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: Ashton Kirk, Secret Agent
Author: McIntyre, John Thomas, 1871-1951
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 "Ashton Kirk, Secret Agent" ***

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.



[Illustration: Book Cover]



[Illustration: HE TOOK UP THE ENVELOPE]



ASHTON-KIRK
SECRET AGENT


BY
John T. McIntyre
Author of "Ashton-Kirk Investigator," &c.


[Illustration]


ILLUSTRATIONS BY
RALPH L. BOYER


THE PENN PUBLISHING
COMPANY PHILADELPHIA
1912



COPYRIGHT
1912 BY
THE PENN
PUBLISHING
COMPANY



_To_
_Helen Ray_



Introduction


Those who have read "Ashton-Kirk, Investigator" will recall references
to several affairs in which the United States government found the
investigator's unusual powers of inestimable service. In such matters,
tremendous interests often stand dangerously balanced, and the most
delicate touch is required if they are not to be sent toppling. As
Ashton-Kirk has said:

"When a crisis arises between two of the giant modern nations, with
their vast armies, their swift fleets, their dreadful engines of war,
the hands which control their affairs must be steady, secret, and sure.
Otherwise an unthinkable horror might be brought about."

It frequently happens that such a crisis arises, the issue is joined and
fought out to the bitter end, and the watchful public press never gets
even a hint of it. Indeed, if the secret archives of the nations were
thrown open for inspection, a long series of appalling dangers would be
shown to have been passed by each--dangers arising from small and
apparently remote things, but capable of swift and deadly growth.

Experience, steady courage, and sure talent are required in dealing
with such things; and these qualities Ashton-Kirk possesses in
abundance. To be sure, the departments of the government have the
"Secret Service" at their hand; but the specialist is called in when the
general practitioner is at a loss, and he is as much a part of the
structure as his regularly employed colleague.

The adventure of the present story is only one of many to be told of
Ashton-Kirk.



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE
      I. SOME PECULIAR CIRCUMSTANCES                                  11
     II. ASHTON-KIRK GOES TO EASTBURY                                 33
    III. AN INTERNATIONAL AFFAIR                                      50
     IV. THE TAKING OFF OF DR. MORSE                                  64
      V. THE HOUND STRIKES THE TRAIL                                  76
     VI. THE VISIT OF OKIU                                            89
    VII. THE METHYLENE STAIN                                         101
   VIII. THE HOUSE ON FORDHAM ROAD                                   116
     IX. OKIU ONCE MORE                                              126
      X. SOME STARTLING INTELLIGENCE                                 135
     XI. A RAY OF LIGHT                                              144
    XII. KARKOWSKY GETS SOME ATTENTION                               157
   XIII. OLD NANON SPEAKS                                            167
    XIV. OKIU WRITES A LETTER                                        176
     XV. ALMOST!                                                     181
    XVI. IN THE DARK                                                 195
   XVII. THE SILHOUETTES                                             204
  XVIII. GONE!                                                       214
    XIX. THE TAXI-CAB                                                223
     XX. FRESH DEVELOPMENTS                                          240
    XXI. THE MAN WITH THE DECORATION                                 247
   XXII. THE GERMAN EMBASSY BALL                                     256
  XXIII. WHAT VON STUNNENBERG THOUGHT                                276
   XXIV. SURPRISED!                                                  284
    XXV. CAUGHT!                                                     295
   XXVI. THE TRUTH                                                   308
  XXVII. CONCLUSION                                                  321



Illustrations


                                                                    PAGE
  HE TOOK UP THE ENVELOPE                                 _Frontispiece_
  "WHO BROUGHT THE NEWS?"                                             73
  THE GLITTERING EYES LIFTED                                         197
  "MY TIME IS SHORT"                                                 279



CHAPTER I

SOME PECULIAR CIRCUMSTANCES


Fuller studied the heavy, decided signature at the bottom of the typed
page; then he laid the letter upon the table.

"One who judges character by handwriting," said he, "would probably
think the secretary a strong man."

Ashton-Kirk took the stem of the long German pipe from between his lips.

"From your tone," said he, "you do not so consider him."

Fuller was looking down at the letter.

"With that looking me in the face, how can I? Here is a matter of
tremendous importance--one of the most guarded secrets of the government
is endangered. Yesterday, in what was undoubtedly a panic, he wired you,
begging help. Then, almost immediately after, he weakens and writes,
requesting you to do nothing."

Thick clouds arose from the Coblentz; the smoker snuggled down into the
big chair luxuriously.

"And from these things," said he, "you draw that he lacks force?"

"Yes; he quit before even catching a glimpse of the end."

There was a moment's silence, and then the secret agent spoke.

"There are times," remarked he, "when it is not altogether desirable to
catch that glimpse." He blew out a veil of smoke and watched it idly for
a moment. "It is possible, in pushing a thing to the end," he added, "to
force an entirely unexpected result. Take for example the case of the
Molineux chaplet, some little time since. Could there have been more
fire, more determination than that exhibited by old Colonel Molineux in
this room when he brought the matter to our attention? And yet, when I
showed him that his own daughter was the thief, he instantly subsided."

Fuller regarded his employer with questioning eyes.

"You think, then, that some one concerned in the government has been
found out as----"

But the other stopped him.

"Sometimes," said he, "we are even more anxious to spare an enemy than a
friend. And the reason usually is that we do not care to force the said
enemy into such a position that his only resource would be an open
blow."

"Ah!" Fuller's eyes widened. "They hesitate because they fear to bring
about a war." He looked at the secret agent, the question in his face
growing. "But with whom?"

Ashton-Kirk put aside the pipe and got up.

"For years," said he, "the specialists of the Navy Department have been
secretly working upon a gun designed to throw a tremendous explosive.
That it was delicate work was shown by the quality of the men employed
upon it; and that it was dangerous was proven by the lives lost from
time to time in the experiments. Six months ago the invention was
completed. The news leaked out, and naturally the powers were
interested. Then to the dismay of the heads of the department it was
learned that a most formidable plan to obtain possession of the secret
had been balked by the merest chance. The agents of the government were
at once put to work; not satisfied with this, the secretary wired me to
come to Washington at once. But I was in no haste to do so, because I
foresaw what would happen."

The questioning look in Fuller's eyes increased.

"I knew that the agents of a foreign government laid the plan,"
proceeded Ashton-Kirk. "Who else would desire information upon such a
point? And at this time there is but one government sufficiently
interested in us to go so far."

"You mean----"

Ashton-Kirk yawned widely and then asked:

"Have you seen the morning papers?"

"Yes."

"Perhaps you noticed a speech by Crosby, the Californian, in Congress.
Rather a slashing affair. He continues to demand a permanent fleet for
the Pacific and increased coast defenses."

The windows were open; the high-pitched complaint from the mean street
drifted up and into the room. A bar of sunlight shot between two
up-rearing brick bulks across the way; it glittered among the racks of
polished instruments, slipped along the shelves of books and entered at
the door of the laboratory; here the vari-colored chemicals sparkled in
their round-bellied prisons; the grotesque retorts gleamed in swollen
satisfaction.

A knock came upon the door, and Stumph, Ashton-Kirk's grave-faced man
servant, entered with a card.

"It is the gentleman who called yesterday while you were out," said
Stumph.

The secret agent took the card and read:

"Mr. Philip Warwick."

"He asked me to say," proceeded Stumph, "that his business is urgent and
important."

"Let him come up."

Stumph went out. Fuller began fingering a packet of documents which he
took from the table.

"I suppose," said he, "that I may as well file these Schofield-Dempster
papers away."

"Yes, the matter is finished, so far as we are concerned. It was
interesting at first, but I'm rather glad to be rid of it. The piquancy
of the situation was lost when the 'forgeries' were found to have been
no forgeries at all; and the family despair is a trifle trying."

"Mr. Philip Warwick," said the low voice of Stumph, a few moments later.

A big, square-shouldered young man entered the room; he had thick, light
colored hair and wide open blue eyes. That he was an Englishman was
unmistakable. For a moment he seemed in doubt as to whom he should
address; but Fuller indicated his employer and the caller bowed his
thanks.

"Sir," said he, "if I am intruding, I ask your pardon. I was directed to
you by Professor Hutchinson of Hampden College, with whom I have become
acquainted through our mutual interest in the Oriental languages."

"Ah, yes. Hutchinson is a very old friend of mine, a splendid fellow,
and a fine judge of tobacco. Will you sit down?"

"Thank you."

Mr. Philip Warwick sat down, and looked very big and strong and ill at
ease. There was a perplexed expression upon his handsome face; but he
said, quietly enough:

"I take this occasion, Mr. Ashton-Kirk, to express my appreciation of
your book upon the Lithuanian language. I spent some years in the Baltic
provinces, and am fairly familiar with the tongue."

Ashton-Kirk smiled, well pleased.

"A number of people have been good enough to notice that little book,"
said he, "though when I wrote it I did not expect it to get beyond my
own circle. You see, the Lithuanians have grown rather thick in this
section of the city; and the great similarity between their language and
the Sanskrit interested me."

"The work," said the young Englishman, "is very complete. But," and his
voice lowered a trifle, "much as I am delighted with it, still, that is
not why I have ventured to call upon you."

"No?" The secret agent settled himself in the big chair; his singular
eyes studied the visitor with interest. Fuller having finished with the
papers at the table now asked:

"Will you need me?"

"Perhaps."

The assistant thereupon sat down, took out a pencil and laid a pad of
paper upon his knee. Philip Warwick shifted uneasily in his chair; his
powerful fingers clasped and unclasped nervously.

"Professor Hutchinson informs me," said he, "that you take an interest
in those problems which spring up unexpectedly and confound the
inexperienced. Have I been correctly informed?"

The secret agent nodded.

"Am I to understand that you have brought me such a problem?" he asked.

The visitor bent forward a trifle.

"Perhaps," he said, "it will prove no problem to you. It may be, to some
extent, that our imaginations have been playing tricks upon us. But,
however that may be, the whole matter is utterly beyond our
comprehension. I have done what I can to get to the bottom of it and
failed. If you will be kind enough to hear and advise me, I shall be
profoundly grateful."

Ashton-Kirk gestured for him to go on.

"The affair," began the young Englishman, "is not my own, but that of my
employer, Dr. Simon Morse." He caught the look in the eyes of the secret
agent, and added: "No doubt you have heard of him; his theories
attracted wide attention some time ago."

"I recall him very well," said Ashton-Kirk. "A sort of scientific
anarchist, if I'm not mistaken; he had many daring ideas and
considerable hardihood in their expression."

"Any sort of government, human or divine, has in him an outspoken
enemy," said Warwick. "I know him to be a man of great learning and
splendid ability, but somewhere in his brain there is a something which
nullifies it all."

"You say the matter regarding which you came to see me is that of Dr.
Morse. Did he ask you to come?"

"No, no," young Warwick held up his hand, hastily. "He knows nothing of
it; and I much prefer that he should not. You see, he is a man of
peculiar temperament. He is very silent and secretive regarding his
private affairs; also he has," drily, "a somewhat violent temper."

"You picture a rather unpleasant character."

"But I do him no injustice," protested the young Englishman. "Frankly,
he is not at all my sort; and I should not remain with him a day, were
it not for Stella--Miss Corbin."

"I see."

"She is his niece--the only child of a younger sister; and the things
which I am about to relate have caused her much alarm. She fears that
some strange danger threatens him. He has always been kind to her, and
she is very much attached to him.

"Dr. Morse is an Englishman and a graduate in medicine; but having large
means has given but little time to the practice of his profession. As
his published works have shown, he detests all governments; however,
that of Russia has always been his pet aversion. He has declared it the
most corrupt system extant, and maintained that not a patriotic pulse
was to be found among the ruling class throughout the vast empire. Its
mighty army, he predicted, would crumble before the first determined
foe.

"When the war broke out between Japan and Russia, Dr. Morse at once
placed his niece in safe hands; then he disappeared for more than a
year. Upon his return it was learned that he had, somehow, managed to
have himself enrolled upon the medical staff of the Russian army, and
had witnessed most of the operations in Manchuria. Though he came back
rather worn and with a slow-healing wound, he seemed much elated.

"'I now have the direct proof which I desired,' he said. 'The Muscovite
army reeks with chicanery; and the book that I'm going to write will set
the whole world talking.'

"But before beginning the book he determined to have a long rest; he
took a fine old house, just outside Sharsdale, in Kent; and with him
were his niece and an old French woman servant who had been in the
family for many years. They lived very snugly there for some three
months; then there began a most singular train of incidents. Of these I
have but a slight personal knowledge, for, as I have said, Dr. Morse is
a secretive man. But, little by little, Stella and I gathered up the
fragments and put them together; the result was rather an alarming
whole. Odd happenings became of daily occurrence; a peculiar, nameless
something seemed hovering about the place; a vague agency was felt in
the commonest things; the household began to live in the expectation of
some indefinite calamity."

"Pardon me. You were at Sharsdale at the time, I take it?"

"Yes; stopping at the village inn. My excuse was that I was doing some
sketching; but," with great simplicity, "as a matter of fact, I was
there in order to be near Stella Corbin."

"I see. Please go on."

"Gradually we came to know, from the doctor's manner more than anything
else, that he fancied himself watched. Indeed, more than once I
personally noted traces of what I can call mysterious visitations. And
twice within as many months the house was broken into and ransacked from
top to bottom."

"A moment ago," said Ashton-Kirk, "you spoke of odd happenings. Just
what were the nature of these?"

"What I consider the first," answered Warwick, "was the visit of
Karkowsky. He drove up one morning in a high-seated pony cart--a
round-bellied, fresh-faced, smiling little man with eyes that stared as
innocently as a child's. He seemed in most urgent haste, gave his name,
said that he was a Pole and gave as his business that of confidential
adviser in those delicate matters which one hesitates to bring to the
attention of a solicitor. I was with Dr. Morse at the time, and I recall
that Karkowsky's manner was most important and his time apparently of
much value. But, queerly enough, his methods were singularly futile;
they led in no particular direction. Several times Morse hinted
concerning the nature of his errand, but he avoided the subject. Finally
he arose, and I fancied that he wore a disappointed look; and upon
taking his leave gave the doctor his card bearing a London address and
begged that he be communicated with should his services ever be needed.

"On the night following this visit, Dr. Morse dined with me at the inn;
Stella was away from home and the old French woman was with her. About
nine o'clock I walked with the doctor to his garden gate. Just as we
were saying good-night we noticed a dim light shine in his study window.
As we stood surprisedly watching, it disappeared. A moment later,
however, it returned, a faint fluttering sort of light which maintained
itself with difficulty. Again it disappeared and once more returned; and
then we understood. Some one was lighting his way about the room with
matches.

"At first we thought it must be Stella returned unexpectedly; but
instantly we knew that this could not be, for she would have turned on
the lights had she had occasion to visit the room. We entered and softly
ascended the stairs. But all was dark and still; we searched everywhere,
but found no one.

"A week later, Stella and the servant having returned, they all awoke
one morning some hours later than usual. The bedrooms were heavy with
the fumes of a drug; locks had been broken, chests, desks and cupboards
had been opened, and their contents strewed the floors. But, strange to
say, nothing had been stolen.

"Two nights after this Dr. Morse was struck down in a lane; he was found
by some workmen and brought home. Of this incident he refused to speak
other than that he had not been robbed.

"Stella now became frightened. At night she saw shadows flitting in the
garden; that these were not fancies was proven by the strange
foot-prints which I found in the soft mould. The dog died of poison;
another was procured, a savage, crafty creature; but she went the way of
the first. One day, and at broad noon, the doctor arose from his desk
and went into an adjoining room for a book. He was not gone above a
minute; but upon returning he found a loaded revolver lying upon the
tablet upon which he had been writing. This apparently drove him
frantic, for he seized the weapon and rushed through the house. But
there was no one save Stella and old Nanon.

"Then once again they were drugged and the house ransacked, but this
time the attention of the intruders seemed directed toward Dr. Morse's
papers only. They showed every indication of having been exhaustively
examined; but nothing was missing.

"As these things continued, the tension began to tell; the face of
Stella's uncle became drawn and his eyes quick and feverish. At the
least sound he would start; and it became almost as much as one's life
was worth to approach him from behind. Then suddenly and secretly he
made up his mind to come to America; at the last moment he made me an
offer to accompany them as his secretary.

"'The work upon my proposed book will be heavy,' he said, 'and I shall
require aid.'" Here young Warwick nodded and smiled. "Nothing could have
fallen in better with my desires than this," he said. "And so, of
course, I accepted the proposal. This was three years ago; at first we
occupied apartments in the city here; but some five months back, Dr.
Morse took a house on Fordham Road, Eastbury; and there the work upon
the book, the idea of which had greatly expanded, went on without a
halt.

"But," and the young man gestured oddly, after the fashion of one
curiously impressed, "though the doctor had crossed the sea he had not
traveled beyond the reach of his mysterious persecutor. The happenings
at Eastbury are every bit as queer as those at Sharsdale; and they began
in the same way. As the doctor and I sat working in the library one day,
a taxi-cab stopped and Karkowsky, as cheerful, red cheeked and
comfortable as before, alighted. And as before, he seemed in great
haste. Apparently Dr. Morse had never marked, as I had done, Karkowsky's
first visit as the beginning of his strange troubles. At any rate he
showed no resentment, but merely seemed surprised at so unexpected a
visitor. The Pole talked volubly about the new country and of his
prospects; the delicate matters, so he said, which it was his business
to handle were vastly greater in number in America. And I noted that he
kept to this point; no matter what unexpected turn was given the
conversation he always came back to it. And all the time he kept his
eyes fixed eagerly upon the doctor. But at the end of a half hour he
arose; again I sensed that he was disappointed; but he said nothing,
merely handing my employer another card and begging that he be summoned
any time his services were needed. Then he took his departure.

"It was next morning that I entered the library rather quietly and
found Dr. Morse with a heap of mail before him; in his hand he held a
square of white paper at which he looked fixedly. Upon this was a
roughly drawn device done in brown crayon. I could make nothing of it.
When he discovered me looking over his shoulder he uttered an impatient
exclamation, tore the sheet into strips and tossed them into the waste
basket. That same day I opened some mail matter, as was my habit when
the doctor was not about; and in one of the envelopes I came upon a
duplicate of the drawing that I had seen in my employer's hands. When I
handed this to him a little later I fancied that I caught a gleam of the
old haunted look which I had so often noted at Sharsdale."

"Have you, by any chance, one of these drawings?" asked Ashton-Kirk.

"I have." Philip Warwick took out a wallet and from it selected a paper.
"It is the third that came--and in every respect like the other two."

The secret agent looked at the paper carefully; it bore a rough, hurried
tracing done with a brown material--and looked much like this:

[Illustration]

Attentively Ashton-Kirk examined the drawing. But if it bore any meaning
for him, he gave no indication of it; for placing the paper upon the
table, he said:

"Go on."

