintelligible
word, and demanded of Effingham a full pot of coffee, strong and hot. I
made some obligatory enquiries, in my capacity of host, but my unwelcome
guest gave me only the curtest of replies. Nevertheless I felt
sufficiently large-minded to make allowances. After all, the man had
received two pretty severe blows, in the loss of his inheritance and in
the strickening of his father; and it could not be pleasant for him to
be accepting my hospitality.

Doctor Marcy waited until Thaneford had finished his breakfast; then he
bluntly asked for the holding of an inquest on Francis Graeme's death.
"I formally withdraw the medical certificate," he continued, "on the
ground that new evidence has come to light."

"What new evidence?" inquired John Thaneford, his beetling eyebrows
contracting angrily.

"I'll submit it to your jury," retorted the doctor.

There was no further discussion of the main point. Legally it was for
Thaneford alone to decide upon the necessity for an inquest, and for a
moment or two I thought he looked disinclined to give in. Then,
apparently, he changed his mind. "You don't seem to have much confidence
in your own medical opinions," he said nastily. "But I'm as anxious as
anybody to ferret out the truth behind this business. And possibly we
may get some light upon the making of that remarkable will. I take it
that Mr. Hugh Hildebrand will offer no objection." I made no answer to
the taunt, and Thaneford went to the telephone to call his jurors
together.

It was not until two days later that the members of the jury were
finally assembled at the "Hundred." Two of them were neighboring
farmers; there were also a couple of small business men from Calverton.
The fifth man was a Mr. Chalmers Warriner, a chemist and the head of the
experimental department of the Severn Optical Glass Works; and, greatly
to my surprise, I was ordered by the coroner to take the sixth and last
place in the panel. All of my associates had known Francis Graeme
personally, and it was apparent that the unusual circumstance of the
holding of the inquest after the interment had aroused curiosity and no
small amount of speculation.

By direction of the coroner the body had been exhumed and an autopsy
performed. The expert examination had been made by Dr. Clayton Williams
of the Johns Hopkins Medical School, and he was the first witness
called.

Doctor Williams told the jury that while the wound on the temple might
have been sufficient to cause death still he was not prepared to
pronounce positively upon the point. In answer to a question from
Professor Warriner, Doctor Williams went on to say that the autopsy had
revealed a very peculiar condition of the brain--a lesion of most
unusual character.

"Not necessarily caused by the blow on the temple?" asked Warriner.

"I do not think so," answered the witness.

"Can you assign a cause?"

"I have never seen anything quite like it, Mr. Warriner. In consequence,
I haven't any theory of causation to advance."

"But you must have come to some conclusions," persisted Warriner.

"All I can say is that the degenerative process observed by me resembled
that induced by sunstroke, but on a greatly intensified scale. It is
possible, of course, that Mr. Graeme may have had some obscure brain
disease, and that it had progressed to a critical stage quite
unsuspected by himself, or even by his medical advisers."

"You mean," continued Warriner, "that the deceased may have had a sudden
seizure, resulting in his falling from his chair and striking his head
upon the corner of that iron despatch-box placed in evidence by Doctor
Marcy?"

"It is possible."

"Then it is a perfectly plain case?"

"I'm not so sure about that," returned Doctor Williams. "The brain
lesion may have killed him before he fell; the superficial injury may
have no importance whatever. Or the wound may have been caused by a
weapon in the hands of another person."

"But there is no question of another person," put in John Thaneford.

There was nothing more of a tangible character to be obtained from the
testimony of the medical gentlemen; for Doctor Marcy could only
reiterate his belief that Francis Graeme had appeared to be in perfect
health on that fatal morning. Of course there had been no opportunity
for the usual laboratory tests, but his physical condition could not
have been precarious; that was unthinkable. There were just two factors
in evidence--the internal lesion and the external injury. Which was the
predetermining cause, and which was the final effect? Or was it that
neither fact had any real relation to the death of Francis Graeme? No
one could say, and Doctor Williams was finally permitted to retire. I
fancied that the saturnine countenance of Coroner Thaneford showed a
secret satisfaction in the apparent confusion of testimony.

The customary depositions were taken from the house servants, but they
added little or nothing to our stock of knowledge. Effingham, the
butler, was asked to explain his five minutes' absence from sentry duty
at the library door while Doctor Marcy was engaged in meeting Miss
Graeme. He answered very simply that Miss Eunice Trevor had sent him to
her dressing-room for smelling-salts and a bottle of aromatic spirits of
ammonia. When questioned about the master-key he declared that no one
knew of its hiding place behind the clock in the pantry; he did not
believe that it had been touched until he had taken it himself, shortly
before two o'clock, for the purpose of unlocking the library door.
Finally Doctor Marcy told the jury of the peculiar circumstances
concerning the iron despatch-box. But he could not positively affirm
that the box was not in the room when he first examined the body; he was
obliged to admit that he might have merely overlooked its presence.

John Thaneford turned to the jury. "Is there any use in going on with
the inquiry?" he asked. "I don't believe we can do more than return a
non-committal verdict--dead by the visitation of God, or something like
that."

"Or alternatively, by the act of party or parties unknown," interpolated
Warriner.

"Don't see why you should say that," retorted Thaneford, scowling
darkly.

"Well, Doctor Marcy has pointed out the unexplained disappearance of the
iron despatch-box; I mean between his first and second visit to the
room. I think we ought to make sure that no other person entered the
library in the interim, or had the opportunity and means to do so."

"Just what do you want?" demanded Thaneford truculently.

"Let's have Effingham back again," said Warriner calmly. "I want to ask
some questions that I didn't think of before."

There could be no valid objection to this procedure; and, accordingly,
the coroner directed that the negro butler should be recalled.

While we were waiting Warriner had risen and was walking about the room,
examining its details with profound attention. He was particular in
assuring himself that the main windows could not be opened, and that the
apertures provided by the swinging of the pridellas on their pivots were
impracticable to anyone except a really small boy. When Effingham
reappeared Warriner took the examination into his own hands.

"Now, Effingham," he began, "I want to know everything about this room.
Are there any traps leading to the cellar, any scuttle-panels in the
dome?"

"Nossir. It am tight all roun'--like um bottle. Doan know nuffin' 'bout
traps and scuttles."

"Undoubtedly correct," commented Warriner, looking around at us. "I have
tested the floor pretty thoroughly, and it is solid everywhere. The
same, I think, may be said of the dome and ceiling--not the sign of a
crack or jointure." He turned savagely on Effingham. "Now tell me, you
black scoundrel, where the secret door is?"

Effingham's countenance of shining ebony took on the ashy tinge peculiar
to his race under the emotional stress of fright or duress. "Nebber
heard of 'im," he said quickly, and relapsed into wary silence.

"You know me," continued Warriner, "and what I can put on you if you
don't obey me and answer my questions. Where is it?"

Effingham's knees shook in visible terror. Professor Warriner enjoyed a
wide reputation among the colored folk as a dealer in "cunjers" and
other forbidden arts; was not his physical laboratory the veritable
anteroom to the infernal regions. The old negro, torn between
superstitious fears and his inherited sense of loyalty to the
Hildebrand family, trembled and gasped as he tried to face his terrible
inquisitor. "Whuffer you pick on ole Effingham?" he protested feebly. "I
doan know nuffin 'bout any secret doah."

"Do what the gentleman tells you, Effingham." The voice was quiet and
controlled, and yet there was an undertone of emotional vibration in it;
I turned and saw Miss Trevor, who had entered the room unbidden and
unannounced. I thought that John Thaneford looked both angry and
dismayed, but he did not attempt to exercise his official authority.

"Yessum," returned Effingham with cheerful alacrity. Since one of the
ladies of the family had assumed the responsibility it was not for him
to offer any further objection. He went over to the right side of the
great fireplace and touched a spring in the paneling; a door, just high
and wide enough to accommodate an ordinary sized person, swung open.

"Nothing very romantic about this door," commented Miss Trevor. "It is
merely a short cut to the terrace and gardens, besides being a
convenient means of avoiding uncongenial visitors. But I don't think Mr.
Graeme often used it, and none of the servants, except Effingham, are
even aware of its existence."

We all crowded around the secret entrance. The short passage turned
sharply to the left behind the massive bulk of the chimney breast; we
caught just a glimpse of a second and outer door, strongly built and
banded with stout iron.

Warriner stepped forward and entered the passage, reappearing almost
immediately. "The outside door is unlocked," he said. "But that doesn't
prove anything of itself. Before proceeding further I think it would be
wise to examine the exterior situation."

I happened to catch Miss Trevor's eye, and I could have sworn that a
spark of relief-cum-triumph burned there for the infinitesimal part of a
second. We trooped into the hall and left the house in order to gain the
library terrace.

There was the door, cleverly masked by vines, in a corner of the chimney
stack. Moreover, its wooden surface had been veneered with stucco,
colored and lined to simulate the brick of the chimney; the deception
was quite good enough to pass casual inspection.

"The vines don't count for much," said Warriner. "Easy to push them
aside. But hullo! what's that?"

Plastered squarely on the line of the door opening was the empty cocoon
of a moth. It was perfectly evident that the door could not have been
opened without destroying the fragile structure, and of course it must
have been fixed in position months before to give time for the
transformation of the pupa into the perfect insect. That seemed to
settle the question of either entrance or exit for a period long
antedating the death of Francis Graeme.

"Pretty conclusive testimony," remarked Warriner. "I take it we're all
witness to the fact, and so if no one has any objection----" And then,
before a protest could have been voiced, he coolly picked off the cocoon
and dropped it into his pocket.

When we were reassembled in the library John Thaneford again suggested
that we might proceed to the formality of a verdict; he pointed out that
there was no shred of evidence connecting any definite person with the
tragedy. But once more Warriner was ready with a counter-proposal; he
wanted to examine the two negroes who were working on the south lawn
between those fateful hours of noon and two o'clock on the twenty-first
of June.

"But Doctor Marcy has their positive assurance," urged Thaneford, "that
no stranger was seen about the place that day. Isn't that so, doctor?"
he continued, turning to Marcy.

Doctor Marcy nodded. "Yes, and I've known both men all my life," he
said. "I can vouch for them as being perfectly straight."

"Better have them in and get their evidence on the record at first
hand," persisted Warriner.

There was incontrovertible reason in this, and Zack and Zeb were sent
for. John Thaneford still looked like a thunder cloud, and I found it
difficult to make up my mind. Was he annoyed at the masterful way in
which his official authority was being usurped, or was he inwardly
anxious to keep the inquiry within conventional bounds; was it even
possible that he was seeking to shield somebody? His personal skirts
must be clear, for it was positively established that he had been at
"Thane Court" the entire day of June the twenty-first. Being a relative,
the tidings of Mr. Graeme's death had been sent to him by telephone, and
he had replied that he would come immediately to the "Hundred." But he
had not put in an appearance until the next morning. The one suspicious
circumstance was his willingness, almost eagerness, to accept Doctor
Marcy's certificate without making any investigation on his own account,
coupled with his subsequent reluctance to reopen the inquiry. Finally,
his attitude throughout the inquest had been restless and perfunctory;
it could be easily seen that the exercise of his duty as coroner was
most distasteful to him. But I was keenly aware that I did not like John
Thaneford; all the more reason that I should not do him any injustice.
And so I kept my cogitations to myself.

Zack and Zeb proved to be model witnesses under Warriner's skilful
tutelage. It was positively determined that no stranger had been near
the library terrace between eleven and two o'clock on the day in
question.

"Or anybody else?" asked Warriner.

"Miss Eunice she done come by thar; walkin' up fum de gyarding,"
answered Zeb.

"What time was that?"

"Ah reckon 'bout one o'clock, sah."

"How do you know? Do you carry a watch?"

"Nossah, but de oberseer's bell for de fiel' hands just done rung,"
asserted the witness with conviction.

"Where did Miss Trevor go?"

"I doan know, sah. I speck she went plum into de manshun house--roun' de
cornah, sah."

Zack could add nothing more to this statement, and Zeb, when called in
his turn, merely produced corroborative testimony.

"I think we had better see Miss Trevor herself," said Warriner, after
Zeb had bowed and scraped his way out.

"All damned nonsense," objected Thaneford, looking uglier than ever.
"And I must say, Mr. Warriner, that you are taking a great deal too much
on yourself. I'm the coroner, and I know my duty."

Warriner stuck to his guns, and he was backed up by a juryman named
Orton, a well-to-do farmer and an unusually intelligent man, as it
seemed to me. Thaneford finally yielded ungracious assent and Miss
Trevor again entered the room. As she stood confronting us I was struck
by the intense pallor of her skin, when contrasted with the coal
blackness of her hair and her sombre apparel of mourning. Yet she
appeared perfectly collected and self-possessed; she admitted readily
that she had been on the library terrace at the approximate hour of one
o'clock; she explained that she had gone to the walled garden to cut
some flowers for the luncheon table; she had returned by the terrace as
that was the shortest way to the front door; she had entered the house,
and, after arranging the flowers, she had retired to her own room.
Warriner put a question or two relative to her taking Effingham's post
at the library door while Doctor Marcy was endeavoring to break the
news to Betty; her answers were definite and given without hesitation.
Yes, she had sent the servant upstairs to get the smelling salts and the
ammonia; she had thought the restoratives might be needed. Her account
of the finding of the body agreed perfectly with the story told by
Doctor Marcy.

"Thank you, Miss Trevor," said Warriner. "Just one more question. What
sort of flowers did you cut on your visit to the garden?"

"Yellow roses. I think the variety is called _Madame Colette
Marinette_."

Upon Miss Trevor's retirement the verdict was taken. It was unanimous
and to the effect that Francis Hildebrand Graeme had come to his death
through the visitation of God.

The jurymen climbed into their surreys and Fords and took their
departure. Warriner lingered behind, and a few minutes later he joined
me on the porch, where I was smoking a long longed-for cigarette. Miss
Trevor had gone upstairs, and John Thaneford had betaken himself to the
sick-room; we were entirely alone.

"I found this in the passage behind the secret door," he said, and
handed me the withered remains of what had been a magnificent yellow
rose.

"Interesting exhibit, isn't it," he went on dryly.

"You don't--you don't mean?" I stammered.

"I'm not very much up on floriculture, but this particular variety
happens to be one of my favorites. The florists call it----"

"Yes?"

"_Madame Colette Marinette._"



Chapter VII

_The Whispering Gallery_


The long afternoon went by, but we had accomplished nothing more than
the consumption of an unlimited amount of tobacco.

"Certainly not convincing evidence," said Warriner with a final shrug of
his shoulders. "Still my yellow rose is worth preserving along with the
moth cocoon," and he put the pathetic dead flower carefully away in his
empty cigarette case. For a minute or two the silence remained unbroken.

"I wonder if you would mind spending a few days here at the 'Hundred?'"
I blurted out; suddenly I was aware that I had taken a strong liking to
Chalmers Warriner.

"I've no end of things on hand," he answered, smiling cordially, "but
I'll see what I can do. Suppose I run into Calverton, look over my mail,
and return here around ten o'clock."

"It would be a great kindness," I said heartily. We shook hands, and he
jumped into his perfectly appointed cross-country car and drove away.
Yes, I did like Chalmers Warriner very much, and he seemed to have a
head on him.

Doctor Marcy also left us. His patient had continued to improve, and of
course he had his other practice to look after.

It was a pleasanter dinner than that of the night before inasmuch as
John Thaneford was at "Thane Court," while Miss Trevor pleaded a
headache and had tea and toast served in her room. But there was my
Cousin Betty Graeme to do the honors of my board--how strange it still
seemed to use the possessive pronoun!--with all possible grace and
dignity. Also I had the pleasure of welcoming a new addition to the
household, a Mrs. Anthony, an old family friend and Betty's godmother to
boot. Circumstances had prevented her attendance at the funeral, but she
had reached the "Hundred" at last, to Betty's infinite comfort and
satisfaction. Mrs. Anthony was a delightful old person, with the figure
of a young girl and the flashing eyes and snowy bob curls of a French
marquise. I did myself the honor of kissing the small hand extended to
me, and was taken into favor at once.

Yes, we were an entirely congenial dinner party. We spoke of Francis
Graeme several times, and without the least embarrassment or restraint;
quite as though he might return at any moment to resume his rightful
place in the circle. And more and more I came to realize that I had lost
a great deal in not knowing him sooner and better. A good and gallant
gentleman! who was I that I should presume to stand in his shoes. Even
now I am beginning to perceive that a great inheritance has its burdens
as well as its privileges; I see that it is no small thing to become
Hildebrand of the "Hundred."

The ladies retired early, and a few minutes after ten Warriner redeemed
his promise by making a welcome appearance. I told him that I had some
necessary letters to write, and that I should not make company of him;
he was to consider himself entirely at home. He nodded acquiescently and
spent some twenty minutes in wandering about the library; then he
settled down with a book.

It really was imperative that I should acquaint certain people--my
quasi-partner Anstruthers, the Mercers and others--with the great change
that had taken place in my life and fortunes; my affairs in town would
have to be wound up, and it might be a fortnight before I could get to
Philadelphia. My correspondence proved more lengthy than I had
anticipated, and it was long after midnight when I had sealed and
stamped the last enclosure. Warriner threw down his book, and I crossed
the room and joined him. "By way of resting our eyes," I said, and
thereupon I extinguished the only light in the room, an Argand-burner
oil lamp. We exchanged half a dozen desultory sentences, and then
relapsed into that intimate silence which is only possible between real
friends. For perhaps half an hour we sat quietly thinking and smoking;
then----

"There is nothing I can say or do; understand?"

I recognized the rough, forbidding quality of John Thaneford's voice,
and instantly I was all attention. Of course he must be speaking to
somebody; who could it be? Presently the answer came. But it was not in
words; all I could make out were sounds of weeping and smothered sobs,
unmistakably feminine in character.

Now I should have explained that Warriner and I had been sitting close
to one of the side walls of the library; indeed our heads were almost in
actual contact with the plaster. Thaneford and his companion were
undoubtedly in the great hall whose circular walls probably formed a
natural whispering gallery. How the sounds could be transmitted through
the straight connecting passage under the stairs, and then shunted upon
the rectangular walls of the library, was a problem in applied acoustics
that I did not attempt to solve. The conversation was being conducted
under the breath, as we say, but every word fell with perfect
distinctness upon my ears. Of course it was a private conversation, one
to which I had no right to listen. I did make a motion to pull away from
the wall, possibly with the vague idea of uttering a warning admonition
to these indiscreet chatterers, but Warriner's ready hand pushed me back
in my chair; he laid his finger upon my lips, and I had no option but to
yield to his stronger will. This was war, war in which all is fair.

"You've made a mess of it, my girl," went on Thaneford, "and I can't
stop to help clear it up. That's flat."

"You mean that you won't keep your promise?" The words were low and
thick with emotion; I could not seem to recognize the ownership of the
voice.

"No, I don't say that at all. But I'm up to my neck at 'Thane Court,'
and I was counting upon the 'Hundred' to pull me out. Give me half a
chance and I'll do the square thing--by you and everybody."

"What more do you want of me?"

"Just keep your eyes and ears open. I saw Grimes to-day, and he thinks
there is a fair possibility of breaking the will--_non compos_, you
know. Why think of it! Francis Graeme never saw this Yankee Hildebrand
but once in his life, and then for a couple of hours only. It stands to
reason that a man in his right senses doesn't hand over a fortune as
though it were nothing more than a Key West cigar. Grimes advises me to
fight, and I'd like nothing better than to do it. But fighting costs a
lot of money," he concluded gloomily.

"You know that if I had it----"

"All I know is that you haven't got it," he interrupted coldly. "For
heaven's sake! don't let us get sentimental again."

There was a brief silence, and then came a badly suppressed yawn,
coupled with a declaration that the speaker was dog-tired and ready to
fall asleep standing up. We could hear retreating footsteps, and the
occasional creaking of a loose board in the tread of the staircase; then
all was quiet again.

"Eunice Trevor, of course," announced Warriner meditatively.

"I should never have known her voice," I protested.

"Exactly so. And for the very sufficient reason that she is accustomed
to riding under double-wraps, as the hunting men say. A cold,
calculating, iceberg sort of creature--that's the way you've thought of
her."

"Dare say you're right."

"But deep in the heart of the iceberg there burns a flame, glowing and
intense. Now and then it melts its way out, and for a few minutes there
are gorgeous fireworks. That was the young woman's natural voice, and
she was improving the infrequent opportunity of using it by letting
herself go."

"What do you think----" I began.

"I don't think at all," he broke in. "At least for to-night. In the
morning my brain may begin to function again, but it refuses to be
squeezed any further at present."

"They've had their five minutes grace," remarked Warriner, after another
brief pause, "and I'm off to bed. Good night." Warriner seemed to melt
away and become part of the surrounding darkness; after a minute or two
I followed, and reached my room without further incident.

Again my night's rest was a troubled one.



Chapter VIII

_Adventuring on "Sugar Loaf"_


It was a glorious summer morning, and as I descended the staircase I
could look through the wide opened door and see the rolling acres of
"Hildebrand Hundred" lying gracious and fair under a cloudless sky. Bees
were humming among the flowers, and a whiff of new mown hay drifted in
on a vagrant breeze. Yes, this old world is a pretty pleasant place to
live in, provided of course that one doesn't make a tactical mistake and
settle down too far East or West, as the case may be. But given the
right place and the right people, and existence on this planet may be
very comfortable indeed.

Nobody seemed to be around, although it was nearly nine o'clock, and I
walked into the library. There I found Chalmers Warriner bending over a
large glazed case which stood in a remote corner of the room.

"Good morning," he smiled. "I've been amusing myself in looking over the
collection of butterflies and moths made by your predecessor, old
Richard Hildebrand. I believe it is considered valuable."

I glanced carelessly at the rows of inanimate insects fixed in their
painful museum attitudes. There can be no quarrelling with tastes, but
mine do not run in this direction. I made some perfunctory assent to
Warriner's glowing encomiums upon the quality of Uncle Richard's _magnum
opus_ (it seems that our good Chalmers is himself an amateur of
distinction in entomological science), and then haled him off for
breakfast.

Quite naturally we drifted back to the library. It was the pleasantest
and most homelike room in the house, a characteristic that persisted for
all that the shadow of a possible tragedy still rested there. But after
all, men must die somewhere, some time, and it would be impracticable to
transform every death chamber into a mortuary chapel. Death is a natural
process; why try to invest it with unnatural terror. "My dear," said a
very old woman to her blooming goddaughter, "you will some day come to
know that old age needs and desires death just as youth needs and
desires sleep."

Warriner started immediately upon a close and systematic examination of
the apartment and its appurtenances. From his pocket he drew a
geologist's hammer and a slender rod of steel, and for nearly an hour he
occupied himself in probing the wainscoting and walls and in making test
knocks. I had expected to see him give particular attention to the
secret passage behind the fireplace, but he ignored it entirely. I
expressed some surprise.

"It's told me already all it had to tell," he answered, and did not
vouchsafe any further elucidation of his pronouncement. Nor did I ask
for it; I realized that a man should be allowed to work in his own way.

Finally, Warriner asked me to sit down in the fixed revolving chair that
stood before the great, flat-topped library desk. I did so with some
inward reluctance, for this was the seat _par excellence_ of the master
of "Hildebrand Hundred"; from this very coign of vantage Francis Graeme
had toppled to his death. But as well now as ever, and accordingly I
complied with the request.

At Warriner's further suggestion I bent forward as though engaged in
writing. Suddenly he appeared from behind the screen of stamped Spanish
leather which stood between the table and the door leading to the great
hall; instantly, I became aware of his presence; involuntarily I looked
up.

"Not so easy to surprise a man from this side, even if he were engaged
in writing or study," mused Warriner as he walked over to the fireplace.

"Now suppose I had entered from this secret postern or side door," he
went on. "I should have no particular difficulty in stealing up behind
you and striking a fatal blow."

"Perhaps not," I assented. "The rug is deeply piled, and a man would
have to walk pretty heavily to be heard."

"A man--or a woman," amended Warriner. Of course I understood him, but
it was none of my business to prejudice Eunice Trevor's case. The very
fact that I instinctively disliked her imposed its obligations.

Warriner motioned me to yield him the revolving chair, and I arose with
alacrity. He sat down quite as though intent upon testing the smoothness
of the swivelling and the depth and comfort of the upholstery. But
presently he swung round and faced the fireplace and windows. Then he
drew from his pocket a pair of French folding opera glasses and
continued his observations for several minutes; finally, he glanced at
me and beckoned. I went over to the big desk.

"From where I sit," began Warriner, "I can see an odd-appearing break in
the woods on 'Sugar Loaf.' Take the chair and I'll explain what I have
in mind."

I obeyed and Warriner leaned over my shoulder, pointing. "Look
straight," he said, "through that small, square panel in the window on
the left of the fireplace; it is called the pridella, I believe. Now
take the glasses."

The window was the one depicting the rebellion of the sons of Korah; it
was a vivid representation of the earth opening under the feet of the
guilty men, and was brilliant with yellow and crimson flames arising
from the abyss. Through the open pridella I could see "Sugar Loaf," the
latter a hill of a peculiar conical shape that rose directly from the
meadows watered by the little river Whippany. Its distance from the
house was about half a mile, and it was covered with a dense growth of
oaks and beeches.

Now that I had the glasses focussed I understood what Warriner was
driving at. Framed in the square of the pridella was a small opening in
the leafy wall; it looked as though a shelf had been cut out of the
cliff face, and evidently with a purpose. But what sort of a purpose?
"An observation post," I hazarded.

Warriner nodded. "Something like that was in my own mind," he said.
"What do you say to our walking over there and making a
reconnaissance?"

"Just as you like," I assented. "Anyway it will be a pleasant stroll."

Supplying ourselves with the primal necessities of stout sticks and
brierwood pipes we set out. Gyp, an Irish terrier, looked longingly upon
us, and Warriner, after a momentary hesitation, told him that he might
accompany the expedition; whereupon there followed much staccato yelping
and the apparent vision of one small dog in several places at once.