"As I had suspected upon sight of Karkowsky," resumed Warwick, "the
persecution of Dr. Morse was resumed. But, so it seemed, the matter had
entered into a new phase. There was no more mysterious prowling,
waylaying and housebreaking; the mail only was used. But, so far as I
know, duplicates of this drawing," pointing to the one which the secret
agent had just laid down, "were the only things sent up to yesterday.
The outline of the thing never varied; but, oddly enough, the color
has."

"Ah!"

"At first the design was always in brown. Then, finally, one came in
light blue, and for a space they were all of that color. The next change
was to black, then to red, and finally to white--drawn upon neutral
tinted paper. But yesterday," and once more the young Englishman opened
the wallet and took out a paper, "this came."

Ashton-Kirk took the sheet and glanced at it. In the same brown material
that had been used in making the other drawing he found the picture of a
woman.

"Apparently meant to represent a person of some consequence," he said.
"There is a sort of tiara, or coronet upon the head." He laid the
drawing upon the table with the other. "Was there never any accompanying
writing with these?"

"None that I ever heard of."

"Have you any of the envelopes in which they came?"

"No."

Ashton-Kirk arose and took a few turns up and down the long room; then
pausing at a stand he opened a case of heavy looking cigars, one of
which he offered Warwick.

"Thank you, no," said the young man.

The secret agent, however, selected one, lighted it and resumed his
pacing.

"That is about all I can tell you," said Warwick. "And now if you can
offer any explanation of it all, I beg that you do so. I shall be
perfectly frank and say that I am not greatly interested in the matter
beyond natural curiosity. But," and here the strong fingers began to
intertwine once more, "Miss Corbin is filled with fear, and it is for
her sake that I appeal to you."

Ashton-Kirk shot a quick look at him.

"Your personal regard for Dr. Morse's possible safety is not very great,
then?"

"I wish him no harm. But there is no warm feeling between us. If you
knew him you would understand the reason for this readily enough." He
paused for a moment and then went on. "Perhaps," he said, "the matter,
as I set it before you, seems absurd. But to Miss Corbin it is a
continuous menace--a thing which throws its shadow across her uncle's
daily path. To her, it is impossible that what has happened and is
happening has not a deep significance; the apparent resolution behind it
inspires her with awe. It is her firm conviction that if something is
not soon done, unspeakable things will happen."

Ashton-Kirk paused by the table; the smoke from the heavy cigar curled
pungently upward.

"What address did Mr. Karkowsky's card bear?" he inquired.

"It is in the Polish section. Corinth Avenue and Fourth Street."

"Do you know whether Dr. Morse has called upon him?"

"I do not. But I am inclined to think that he has not done so. However,
I have taken it upon myself to pay the man a visit. He lodges upon a
third floor, over a harness-maker; and when I entered he received me
eagerly and with delight. But when I began to question him he grew
enraged and ordered me from the place."

"You have never repeated the visit?"

"No."

The secret agent drew softly upon the cigar; its spicy aroma filled the
room.

"Coming in personal contact, so to speak, with this matter," said he,
"it is but natural to suppose that you have formed some opinion as to
the cause of it."

The young Englishman nodded.

"Yes," he said. "I have. It is my opinion that the Russian government is
behind it all. They have heard of the proposed book."

But Ashton-Kirk shook his head.

"The Russian government," smiled he, "is charged with a great number of
things; and the foundations of most of them are as light as this.
According to your story, Dr. Morse's papers were once examined very
minutely. Were the notes for the book among them?"

"Yes."

"That then places Russia outside the probabilities. If that government
had been sufficiently interested in Morse to have done the
housebreaking, rest assured that the notes, if considered harmful, would
have disappeared."

"I have thought of that," said Warwick. "But," with a shake of the head,
"St. Petersburg being denied me, I am at a loss."

"There are two common causes for most things of a criminal nature," said
Ashton-Kirk. "These are robbery and revenge. The fact that nothing is
known to have been stolen in either of the nightly visits to the house
at Sharsdale seems to eliminate the first of these; and that Morse was
twice drugged and once waylaid and still not seriously injured, does
away with the other."

"It would seem to."

There was another pause. The secret agent regarded Warwick intently.

"Think carefully before answering the question I am now about to ask.
What is there in the doctor's possession that you have seen, or have
even heard hinted at--that is in any way remarkable or unique?"

Warwick pondered, but finally shook his head.

"Take your time--think deliberately. What does he own that would excite
the cupidity of persons of much power and great wealth?"

"I know of nothing," replied the young man.

"It would scarcely be a thing to be measured by a money value,"
encouraged the secret agent. "It might be, and the fact that the
doctor's papers were once searched seems to indicate it rather
strongly--a document."

Again Warwick shook his head.

"As I have said, Morse is not of a confiding nature. He keeps his
affairs to himself."

Ashton-Kirk laid his half-burned cigar upon a bronze shell; and as he
did so his eyes fell once more upon the drawing of the crowned woman. A
sudden tightening about his mouth showed a fresh interest; taking up the
drawing he examined it with eager attention. At length he said:

"Previous to the first visit of Karkowsky at Sharsdale--Morse had never
experienced any of the things of which you told me?"

"No."

"You are sure of this?"

"Positive. Old Nanon would have been sure to have heard of them. She has
been with him since he was a child."

"You have mentioned that Dr. Morse is possessed of means. Did he inherit
this, or did he accumulate it himself?"

"He inherited it from his father."

"Have you ever heard anything uncommon of the father? Any of the sort of
things which you have just mentioned?"

"No. According to Nanon he was an extraordinarily gentle and
simple-minded man."

"Has Dr. Morse ever traveled in the East?"

"In Egypt and the Holy Lands when a young man, seeking material for his
anti-religious lectures. Then, of course, there was the war in
Manchuria."

"Have you ever heard him express any opinion as to Orientals?"

"Only that they were intelligent and in many ways capable. The Japanese
he only came within musket shot of, but," with a smile, "he thinks them
very competent fighters."

Ashton-Kirk joined in the smile.

"A remarkable race," he said, "and one of whom the last word has not yet
been spoken."

Here Warwick arose and Ashton-Kirk pressed the bell for Stumph.

"This," said the secret agent, "promises to be a very interesting
matter; and, it so happens, one that falls in with my inclinations at
this time."

"You will undertake it then?" eagerly.

"With pleasure."

Stumph held open the door that the caller might depart.

"In behalf of Miss Corbin," said Warwick, earnestly, "I thank you." He
hesitated a moment, and then said: "Before making a definite start in
the matter, I suppose it will be necessary for you to visit us at
Eastbury. I confess that rather puzzles me. You see, I would not have
Dr. Morse----"

"Rest easy as to that," Ashton-Kirk assured him; "we need tell him
nothing."

"When will you come?"

"To-night."

Philip Warwick smiled.

"You are prompt," said he. "But Miss Corbin will be delighted."

And with that he took his departure



CHAPTER II

ASHTON-KIRK GOES TO EASTBURY


Ashton-Kirk turned to Fuller.

"Read what you have taken down," he directed.

Fuller did so, and while he read, the secret agent stood by the window,
listening. When the assistant finished the other did not speak; he
remained gazing down at the shabby hordes which eddied and murmured in
the street. There was a strange look upon the keen, dark face of the
watcher; the eyes were full of singular speculation. At last he spoke.

"Queer things come out of the East," he said. "Even these people below,
who have merely lived upon the western fringe of the Orient, are tinged
with its mystery. Every now and then an Occidental eye gets a flash of
something among them for which we have no explanation."

"I have felt that frequently," said Fuller; "but never gave much thought
to it. Orientals, somehow, have always impressed me uncomfortably; they
seem, so to put it, to have something in reserve. It is as though they
had a trick or two up their sleeves which they have never shown us."

Ashton-Kirk nodded.

"A strange and interesting people," said he. He crossed to the book
shelves and took down a thin folio; placing it upon the table, he began
to rapidly turn the leaves; a series of Japanese prints fluttered before
Fuller's eyes.

"There are numberless things which are held as marking the line of
division between the races of the East and West," remarked Ashton-Kirk.
"But," with a smile, "I have an idea that food and the cooking thereof
has more to do with it than anything else. The mental and physical
differences are the results of this. And in nothing does the Japanese,
for example, show the result of his nourishment as in the matter of art.
His hand in a drawing is unmistakable."

He closed the volume of prints; and from a stand took a telephone book
and opened it at Eastbury. This was a "Boom" suburb, and as yet had no
great population; down the list of subscribers ran the inquiring finger;
at length it paused and a slight hissing intake of the breath told of a
discovery.

"Good," said he.

Tossing the book to Fuller, he added:

"Find Dr. Morse's number in Fordham Road."

While the deft fingers of his assistant ran through the pages,
Ashton-Kirk turned to a sort of rack; throwing open one of the huge
rolls which it contained, he displayed a section of a marvelously
complete map of the city and suburbs. It was done by hand and in
variously colored inks; every street, avenue, court and alley were
clearly traced; each house and number was microscopically set down. This
map was the growth of years; each month it was altered in some small way
as the city expanded; the care taken with it was the same as that which
a business house gave its ledgers. Again the long, inquiring finger
began to move.

"Ah! Fordham Road is the first street east of Berkley."

"Dr. Morse's address is 2979," said Fuller, looking up from the
directory.

"The same block!" cried Ashton-Kirk, his finger searching among the
lines. Then he burst into a laugh and allowed the spring to whisk the
map out of view. "Their houses stand back to back," said he.

Fuller's expression indicated curiosity; but he had been with
Ashton-Kirk a number of years and had grown to know that his utterances
were not always meant to be heard. The secret agent took up a bit of
brown rice paper and a bulging pinch of tobacco; as he delicately
manipulated these, he said to Fuller:

"Do you recall the name of Okiu?"

"It seems familiar," replied the assistant, after a moment's thought.
Then suddenly: "Wasn't he one of----"

"Look in the cabinet," said Ashton-Kirk.

Fuller went to the filing system and pulled open the drawer marked "OK."
After a search of a few moments he turned.

"Yes," said he, eagerly. "Here he is, and underscored in red. The
details are in Volume X."

Ashton-Kirk touched one of a row of bells. A buzzer made reply; through
a tube the secret agent said:

"Bring up Volume X at once."

He threw himself into the big chair, stretched his legs contentedly and
drew at the cigarette. In a little while Stumph entered, bearing a huge
canvas-covered book; this he laid upon a small table, which he then
pushed toward his employer. The latter looked at his watch.

"I'm not to be disturbed again to-day," said he. "And I'll dine
earlier--at five o'clock."

"Anything more?" asked Fuller, when Stumph had left the room.

"Look up the trains stopping at Eastbury after seven o'clock. And stand
ready to go with me. I may need you."

Fuller went out; and Ashton-Kirk, with a cloud of blue smoke hovering
about his head, opened the canvas-covered volume, found the name he
sought, and at once plunged into the finely written pages. The minutes
went by, and the hours followed; cigar succeeded cigarette and pipe
followed cigar; the table became littered with burnt matches, ash, and
impossibly short ends. When Stumph finally knocked to announce dinner,
he found tottering mountains of books, maps and newspaper cuttings
everywhere and in the midst of them was the investigator, lying back in
his chair with closed eyes; the only indication that he was awake being
that a thin column of smoke was ascending from the pipe.

At seven-twenty that evening a local paused at Eastbury Station; and
among those who got off were Ashton-Kirk, and the brisk looking Fuller.

The station lamps were lighted, but were pale as yet, for deep splashes
of reddish gold piled high on the horizon line, and long, shaking lines
of light shot down the sparsely built streets.

Fordham Road was one of the newest of these latter; its asphalted length
showed hardly a trace of travel and its grading was as level as that of
a billiard table. The buildings were even fewer here than elsewhere in
the suburb; and upon the vacant spaces huge signs reared themselves,
announcing the sale of choice sites.

Number 2979 was a brick and brown-stone house with a wide veranda and a
smooth lawn which ran all around it. Skirting the lawn was a hedge
fence; and a cemented path led to the front door. A tall, angular old
woman opened this in answer to the ring. Her eyes were sharp and gray;
her face was severe--crossed and recrossed by a thousand minute
wrinkles; her hands were large and the veins were blue and swollen.

"Is Mr. Warwick at home?" asked Ashton-Kirk.

The sharp, gray eyes seemed to become partly veiled, the thin lips only
moved a trifle when she spoke.

"You would see him?"

Ashton-Kirk nodded; and as the old woman admitted them, he said:

"You are not English, then?"

For an instant she seemed to bristle with indignation; her eyes, wide
open now, snapped.

"English! No; I am a French woman, thank God!"

She showed them into a somberly furnished but spotlessly kept
sitting-room; a single window overlooked that portion of the lawn which
lay behind the house.

"If you will sit down," she said, "I will speak to Mr. Warwick."

Ashton-Kirk, whose first glance had been through the window, said:

"You have Japanese for neighbors, I see."

The woman's eyes also went to the window; there was a long, narrow
stretch of lawn between the house and the one behind it; and this was
divided in the center by a hedge fence. Upon the opposite side of the
latter, engaged in uprooting the encroaching weeds, was a small, dark
man with spectacles and grayish hair. At sight of him the old woman made
a gesture of aversion.

"The good God hates all pagans," she said, resolutely, and went out.

The secret agent smiled.

"I think I should have known her for a zealot even without that," he
said. "The type is perfectly expressed in her."

"She has no love for the Japs, at all events," said Fuller, as he went
to the window.

"The man clipping the hedge," said Ashton-Kirk, "is a member of the
household of whom Warwick neglected to speak."

Fuller looked at the person indicated; he was upon the Morse side of the
fence and wielded a huge pair of shears diligently; in spite of the
mildness of the evening he had a heavy coat buttoned to the chin. Near
him frolicked a small terrier.

"He may be a gardener called in to do the trimming," suggested the
assistant.

"I think we'll find that he belongs here," said Ashton-Kirk. "That is a
Scottish terrier running about there; and that breed is never friendly
with strangers."

There was a piano being played somewhere in the house; the touch was
sure and soft, the air mournful and full of minors. They had listened
but a moment, however, when Warwick entered the room.

There was a flush in his cheeks and an excited sparkle in his eyes; as
he spoke his voice shook a little as though not perfectly under control.

"Thank you," he said, eagerly, as he shook hands. "I am glad that you
have come."

"Something has happened?"

"Yes. A special delivery letter came for Dr. Morse about an hour ago. A
few moments after receiving it I heard him shouting aloud in the
library, and apparently smashing things in his rage."

"Did you go to him?"

"No. When he is that way, we have found it a better plan to leave him
alone. After venting his rage in the way I have just mentioned, he
rushed from the place."

Ashton-Kirk did not immediately comment upon this; his eyes were upon
the man clipping the hedge.

"Who is that?" asked he.

Warwick followed his glance.

"Oh, a young fellow whom the doctor employs about the place. He is a
Pole, and came about a month ago; he seems very intelligent, and I know
he is hard up. Morse knew his father somewhere, I believe."

"I see." The speaker turned from the window.

"You were saying that Dr. Morse rushed from the house in a passion."

"Yes. And I went at once into the library. Upon his desk I found this,
which was, more than likely, the cause of the outburst."

He handed Ashton-Kirk a sheet of paper; in the center was a cross, the
only peculiarity of which was that the down stroke was red, and the
other was blue. This the secret agent inspected with interest.

"I believe you said that he cried aloud in the library--did you catch
any words?"

"No. But Miss Corbin did. She told me that----"

"Wait!" Ashton-Kirk halted him. "I would like to speak to Miss Corbin
personally."

"Ah, yes. I suppose it would be best."

Warwick left the room. Instantly Ashton-Kirk was at the window, and
after a glance, he laughed softly.

"Fuller," said he, "if you saw a man weeding a garden and another man
clipping a hedge near by; and if you noticed that they gradually and
almost imperceptibly worked toward each other, what should you think?"

Fuller looked out at the two stooping figures; the terrier had stopped
his capering and lay gnawing one of the cuttings from the hedge, which
he held between his paws.

"They _are_ nearer to each other," said Fuller. "And look! they never
exchange a glance. It seems to me," in the low, rapid tone of one to
whom an idea had just occurred, "that they desire to speak to each
other, but would rather not be observed."

Before the secret agent could reply to this, Warwick reëntered, and with
him was a girl. She was slight and dark and dressed in white. Her most
remarkable feature was her eyes; they were big and black and wonderful.
Her manner was hushed and fearful; her voice, when she spoke, was sunk
almost to a whisper.

"Philip tells me that you are a very gifted man," she said, after
Warwick had spoken the words of presentation. "He says that hidden
things are plain to you. I do not understand how or why this is, but
nevertheless I am glad that you have come. And I only hope," here one of
the slim, white hands trembled upon his sleeve, "that you have come in
time."

"I think," said Ashton-Kirk, quietly, "that you had better make an
effort to control yourself. You are cold with fear. It is necessary that
you answer a few questions; so try and calm yourself--even if only for
that reason."

"I can't! I can't!" She made a despairing sort of gesture, the great
eyes filled with a thrilling terror. "How can I be calm when I read such
things in his face?" One hand was upon the arm of the secret agent, the
other upon that of young Warwick; she looked first at one and then the
other. "Death is near to him," she said. "It is very near to him."

"No, no!" cried the young Englishman.

"I tell you, yes! And, perhaps, it is even nearer than I dream. It may
be upon the very threshold."

"My dear girl," cried Warwick.

"Have you been blind, Philip?" she asked in the same whispering voice as
before. "Have you been blind that you have not seen? But no," her tone
changing tenderly, "it is not to be expected of you. He has not been a
father to _you_."

"No," said Warwick, and somehow a second meaning seemed to lurk behind
the words, "he has not."

The girl turned to Ashton-Kirk.

"Never," she said, "has any one been better or kinder than Dr. Morse has
been to me. Everything that I have I owe to him. And so can you wonder
that _I_ have been quick to see?"

"Quick to see--what?"

"The fear," she answered, "the fear which has gradually taken possession
of him. You have seen some of it," to Warwick, "but not all. It is
terror of the unseen, of the unknown. It is fear of a danger which he
does not understand."

"You think, then, that Dr. Morse does not know the meaning of these
grotesque messages which he has been receiving?"

"I know that he does not. I have always known it; but just how, I cannot
say. This evening, upon opening the letter, he rushed out of the
library. I happened to be passing the hall, and heard him cry out: 'Be
plain! Who are you? What do you want?'"

"Is that all you heard?"

"Yes; for with the last word he threw open the front door and was gone."

Ashton-Kirk glanced at the two-colored cross.

"Perhaps," said he, "if we could find the envelope which this came in,
it would tell us something."

"Will you come into the library?" said Warwick.

As they were moving toward the door, Ashton-Kirk whispered a few quick
words to Fuller; the latter nodded and took a seat by the window, partly
screened by a hanging and apparently much interested in the lawn.