The side of the hill facing the "Hundred" was rather too steep for
comfortable climbing; moreover, there seemed to be a wagon road, on the
right hand slope, which promised a practicable means of ascent. We
walked across the lawn and a horse paddock to the Whippany, following
the bank of the stream to where it was crossed by a picturesque stone
bridge. Straight on lay the road to Lynn C. H., while our woodland way
branched off to the left.

It was pleasantly cool in the woods, and inside of twenty minutes we
were well up on the hillside, and the library wing of the "Hundred" was
in plain view. But there was still no sign of "Warriner's Shelf," as I
chose to dub it, and I began to chaff him gently. However Gyp, by way
of repaying the favor of being allowed to join us, pushed an inquisitive
nose into a mass of tangled wild grapevines. Here was plain token of
human progress, and we followed the narrow trail that presently dipped
down sharply and then around the shoulder of a big, square rock.

"Warriner's Shelf" at last, a natural bench in the escarpment, not
larger than ten feet by six, with a comparatively level floor, and
partially sheltered by the overhanging rock wall. The bushes and foliage
in general had been cut away in front, leaving an irregular opening
about the height of a man and four or five feet in width. "I should
never have picked it out in the world," said Warriner, "but for that
glint of white." And as he spoke, he detached from a hazel twig a square
of cambric, a man's handkerchief. I followed the direction of his
glance, and read the initials in one corner--"J. T."

"What do you make of it?" I asked, feeling more than a little puzzled.

"A signal, of course. A sharp eye could pick it out from the terrace,
particularly if a hand was waving it."

"Anyhow it is proof that John Thaneford knows of this eyrie and is
accustomed to visit it," I added.

"Perfectly. Do you realize, by the way, that we are now on Thaneford
property?"

"How so?"

"The dividing line runs a few yards away, and you will find a monument
near the base of that white pine. I came up here once with old Richard
Hildebrand, and he pointed it out to me. This side of Sugar Loaf belongs
to 'Thane Court.'"

"Then we are trespassers."

"In the technical sense I suppose we are."

"And John Thaneford doesn't welcome visitors," I remarked, recalling the
incidents of our first meeting.

"Well, we're only looking around; no harm done."

Warriner reloaded his pipe leisurely. "What do you suppose is the
meaning of that contraption?" he continued, indicating a singular
framework of iron, painted green, that stood in the opening and pointed
directly toward the house; we both examined it with keen attention.

It consisted of a narrow trough of metal--probably the half section of a
four-inch pipe--and was some three feet in length. It was supported by
tripods at either end, firmly fixed in the ground. The whole arrangement
was solidly put together, and seemed intended as a rest for some sort
of instrument. Warriner seated himself on a flat stone, and sighted
along the trough. Then he supplemented his observations with the
binoculars.

"It appears to line exactly with the pridella opening of the 'Korah'
window," he said at length. "Adjust a high-powered rifle in the trough,
and it ought to be possible to send a bullet directly into the library
at the 'Hundred'; yes, and it would strike pretty close to anyone who
happened to be occupying the swivel-chair at the big teakwood desk. Of
course, without instruments, I can't speak definitely about the
trajectory, but we must be a couple of hundred feet above the house
which should compensate for the natural drop in the arc."

"The fatal objection to that theory," I retorted, "is the non-existent
bullet. There can't be the slightest ground for thinking that Francis
Graeme came to his death through the agency of a gunshot wound."

"No, there isn't," admitted Warriner. "All the same, it opens up some
interesting possibilities."

"For example?" A third person was suddenly taking part in the
conversation.

I turned quickly to see John Thaneford standing besides us. He was
accompanied by a big collie, an ill-tempered brute, who eyed Gyp with
disdainful truculence. The like adjectival description might have been
applied to Thaneford himself as he stood there with his white teeth just
showing through the close drawn lips, and one muscular fist, with its
tufted knuckles, knotted about a blackthorn cudgel.

"You were speaking, I think, of interesting possibilities," he
continued, looking at each of us in turn, "Perhaps I could add something
of value to the discussion."

"You have already contributed Exhibit A," said Warriner, handing him the
handkerchief. As he spoke, he rose to his feet, and it seemed to me that
just before doing so he picked up a small object from the ground, and
kept it concealed in the hollow of his hand. But the action had been so
swift that I could not be sure.

John Thaneford took and pocketed his handkerchief with the utmost
sangfroid. "Thanks," he said carelessly. "I must have left it here by
inadvertence, and nowadays even a few inches of real Irish linen is a
possession not to be despised. It is certainly mine, and, moreover, it
was found on Thaneford property. Under the circumstances you will hardly
be justified in putting in a claim for treasure-trove." This with a
sneer that fully bared his close set teeth.

I was feeling rather uncomfortable, but Warriner's cool urbanity never
failed him. "Glad to have obliged you," he said easily. "The next strong
wind probably would have blown it down the cliff. Lovely view, isn't
it?"

And indeed it was a charming prospect--the silver ripples of the shallow
Whippany edging the emerald meadows that stretched up to meet the shaven
lawn of the "Hundred"; the massive ochre bulk of the house, with its
roofs of dark gray slate; and, beyond, the copper glow from a clump of
purple beeches melting insensibly into the sombre hues of pine and
hemlock; in the middle distance, the golden ocean of the wheat; and
still farther on, a battery of motor tractors moving snail-like but
inexorably against the gallant green lances of the haying
fields--"Hildebrand Hundred" in all its glory.

"A _belvedere_ in quite the proper sense," commented Warriner. "I dare
say you are rather fond of coming here--by way of viewing the promised
land, as it were." He smiled provokingly.

John Thaneford was not nimble witted, and he found no fitting rejoinder
to Warriner's sarcasm. "I don't know that it is any of your damned
business," he barked out, flushing redly.

It was time for me to intervene, for clearly our position was not a
tenable one; we were trespassers. "I am sorry to have intruded for the
second time within a week," I said evenly. "Unintentional of course."

He made no definite reply, and I swung round. "Get to heel, Gyp," I
ordered.

"One moment," demanded Thaneford, "I've been intending to tell you that
I shall go back to 'Thane Court' this evening; I mean for good. I'm
afraid that my father"--he gulped at something in his throat--"can't be
moved for the present."

"Mr. Thaneford will be welcome to the hospitality of the 'Hundred' so
long as the emergency exists," I returned smilingly. "I would say as
much for yourself, but of course you will do as you please."

"I always intend to," he countered instantly. Then, as though a bit
ashamed of his boorishness, he added: "You will have no objection, I
suppose, to my coming over to the 'Hundred' to see him?"

"Surely not. And there is also the telephone. I promise that you will be
kept fully informed. Good day, Mr. Thaneford."

"Mr. Thaneford!" he echoed. "My dear Cousin Hugh, are you oblivious of
the fact that this is the South, and that we are kin?"

"Even if a little less than kind," put in Warriner.

"Cousin John, then," I amended, determined to give no open ground for
offence. "Shall I have your traps sent over to the 'Court?'"

"Thanks, but I'm looking in on father around five o'clock, and so won't
have to bother you. Down, Vixen!" he added, dealing the collie a hearty
cuff as she snapped at Gyp, discreetly paddling at my heels. Warriner
started to say something civil, but was ignored, and we passed on
without another word.

"Sulky brute!" offered Warriner, but I merely nodded.

"Did you notice that no allusion was made, on either side, to that
singular metal rest?" he persisted.

"What was there to say?"

"True for you; but I still contend that the possibilities are
interesting--perhaps infinitely so. For instance----" he opened his hand
and showed me what lay snugly ensconced within.

"Looks like a piece of glass."

"Man, don't you know a telescopic lens when you see it!"

Warriner produced a silk handkerchief, and with it carefully cleaned and
polished what I now fully recognized as a bit of some optical apparatus.
He held it up to his eye, and squinted through it. "Do you know there is
something peculiar about this blooming lens," he said at length. "I
think I'll drive over to Calverton after luncheon, and make a laboratory
test. Who knows...."

"What?"

"Tell you later--if there is anything to tell." And not another word on
the subject could I get out of him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Anthony and Betty had been over to the cemetery all morning, and
they did not appear at luncheon. Miss Trevor, looking as implacable as a
Medusa-head, a comparison inevitably invited by the snaky black ringlets
depending on either cheek (an ante-bellum monstrosity which she seemed
to affect out of sheer perversity), presided at the table, and most of
the conversation was carried on in monosyllables. The poor girl did look
wretchedly careworn, and I had the uneasy consciousness of being in part
a confidant of her unhappiness through my involuntary espionage in the
affair of the whispering gallery. But there was nothing that I could say
or do to relieve the tension of the situation. How much did she know
concerning the mystery of Francis Graeme's death? To what extent was she
an accessory to the crime, if crime it could be proved? When she handed
me my tea it was quite in the grand Lucrezia Borgia manner, and it was
as certain as anything could be that she and I must remain antagonists
until the end of time. But I could make allowances. Eunice Trevor had
played the part of poor relation all her life, and the bread of
dependence is both a dry and a bitter morsel in the mouth. Not that
Betty Graeme would ever have said or done anything to emphasize the
obligation under which her cousin's daily existence was passed; on the
contrary, I knew that she treated Eunice with unvarying kindness and
consideration. But when one is living on the broken meats of charity it
is destructive to be always nibbling, between meals, at one's own heart.

Warriner went off to Calverton, and I had a horse saddled in order to
ride over the farm and so get a general idea of my inheritance. And
indeed it was a glorious one; insensibly a new and stimulating ichor
entered into my veins; this was my own country, the chosen home of my
forebears: this gracious and beautiful land was part of myself; deep
down in its generous bosom went the essential roots of my being, and I
thrilled with the consciousness of a new life, a life far more
satisfying and abundant than I had ever known before; I was Hildebrand
of the "Hundred."

Late in the afternoon I returned, and ran upstairs to freshen my
appearance before joining the ladies for a cup of tea on the library
terrace. As I passed the sick room I heard the sounds of a violent
altercation, and I recognized the voices as belonging to Eunice Trevor
and John Thaneford; how indecent for them to be quarrelling in the
presence of a man actually moribund! I had no taste for more
eavesdropping, but the door was partially ajar, and I could not help
overhearing one significant sentence. Eunice Trevor was speaking.

"As for Betty Graeme, there is no chance there for recouping your
fortunes. How do I know? I am a woman myself."

I went on quickly and reached my room. But my blood was hot within me.
That surly, brutal boor!

All the time I was changing my clothes I could hear the discussion
proceeding, although the words themselves were inaudible. Then came the
clumping of heavy boots on the staircase. I looked out of my window,
which commanded a view of the carriage sweep, and saw John Thaneford's
disreputable old dog-cart waiting before the front door. Presently
Thaneford himself appeared, carrying a couple of handbags; he threw the
luggage in the cart, mounted, and drove away.

On my own way down I had to go by the room occupied by the elder
Thaneford. Quite involuntarily I glanced through the half-opened door; a
curious feeling possessed me that the sick man was being dealt with
unfairly, that he needed the protection which a guest has a right to
expect from his host.

Fielding Thaneford lay, immense and quiescent, in the old-fashioned,
canopied bed. He was not asleep, for his eyes were open and rolling
restlessly, while the infantile pink and white of his complexion had
darkened to a dull crimson; it was plain that he was uneasy, suffering
even. And then I realized the source of his discomfort.

Eunice Trevor sat in a highbacked chair at the foot of the bedstead,
gazing intently at the helpless man. I used to think that the
metaphorical, "If looks could kill!" was mere rhetoric, but now I knew
that there may be a deadliness in pure hatred which needs neither
spoken word nor overt act for its vehicle of expression. The Medusa-head
again, an incarnation of implacable malignity; no wonder that Fielding
Thaneford's big, babyish cheeks were beaded with sweat and that his
breath came and went in short gasps. One thought involuntarily of the
mediæval sorceress sticking her lethal pins into the waxen image of her
victim. Only that in this instance the counterfeit presentment was not
necessary; the man himself lay bound hand and foot, delivered to the
tormentors as they that go down quick into hell. Unable to move or speak
he must remain in his physical straitjacket while this tigerish woman
was doing him to death, at her leisure, with the invisible knife-thrusts
of a great and consuming hatred It was unbearable, and I entered the
room with the merest apology for a knock; instantly the eyes of the
basilisk were veiled.

"I was looking for Mr. Thaneford's nurse," I began awkwardly.

"Miss Davenport is off duty from two until five o'clock," answered Miss
Trevor with entire composure. "I told Betty that I would take the relief
on alternate days. Here is Miss Davenport now."

I turned to greet the pleasant-faced, capable looking young woman who
entered, and Miss Trevor glided away without another word. I made the
usual inquiries about the patient's condition. "Not quite so well,
perhaps," I suggested.

"He does seem a little flushed and restless," answered the nurse,
producing her clinical thermometer. "I don't understand it, for he was
decidedly better this morning."

"Possibly some outside disturbing influence," I ventured. "Mr. John
Thaneford was with his father late this afternoon, and I suspect there
was some sort of family jar."

"That big, black man!" said Miss Davenport indignantly. "I can't abide
him!" She looked around sharply. "Where is he?"

"I believe he has returned to 'Thane Court.'"

"Well, I shan't let him in the room again if he can't behave himself.
See that!" and she showed me the thermometer, which registered a
two-degree rise over normal. "Shameful I call it! and I won't have any
interference with my patient, no matter who it is."

"I'll back you up there. And perhaps we had better make some other
arrangements for the afternoon relief. Miss Trevor has been very
obliging, but I'm not sure that she has the proper--well, call it the
necessary temperament."

"I know it 'ud give me the creeps to have that slinky, black shadow
hovering over me," returned the downright-minded Miss Davenport. "I
think I'll put a stop-order on her from this time on."

"I dare say Miss Graeme and I can share the duty between us; at least
until it is possible to get hold of another nurse. I'll speak to my
cousin and let you know later."

Miss Davenport nodded and turned to her patient. "Cheerio! old son," she
said with the breezy cameraderie born of her two years' experience as an
army nurse. "After this we'll keep the willies brushed off, and you'll
soon be hitting on all six again. Remember now what your Aunt Flo tells
you."

It was impossible to say how much or how little the sick man understood
of all that had passed. But as I left the room I murmured a parting word
that was intended to be sympathetic and reassuring. I may have been
mistaken, but it seemed as though a flash of intense gratitude
momentarily softened the stony, blue-china stare of those inscrutable
eyes.

After Mrs. Anthony had gone to dress for dinner I talked the matter over
with Betty.

"I think you must be mistaken about poor Eunice," she said perplexedly.
"But just now I know she is pretty much on edge, and if Miss Davenport
doesn't want her that settles it. So if you will help me, Cousin Hugh, I
dare say we can manage."

Cousin Hugh! That sounds pleasanter every time I hear it And I like,
too, the possessive "we."

Late that evening Warriner telephoned that he had been called to
Baltimore on business and would be away for several days. Of course he
would see me immediately on his return. At present there was nothing to
report.



Chapter IX

_1-4-2-4-8_


A full fortnight went by, and we seemed to be simply marking time.
Warriner was still away, and I had had no word of importance from him.
Mr. Fielding Thaneford's condition showed little apparent change, but
Miss Davenport told me privately that he was failing steadily. John
Thaneford had called some half a dozen times, but his visits to the sick
room had been brief and entirely devoid of incident. Either Miss
Davenport or Betty and I took care to be present whenever he appeared,
and there had been no repetition of any untoward scene. The younger
Thaneford contented himself with a few perfunctory inquiries, never
addressing his father directly. What would have been the use, since the
line of communication had been broken? Moreover, the patient, on his
part, never manifested the least desire for more definite intercourse;
he seemed to recognize the physical presence of his son, but that was
all. And so John Thaneford would come and seem to fill the room for a
few moments with his great, black bulk, and again depart. As the door
closed behind him, there was never the slightest discernible quiver on
the immobile masque propped and bolstered in that amazing vastness of a
four-poster, but always the glitter would seem to die out of the
watchful eyes, and the slow breathing would become more regular.
Whatever the nature of the tension between father and son there could be
no question of its reality.

I had taken upon myself the delicate task of telling Eunice Trevor that
her volunteer service in the sick room could no longer be accepted. But
she acquiesced in the decision with admirably assumed indifference, and
thereafter never came near the invalid. Indeed, in those days, I hardly
saw her except at luncheon and dinner. Certainly we were not friends,
but neither were we avowed enemies; I even realized that, to some
extent, I was indispensable to the carrying out of her own tortuous
purposes. Once or twice, however, I sensed something in her voice, when
she happened to be speaking to Betty, which filled me with a vague
disquiet. For remember the knowledge I had acquired of the intimate
relations existing between this enigmatic woman and John Thaneford. It
was also certain that the latter's financial ruin was impending, and
that Betty, even without the landed ownership of the "Hundred," was
possessed of no inconsiderable fortune, and therefore a prize worth
acquiring. Not that I believed, for an instant, that a girl like Betty
Graeme would even consider such a suitor, and Eunice Trevor had said as
much to Thaneford himself; had warned him that his hopes in that
direction were assuredly futile. Yet even that certainty could be made
the foundation, in the feminine mind, of a justifiable grudge; Betty
Graeme could be kind or a good deal less than kind to John Thaneford,
and in either case Eunice Trevor would hold it up against her. Any woman
will understand how this can be, and I may as well be honest and confess
that I got my explanation from Betty herself--only that was a long time
afterward.

I can easily comprehend why no one could meet Betty Graeme without
wanting to love her, and most of us ended by actually doing so. But that
even Betty could have worked the miracle of reaching what passed with
Fielding Thaneford for a heart! It does seem incredible. And yet, if she
had not accomplished that impossible thing, I know very surely that I
should not be telling this particular story. It had been ordained that
I should succeed to the seat perilous of "Hildebrand Hundred," and
sooner or later must I have paid the predestined price of my great
possession. Truly love is the master-key to every door, but few of us
think it worth while to try it, or are even willing to make the attempt.

I have spoken of the gulf which seemed to open between Fielding
Thaneford and me from the very moment of our first meeting--unbridgable,
impassable. But Betty crossed it as easily and as surely as a bird on
the wing.

"It seems so unnatural and horrible," she said one afternoon as we were
sitting in the sick room. "There he lies within hand reach, and yet
immeasurably removed. Silence and darkness--oh, I can't bear it!"

"I think he understands what is said to him," I ventured.

"All the worse if he can't break through from his side of the wall. But
there must be a way, and I am going to find it."

She left the room, returning a few minutes later with a large square of
cardboard on which she had printed the letters of the alphabet. Now I
should have made it plain that the sole physical function remaining to
Fielding Thaneford was a limited control of the right hand; we had
learned to distinguish in its movements the two elementary expressions
of assent and dissent.

Betty went to the bedside, and gently slipped the sheet of cardboard
under the sick man's right hand. "You see what I mean, Mr. Thaneford,"
she said, with an infinite note of sympathy in her voice. "If you would
point out the letters one by one, no matter how slowly. We will both be
very patient--please now."

Fielding Thaneford's hand--the hand of a very old man, with its
thickened knuckles and swollen blue veins--quivered slightly, but
remained motionless. Yet I fancied that his glance consciously sought
the girl's face and rested there; ordinarily you felt that his gaze
merely passed over you, and then travelled inimitably onward and
outward. It was certain that he understood the proposal, even while
unwilling to act upon it. Twice she repeated the suggestion; and then,
too tactful to force the point, she smiled and withdrew the square of
cardboard. "Perhaps to-morrow," she said with exceeding gentleness,
while I marvelled that any human being could have withstood her. But
then what quality of our common humanity could inhere in that huge,
inert mass of flesh, animated, as it was, by a mere spark of conscious
intelligence.

Betty was not one to be easily discouraged. On the morrow she tried
again, and again without definite result. The third day the miracle
seemed on the point of fulfillment. Fielding Thaneford's forefinger
actually moved to the letter B, and rested there. No amount of feminine
cajolery could bring about any further compliance, but surely the first
step had been taken. "I really believe," said Betty to me, between a
smile and a tear, "that he had my name in mind." "How could he help it,"
I retorted; whereat she blushed so divinely that I could barely resist
taking her bodily in my arms--then and there, for once and for all. "You
will see to-morrow," she predicted with gay confidence.

But to-morrow brought an unexpected turn. Some subtle change had come
upon the sick man in the night, and Doctor Marcy, after the usual
examination, looked grave. "I can't be positive," he said, "but I think
he has had another slight stroke. Probably a question now of a few
hours."

Nevertheless at noon he appeared to revive, and was able to take some
gruel and the white of an egg whipped up in sherry. Miss Davenport went
for her usual constitutional, and we decided that it would not be
necessary to notify John Thaneford. The latter had not been near the
house for two days, and had not even troubled himself to telephone. But,
considered from any point of view, his absence was preferable to his
presence.

It was very quiet in the sick room. The day was warm, but not
uncomfortably so, and a cooling breeze, heavy with the fragrance of
summer flowers, drifted in at the casement windows.

Suddenly Betty seized her square of cardboard. "He wants to say
something?" she whispered, as she passed me. "Don't you see it in his
face?" But I, being a man, and so dull of understanding, could only nod
and wonder dumbly.

Too late it seemed, for the stiffening fingers had lost even the small
powers of functioning that they had hitherto preserved. Even I could now
see that Fielding Thaneford was desirous of speaking some last word, of
voicing some final message. But, apparently, coordination between brain
and muscle had ceased entirely. Absorbed and intent, Betty leaned over
him. "Is it John?" she asked. The hand achieved an almost imperceptible
motion, but both of us recognized the emphatic quality of its dissent.
"Oh!" cried Betty, with an overwhelming rush of sympathy, and took the
almost nerveless member into the intimate fellowship of her two warm,
exquisitely sensitive palms. Do you remember my speaking of the supreme
distinction of her handclasp; how it seemed to fit so perfectly?

Yes, it was undeniably evident that the spirit of Fielding Thaneford was
striving desperately to rend its clayey envelope, and deliver its
message in terms intelligible to mortal senses. But surely the vehicle
was wanting; it could not be. And then, quite certainly, I knew that
something had been transmitted through the mediumship of that intimate
handclasp. Betty's eyes grew luminous as stars; she whispered some words
too low for me to hear. "Is that it?" she concluded. The fast glazing
eyes said yes, as plainly as lips could have uttered the word.

What had happened? Suddenly the spark of life behind the monstrous
masque that had been Fielding Thaneford's face had disappeared; quite as
when the wind extinguishes the candle in a paper lantern. Betty turned
to me in a rain of tears. "He is gone," she murmured.

       *       *       *       *       *

Strange! that I of all men should be the one to compose Fielding
Thaneford's hands upon his breast and close his sightless eyes. But
life's obligations are none the less imperative that they are
unforeseen. The man lying dead upon the bed had never spoken a single
word to me; indeed our glances had met but once, and then had instantly
fallen away. How could we be other than eternally alien, and yet these
final offices to our common mortality had fallen to my hand. And it was
still short of a month since the messenger of fate had brought me the
invitation to attend the funeral services of my kinsman, Francis Graeme.

       *       *       *       *       *

Miss Davenport came back from her walk, and assumed charge of affairs
with her accustomed efficiency. I offered to do the telephoning to John
Thaneford, but Betty determined that the announcement ought to come from
her. Just before dinner he drove over, and remained in the room for
perhaps a quarter of an hour. None of us saw him, but he had the grace
to leave a brief word of thanks to Betty for the profusion of white
carnations that she had insisted on cutting and arranging with her own
hands.

Late that evening Betty came to me on the library terrace where I sat
smoking innumerable cigarettes. "You know he tried to tell me something
at the end," she said.

"Yes."

"All he could manage was just the slightest possible pressure of the
hand. A succession of numbers then."

"Do you want to tell me what the numbers were?"

"Of course. They were 1-4-2-4-8. I am sure I got them correctly."

"Not much to be made out of that," I commented.

"No, but I feel certain that he meant something by the message,
something of importance."

"To whom?"

"How can anyone say? Will you write the figures down, so that there can
be no possibility of my forgetting."

I pulled out my note-book, and inscribed the unintelligible formula:
1-4-2-4-8. The resolution of the problem naturally intrigued me, and the
obvious first line of approach was the application of the old Russian
"knock" system in which each letter is identified with its numerical
position in the alphabetical sequence. I explained the theory to Betty,
and she was all eagerness for me to try it out. It took but a moment or
two to replace the numbers by their corresponding letters; for example,
the figure 1 stands for A, the first letter of the alphabet, and the
figure 4 represents the fourth letter or D. The complete series read:
A-D-B-D-H.

"Not even a vowel to juggle with," I said ruefully. "Blinder than ever,
I should say."

"But it does mean something," returned Betty stoutly. "And some day we
shall know."



Chapter X

_I Receive an Ultimatum_


Fielding Thaneford was buried three days later in S. Saviour's
churchyard. As relatives, even in remote degree, we were bound to attend
the services, and also to be present at the interment. For Betty it was
an ordeal, the reopening of a half-closed wound, and I could feel her
hand tremble as it lay in the crook of my arm, the grave yawning at our
feet. In my capacity as Hildebrand of the "Hundred" I was already her
official protector, and I was looking forward to the establishment of a
relationship infinitely nearer and dearer. Even now I think she sensed
what was in my mind and heart; but, after all these emotional upheavals,
there must be a decent interval for a new adjustment to the facts of
life--compensation, as the mathematical formula has it. The mutual
understanding had already been established, and the flower of our future
happiness would be all the lovelier for that we did not seek to force
its bourgeoning.

As the funeral party withdrew from the burial enclosure, John Thaneford
presented himself.

"I shall be going away Saturday," he began, fixing his eyes exclusively
on Betty's face.

"Do you mean for a visit?" she inquired.

"I don't quite know," he evaded. "But I dare say the 'Court' will be
shut up indefinitely."

"I am sorry for that."

"Are you going to be at home within an hour or so? There is something I
have to say to you. Now then, I won't be put off by made-up excuses," he
added, seeing that Betty hesitated.

"Come any time after five," she answered. He stood aside, and we passed
on.

After luncheon I went down to the lower reach of the Whippany where we
were preparing to install a small electric power and storage plant.
Presently, I saw a familiar figure walking over from the house--Chalmers
Warriner.

"Just got back from New York last night," he explained, "and thought I'd
run over and see you all. So the old man died?"

We talked generally on the events of the last fortnight; then I went
more particularly into the circumstances attendant upon Fielding
Thaneford's last hours, and Warriner listened attentively. The series of
numbers which Betty had obtained from the dying man plainly appealed to
his imagination, but he agreed with me that neither the numbers
themselves nor their alphabetical equivalents offered any intelligible
clue. "Of course he wanted to put over some message," he mused, "and he
trusted to Betty's intuition to make things plain."

       *       *       *       *       *

Betty, instead of Miss Graeme! Really, I hadn't been aware that Warriner
was on so intimate a footing at the "Hundred." But of course it was all
right; Warriner was older, by at least ten years, than either Betty or
myself, and he probably looked on himself as a sort of elder brother to
the entire household. I tried to recall if Betty was accustomed to call
him by his Christian name. But I could not remember ... it was none of
my business ... what difference anyway could it make.

Unconsciously I had yielded to the slight pressure of Warriner's hand
upon my arm. He led me away from the noisy gang of negroes working on
the projected dam and power-house; presently we were within sight of
one of the farm barns. The great double doors were open, but the
distance was full half a mile, and nothing within the structure was
discernible.

Warriner unwrapped the slender parcel that he was carrying, and produced
what looked very much like an old-fashioned spy glass, only of most
unusual length. "And that's just what it is," he said, divining my
thought. "Except that I have replaced the object glass with the lens I
picked up the other day at Thaneford's crow's-nest on Sugar Loaf."

"Go on."

"I told you that there seemed to be some extraordinary optical
properties in that piece of glass. I tried it out in my own laboratory,
and got certain results. Then, when I was in Baltimore, I had Carter of
Johns Hopkins check me up with his more complete apparatus. Some rather
astonishing conclusions."

"How so?"

"Well, you've probably heard of the telephoto lens--a sort of long
distance microscope, to use very colloquial language. I have seen
telephoto pictures of the Matterhorn, taken five or six miles away, in
which you could make out the actual geologic texture of the rocks.

"But, of course, there must be plenty of light on the object to get
clear definition. On the same principle, one can stand inside a room and
see everything outdoors with perfect distinctness. It's a very different
thing, trying to look into a room from without. The visibility is low,
as they say, and you don't get much."

"Yes, I understand that."

"Again there are optical lenses specially designed to make the most of
poor illumination. A familiar example is the sailor's night-glass.

"You guess what I'm coming to. This particular lens has the telephoto
range, and, at the same time, it works with the minimum of illumination.
Never saw anything like it before, and it would be worth a fortune in
the binocular field."

"Show me."

Chalmers Warriner rested the long glass on a fence post, ranged it on
the open door of the barn nearly three thousand yards away, and did some
preliminary focussing and other adjustments. He took a look, and then
invited me to do the same.

It was truly marvellous! It seemed as though I were standing on the very
threshold of the barn and looking inside. I recognized Adam Lake, the
field foreman, working on the engine of a small tractor. In the
background, Zack was oiling a set of harness. The details were
astoundingly distinct.

"It's evident now," continued Warriner, "that the iron trough at
Thaneford's observation point was intended to support a telescope such
as this. The instrument is too long to hold steadily in the hand, and it
had to be ranged precisely on the two-foot opening of the pridella. It
was therefore possible to sit comfortably concealed on Sugar Loaf, and
keep accurate tab on whatever was passing in Francis Graeme's library;
provided, of course, that one of the pridellas was open. Even this
wonderful lens could not penetrate stained glass. It isn't an X-ray
apparatus."

"Granting all your premises--why?"

"And that's just what I would like mightily to know," answered Warriner.
"But let's go back to the house; there's something else I want to show
you."

We went to the library, and, by way of refreshment after our long walk
in the sun, I told Effingham to make us some claret cup. Presently he
brought it in, and proceeded to fill a couple of long, Rhinewine glasses
with the beverage. The big cut-glass pitcher was heavily beaded with
cool moisture, and looked irresistibly inviting; the Eighteenth
Amendment was unanimously declared unconstitutional, and we drank and
drank again. So long as the cellar of "Hildebrand Hundred" continued to
function it was still worth while to acquire a thirst.

Warriner took a small object from a cardboard box, and passed it over to
me. "Remember that?" he asked.

"I suppose it's the same moth cocoon which we found plastered on the
postern-door----"

"And directly on the line between door and casing," interjected
Warriner. "Being proof positive that the door could not have been opened
for a period considerably antecedent to Graeme's death."

"I presume so."

"Well, I took that cocoon home, and made some tests. It had been
fastened on the door by means of mucilage--common, ordinary mucilage."

I stared at Warriner without speaking. This was indeed confounding.

"To air some of my recently acquired entomological knowledge, I may tell
you that the moth caterpillar generally goes underground to enter the
pupa stage," continued Warriner. "If the transformation does take place
at the surface the cocoon is sometimes found under a dead leaf or a
fallen branch; still more rarely beneath the bark of a tree. It is
virtually impossible that it should have been fixed naturally in such an
exposed position as the crack of a door.

"Even more significant is the fact that this cocoon is of a species not
indigenous to Maryland; in fact, it doesn't belong to this country at
all. Come over here," and he led me to the corner in which stood the
glass cases containing Richard Hildebrand's famous collection of the
_lepidoptera_. Warriner pointed out a magnificent specimen of the Great
Peacock moth of Europe, an entomological aristocrat described by the
French naturalist, J. H. Fabre, in one of his fascinating essays. Now
all the other specimens of the adult butterfly or moth were accompanied
by their respective cocoons. But below the Great Peacock was a vacant
space. Warriner lifted the lid of the case, and extended his hand for
the cocoon that I still held. He fixed it in the empty place. "Certainly
it looks as though it belonged there," he said tersely.

Effingham came in to take away the tray of pitcher and glasses. "Come
here, boy," said Warriner with the confident command of the born and
bred Southerner, and Effingham was prompt to obey.

"You remember the day Marse Francis died?"

"Yassah."

"When Miss Eunice sent you up stairs to get the ammonia was she wearing
any kind of a wrap?"

"Nossah. Dere was a lil' brack shawl er-hangin' on 'er arm; nuffin
else."

Warriner glanced at me. "Keep that in mind," he said quietly. He turned
again to Effingham. "Did she ask you for anything?" he continued.

"Nossah."

"I believe you're lying to me. Just think it over ... carefully now."
With the greatest deliberation Warriner took some strands of coarse
green and yellow worsted from his pocket, and proceeded to tie them into
an intricate-appearing knot. Effingham watched him with concentrated and
fascinated attention. .

"Well?" said Warriner sharply, and leaned forward with the variegated
knot depending from his forefinger. Effingham shivered, and backed away.

"I do 'member one lil' thing," stammered the old man. "Mis' Eunice, she
done tole me to-gib 'er----"

"The master-key?"

"Yassah, dat's ezackly what she done said. She 'splained the doctah
might want to go in the liburry befo' I come back."

"Then you did give it to Miss Eunice?"

"She grabbed it fum me, right outen my han', and tole me to git erlong.
An' dat's de whole Gawd's truf, Marse Chalmers."

"All right," nodded Warriner, and Effingham retired with every
indication that he was glad to get away.

"Anything is voodoo to one of the old-time darkies," smiled Warriner. "A
bit of colored ribbon and two crossed sticks is a good enough 'cunjer'
for almost any emergency."

"I recall your threat at the inquest about the postern-door," I
assented. "It brought home the bacon without delay. All the same, my
dear chap, you must admit that these revelations are most disturbing. I
don't know----"

"----what to think of Eunice Trevor." Warriner had interrupted to
finish out my sentence for me. "But let me sum up my conclusions to
date," he continued.

"Miss Trevor was on the library terrace around one o'clock. Presumably
she received a signal from the observation point on Sugar Loaf that
Francis Graeme was lying dead, and that she might safely enter the room,
and abstract the iron despatch-box which was supposed to contain the
will disinheriting John Thaneford. She hadn't the nerve to examine the
box in the dead man's presence, or she may have been alarmed by some
interruption from without--say Effingham's summons to luncheon. The
thought occurred to her of blinding her own trail, and so she snatched a
cocoon at random from the case of mounted specimens, daubed it with
library gum, and stuck it on the crack of the postern-door, of course
from the outside, as she was making her escape by the secret entrance.
Naturally she was not aware that, in her haste, she had dropped one of
her roses in the passageway.

"In the seclusion of her room she opened and thoroughly searched the
box, but found only the original will in which John Thaneford had been
named the residuary legatee. The natural explanation would be that
Francis Graeme had been prevented from carrying out his intention of
making you his heir, and that no later instrument was in existence. In
her devotion to John Thaneford's interests, it would now become
necessary for her to get the despatch-box back in the library before the
tragedy should be discovered and the room carefully examined. She found
her opportunity when Doctor Marcy went to meet Betty, leaving Effingham
on guard at the library door. You remember the darky telling us that she
had a shawl on her arm, an obvious means of concealing such an object as
the despatch-box. Then she took the master-key from him----"

"Why did she wait so long?" I interrupted. "She might never have had
that chance."

"Well, at the first opening of the library door she may have been too
unnerved to risk it. You recall that she fainted at the moment when
Marcus, the house-boy, made the discovery of the body.

"In the second place the box is rather bulky, and she would have found
great difficulty in placing it in position, under the alert and curious
eyes of the servants. Finally, she may have had some thought of
re-entering the room by means of the postern-door, which still remained
unlocked."

"A desperate _dernier ressort_," I observed. "Somebody would have
certainly seen her."

"Granted. Anyway Betty's arrival did give her a chance, and she was
quick to take advantage of it.

"Well, that's my case," concluded Warriner. "How does it strike you?"

"It has its weak points."

"Agreed."

"Who unlocked the library door when Doctor Marcy returned with my Cousin
Betty?"

"Marcy says it was Effingham. Miss Trevor would want to get the
master-key out of her possession the instant that she had accomplished
her purpose of replacing the despatch-box. And somehow she managed it,
even though Betty and the doctor arrived on the scene a trifle in
advance of Effingham's return with the ammonia."

"Very well; we'll drop that issue for the present. Assuming that you
have fairly reconstructed the action connected with the abstraction of
the despatch-box and its return to the room, there still remains the
question of how Francis Graeme came to his death. Was it the accident of
his falling and striking his head on that same iron box, or was he
attacked from behind? Remember that the postern-door was unlocked all
the time."

"I don't think it was Eunice Trevor who killed him," returned Warriner.
"Of course, it is conceivable that she entered by the secret way, struck
Graeme down, and escaped with the despatch-box; everything else
following as before. But, in the first place, she is a woman, and below
the normal feminine in the matter of physique. An assault of this
nature is no child's play, even granting the element of complete
surprise. Secondly, it is pretty clear that she entered the library in
obedience to a signal from John Thaneford. He had been watching the
progress of events through his wonderful telephoto lens, and the waving
of a handkerchief told her that the way was open."

"How about Thaneford himself?"

"Assuming that it was a murder, I still see no ground for trying to fix
the guilt on him. He could hardly have approached the library that
morning without being seen by Zack and Zeb."

"He might have had an accomplice, or rather a tool. But I suppose that
hypothesis is open to the same objection--the continued presence of the
two men who were mowing the lawn?"

"Yes and no," returned Warriner thoughtfully. "A white man certainly
would be noticed. But there are always negroes coming and going about
our Southern houses, and Zeb and Zack would have paid no attention to
anyone of their own color. Moreover, there are plenty of bad niggers
capable of cutting your throat for a couple of dollars."

"But think of the risk involved in using such an instrument!" I
exclaimed. "And somehow I can't quite believe it of John Thaneford,
heartily as I dislike him. I can understand his committing this alleged
crime with his own hand, but I don't see him hiring a black thug to act
for him."

"Nor I," agreed Warriner. "It isn't in the picture."

"And so we come back to the verdict of the coroner's jury: Dead by the
visitation of God. Only it's curious----"

"Yes?"

"----that John Thaneford should have had such definite foreknowledge
that the visitation in question was impending. Remember the look-out on
Sugar Loaf and the handkerchief marked with his initials."

"It's a blind alley right enough," assented Warriner. He picked up the
spy glass with which he had been experimenting, and looked it over with
minute attention. "Did you ever hear," he asked, "that in his younger
days Fielding Thaneford was considered to be an expert in the science of
optics? He made a number of improvements in lenses, and enjoyed a
reputation quite analogous to that of John Brashear, of Pittsburg. I
dare say he constructed this very lens."

"But on the twenty-first of June, this year of grace, the old man was
physically helpless. He couldn't have walked ten feet without
assistance."

"I'm not trying to bring him into it," replied Warriner calmly. "I
merely state another fact that should be borne in mind."

       *       *       *       *       *

The noise of wheels on the gravelled driveway announced the arrival of a
visitor, and presently I recognized John Thaneford's voice inquiring for
Betty. It annoyed me that he should come to the house, but Betty had
given him the appointment, and I had no shadow of an excuse for
interfering. After fidgetting around for some ten minutes I begged
Warriner to make himself at home, and left the house for the ostensible
purpose of giving some directions to the workmen who were relaying a
brick wall leading to the glass-houses. But I kept an eye on the front
door, and when, a quarter of an hour later, John Thaneford finally made
his appearance, I managed to meet him on the portico. One glance at his
dark face satisfied me as to the nature of the answer he had received
from Betty. That was all I wanted to know, and I would have passed him
with a bare word and nod. But he would not have it so.

"I have just one thing to say to you, Cousin Hugh," he began.

Cousin Hugh again! It was astonishing what concentrated insolence this
rural bully contrived to put into this ostensibly friendly salutation.
But no matter; I did not intend to have any brawling on my own doorstep,
and I determined to take no notice of covert provocation.

"And it's this," he continued. "The girl or the 'Hundred'--you can
choose between them. But both you shan't have."

He waited for me to reply, but I only stood there and looked at him.

"Which is it to be?" he asked, his thick, black eyebrows narrowing to a
V-point.

"I've nothing to say to you," I answered.

"Very good. Only remember that I played fair, and gave you your choice.
Good evening, Cousin Hugh, and damn you for a white-livered Yank that I
wouldn't feed to my hawgs." He raised his hand as though half inclined
to strike me; then he changed his mind and dropped it.

"Please don't hesitate on my account," I observed. "I can take whatever
you may be able to give." Whereupon he favored me with another scowl,
and departed.

"That puts him out of the running," I reflected with no small
satisfaction. But my complacency was short-lived. Chalmers Warriner
stayed to dinner, and my worst fears were confirmed; Betty did call him
by his Christian name, and the two were evidently on the very best of
terms. I dare say I must have sulked a little, for after Warriner had
driven back to Calverton Betty became appallingly distant and reserved.
I had to make my peace, and I did so with all humbleness. I fancied that
there was a subdued glint of amusement in Betty's eye as I stumbled
through some banal excuses about a splitting headache--I am nothing if
not original. But she gave me absolution very generously, and we both
agreed that Warriner was one of the best fellows on earth.

"It's mostly on account of the reputation of the 'Hundred' for
hospitality," added Betty. "You know, we think a lot of that down here,
and you are now the head of the family. Of course you understand; and
so, good night, Cousin Hugh."

Cousin Hugh again! But with a difference; all the difference.

       *       *       *       *       *

I had been sitting alone in the library after the retirement of the
ladies. It struck eleven o'clock, late hours for country mice, and I
rose to go to my room. Just then the telephone bell rang, and I found
Warriner on the wire. "I have this moment learned," he began, "that a
negro named Dave Campion was arrested late this evening, charged with
the murder of Francis Graeme. You had better come to Calverton the first
thing in the morning."



Chapter XI

_The Rider of the Black Horse_


Given the exigency, and through what tortuous and secret channels will
not the human mind seek to communicate with its kind! Call it telepathy
or what not, the phenomenon itself is a well established fact; one that
we accept without attempting to explain it.

Not a syllable of Warriner's message had crossed my lips, and yet by
breakfast time the bruit of it was in the very air; the negroes were
collecting here and there in little whispering groups; I overheard
Eunice Trevor telephoning to Calverton for a confirmation of the report;
finally, Betty herself asked me what it all meant. I had just finished
telling her the bare facts when Warriner's car came swiftly up the
drive; he alighted and we went into the library.

"No use in your going over until three o'clock," he began. "At least
that is the time set by the magistrate for the hearing, and it will take
several hours to get the material witnesses together. I believe that
summonses have been served on some of your people, including Marcus, the
house-boy, and Zack and Zeb."

"Who is the man, and what were the circumstances of his arrest?" I
asked.

"His name, as I told you last night, is Dave Campion."

"Oh, I know him," put in Betty. "He is a sort of peddler; at least he
travels around with a miscellaneous lot of perfumes and hair ribbons for
the women, and cheap safety razors for the men."

"Ostensibly so," nodded Warriner, "but his real business is
bootlegging."

"You mean whiskey?"

"Yes, and worse. You have heard of 'coke'?"

"Cocaine powder?"

"Yes."

"'Happy dust' the darkies call it," added Betty. "Last month father
forbade Campion to ever come on the place again."

Warriner looked interested. "I suppose Campion resented the exclusion,"
he remarked. But on this point Betty could say nothing; Mr. Graeme had
merely told her that the negro peddler had been warned off the "Hundred"
property.

"He is a smart nigger," explained Warriner. "And so light in color that
you would hardly suspect the dash of the tar brush, as the English say.
He was educated at Hampton-Sidney, and talks just like a white
man--rather proud of it, too--but worthless in every way, and a menace
to the community."

"Education then isn't any guarantee of morality among the negroes," I
observed.

"Why should it be any more than with our own class?" retorted Warriner.
"No, Campion is a bad nigger, and even Hampton-Sidney couldn't make him
over."

"But about the arrest?" I urged.

"The fellow was drunk last night, and openly displayed a handsome
matchbox; gold with a turquoise set in the spring knob. Several persons
recognized it as belonging to Mr. Francis Graeme; in fact, it bore his
initials. The police were informed, and the arrest followed."

"No explanations were made, I suppose."

"I told you he was a smart nigger. Not a word could they get out of him,
beyond a general denial of any wrongdoing."

"Dave Campion was at the 'Hundred' the day my father died," said Betty.
"I met him as I was riding down the Green Drive on my way to
'Powersthorp.' I dare say he took the drive in preference to the
regular carriage road so as to avoid observation."

"About what time of the day was that?" asked Warriner.

"Close to one o'clock. I was lunching with Hilda Powers, and had been
late in starting."

"That's an important point," mused Warriner.

"Do you think I ought to go to the hearing and testify?" continued
Betty, evidently troubled.

"Not the least in the world," said Warriner promptly. "Sheriff Greenough
may be countrified, but he can see through a grindstone with a hole in
it as quickly as the next man. Undoubtedly he knows all about Campion's
visit to the 'Hundred' that morning, and has his witnesses to prove it."

Warriner had business farther on, and presently he left us with the
understanding that he would be at the magistrate's court at three
o'clock. I was rather surprised to hear Betty express a wish to
accompany me to Calverton. "Not to the hearing," she explained; "I don't
think I could stand that. But I have some shopping to do, and then I'll
go to Mary Crandall's for a cup of tea. You can pick me up there."

I felt bound in courtesy to invite Miss Trevor to make one of the
party. But she refused, with a curtness that was almost rude. "I shan't
waste any time running up blind alleys," she said sharply. "There won't
be a shred of direct evidence against Campion, and the Court will be
obliged to discharge him."

"But the matchbox," I persisted. "Surely he will have to explain very
convincingly how it came to be in his possession."

"Well, you might ask Judge Hendricks why he doesn't read the papers once
in a while," replied Miss Trevor, her black eyes snapping and her thin
upper lip curling disdainfully. Evidently it was not for me to argue the
case any further, and, personally, I was only too pleased that I should
now have Betty to myself on the trip to Calverton and back.

Shortly after luncheon we started, Betty driving her own pony pair to a
trim basket-phaeton. To think of going anywhere nowadays in other form
of conveyance than the gas-wagon! But I fully appreciated the
distinction of an equipage really well turned out, and then I was
sitting at Betty Graeme's side; yes, I found it all very pleasant.

Arrived at Calverton I dropped Betty at White and Callender's, put up
the team at a livery stable, and found my way to Justice Hendricks'
chambers. Warriner joined me a few minutes later, and presently my
former acquaintance, Sheriff Greenough, brought in the prisoner and the
hearing began.

Dave Campion was a rather good-looking mulatto, keen-eyed, and
apparently quite able to take care of his own interests. On being
questioned by the judge, he made no secret of his having been at the
"Hundred" the morning of June the twenty-first.

"Had you not been warned by Mr. Francis Graeme not to trespass upon his
property?" asked Judge Hendricks.

"Yes, sir."

"Why did you disregard that injunction?"

"I went to the 'Hundred' on business."

"What sort of business?"

"Private, sir. With Mr. Graeme himself."

"Did you see him?"

"No, sir. Marcus, the house-boy, told me that he was at work in the
library, and had left orders not to be disturbed."

"Then you were in the house?"

"Yes, sir. I went to the kitchen door, and Marcus took me to the
butler's pantry."

"Where was Effingham?"

"At work in the dining room. I didn't see him at all."

"How long were you in the house?"

"About twenty minutes, I should say, sir. It was just quarter after one
o'clock when I went away."

"What did you do then?"

"I went to the south lawn, and saw Zack Cameron."

"He bought some article, or articles, from you?"

"Yes, sir."

"How did Mr. Graeme's matchbox come into your possession?"

"I found it in the road nearly opposite S. Saviour's Church?"

"When?"

"About two weeks ago, sir."

"And you came to the 'Hundred' intending to return it to Mr. Graeme?"

"Yes, sir."

"That's all for the present. No; wait a moment. What particular article
did you sell to Zack Cameron?"

Campion hesitated for a barely perceptible interval; then he answered
steadily: "A pint of whiskey, sir."

"You knew that you were breaking the law?"

"Yes, sir."

On the whole Campion's testimony had been in his favor. His answers had
been clear and apparently ingenuous, and his frank admission of the
minor offence of illicit liquor selling added weight to his other
statements.

Zack Cameron, on being closely interrogated, owned that he had not been
entirely truthful about the presence of strangers at the "Hundred" on
the morning in question. He admitted that the peddler, Dave Campion, had
appeared on the south lawn a few minutes after he and Zeb has started on
their post-meridian stint.

"What did you buy of him?"

Zack rolled his eyes, and looked excessively uncomfortable.

"Campion says it was a pint of whiskey. Is that true?"

"Yassah, dat am puffeckly c'rect. You see, Boss, I had a toofache----"

"Stand down," ordered the magistrate, and Marcus was called.

The house-boy corroborated in general the statements made by Campion. He
had admitted the peddler at the back entrance, and had taken him to the
butler's pantry. Campion had asked to see Mr. Graeme, and had been told
that he was engaged.

"Were you with Campion all the time he was in the house?" asked Judge
Hendricks.

"Yassah, 'cept when Mr. Effingham done call me into the dining room to
help him turn ober the rug."

"Five minutes perhaps?"

But Marcus could not be positive about the elapsed period. He could only
assert that when he returned to the pantry Campion had gone; presumably
he had let himself out.

"But there is a door from the pantry into the short passage that leads
to the library, isn't there?"

"Yassah."

"How about Effingham's master-key; did you ever hear of it?"

Marcus grinned all over with the irresistible comedy of his race.
"Eberybody know all about 'um," he chuckled throatily. "Mr. Effingham
hid 'um behind clock like old dog wif bone. Yah! yah!"

"Then it was no particular secret, the master-key and its hiding place?"

"Nossah."

"That will do. Let's have the prisoner again."

Campion remained perfectly cool and self-possessed. He readily agreed
that he had been left alone in the pantry for a period of five minutes;
it might even have been longer. He admitted that he had gone to the
library door, and had knocked two or three times.

"That may have been what disturbed Eunice Trevor," whispered Warriner in
my ear. "Just at that moment she must have been in the room with the
despatch-box in her hand."

"You got no reply to your knock?" continued Judge Hendricks.

"No, sir."

"Did you know of the master-key?"

"Yes, sir. Marcus showed me its hiding place behind the clock, and we
had been laughing at old Effingham's simplicity."

"Then it didn't occur to you that you might use the master-key?"

"Well, I didn't fancy the idea of actually intruding upon Mr. Graeme.
You remember, sir, that he had forbidden me to come on the place."

"Yet you summoned enough courage to knock?"

"That was a little different, sir, from walking in on him unannounced.
Besides, I really did wish to see him."

"For what purpose?"

It was the crucial question, and we all craned our necks in our
eagerness to catch the reply. But Campion's voice was without a tremor.

"To restore the matchbox and claim the twenty dollars reward," he
answered.

"What proof can you give that the article in question was lost and a
reward offered for its return?"

The mulatto drew a folded newspaper from his pocket, and handed it to
Judge Hendricks. It was a copy of the _King William County Clarion_, and
a paragraph in the advertising columns was heavily blue-pencilled. It
was to the effect that a gold and turquoise-jewelled matchbox, bearing
the initials F. H. G., had been lost on the road between Calverton and
Lynn. A reward of twenty dollars was offered for its return to Mr.
Graeme of "Hildebrand Hundred."

"The date of this copy of the Clarion," said Judge Hendricks, frowning
portentously, "is June 10, 1919. In the absence of any further evidence
I direct the discharge of the prisoner."

       *       *       *       *       *

"There still remain some interesting possibilities," said Warriner to
me, as we walked down the street. "On one side of the locked door that
black shadow of a woman, ready to do anything to save her lover's
fortune; on the other, that yellow-faced scoundrel, eager for plunder,
fingering the master-key, and trying to muster up enough courage to use
it. And between them, a dead man. Or was he dead at that particular
moment? Perhaps the two of them, working together, might have brought
the thing about."

"But Campion could hardly have committed the murder, returned the
master-key to its position behind the clock, and left the house, by the
kitchen entrance, in the short space of five minutes," I objected.