The library was a large, high ceilinged room, darkly paneled and with a
smoothly polished floor. The chairs were massive oak affairs and there
were two huge, flat-topped desks. The bookcases were stuffed with
serious, well-handled tomes; at one side was a highboy, the many drawers
of which were furnished with glass knobs. Upon the top of this was a
large English traveling bag, the strap of which was tightly buckled.

From the floor near one of the desks Warwick picked up a torn envelope.

"That is what the paper came in," said he. "I know, because it was I who
handed it to him."

"Postmarked at three o'clock this afternoon at the central station,"
said Ashton-Kirk. "And the address was written on a typewriter." He
threw the envelope upon the desk. "We'll learn nothing from that,
except, perhaps, that the sender is one who understands the value of
keeping hidden."

Just then a door was heard to open and close heavily. At the sound
Ashton-Kirk noted the girl go swiftly to Warwick's side and whisper
something hurriedly.

"No," said he, and there was just a trace of sharpness in his tone. "Of
course not."

Quick steps were heard in the hall, then a man entered the room.

"Uncle," said Stella Corbin.

She went to him and put an arm about him, but his feverishly burning
eyes singled out the stranger.

"It is a friend of Philip's--Mr. Ashton-Kirk. He has been kind enough to
visit us."

There was a disagreeable smile about the thin lips of Dr. Morse as he
said:

"Kind, indeed. We are charmed." Then to Warwick he added, "It is not
every one, my dear Philip, who has the power of attracting friends."

Dr. Morse was a tall man, with high, narrow shoulders and a long,
pasty-white face. There were deep, sour-looking lines about his mouth;
the short black hair stood up on his head like bristles.

"To attract friends," said the secret agent, "is rather an enviable
knack."

"It denotes a perfect nature, I have no doubt," replied Dr. Morse, still
with the disagreeable smile.

"And if such a knack exists," said Ashton-Kirk, evenly, "it argues the
existence of a counter condition, don't you think, in some others--that
of attracting enemies?"

For a moment there was a dead silence in the room; a look of
consternation appeared in the face of the young Englishman. Dr. Morse
smoothed back his short, stiff hair and sat down; the smile was still
present, but his red-lidded eyes were narrowed in a way that was not at
all pleasant.

"Perhaps you are right--things are usually balanced in some such way.
We all have our enemies," he added. "I have read somewhere that the
fewer the personal foes, the weaker the man. And since we must have them
in order to prove our personality," with a laugh which sounded
peculiarly unnatural, "why, we can consider ourselves fortunate if they
but stand out where we can see them."

"Your businesslike enemy seldom fights in the open," commented
Ashton-Kirk with the air of a man merely making talk. "Our American
politicians could teach you that fact."

The physician nodded.

"The ambuscade is effective," he agreed. "I learned its use in the
Russo-Japanese war."

"So!" The secret agent's brows went up. "You served in that war then?
What regiment?"

"The 47th infantry, Siberians."

"It is peculiar how things come about," smiled Ashton-Kirk. "While
waiting for Warwick I noticed that the house in your rear is occupied by
Japanese. Rather close quarters for old opponents, is it not?"

"The Japanese," spoke Dr. Morse, "were the opponents of Russia."

"I see. You are on good terms with your neighbors, then?"

"No. They have been there almost as long as I have been here; but I
have never spoken to one of them."

Just then there came a tap upon the door; the old servant woman entered,
but at the sight of those present, she halted.

"I beg your pardon, Simon," she said to Morse. "I did not know you were
engaged."

He looked at her coldly.

"Well, Nanon," said he, "what is it now? Out again? There is no service
at your church to-night."

There was a jeer in his voice, but the old French woman paid no
attention to it. That she addressed him by his first name indicated that
she felt no sense of inferiority. Indeed, as Ashton-Kirk regarded her,
he detected a look of contempt upon her severe face.

"No," she answered, "there is no service to-night, as you know very
well. I came to speak of Drevenoff."

A peculiar look came into the eyes of the secret agent; it was as though
he were groping about for something hidden away in his memory; then like
a flash, recollection seemed to come.

"Well, what of him?" asked Dr. Morse.

"He is no better. Even now while he clips the hedges, he shakes with
cold; again he burns."

The physician gestured impatiently. Arising he went to a small cabinet
and took out a jar partly filled with whitish pills. While he was so
engaged, Warwick whispered to Ashton-Kirk.

"Don't wonder at Nanon's manner. You know I'd told you she'd been in the
family for years--before the doctor was born. He has the bad taste to
sneer at her religion; and I really think that she considers him somehow
evilly possessed. It's a sort of truce between them."

Dr. Morse placed some of the pellets in an envelope upon which he
scrawled some lines.

"Tell him to take these," he said, handing them to the old woman. "The
directions are on the envelope."

"I hope it is nothing serious," said his niece.

"He needs some quinine, that is all," returned the physician.

Old Nanon moved toward the door. Her withered, large veined right hand
hung at her side; Ashton-Kirk noted her dart a sidelong glance toward
Morse; then the bony forefinger made a rapid sign of the cross between
them.

And so the door closed behind her



CHAPTER III

AN INTERNATIONAL AFFAIR


Next morning Ashton-Kirk's car was drawn up at his door; in the hall,
the secret agent pulled on a pair of gloves; at his side stood the alert
Fuller.

"You carried out my instructions?" asked the former.

"Yes," answered Fuller. "I telegraphed the secretary that you would
reach Washington by 11:40 and would call upon him at once."

"You urged him that the matter was possibly one of much importance?"

"Yes."

The secret agent turned to Stumph, who stood at the front door.

"Have Dixon meet every Washington train after dark," said he. "We shall
be on one or the other of them."

Stumph threw open the hall door and then that of the car; the soft throb
of the engine changed to a startled snort, and then the huge vehicle
glided away.

A little later the two men sat facing each other upon the heavy
"Limited"; Ashton-Kirk turned the pages of a magazine. For a time
Fuller was silent and thoughtful. But at length he said:

"Do you know--I don't just understand those two fellows behind the house
last evening, the Jap, you know--and the one who acted as though he were
cold. What are we to make of men who edge toward each other, apparently
bent upon some sort of a secret communication--and then when they get
within speaking distance, work away doggedly and at last depart without
exchanging a word?"

"You are quite sure that there was no message dropped across the hedge,
or stuck among its branches?"

"Positive. I did not take my eyes off them for a moment; and later I
made it my business to go out and look. That they exchanged signals is
scarcely possible, unless they were remarkably ingenious ones. And then,
had they desired to signal, they could have done so at a distance; it
would have been unnecessary for them to risk attracting attention by
drawing so closely together."

Ashton-Kirk did not reply; and after another period spent in cogitation,
Fuller spoke again.

"The feeling which you have spoken of as existing between old Nanon and
her employer is rather queer, isn't it?"

"Somewhat."

"But that she should remain with him--even accompany him to a new
country--and all the time hate, or fear, him is perplexing."

Ashton-Kirk nodded, his eyes half closed.

"Yes," he said, "it is rather so. But," and he opened his eyes, "don't
forget that this woman is, by her trace of accent, a Breton, and the
peasantry of that section have very rigorous notions as to duty."

"They must have if she's borne with his quips and sneers all these
years. I can see very readily what Warwick meant when he said you'd not
wonder at his lack of interest in Dr. Morse if you knew the man."

"When Warwick came into the room where we were awaiting him last
evening, did you notice anything in his manner?"

"He _did_ seem rather agitated, now that I think of it. His face was
flushed and his voice trembled a bit--just as though he had been
quarreling with some one."

Again the secret agent nodded.

"But with whom?" said he. "Not Miss Corbin, I feel sure; and scarcely
the old servant woman."

"You think it was with Dr. Morse?" eagerly.

"I don't know. But when Morse was heard entering the house, the girl
whispered something to Warwick, rather pleadingly I thought, and he
brusquely denied having any intention of doing--whatever it was that she
spoke of."

"Humph," said Fuller.

After some hours the train drew into the station at Washington; at once
they took a taxi-cab and whirled to a government building. Ashton-Kirk
was shown through a spacious suite and into a room where a handsome
white-haired gentleman sat at a huge mahogany desk.

"It was kind of you, Mr. Secretary, to put yourself out," said the
secret agent.

The white-haired gentleman arose and shook his hand cordially.

"I have had such telegrams from you before," he said, "and they have
never failed to be followed by matters of some interest."

Ashton-Kirk sat down; the secretary pushed a box of long loosely wrapped
cigars toward him.

"They are Porto Ricos," said he. "You may fancy their flavor."

For a little time after lighting the cigars they sat in silence watching
the smoke drifts and enjoying the aroma. Then Ashton-Kirk spoke.

"Yesterday," said he, "my attention was called to a rather interesting
train of circumstances."

"If _you_ class it as interesting," said the statesman, "there is
nothing more to be said. I recall several matters which you handled in a
somewhat bored fashion; and yet, to me, they were in many ways really
amazing."

"That is, perhaps, because you held to the point of view of the
spectator. There is a broad element of drama in most things of this
sort, and as a looker-on, this appealed to you. But this present
affair," leaning a trifle forward, "may have a greatly increased
interest for you, for the indications are that it will lead directly to
your department."

The secretary knocked a narrow rim of ash from his cigar; he examined
the red end carefully, and then said:

"Indeed?"

"All countries have had their secrets," said Ashton-Kirk, after a pause.
"Some never see the light--others are only made known after centuries.
If the hidden archives of the nations were thrown open to the world,
history, perhaps, would have to be rewritten. Of course," with a wave of
one long finger, "some governments have more of these state secrets than
others; the Italian republics probably were in the lead; the United
States I should place almost last."

"You are very good," smiled the secretary.

"But, still, we have some. Even in a democracy, it is not possible to
make public all the details of government. Things are handed from one
administration to another which must await the time of ripening and
fulfilment."

The secretary smoked quietly, but he said nothing.

"These matters," continued Ashton-Kirk, "are not, of course, to be
disclosed--they are scarcely to be hinted at. But the case which I bring
to your attention perhaps involves a delicate point of international
relationship; if my reasoning holds, I do not require you to make any
admissions. That you consider the affair important and worth following
out will be enough."

"Go on," said the official.

Ashton-Kirk reflected for a moment; then with a smile, he said:

"Don't be alarmed if I date the beginning of my story back quite a bit.
I merely desire to glance at one or two facts which I consider of some
importance; then I will come as swiftly as I may to the present." There
was another pause, but in a moment he resumed. "Have you ever noticed
that there are individuals who, without any great intimacy, seem to
cherish a steady regard for each other? There are families which do the
same thing. And there are nations.

"Now, I'm going to take a running view of such a friendship between two
countries. When George III was puzzled as to how he should put down the
rebellion of England's American colonies in the year 1775, he turned to
Russia and tried to borrow an army. Catherine was then Empress of
Russia; and her answer to the request was a most biting one. And George
growled that she was a barbarian and contented himself with Hessians
and Brunswickers.

"When the second war of independence began, John Quincy Adams was United
States Minister at St. Petersburg; and to him the Czar expressed the
keenest regrets. And he did not stop at this. Through his
representative, Daschkoof, and by personal letters, the Czar strove to
bring the war to an end; he failed, but through no fault of his own. The
friendly manner in which Russia ceded Alaska to the United States needs
no comment.

"During the blackest period of the Civil War, when practically all
Europe favored the Confederacy and were upon the verge of giving it
official recognition; when France had gone so far as to throw troops
into Mexico in defiance of the Monroe doctrine, Russia still stood our
firm friend. To the wonder of the nations she sent a fleet across the
Atlantic; it entered our northern ports and lay grimly waiting. What the
admiral's orders were, only St. Petersburg and Washington knew; but that
they warranted his stripping his ships for action in the event of
certain conditions arising, I have no doubt.

"When the famine swept Russia a score of years ago, what people so quick
to respond as our own? And when that same nation, because of
geographical disadvantages, was outclassed in her war with Japan, it
was the United States that stepped in and called a stay which resulted
in the treaty of Portsmouth."

There were some few moments of silence; the secretary leaned back in his
chair, his fingers pattering upon its arms; that he was interested was
shown by the quick little jets of smoke which rose above his head.

"Well?" said he.

"We now come to the matter of present interest," said Ashton-Kirk. "The
early defeats of Russia at the hands of Japan demonstrated her
unpreparedness; and upon the heels of the news, the Russian Count
Malikoff, with some military officers, came to Washington. At once a
scarcely audible murmur ran through the more daring of the newspapers,
but almost instantly died away. However, one with his ear to the ground
could detect the falling into place of the ponderous parts of some
international arrangement; but just what this arrangement was has not
been made known."

"Well," said the secretary again.

Slowly and with great care, the secret agent then began the story of Dr.
Morse. Starting with the visit of Warwick, he related the queer
happenings at Sharsdale; then came the flight to America and the
grotesque messages which had so startled Stella Corbin. He proceeded:

"A second glance at the picture of the crowned woman handed me by
Warwick, and my attention was caught. It was the work of a Japanese."

"Ah!" said the secretary. And he sat a trifle more upright.

"It was a Japanese with a thoroughly Western training; but that his
point of view was still Oriental was plain in the drawing. It then
occurred to me that if a Japanese were vitally interested in Dr. Morse
he would be likely to live as near to him as he could. And the telephone
directory informed me that the house directly behind that of Morse was
occupied by one Okiu."

The secretary laid down his cigar.

"Okiu!" said he. "I think I recall that name."

"And more than likely it is the same person," said Ashton-Kirk; "though
as yet I am not assured of that fact."

"Well?" said the official, expectantly.

"As you have seen, the persecution of Dr. Morse began only after his
return from Manchuria, where he had served in the Russian army. This in
itself seemed to tell something; but when I add to it that he had never
before come into contact with Japanese, and that one of the race was
plainly involved, you will see that I had a fairly good reason for
supposing that the thing had its beginning in Manchuria.

"But what was the thing? Plainly it was not a personal matter, for his
person and effects had been spared more than once. Then I got a faint
gleam of light; for just about now the name of Drevenoff comes into the
case."

"Drevenoff!" The official repeated the name quietly; his ruddy face was
entirely devoid of expression.

"It is the name of a young Pole who is employed by Morse as a sort of
gardener. He is educated and, I understand, capable of filling a much
higher position in life. A few weeks ago he came to Eastbury entirely
destitute. I recalled that a Colonel Drevenoff made one of the party
which bore Count Malikoff company upon the mysterious mission to
Washington in the early days of the Russo-Japanese war; I remembered
also that Philip Warwick had told me that Morse had known young
Drevenoff's father.

"This suggested an amazing possibility. After leaving the house on
Fordham Road I consulted the files of a newspaper; from this I learned
that Colonel Drevenoff had, some six months after leaving Washington,
joined the army in Manchuria and had been killed in battle."

The secretary nodded.

"Well?" said he.

"Morse told me, in the brief talk that I had with him, that he had been
attached as surgeon to the 47th Siberian infantry; and I learned from
the newspaper file that Colonel Drevenoff had been commander of that
very regiment."

The official shifted his position; his face was still unreadable; his
voice, when he spoke, was even.

"You appear to attach some significance to that," said he.

"Suppose," spoke Ashton-Kirk, "that Colonel Drevenoff were possessed of
something of great value; when brought in wounded and dying, what more
likely thing than that he should be attended by Dr. Morse? Also it is
not without the range of possibility that he should entrust this
precious possession to the physician's keeping."

"You are not deficient in imagination." And as the secretary said this
he smiled.

"Imagination is a vital necessity in my work. Without it I could make
but little headway. And now I will venture still farther upon the same
road; but, remember, I am claiming nothing substantial for what I am
about to say. I merely place it before you as what might have happened
and ask you to fit it to any facts of which you may be possessed. That
Colonel Drevenoff was in the party of so eminent a diplomat as Count
Malikoff shows him to have been a person of some standing; that he
should so suddenly be packed off to the Orient to head a provincial
regiment indicates a fall in favor.

"What was the cause of this? I have no means of knowing, but in view of
what I do know, I can build up a structure which may be more or less
composed of truths. Suppose, after Malikoff left Washington, he missed
something--a document, perhaps, in the hand of some person high in this
government. Suppose Drevenoff were suspected of taking it, but could not
be charged with the act because of lack of proof. There we have a reason
for his banishment. Now we will suppose that Drevenoff did actually take
this paper. Why did he do so? In order that he should profit by it. In
what way? The answer follows swiftly: by selling it to the Japanese
government."

The secretary arose and crossed to a window.

"It is rather close here," said he. "But don't stop."

"Suppose the mission of Malikoff had already suggested the existence of
this paper to Tokio; but upon Drevenoff getting into communication with
them, they learned for the first time of its reality. But before the
matter could be closed, Drevenoff met his death; and after Dr. Morse
returned to England, the enemies of Russia in some way discovered that
he had been made the custodian of the secret. What followed has been in
the nature of attempts to gain possession of the coveted thing."

"But if this is so, how do you account for the bizarre--almost
nonsensical methods employed? And how do you account for the apparent
ignorance of Dr. Morse as to the meaning behind this persecution of
him?"

Ashton-Kirk shook his head.

"I do not account for it," he said. "That is a thing which I have not
come to, as yet."

The secretary recrossed to his desk, took another cigar and pushed the
box toward his visitor; after he had the long roll burning freely, he
began pacing up and down. After quite a space, he resumed his chair.

"As you said in the beginning," he spoke, "there are things which cannot
even be hinted at before the time of ripening and fulfilment. Therefore,
I can say only this: Count Malikoff _did_ lose a document of most
tremendous importance. Colonel Drevenoff _was_ suspected. The paper in
question, should it fall into the hands of those unfriendly to this
government, might cause a nasty diplomatic complication. That it has not
done so as yet, we feel sure; because the conditions are such that
immediate and open steps would be taken. But official Washington has, so
to speak, been living over a volcano for several years."

"This is all you can say?"

"In an official way, yes. But, assuming the point of view of a mere
spectator, of which you lately accused me," and here the secretary
smiled, "I should say that this matter of Dr. Morse holds all the
elements of an interesting case."

"I agree with you," said Ashton-Kirk, as he arose to his feet and looked
at his watch, "and as there is a train in another half hour I think I
shall return at once and take up the study of it.



CHAPTER IV

THE TAKING OFF OF DR. MORSE


As it happened, Ashton-Kirk was too late to get the train which he had
mentioned. The next did not leave until 7:30; and even this was delayed
on the way, so that it was rather an unusual hour when they stepped into
the motor car which the waiting Dixon held ready for them.

The mean street, with its high smells and grimy buildings, was strangely
quiet; the venders' carts, along the curb, were empty; the stands were
shrouded, and the stores dim-looking. As the automobile stopped before
the secret agent's door, a bell in a neighboring tower struck one.

"Hello," cried Fuller, "what's Stumph doing?"