"Well, how is this for an hypothesis?" retorted Warriner. "Campion is
the tool employed by John Thaneford to do the dirty work. He is
instructed to be at the library door at a few minutes past one.
Thaneford, with his telephoto lens, sees that Graeme is dozing in his
chair. He signals to Eunice, who enters by the postern-door and admits
the waiting Campion, the master-key not being used at all. The crime
accomplished, both escape by the secret door, leaving the cocoon gummed
in place to destroy the clue."

"Rather fortuitous, don't you think? The whole train of circumstances
goes off the track in case Mr. Graeme doesn't fall asleep at just the
right moment."

"Of course," agreed Warriner. "And I was beginning to fancy myself as an
amateur sleuth," he added a trifle ruefully.

"Anyway you have the magnifying telephoto lens and the purloined cocoon
to your credit, my dear Chalmers. As for the rest of it, we may as well
fall back on our coroner's verdict: Dead by the visitation of God. Will
you come back to dinner this evening?"

But Warriner declined, pleading the pressure of his laboratory work. I
picked up Betty at the Crandall's, and we drove back slowly to the
"Hundred."

It was nearing sunset as we rolled up the drive under the arching shadow
of the lindens. Suddenly Betty started, and grasped my arm. Directly
opposite rose the massive bulk of the Sugar Loaf. In an open space a
portion of the woodland road was visible, where it wound around the
upper escarpment of the dome; and there, outlined against the level rays
of the sinking sun, stood motionless a great black horse. The powerful
figure of the rider was readily recognizable--John Thaneford.

"He told me that he was going away to-day," whispered Betty, as though
fearful of being overheard. "For an indefinite period," she added.

"Forever, I hope," I muttered under my breath.

The silhouette of horse and rider stood out stark, almost colossal,
against the crimsoning skyline. But the black shadow of Sugar Loaf was
lengthening swiftly over the level meadows that margined the little
river Whippany; the advancing darkness seemed to be sucking out, in its
chill embrace, all the warmth and brightness of the summer day. Betty
shivered, touched up the horses and we speeded on. But so long as I
could see the great black horseman remained motionless, watchful,
eternally menacing.



Chapter XII

_Safe Find, Safe Bind_


Let me now pass over some six months concerning which there are no
events of particular moment to be recorded--I mean in connection with
the tragedy.

Late in December Betty and I were married very quietly-at S. Saviour's
Church, Bob Mercer coming down to assist in the ceremony. During the
summer and autumn I had been absent almost continuously in Philadelphia,
engaged in winding up the trusteeship which had formed the bulk of my
professional work. Of course, I had already come to a full understanding
with my dear girl, and it was quite natural that she should continue to
live on at the "Hundred," the only home that she had ever known. The
presence of Mrs. Anthony preserved the convenances; and, after long
cogitation, I had formally requested Eunice Trevor to stay on, in her
old capacity of paid companion to Betty. Perhaps it was an unwise
decision, but let me briefly recapitulate the influencing
circumstances. Here they are:

Eunice was Betty's first cousin, and the two girls had been brought up
together, almost from infancy. Moreover, they were friendly, if not
precisely intimate. Eunice was absolutely penniless, and I could not
send her away, even with provision for her financial future, without a
full explanation to Betty. Now whatever my surmises and suspicions there
was no direct evidence that Francis Graeme's death had been due to
violence; he was resting quietly in S. Saviour's churchyard, and Betty's
sorrow ought not to be reawakened except for grave cause. Whatever part
Eunice Trevor had taken in the tragedy--always assuming that there had
been a tragedy--must have been a consequent of her unfortunate
entanglement with John Thaneford; and God knows she had been punished
for her fault through the irremediable wound to her affections. I could
not believe, moreover, that she had been an active participant in any
crime, overt or covert. Circumstances might have made her a confidante,
even a tool, but she had not been an actual accessory to Francis
Graeme's death, either before or after the event. So much by way of
simple justice to the girl.

In the second place, the chapter of incidents seemed to have closed with
the acquittal of Dave Campion and the disappearance of John Thaneford.
No word of any kind had come from the latter, and his whereabouts
remained entirely unknown; it was a fair presumption that he never would
reappear to trouble us. His financial affairs were hopelessly involved,
and "Thane Court" itself was to be sold at public auction in February in
order to satisfy the demands of the creditors.

And finally, while the young woman's conduct had been indiscreet, if not
absolutely disloyal, her lesson had been an exceedingly bitter one, and
it was charitable to assume that it had been taken to heart. After my
marriage to Betty in December it would be time enough to consider making
other arrangements. Yes, my decision was taken, and now it was necessary
to communicate it to Eunice herself.

Miss Trevor listened to my proposal in stony silence, but in the first
flush of my new happiness I could easily overlook even a direct
ungraciousness. Mrs. Anthony was old and a semi-invalid; Betty would
have her cousin's companionship during my long continued absence North,
and that was enough. The upshot of our conference was that Miss Trevor
agreed to stay on at the "Hundred." She admitted that the arrangement
would be convenient, as the school position for which she had applied
would not be available until the following September.

"Then it is settled," I concluded, with as much cordiality as I could
put into my voice. "I'm trusting Betty in your hands; you'll take good
care of her."

"Yes, Mr. Hildebrand, I can certainly promise to do that," she began;
then she broke off and looked away as though regretting that she had
said even that much.

"That's all I want," I said, "and I'm glad we understand each other." I
made a half motion to offer my hand, but she did not appear to notice
the gesture, and we parted. Again I felt a twinge of disquietude, but
the affair had been decided, and it was too late to reopen the
discussion. A strange creature was Eunice Trevor, but I believe even now
that she did love Betty Graeme. If only she had never looked into John
Thaneford's baleful black eyes!

As I have said before, my marriage to Betty took place in the last part
of December. We went to Aiken for the honeymoon, intending to be back at
the "Hundred" for the Christmas holidays. But we had been gone only
four days when we were recalled by Mrs. Anthony's fatal attack of
pneumonia. She died on December the twenty-third, and the holly wreaths
and mistletoe remained unhung for our first Christmas in the old
homestead, while the festivities of the season had to be confined to the
servants' hall and the quarters. But we had Chalmers Warriner and Doctor
Marcy in for dinner, and in my heart of hearts I was not sorry that the
big, county family functions had to be postponed indefinitely. I am a
quiet person, and I best enjoy my happiness when there is no one to look
on. A selfish attitude perhaps, but I try to pay my debts to humanity in
other ways. Generally Betty sees to it that I do so.

In February "Thane Court" was sold at auction, and I bought it in. The
property marched with that of the "Hundred," and being so well rid of
one objectionable neighbor I had no mind to run any chances. Moreover,
the land was of excellent quality, impoverished, it is true, by want of
care and scientific cropping, but still capable of revival under
reasonable management. I had bid it in for a price far under its real
value, and I could easily get a tenant in case I concluded not to farm
it myself. The house was old and in poor condition, and I determined to
pull it down in the spring.

But I was spared the trouble, for one windy night in March I was
awakened by the light pressure of Betty's hand on my shoulder. "There is
a big fire over in the west," she said excitedly, "and I think it must
be 'Thane Court.'"

I scrambled into some clothes, summoned all the men within reach, and
made the best of my way to the scene of the conflagration, rather more
than a mile distant.

Betty was right. "Thane Court" was on fire, and it was evident, at a
glance, that the house was doomed. Buckets and handpumps were useless,
and long before the fire apparatus from Calverton could cover the ten
miles of rutted, frozen roads the edifice had been reduced to a smoking
ruin.

It was three or four days later before we could venture to explore the
smouldering debris. The furniture and other interior fittings were old
and of no great value; all, of course, had been totally destroyed. The
only thing left intact was a small safe, which I was informed, had stood
in the room used by the elder Thaneford as an office. Now John Thaneford
had not appeared at the sale, nor had he taken any steps to protect what
interests he still retained in the estate. Everything in and about
"Thane Court" had become my legal property, and so I had no hesitation
in ordering the safe taken over to the "Hundred," it being my intention
to open it and examine the contents. Of course any personal property
would belong to John Thaneford, and I was quite sure of my own good
faith in the matter. It might be impossible to locate the missing owner
for some time to come, but we could cross that bridge when we came to
it.

The safe was of comparatively modern workmanship, and seemed to have
suffered no damage from its ordeal by fire. It was equipped with the
usual numbered dial lock, and, naturally, I did not possess the
combination. I could have sent for a safe expert from Baltimore, but the
expense would have been considerable. Or mechanics from Calverton could
have forced an opening by means of the oxygen flame, but so violent a
procedure would have destroyed the safe itself, and I was not quite
certain that I had the right to take such drastic action. True, John
Thaneford had abandoned his property, and everything had been sold
without reserve; nevertheless, I wanted to be sure of my ground before
going further.

The safe had been thoroughly cleansed, and now stood temporarily under
the principal staircase. I never passed it without an inquiring glance;
somehow Betty and I could not resist the temptation of speculating about
it; we were as curious as children, ever intent upon discovering what
secrets it might hold. But how to find the key to the mystery?

And then one evening Betty had a brilliant idea. "Do you remember," she
asked, "a series of numbers that I got from Mr. Thaneford the day he
died?"

"Of course." I pulled out my note-book, and read the formula aloud:
"1-4-2-4-8."

"He certainly wanted to tell me something," persisted Betty. "Why
shouldn't it have been the very combination we are looking for?"

"Easy enough to find out," I answered. I went over to the safe, knelt
down and took hold of the knob. Betty stood at my elbow, the note-book
in her hand. "Ready?" she asked. "The numbers are: 1-4-2-4-8."

I turned the knob, counting the clicks as they passed. The door yielded
and swung open.

Not much of a find after all--nothing but a leather-bound book
resembling a diary in appearance. One of the covers had been slightly
scorched by the intense heat, but the MS. seemed to be in excellent
condition. I opened the book, scanned two or three lines, and looked up
at Betty, who was leaning over my shoulder.

"Why it's just a jumble of letters!" she exclaimed in poignant
disappointment. "I can't read a word of it; what does it mean?"

"Undoubtedly written in cypher," I replied. We looked at one another and
laughed. Here indeed was an anti-climax.



Chapter XIII

_Le Chiffre Indéchiffrable_


During the world war I had been on duty in the intelligence department,
and I had taken much interest in the science of cryptography, although
not connected personally with the handling of cypher despatches. I could
therefore explain to Betty that cypher systems fall under four general
heads.

1. The giving to words, or groups of letters, a purely arbitrary
significance.

2. The use of mechanical transformers in the shape of a screen or grid.

3. The substitution of numbers or other symbols for the original
characters.

4. The transposition of letters according to a constant formula.

"Obviously," I began, "the example before our eyes--long lines of
letters without breaks or marks of punctuation--does not come under the
first heading. It contains no recognizable words, or phonetic groups,
which might correspond in the code book to actual sentences. For
example, in the ordinary commercial systems, the word _Barbarian_ may
mean: 'The wheat market is advancing.' But if I cable the word
_Civilisation_ I really intend to say: 'Australian wool crop is a
failure.' The principal value of the elaborate code system is in the
saving of cable tolls, a single word conveying the meaning of an entire
sentence. It is necessary, of course, that all of the correspondents
should possess individual copies of the code, and loss or theft of the
book discloses the whole secret. Do you understand?"

Betty thought she did, and seemed so interested that I was emboldened to
assume my best lecture manner.

"Under the second head we may consider the mechanical device known as
the grid, grille, or screen.

"The instrument in question consists of a plate, usually made of metal,
pierced by a number of holes of different sizes and irregularly spaced.
When the writer sets out to prepare his message he lays the grid on the
paper, and marks in the letters making up the words of his despatch
through the apertures. Then the screen is removed, and the blank spaces
are filled up with writing which has nothing to do with the real subject
matter, the process being repeated until the entire message has been
coded. The recipient is provided with a precisely similar grid. By
applying it to the communication he is then able to read, through the
holes, the text of the secret message. The ancient Romans used a
variation of this method, somewhat as follows. A long strip of paper was
wound spirally about a cylinder or cone; the writing was then done
parallel with the axis of the metal form. When unrolled, the
communication seemed to be made up of arbitrary signs really parts of
letters which were entirely unintelligible. The recipient, however, by
rewinding the strip on a precisely similar form, would be able to read
the message.

"Of course we may rule out the mechanical device. In this case we have a
long communication of several hundred words, and the grille would be
impracticable--too wasteful of space."

"That disposes of No. 2," said Betty hopefully. "What next?"

"In class 3 the coded message consists of numbers, or even of pure
symbols--stars and daggers or what not. The latter variation is
generally pure substitution, and may be called kindergarten cryptology.
No one but a rank amateur would employ such a system.

"In the numeral code each correspondent is supplied with a dictionary,
the same edition of course. Each word of the original message is
represented by a group of five numbers, two designating the location of
the required word on the page, and the remaining three denoting the
number of the page itself. The process, both of coding and of uncoding,
is very laborious, and hardly pays for the trouble involved. Another way
to use the two dictionaries is to interpret the words of the code
message by substituting other words removed a certain definite distance
up or down the column. Suppose it is agreed that 'fifteen down' shall be
the key, and that the despatch, as received, reads: _Bull Collier_. The
recipient takes his copy of the dictionary, looks up the word _Bull_,
and counts down fifteen, getting the word _Buy_. Similarly, _Collier_
gives him _Copper_, and the decoded message will mean: 'Buy copper.'
Finally, we may use a predetermined series of numbers as a key formula.
We then divide the message to be coded into the same number of letter
groups, and work out an intricate transposition, reversing the process
in order to decode."

"Rather makes your head ache," remarked Betty plaintively. "Besides,
this cypher doesn't use numbers at all."

"Right you are," I acquiesced, "and we are undoubtedly dealing with a
system of the fourth order in which the letters are transposed according
to a constant prearranged formula.

"Let us first consider the simple form; the regular substitution of one
letter of the alphabet for another. For example, X always takes the
place of E, while B invariably means T, and so on. Such cyphers are
easily read by the expert, who works on the principle that all the
letters of the English alphabet may be ranked on a numerical scale of
average frequency in use. The letter E heads the list; consequently, if
any particular symbol predominates in the message it must correspond to
that hard-worked vowel. Again, as _the_ is the commonest word group in
the language we are quickly able to identify what stands for T and H.
But this is quite too transparent a code for serious use."

"Then don't waste time over it," said my practical-minded wife. "Old Mr.
Thaneford was not a foolish person."

I took a long look at the incomprehensible jumble of letters.

"There are any number of formulae," I went on, "by means of which we may
effect a transposition of letters, the substitution being variable or
irregular. For instance, the 'Checkerboard,' invented by the Russian
nihilists, and similar devices, most of which depend for secrecy upon
single or double key-words. Perhaps the cleverest system in this group
is the cypher called by the French, 'Le Chiffre Indéchiffrable.'"

"'The Undecypherable Cypher,'" commented Betty. "Sounds rather
hopeless."

"Well, you can decide for yourself if there is any reasonable
possibility of unravelling it, unless you are lucky enough to stumble on
the key-word."

"Try me," she challenged.

"To begin with, you write down the twenty-six letters of the English
alphabet in a horizontal line, indenting it the space of a single
letter."

"Indenting?"

"You'll understand when you see the diagram I'm preparing."

"Oh, you're making a magic square!"

"Yes. Now you repeat the process twenty-five times, the only difference
being that all these other lines begin at the left-hand margin, each
with a different letter in their strict alphabetical order. Your
diagram will then look like this. For the present I am putting it in
skeleton form:"

    A B C D E F G.............W X Y
  A B C D E F G H.............X Y Z
  B C D E F G H I.............Y Z A
  C D E F G H I J.............Z A B
  D E F G H I J K.............A B C
  E F G H I J K L.............B C D
  F G H I J K L M.............C D E
  .................................
  .................................
  W X Y Z A B C D.............T U V
  X Y Z A B C D E.............U V W
  Y Z A B C D E F.............V W X

"Now choose a key-word, or preferably, a key-sentence. For simplicity's
sake, we'll take the short word: BEAD, and suppose we wish to send in
cypher the message: CAB FEED."

"Which is pure nonsense."

"Granted. I merely select two words at random which can be coded on my
incomplete square. If I had the whole diagram drawn out the message
could be anything you like."

"Go on," commanded Betty, her eyes snapping.

"First you write down your message; then above it you put the key-word,
repeated in whole or in part as many times as may be necessary, thus:"

  B E A  D B E A
  C A B  F E E D

"Turning to the diagram you find B, the first letter of the key-word, in
the top horizontal line; and C, the first letter of the word to be put
into code, in the left-hand vertical line. Now look for the letter at
the intersection of the vertical column headed by B and the horizontal
line which C begins. You will find it to be E. Set this down as the
first symbol of your cypher message, and obtain the other letters in a
similar manner. Your despatch will then read: E F C J G J E. As an
object lesson, place these letters under your original arrangement of
key-word and message, thus:"

  B E A  D B E A
  C A B  F E E D
  E F C  J G J E

"You see at a glance that the substitution is irregular and variant. For
example, the symbol E stands for both C and D. Again, the letter E in
the word F E E D is at one time represented by G and secondly by J."

"How do you translate the cypher?" asked Betty.

"Merely reverse the process. You write down the cypher message, and
above it as many letters of your key-word as may be needed, thus:"

  B E A  D B E A
  E F C  J G J E

"Now follow down the vertical column headed by B until you reach the
symbol letter E; then move your pointer over left to the end of that
horizontal line which will give you C, the first letter of the original
message. Understand?"

Betty tried her hand, and quickly caught the trick; really it was very
easy.

"One more point; it is better not to divide the cypher message into word
groups as the continuous string of letters looks more mystifying. There
is no difficulty in picking out the sense when decoding."

"Finally, you notice that the upper left-hand space in the diagram is
vacant; consequently you must not use the letter Z in either the
key-word or in the message to be coded. But this restriction is not of
any practical disadvantage, Z being a letter that is seldom used. It
will often appear, of course, in the cypher itself."

"Certainly it is all very simple," remarked Betty.

"But without the key-word where would you get off?"

"I don't see how anybody could possibly work it out; why the
complications are absolutely overwhelming."

"And you can make them still more intricate by merely using a longer
key-word, or indeed a whole sentence. For example: 'I love Betty
Hildebrand.'"

"Everybody knows that," retorted Betty. "Still I don't mind an
occasional restatement of the established fact. Please, Hugh! I spent
any amount of time in getting those ruffles starched just so."

Betty took the diagram and carefully tucked it away in a drawer of her
secretary. "Of course we can't be sure that old Mr. Thaneford really
used 'Le Chiffre Indéchiffrable,'" she said thoughtfully.

"Only a possibility," I agreed.

"And without the key-word or key-sentence we shall never be any wiser
than we are."

"Granted again."

"So there you are. Just the same, Hugh, I wish you would make me a
complete diagram; I'd like to experiment with it."

"I'll do it for you to-night. Here's your precious diary."

Betty kissed me and went upstairs. It took me the best part of an hour
to draw out the diagram in full; then I had to mount it on cardboard so
as to keep it in good condition for constant handling. For the benefit
of the curious-minded I reproduce it below:


LE CHIFFRE INDÉCHIFFRABLE

  -----------------------------------------------------
  | |A|B|C|D|E|F|G|H|I|J|K|L|M|N|O|P|Q|R|S|T|U|V|W|X|Y|
  -----------------------------------------------------
  |A|B|C|D|E|F|G|H|I|J|K|L|M|N|O|P|Q|R|S|T|U|V|W|X|Y|Z|
  -----------------------------------------------------
  |B|C|D|E|F|G|H|I|J|K|L|M|N|O|P|Q|R|S|T|U|V|W|X|Y|Z|A|
  -----------------------------------------------------
  |C|D|E|F|G|H|I|J|K|L|M|N|O|P|Q|R|S|T|U|V|W|X|Y|Z|A|B|
  -----------------------------------------------------
  |D|E|F|G|H|I|J|K|L|M|N|O|P|Q|R|S|T|U|V|W|X|Y|Z|A|B|C|
  -----------------------------------------------------
  |E|F|G|H|I|J|K|L|M|N|O|P|Q|R|S|T|U|V|W|X|Y|Z|A|B|C|D|
  -----------------------------------------------------
  |F|G|H|I|J|K|L|M|N|O|P|Q|R|S|T|U|V|W|X|Y|Z|A|B|C|D|E|
  -----------------------------------------------------
  |G|H|I|J|K|L|M|N|O|P|Q|R|S|T|U|V|W|X|Y|Z|A|B|C|D|E|F|
  -----------------------------------------------------
  |H|I|J|K|L|M|N|O|P|Q|R|S|T|U|V|W|X|Y|Z|A|B|C|D|E|F|G|
  -----------------------------------------------------
  |I|J|K|L|M|N|O|P|Q|R|S|T|U|V|W|X|Y|Z|A|B|C|D|E|F|G|H|
  -----------------------------------------------------
  |J|K|L|M|N|O|P|Q|R|S|T|U|V|W|X|Y|Z|A|B|C|D|E|F|G|H|I|
  -----------------------------------------------------
  |K|L|M|N|O|P|Q|R|S|T|U|V|W|X|Y|Z|A|B|C|D|E|F|G|H|I|J|
  -----------------------------------------------------
  |L|M|N|O|P|Q|R|S|T|U|V|W|X|Y|Z|A|B|C|D|E|F|G|H|I|J|K|
  -----------------------------------------------------
  |M|N|O|P|Q|R|S|T|U|V|W|X|Y|Z|A|B|C|D|E|F|G|H|I|J|K|L|
  -----------------------------------------------------
  |N|O|P|Q|R|S|T|U|V|W|X|Y|Z|A|B|C|D|E|F|G|H|I|J|K|L|M|
  -----------------------------------------------------
  |O|P|Q|R|S|T|U|V|W|X|Y|Z|A|B|C|D|E|F|G|H|I|J|K|L|M|N|
  -----------------------------------------------------
  |P|Q|R|S|T|U|V|W|X|Y|Z|A|B|C|D|E|F|G|H|I|J|K|L|M|N|O|
  -----------------------------------------------------
  |Q|R|S|T|U|V|W|X|Y|Z|A|B|C|D|E|F|G|H|I|J|K|L|M|N|O|P|
  -----------------------------------------------------
  |R|S|T|U|V|W|X|Y|Z|A|B|C|D|E|F|G|H|I|J|K|L|M|N|O|P|Q|
  -----------------------------------------------------
  |S|T|U|V|W|X|Y|Z|A|B|C|D|E|F|G|H|I|J|K|L|M|N|O|P|Q|R|
  -----------------------------------------------------
  |T|U|V|W|X|Y|Z|A|B|C|D|E|F|G|H|I|J|K|L|M|N|O|P|Q|R|S|
  -----------------------------------------------------
  |U|V|W|X|Y|Z|A|B|C|D|E|F|G|H|I|J|K|L|M|N|O|P|Q|R|S|T|
  -----------------------------------------------------
  |V|W|X|Y|Z|A|B|C|D|E|F|G|H|I|J|K|L|M|N|O|P|Q|R|S|T|U|
  -----------------------------------------------------
  |W|X|Y|Z|A|B|C|D|E|F|G|H|I|J|K|L|M|N|O|P|Q|R|S|T|U|V|
  -----------------------------------------------------
  |X|Y|Z|A|B|C|D|E|F|G|H|I|J|K|L|M|N|O|P|Q|R|S|T|U|V|W|
  -----------------------------------------------------
  |Y|Z|A|B|C|D|E|F|G|H|I|J|K|L|M|N|O|P|Q|R|S|T|U|V|W|X|
  -----------------------------------------------------

Note that while the diagram is a necessary piece of machinery in using
this particular cypher system, it has no value in itself; the whole
secret depends upon the possession of the key-word or key-sentence. As
this may easily be memorized by the two correspondents there is no risk
of discovery through the accident of loss or theft.



Chapter XIV

_Another Break in the Circle_


It was the first of June and the loveliest time of the year at the
"Hundred." Why had I never realized before that, in spite of my urban
upbringing, I was a born countryman? Can there be a greater pleasure in
life than living on one's own land, and honestly plying the oldest and
most important of human industries--the tilling of the soil! Provided,
of course, that one possesses a reasonable amount of capital; the
hand-to-mouth struggle of the poor farmer is deadening to both soul and
body; as one of my less fortunate neighbors once put it: "It isn't
living; it's just staying on."

Certainly I had no cause for complaint. The "Hundred" was easily the
best farm anywhere about. I could command sufficient ready money to be
independent of the banks, and I was beginning to learn my trade. What
more could the heart of man desire? And finally, there was Betty--but
how could one inventory that immeasurable asset! Enough that our
happiness was as complete as anything mundane could be, and I had only
to bear in mind the old Greek admonition: "Tread softly lest the high
gods overhear and be moved to celestial ire against a mortal so
felicitous!"

Eunice Trevor was still living at the "Hundred," and the question of
that other arrangement had been suffered to remain in abeyance. I did
not fancy the ungracious task of turning her out of the house, and by
temperament I am something of an opportunist; time is the great resolver
of our difficulties; moreover, to do the woman justice, she seemed
desirous of effacing herself in every possible way; for days on end I
would hardly see her except at dinner, our one formal function. And then
one day something occurred to set me thinking, an incident small in
itself and yet curiously disquieting.

Miss Trevor was in the habit of driving over alone to Calverton two or
three times a week. Still she was never absent more than a couple of
hours, and it was none of my business how she employed her leisure.
Betty commented upon these journeys once or twice, but neither of us
cared to press the direct inquiry; there were plenty of horses
available, and the girl's time was her own; what did it matter.

On this particular morning I chanced to be in the house at the moment of
her return from town. She passed me in the hall, nodded briefly, and
went up to her room. As I walked through the front door I noticed a
letter lying on the threshold. I picked it up and saw that it was
addressed to Miss Eunice Trevor, Lockbox 31, Calverton, Maryland. The
handwriting was that of John Thaneford, a square, bold script with which
I was perfectly familiar. The post-mark was that of a small town in
Florida.

So Eunice and Thaneford were engaged in correspondence, and a secret one
at that. It didn't look well, and I felt the blood reddening my temples.
After all she was my house guest and eating my bread and salt. Spy is an
ugly word, but Thaneford was an enemy, a quiescent one for the time
being, yet none the less to be guarded against. "Hildebrand Hundred" was
a goodly heritage, and it would have been his had it not been for my
fortuitous meeting with Francis Graeme. There were no immediate
prospects that Betty would present me with an heir to the property, and
I realized guiltily that I had put off the duty of making a will.
Suppose that I died intestate and without issue. Betty would have her
dower rights, but Thaneford could put in a plausible claim for
recognition as next of kin. I made instant resolve that I would see Mr.
Eldon on the morrow and erect every possible legal safeguard to conserve
Betty's interests. I could rest assured that if Thaneford were able to
get enough ready money he would fight for his alleged rights. In the
meantime, I could do nothing but let the letter lie where it had fallen.
I whistled to Gyp and strode off to the stables. At the corner of the
hedge I ventured to look back, and caught just a glimpse of feminine
drapery disappearing into the cavernous gloom of the great hall door. So
my lady had discovered her loss, and had been prompt in retrieving her
property. Very well, but I should certainly call on Mr. Eldon in the
morning.

But, as it so often happens, my fine resolutions came to naught, and six
hours later I was on my way North, summoned by wire to the bedside of my
only living relative, my good Aunt Livy Marston, who had been more than
a mother to me for the best part of my life. Dear old lady! She finally
won her battle with death, but it was not until nearly three weeks later
that the doctors pronounced her to be out of danger, and I was free to
return home; to be precise, it was on Monday night, June the
twenty-second, that I left for Maryland, arriving at our little station
of Crown Ferry late in the afternoon of the following day.

To my surprise Doctor Marcy, with his gig, was waiting for me. One
glance at his face was enough. I tried to speak, but a great fear
clutched at my throat.

"Betty is perfectly well," said Marcy hastily. "She sends her love, and
is expecting you at the 'Hundred.'"

I threw my traveling bag in behind, and climbed to my place at his side;
the doctor's whiplash flickered along the blue-roan's broad back, and we
were quickly out of earshot, so far as the station loungers were
concerned.

"Who is it then?" I asked.

"Eunice Trevor."

"Yes."

"She died day before yesterday--suddenly."

"An accident?"

"She was found dead, sitting in the library at the big, flat-topped
desk," and Doctor Marcy shot me a sharp glance from the remote corner of
his eye.

"You mean that her death recalls the mystery of Francis Graeme's taking
off?"

"Just that."

"Go on and tell me the whole story, doctor. There's no need for us to
beat about the bush."

"But it's so little I have to tell," protested Marcy. "The bare facts
are these:"

"I was coming back from Lynn Saturday, and, on passing your gate, I
thought I would drive in and ask Betty for a cup of tea. Lucky I did so,
for I found her in a great state of mind. It seems that early in the
morning Eunice had shut herself up in the library on the plea of doing
some writing. She did not appear in the dining room at one o'clock, the
luncheon hour, and Effingham reported that the door was locked on the
inside. He had knocked repeatedly without getting any reply.

"Well, you can understand how all this recalled to Betty the peculiar
circumstances surrounding Graeme's death. And the servants were scared
out of their very wits; you know by this time the psychological vagaries
of the African mind.

"There was only one thing to do. I had Effingham produce his master-key,
and the door was opened. The room seemed to be in perfect
order--absolutely no signs of a struggle of any kind. When I passed the
screen--that same leather screen--I saw the girl. She was sitting in the
swivel-chair, but her head had fallen forward on the table. The body
was still warm, but she was stone dead."

"Any marks of violence?" I asked, thinking of the wound on Francis
Graeme's forehead.

"None whatever."

"When did all this happen?"

"To-day is Monday the twenty-second. As I told you, the day was Saturday
the twentieth. By the way, you never received Betty's telegram?"

"No, it must have reached Bangor just after I left. Probably, it never
occurred to Aunt Livy to have it relayed to me on the train."

"No great matter. There was nothing to be done but to put the poor girl
decently away."

"You mean that you've had the funeral?"

"Yes, this morning. We could get no word of you, and I rather pushed it
on Betty's account."

"Was there an autopsy?"

"I couldn't see any reason for it. The general indications were those of
cerebral hemorrhage, and I had no hesitation in giving apoplexy as the
cause of death. Yes, I know I changed my mind about Graeme, but in this
case there could be no doubt about it."

"She seemed to be in excellent general health," I remarked. "Had you
ever noticed any premonitory signs--you know what I am trying to say?"

"I never had Miss Trevor as a patient," said Marcy, "and so I can't give
any definite opinion."

"But you wouldn't put her down--I mean on the strength of your general
observation--as predisposed to that sort of thing?"

"No, I shouldn't."

"You said virtually the same thing about my Cousin Francis."

"I admit it. Still in that case the presence of an external wound gave
ample justification for going further."

"Just one or two more questions. Was the postern-door closed?"

"Tight as a safety vault. You and Betty have the only keys in existence
that unlock it."

"How about the pridellas in the windows--the little ventilating
apertures?"

"They were all shut, too. Afterwards I spoke to Warriner about that very
point, and he confirmed my impression."

"Warriner!"

"He arrived at the 'Hundred' very soon after I did. I believe they were
going horseback riding."

An unworthy thought crossed my mind, but I did my best to stamp it out
of existence. Perhaps Betty had been feeling lonely during my long
absence from home--perhaps.

"There's one thing more," continued the doctor. "Eunice had been
writing, and there were a number of sheets of MS. lying on the desk.
Betty had them sealed up, pending your return."

"Nothing has been heard of John Thaneford, I suppose?"

"Not that I know of."

I relapsed into silence, and presently we were at the house. Betty was
waiting for me on the portico, and behind her loomed up the tall figure
of Chalmers Warriner. I took my dear girl in my arms, and the tears came
speedily to her relief; after all, Eunice Trevor had been her cousin and
childhood playmate.

Betty went to her room, and Doctor Marcy had to keep a professional
engagement. Warriner and I had a whiskey-and-soda apiece, and over it
discussed the meager details of the distressing occurrence.

"Darker than ever," I remarked, when he had finished with his version of
the affair.

"It does look that way," he admitted. "Understand, there is no evidence
of suicide."

"So Marcy said."

"Her written statement may shed some light."

"You had better stay to dinner," I suggested, "and go over it with us."

Warriner assented with such friendly frankness that I felt a little
ashamed of my somewhat perfunctory invitation. But perhaps he had not
noticed the lack of cordiality in my voice. At any rate, he stayed, and
the dinner passed off tolerably enough. After dessert I proposed an
adjournment to the library for coffee, but Betty objected. "I couldn't
sit in that room," she protested earnestly. So we compromised on the big
living room on the left of the hall as one enters. I took the packet
Betty handed me, and broke the seal. A dozen or more sheets of
note-paper, written in pencil, fell out.

"It's a rather difficult handwriting," said Betty, "and I suppose I'm
more familiar with it than either of you men." So Warriner and I lit our
cigars and prepared to listen.



Chapter XV

_One Corner of the Veil_


The MS. began abruptly, without either preamble or address:

     I am sitting here in the library of "Hildebrand Hundred"--the room
     in which five men have met their death--and while I am waiting I
     shall set down certain data and figures which should prove of more
     than ordinary interest to anyone who has the wit to discern their
     underlying meaning. But judge for yourselves.

     The Hildebrands have been at the "Hundred" since the settlement of
     the province by the Calverts. All of the earlier generations were
     decent, God-fearing, hard-drinking country squires who died
     respectably with their boots off, and are now sleeping quietly in
     S. Saviour's churchyard; honest gentlemen no doubt, but a little
     dull after their bucolic kind. Then we come to something different.
     But first let us set down the roster of the five who did not pass
     away comfortably in their beds. Here it is:

     Yardley Hildebrand, elder son of Oliver Hildebrand; succeeded his
     father, 1860; died, 1861; aged fifty-five; no issue.

     Randall Hildebrand, younger son of Oliver; succeeded his brother,
     1861; died, 1862; aged fifty-three; left issue.

     Horace Hildebrand, elder son of Randall; succeeded his father,
     1862; died, 1865; aged thirty-five; no issue.

     Richard Hildebrand, younger son of Randall; succeeded his brother,
     1865; died, 1918; aged eighty-three; no issue.

     Francis Hildebrand Graeme, great-nephew to Richard; succeeded his
     great-uncle, 1918; died, 1919; aged forty-five; no issue.

     Now as we analyze these dates and periods we come upon some curious
     coincidences; and also, upon some marked discrepancies. For
     example, Yardley Hildebrand reigned for one brief year, and the
     same is true of Randall Hildebrand and of Francis Graeme. But
     Horace enjoyed three full years of sovereignty, while Richard was
     Hildebrand of the "Hundred" for no less a period than fifty and
     three years. Yet all five went to their death along an unfrequented
     road, and no man can say of a certainty what was the essential
     damnation of their taking-off. They died, and they died alone--here
     in this very room where I sit waiting, waiting.

     I dare say that you, Hugh Hildebrand, will read what I have written
     here, and I have now a word for your ear alone. Not long ago John
     Thaneford gave you your choice--Betty or the "Hundred." You could
     not have both.

     Well, you possess your wife; take her and go in peace; stay, and
     you do so at your unending peril. I leave you this warning merely
     to clear the ground for the assertion of John Thaneford's rights in
     the estate; they will be defended, and all the odds are against
     you. So I warn you, but it would be idle for me to pretend to any
     philanthropic motive, and there is but small show of friendship
     between us. You have treated me with courtesy, even with kindness,
     and I am not unmindful of the obligation imposed upon me. But I
     must be perfectly frank: you are in the way; either you go of your
     own volition, or you will be removed--at the appointed time. It may
     be in one year, or in three years, or in three and fifty years;
     upon that point I cannot speak definitely. But there was only one
     man out of the five who drew a long straw--remember that.

     Neither have I any cause of quarrel with you, Cousin Betty Graeme.
     You have been very good to a poor and proud relation; and what
     little measure of human affections I had left over--after John
     Thaneford had turned me inside out, like an old glove, and flung me
     on the dust heap--was truly given to you. Believe me, then, when I
     tell you that if your happiness is bound up with the life of your
     husband, there is but one way of preserving it; you must persuade
     him to relinquish "Hildebrand Hundred," and be content with the
     ready money and the personal property specifically bequeathed in
     Francis Graeme's will. I dare say you will have difficulty in
     bringing this about; men are so ridiculously stubborn and unwilling
     to take a woman's advice that I do not expect to see my counsel
     followed. But when the blow does fall do me the favor to remember
     that I gave you fair and honorable warning.

     This is not a confession. It is true that Cousin Francis Graeme
     came to his death through violence, but I had no share in it,
     direct or indirect. Seeing that I am waiting to follow him over
     the same dark and unfrequented road that he has already traveled, I
     can speak no more and no less than the truth.

     At the same time I have no hesitation in admitting the essential
     correctness of the deductions offered by Chalmers Warriner as to my
     share in what happened posterior to the event. I was on the library
     terrace that Tuesday noon, and I did receive a message from Sugar
     Loaf that the way was clear for me to enter the library and secure
     the will which disinherited John Thaneford. I don't like dead men,
     but I am not afraid of them, and I should have examined the
     despatch-box on the spot had I not been disturbed by the knocking
     at the door--I mean the effort of the negro peddler, Dave Campion,
     to gain access to Mr. Graeme. Then it occurred to me that as I
     should have to leave by the postern-door, as I had entered, it
     might prove useful in the future to cover my trail. Accordingly, I
     snatched, at random, a cocoon from the case, dabbed it with library
     gum, and stuck it in place over the crack, just as Mr. Warriner was
     clever enough to figure out.

     But I had run the risk to no purpose; the new will was not in the
     despatch-box, and John Thaneford would be disinherited after all.
     Then I reflected that it was a bare possibility that Cousin Francis
     had postponed the making of the new will; in this case the earlier
     testament would remain in force. Obviously, I must get the
     despatch-box containing it back in the library before any formal
     examination should be made of the surroundings. My chance came
     unexpectedly when Effingham was left on guard at the library door.
     As you already know, I sent him upstairs on an errand, having
     first secured from him the master-key. I re-entered the library,
     put the box back in its original position, and was standing quietly
     at the door when Betty and Doctor Marcy arrived.

     While it is true that the signal came to me from John Thaneford it
     is not necessary to jump to the conclusion that he had a hand in
     bringing about Francis Graeme's death, either as principal or
     accessory. He did know that it was about to happen, but nothing
     more; I say this upon my own responsibility, and to the best of my
     knowledge and belief. You will give me credence in this matter,
     realizing that I owe little of love to the Thaneford name.

     Yet I will try and be just to John Thaneford, for, brute though he
     be, I do believe that he loved me after his fashion; yes, and would
     have made me his wife had not his heart been turned against me by
     his father--may the soul of Fielding Thaneford dwell in darkness
     for evermore!

     Let us premise that the elder Thaneford was jealous of me and of my
     influence over John. The old man was determined that some day his
     son should be lord of "Hildebrand Hundred," and if John should
     marry Betty Graeme his object would be automatically attained. And
     so Fielding Thaneford did the devil's work, and I was cast out; the
     very fact that I had given to John Thaneford all that a woman has
     to give was subtly twisted against me; my very sacrifice was plain
     proof of my unworthiness to be an honorable man's wife. Do you
     wonder now that I had no love for Fielding Thaneford. You, Hugh
     Hildebrand, surprised me one day while I was taking the afternoon
     relief for Miss Davenport. Before that particular occasion I had
     been content with inventing purely material means for disturbing
     the sick man's repose. I used to throw his medicine out of the
     window, under his very eyes, and then force him to go through the
     solemn mockery of swallowing doses of plain water. Or, on a warm,
     damp day, when the flies were particularly troublesome, I would put
     a saucer containing treacle close by his pillow, and then sit,
     comfortably fanning myself, on the opposite side of the room.
     Horrible! you say, but I tell you that Fielding Thaneford was a
     devil; I was only anticipating by a little space his doom of
     eternal torment.

     And then, on the particular day of which we were speaking, I
     discovered how cruelly mere eyes could sting and burn. And so I sat
     and looked at Fielding Thaneford, and laughed to see him writhe
     like a beetle impaled upon a pin. But you came in and spoiled my
     amusement.

     There isn't much more for me to say or tell, nor am I very sure how
     much time is left me in which to make my final warning clear.
     Whatever was the nature of Fielding Thaneford's secret he has taken
     it with him to the grave. So far as I know, he said nothing more
     definite to his son John than that he should possess his soul in
     patience, and then all things should come to him. But he also
     intimated plainly that he had foreseen how Yardley, and Randall,
     and Horace, and Richard Hildebrand should die; and it was at his
     suggestion that John Thaneford sat that day at the observation
     point on Sugar Loaf, and waited for death to come to Francis
     Graeme.

     Hypothetically, that death was due to natural
     causes--hypothetically! Or possibly there was someone who entered
     that postern-door before I did, and struck a foul blow--possibly!
     Or perhaps, John Thaneford, from his safe retreat on Sugar Loaf,
     may have been able to direct some hitherto unknown form of lethal
     attack--a tiny shell charged with a poison gas of instantaneous
     deadliness, or a devouring blast from a flame-thrower of unexampled
     precision--perhaps!

     But, frankly, none of these hypotheses appear to me to be tenable;
     the mystery does not lie so plainly on the surface. Moreover, I
     believe that the heart of the Terror continues to beat in this very
     place, the library of "Hildebrand Hundred," where I am sitting.
     Something is in this room, something that is eternally menacing and
     eternally patient. It may be in one year and it may be in three and
     fifty years that it chooses to strike, but strike it surely will
     and no art or cunning will avail to avert the blow. Yes, there is
     _something_ here, the _something_ for which I myself am waiting.
     But search as you will, you shall not find the Terror; you must
     await its coming as I am doing. Fielding Thaneford has gone to his
     own place, but his works of darkness remain behind him.

     There is just one more thing that I might tell you, but I shall not
     do it--you would then seek to compromise the situation, and that I
     will not have. I put my own wits to work and so was able to lift
     one corner of the veil; that is why I wait so confidently to-day
     for that which will surely come.

     And so I leave you but the one door to safety--the abandonment of
     the "Hundred" to John Thaneford, the same "Black Jack" Thaneford
     who once loved me and who finally cast me off. This is the last
     thing I can do for him--for him whom I both hate and love to the
     death. Why? Ask any  woman----

The MS. had ended as abruptly as it had begun. I took the sheets from
Betty's hand, arranged them in order, and put the bundle in my pocket.
"I don't think we had better discuss this any further to-night," I said
decisively.

"Quite right," assented Warriner. "Betty looks pretty white, and you
have been traveling for two days. Let me know, at any time, if I can be
of service."

We both of us accompanied Warriner to the porch, and saw him drive away.
As we re-entered the hall the closed door of the library shone white and
ghostly at the end of the passage.

"That horrible room!" panted Betty, her hand tight clutched on my arm.
"I can never, never enter it again."

I tried to soothe her as best I could, but the poor girl's nerves had
been badly overstrained, and it was a long time before I could get the
upper hand of her hysterical mood. I positively refused to say one more
word on the general subject of the tragedy, or the particular contents
of Eunice Trevor's _ante mortem_ statement; and, after a while, Betty
gave in and was reasonable again. But both of us knew that the question
had not been settled, that it was only postponed. And to-morrow it would
return again to plague us.



Chapter XVI

_Ad Interim_


I never sent for Warriner to come and discuss Eunice Trevor's
astonishing communication. Why? Well, what would have been the use?
After all, the woman had told us little or nothing which we had not
known already; certainly, there was no definite information in her
statement upon which to base a working hypothesis. Granted that there
was a guilty secret, it lay hidden for all time in S. Saviour's
churchyard. Both Eunice Trevor and John Thaneford may have been innocent
of any actual participation in the tragedy of Francis Graeme's death,
but it was by no means clear that they could not have taken steps to
prevent it. The coroner's jury had given their verdict, the magistrate
had found no case against the one suspected person, Dave Campion, and
there was really no valid warrant for reopening the inquiry. Besides,
this was a purely family affair, and Chalmers Warriner was an outsider.
I dare say it was despicably small-minded of me, but Betty was now my
wife, and both she and Warriner ought to realize that the intimacy
between them could not be continued on the old free footing. Jealous.
Well perhaps, I was uneasily conscious of an unworthy feeling in the
matter. But I was master of "Hildebrand Hundred," and surely I had the
right to determine what friendships were desirable and what were not.
Warriner was a man of mature age, Betty was young and impulsive; it was
my bounden duty to guard her from every sidelong look, from every
whispered word. Not that I ever discussed the question with her; I
merely took my stand and it was her wifely obligation to yield to my
judgment. So far as I could tell, she never even noticed that Warriner
no longer came to the "Hundred" in the old informal way. And that was as
it should be.

But the issues raised by Eunice Trevor's statement were not to be set
aside so easily. It was annoying, but Betty persisted in taking the dead
woman's warning both literally and seriously; she actually begged me to
formally abandon the "Hundred" to John Thaneford, as the legal
next-of-kin, and perhaps leave Maryland altogether.

This I could not consent to do; I was too proud, or perhaps too
stubborn, to be frightened by the vaporings of a highly wrought and
undoubtedly neurotic imagination. There was not the shadow of a proof
that Francis Graeme's death had been due to premeditated violence, and
as for the alleged tragedies in the dim past, I neither knew nor cared
anything about them. What if five men had died, under unexplained
circumstances, in that particular room? All this was ancient history
running back over a period of sixty odd years, and there are many
coincidences in life. There is no greater tyranny than that of
superstition, and once in bondage to its shadowy overlordship orderly
existence becomes impossible.

But my decision had been finally influenced by a still stronger
consideration. As I have said a little further back, I had unconsciously
become attached to the "Hundred" by ties that I now found it impossible
to break. This was my home and the home of my fathers before me; I now
found myself an integral part of the ancestral homestead, my life had
rooted deeply into the very soil, with its sacred dust my own corporeal
remains must finally be mingled; no, I could not suffer "Hildebrand
Hundred" to pass out of my hands, and I would hold it against every
enemy visible and invisible. Even granting that something deadly and
menacing did lurk in the dim corners of that great room with its painted
windows and booklined walls, was I not man enough to grapple with the
Terror on its own chosen ground? Better to die even as my Hildebrand
forebears had died, alone and unafraid, than to drag out a coward's
existence in some wretched backwater of life. Yes, I had decided; I
would stay on at the "Hundred," _coute qui coute_.

It was not so easy to maintain my resolve in the face of Betty's quiet
but determined opposition. I could make every allowance for the
successive shocks to her delicately organized nervous system, and mere
prayers and tears I was ready to cope with. But there was an invincible
spirit in her attitude that I could not shake. "It is a part of my inner
sense," she would reiterate with gentle obstinacy, and how can one argue
rationally with feminine intuitions!

In the end we compromised--as always. It was agreed that we should
continue to live on at the "Hundred," but the library should be
permanently and effectually closed. Betty even proposed that a brick
wall should be built at the end of the passage entirely blocking the
entrance, but to this heroic measure I steadfastly refused to assent; it
was enough of a nuisance to lose the use of the best room in the house,
and to be obliged to transfer the working part of the library to the new
living room. So we compromised again by locking the door and keeping all
the keys in my immediate possession. In addition, I had to promise that
I would not enter the room unless my wife was told of my intention and
invited to accompany me. "At least we'll die together," said Betty,
trying to smile through her tears. What could I do but kiss them away,
and give the required assurance.

In October of that same year our son was born. Of course Betty insisted
that he should be christened Hugh, and while I have always thought the
name an ugly one and should have preferred Lawrence, after the first
American Hildebrand, it would have been most ungracious to have entered
any demurrer. But when Betty furthermore suggested that Chalmers
Warriner be invited to stand as godfather I made plausible objections in
favor of Doctor Marcy. I fancied that she seemed unaccountably
disappointed, but she yielded when she realized that my preference was a
decided one. However, Warriner was present at the ceremony in S.
Saviour's, and endowed the baby with a magnificent silver mug. That
particular gift should have been the prerogative of the titular
godfather, but Doctor Marcy did not seem inclined to stand upon his
rights, and I could not act the churl in so small a matter. And so this
epochal phase of my life had come to a triumphant close; possessed of
"Hildebrand Hundred," a son to inherit my name, and the best wife in the
world. What more could heart of man desire!



Chapter XVII

_The Midsummer Night's Ball_


And now I come to a certain chapter of my book of life which I would
fain leave unwritten. But I am bound to set down the full truth, no
matter how unpleasant the bare, ugly facts may be. No one can blame me
more hardly than I did myself, and assuredly I was well punished for my
misdoings. So here goes.

I had become jealous of Chalmers Warriner, bitterly, almost insanely
jealous; and this in spite of my sober judgment, my real inner
conviction of Betty's unswerving loyalty and wholehearted love. It is a
humiliating confession for a man to make, but since I did play the fool
to the top of my bent I ought to be willing to endure my penance; as it
turned out, I came within an ace of paying the ultimate price of my
folly. So much by way of _apologia pro mea culpa_.

The winter, spring and early summer had passed without incident. In June
it occurred to me that it would be well if Betty were away from the
"Hundred" for the period covered by the double tragedy of Francis
Graeme's death and Eunice Trevor's mysterious taking-off. Accordingly,
we went to the "Old White" for three weeks, returning to our home the
first day of July. Betty had certainly been benefited by the change, and
I hoped that the current of our family life was now to flow smoothly on
for an indefinite length of time.

The immediate rock upon which our matrimonial barque proceeded to wreck
itself was the Midsummer Night's ball at "Powersthorp" on August the
fourth. As Hilda Powers was Betty's most intimate friend we had motored
over early to assist in receiving the guests; half of King William
county seemed to have been invited, and the crush was tremendous.

I was standing near the receiving line of ladies when Chalmers Warriner
came up; and, in spite of my secret dislike and suspicion, I could not
help thinking how distinguished looking he was--just the sort of man
that a woman invariably favors with a second glance. And now he was
lingering for that maddening hundredth part of a second over Betty's
hand; I heard him whisper: "The supper waltz then?" and I saw Betty
start and flush and finally nod a smiling assent. Ignoble of me to be
standing there, actually spying on my own wife! I admit the justice of
your censure, dear reader, but have you ever endured even the smallest
pang of the jealous man's agony? One ought to be competent to testify in
this particular court.

I suppose I went through the ordinary motions of a man attending a ball;
I have a vague recollection of dancing at least half a dozen times; I
comforted innumerable elderly dowagers and flagons of near-claret cup,
and encouraged several flappers to venture on their first cigarette in
the friendly dusk of the pleached lime alley; I even played one rubber
of auction with the colonel, the commodore, and the judge, while they
were awaiting the arrival of the rector to make up their accustomed
coterie. But my eyes were always fixed on the big clock at the end of
the hall; according to our simple country fashion supper was invariably
scheduled for midnight, and was preceded by the principal waltz number
of the dance program.

There it came at last! the opening bars of Strauss's "On the Beautiful
Blue Danube." Why is it that smiles and tears lie so close together in
the lilt and swing of a fine waltz tune? And, by that same token, the
saddest music in all the world to-day is that same "Blue Danube," the
last, faint exhalation of an old regime that, however rotten at its
core, continued to present a lovely and gracious exterior. At least
there were no war-brides and greasy Israelitish profiteers on the
polished boards of the ancient Hofberg when Maestro Johann raised his
baton, and his incomparable band, in their gay Hussar uniforms, breathed
out the intoxicating melody which the great Brahms himself would not
have been ashamed to have composed, the veritable apotheosis of the
dance.

Gone, all gone! and this old, gray world, albeit made safe for
democracy, has yet lost something of perennial beauty and enchantment
that can never be renewed--a broken spell, a vanished vision. The wax
candles have guttered to their sockets, the shimmering waves of color
are graying under the merciless white light of a proletarian dawn, the
haunting violins have sobbed themselves to sleep; and of all that
brilliant, bewildering, phantasmagoric past there remains but one
poignant and exquisite echo--the "Blue Danube."