The hall door stood open to the fullest extent; the light was switched
on, and beneath it stood Stumph with a roughly-dressed man whom
Ashton-Kirk an once recognized as young Drevenoff. Stumph, aroused out
of his usual gravity, was gesticulating determinedly. Drevenoff seemed
insisting upon something doggedly. As Fuller spoke, the two heard the
car for the first time, and turned.

"Thank goodness, here he is now!" cried Stumph. He dashed excitedly
down the step. "Here is a man who desires to see you, sir," he said to
Ashton-Kirk. "He would not leave, though I told him a dozen times that
you were not at home."

The secret agent, followed by Fuller and the man, entered the hall and
the door closed behind them.

"Well?" asked the former of Drevenoff.

"You are Mr. Ashton-Kirk?"

"I am."

"I was sent to fetch you at once to Dr. Morse's place on Fordham Road,
Eastbury."

"Who sent you?"

"Miss Corbin."

Ashton-Kirk looked at the young man; his face was pale, his eyes were
brilliant with excitement.

"Has anything happened?"

"Dr. Morse has been murdered."

Ashton-Kirk turned to Stumph.

"Tell Dixon to wait."

Instantly the man opened the door; the chauffeur was upon the point of
starting away, but halted upon hearing Stumph's voice.

"What trains are there?" asked Ashton-Kirk of Drevenoff.

"No more to-night," answered the man. "I had hoped to find you before
the last one left."

"No matter--the motor will do."

Followed by the others, he hastily reached the car; Fuller seated
himself beside Dixon and Drevenoff entered the tonneau with the secret
agent.

"Fordham Road, Eastbury," directed Ashton-Kirk. "The number is 2979."

The car wheeled in its own length under the skilful hand of Dixon; then
it went speeding away.

"When did this happen?" asked Ashton-Kirk, of Drevenoff.

"The murder?"

"Of course!" sharply.

"I don't know the hour. Some time to-night."

"How was it done?"

"He was shot through the chest."

"Where?"

"In his library."

It is natural, under such circumstances, for an informant to become very
voluble; but not so Drevenoff. His answers were brief; his manner, too,
was sullen and unwilling.

"Tell me what you know about it," requested Ashton-Kirk.

"I know very little," said the man. "This evening about dark I ate my
dinner and looked at the evening paper; then I went to my room, which is
on the third floor. I go to bed early these nights; I am not well, you
see. It must have been about half-past ten when I heard a knocking at
my door. It was Nanon, and she was crying out that Dr. Morse was dead. I
dressed and hurried down-stairs. Dr. Morse was sitting all huddled up in
his chair; his face was smeared with blood. Miss Corbin was kneeling
beside him; the old woman stood by the door."

"Is that all?"

"Nanon told me to go for the police; but Miss Corbin got up at once and
warned me not to. There was a train almost due; she told me to take that
and go get you."

"I see."

The big car rushed along at high speed through the silence of the night;
in a surprisingly short time Eastbury was reached and they turned into
Fordham Road. The residence of Dr. Morse was silent and dark; the blinds
were closely drawn; not even a glimmer of light was to be seen around
their edges. Ashton-Kirk touched the bell; almost instantly the door
opened and through the darkness a voice asked:

"Is that you, Drevenoff?"

"Yes," replied the Pole.

"Have you brought the gentleman?"

"Here he is."

The light was switched on; they saw the seamed face of the old Breton
woman, harsh and emotionless. She spoke to Ashton-Kirk.

"Miss Corbin will see you at once, sir, if you please."

The secret agent followed her down the hall; they passed the library
door, which was closed; and the old servant paused at the room into
which she had shown them the evening before.

"I will tell her that you are here," she said.

Ashton-Kirk entered the room; it was dim, for only one light was
burning; the atmosphere was hushed and breathless; a sort of terror
seemed to have settled over everything. He had waited but a few moments
when he heard a light, hasty step. Then Stella Corbin came in.

Her face was white and the great eyes were dry and dumb with fear; the
corners of her mouth twitched. Silently she held out both hands to the
secret agent; they were deathly cold and he felt them tremble.

"I came as soon as I could," said he.

"I called and called upon the telephone, but they told me that you were
not at home. Then I sent Drevenoff." She spoke in broken, sobbing
sentences; and the fear in her eyes crept into her voice as she went on.
"You see, it is as I expected. He is dead. They have killed him."

"Are you quite strong enough to tell me what you know?" he asked. "It is
important that we act quickly; the police will, of course, be in the
house before long, and they are sometimes disposed to stand in the way."

"The police!" He felt the small, cold hands tighten convulsively, and,
if possible, her face went still whiter. "The police! Oh! I had
forgotten them."

He got her a chair, forced her to sit down, and then took another,
directly facing her. The light fell dimly upon the dark, loosely coiled
masses of her hair and brought out the clear perfection of the face. Her
slight figure seemed almost childish in the long enveloping robe which
she wore.

"I have heard the manner of your uncle's death," he said. "When you
entered the library did you see any sort of firearms lying about near to
his hand?"

Instantly she grasped the meaning behind the words.

"No, no," she said hastily. "It was not suicide! Tried as he was, many
would have resorted to that; but my uncle was not of that sort. He was
murdered."

"There were no firearms, then?"

"No."

"Who discovered the body?"

"Nanon."

"If I may I should like to ask her a question or two."

The old servant was summoned; she entered, angular, severe and sharp of
eye.

"Miss Corbin tells me," said the secret agent, "that it was you who
discovered the body of Dr. Morse."

"It was."

"Would you mind telling me how you came to do so?"

"When he worked at night, he always drank coffee to keep himself awake.
I always made and took it to him. When I went into the library to-night,
I found him sitting in his chair--dead."

"You heard no shot?"

"No."

"When did you last see the doctor alive?"

"About half past nine. I had just finished locking all the windows and
doors when he rang for me."

"Is it your custom to lock up every night?"

"Yes. I have always done so at nine o'clock by the doctor's orders."

"He was so urgent about this," said Stella, "that I have thought he
feared a repetition of the entrances which occurred at Sharsdale."

"You had seen that everything was fast, then?" said Ashton-Kirk, looking
at the old woman.

"Yes; every door and every window upon the lower floor and every window
overlooking the porch on the second floor. As there was no way by which
the house could be entered by any of the other windows we never bothered
with them."

"You say Dr. Morse rang for you as you finished locking up?"

"Yes, sir; and I answered. He was in the library, and I was surprised to
see that he was dressed as though he meant to go out--perhaps upon a
journey. He had on his hat, an overcoat lay across a chair and he was
trying to turn a key in the lock of his traveling bag. The key was bent
and he had rung for me that I might bring him something to straighten it
with. But as he was speaking to me, the lock turned, and he told me that
I need not mind."

"You say he was dressed as though to go out. Did he do so?"

"No, sir. I am sure of that, because I went to the hall door and sat
upon the step for some time. It was a fine night. So if he had gone out
I should have seen him."

"How long did you sit there?"

"About ten minutes. Then I went to prepare the coffee."

"While you sat upon the step did you see or hear anything?"

"I heard Dr. Morse talking."

"With whom?"

"I don't know. I heard a second voice, but not distinctly. I thought it
must be Miss Stella or Mr. Warwick."

Here the girl drew a deep, audible breath, and Ashton-Kirk saw the old
woman fix her sharp eyes upon her.

"But," resumed Nanon, "Miss Stella tells me that it was not she."

"You went directly from the library to the hall door after speaking to
Dr. Morse, you say?"

"Yes, sir."

"Did you close the door while you sat upon the step?"

"No; I left it open, thinking to hear if the doctor rang again."

"No one else was in the library when you spoke to the doctor regarding
the key?"

"No one."

"Was there a light in the hallway while you sat at the door?"

"There was."

"Should you have seen any one entering the library?"

"I should. To go into that room he would first have to come through the
hall."

"There were no visitors in the house at any time during the evening?"

"No," said Nanon. "I should have heard them ring, even if some one else
had admitted them."

Ashton-Kirk turned to the girl.

"It is necessary that I know everything that can be told me as to what
took place in the house to-night. So you will pardon a question or two,
I know."

She inclined her head in answer to this; but her mouth twitched
nervously, and her hands held tightly to the chair upon which she sat.

"Where were you when you learned that Dr. Morse was dead?" proceeded
Ashton-Kirk.

"In my sitting-room, where I had gone to read immediately after dinner."

[Illustration: "WHO BROUGHT THE NEWS?"]

"Who brought the news?"

"Nanon. She stood at the foot of the back stairs and called to me."

"Where is your sitting-room?"

"On the second floor at the back; the door was open and I heard her at
once."

"Did you hear or see anything else, previous to this?"

"Very early in the evening I saw Drevenoff going to his room on the
third floor; I sat facing the doorway and had a view of the stairs."

"He did not come down again?"

"Not until Nanon called him."

"You are quite sure of that?"

"Quite. I should have seen him had he come down."

There was a pause of some length; the secret agent looked from one to
the other of the two women, and finally he said to Nanon:

"You say that you are not sure that the second voice you heard in the
library was Mr. Warwick's?"

Again came the quick, deep drawn breath from the girl; and again the
gray eyes of the old woman sought her face. At the same time she
replied:

"I heard a voice. Whose it was, I cannot say."

There was another pause; then he turned to Miss Corbin.

"At all events," said he, smoothly, "I should like to speak to him."

She arose a trifle unsteady.

"I am sorry," she said in a low voice, "but I am afraid that is
impossible, just now."

"Impossible?"

"He is not here--he has gone away."

"Gone away!" It was old Nanon's voice, and it was pitched a shade higher
than usual. She took a step toward the girl, the thick gray brows bent
over the sharp-sighted eyes. "Where has he gone? Why did he go?"

The girl did not reply; she put her hands to her face, and the secret
agent as he looked at her saw that she shivered as though struck with a
chill.

"I do not know," she said.

For a moment the old woman stood looking at her, something like menace
in her face; it seemed as though she were about to burst forth into a
torrent of words. But Ashton-Kirk rose.

"If you don't mind," said he, calmly, "I should like to go through the
house."

Slowly the stern eyes turned from the girl to the speaker.

"You will not see _him_?" indicating the direction of the library.

"Not until afterward."

Without another word she walked toward the door. Ashton-Kirk followed
her; as he was stepping into the hall he looked back. Stella Corbin was
standing erect, her hands clasped, her face white and drawn with what
seemed suspense; and the great dark eyes, filled with terror, were fixed
steadily upon him.



CHAPTER V

THE HOUND STRIKES THE TRAIL


Old Nanon led the secret agent through the rear of the house and then up
the stairs from floor to floor and room to room. His eyes seemed to take
in everything, gauging, measuring, speculating; now and then he asked a
question to which she returned a brief, illuminating answer. Finally
they descended and Ashton-Kirk examined the front door. Beside the
ordinary spring lock it had a heavy bolt.

"When you left the step and went back into the kitchen to prepare the
coffee, did you close this door?" he asked.

"I did; and bolted it."

"Did you look at it after the body was found?"

"It was I who opened the door for Drevenoff when he started after you.
It was still bolted."

Both Fuller and Drevenoff stood in the hall; and as old Nanon paused at
the library door, Ashton-Kirk said to the Pole:

"How far away is the nearest police station?"

"About half a dozen blocks," answered the other.

"I want you to go there at once and report what has occurred."

"I can call them upon the telephone," suggested Drevenoff.

"I prefer that you go in person," said Ashton-Kirk, smoothly. "More than
likely they will send a man or two; if so, please wait for and return
with them."

Nanon opened the library door, turned the switch which controlled the
library lights, and then stepped back.

"He is there," she said, one lean finger pointing to the empty doorway.

"Will you not go in?" Ashton-Kirk looked at her keenly.

"No." She drew back further, and he noted her make the same furtive sign
that he had caught upon his first visit. "He has filled the world with
evil," she went on, "and you see the end of it. Who knows but what that
room swarms with things that the soul should fear?"

With this she turned and retraced her steps down the hall, and they saw
her reënter the room where the girl had been left.

"A queer sort of old party," commented Fuller. "And one that seems to
stick to her opinions."

The two went into the library and closed the door behind them. The
hideous thing which sat huddled in the desk chair compelled their
instant attention; the head lay tipped back and the face was caked with
dry blood. From one thing to another the secret agent swiftly turned his
attention; his singular eyes were narrowed, his nostrils widened like
those of a hound searching for the scent.

"He was killed while he sat," said he to Fuller. "His position in the
chair is too natural for it to be otherwise. And from the size of the
wound I should say the weapon was a small one; the fact that no one, not
even a woman seated just outside the door, heard a report, also
indicates the same thing."

Around the library went the secret agent; the side windows were tried,
but were fast, as were those opening upon the porch. A raincoat lay upon
the floor; upon the top of the highboy rested a dark, soft hat.

"The bag!" said Ashton-Kirk in a low voice.

"Was there a bag?" asked Fuller.

In a few words the other related what old Nanon had said. Fuller
whistled through his shut teeth as he searched the room with a glance.

"It's gone," said he, "and a hundred to one the thing we want is gone
with it."

"Perhaps," said Ashton-Kirk quietly. "But we are not at all sure of
that. The person who is keyed up to the pitch of a desperate deed such
as this seldom is in the state of mind to make an intelligent search.
If the desired thing is at his hand, well and good, but if it is hidden
the chances are decidedly against him. Witness the attempt upon the
rubies of Bostwick's wife, in which her butler lost his life; also the
astonishing matter of the numismatist Hume.[1] A miscalculation spoiled
the criminals' chances in the first case; and a misunderstanding with a
confederate was fatal in the second. The beast in a man is uppermost
when he can do murder; and even the most intelligent of beasts is not a
reasoning thing."

"That sounds like truth," said Fuller. "But this is the way I look at
it. Dr. Morse was clearly in a state of dread; all about him agreed that
these queer things, which were continually recurring, had broken his
nerve. A servant enters a room and finds him preparing for a journey.
Yet apparently he has not mentioned his intentions in this regard even
to his niece, to whom he is much attached. To my mind this indicates
that he was about to run off somewhere without saying anything to any
one. He feared to remain and he feared to tell that he was going,
thinking it would, somehow, leak out."

"Well, and what next?"

"The most natural thing for him to do under the circumstances,"
proceeded Fuller, "would be to take with him the article which created
all the fuss. It would be against human nature to leave it behind. He
was about to put it into the bag, or he had already done so, when the
servant saw him endeavoring to turn the key."

"That," smiled the secret agent, "is rather well thought out. But you
have overlooked one thing. That Dr. Morse intended doing as you state
would necessitate his knowing definitely what his mysterious
communicants desired. His own acts and especially his own words, as
overheard by his niece, indicate the reverse of this. And if he did not
know what they wanted," with a twinkle in his eye, "it is certain that
he could not pack it away in a bag."

Fuller looked perplexed, but nodded understandingly.

"That's so," said he. "I forgot, for a moment, that the case had that
peculiar phase." Again he looked all about. "However," he continued,
"the bag is not here, and if the murderer took it with him, you can bet
that he had an excellent reason for so doing."

While Fuller was speaking, Ashton-Kirk lifted the coat from the floor;
several of the pockets were pulled out. At once he examined the coat
worn by the dead man; the inside pockets of this were also turned out,
as were those upon the lower outside.

"There was a search," said he. "But, as before, when the house at
Sharsdale was broken into, the personal valuables were not its object.
Here is his watch in his fob pocket, and this," taking up a torn card
case from the desk, "lies just where the criminal flung it in his anger
at not finding what he wanted. Its contents," pointing to a tightly
wadded heap of bills also upon the desk, "are there."

"Suppose," doubted Fuller, "that the paper wanted was in this pocket
case. The murderer would have taken it. As it stands, you do not know
whether he found it or not."

"I think I do," replied Ashton-Kirk. "A man who has sought for a thing
for a long time is delighted at finding it. The man who threw those
bills upon the desk," holding up the tightly twisted lump, "was angry.
That is plain in the vehemence of the act."

He stooped and pulled open drawer after drawer in the desk; their
contents were tumbled, showing that a rough and hasty hand had been
plunged into them. Fuller was gazing in fascinated silence at the long,
supple, inquiring fingers as they deftly ran through everything; then
suddenly he noted them halt. At once his glance went to the owner's
face; Ashton-Kirk, his eyes turned in a sidelong look toward a door at
the rear of the room, stood in an attitude of listening. Fuller was
about to speak, but the other lifted his hand in a warning gesture.
There was an instant's silence, the secret agent listening as before;
then he bent toward Fuller and said softly:

"Switch off the lights!"

Stealthily Fuller crossed the room and did so; then he stood waiting. In
a few moments he heard a slight creak from the hall, and a muffled sort
of jar. A minute or two passed; he was then astonished to hear the voice
of the secret agent speaking in an unconcerned tone of voice.

"Hello," muttered the young man, "he is mighty cool about it, whatever
it is. Turning off the lights to hold a conversation is rather new, I
should say, outside of a spiritualistic seance."

A short time passed; then steps came along the darkened hall, and
Ashton-Kirk's voice said:

"Now, Fuller, the lights, if you please."

Fuller turned on the lights once more, and again the two entered the
library.

"I thought I heard you speaking to some one," said Fuller inquiringly.

"Over the telephone," said the other, quietly. "There was a little
matter that I desired information upon."

Again he resumed his inspection of the room. The furniture, piece by
piece, passed under his keen eye; the floor, the walls, the hangings,
the books and writing materials--nothing escaped him. At length he came
once more to the highboy with its numerous drawers and glistening glass
knobs.

First one and then another of the drawers he pulled open; like those of
the desk, they told of the same hasty hand. However, this seemed to be
all they had to tell, for the secret agent did not spend more than an
instant over each. But as he was about to open the last but one, Fuller
saw him pause and bend nearer. Then out came a morocco case and from
this was produced a powerful magnifying glass. It was the knob upon the
left hand side of the drawer that had caught his attention; putting the
lens on this it threw up a thick, dark splotch.

"Blood!" said Ashton-Kirk.

Fuller bent forward with great interest.

"In searching the body after the shooting," said he, "the fellow,
whoever he was, probably came in contact with the flow from the wound.
And in opening the drawer he transferred it to the knob."

But Ashton-Kirk shook his head.

"No," said he. "It is his own blood. Look!" and he ran the glass from
knob to knob upon the other drawers; "there are no marks here. And yet a
man making a search would invariably start at the top, as I have done."
Then the lens shifted back to the knob with the splotch. "Mark this one
closely," he added, "and tell me what you see."

"The knob has been broken," said Fuller at the first glance.

"Exactly. All along its top there is a keen ragged ridge. Probably
seizing this to tear open the drawer, the criminal cut himself."

For a moment the speaker stood studying the broken knob with its
particle of dried blood; then like a flash he turned to Fuller, his
singular eyes ablaze, and snapped:

"On the desk there is a paper-weight. Get it."

Fuller, astonished, did as he was bidden.

"What now?" he inquired.