I watched Betty as she circled past me held close in the hollow of
Warriner's arm; she was looking up at him, her eyes intent and her
cheeks glowing. I pushed through the throng and caught them temporarily
halted in a re-entrant swirl of dancers. "I'll take the rest of this
turn," I announced, with small pretense of civility. Warriner would have
been fully justified in resenting my rudeness, for this was no ordinary
case of give-and-take cutting in; but he instantly relinquished his
claim, and I whirled Betty away to the farther end of the great hall.
"We won't wait for supper," I said curtly. "You know Hilda well enough
for that, and she won't mind. Or I don't care if she does." Betty's
lower lip went out and her eyes flashed. But a woman, in an emergency,
can summon a control over her nerves that mere man may only wonder at.
"As you like, Hugh," she said with quiet composure. "I'll just slip up
to the dressing room, and you can have the motor brought around to the
side door, where it won't be noticed."

We exchanged only a few, indifferent words on the way home, since Zack
was acting as chauffeur and sat within easy earshot.

Betty confronted me under the swinging hall lantern of "Hildebrand
Hundred," her small figure straight and tense as a grenadier on parade.
"Well?" she said briefly.

"You know what I mean," I evaded weakly enough. But she only continued
to look at me, and I had to come out in the open.

"I object to your dancing with that man," I growled.

"What man?"

"Chalmers Warriner, of course."

"Chalmers Warriner! Why----" Betty bit her lip and choked back the
coming words.

"Go on!" I demanded, instantly alert to the possible significance of
that suddenly checked utterance.

But Betty only shook her head--mutinously so as I chose to think in my
green-eyed madness.

"You won't tell me?" I persisted hotly.

"I can't."

"Then I've nothing more to say except just this: You are my wife, and so
long as you continue to bear my name you are to have no communication of
any kind with Mr. Warriner."

Betty made no reply, and we parted without another word.

I had to be in Calverton all the following day on some law business; and
I had left the "Hundred" before Betty appeared at the breakfast table.
When I returned, late in the afternoon, the house was fairly upside down
with hurried preparations for a departure; everywhere trunks and
handbags were being packed for the journey, and the station car was
already in waiting at the front door. Betty met me as usual in the lower
hall. I lifted my eyebrows interrogatively.

"You know little Hugh has been feeling the hot weather of late," she
answered steadily, "and Doctor Marcy strongly advised a change to a
Northern climate."

"Where are you going?"

"To my Aunt Alice Crew's in Stockbridge. We can stay there through
August and September."

"And then?"

"Probably to the Davidsons at Irvington-on-Hudson."

"For how long?"

"That depends on you, Hugh." Betty was actually smiling as she looked up
at me, and that made me angrier than ever.

"You mean until I am ready to trust you," I blurted out.

"If you like to put it that way."

The discussion had let us into an _impasse_; there was nothing more to
be said. I accompanied Betty to the Crown Ferry station, and saw my
little family party of wife, baby, and nurse safely aboard the sleeper.
Even at that last moment I should have dropped everything and gone
along had Betty given me the smallest opening. But she said no further
word, and I could not conquer at once my masculine pride and my jealous
fear. I watched the red tail lights of the train disappear around a
curve, and told myself that I was the unhappiest man and the biggest
fool on God's green earth.



Chapter XVIII

_I Break a Promise_


Needless to say that the summer dragged heavily with me. Betty wrote
regularly, but her letters were of a strictly impersonal nature, and I
took especial care to answer in the same vein. Luckily, there was little
Hugh as a point of common interest, and we made the most of it. But
neither of us offered the least allusion to the real crisis in our
relations. I was frankly and wretchedly unhappy, and I could only hope
that Betty was no better satisfied with the situation. I kept busy, of
course, with the care of the estate. There was a new drainage system to
be installed, and the long neglected acres of "Thane Court" to look
after. Of Warriner I heard little and saw less. He was busy with his
laboratory work at Calverton, and there was really small opportunity for
us to meet. Indeed for months we lived as rigidly apart as though at
opposite poles; once I ran across him at a granger meeting in Lynn, and
again on a cold, rainy afternoon in October when I chanced to drop in
at "Powersthorp" for a cup of tea. I fancied that there was marked
restraint in his manner as I walked into Hilda Powers' drawing room, but
in the presence of an hostess the amenities must be preserved, and we
managed to rub along for the half hour of my stay. I was annoyed,
nevertheless, for I had been hoping for a confidential chat with Hilda
about Betty, knowing that the two corresponded regularly. Illogically
enough, I charged up my disappointment to Warriner, and disliked him
more hotly than ever. I dare say he divined my veiled antagonism, and I
could see that it made him uncomfortable. As to that I did not care a
button, but I had wanted to hear about Betty, and now her name was
barely mentioned. I reflected that people were probably wondering over
her protracted visit in the North, but no one had ventured to broach the
subject to me, and I would have suffered it least of all from him. So
the months went on.

Actually it was now Christmas time, and I was still a grass widower.
Betty and Little Hugh had come down to the Davidsons at Irvington, and
it was evident that she was thoroughly fixed in her resolve not to
return to the "Hundred" until I was ready to adopt a more "reasonable"
attitude. You note that I quote the adjective; at the time I was
stubbornly convinced that I was right in my contention and was not
inclined to alter my determination by one jot or tittle.

Pride and anger are delicious morsels under the tongue so long as they
come fresh and hot from the griddle. But how tasteless and unappetizing
when served cold; how devoid of vital sustenance in the making up of the
bill-of-fare day after day, week, after week, month after month! Yet I
chewed savagely upon the tough, stringy gristle of my wrath, and refused
to admit that I was starving for one touch of Betty's hand, one faintest
inflection of her beloved voice. But I could stick it if she could and I
did, letting myself go only in the despatching of an extravagant
Christmas box; the one item of Betty's sables made Carolina perfectos an
unthinkable luxury for months. And all I got in return was a pleasant
note of thanks, little Hugh's photograph, and a handsome set of
English-made razors. I wondered grimly if Betty expected me to cut my
throat, and was not averse to supplying the means for the operation.

Incredible as it seems to me now, Betty's absence continued through the
winter and spring. In May she wrote me that she was again going to
Stockbridge for the summer. Little Hugh's health could not be the excuse
this time, for he had thriven famously during the winter, and was as
fine a boy as any father could wish to see. I reflected dourly that I
would have to take Betty's word for this assertion, there being no
opportunity for using my own eyes in the appraisement. However, Betty
did not trouble about explanations or apologies; she took it calmly for
granted that the situation was to be continued indefinitely; she even
had the exquisite effrontery to refer to the terms of my promise about
entering the ill-omened library of "Hildebrand Hundred"; she intimated
plainly that I was to be held to the exact letter and bond of that
ridiculous agreement. What irony, seeing that she seemed bent upon
breaking every other tie that united us! Of course I ignored the subject
entirely in my reply (I wonder if I have made it plain that I wrote and
received a letter every single day), and I comforted myself with the
reflection that my silence might make her a bit uneasy. It did, but I
persisted in my standoffish attitude on that particular point of
contention. What indeed did that matter when compared to the actual gulf
that continued to separate us!

And now I come to the swift-moving, final act of the drama; the center
of the stage is still mine up to a certain point; thereafter, as you
will see, it will be Betty's turn to figure in the limelight, and take
the principal speaking part.

May had come and gone; now it was June again and past the middle of the
month; to be precise it was the morning of Tuesday the nineteenth.

I had been a _sub rosa_ subscriber to the local Stockbridge paper,
probably from the secret hope of finding an occasional paragraph about
Betty and her doings, even if it were but the bare mention of her name.
The paper habitually reached me on Monday, but this was Tuesday and it
had but just arrived; some delay in the mails, I dare say. Upon
unfolding it I turned at once to the column of personalities, and saw
that among the recent arrivals at the Red Lion Inn was the name of Mr.
Chalmers Warriner, of Calverton, Maryland.

Have you ever suffered the unutterable pangs of jealousy, you who read
these words? If so there is no need for me to picture them; if not,
there is no possible medium through which I could make them even dimly
comprehensible. But that day I died a thousand deaths.

Manifestly Warriner had come to Stockbridge for a purpose, and it was
unthinkable that he should have done so without a direct invitation from
my wife. So Betty had made up her mind; she had taken an irrevocable
step, and the die had been finally cast. What was I to do? Twice I
ordered out the motor, intent upon taking the first train to the North,
and as often I sent it back. I had just sense enough left to realize
that I must wait for something more definite; that much I owed to the
woman who was the mother of my child; perhaps the post would bring me a
letter of enlightenment.

But when the ten o'clock delivery came over from Calverton I found
myself as completely in the dark as ever. Betty's letter was full of
Hilda Powers, who had arrived on Saturday for a stay of ten days. What
did I care about Hilda Powers! And then in a postcript: "Chalmers
Warriner is registered at the Red Lion, and I suppose that we shall see
him by this afternoon at the latest." Now all the authorities agree that
the significant part of a woman's letter is the postscript.

Fortunately, a matter of pressing importance had been brought to my
attention. Zack reported that he had noticed, from the terrace, an
inward bulge of one of the stained glass windows of the library. He
thought that the leading might have become weakened, and if so, an
immediate repair would be necessary. To determine the question he
proposed that we should make an examination from the inside of the room.

I give you my word of honor that, for the time being, my promise to
Betty had gone clean out of my head. All I could think of was that
something of the dignity and beauty of the house--my house--was in
jeopardy; and I, the Master of the "Hundred," must look to it ere
irremediable damage were done. I got the key from my writing desk and,
together with Zack, hurried along the corridor, unlocked the door, and
entered the well-remembered room.

The apartment had the dreary aspect of long untenancy. The books, most
of the furniture, and even the tapestries had been removed, and the air
was dead and musty; there were cobwebs in the corners, and the dust lay
thick on the oaken floor. But this was no time for sentimentalities, and
I incontinently dismissed the crowded recollections that flooded my
mind. "Where is it?" I demanded impatiently.

Zack pointed to the third (running from left to right) of the long
windows that flanked the great fireplace. If you recall my earlier
description of the library, the window in question represented the
flight of the Israelitish spies from the land of Canaan, bearing with
them the gigantic cluster of grapes.

"Dere it am," answered Zack, pointing to the upper part of the painted
scene, the depiction of an arbor from which depended bunches of the
glorious fruit as yet unplucked.

True enough, there was a significant inward bend at this particular
place, and it was evident that the leading of the tracery had partially
given way. It was imperative to make repairs at once, and, fortunately,
there was a stained glass manufactory in Calverton, and skilled workmen
could be obtained there on short notice. I telephoned my request, and,
an hour later, a couple of men were on hand to do the work.

Apparently the weakness was comparatively trifling, and it was only
necessary to remove a small portion of the upper half of the window. The
men were experienced and intelligent; they knew their job, and after the
temporary scaffolding had been erected they took out the injured
sections, carefully numbering the separate pieces of glass so as to
ensure their correct replacement. Among the smaller bits were a dozen or
more bullseyes of purple glass simulating a cluster of grapes. They
seemed to be all of the same size, each enclosed in a diminutive leaden
ring.

"How about it, Jem?" asked the assistant workman. "They be alike as peas
in a pod."

"No call to number 'em," decided Jem promptly. "It's all the same in the
picter, so don't bother about marking the bullseyes."

I, listening to the colloquy, commended Jem's dictum as being eminently
sensible, particularly in view of the fact that the weather was
threatening and time was of value in getting the window in proper shape
to resist a blow. The purple bullseyes were tumbled into a basket, and
the work went on.

It was rapid and clever craftsmanship, for by six o'clock the damage had
been repaired and the glass had been replaced; to my way of thinking, as
strong as ever. I said as much, but Jem, to my surprise, shook his head.
"All that tracery work ought to be gone over," he said, "to make the job
a good one. You can see for yourself," he went on, "that a lot of the
main leading is none too solid--look here; and there!" and he pointed
out several places where indeed the glass seemed very insecure in its
setting.

"I don't want to run any risk," I said, "How about coming back to-morrow
to make a thorough job of it?"

"Sorry, Mr. Hildebrand, but me and my mate are due at Baltimore in the
morning, setting a chancel window at S. Paul's. I don't think your work
can be managed before the first of next week."

"Then I'll have to take the risk?"

"I'm afraid so. But we've put the really bad place in decent order, and
I don't see why the glass shouldn't stand any ordinary wind. Just got to
chance it, sir."

Of course there was nothing further to say, so I thanked the men and
dismissed them. Yes, there was no alternative; I should have to chance
it.

When I wrote my usual nightly letter to Betty I told her of the
circumstances which had caused me to break the letter of my promise
about entering the library. I dare say I nourished a secret hope that
the news would upset her; that it might even have the effect of inducing
her to make a hasty return to the "Hundred." But that would imply that
she still cared for me, and the cold fact remained that, at this very
moment, the name of Chalmers Warriner stood inscribed upon the register
of the Red Lion Inn at Stockbridge.



Chapter XIX

_The Seat Perilous_


Wednesday, the twentieth of June, was the blackest of all black days.
When Betty's letter came I found it very unsatisfactory reading.
Warriner had been making the most of his opportunities; that was
certain. He had been over twice for five-o'clock-tea, and a number of
pleasant affairs were in prospect--a water party on the Bowl, a day's
golf at Pittsfield, a masked ball at Lenox; so it went. Apparently Betty
was in for a royal good time, and she had no compunction in making me
aware of the fact. My intrusion upon the forbidden ground of the library
was, it seemed, a matter of no importance; not even mentioned. Later on,
I realized that she could not have received my communication on the
subject--but never mind; I felt aggrieved, and the black dog of jealousy
heeled me wherever I went that long, beautiful June day. Surely, I was
the most miserable man alive, and it is not surprising that I diligently
continued the digging of the pit into which I was so soon to fall.

Thursday, the twenty-first, brought a number of business matters to my
attention, and under the pressure of these imperative duties I half
forgot about my troubles. Again Betty's letter was non-committal and
made no references to my doings or delinquencies. I should have enjoyed
calling it evasive, but that was hardly possible seeing that Warriner's
name was mentioned three or four times; the fellow was assuredly making
hay. After my solitary evening dinner I thought it wise to keep my mind
at work, and, accordingly, I started in on a big batch of farm accounts.

I had heard the trampling of a horse's hoofs on the gravel drive, but
had paid no attention; now a heavy step echoed along the black-and-white
chequers of the great hall, and I became conscious that Marcus, the
house-boy, stood at the door in the act of announcing a visitor. I
looked up and saw John Thaneford.

Amazement held me speechless for a moment; then I found my feet and
blurted out some form of greeting; I can't be sure that we actually
shook hands, but this was my house and he had come as a guest; I must
observe the decencies.

"Black Jack" had changed but little in the two years since I had seen
him. Perhaps a trifle broader in girth, while the cleft between his
sable eyebrows was deeper than ever. Apparently, he was quite at his
ease, and I fancied that he took a furtive and malicious pleasure in my
embarrassment. Now we were seated; I pushed the box of cigars to his
hand, and waited, tongued-tied and flushing, for the conversational ice
to be broken.

"So we meet again, Cousin Hugh!" he began, with perfect aplomb. "You
don't appear to be overjoyed."

"Why should I be?" I retorted. "But I don't forget that you are under my
roof. Naturally, I am somewhat surprised."

"At my return, or because I am seeking you out at the 'Hundred?'
Possibly, you have forgotten that I no longer possess even the apology
of a shelter that was once 'Thane Court.'"

"You can hardly hold me responsible for the fire," I said, feeling
somewhat nettled at his tone.

"Oh, surely not," he assented, flicking the ash from his cigar with an
airy wave of his hand--that well remembered, big hand with its
black-tufted knuckles.

"As for the property, I bought it in at public sale to protect myself.
You can have it back at any time for the price I paid. And no interest
charges."

"Very good of you, Cousin Hugh, and later on I may hold you to your
offer. I may say that I am in quite the position to do so," he added
with a boastful flourish.

"Glad to hear it," I said shortly. And in my heart of hearts I did
rejoice, for I had an acute realization of what this man's heritage in
life might have been had Francis Graeme and I never met. Somehow the
whole atmosphere of our foregathering had suddenly lightened, and I
experienced a feeling of hospitality toward Thaneford which was
certainly cordial and almost friendly. "By the way, have you dined?" I
asked. "The cook has gone home, but I dare say Effingham could find some
cold meat and a salad."

"I had supper at the hotel in Calverton, but a drop or two of whiskey
wouldn't go amiss. The prohibition lid is clamped down pretty tight
around here."

I rang for Effingham. "Bring a bottle of 'King William,'" I ordered. "Or
perhaps you would prefer rye or bourbon?"

"Scotch suits me right enough," he answered carelessly. He rose and
began pacing the room. "I heard something in Calverton about your
closing up the library," he said abruptly.

"It was Mrs. Hildebrand's wish. You can understand that Miss Trevor's
death was a great shock to her."

Not a muscle in his face moved, but he stopped short in his tracks.
"Eunice dead!" he ejaculated. "When and where?"

"In June two years ago. She was found dead, sitting in the library."

John Thaneford drew a long breath. "I wondered that her letters ceased
so suddenly," he said coolly. "But Eunice was always doing something out
of the common, and I laid it to some queer slant in her mind. You never
can tell what a woman will do or won't do."

The callous selfishness of the man was still rampant, and it disgusted
me. Doubtless, he had no idea that I was well aware of the relations
that had existed between him and the unfortunate girl. And then, to my
astonishment, a new note of softness, of regret even, stole into his
voice. "Do you mind opening up the room?" he asked. "So much for
remembrance," he added in an undertone that I barely caught.

This time my promise to Betty did occur to my mind, but already the
covenant had been broken, and further infraction could not greatly
signify.

We walked down the corridor, and I unlocked the door and pushed it open,
calling to the house-boy to bring in a lamp.

"So you've cleaned everything out," remarked Thaneford, as he glanced
around. "That is, about everything but the big teak desk, the leather
screen, and the swivel-chair."

"The desk was too cumbersome for use in the other room," I answered. "As
for the chair you see it is riveted down into the floor--not even
screwed in the ordinary way. I fancy it would be a job to get it free."

"And no object either. Poor Eunice, you say, died here?"

"Sitting in that very chair."

"Like Francis Graeme before her," mused Thaneford.

"Yes, and before him four other men, all masters of 'Hildebrand
Hundred'--Yardley, and Randall, and Horace, and Richard. But perhaps you
know these things even better than I do."

"Evidently a seat perilous," he said sardonically. "No wonder you do not
choose to occupy it."

I don't know what mad, foolish impulse moved me to go and sit down in
the big, swivel-chair, but there I presently found myself, my face
reddening a trifle under the quizzical stare of John Thaneford's dull,
black eyes. Effingham entered with the whiskey and glasses, and I bade
him put the tray on the desk and fetch a chair for Mr. Thaneford.

"Good medicine!" approved my guest as he tossed off his glass. There was
a plate of biscuit at his elbow; he took one of the little round
crackers and bit into it; then, with a smothered ejaculation, he spewed
forth the half masticated fragments. I looked my natural surprise.

"I never could abide those damned saltines," he explained, with a touch
of his old glowering sulkiness. "I'll drink with you, Cousin Hugh, till
the swallows homeward fly, but I'll not taste your salt; I reserve the
right to withdraw the flag of truce without notice."

Well, I should have had warning a-plenty by this time, but it was all to
no purpose; I had the full realization that I was treading a dangerous
path, and yet it was not in my conscious power to take one single step
toward safety. Call it fatalism if you will, or the pure recklessness
engendered by the growing conviction that Betty was lost to me for good
and all; whatever the secret springs of my present course of action,
the outcome inevitably must have been the same; a Scotchman would have
said that I was fey. And perhaps I was.

I never had been what you call a drinking man, but to-night I was
matching glass for glass with "Black Jack" Thaneford, who could put any
man, yes any three men in King William County, under the table. The
night came on apace, and twice Effingham had been ordered to bring in
another supply of spirits. Suddenly John Thaneford broke away from the
trivial subjects which we had been discussing.

"Some two years ago, Cousin Hugh," he began, "I gave you a choice--Betty
Graeme or the 'Hundred.' Do you remember?"

"I remember," I answered steadily.

"But you would not make it; you took them both."

"What right had you to force such an issue?" I demanded hotly.

"That is beside the point. I did force it."

"Well?"

"I'll give you the final opportunity."

"Possibly, you have forgotten that Betty is now my wife?"

"I have not forgotten it."

"And as for the 'Hundred'----"

"The 'Hundred,'" he repeated, a dull, red flush dyeing his high
forehead.

"There is another interest now besides my own that I am bound to
protect; I have a son."

"Ah, I had not heard. Of course that does make a difference."

"All the difference. See here, Thaneford," I went on impulsively, "I
don't want to play an ungenerous part, and I can see something of your
side of the case. I am prepared to make some provision, indeed an ample
one; but the 'Hundred' must remain where it is."

"And that is your last word?" he queried almost indifferently.

"My last word," I answered, looking him straight in the eye.

"Then we know where we are," he responded. "The bottle stands with you,
Cousin Hugh."

We renewed our potations, but thenceforth in silence; for the space of
an hour and more not another word passed between us.

And the silence was an hostile one, the quiet of watchful and eternal
enmity. I know that I hated John Thaneford and that he hated me;
moreover, this condition could never change or alter until the end of
time itself. Well, anything was better than the false cordiality of
conventional speech; at least we knew where we stood. And still our grim
wassail went on.

       *       *       *       *       *

I can't recall falling to sleep in the great chair, but now, with a
sudden, painful start, I awoke to realize that it was broad
daylight--Friday, the twenty-second of June. My head was aching
frightfully, and my arms and legs seemed singularly cramped and
constricted. Then I came face to face with the ugly fact that I was
bound fast in my chair by stout cords that secured my shoulders, wrists,
and ankles; I could move my head a trifle to one side or the other and
that was all.

John Thaneford sat opposite me, smoking a cigarette and looking as
though he had remained entirely unaffected by the amount of liquor he
had consumed. Seeing that I was awake he rose, came over to where I sat,
and examined carefully the various ligatures that constrained my
movements. Not a word was uttered on either side, and indeed there was
no need for any speech between us. Doubtless I should be informed in due
time of whatever fate might be in store for me; and, for the present, I
could only wait with what show of patience it were possible to muster.

A discreet knock sounded on the closed door leading to the corridor.
Thaneford snapped back the locking-bolt and stepped across the
threshold; I realized that Effingham was standing there, but the leather
screen prevented my seeing him, and of course it hid, in turn, my
mortifying predicament. Now I might have called out, shouted for help,
raised the very roof in indignant protest at the humiliation to which I
had been subjected. And yet I did none of these obvious things, and I
think John Thaneford was shrewd enough to know that my tongue would be
held out of very shame; otherwise, he would have taken the precaution to
slip a gag into my mouth.

I heard Thaneford tell Effingham, speaking of course in my name, to
bring a large pot of black coffee and a plate of crackers. "The unsalted
kind," he added, as though actuated by an afterthought whose
significance became instantly clear to my own mind. "Or better yet," he
continued, "some of those big, round biscuits that they call 'pilot
bread.' No, Mr. Hildebrand doesn't care for any tea this morning--what's
that! a telegram? Then why the devil didn't you say so! Give it here,
and mind you hurry up that coffee--hot and black, and strong as sheol."

The door swung to, and I could hear Effingham's carpet slippers padding
softly away. Too late now, I regretted that I had not given the alarm.
Even if Thaneford had used violent means to silence Effingham my voice
would have rung all through the lower part of the house, prompting some
sort of inquiry and a probable rescue. But that chance was gone.

Thaneford returned to my immediate vicinity, the buff telegram envelope
in his hand. I could see that it was addressed to me, but he broke the
seal without even the pretense of hesitation, and glanced over the
message. His lips curled into a genial sneer (if one can imagine such a
combination); then he deliberately held up the sheet for me to read.

_If indeed you still care for me, don't enter library again under any
consideration or for any purpose. Coming._

The message was signed with my dear girl's initials, and it was plain
that it had been written under stress of emotion. In spite of my
equivocal position (for really I could not bring myself to believe that
John Thaneford intended actual personal violence), and the extreme
discomfort of being trussed up like a hog going to the slaughter pen, I
was conscious that, after all these months of alienation, some
mysterious barrier had fallen and the long misunderstanding was in a
fair way of being cleared up. And so, although my temples were thumping
like a steam engine and the pain in my arms and legs was deadening to a
terrifying numbness, my spirits rebounded to an extravagant height; my
heart sang again.

"If you still care for me!" And then that wonderful word: "Coming." I
was wildly, deliriously happy, for now everything must come right. What
a fool I had been through all these doleful months! how wholeheartedly
would I make my confession; how tender and generous would be my
absolution--but a sudden realization of things as they really were
checked, like a cold douche, my satisfying glow of well-being. If danger
actually existed for me within the library walls I was ill prepared to
meet it, sitting fast bound in my chair with "Black Jack" Thaneford
opposite me, an evil smile upon his lips and the glint of a spark in the
dead blackness of his half-closed eyes.

And then, of a sudden, I became horribly afraid. Not of John Thaneford,
for all that he hated me and had me in his power, but of the Terror,
unknown, unseen, and unheard, that lurked within the circle of these
walls; whose coming none could foresee and none prevent; for whose
appearance the ultimate stage had been set and the final watch posted.

Remember, I had nothing tangible upon which to base even a fragment of
theory, and all of our original clues had proved worthless. Here were
neither dim, midnight spaces, nor hollow walls, nor underlying abysses.
Just a big, almost empty room, devoid of alcoves and odd corners, and
withal flooded with the sunshine of a perfect June day. The only feature
out of the common was the secret outlet behind the chimney-breast, and
some time ago I had replaced the original lock by one of the latest,
burglar proof pattern. There were only two keys, one on my own bunch and
the other in Betty's possession; certainly the peril was not likely to
appear in that quarter; that would have been too obvious, even
amateurish.