"Throw it through a bookcase door," was Ashton-Kirk's astonishing reply.

Fuller stood amazed.

"What?" gasped he.

"Throw it through a bookcase door," repeated the secret agent, busy with
his lens.

Fuller stood a moment, hesitating; the other arose impatiently, took the
heavy paper-weight from him and sent it crashing through the door of the
nearest case. The glass splintered and fell jingling to the floor;
Ashton-Kirk selected two small pieces and handed them to Fuller.

"In the kitchen you will find hot water and soap; wash and dry these
carefully."

The assistant went hastily, and while he was gone, Ashton-Kirk bent
once more over the broken knob. With the thin blade of a pocket-knife he
picked at the fragment of dried blood; finally he worked it loose and
caught it upon a card as it fell. Carrying this to a small table above
which hung a light, he examined it carefully. Then to Fuller, as the
latter returned, he said:

"Are they ready?"

"All ready," replied Fuller, and he placed the two pieces of glass ready
to his employer's hand.

Once more Ashton-Kirk looked at the blood clot; selecting that portion
of it which appeared to be thickest he pressed the back of the knife
blade carefully against it; then taking it up with the tip of his
fingers he carefully broke it in two at the exact place. Sharply he
brought the pieces under the light; two crimson, shining spots of
uncongealed blood showed within the outer crust.

"Excellent," said the secret agent. "I thought it possible, but scarcely
dared hope for it."

One after another and with delicate care he applied the newly exposed
surfaces of the clot to one of the bits of glass; a fair sized smear of
red appeared upon the smooth glaze. Then he drew the second glass across
the top of the first; the result was that he now possessed two distinct
smears of the blood.

With much satisfaction he placed these upon the top of the highboy.

"Now we'll leave them to dry," said he, "and in this place they'll not
be likely to be disturbed."

Fuller was filled with curiosity as to the meaning of the foregoing
performance, but the other had already resumed his prowling up and down,
and the aide understood that this was no time for questions.

After a little, Ashton-Kirk opened the door at the back of the library,
and they entered the rear room. There was a long window overlooking the
lawn, and a door opening into the hallway. The room was scantily
furnished; but upon the shelves were a stack of books in wrappers; also
there were a number of filing cabinets.

The secret agent looked at some of the books.

"Remnants of editions," he said. "Morse was his own publisher, it
seems."

Fuller examined the window.

"All tight," said he. "A Caspar window holder."

The door leading to the hall was fitted with a large old-fashioned lock,
from which protruded a copper key.

"That looks safe enough," said Fuller, as he glanced at this.

"If it were fast it might be," said the other, drily. "But I had
occasion to use it while you had the lights out, and found it unlocked."

Nanon was summoned and Ashton-Kirk met her in the hall.

"This door," said he; "is it usually left unlocked?"

"Never," she answered. "Dr. Morse always had it fast from the inside. He
kept his books and papers there, and did not care to have them
disturbed."

"That will do," said Ashton-Kirk. The old woman was just about to turn
away when there came a loud peal at the door-bell.

"The police," said Fuller.

"Go and see," said Ashton-Kirk to Nanon.

Grimly she went along the hall, her spare, strong figure iron-like in
its rigidity; Fuller's eyes followed her and then turning to the secret
agent, he said:

"The thing looks queer, doesn't it? Everything tight as wax, but a very
effective job done for all." Then, lowering his voice, he added: "There
were only four of them inside; and from my way of thinking the thing
rests between them."

The front door had opened in the meantime; they heard the murmur of
voices and then it closed sharply. The old Breton woman hurried back to
where they stood; and as she came the hall lights showed that her lined
face had gone a livid yellow; her bony, large veined hands were
outstretched.

"Who is it?" asked Ashton-Kirk.

She pointed toward the door quiveringly.

"The Japanese," she answered

FOOTNOTES:

[1] For the details of the case of the numismatist Hume, see the first
book of this series: "Ashton-Kirk, Investigator."



CHAPTER VI

THE VISIT OF OKIU


For a moment there was a silence; then Fuller spoke.

"Japanese!" exclaimed he. "At this time of the night? They are original
in their choice of hours, anyhow."

"Let them come in," said Ashton-Kirk, quietly.

The old woman turned her startled face toward him; her hands went up
rebelliously.

"No," she said. "They must not come in--at this time above all others."

The singular eyes of the secret agent fixed themselves upon her
steadily.

"Show them into the room across from the library," said he in an even
tone. "It is necessary that I should speak to them."

The stern gray eyes met the dark ones squarely. There was no sign of
weakening in them; the yellow tinge left the old face; the hands fell at
her side.

"Very well," she said, after a moment. "But let it be understood that I
lifted my voice against it."

Again she went to the door; they heard the bolt shot and a rush of air
told them the door had opened. From where they stood they had no view of
the entrance, as the stairway shut it off. Again there came the voices,
then footsteps and once more the door closed. In a moment the old woman
returned. She pointed down the hall.

"I have done what you ordered," she said. Then in an ominous tone she
added: "And I trust no harm comes of it."

With that she went on, and they saw her enter the rear room once more.
Ashton-Kirk spoke quietly to Fuller.

"Stand in the hall and busy yourself somehow."

"I understand," answered Fuller.

Ashton-Kirk approached the room into which the visitors had been shown,
and went in.

Two men arose upon the entrance of the secret agent. One was the small
gray-haired man Ashton-Kirk had seen weeding the lawn two days before;
the other was larger in girth and taller; his face was yellow and as
devoid of lines as that of an infant.

It was the latter who spoke.

"Do I see Dr. Morse?" he inquired. The accent was perfect, the voice
soft, smooth and almost caressing. Ashton-Kirk, as he looked at him, saw
that the lineless face was singularly expressionless; however, a pair of
jetty eyes looked out piercingly from between the drooping lids and the
chin protruded with much natural resolution.

"I am a friend of the family," said the secret agent. "If there is
anything that I can do I shall be pleased."

The Japanese smiled.

"You are very good," said he. "But it is Dr. Morse whom I wish to see."

The voice was soft and purring; it was as though he were speaking to a
child.

"If you will be kind enough to call him," suggested the speaker, "I will
be obliged to you."

"That," said Ashton-Kirk, "is a thing which I should readily do if it
could have any effect. But it would not. Dr. Morse is dead."

There was complete silence for a moment; a tall clock ticked solemnly at
one side; its strokes now seemed to grow quicker and louder, like the
heart-beats of a man fighting down an increasing excitement.

"Dead!" said the small man in a throaty voice.

"Not that, surely!" spoke the other, and one hand went out, as though in
protest.

"He is dead," said the secret agent. "And more, he has been murdered."

"No, no," cried the small man. "That is horrible!"

The other approached a step or two; both hands were gesticulating as
though he found it difficult to find words. And the hands were quite
wonderful, slim and strong and beautifully shaped. Their color was a
bright saffron, the fingers were long and as supple as those of a
magician; their tips were delicately pointed, the nails rounded and
gleaming.

"This what you tell us," said he, "is a frightful thing! Murdered! And
by whom?"

Ashton-Kirk shook his head.

"That," said he, "is yet to be learned."

"But the police? They are not here?"

"No."

One of the wonderful hands touched the smaller man upon the shoulder.

"Humadi," said the gentle voice, "murder has been done and the police
are not here."

The eyes of the gray-haired Japanese sought those of his companion; and
a look as rapid as lightning passed between them.

"The West prides itself on many things," said Humadi, "but in Tokio,
this would not be so."

"The officers will arrive in due course," said Ashton-Kirk, quietly.
"But, in the meantime, if there is anything that I can do, I shall be,
as I said before, much pleased."

"Will you permit me to sit down?" asked the taller of the two. "Thank
you; and you will sit there, will you not?" As he spoke he smiled and
pushed a chair toward the secret agent in such a way that it would bring
his back toward the door if he sat in it. But Ashton-Kirk took it
readily, without a sign that he noticed anything studied in the act.

"My name," said the Japanese, as he seated himself facing Ashton-Kirk,
"is Okiu. My house is on the next street; the back you can see from the
rear windows of this. On the second floor there is a room where I read
and smoke and study. It is at the back, and there," with a wave of the
hand, "I sat to-night."

Ashton-Kirk nodded.

"It is in the blood of all lands," proceeded Okiu, "to love its native
literature. I have many quaint books and rare manuscripts; they are full
of the, as you of the West call it, folk-lore of my people. I love it;"
the soft voice seemed to caress the subject on which it dwelt; "I sit
and smoke and dream for hours. The bright legends of the Samurai sound
like music to the mind; and forgotten heroes rise before me in all their
ancient power." Here he laughed gently. "You see," said he, "how filled
I am with the subject, when I drift unconsciously into it at a time like
this.

"To-night I was so engaged. I was deep in a book lately sent me by a
friend, a reprint of a precious writing that I had never before seen. I
became lost in its pages; two, three hours slipped by before I knew it.
But when the clock struck ten, I got up and turned off the light, for I
live very strictly," smilingly, "much as one of the recluses of the
waste places of our own island. The night was beautiful, however, and I
stood for a little looking out. The shadows fell in long lines and
finally upon the edge of one of these--the shadow cast by this very
house--I saw something stir."

The last word had hardly left his lips when there came a sharp swift
rustle in the hall, an exclamation and the sound of a closing door.

"What is that?" cried Okiu, as he came to his feet.

"I'm inclined to think it's your friend," said Ashton-Kirk, as he
lounged back in his chair. "I rather wondered why he went out into the
hall."

Humadi appeared in the doorway, his manner apologetic, but a heavy
furrow between his eyes. Fuller glanced in, over his shoulder.

"The gentleman made a mistake in the room," said he. "If I startled him
in putting him right, I'm sorry."

"It is my place to ask pardon," said Humadi to Ashton-Kirk. "While you
talked to my friend I stepped into the hall thinking to observe
something which might be of value to the police when they came."

"I thank you for your interest," said the secret agent. "It is kind of
you to trouble yourself. The door across the way leads to the room where
the body lies, and it is as well that it be kept closed."

"It is for you to say," agreed Humadi, as he sat down, wearing a
somewhat baffled look.

Okiu laughed softly, and the wonderful hands gestured appreciation.

"You do not know Humadi," he said to Ashton-Kirk; "you do not know him,
or you would not wonder at him for this. His is one of the helpful
natures; always is he desirous of being of assistance. To aid others is
his one ambition."

"Ah, yes, to be sure." And Ashton-Kirk's fine white teeth shone in a
smile of understanding. "One meets people of that sort now and then, but
upon the whole such natures are rare."

"Rare, indeed! But the world," caressingly, "would be greatly the better
if there were more." There was an instant's pause, then Okiu went on:
"As I was saying, while I stood at my window, I saw a stirring just upon
the edge of the shadow cast by this house. It was not a very marked
movement, and at first I thought it must be something waving in the
breeze. But after a little I knew that this was not so; the movement was
too intelligent; I felt that there was some one lurking about on the
lawn. Then I called Humadi; and when he came he said--what was it you
said, Humadi?" turning to the gray-haired man.

"I said it must be men," said the other Japanese promptly. "And I said
that there were more than one, and that they appeared to be thieves."

"He has such excellent vision," said Okiu, approvingly, to Ashton-Kirk.
"He is many years older than I, but his eyes are like those of a boy.
Yes, he said that they must be thieves, and I agreed with him. We
watched for some time, but the shadows were so dense that we could make
out little or nothing. Then suddenly we saw a man emerge into the
moonlight."

"A tall man," said Ashton-Kirk, "broad in the shoulders, and carrying a
leather bag."

Both Japanese turned their eyes upon him with swift surprise.

"You saw him?" cried Humadi.

"No, I merely fancied that it might be so."

The surprise died quickly out of Okiu's eyes; and in its place came a
look that was peculiarly speculative; from the beginning he had regarded
Ashton-Kirk with interest; but to this was now added surmise and,
perhaps, quickening dread. But when he spoke his voice snowed no trace
of this.

"Your imagination is excellent," purred he, gently; "indeed, it amounts
to something like second sight. You are quite right, sir," his glance
running over Ashton-Kirk; "he was tall and well set, and also young,
judging by the ease with which he leaped over the fence. After this, as
nothing more happened, I went to bed. But I could not sleep. I felt sure
that something had occurred, and it troubled me. At last I got up,
called to Humadi and came here to speak to Dr. Morse."

Here the Japanese arose; the smooth chubby face expressed no emotion,
but the eyes, the hands, the whole body showed evidences of shock.

"I thought," said he, "to tell of a mere robbery; but I find something
more terrible!" Then as though a thought had occurred to him. "But the
others--the young lady? the young man? They met with no harm?"

The secret agent shook his head.

"No," replied he.

"That is well! The other is a frightful calamity, but even that could be
worse." He seemed to hesitate for a space, then added in another tone:
"You will express my sympathy to them?"

"I will," said Ashton-Kirk.

"I would not disturb them now," and Okiu gestured the idea from him.
"No, that would not do. But I will leave my sorrow with you. It is
fitter that it should be mentioned by an old friend of the family like
yourself." Again there was a slight pause; the speaker looked at
Ashton-Kirk inquiringly as he asked:

"Am I right in understanding you to say that you are an old friend of
the family?"

"A friend, yes," answered Ashton-Kirk, readily. "But scarcely what could
be called an old one."

"Ah!" The drooping lids almost hid the searching black eyes. "Then you
have not known them long?"

"For two days merely."

"Two days!"

Again the glances of the yellow men met, and again did a rapid
intelligence pass between them.

"Two days," repeated Okiu, softly. "That is odd, is it not?"

"Acquaintances must begin some time," protested the secret agent.

"To be sure. But that your acquaintance with Dr. Morse should begin last
night, and that he should die to-night----"

"Well?" The keen eyes of Ashton-Kirk met the peering ones of Okiu
inquiringly.

"Fate seemed determined that the friendship should not grow," answered
the Japanese, gently. "It is strange how things come about, is it not?"

Ashton-Kirk also got upon his feet.

"Fate seldom consults us," he said, drily. "If it did, perhaps things
would happen differently."

Just then there came the growing sound of voices without; the shuffle
of feet was heard upon the walk and then more noisily upon the porch.
The bell rang in long streams of sound.

"The police," said Ashton-Kirk, looking at his watch. "Their methods are
as distinguishable as their uniforms."

Fuller looked in; the secret agent nodded and the young man stepped
briskly toward the hall door. In another moment a thick-set man in a
sergeant's dress entered the room, and with him were two patrolmen.

"How are you?" said the sergeant, nodding to the three men. "Members of
the family?"

In a few moments the status of the Japanese was explained; the sergeant
listened to their story of the prowler with satisfaction.

"There's the party we want," said he. "Had a bag, did he? Humph! Full of
swag, I'll bet." He then took Okiu's name and address. "A headquarters
man will go on this case, of course," continued the sergeant, "and he'll
want to hear you tell about that. And in the meantime," stuffing his
note-book into his breastpocket, "I'll have to ask you all to go. We've
got to look things over, and get the hang of it all, and you can see how
too many people would be in the way."

As Ashton-Kirk and Fuller emerged from the house, they found the two
Japanese standing by the gate. Dixon, who had been waiting all this
time, threw on the power at sight of his employer, and the engine of the
big French car began to hum in the silence.

"Good-night," said Okiu, gently, a smile upon his smooth face. "I shall
see you again, sir."

Ashton-Kirk waved his hand in answer; and as the car started off, and he
and Fuller settled themselves back, the latter said:

"Did you notice the way that fellow said that? It sounded to me much as
though he had something against you, and meant to get square."

"Perhaps," returned Ashton-Kirk quietly, "that _is_ what he meant. One
can never tell.



CHAPTER VII

THE METHYLENE STAIN


The following morning the secret agent sat in his study immersed in the
newspapers. Each contained a circumstantial account of the murder of Dr.
Morse, and each, according to its policy, commented thereon. Much was
made of the mysterious happenings at Sharsdale and the equally
mysterious communications at Eastbury; the police had gone to apprehend
Karkowsky at his lodgings, but he was missing.

The _Star_, true to its enterprising spirit, contained front page
reproductions of the three drawings which young Warwick had shown
Ashton-Kirk.

"The pictures," said this newspaper, "will in the end be found to
contain the solution of the entire matter. What they mean and why the
colors varied so is just now a puzzle. The crowned woman and the cross
with the different colored strokes are at this stage of the case
absolutely without meaning. But the police are working upon this phase
of the affair with much interest and zeal; and any hour may bring forth
amazing results. Osborne, a talented man from the central office, has
the matter in hand; and judging from past performances, he should
accomplish wonders."

"Well, there are worse than Osborne," commented Fuller when his employer
pointed out the latter passage, "but he'll never set the earth to
rocking, at that."

"He has a healthy brain," said Ashton-Kirk, "but he seldom centers it
properly. And if his mind is kept constantly between the narrow barriers
of police procedure, its possessor cannot hope for moments of
inspiration."

The _Standard_ dwelt at great length upon the missing bag and the
disappearance of Philip Warwick. The story of the two Japanese convinced
this newspaper that with Warwick discovered the case would end there and
then.

"There can scarcely be any doubt that it was he whom Messrs. Okiu and
Humadi saw leaping over the hedge fence in the moonlight," declared the
_Standard_. "The leather bag which he carried was more than likely the
same that Dr. Morse was fumbling with when the servant last saw him in
the library. To be sure, the old woman does not definitely state that it
was Warwick's voice which she heard later as she sat upon the step. But
circumstances fail to point to any other possible person. The house was
absolutely secure, except for the street door, and the servant sat in
front of that. It would have been impossible for any one to have passed
in and she not be aware of it. The young man, Drevenoff, was in his room
from first to last; we are sure of this because Miss Corbin saw him go
up the stairs before Dr. Morse sent for the servant about the key, and
is absolutely certain that he did not come down until after the body was
discovered. Warwick, therefore, is the only person unaccounted for; and
the fact that a person answering his description, even if only vaguely,
was seen stealing away shortly after the time the crime must have been
committed, seems almost convincing evidence of his guilt. And that this
dimly seen person also carried a hand-bag, the only article learned to
be missing, and that Warwick's present whereabouts is unknown, almost
clinches the supposition."

Fuller nodded his head at this.

"They make a good case against him," said he. "I'm also of the opinion
that Warwick, when found, will tell a mighty illuminating story--if he
has the mind."

Ashton-Kirk threw the papers from him with a yawn.

"As usual," said he, "they grasp the obvious and apparently sensational
features. The trouble with some of the journals and their staffs,
however, is not lack of acuteness; it is the desire to get in on a good
story before their rivals--to flame out into broad-faced type which
will give the prospective purchaser a blow between the eyes as it lies
upon the stand, or allow the newsboys a fine line to fill the streets
with. But the real things are not brought forward with such a dramatic
rush; they filter gradually through a mass of extraneous matter and
their quality appears only to a person seeking an absolutely convincing
result."

He pulled off his coat and turned up his sleeves; entering the
laboratory, he opened the drawer of a stand and took out the two pieces
of glass broken from the front of Dr. Morse's bookcase. Holding these up
to the light he said:

"We secured two very satisfactory blood smears under most unpromising
conditions. That the clot was not altogether hard was fortunate; and
that I was able to take advantage of the fact without accident was
doubly so."

Lighting a Bunsen burner he passed the glass once through the flame;
then he took a shallow vessel and poured out a quantity of liquid; in
this he immersed one of the bits of glass with its dry stain.

"Some sort of a test?" inquired Fuller.

"Yes. This bath of alcohol will fix the smear."

"I see."

Fuller's curiosity prompted him to inquire as to what would follow this
fixation; but knowledge of the other's habits of mind forbade this.

"About all that is known of the parasite for which I am going to seek,"
said Ashton-Kirk as he stood by the tray, watch in hand, "is due in the
first place to a French army surgeon named Laveran. After him came the
Italian, Marchiafava, the German, Koch, and a number of others. There is
a monograph upon the subject by Mannaberg which is most comprehensive."

"What sort of a little beast is it?" asked Fuller.

"A lively, wriggling atom--a unicellular organism, directly upon the
border-land between the animal and vegetable kingdoms."

"That sounds very exact and scientific," said the other. "But it means
little to me."

"The young specimens of the plasmodia, as this particular germ is
styled, develop in the red blood cells; and as they grow they destroy
their habitation. I could tell you of interesting changes of color in
the blood corpuscles, of the active, joyous dancing of the parasite, and
of its multiplication by sporulation. But not now. All this, however, is
repeated again and again; and each sporulation of the parasite is
usually associated with marked symptoms in the person whose blood it
inhabits."

"You speak as though you expected to find some such condition in this,"
and Fuller nodded toward the blood smear.

"I expect nothing. I am merely about to prove or disprove a
suggestion."

At the end of twenty minutes, Ashton-Kirk took the bit of glass from the
fixing bath, threw the alcohol into a waste pipe and ran some water into
the vessel.

"It will take some ten minutes for the slide to dry," said he. "And in
the meantime we shall prepare the next step in the process."

He took down a bottle filled with a dark blue liquid. This he held up to
the light that poured in from the window.

"Here," said he, "is the bloodhound upon whom I depend to find and mark
the parasite. It bears the rather formidable name in its present state
of aqueous methylene-blue, and is in a two per cent. solution. Combined
with it is a five per cent. solution of borax. I had a druggist send it
in this morning."

This mixture he poured into the small vessel until the bottom was barely
covered; then he added water until there was a layer of perhaps one
centimeter in thickness, and the blue began to become transparent.

The alcohol had dried off the bit of glass by this time; and Ashton-Kirk
took the fragment up with a pair of forceps and dipped it several times
into the methylene stain; after this he passed it through clear water
until the blue paled to a greenish tinge. Then he took up a white disc
of filter paper; placing this upon a stand he laid the glass upon it
and carefully dried both sides, much as one would blot ink from a letter
sheet.

"This process is what is called staining," said Ashton-Kirk, "and the
method I have used is one recommended by Koch; it is somewhat similar to
the older one of Mannaberg, but more rapid in result."

Out of a tube he dropped a single gem-like globule of cedar oil upon the
blood smear; then he covered it with a small square of glass; upon this
in its turn fell a second drop of the oil.

The whole was then placed in position under a microscope and fastened.
Then the secret agent brought out the lens. It glittered like a tiny
diamond in a huge setting, and Fuller gazed at it fascinated.

"How you can see anything through a glass as small as that I can't
understand," said he. "It looks like the point of an awl."

"It is a one-twelfth objective," replied the other, as he screwed the
lens firmly down upon the cover glass, and thus embedded it, so to
speak, in the globule of cedar oil.

"It is necessary," said he, "that the specimen be observed through the
oil because the lens must be brought down directly upon the glass;
without the oil the glass would be scratched and the whole thing
ruined."

Then he set himself to the close study of what the tiny lens made
plain; in a few moments he lifted his head with an exclamation of
triumph.

"I have it!" he cried.

"What have you found?" asked Fuller eagerly.

"Evidence," answered Ashton-Kirk, triumphantly, "that will enable me to
lay my hand upon the person who searched the library and clothing of Dr.
Morse."

"The murderer?"

"Perhaps he is that also--who knows?"

"But," demanded Fuller, "I don't quite understand."

Ashton-Kirk waved his hand toward the microscope, and Fuller applied his
eye to it.

"What do you see?" asked the secret agent.

"A pale green circle," answered the other, "and it is crowded with
irregularly shaped spots."

"Compare the circle with the dial of a watch and look closely at the
point where the six should be."

"Yes," said Fuller.

"What do you see--at a very little distance from the edge?"

"There are some small blue spots; some are dark, the others lighter and
more intense."

"That last is my proof," said Ashton-Kirk. Then as Fuller turned upon
him a still inquiring look, he added:

"The indications have been that some member of Dr. Morse's household
had a hand in his death. The house was secure at all points; it was not
possible for any one to gain an entrance after the locking up. You might
say: Suppose the criminal had entered the house before the time for
locking up and remained concealed until he saw his opportunity? To that
I would answer that we would have detected his method of departure. He
should have left something unfastened behind him unless he had a
confederate in the house. That the doors and windows, in every instance,
were fast proves that this must be the case."

Fuller nodded his head.

"That's so," said he.

"Now let us take the members of the household one at a time. Miss
Corbin----"

Fuller waved his hand.

"Oh, she's out of it," said he.

"Very well," said Ashton-Kirk, his white teeth showing in a smile. "Then
let us take up Nanon. Here we have a severely religious woman--one who
evidently detested her employer, but who served him well and had been
many years in the family."

"It looks as though we'd have to pass her, too," said Fuller. "There is
no reason why _she_ should murder Dr. Morse that I can see."

Again the other smiled.

"In this you agree with the newspapers, at any rate," said he. "None of
them have found occasion to associate her with the matter, either."

"I also agree with the papers in the matter of Warwick," said Fuller. "I
know that it's best to start without preconceived notions, but I can't
help thinking that, if he's not exactly the man, he knows quite a bit
about it all."

"That he has unaccountably disappeared is a bad point against him,"
admitted Ashton-Kirk. "And that some one resembling him was seen
stealing away in the night, carrying a hand-bag, is another and most
damaging one. However, as you say, it is best not to start with
preconceived notions; and until we are sure that the unknown _was_
Warwick, and that the bag he carried _was_ the missing bag, we'd better
not accuse him."

There was a pause; the secret agent looked at the stained blood smear
for a moment and then continued:

"There is still another person--the fourth and last. This person
possessed the marked symptoms of a common complaint--chills followed by
fever. To this person I know Dr. Morse gave quinine."

"Well?" asked Fuller, eagerly.

"Chills and fever are indications of malaria--quinine is the invariable
remedy for that complaint. And the light blue spots which you see in
that smear of blood," pointing to the microscope, "are the germs of that
same disease."

For a moment Fuller stood as though transfixed.

"You have the man!" he cried at last. "You have him beyond the shadow of
a doubt! To think," in great admiration, "that he should be found out in
such an unusual way. Why, it is one of the----" Here he paused, the
enthusiasm died from his face, and he added slowly: "But suppose that
blood clot was not left upon the drawer pull at the time you think. The
man may have been in the library during the afternoon upon a perfectly
legitimate errand."

But Ashton-Kirk shook his head.

"No," said he. "It happened last night about the time of the murder. If
it had been earlier the blood would have been dry and hard to the core."

"I see," said Fuller. "I recall that you were surprised at its having
retained any softness, even at that. But there is something else. If
Miss Corbin is sure that Drevenoff did not descend from the third floor,
after once going to his room, how do you account for his presence in the
library at that time?"

"Miss Corbin was in position to see Drevenoff as he ascended the back
stairs. She did not see him descend, and so concluded that he could not
have done so. As a matter of fact he could have gained the first floor
without any trouble by passing through some unoccupied rooms upon the
third floor, and using the front or main staircase."

"Then that's it," declared Fuller. "He came down that way while the old
servant was in the kitchen seeing to the coffee, did his work and went
back to his room by the same route. But," with a puzzled look upon his
face, "what in the world ever drew your attention to Drevenoff in the
first place--that is, what made you think it might be his blood upon the
handle of the drawer?"

"Do you recall that while I was examining the desk I stopped to listen?"

"Yes, and told me to put out the lights."

"The sound that I heard came from the room in the rear of the library;
when I asked you to switch off the lights it was because I wanted to
open the door between the two rooms without the knowledge of the person
who may have made the sound."

"You saw no one?"

"No. But I heard something like quick footsteps going down the hall, and
then the soft closing of the street door."

"By George, I heard that, too," said Fuller, remembering.

"Some one had been in the room in the rear of the library," said
Ashton-Kirk. "What I heard in the first place was perhaps some sort of
sound made as he was stealing away. Drevenoff was the last person I had
seen in the hall, and naturally he was suggested to me as the cause of
the sounds."

"But you had told him to go to the police station."

"Told him--yes. But if you will remember, he had not yet gone when we
entered the library. He said that the police station was a matter of
four blocks; if he had gone at once he would have reached there long
before I heard the sound in the back room. I at once went to the 'phone,
which I had noticed in the back hall, and called up the station in
question. No; he had not yet reached there. Would the sergeant kindly
make a private note of when he did? The sergeant would."

"And did he?"

"He whispered it to me as I was leaving the house later. Drevenoff
reached the police station less than ten minutes after I called them
up--just about the length of time it would take him to get there if it
were he who had been in the rear room."

"Ah!"

"The man's actions seemed suspicious, even before I received this
apparent verification; also I had not forgotten the intelligence we had
gathered concerning his father. So when I came upon the blood clot I
naturally had him in mind; the symptoms of malaria and the quinine came
back to me, and I at once determined upon this test on the chance that
it would turn out as it has."

"I think you have sufficient evidence to have him taken at once." But
Ashton-Kirk shook his head.

"It would be enough to hold him on, at any rate," protested Fuller. "And
if he's not arrested now, he may escape, and Dr. Morse's murder will go
unavenged."

The secret agent took up his big German pipe.

"The murder of Dr. Morse," said he, "is a most frightful crime against
society. I am perfectly willing to do what I can to trace the criminal,
but don't forget that the important matter with us is another thing
entirely."

"You mean the document, or whatever it was, which was stolen by
Drevenoff's father?"

"Which _may_ have been stolen by Drevenoff's father. Exactly. The murder
of Dr. Morse is only incidental to this." Here the pipe was lighted and
heavy clouds of smoke began to rise. "And even though young Drevenoff
_should_ prove to be the murderer, I don't think we need fear his
attempting to escape."

"No?"

"No. For some little time, at any rate, it will be perfectly safe to
give him a free foot; indeed, it may prove to be of great advantage to
us to do so. He has not yet found the thing of which he is in search.
That is plain. If he had, he would have been off before now. So, for a
time at least, it will be highly interesting to watch his movements; for
who knows but what it is through him that we are to save the government
much embarrassment."

Fuller regarded his employer, the huge pipe and the smoke clouds which
rose lazily above both; there was much speculation in his eye.

"You have not lost sight of the Japanese?" said he.

"The Japanese!" Ashton-Kirk took the amber bit from his mouth and his
white teeth gleamed as he laughed. "Oh, no! I have not forgotten them.
Mr. Okiu and his friend Mr. Humadi interest me exceedingly.



CHAPTER VIII

THE HOUSE ON FORDHAM ROAD


It was a few hours later that the big car drew up at the house on
Fordham Road. There was a crowd of loiterers at the gate, open-mouthed
and marveling at everything they saw; and these at once gathered about
the car, scenting a possible sensation.

But Ashton-Kirk, followed by Fuller, pushed his way unceremoniously to
the gate; and a few words to the policeman on guard there admitted them
to the lawn. One of the first persons they saw at the house was Osborne,
the burly central office man, who stood upon the porch smiling
expansively and talking with a couple of alert young fellows who
listened with interest.

"I see that friend Osborne has the ear of the reporters," said
Ashton-Kirk amusedly; "and to all appearances he is not losing any
advantages which the situation might have."

"He looks good-natured enough to have had some luck," commented Fuller.

When Osborne caught sight of them he broke into a laugh.

"Hello," cried he. He came forward and shook the secret agent by the
hand. "I rather thought you'd poke your learned head above the horizon
this morning."

"It pleases me to be borne in mind," smiled Ashton-Kirk, good-naturedly.
"But what are the developments?"

"Oh, several little things have taken occasion to occur," replied
Osborne, his broad face beaming. "One of them is that we have nailed the
man with the bag. It was Philip Warwick, beyond a doubt."

"Ah!"

"He was seen a block from here, walking rapidly along the road, the bag
still in his hand, by a market gardener driving into the city. The
gardener knows Warwick very well by sight, having been in the habit of
selling greens to the Eastbury people along this way. He says he spoke
to the young man in a friendly way as he went by; but Warwick paid no
attention; the gardener says he went right on without even turning his
head."

"That seems to be definite enough," commented the secret agent.

"But that's not all," stated Osborne, with a widening of his already
broad smile. "You see, I got to thinking over what the market man said,
and an idea struck me. Warwick was going north, while the Eastbury
station is south from here. I asked a question or two and learned that
Hastings is the next station north--and a much more important one than
this, by the way. A time-table told me that a New York train stopped at
Hastings at 11:15. It was about 10:35 that Warwick was seen on the road.
Suppose he was making for this train. I called up the Hastings station
and found that that's just what he was doing. The night operator sold a
ticket to a tall young man, in a light suit, who carried a big leather
bag, and boarded the 11:15."

"That," said Ashton-Kirk, "sounds rather neat and complete. I
congratulate you."

Osborne coughed self-consciously.

"I thought it was rather good myself," he said. "The New York police
have a detailed description and are looking out for him. I'm trying to
dig up a photograph or two to send them, because they're a little shy of
picking people up on a description alone."

Here one of the reporters stepped up to Ashton-Kirk.

"Pardon me," said he. "My name is Evans, and I represent the _Star_."

"Oh, yes." Ashton-Kirk looked at him with attention. "I have noticed
your work, as you are permitted to sign it. Your specialty is the comic
aspect of things. Are you not somewhat out of your way on a murder
case?"

"It is unusual. But then it might not be altogether barren in results.
If I can pick up a few points that will bear distortion, I might produce
a novel column." He put his hands in his trousers pockets and swayed
backward and forward. "I understand that you were here last night before
the police arrived. Perhaps you could tell me----"

But here Osborne interrupted him with a laugh.

"If you listen to this fellow," said he to Ashton-Kirk, "he'll have you
saying things you never meant to say, and he'll be attaching meanings to
them that you never meant to give them."

"Now, just for that," said Evans, unruffled, "I'm going to give you a
panning."

"All right, my boy," said the big man. "Go ahead. I'm used to all that."

Then Osborne drew the secret agent into the hall.

"I'm glad you've come," said he, his face more serious than it had been
all along. "There's a little thing in connection with this case that has
me winging. It's all right to put on before them paper fellows out
there," with a nod toward the porch, "because it don't do to let the
public think the police can be put up a tree. It makes 'em lose
confidence, you see."

Ashton-Kirk nodded.

"And then, if the department people show a sign of not being as well up
on a subject as they might be," went on the detective, "the press gets
onto them and maybe puts in pictures, and all that. The funny fellows,
like that Evans, are the worst of all. I make believe I don't mind him,
but honest, I'd rather go against a second story worker with the swag on
and a gun in his fist, than that same young man."

There was a pause; and Osborne began shooting the heavy bolt of the hall
door backward and forward.

"This is the thing that I can't get," he proceeded, after a little;
"these bolts and locks and window fasteners. Every one of them was doing
business last night. The whole place was tight as it could be. Are you
following me?"

"Go on."

"That this young secretary fellow did for Dr. Morse, I'm positive. But
whom did he have in with him? Which one of the other three in the house
helped him in the job? One of them did, sure; for somebody had to lock
the door or window behind him when he left."

"That is a compact little problem in itself," said Ashton-Kirk. "And the
solving of it might be of interest. But why devote so much attention to
young Warwick? Don't forget that there may be other aspects to the
case?"

Osborne stared at him in astonishment.

"Well, say," spoke he, "you _do_ beat all, sometimes! Of course, there's
other sides to the case; but Warwick is the center, and my attention is
going to stick right there all the way. Once I nab him and get his why
and wherefore, all the rest will be plain sailing."

"We have discussed methods before now," smiled Ashton-Kirk, "and I
scarcely think there would be anything gained by going over the ground
again. However, I will say this. Nothing is gained by riveting one's
attention upon one phase of a matter. The only effect it has is to blind
one to everything else; keep your mind open; then you will be ready to
accept facts no matter from what point they come."

Osborne smiled broadly.

"You sound good, anyway," said he. "I always did like to listen to you.
It's like as if you were reading out of a book. But, just the same, I'm
going to stick to Warwick. He's the fellow for my money; the things that
we've got on him don't happen just by accident, as you'll find out when
the case comes to trial."

The secret agent remained in conversation with the headquarters man for
some little time longer. He learned that a deputy coroner had viewed the
body and that the inquest was to be held later in the day.

"And say," said Osborne, as they once more went out upon the porch,
which was now clear of the newspaper men, "don't think because I don't
hold to your way of looking at the matter that I ain't glad to have you
in this. The fact is, I'm just as tickled as can be, because you've
really got some moves that are rather smooth. I know, because I've
watched you work them. But don't waste the good gifts by chucking them
all around. Get after Warwick; there's the profitable end of this hunt;
take it from me!"

Osborne then went to speak to the policeman at the gate; and, with
Fuller, Ashton-Kirk made his way around upon the north side of the
house. Holding to the hedge they slowly skirted the lawn. After a little
the secret agent paused.

"So," said he, and Fuller fancied there was a note of surprise in the
voice, "our friend Okiu was not drawing entirely upon his imagination.
Here," pointing to a ragged place in the top of the hedge, evidently
only recently made, "is where Warwick leaped over the fence. His foot
caught and he almost fell. See there," pointing, to the opposite side;
"the soil is bare and soft and his feet sank deep as he landed."

The lawn was smooth and hard at the front and sides and the grass cut
very short; no trace of any sort was to be seen upon it; but at the
rear, and especially close to the house, there were a number of bald
places.

"Servants are never so careful as the family," said the secret agent.

Here there were numerous tracks, one upon the other. After only a
glance, Ashton-Kirk passed on toward the south side of the house. Away
from the rear doors the confusion ceased; but some of the footmarks
continued.

"Osborne has been looking about," said Ashton-Kirk, pointing to a broad,
blunt-toed impression; "here is his track, apparently coming from the
rear door. But he did not put in much time," as the track halted and
doubled upon itself. "His coming out at all was merely perfunctory, I
suppose; for the fact that the doors and windows were fast before and
after the crime was done is enough for him."