The morning dragged on. When Marcus knocked at the door, seeking
admission to carry in the breakfast tray, he was roughly ordered to set
it down on the threshold and take himself off. Thaneford, waiting until
the house-boy was well out of hearing, unlocked the door and carried in
the tray for himself; evidently, he did not intend to give me a second
opportunity to send out any S. O. S. calls. With the massive door once
more _in situ_ I might halloo and shout until I burst my bellows,
without anyone being the wiser.

Thaneford, in quick succession, drank two big cups of the coffee. He
did not go through the form of offering me a taste of the beverage, and
much as I longed for its comforting ministrations, I was hardly ready to
ask the boon of my jailor. Effingham must have been unable to find any
of the unsalted pilot bread, for he had provided, in its stead, several
rounds of buttered toast and a dish of scrambled eggs. But Thaneford
would have none of these forbidden viands. Strange! that he should balk
upon the purely academic question of a few grains of salt. But we all
enjoy our pet inconsistencies. So he finished the pot of coffee and fell
to smoking again, while I continued to speculate, a little grimly, upon
the chances of ever getting clear of this infernal coil. Apparently,
there was nothing for either of us to do but to go on waiting, waiting.

The hours dragged along and now it was hard upon high noon, as I could
see by Thaneford's gold repeater that lay on the desk between us; with
an indescribable thrill I realized that he, too, was watching the minute
hand as it slowly traveled upward to the sign of the Roman numerals,
XII. Unquestionably, some fateful moment was approaching, and yet there
was nothing in the physical surroundings to give rise to uneasiness
even, let alone apprehension; nothing unless it were the occasional
rumble of distant thunder, a sullen drone underneath the pleasant song
of the birds and the cheerful humming of bees among the rose bushes.

Through the painted window, depicting the flight of the Hebrew spies,
the sunshine poured in full volume, the white light transformed to
gorgeous color by the medium through which it passed. One broad bar lay
close at hand upon the oaken floor, a riotous splash of red from Rahab's
scarlet cord intermingled with purple blotches from the circular bosses
that simulated the huge grapes of the Promised Land: I watched the
variegated band of color as it crept slowly toward my chair; at present,
it lay to the right, but as the sun approached the zenith it swung
around, little by little, so as to finally bring my person into the
sphere of its influence; now a piercing purple beam struck me directly
in the face and I blinked; an instant later and the dazzle had passed
beyond; again I saw clearly.

Thaneford had risen, his teeth clenched upon his lower lip, a half cry
choking in his throat. Together our eyes fastened on the dial of his
watch, where the hands now pointed to eight minutes after twelve
o'clock. With one convulsive movement he snatched up the time-piece,
and dashed it in golden ruin to the floor; then he sprang toward me, and
I knew in another moment those strong hands, with their black-tufted
knuckles, would be gripping at my throat.

But that moment never came. On he leaped, lunging straight through the
colored stream of sunlight. And then a purple flash seemed to strike
fair on his black-shocked head; he reeled and fell. Down at my feet he
rolled, his limbs twitching in the death throe; simultaneously came a
tremendous crash of thunder, echoing and re-echoing from the straining
and cracking walls, while the blazing band of gold and purple and
scarlet went out like the flame of a wind-blown candle. I looked up to
see Betty's pale face framed in the archway of the secret passage behind
the chimney-breast; back of her stood Chalmers Warriner.

Betty had an automatic pistol in her hand, and she kept it trained on
the motionless, sprawling figure at my feet. She must have realized that
the precaution was unnecessary, but it was all part of the preconceived
plan, and she could not have borne to have stood idly by.

Warriner now entered the room, but he did not come directly toward me;
on the contrary, he kept close to the wall until he had arrived at a
point diagonally behind my chair; then he made his dash, and I could
feel my bonds falling apart under the keen edge of the hunting knife
that he carried. "Can you walk?" he asked. "Wait and I'll help you."

He dragged me to my feet, and I stumbled back to the wall, holding onto
his arm; now the room was in almost complete darkness save for the
recurrent flashes of steel-blue radiance from the incessant electrical
discharges; the rolling thunder drowned out any further exchange of
speech.

Together we crept toward the secret entrance, still hugging the line and
angles of the wall. Betty's arms drew me into the sheltering warmth of
her breast; now the floor rocked beneath our feet as the lightning bolt
sheared through the doomed roof, and the great painted window of the
Israelitish spies, bending inward under the pressure of the on-rushing
wind, crashed into multitudinous, iridescent ruin, obliterating in its
fall the white, twisted face of the man who had been John Thaneford.

       *       *       *       *       *

At last we were in the open, shaken and trembling, drenched to the skin
by the descending floods, but safe; we pulled up short and looked back.

The library wing was in flames which seemed to blaze the more fiercely
under the lash of the down-slanting rain. But it might still be possible
to save the main house, and I ran to the fire alarm, the familiar rustic
apparatus of a great, iron ring suspended from a stout framework; and
made it give furious tongue, swinging the heavy hammer until my arms
seemed ready to pull away from their sockets. But help was at hand, Zack
and Zeb at the head of a body of field hands; and with them the
old-fashioned hand-pumping fire engine which had been preparing itself
for just such an emergency through a full century of watchful waiting.

Our domestic fire brigade had been well drilled, and the immediate
danger was soon past; finally we succeeded in getting the blaze in the
library wing under control. The interior had been entirely gutted, and
the roof had fallen in. But the walls remained standing, and,
apparently, they had suffered but little damage.

The storm was over and once again the sun was shining. Innumerable
brilliants flashed on the smooth emerald of the lawns, the leaves of the
lindens were rustling softly, and a Baltimore oriole, gorgeous in his
orange and black livery, returned scornful challenge to a blue jay's
chattering abuse. I might have deemed it but the awakening from a horrid
nightmare, were it not for the incredible fact that Betty's hand lay
close in mine and Chalmers Warriner was asking me for a cigarette.

Whereupon I distinguished myself by crumpling down at Betty's feet;
somebody drew the cap of darkness over my eyes.



Chapter XX

_The Blind Terror_


For three days I wandered in a phantasmagoric wilderness, my principal
obsession making me identify myself with that pair of Hebrew spies
staggering under the weight of those enormous grapes; would we never
lose sight of Rahab's scarlet cord, and be again in safety and quiet!
Then the confusion in my head cleared away, and I saw that it was really
Betty who sat by my bed and not "Black Jack" Thaneford.

       *       *       *       *       *

Yes, John Thaneford lies quiet and still in S. Saviour's
churchyard--with his forefathers and mine--and enmity should end at the
edge of the grave. God knows that each one of us needs forgiveness, both
human and divine, for the deeds done in the flesh.

       *       *       *       *       *

This morning I am allowed to sit up. Betty is busy at her household
accounts, and Little Hugh is playing on the floor with blocks and tin
soldiers. What a tremendous big chap he is! Perhaps a trifle shy of me
at present, but time will soon put that to rights.

       *       *       *       *       *

A beautiful day, and I am feeling almost if not quite myself. To-morrow
I am to get up, and Chalmers Warriner is coming to dinner.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is a long and well nigh incredible story to which I have been
listening this evening. But it explains everything and clears up
everything, and the shadow that has hung over "Hildebrand Hundred" for
so long has finally fled away; never, thank God! to return.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Imprimis_, let me register full and frank confession of my unutterable
folly in ever doubting Betty; or, for that matter, my dear friend
Chalmers Warriner. And the explanation was so absurdly simple--the
secret engagement between Warriner and Hilda Powers. Of course, Betty
had been Hilda's confidante and could not betray her even to
re-establish a foolish husband's peace of mind. The ridiculous side of
the affair lay in the fact that there had been no particular reason for
keeping the engagement under cover, outside of Hilda's whim to have the
announcement delayed until after the marriage of her elder sister Eva.
Anyhow it _had_ been a secret and Betty had kept it loyally, even to her
own hurt. Moreover, she may have detected other traces of the green-eyed
monster in my make-up, and had decided that I needed a salutary lesson.
Let it go at that.

Of course, the mere statement of fact was enough to untangle the whole
coil; explained at once was the confidential understanding which
certainly had existed between my wife and my friend; also Warriner's
appearance at Stockbridge (where Hilda was already Betty's guest), and
all the other straws that seemed to show which way the wind blew, and
yet were nothing but straws, hopelessly light-minded and wholly
irresponsible. I made my amends humbly enough, and they were generously
accepted; we will say no more about it.

Dinner was over, and we were taking our coffee on the front portico. It
was a perfect June night, the heavens a sable pall studded with
innumerable star-clusters, the little vagrant breezes redolent of new
mown hay, a nightingale singing in a nearby boscage. An atmosphere of
heavenly peace and quiet that I must needs disturb with the blunt
question:

"And now what was it that killed John Thaneford?"

Chalmers Warriner threw away the butt of his cigar. "What was it that
killed all the Hildebrands throughout two generations?" he retorted.
"Yardley and Randall and Horace and Richard, and Francis Graeme? The
answer to the one question is the answer to them all. And, finally,
there was Eunice Trevor, who went voluntarily to meet the invisible
angel of death--a brave woman if there ever was one! Of course you
remember the unfinished letter which she left behind her. There was a
particular paragraph in it that impressed me, and I copied it down in my
note-book." He pulled out the little volume and began to read:

     ... moreover, I believe that the heart of the Terror beats in this
     very place--the library of "Hildebrand Hundred." Something is in
     this room, something eternally menacing and eternally patient. It
     may be in one year or it may be in three and fifty years, but in
     the end it will surely claim its own. Yes, something is here, the
     something for which I myself am waiting; but, search as you will,
     you shall not find the Terror; you must await its coming. At least
     you may be certain that it will not fail to keep tryst.

"It must be evident," continued Chalmers, "that Eunice Trevor was aware
of the very real danger attendant upon the occupation of the room we
call the library at 'Hildebrand Hundred.' But she did not know what was
the nature of that danger; in the same breath she speaks of the peril as
being eternally menacing and eternally patient--a contradiction in
terms. How could the Terror be always ready to strike, and yet, in one
case at least, wait half a century for the opportunity? This discrepancy
bothered me from the very first; but let me explain myself more exactly;
I made some other notes at the time."

Warriner ruffled the leaves of his note-book, and began again:

"Eunice Trevor gives a list of the owners of the 'Hundred,' together
with the dates of their succession and death, running back to 1860, when
Yardley Hildebrand succeeded his father, Oliver; Yardley himself dying a
year later under mysterious circumstances. At least I assume that they
were mysterious, for Effingham has assured me that he died alone and
while engaged in looking over some papers in the then newly completed
library. The list continues with Randall and Horace and Richard
Hildebrand, and ends with Francis Graeme. Now for Miss Trevor's
comments:

     "As we analyze these dates and periods we come upon some curious
     coincidences, and also upon some marked discrepancies. Yardley
     Hildebrand reigned for one brief year, and the same is true of
     Randall Hildebrand and of Francis Graeme. But Horace Hildebrand
     enjoyed three full years of sovereignty, while Richard was
     Hildebrand of the "Hundred" for no less a period than fifty-three
     years. Yet all five went to their death along an unfrequented road,
     and no man can say of a certainty what was the essential damnation
     of their taking-off. They died, and they died alone--here in this
     very room where I sit waiting, waiting."

Warriner lit a fresh cigar.

"Making due allowance for feminine hyperbole," he said judicially, "and
for the writer's excited state of mind, we arrive at certain definite
facts. Here are six deaths--seven if we include that of John
Thaneford--and all of them happening under apparently natural but really
abnormal conditions. The constant factors in the series of equations are
the _locale_ and the general circumstances--an unattended death and no
visible cause for dissolution. The period is a variable quantity--from
one to over fifty years. We therefore may conclude justifiably that Miss
Trevor was wrong in her assertion about something deadly and menacing
being always in the room, ready to spring upon its prey. Under that
hypothesis the apartment would quickly have become impossible for human
occupancy. The alternative theory is that, granting certain conditions,
the lethal agent might enter the room and accomplish its deadly
purpose, and then immediately withdraw. Finally, this agency might be
human or purely mechanical in character. You see what I'm driving at.
From the first, I believed that the attack was delivered from without,
while Betty and Eunice held that it was what the police call an inside
job."

"And neither theory was wholly right nor wholly wrong," observed Betty.

"Perfectly," rejoined Warriner. "As usual, the truth lay in the middle
distance. Now you go on, Betty; this is your part of the story."

"My part of the story!" echoed Betty deprecatingly. "I'm not an author;
I'm merely the amanuensis, the typist, if you please."

"Mock modesty," proclaimed Warriner. "Even now we would still be
standing before a closed door were it not for Betty and her master-key."

"Yes, my master-key," scoffed Betty. "Only it doesn't seem very clever
of me to have carried it all these months without ever thinking to use
it."

"Perhaps you couldn't find your pocket," suggested Chalmers.

"Enough of this bush-beating and persiflage," I commanded severely.
"Will you go on and tell me, Betty?"

"Well," began my wife obediently, "we had been warned away from the
'Hundred,' but you were obstinate and wouldn't budge; you had to be
saved in spite of yourself.

"Of course I was right in going North immediately after the Midsummer
Night's ball at 'Powersthorp.' Little Hugh really needed the change, and
I wanted to be able to call at will on Chalmers for assistance in
working out my problem. I couldn't do so if I stayed on at the
'Hundred,' even by means of correspondence. I don't suppose, Hugh, that
I need to particularize any further in this direction?"

I mumbled something unintelligible, and, to add to my discomfiture,
Warriner actually laughed. Never mind; I deserved it all.

"I could feel reasonably easy in my mind," went on Betty, "since I knew
that the library had been dismantled and locked up. Besides, I had your
solemn promise that you would not attempt to enter it for any purpose."

"I forgot," I murmured.

"That sounds like honest penitence, and I can forgive you--now. But I
shall never be able to forget the afternoon your letter came with its
calm announcement that you had been in the room to see about the
damaged window; yes, and would probably have to go again.

"That letter reached Stockbridge at ten o'clock in the morning of
Thursday, the twenty-first. Fifteen minutes later an express train left
for New York, and Chalmers and I were the passengers on it, leaving
Hilda to follow with the nurse and the baby. At the first opportunity I
sent you a telegram. Did you receive it?"

My thoughts went back to the yellow telegraphic sheet clutched in John
Thaneford's black-knuckled hands, and held up before my helpless eyes.
"Yes, it came," I answered slowly, "but too late to be of any use."

"I was afraid of that," said Betty, "but we were leaving no stone
unturned. We were missing connections all the way down, and I knew that
the trap was ready for springing. And someone else knew it, too--John
Thaneford."

"But," I objected, "Eunice expressly says that John Thaneford did not
know the secret; except perhaps in part."

"What did he mean then by stupefying you with whiskey, and placing you,
bound and helpless, in the big swivel-chair?" put in Warriner.

I was silent.

"Finally," continued Warriner, "it seemed certain that something had
gone wrong with the working of the machinery, whatever it was. Whereupon
he started for you--you remember--with bare hands."

Ah, yes, I remembered.

"Unquestionably, Thaneford was carrying out a perfectly definite plan of
procedure. He knew what ought to have happened."

"But it didn't happen," I protested. "I'm here and very much alive."

"It did, and it didn't," retorted Warriner. "John Thaneford is dead."

"You mean--you mean----" I boggled.

"Yes, the Terror had entered the room; don't you recall how close I kept
to the wall when I was trying to reach you? But it had become a blind
Terror, and John Thaneford got in its way."

"But how and why?" I asked helplessly.

"Betty, it's your turn again," said Warriner, settling back in his
chair.



Chapter XXI

_A Lost Clue_


"Suppose we admit, for the sake of argument," began Betty "that John
Thaneford was in possession of the secret. Then everything points back
to his father, old Fielding, who certainly had all the brains of the
family. Last and most important, it was a secret which Mr. Thaneford,
senior, desired to impart to me; he did tell me all he could."

"The series of numbers, you mean? I recall them perfectly: 1-4-2-4-8.
And what then?"

"Do you remember the story of Christian and his fellow pilgrim, Hopeful,
imprisoned in Giant Despair's stronghold of Doubting Castle? After
languishing for a week or more in darkness and misery, Hopeful suddenly
bethinks him of a key which he has in his bosom, a key that will unlock
any door in the castle. The rest is easy.

"So, too, I had my key, but I had only used it once--to unlock the first
and most obvious door----"

"The combination of the safe," I interrupted.

"Precisely. It never occurred to either of us that it might be a
master-key to which all locks must yield. But so it was.

"Not that I learned to use it without a lot of trouble and
discouragement. It took months and months, and I only got it fully
working on the train trip down from Stockbridge.

"Of course, you have guessed that the whole story lay buried in that
leather-bound book belonging to Fielding Thaneford which we found in the
safe. I remembered all that you had told me about 'Le Chiffre
Indéchiffrable,' but even granting that that particular cypher had been
employed, how was I ever to stumble upon the indispensable key-word, or
more likely, key-sentence?

"One day I had an inspiration. There was the series of numbers:
1-4-2-4-8. Considered as numbers merely they could be of no use, since
most cypher codes are built up on letters. But I might put the numbers
into their written word equivalents, thus: One-four-two-four-eight It
was certainly conceivable that these letters might form the
key-sentence; it would be all the more easily memorized since, in its
numerical form, it served as a combination to the safe.

"I had with me the magic square which you had made for me, and I began
very carefully to work out the problem according to your directions.

"The initial procedure was to put down my theoretical key-sentences,
thus:"

  O N E F O U R T W O F O U R E I G H T

"Underneath I must write the cypher message, and half a dozen letters
would be enough to show if I were on the right track. I opened Mr.
Fielding Thaneford's old book, and copied down the first seven letters,
ranging them vertically under the key-letters. That gave me this
arrangement:"

  O N E F O U R
  Q W O T T U I

"Now the rule goes on to say that you must find the letter O in the top
horizontal column, and follow that column vertically downward until you
come to the first cypher letter, in this case Q. The letter at the
outside, left end of this second horizontal column, will be the first
letter of the original message.

"Well, I tried it, and got the letter B. The next pair yielded an I,
which was encouraging, as one would expect a vowel in this position. But
the third try gave me a J, and that was not so promising; then I got an
N and an E. So far my decoded message read: BIJNE; not very
enlightening. The next pair showed the letter U in both key-sentence and
cypher. Such a combination is impossible on our magic square, and I had
to put down a blank space. The final letter obtained was a Q, and the
complete result read: BIJNE-Q. Pure gibberish of course. I tried out a
few more pairs, and then gave up in disgust; my beautiful theory had
fallen to pieces.

"Just the same, I wasn't ready to give it up. I knew, right in my bones,
that old Mr. Thaneford had wanted to tell me something of supreme
importance at that last moment on his deathbed, when my hand lay in his
and I could feel the intermittent pressure of his fingers. It was
impossible that I should be mistaken about any of the figures, for he
went over the series three or four times; besides, they did open the
safe.

"I was still sure that the numbers meant something more than the mere
combination to an old strong-box that held nothing of any pecuniary
value. The real secret lay between the covers of that leather-bound
book, and I was certain that the old man had been desirous that I should
discover it. The Thanefords and the Hildebrands had not been friends for
a long while, although nobody knew just why. Probably, it was some
ancient grudge Or unforgiven wrong, and old Mr. Thaneford had done his
part in keeping it up. But now that he was sick and paralyzed and dying,
and especially since he and I had become friends of a sort, he was
willing to bury the hatchet. So he told all he could--you remember that
he couldn't speak--and he seemed to feel satisfied that I would find the
hint sufficient, that I would be clever enough to solve the puzzle.

"And surely it was a puzzle. My best guess had come a flivver, and I
didn't see how I could go a step further. Perhaps it was silly to attach
so much importance to what the old man had tried to tell me, but I had
an intuition that our future happiness and safety were bound up in those
crumbling leather covers.

"Time went on, and the solution was as far off as ever; at least
apparently. Little Hugh and I had come to Irvington for the winter; it
was close to Christmas, and I had the blues terribly. Just to think of
Christmas and that abyss lying between us! For I knew that you would not
come unless I called, and I could not send for you quite yet. Suppose
that the discovery of the secret should be close at hand; I might need
Chalmers to help out on some difficult scientific point.

"It is always the little things that show the way out. Hilda's weekly
letter had come, and I was reading it eagerly hoping to find some
mention of you. Now Hilda, poor dear! is an awful speller; she never
could learn to visualize words. As I read along I came on a word which
looked odd; then I saw that she had committed the careless
stenographer's error of spelling 'forty' with an u, thus: 'fourty.' Of
course, the pronunciation is the same in either case--and then it was
that I got my _big_ idea. Was it possible that the phonetic sounds in my
series of numbers might fit words of entirely different meaning than
their ordinary equivalents in letters? Let me try.

"1-4-2-4-8. Why, yes, 1 is 'one' and also 'won'; 4 is 'four' and also
'for'; 2 is 'two' and also 'too'--quick! let me get them all down. And
here was the result: Won--for--too--for--ate. You see that, in every
instance, the phonetic sound of the number can be represented exactly by
a word of entirely different meaning. But this peculiar quality in the
series, 1-4-2-4-8, would not be apparent at a casual glance, and the
figures could even be written down for future reference, or sent to a
distant correspondent, without any probability of that inner
significance becoming revealed. Very clever of Fielding Thaneford--that
is if my deductions were really correct!

"The first step was to set down the new key-sentence with the cypher
writing underneath. Here it is; this time using fifteen letters."

  W O N F O R T O O F O R A T E
  Q W O T T U I J X I S V A Z P

"Applying the decoding rule I got the following in my first six tries:"

  T H A N E C

"You can imagine how excited I was. If my theory were correct the next
four letters should be OURT, completing the word 'Thane Court,' Eureka!
it is coming! It is coming! I got both the O and the U.

"From the height of exultation to the depths of despair. For instead of
R in the ninth place, I had to set down an I; and then, in succession:
CDD-FKL. Perfectly impossible! Look at it: THANECOUICDD-FKL, etc.

"And yet the cypher had certainly started to uncode; what could have
thrown me off the track? For I had succeeded in getting 'Thanecou,' and
that unusual combination was significant in the highest degree. What
word could it be but 'Thane Court,' the ancestral home of the
Thanefords? Why the chances were a million to one against my reaching
such a series for--for----"

"Fortuitously," I prompted.

"Yes, that's it; something like the 'fortuitous concourse of atoms' that
the philosophers talk about. I remember the phrase from my school days.

"And yet the mix-up came to spoil everything. For what could any
sensible person make of THANECOUICDD-FKL?

"I tried carrying on the series until my brain was positively dizzy, but
I got nothing except incomprehensible rubbish. And yet I knew that I had
found a real clue; how in the world had I lost it again? I used to work
until I actually went fast to sleep at my desk, but nothing came of it.
It was enough to drive one mad.

"The middle of May I went up to Stockbridge, and of course I carried my
troubles with me. Wherever I looked I seemed to see that tantalizing
key-sentence: Won--for--too--for--ate; it was as bad as the squaring of
the circle. Just some little, insignificant error was keeping me from
the solving of the puzzle, but for the life of me I couldn't put my
finger on it. Honestly now, Hugh, do you think you would have been
clever enough to have figured it out?"

I checked up Betty's "layout" and went over the decoding process with
meticulous care. I got precisely the same result: THANECOU--and then
chaos.

"It beats me," I confessed. "It's enough to make one dotty."

"I dare say that is what Aunt Alice Crew thought of me in her heart of
hearts," laughed Betty, "although she was too polite to say so. And,
really, it was getting on my nerves. I couldn't eat, and a _nuit
blanche_ was no uncommon thing with me. I couldn't get it out of my
head, you understand, that the solving of the problem must be of immense
importance. There _was_ a mystery at the 'Hundred,' and so long as it
remained a mystery there could be no enduring peace or happiness for us.
If you had been willing to sell the 'Hundred' there might have been some
chance of escaping the curse; hadn't poor Eunice said as much in that
weird statement which she left behind her. But you would not consider
the suggestion even."

"I suppose I was pig-headed and altogether in the wrong," I admitted
humbly. "But it all seemed so fantastic and incredible--here in the
twentieth century."

"Granting that the mystery had continued unsolved," said Betty, looking
me straight in the eye. "What then?"

"But you have given me to understand----" I began.

"Never mind that," interrupted my wife. "Even now you don't know the
secret, and I might find it inadvisable to tell you. Admitting the
possibility that the ghost has not been truly laid, would you still
insist upon remaining master of 'Hildebrand Hundred'?"

A vision of those strong, cruel hands, with their black-tufted knuckles,
rose before me, and I shuddered.

"Or would you be willing that Little Hugh should enter upon his
inheritance with this cloud hanging over it?"

"No, I wouldn't," I said soberly. "To be honest, I hadn't thought of it
in that light."

"You see a woman has to consider all these things," rejoined Betty. "But
you have been very patient, Hugh, and the winding up of my yarn won't
take long. The crisis begins with Chalmers' coming to Stockbridge."

"For me, that was the denouement, the end of all things," I said
shamefacedly, and Warriner roared.

"You see, I never suspected even that I was cast for the role of breaker
up of homes," he remarked meditatively. "Betty and I were good friends,
of course, but once you appeared on the sky line I was reduced to
playing gooseberry. Besides, there never had been anyone else than
Hilda for me."

"I'm only trying to explain my conduct," I retorted. "I'm well aware
that nothing can excuse it. Shoot, Betty."

"Of course, Chalmers was coming to Stockbridge," went on Betty, "for the
simple reason that Hilda was visiting me. Nevertheless, I was looking
forward to his arrival, because he had promised to dig up certain data
for me.

"You remember the list of Hildebrand tragedies as given by Eunice; how
Yardley Hildebrand had succeeded his father, Oliver, in 1860, and had
died the following year; then how his younger brother, Randall, had
become master of the 'Hundred,' and had only lived a twelvemonth; and so
on.