They drew nearer to the window which opened from the room in the rear of
the library. Then Fuller heard an exclamation, and saw his employer bend
close to the ground.

"What is it?" he asked.

"A woman," said Ashton-Kirk.

Fuller examined the ground; sure enough, there were the tracks of a
slim, delicately-shod foot, the high heels having sunk deep into the
soft earth.

"There's a man's track, too," cried Fuller, as he noted a series of
heavier prints.

But Ashton-Kirk made no reply to this; a few rapid steps took him to the
window above mentioned, and he searched the low sill.

"It may mean nothing, after all," said Fuller. "Curiosity probably
induced some people to venture into the grounds this morning in
order----"

"A man and woman entered the back room by this window," said
Ashton-Kirk.

"I don't like to put myself in an attitude of continued protest," said
Fuller, "but these low windows are commonly used that way. You see, it's
only a step to the lawn."

Ashton-Kirk nodded.

"As you say," he agreed, "these low windows are commonly used in that
way. But only when the rooms into which they open are also in common
use."

"I see what you mean," said Fuller. "This back room is private. Old
Nanon said the door was always kept locked." He remained gazing at the
other for a moment, apparently pondering the new aspect which this
discovery gave the situation. "Well, what do you think it means?"

"A woman and a man entered this room by the window; the latter had been
left unfastened because it shows not the slightest indication of having
been forced. And when they departed, the window was refastened--perhaps
not at once, but as soon after as possible."

"You think----" Fuller paused, his eyes wide.

"If you heard a slight noise in the back room while you were in the
library, some time after the murder, what would you think?"

"Why, we discussed that this morning," returned Fuller. "It was
Drevenoff, beyond a doubt! He waited in the hall after you told him to
go to the police station. Then he stole into the rear room and replaced
the window catch. And this being so it was he who admitted the
woman----"

"And the man?" Ashton-Kirk smiled as he asked the question.

"The man?" Fuller's face grew blank. "Why, the man must have been
Warwick! And if it was," after a moment, "why did he require to be
admitted to the house by a side window when he could have gone in by the
front door?"

If Ashton-Kirk intended to reply to this, he had no time to do so; for
at that moment they heard a step behind them and looking around they saw
the well-knit figure and expressionless face of Okiu.



CHAPTER IX

OKIU ONCE MORE


The Japanese nodded and smiled in his peculiarly meaningless fashion,
the black, intent eyes going from one to the other.

"I was getting a breath of air," said he, "and reading a favorite book,
when I happened to see you here. I trust you are well?"

"Quite well," returned Ashton-Kirk, with equal politeness.

Okiu laid a heavy book upon a bench, patting it gently as he did so, as
though it were a living thing.

"The old books," smiled he, and his voice was soft and purring, "are
always hard to handle. The ancient makers did not know their trade as
well as these of modern days. But," and the gracefully flexible hands
gestured a pardon, "they had something to put into them. The old poets
told of wonderful things in most wonderful ways."

"Every age has its own excellences," said the secret agent, "and perhaps
mechanical efficiency _is_ the high mark of our own."

"I fear that it is," said Okiu, in a gentle, regretful tone. "Even in my
own country, once so peaceful and content with the old things, this
fierce desire to perform wonders has taken root. Everywhere you see the
sign of the times--in the people, in the schools, in the governments,
and," here Ashton-Kirk saw the heavy lids quiver over the intent eyes,
"in the army and navy."

"Ah, yes," said the secret agent; "the army and navy. We have heard of
them."

"And Russia," said Okiu, softly, "has also heard of them." Fuller, a
flush staining his cheeks, was about to reply to this; but a look from
his employer restrained him. And after a moment's pause, Okiu went on in
another tone: "Last night I offered my services if they were needed;
to-day I repeat the offer, sir."

"You are very good," said Ashton-Kirk. "But the police have the matter
in hand; and they resent interference, as I have found."

"I have read the morning papers with great attention," said the
Japanese. "The matter as a whole is a most singular one. But, no doubt,
the arrest of this young man, Warwick, will shed a light upon a great
deal that is now shadowy."

"It will explain some things, no doubt."

"Some things!" The Japanese bent his head forward inquiringly. "Then you
do not think it will explain all?"

"What I personally think," said Ashton-Kirk, "is of no great
consequence."

The other laughed quietly.

"You are modest," remarked he. "And sometimes, if the real truth were
known, the knowledge of the man who says little is of great value." He
stood back a trifle, the yellow, finely-kept hands softly clasped; the
round, lineless face beaming like that of a child. "And for all I know,"
he added, purringly, "you may know a great deal."

"You are very kind to think so," said Ashton-Kirk, and the tone was so
open and pleasant that Fuller wondered if he had been at fault when he
had fancied that he had caught a second meaning in the words of the
Oriental.

"I am only a student," resumed Okiu, "but I may be of assistance here.
And since there is nothing that I can do for _you_, perhaps the police
would----" A gesture finished the sentence.

"Mr. Osborne, who has charge of the matter, is at the gate--or was a few
moments ago," returned the secret agent.

"Thank you. I will speak to him."

With a nod the Japanese left them and walked around to the front of the
house; Ashton-Kirk, without a word of comment upon him or his sayings,
bent down and once more studied the foot-prints. One spot in particular
seemed to attract him; it was about five feet from the window and the
ground seemed a good deal scuffed and trampled.

"Just here," said the secret agent, "the two who were within there spent
some little time in talk. There may have been some sort of an
altercation between them; at least the indications are that they stamped
about more than is usual in an ordinary talk. After a space the man went
around by the rear of the house, for here you see his prints lost in the
confusion. But the woman went the other way, as these three sharp
impressions indicate," pointing. "However, the grass becomes thicker
here and the sod tougher, and the signs fail. We can judge that she
continued in that direction only by the fact that we fail to find any
returning impressions."

They continued here for a little longer, then they made their way to the
rear door and entered the kitchen.

Old Nanon was busily scouring some pans. By the range sat Drevenoff.

"Good-morning," said the secret agent, as he entered.

"Good-morning," they both returned.

Drevenoff arose and stood as though at their service. But the old Breton
woman was as severe and erect as ever; her thin-lipped mouth was set
firmly, her keen gray eyes looked out from under the thick gray brows.

"I am going to go over the house once more," said Ashton-Kirk, "but," to
the old woman, "I shall not ask you to accompany me this time."

"You are not like the regular police, then," said she. "They had me up
and down with them for hours. And the other----"

"The coroner's man," suggested Drevenoff.

"Yes, that is the one. He was even worse than the others. And the
questions! Mother of God! I never heard anything like them before."

As the two young men passed through the kitchen Drevenoff spoke again.

"Is there anything new, gentlemen?" he asked.

"Nothing as yet," replied Ashton-Kirk.

"I have read the papers," said the young Pole, "and I am sorry for Mr.
Warwick. He was a good-natured man."

"Good-natured!" said the old woman, in a tone of contempt "Ah, yes,
good-natured."

"I knew," said Drevenoff, "that he quarreled very often with the doctor
toward the last, but I never thought it would come to this."

Here the pan slipped from the old woman's fingers, upset the scouring
powder and fell to the floor. Muttering angrily she stooped to pick it
up.

"Quarreled!" said Ashton-Kirk. He paused in the doorway and looked at
the Pole with interest.

"It was about Miss Stella, I think," said Drevenoff. "To be sure I know
very little about it, and----"

"You know nothing about it, Drevenoff," said the Breton woman. "If you
knew Simon Morse," she continued, turning upon the secret agent, "you
would not wonder that any one had words with him."

"Ah, no, perhaps not," said Ashton-Kirk, carelessly. "I understand that
his temper was not of the sweetest." He was about turning away when he
asked of Drevenoff: "How are you getting?"

"I'm better to-day than I have been for a week," was the answer. "But it
won't be for long. Before I came here I worked in a construction gang
for the Virginia and North Carolina Railroad and the worst of the line
was through low country. Sickness is thick down that way."

"I hope I shall not disturb Miss Corbin," said Ashton-Kirk to Nanon. She
gestured in the negative.

"She is sitting with Simon in the room opposite the one where he died,"
said the woman. "She has been there for hours. She does not pray and she
does not cry. She just sits and stares."

The secret agent and his aide reached the second floor by the rear
stairs; as they paused by a window which overlooked the house occupied
by Okiu, Fuller said:

"There is something which I have been turning over in my mind for the
past hour; it occurred to me as soon as we reached here this morning. Do
you recall that first drawing which Warwick showed you? It was the one
which looked like this."

With his forefinger the young man drew upon the dust of the window glass
the design:

[Illustration]

"From the very first," said Fuller, "that thing struck me as being a
sort of ground plan, so to speak. As you stood talking with Osborne a
while ago, I got looking about. It seemed to me that Okiu's house and
this one were very much of a size and that the connecting plots of
ground were very long and very narrow. Here," and Fuller indicated one
of the squares at the end of his drawing, "might be Okiu's house, and
here," pointing to the second square, "might be that of Dr. Morse. The
intervening space might be the adjoining lawns."

Ashton-Kirk looked at the speaker, a curious light in his eyes.

"I wonder," said he, "how far you are from the truth?"

Fuller entered the bathroom to remove the dust from his finger-tips; and
as he was toweling briskly away he caught a glimpse, through the partly
open door of a closet, of a pair of soiled shoes. In an instant he had
them out.

"By George," he breathed, "here's a find."

The shoes were light and made upon a slim, well-shaped last; the heels
were high, the instep arched; except for a caking of yellowish looking
soil about the edges of the soles they were the quintessence of feminine
elegance.

"That is the color of the soil outside there," said Fuller, "and the
only person in this house to whom they could belong is Miss Corbin."

Ashton-Kirk took the shoes in his hand and examined them carefully at
the bathroom window, which stood open. Fuller, watching him expectantly,
saw his lips forming the first words of a reply. But it was never
uttered. Something without attracted him, for he put down the shoes and
protruded his head from the window. The latter overlooked the north side
of the house; and the secret agent leaned from it motionless for some
moments.

At length, however, he drew in his head, and Fuller was surprised to see
a perplexed look upon the keen face, a baffled eagerness in the singular
eyes.

"What is it?" he asked.

Ashton-Kirk indicated the window silently. In turn Fuller looked out,
and what he saw almost made him cry out. Okiu stood below; from a window
of the room in which Nanon had said she was watching the dead leaned
Stella Corbin, and the two were engaged in a low-pitched, earnest
conversation.



CHAPTER X

SOME STARTLING INTELLIGENCE


The conversation between Okiu and Miss Corbin was too low voiced for
Fuller to catch any of it; and in a few moments he also drew in his
head.

"Well," said he, "here's a state of things. First we find tracks which
might be hers, then we come upon the shoes which she might have worn
when she made them, now we see her engaged in secret conversation with a
man whom we know to be----"

But Ashton-Kirk with an impatient gesture stopped him.

"Indications are not proof," said he, as he went into the hall. "Don't
forget that _we_ ourselves have also made tracks round about the window
below, our shoes are also more or less caked with earth, and we have
both spoken to Okiu."

"Of course that's so," said Fuller, "but nevertheless the facts are
peculiar." He followed the other along the hall and into a room at the
front of the house. "But, for that matter, everything having to do with
this case is peculiar. I never saw a trail so snarled and crossed and
recrossed. First you get the idea of a Japanese. Then Warwick is
plunged into the thing so deep that I fail to see how he's ever going to
extricate himself. Thirdly, we have enough proof as to Drevenoff's
complicity to put him behind the bars; and now the probabilities are
that the girl is also concerned."

Ashton-Kirk moved slowly about the room; it was one evidently used by
Dr. Morse as a sort of lounging place, for there were sofas and big
chairs and many books. At one side near the front window was a narrow
antique desk of polished wood; it was open, and its contents had been
tumbled about by the police. Ashton-Kirk sat down before it, annoyed and
frowning.

"After an Osborne and a deputy coroner have been over the ground, one
could drive a herd of mules over it without causing any appreciable
difference in its aspect," said he. "They are as heavy handed as
draymen."

And while he proceeded with a careful inspection of the contents of the
desks, Fuller continued in a complaining tone:

"I'd like to know what we are to make of the whole business. Is it a
sort of general conspiracy against Dr. Morse? Are Warwick, Miss Corbin
and Drevenoff in league with the Jap for some particular purpose?--are
there factions in the matter--each working for its own advantage?--or
is every individual laboring for him or herself, and against all the
others?"

"Mostly correspondence of a private nature," said Ashton-Kirk, as he ran
through the papers. "Contracts with publishers, notes as to lectures,
and negotiations for the delivery of the same."

There were some bits of jewelry of no particular value, a few small
books of accounts and various odds and ends.

After some further search he lifted the writing bed of the desk, which
was also the lid, and was about to close it; something seemed to attract
his attention and he paused.

"Were you ever handed a bulky book and were surprised to find it
extremely light?" said he to Fuller. "That oddity of thickness combined
with lightness applies also to this lid."

The tip of the long inquiring finger ran along the edge of the lid; the
quick, observant glance followed close behind. Instantly Fuller caught
the suggestion.

"That's so," said he, eagerly; "it may be hollow."

"On each side of the lock," said Ashton-Kirk, "there is an inlaid strip.
Look closely and you will see slight marks at the ends of each where the
point of a knife has been inserted from time to time."

As he spoke he brought his own knife into play. Out came one of the
inlaid pieces, disclosing a shallow opening. But it was empty. However,
the second one revealed a number of sheets of paper. With the aid of the
knife blade he managed to work these out; then spreading them upon the
desk the two men examined them with attention.

"Hello," said Fuller, "here is that thing which I said a while ago
looked like a ground plan."

"And here are the variously colored versions of the same, just as
Warwick described them," said the secret agent. "They are precisely
alike, but some are in brown, others in black, still others are in red,
while some again are in blue. And here are the ones done upon neutral
paper, in white."

"Is it possible, do you think," questioned Fuller, "that anything was
meant by the differing colors?"

"There is nothing to convince me that such is not the case," replied
Ashton-Kirk. "Chance seldom rules in a matter of consequence."

"Could the change in color not be ascribed merely to the fact that the
draughtsman used the one that came first to his hand?"

"It may be. But see here: The design which you say resembles a ground
plan differs in color, but is always the same in shape. But here are the
other drawings. First there are a number of the crowned woman, all of
which are done in brown. Then here are several duplicates of one which
I saw the first time we came here. It is a cross, and in each case the
down stroke is red and the cross stroke blue. Here the selection of
colors never varies, and that there was a reason for clinging to these
particular colors seems pretty evident. And that there was an equally
good reason for changing the colors in the first design seems to me
reasonable."

"Yes, it would appear so," admitted Fuller, but doubtfully. Then another
sheet caught his eye and pointing to it, he inquired: "But what is
_that_?"

Ashton-Kirk was reaching for the drawing when the question was asked.
The squares of paper were exactly the size of the others, but the design
upon it was totally unlike, however, and was done in heavy black. It was
a picture of a human heart, and transfixing it were a number of pointed
weapons resembling stilettos.

"What a murderous-looking thing!" observed Fuller. "Much like a Black
Hand design as illustrated in the evening papers."

Ashton-Kirk did not reply; he bent down over the drawing as though
inspecting it closely; then there was a considerable pause in which he
did not stir and Fuller, watching, noted the glaze of introspection in
the singular eyes. However, this was not for long; he suddenly
straightened up; the other designs slowly passed through his hands once
more; then he arose, a smile upon his face.

"More than likely that is it," said he.

"Is--what?" asked Fuller.

But the other allowed the interrogation to go unheeded.

"Away somewhere in our memories," said he, "there are many little bits
of information all ticketed and ready to the hand of the person who
cares to reach back for them. Those people who go through life with
their eyes open possess more of these items of recollection than those
who refuse to look beyond the confines of their own affairs. But the
impressionable person--the one who makes no conscious effort to retain
the things that buzz like bees about him--and yet catches them all much
like the record of a phonograph--has the greater resources to draw
upon."

"I would not call you one who made no effort," said Fuller. "And things
must need be more or less proven to make an impression upon you."

"I make my effort in the particular line along which my interest runs at
the time," said Ashton-Kirk. "And it is true that the things which I
then accept must be more or less solidly supported by facts. But a
newspaper casually picked up, a novel read as a time-killer, a spoken
word, the gesture of a stranger in the street, or the unstudied action
of a child, may convey a something that will stay with us for life."

"And just now," said Fuller, curiously, "you came upon one of these
little incidents, a sort of unattached thing, which throws some light
upon these," and he pointed to the drawings upon the desk.

Ashton-Kirk nodded; placing the sheets of paper in his coat pocket he
closed the desk.

"The police will have little use for these," he said. "Nevertheless, I
suppose I had better call Osborne's attention to them."

He spent another half hour in the upper part of the house, but nothing
of interest met his eye. Then they descended to the first floor; and as
they did so, met Miss Corbin upon the stairs. As she saw them, a
startled look came into her face.

"Good-morning," said Ashton-Kirk.

"I did not know that you were here," she said.

"There were a few trifles which I knew only daylight would show us," he
returned. "We came more than an hour ago."

"I did not see you go up-stairs," she said; and to Fuller there was a
sort of confused resentment in her voice.

"We took the liberty of using the back stairway, that being the
nearest," explained the secret agent.

There was a pause. The slim, girlish figure blocked their way; the great
dark eyes were fixed upon them observantly. "You were in my uncle's
room?" she asked.

"Yes. We fancied that there might be something there of interest."

"Ah, no doubt," she replied; and again Fuller's attention was called to
a peculiar something in her voice. However, she said nothing more; and
then as they stood politely aside, she passed on up the stairs.

The telephone bell was ringing furiously as they reached the hall;
Osborne hastened from somewhere in the rear to answer it.

There followed the usual one-sided and enigmatic telephone conversation;
but this one was interspersed with high-pitched questions, amazed
ejaculation and wondering adjectives upon the part of the headquarters
man. At last he hung up and turned to Ashton-Kirk.

"Well, what do you think of that?" he cried.

"What is it?"

"That was the chief. He's just had a wire from New York. They got on
Warwick's track an hour after hearing from us, and traced him to an
up-town hotel."

"Ah! And have they taken him?"

"Two plain clothes men went in and a couple more stood outside. The
clerk said yes, he was in his room. Was registered under the name of
Gordon. They went up and knocked. No answer. Knocked again. Still no
answer. They broke down the door, and found----"

"What?" asked Fuller.

"That Warwick was gone. On the floor lay a traveling bag like the one he
took from here, slashed open and empty, and beside it lay an unknown
Japanese--stabbed through the heart.



CHAPTER XI

A RAY OF LIGHT


The late editions of the evening-papers ran riot with this latest
feature of the Morse case. The New York police, by happy chance, had
pounced upon the warm trail as soon as the young Englishman stepped from
the train. What followed was so totally unexpected by the authorities
that it set them into a violent state of agitation. This they at once
communicated to the ever receptive "yellows," and then the public
received more than its due share of the developments as served upon
scores of front pages.