"Well, I thought it might be useful to ascertain all these dates
exactly, and, in order to do that, it would be necessary to take
transcripts from the parish register at S. Saviour's. I wrote to
Chalmers, and asked him to look up this information and bring it with
him when he came to Stockbridge. Not only did he do this, but he took
the trouble to type out the complete record, so that all the facts in
the case might lie under the eye. I'll read it."

Betty pulled out a folded sheet of paper from the portfolio lying in her
lap and began:

     Yardley Hildebrand, b. March 5, 1806; succeeded his father, Oliver,
     1860; d. June 20, 1861.

     Randall Hildebrand, b. May 11, 1809; succeeded his brother,
     Yardley, 1861; d. June 22, 1862.

     Horace Hildebrand, elder son of Randall, b. December 4, 1830;
     succeeded his father, 1862; d. June 22, 1865.

     Richard Hildebrand, younger son of Randall, b. June 1, 1835;
     succeeded his elder brother, 1865; d. June 20, 1918.

     Francis Hildebrand Graeme, great-nephew to Richard, b. April 13,
     1874; succeeded his great-uncle, 1918; d. June 21, 1919.

     Eunice Trevor, b. September 2, 1892; d. June 20, 1920.

"And now we may add a final entry," continued Betty: "John Thaneford,
nephew to Richard, b. July 16, 1892; d. June 22, 1922."

Betty handed me over the list. "Do you notice anything peculiar about
those dates?" she asked.

I read the paper through, and then again. "You have already pointed
out," I began hesitatingly, "that the tenure of 'Hildebrand Hundred' was
for the comparatively brief period of one to three years. Except for
Richard, who held the property for over fifty."

"I don't mean that. Examine the actual dates."

I scanned the record with still greater attention. "Ah!" I exclaimed,
"here _is_ something strange. Everyone of these men, and Eunice, too,
died in June; yes, and on a day of the month that varied between the
twentieth and the twenty-second. Is that what you had in mind?"

"Yes, and it seemed to indicate clearly that those particular three
days, the twentieth, twenty-first, and twenty-second of June----"

"In astronomical parlance, the summer solstice," interrupted Warriner.

"----was the danger period."

"Yes, and then?"

"Your letter came, saying that you had been obliged to enter the library
to look after the window repairs; you added that you would probably have
to go again to finish up the job. As I have already told you, that
letter reached me on Thursday morning, June the twenty-first; Chalmers
and I left at once for New York. On the way down I succeeded in reading
the cypher, and so got Fielding Thaneford's message in full."

"But how in the world----" I began.

"You'll know in good time," cut in Betty. "First, I want you to consider
another of my sources of information. Here it is," and she held up a
small book bound in tattered leather.

"This," continued my wife, "is a diary kept by Horace Hildebrand, who
succeeded to the 'Hundred' in 1862, and died June 22, 1865. The notes
refer chiefly to the weather, a record that many country gentlemen are
fond of keeping for their own amusement. The only period which interests
us is that covering those fatal June days in 1863, 1864, and 1865."

Betty thumbed over the leaves, and stopped at the latter part of June,
1863.

"You see that the twentieth, twenty-first, and twenty-second are
described as overcast and rainy. Now for 1864:

"'June 20, cloudy; June 21, clear. (Note: A total eclipse of the sun
took place to-day, the period of partial and complete darkness lasting
from 10.45 A. M. to 2.10 P. M.); June 22, cloudy.' Finally, we take
1865:

"'June 20, rainy; June twenty-first, heavy rains; June 22, fine and
clear.' This is the last entry in the book as Horace Hildebrand was
found dead later on in that same day.

"Just one more point. What possible hypothesis can we establish to
account for Richard Hildebrand's half century of immunity? Now it
happened that I had questioned Effingham on this very subject before I
left the 'Hundred.' Effingham had lived, as boy and man, on the
Hildebrand estate for over sixty years. Consequently, he knew Marse
Richard, as he called him, very well, and was familiar with his habits
of life.

"According to Effingham, Richard Hildebrand disliked the warm weather,
and always left the 'Hundred' the first of June; he would spend the
summer at the 'Old White,' returning to Maryland toward the end of
September. But in 1918, the last year of his life, he was too feeble to
go away from home. His favorite room was the library, and there he was
found dead the evening of the twentieth of June, 1918. He was supposed
to have died of heart disease; certainly there was no suspicion of foul
play.

"So that was the sum total of my investigations to date," concluded
Betty. "Do you make anything of it?"

"It's beyond me," I confessed frankly. "What is the answer?"

"Only Fielding Thaneford himself can give it," replied Betty. "Here is
his fully decoded statement, and I'll ask Chalmers to read it aloud. As
I said a moment ago, we worked it out together that long day on the
train. When we reached town we had the whole story, and knew what to
expect. Except one thing: Would it be a cloudy day? But it turned out
fair and hot, with only a faint suggestion of thunder in the air. There
was a bad wreck on the Cape Charles route, and anyhow we had missed the
connection for the morning train. So we hired a car, threw away the
speedometer, and made to strike the 'Hundred' by midday. We couldn't
quite do it, but the tide of chance had turned at last, and it didn't
matter. Now go on, Chalmers."

Warriner ruffled the dozen or more sheets of paper between his fingers
and began:



Chapter XXII

_The Grapes of Wrath_


     Thane Court, August third, eighteen-ninety-two. Now that a son is
     born to me, Fielding Thaneford of King William county, Maryland, it
     is fitting that I set down in order the form and measure of my
     vengeance upon the traitor Yardley Hildebrand; also upon those who
     may come after him until the end of time.

     Back in 1854 I was a young man of nine-and-twenty. Yardley
     Hildebrand was some twenty years my senior, yet we were close
     friends owing to our common interest in scientific studies, he as a
     chemist and I as a physicist, specializing in optics. Then Evelyn
     Mansfield came and stood between us.

     It was his wealth which turned the scale. Not that Evelyn was
     mercenary, but financial disaster had overtaken the Mansfields, and
     Yardley Hildebrand had promised to play the part of a ministering
     angel in rehabilitating the family fortunes, the inexorable
     condition being that Evelyn should favor his suit. And I was a
     comparatively poor man.

     They were married in 1855, she a slip of a girl of barely nineteen
     years, and he a mature man of fifty. It is hardly necessary to say
     that he kept none of his lavish promises. I cared nothing about
     that, but when he began to mistreat his wife, to the extent of
     using personal violence, my half-formed plans started to take
     definite shape.

     Evelyn died suddenly in the late summer of 1860, the same year that
     Yardley Hildebrand succeeded his father in the ownership of the
     "Hundred." As S. Saviour's was then undergoing repairs, the funeral
     had to take place from the house. I stood by her coffin, set up in
     state in the long ballroom; and, snatching a favorable opportunity,
     I pushed back the loose sleeve of her gown, and saw with my own
     eyes the blue and purple marks of his hands on her delicate flesh.
     Whereupon, I made oath that both Yardley himself and his heirs
     forever should pay in their own bodies for all that Evelyn had
     suffered and endured. Perhaps I was a little mad then; it may be
     that I am still of a disordered brain, and so not fully responsible
     for the things which I have done in making up the tale of my
     revenge. Whatever the legal aspects of the case, be sure of this: I
     am neither sorry nor ashamed.

     My opportunity quickly came. Yardley determined to go abroad; the
     pretense was that he needed a change to divert his mind and blunt
     the keen edge of his grief. But I managed to keep a straight face
     when he mumbled out his excuses and explanations.

     Yardley Hildebrand had it in mind to build an adequate library at
     the "Hundred"; the villain had his cultivated tastes, and he wanted
     something which should be unique of its kind. Since my regular
     profession was that of an architect he naturally consulted me. I
     sketched out my ideas, and they met with his approval; he offered
     me the commission, and I accepted with alacrity. Then he sailed
     away, leaving me to carry out the plans--those in my sketchbook and
     some others that I had not taken the trouble to show him.

     Modern physicists are just now beginning to talk about the
     invisible heat and light rays composed of high frequency
     vibrations. But long before Crooks gave the X-ray to the world I
     had discovered and had succeeded in isolating what I choose to call
     the Sigma ray. Some fine day it will be rediscovered, and the lucky
     man will get a new lot of capital letters to tack onto his name;
     and perhaps a ribbon for his buttonhole, and a pension from his
     grateful government. I shall not care; the Sigma ray has repaid me
     a thousandfold for the trouble I took to establish its existence;
     as a lethal agent it stands without a peer, instantaneously
     destructive to all forms of organic life.

     Naturally, I do not propose to state the formula by means of which
     I was enabled to construct a filter capable of segregating my
     beloved Sigma ray _from ordinary sunlight_. Ah, that statement is
     illuminating, is it not! Suffice it to say that my filter looks
     like common glass. It may be moulded so as to resemble the familiar
     bullseye lens; and, if desirable, it can be colored. Now do you
     begin to appreciate the significance of the stained glass window on
     the right of the great fireplace in the library of "Hildebrand
     Hundred," the one depicting the Israelitish spies carrying their
     clusters of purple grapes?

     If you choose to make an interesting experiment, arrange for the
     erection of a staging or an extension ladder outside the "Spy"
     window, so as to bring your eye on a level with the third grape in
     the upper row of the largest bunch. You will find that the line of
     your view, through this particular bullseye, impinges upon the head
     of any person who may chance to be sitting in the swivel-chair
     before the big, teakwood desk. As the chair is immovably secured to
     the floor by steel bolts passing through its mushroom base, it is
     evident that the relationship of the chair and of that particular
     bullseye will remain fixed; at any rate, one would have to go to
     some trouble to disturb it.

     But the mere haphazard introduction of the Sigma ray into the room
     would not suit my purpose; my revenge would not be complete unless
     I could see it in operation. And so it was necessary to arrange
     some sort of clockwork mechanism to spring the trap. I confess to
     being somewhat grandiose in my conceptions, and accordingly I
     decided to press into my service no less an agency than the solar
     system itself.

     If you will go into the library of "Hildebrand Hundred" on any
     month of the year outside of June you will see that the direct rays
     of the sun never reach the upper part of the "Spy" window;
     consequently, the Sigma ray is not brought into being. But, as the
     summer solstice approaches, the sun continues to rise higher and
     higher in the heavens until, in the three or four days around the
     twenty-first of June, it has reached its ultimate altitude with
     reference to the zenith. For the few minutes immediately before or
     after high noon on any of the aforesaid days the sun is in such a
     position that its beams will pass through the purple bullseye lens
     that forms the third grape in the upper row of the largest
     cluster. And in passing through it will become decomposed into the
     Sigma ray, and will fall on the head of him who sits at the great
     desk, exercising the authority of his lordship over "Hildebrand
     Hundred."

     This is all plain and straightforward, I think. It is unfortunately
     true that any innocent person who chances to be occupying the seat
     perilous at the fateful moment will have to bear the weight of the
     vengeance intended for the guilty. But that risk is really remote,
     since the great desk and chair are the natural appanage of the
     Master of the "Hundred"; it will not be usual for anyone else to
     trespass upon that prerogative. And what more natural procedure
     than that the Master of the "Hundred," after a tour of his hay
     fields on a hot June day, should go to the cool of his library and
     finish up his office business at his desk?

     True, there are other contingencies. The Master may come to the
     room and yet choose to sit elsewhere. Or he may forestall the
     hammer stroke of doom through the chance of rising from his chair
     to select a book from a distant shelf; or, finding his match-safe
     empty, he may go over to the chimney-breast on the hunt for a
     vesta.

     Or again, he may be away from home during the three or four days of
     fate, or lying ill in an upstairs room. Finally, should the period
     of danger be cloudy and overcast the sun may not shine at all, and
     the whole business must go over for another year. But my patience
     is very long; I have learned how to wait.

     I need not go into the intricate calculations necessary to provide
     for all the conditions of the problem. Fortunately for my purpose
     the walls of the projected addition lay at a favorable angle for
     the carrying out of my designs, and I had only to work out the
     correct position for the windows and make the proper allowance for
     the overhang of the roof cornice. The stained glass was made from
     my own drawings, and I personally set the bullseye lens in its
     appointed place. The work was finished in May, 1861, and I should
     have liked to have made a test of my apparatus before Yardley's
     return from abroad; if there had been any error in my calculations
     and measurements it would be difficult, later on, to trump up an
     excuse for making the necessary structural alteration. But, as it
     turned out, I had made no mistakes.

     However, Yardley forestalled my intentions by appearing at the
     "Hundred" early in May. I bade him welcome, and showed him my
     completed work. He was pleased and said so, frequently and warmly.
     I could only smile in acknowledgment of his plaudits and fulsome
     thanks.

     June the twentieth of that same year I sat in my observation post
     on Sugar Loaf. Through my high-powered telephoto lens I saw Yardley
     come into the room and sit down at his desk. It was then ten
     minutes of twelve o'clock. Five minutes later, what looked like a
     streak of purple flame leaped through the semi-darkness of the
     room, and Yardley Hildebrand toppled to the floor. The apparatus
     had worked with meticulous exactness, and Evelyn Mansfield was
     avenged--at least in part.

     Since then I have watched two others of that black line of
     Hildebrands go to their doom--Randall and Horace. Poor spirited
     creatures, both of them, and hardly worthy to receive the accolade
     of my splendid Sigma ray. Randall held his sovereignty for just a
     year, but Horace had the devil's own luck. Cloudy days saved him,
     together with one quite unforeseen contingency, an eclipse of the
     sun on June 21, 1864. On June 20 and 21, 1865, there were heavy
     rains, and I was furious. But the twenty-second was clear and fine,
     and lo! he, too, was gathered to his fathers.

     Finally, my dearly beloved brother-in-law, Richard, succeeded to
     the family honors, and perils. That was in 1865 and for
     seven-and-twenty years he has managed to evade the stroke through
     the annoying accident that he prefers the summer climate of "Old
     White." I intend to give him still further leeway now that my son
     John, born July 16, 1892, to me and Richard's sister, Jocelyn, is
     in the field. For Richard is a bachelor, and John Thaneford is the
     natural heir to the estate. If Richard will listen to reason and
     make due provision in his will, I am agreeable to allow him full
     usufruct of the "Hundred" until my son arrives at his majority.
     Otherwise he, in his turn, shall die like the dog he is, even as
     the Hildebrands before him have died, alone and in silence, with
     none to pity and none to save. The instrument of my vengeance is
     very sure and very patient, and the passage of the years is as
     nothing to me, sitting perdu in my secret seat on the cliff of
     Sugar Loaf.

       *       *       *       *       *

     October 1, 1892. Richard is not inclined to listen to my proposal
     to recognize John as his rightful heir; he even talks of leaving
     the "Hundred" to his great-nephew on the distaff side, one Francis
     Graeme.

     Be it so; let him eat of the grapes of wrath, and let his teeth be
     set on edge, even to the third and fourth generation of that
     accursed race upon which my hate is poured out, now and for
     evermore.

  FIELDING THANEFORD.

     June 20, 1918. Richard Hildebrand died to-day, and Francis Graeme
     became Master of the "Hundred."

     July 10, 1918. I have offered Francis Graeme his chance on the same
     terms. He has accepted, and John Thaneford is to be nominated the
     heir in his will of the residuary estate. But the Sigma ray stands
     on guard until I am convinced that he intends to keep his plighted
     word.

  F. T.



Chapter XXIII

_The End of the Coil_


Warriner laid the book on the table, and pulled out his pipe. I think it
was a full five minutes before any of us said a word. But Betty kept her
hand close-locked in mine.

"Any particular questions?" said Warriner at length.

"If I've got the hang of it," I began, "the Sigma ray was bound to get
the man or woman who happened to be sitting in that big chair on the
specified dates in June when the sun was in position to shine through
the bullseye lens."

"Yes."

"Then I escaped through the accident that, when the window was repaired,
the lens got mixed up with the ordinary glass bullseyes."

"Precisely. It had been replaced in a new position, an entirely unknown
one. As it happened--pure chance, you understand--the ray of sunshine
that fell upon your face at noon that day had passed through a bullseye
of common purple glass, and therefore it was harmless. But the Terror
was in the room; somewhere it was lying in wait, ready to strike. Do you
recall how I kept close to the wall, so as to avoid getting in the path
of the direct sunlight? You understand now that I realized the danger,
and took the obvious precaution. But John Thaneford was unaware that any
change had been made in the position of the death-dealing lens. And so
he walked straight into the line of destructive force; and the Sigma
ray, being no respecter of persons, proceeded to strike him down."

"I wonder how much he really knew about the whole affair?" queried
Betty. "You remember that Eunice expressly acquitted John Thaneford of
any actual part in my father's death."

"But he certainly must have been cognizant of the nature of the trap,"
answered Warriner. "He was the observer at the time of Mr. Graeme's
death, the elder Thaneford being physically unable to take his
accustomed post on Sugar Loaf. Again, his putting Hugh, bound and
helpless, into the fatal chair is unanswerable evidence that he did
possess a guilty knowledge of his father's secret. It makes no moral
difference that he had no hand in inventing or setting up the instrument
of vengeance. He knew of its existence undoubtedly, and hoped to profit
by it. That's enough."

"Have you any theory about the Sigma ray itself?" I asked. "Or rather
its effect upon the physical organism?"

"Do you happen to recall the medical testimony given at the coroner's
inquest by Doctor Williams of John Hopkins? Well, he testified, in
brief, that the autopsy had revealed a most peculiar lesion of the
brain; in unprofessional language, the injury might be characterized as
a case of greatly intensified sunstroke."

"Yes, I do remember."

"Now there are unexplained anomalies about even ordinary sunstroke,"
continued Warriner. "Just what are the conditions under which exposures
to the rays of the sun may be dangerous?

"In the first place, we may affirm confidently that the peril is not
dependent upon the amount of humidity that may be present in the
atmosphere. Down in New Orleans, where the air is full of moisture and
the thermometer stands high in the scale for weeks at a time, sunstroke
is virtually unknown; men and beasts seem equally immune. But let a
ten-day heat wave submerge New York City and the emergency hospitals
will be full up, while the horses will be wearing plaited straw-bonnets
as a protection against the deadly sun.

"Again, there is Fort Yuma in Arizona, the hottest place in the United
States, with the possible exception of Death Valley. Yes, it is
abnormally hot at Yuma and the air is furnace-dried; the old-timers will
tell you that, on really bad days, a man can't drink water fast enough
to keep from dying of thirst. Of course, men do die from the effects of
the heat, but it isn't our ordinary form of sunstroke. To sum up, then:

"No sunstroke at New Orleans, where it is abnormally humid and hot; and
none at Fort Yuma, where it is abnormally dry and hot. But plenty of
cases in Paris, Chicago, and New York, where the climate is supposed to
be temperate.

"The inference is logical: under certain conditions, one of the
invisible, high frequency rays, always present in sunlight, is enabled
to get in its deadly work. Unfortunately, we don't know what those
conditions are. Perhaps the proportion of static electricity in the
atmosphere may have something to do with it. Anyway, the fact remains
that men do die of heat stroke in New York and Paris, while Louisiana
and Florida are comparatively free from that particular peril to life."

"Then, according to your theory, it is the Sigma ray which is the active
lethal agent in sunlight?"

"Yes, and Fielding Thaneford's invention enabled him to isolate the ray
in question, at the same time enormously intensifying its action. Both
Graeme and John Thaneford died the instant that it touched them."

"And that was Fielding Thaneford's secret," said Betty, just returned
from a flying visit to the nursery, where Little Hugh lay sleeping.
"Such a horrible secret!" She shuddered.

"Just as well that it died with him," assented Warriner soberly.

"Still, in the end, he sought to stop the evil thing that he had set in
motion," persisted Betty. "He told me all he could; all indeed that it
was necessary to know, once I really began to use my wits."

"Which reminds me," I put in, "that you have yet to explain how you
finally managed to read the cypher. What put you back on the track?"

"So simple a thing it was, too," laughed Betty. "And so easy to
overlook."

"I remember years ago," remarked Warriner, "that, on account of certain
rare astronomical conditions, it was possible to see the planet Venus at
midday. It took me the longest time to find the star, although I thought
I knew just where to look; also all my friends were admiring the
spectacle. At last I saw it, and then it was an easy matter to locate it
again. I suppose the reason is that I didn't know what to expect; some
sort of junior sun, I reckon. In reality, it was only a pin-point of
light, but brilliant as a diamond."

"And there's the game of challenging an opponent to find a word in a
geographical map," said Betty. "It isn't the one printed in fine type
and tucked away in a corner that is so hard to discover. The really
invisible word is the one stretching in big, widely separated letters
clear across the page."

"Will you _tell_ me?" I asked impatiently.

"Here goes then. You remember that I set down my theoretical
key-sentence, thus:"

  W O N F O R T O O F O R A T E

"The uncoding went along splendidly for eight places, thus:"

  W O N F O R T O
  T H A N E C O U

"The rest was gibberish. It follows then that the running off the track
must have happened at the ninth substitution and nowhere else."

"Obviously."

"The very morning that your letter about the library window
arrived--that is, on June the twenty-first--I was sitting at my desk;
for the ten thousand time, more or less, I printed out those distracting
capitals:"

  W O N F O R T O O F O R A T E

"As I looked at the line of letters I suddenly discovered something
entirely new: the five end ones formed the perfectly good English word,
_Orate_.

"There is a game, you know, in which you mix up the letters of a long
word, such as _Plenipotentiary_, and then try to recombine them into
subsidiary words, the biggest list winning the prize. Perhaps there were
other esoteric or inside words in my key-sentence, a still deeper
meaning and significance to this apparently haphazard collection of
alphabetical symbols. I started experimenting, and almost immediately I
did get another word, _Fort_. Now I'll write out the series again,
using vertical lines to divide off the word-groups. Here it is:"

  W O N | F O R T | O O F | O R A T E

"The only perplexity was in the third section, for although _OOF_ is a
Yiddish slang word for money or cash it isn't much in use in our rural
locality; in all probability, old Mr. Thaneford had never even heard of
it. All the other words were good English.

"What was the ninth letter, the alphabetical rock upon which my fine
theory had gone to pieces? Why it was none other than the second O in
that very word, _OOF_. Then I saw the solution in a flash. Do you?"

I shook my head.

"There is another English work which corresponds phonetically to the
number 2 or two. Of course it is _TO_. Let us make the substitution,
thus:"

  W O N | F O R T | O F | O R A T E

"A complete English sentence, you see. It doesn't make very good sense,
but that is of no consequence, since it is merely what Chalmers calls
er--er--well, what _do_ you call it, Chalmers?"

"Mnemonic guide," smiled Warriner. "An artificial aid to one's memory.
It would be somewhat easier to write down the key-letters correctly if
this absurd sentence were kept in mind. You have to be absolutely
accurate in the coding of a cypher message."

"Now then, Hugh, do you see?" demanded my wife.

"Of course I do," I answered eagerly. "The extra O in your original
key-sentence is not only wrong in itself, but its inclusion in the
series throws everything which follows it into hopeless confusion. Let's
try it out."

Rapidly I wrote down the correct key-letters, and underneath them a
score of the cypher symbols, thus:

  W O N F O R T O F O R A T E W O N F O R T
  Q W O T T U I J X I S V A Z P I H N X J X

Taking up the magic square I asked Betty to repeat the formula for
uncoding.

"Find where the first key-letter occurs in the top row," said Betty
glibly. "For example: W. Then follow that vertical column down until you
reach the first letter of the cypher message; in this case: Q. Follow
that horizontal line to the extreme left, and you will recover the
initial letter of the original message, namely: T. _Da capo ad
infinitum. Q. E. D._"

Together we worked out the first line of the cypher in the leather-bound
book. The complete layout ran as follows:

  W O N F O R T O F O R A T E W O N F O R T
  Q W O T T U I J X I S V A Z P I H N X J X
  T H A N E C O U R T A U G U S T T H I R D

"And so on, world without end," commented Betty. "You can imagine how
like mad I worked once we were on the train and rushing Southward. For
now I knew _why_ it was necessary to avoid entering that room,
especially at this particular time of year."

       *       *       *       *       *

The clocks were striking nine, and Chalmers wanted to drop in at
"Powersthorp" on his way home. So he bade us good night, climbed into
his car, and was off, the red star of his tail-light twinkling through
the linden trees bordering upon the driveway. And I remained alone with
Betty; only, for a long time, we did not speak; it was not necessary.

       *       *       *       *       *

There is but a word to add. The walls of the library wing had sustained
but little damage in the fire; consequently, the process of rebuilding
and refitting was made so much the easier. The stained glass, of
course, had been entirely destroyed, but for that there could be few
regrets; all those Old Testament pictures had been scenes of hatred and
violence and divine wrath. It were better that Little Hugh should never
see them and so have his childish imagination darkened. They have been
replaced by windows of a softer nature--green pastures and still water,
the lilies and poppies of the Parsifal meadows on Good Friday morning,
and the peace of the everlasting hills. No chance here for even the
unwitting insertion of that terrible purple boss; indeed the grapes of
wrath were no longer in existence, for Chalmers Warriner had taken pains
to have every bit of the _disjecta membra_ of the old windows gathered
up and buried in some inaccesible pit, its very location to remain
forever hidden from human eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

To-day the library at "Hildebrand Hundred," exorcised of its dark
spirit, is again our favorite living-room. The teakwood desk and the
great swivel-chair were destroyed in the fire, and indeed all the old
fittings and hangings have given way to bright and cheerful modern
furnishings. As I sit at my desk, writing the final page of these
memoirs, the sun lies warm and glowing upon the oaken floor, but there
is no hidden menace in its beauty. The scent of roses floats through the
open windows, and I can hear the clip of Betty's garden shears as she
cuts off the perfumed coupons of her floral treasures; one by one the
gorgeous blooms fall into the waiting basket; our dinner table must be
resplendent to-night for Chalmers and Hilda, just back from their
honeymoon journey, are coming to us for an intimate _partie carrée_.

And in the middle distance stands Little Hugh, the breeze roughing up
his sleek, black poll, his legs planted confidently wide apart, and his
gaze traveling outward upon the fair, broad acres that some day will be
all his own; my lawful son and heir, a true Hildebrand of "Hildebrand
Hundred."

Truly, God is good and life is sweet.


THE END





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "In Jeopardy" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home