"Who the Japanese is is a mystery to the police and the hotel people,"
declared the _Star_ in triple-leaded feature type. "How he got into the
hotel and up to Warwick's room is, as yet, a thing which, so they claim,
has baffled the best efforts of all concerned. But what he meant to do
when he reached the room is in the opinion of this journal a matter that
will prove infinitely more taxing upon the wit of the detective
department."

Fuller read column after column of such comment. The various people who
had figured in the matter were separately interviewed and their ideas
were given much space. The railway porter, who had sprung into fame by
recognizing Warwick and who had had the awesome experience of carrying
the much spoken of leather bag from the day coach to the cab outside,
related his feelings when he later became aware of his patron's
identity, and told of his hunt for the policemen who had given him the
young man's description. The cabman also talked thrillingly, as did the
clerk and the bell-boy who led the detectives to the door of Warwick's
room. As for the police, they appeared to have maintained an attitude of
much wisdom. What utterances they condescended to make were of a
peculiarly Delphic character; and, as is usual, they hinted at
astonishing revelations which limited periods of time would bring forth.

"They are now deep in the case," stated the _Standard_, hopefully, "and
a little time may work wonders. A half dozen experienced man hunters are
running out the various fine threads which stretch away in as many
directions. Each of them has a hopeful outlook and is confident of
ultimate success. And this intelligent force has been recruited by
Osborne, a local man of acknowledged parts, who is handling the parent
stem, so to speak, of this exotic crime growth. Mr. Osborne will
familiarize himself with this new phase of the case and will then be
ready to take up his task here with renewed vigor."

"For experienced people," commented Fuller, as he cast the sheets from
him, "I think the publishers of newspapers are the most gullible in the
world. Day after day they apparently stand for the same old
explanation--day after day they seem to be taken in by the same old
conventional lies."

A short man with a bulging chest and surprisingly broad shoulders sat
opposite the speaker. He stroked his prominent jaw as he remarked:

"They are as wise as any one else, and they feed that sort of pabulum to
the public because they think it wants it. They know how the regular
police work; but they say nothing because they don't think their readers
are interested in hearing about it. The fellow who takes an evening
paper home to read after business would much rather believe that Osborne
is a remarkable detective than just a fair mechanic who was dragged
away, by ward politics, from his natural job of gas fitting."

"I suppose you are right, Burgess," replied Fuller. "There is more
interest in the first, I admit. But between you and me, I don't think
Osborne ever cleared up a case yet that he didn't get the rights of just
by sheer luck."

"And he knows it," said Burgess. "And what's more, he is firmly
convinced that that is the only way a case _can_ be cleared. He trusts
to luck in every instance."

"I expected that you would be sent to New York to look up this hotel
matter," said Fuller, as he sat back in Ashton-Kirk's lounging chair and
stretched his legs out in luxurious comfort.

"Oh, I've been looking up that fellow Karkowsky," said Burgess. "The
boss sent O'Neill over on the Warwick end. O'Neill is pretty smooth, you
know, and is just the fellow to get along with the regular police, and
work all they know out of them--if there _is_ anything."

"How does Karkowsky look?" questioned the other.

"I haven't got sight of him yet. Seems to be a queer sort of bird and
flies only at night. And now that the police have got so interested in
looking for him, he's apt to get more difficult to out-guess than
before."

"Have they muddled up the trail?"

"In the usual way," with a disgusted wave of the hand. "Brass band
methods, you know. They follow him with drums beating and then wonder
why they don't catch him."

At this moment there was a step at the door, and Ashton-Kirk entered. He
wore evening clothes with an overcoat over them; a silk hat was on his
head, and he carried his gloves and stick as though he had just come
in. There was only one light burning in the room, and it threw his
gigantic shadow upon the wall.

"How are you?" he said to Burgess. "Anything to report?"

"There it is in the envelope, as far as I have gone," replied Burgess.
"But there is nothing very vital. Karkowsky seems as elusive as any one
that I know of."

Ashton-Kirk nodded. He took up the envelope and opened it. There were
several closely typed sheets and his eye ran over them quickly. The
report was as follows:

"_Notes on Karkowsky_"

      "The keeper of the harness shop at Fourth Street and Corinth
      Avenue is of the name of Andrew Brekling. He is a Pole and has
      been in this country for five years. Karkowsky was unknown to his
      landlord in every way, save that of a lodger. He rented a
      third-story room and lived in it almost a month. He had few
      callers. The harness-maker does not remember any one of the name
      of Drevenoff, and is quite sure that no young man of the
      description which you gave me of Drevenoff ever came there.

      "I made a great many inquiries in the neighborhood, but learned
      little. A grocer told me that Karkowsky purchased many articles
      from him and appeared to have plenty of means; he also said that
      while the Pole was voluble upon most things he never spoke of
      himself or his affairs.

      "Then I found from the harness-maker that Karkowsky had spent a
      good bit of his time at a branch of the city library which was no
      great distance away from his lodgings. Thinking this might, on an
      off chance, turn some light on the matter, I went there. The young
      woman in charge recalled Karkowsky perfectly, although she did not
      know his name. He had always been good-natured and smiling and
      always read the one kind of books--scientific philosophy of the
      most modern type. Once he told her that all the other books in the
      place should be burnt."

Having reached the end of the report, Ashton-Kirk took off his coat and
hat and laid the report upon the table.

"Have you made any further attempts?" he asked of Burgess.

"I've been hunting for some trace of him all day," replied the man. "But
it's tough work. He went off without any one seeing him, and I haven't a
thing to dig a claw into."

"Was there nothing left in his room--nothing that would indicate what
his intentions were?"

"Not a shred of anything. You see, he had rented the place ready
furnished. And the police were there ahead of me."

"Take the matter up again to-morrow; if nothing develops let me know,
and we will make a fresh beginning over the same route. Mr. Karkowsky
has been, so it appears, an important figure in this matter, and it
would be just as well to know where we can put our hands upon him when
we want him."

After a brief conversation relating to the details of the work that
Burgess had done, that gentleman departed. Ashton-Kirk rolled a
cigarette and sat down in the big chair which Fuller had vacated. Then
he drew toward him a number of books which lay upon the table.

"These," said he, "were kindly loaned me by Father O'Leary of the Church
of the Holy Redeemer. And the information they contain is quaint and
most valuable."

"They are rather out of your line, are they not?" questioned the other,
as he took up one of the volumes and looked at the title. It was a "Life
of St. Simon Stock."

"Nothing is out of my line," said Ashton-Kirk. "I have, as you know,
seized some of my most helpful assistance from what might be regarded as
a most unpromising source." He took the little book from his aide's hand
and ran over its pages. "In what way," asked he, "can a biography of
St. Simon Stock help me to save the United States from an international
embarrassment and incidentally give me more information upon the subject
of the murder of Dr. Morse?"

Fuller shook his head.

"I don't know," said he. "But if you say it will do so, I'm perfectly
willing to believe it."

The other smiled.

"You have been with me for several years, Fuller," he said, "and your
clerical work is very complete. Your investigations, when you are given
a definite point to work upon, are also satisfying. But you stop there.
I should think that by this time you would have begun to weigh the
different problems which come up and reason them out for yourself."

Again Fuller shook his head.

"I've got a pretty good kind of a brain," said he; "people who know have
considered me a first-class accountant, and I'm a perfect storehouse for
certain kinds of facts. But it's not your kind of brain; for ages of
effort would pass and not once would I dream of trying to gain
information as to the death of a resident of Eastbury from a parcel of
books like these."

"I suppose you are right, my boy," said Ashton-Kirk; "different types of
mind have different tendencies." He continued fluttering the leaves of
the book, the pale smoke of the cigarette drifting formlessly about
him. Then he went on: "Perhaps it does seem rather an extraordinary
thing to expect a monk of the thirteenth century to aid in solving the
present problem. But let us go further into the matter and we may
possibly get some light."

He laid the burnt end in the shell upon the table and rolled another
cigarette; and while he did so, he talked.

"Simon Stock was an Englishman, and was a native of Kent. At the age of
twelve he is said to have left his home and lived in a hollow tree. The
Oriental idea had penetrated the West, and Europe was filled with
anchorites. Some monks of the Order of Mount Carmel entered England from
the Holy Lands and Simon, now a man of mature years, joined them. There
is a legend that he was directed to do so by a supernatural agency, but
Catholic scholars seem to pay little attention to this. At any rate time
passed and the Kentish man, famous for great piety and virtue, was
finally made general of the White Friars, a name by which the Carmelite
Order was known.

"Again legend plays its part. As he knelt one day in prayer in his
monastery at Cambridge, the Virgin Mary is said to have manifested
herself to him and presented him with the scapular."

"I have a sort of hazy notion as to what that is," said Fuller, "but not
enough to work on."

"It was originally a sort of habit which the monks wore over their other
garments," replied Ashton-Kirk; "but from St. Simon Stock's day it
altered in appearance. It became two squares of cloth fastened by two
pieces of tape, and was worn around the neck by those persons who
desired to benefit by its privileges. When stretched out on a flat
surface its appearance," went on the speaker, as he took up a pencil and
drew a few rapid lines upon the margin of a newspaper, "was something
like this:"

[Illustration]

Fuller's eyes opened in wonder.

"Why," he cried, "that is exactly like the drawing sent so frequently to
Dr. Morse!"

Ashton-Kirk laughed quietly.

"Already," said he, "you are beginning to see the use of Father
O'Leary's books. And, perhaps, as we go on, your vision will become
wider still." There was a moment's pause, then the speaker continued:
"There is another scapular beside that of St. Simon; it is the
Trinitarian, which was brought forward by an order of that name, founded
by John de Matha, and Felix de Valois for the redemption of captives.
These religious wore a white habit with a cross upon the breast. A
Theatine nun named Ursula Benincasa originated still another scapular,
that of the Immaculate Conception, which is of light blue. An Italian
order, called the Servites, introduced another, this time of black; and
the Sisters of Charity of Paris brought forward still another--of
scarlet."

Ashton-Kirk's pencil tapped upon the drawing which he had made upon the
margin of the newspaper.

"Dr. Morse had this design sent to him in all the colors named. First
came the brown, then there was blue, white, black and red. When the
gamut, so to speak, of colors had been run, he received the picture of
the crowned woman, done in brown. This is now very easy to explain. The
sender for some reason had called attention to the various sorts of
scapulars and was beginning all over again. The Carmelite scapular is of
brown and bears a picture of the Virgin Mary--hence the woman wearing
the crown. Then came the cross which I was shown upon my first visit to
the Morse house; its down stroke of blue and cross stroke of red is the
same as the device upon the white scapular of the Trinitarians. But,
however, all this would never have been dreamed of by me if it had not
been for the third picture as found by us in the secret drawer of Dr.
Morse's desk."

With the pencil, Ashton-Kirk sketched a human heart, transfixed by
numerous daggers.

"When this caught my eye," he continued, "I could feel the stirring of a
memory--one of those which I spoke of as being ticketed and ready to
hand," with a smile. "Was it the heart which awoke this dim feeling of
familiarity? No. Was it the daggers? Again, no. Then it must be the
general idea--a heart pierced by daggers. At this I felt the memory
struggle desperately in the brain cell; then suddenly it broke out. I
had seen the design upon a bit of laced card in the show window of a
religious goods store, when a boy. I recalled the title, printed at the
bottom of the card, perfectly. It was 'The Seven Dolors.' The memory of
this was specially keen, for I had not known what was meant by dolors,
and had gone to a dictionary and found that they represented sorrows or
pangs. This all came back like a flash, and instantly I counted the
daggers transfixing the heart in the drawing. They were exactly seven.

"I was now convinced that the whole matter of the drawings had a
religious aspect, and looked at them with a different eye. The cross was
self-evident; the crowned woman could be none other than the Virgin
Mary. However, it was not until I had consulted Father O'Leary that I
got to the bottom of the matter. With the other things made plain to
him, he instantly recognized this as the outline of the scapular,"
tapping the marginal sketch upon the newspaper.

For a few moments Fuller was silent. Then he said:

"That was a clever stroke, and it might go a long distance toward making
some other things plain. But," and he shook his head in a rather
hopeless way, "I confess that I don't see the reason for all these
things being sent to Dr. Morse. In fact, there _doesn't_ seem to be any
sort of reason _in_ it."

Ashton-Kirk arose.

"There is seldom any reason in things which we do not understand," said
he. "But it often happens that when we do come to understand them then
we find the reasons behind them solid and far-reaching enough.



CHAPTER XII

KARKOWSKY GETS SOME ATTENTION


The next morning, contrary to Fuller's expectations, Ashton-Kirk did not
start out on a fresh trail. The discovery, as developed the night
before, was so curious that the young man was quite sure that it would
immediately lead to more surprising revelations. So he was greatly
astonished when he reached the old-fashioned house to learn from Stumph
that the secret agent had gone into the country.

"He took his fishing rods," explained Stumph, "and went to Jordan's
Mills. He said he'd be back to-morrow."

"He's gone down there to think things out," Fuller told himself, other
occasions of the same sort fresh in his mind. "A pipe, a green bank
under a tree, and a painted float to watch, are fine things to make
thoughts run. They just seem to drift along with the current."

Sure enough, the next afternoon Ashton-Kirk came back; there was a keen,
vigorous look about him that told of a freshening such as his aide had
pictured. He heard what Burgess had to say regarding his hunt for
Karkowsky as soon as he arrived, for the man was waiting for him.

"He's gone completely, so far as I can make out," the broad-shouldered
man informed him. "There's not a trace to be found in any direction.
I've questioned everybody I could find in the section who was acquainted
with him, but they knew only his name and thought him a pretty good sort
of fellow."

Ashton-Kirk said little in reply; but his manner showed that he was far
from satisfied. After dinner he smoked and walked about his study. Then
he went to his room.

A half hour later a tall, cadaverous-looking person, in a black coat and
with a silk hat, the nap of which was well worn, came down the stairs.
To Stumph he said:

"I shall be back in a few hours, perhaps. But should any one call, say
that I will see him in the morning."

"Very well, sir," said Stumph, gravely.

It was just fading from the late twilight to the early shadows of
evening when the cadaverous man turned the corner and headed toward
Fourth Street. His shoulders were bent and his gait was shuffling; the
thread gloves which he wore were broken in places here and there and the
black coat was a trifle short in the sleeves.

But he attracted little or no attention, for in that neighborhood
shabby characters were frequent enough. When once he got into his stride
it was astonishing to see how he covered the ground, for all the
shuffle. At Fourth Street and Corinth Avenue he halted and looked about.

It was now dark; the street lights were throwing their pale blue rays
into the hidden corners of the dirty highways; upon stoop and cellar
doors, throngs of soiled-looking men and women were congregated; hordes
of children were all about, and their cries were shrill and incessant.

"Brekling?" said a man with a peddler's cart. "Oh, yes, his place is
there on the corner."

A yellow gaslight burned dimly in the harness shop when the man in the
worn top hat entered. There was a heavy smell of leather and oil; the
floor was littered with scraps, and the broken parts of many sets of
harness were stacked up in the rear. A small man with round spectacles
and a dirty apron came forward; he had been reading a Polish newspaper
under the dim light.

"Well, sir," said he, inquiringly, and with a marked accent, "what can I
do for you this evening?"

"You have rooms to rent, I believe," said the other in a shaky sort of
voice.

Instantly the small man was all attention. He put down his newspaper and
beamed through his glasses at the stranger.

"I have one room," said he. "It is on the third floor, but it is a good
room and well furnished. Will you look at it?"

"Yes, if you please," quavered the man with the bent shoulders.

The little harness-maker lighted a candle and led the way to a staircase
at the side which opened into the street. A troop of children had
possession of it and their shrill outcries as they ran up and down were
deafening. Like a fury the Pole ran among them, scattering them right
and left.

"But they are good children," he told the prospective tenant, "and they
make very little noise."

The room was small and had a window opening upon a court; the furniture
was scant and the floor was bare.

"Once," confessed the little harness-maker, "I had a carpet for it; but
there were so many holes in it at last, that I took it up. Some day,"
hopefully, "I shall get another."

The other gave a glance about.

"I shall take it--if it is not too much."

"Six dollars a month is not too much," said the tradesman landlord. "It
is worth more."

"I'll give you five," stated the other, in his shaky voice.

The Pole gestured his despair; the candle went up and down and the two
huge shadows jigged grotesquely upon the wall.

"It is worth six," he said. "The last tenant paid that much without a
word."

"He was rich," suggested the other. "No one but a man of means would pay
that."

"He was not rich," protested Brekling. "He was as poor as a rat. I know
that, for he was a countryman of mine, and there are no rich Poles."

The man with the bent shoulders counted out five dollars in small coin
upon a table.

"I will pay a month in advance," said he.

The little man looked at the pile of silver for a moment; unable to
resist, he said:

"Very well, I will take it. But the room is worth more."

He scraped up the money and put it away in his pocket; the other took
off his hat and laid it upon the table and looked about with the manner
of a man at home.

"Have you any other lodgers?" he asked.

"There are three families on the floor below, and then there are a few
mechanics on this. But they are all decent people," earnestly.
"Sometimes they take a little too much, but not often. You will find
that they are quiet enough." Then after a look at his new tenant, "You
will move in at once?"

"To-morrow. And now, if you don't mind, I should like to be left
alone."

"Of course," said the little harness-maker. "Of course."

And so he went out and down the stairs to his shop. If he had been a
curious man and had loitered on the landing and put his eye to the
keyhole, he would have witnessed an unusual sight. For the door had no
sooner closed behind him than the cadaverous-looking man altered in
appearance like an enchanted prince in a fairy-tale. The bent shoulders
disappeared, the tread as he moved swiftly about the room was firm and
noiseless, the face became keen and resolute, the eyes alert and eager.
He drew off the long black coat and with sleeves tucked up began a
searching examination of the room. The closet, the bureau, the
wash-stand came first; then the edges of the floor. The contents of a
small sheet-iron stove were dragged out; amid the coal ash was much
burnt paper, but apparently nothing that brought the searcher any
reward. After about an hour, he stood in the center of the room,
defeated.

"Friend Karkowsky is a careful man," he muttered. "There is not a scrap
of anything."

He put on his coat and hat and left the room. Once outside the door, the
shuffle reappeared in his gait, the cadaverous look returned, and the
shoulders bent wearily. In the shop, the harness-maker was once more
engaged with the Polish newspaper; he looked up as his new tenant came
in.

"Your last lodger was not careful," complained the latter in his shaky
voice. "The room is in quite a state."

"But I will fix it," announced the Pole accommodatingly. "I always treat
my lodgers right; never has one complained. But _I_ often had to
complain. Now, that same man--the one that had your room last--gave me
much trouble. Would you believe it, the police came at last!"

"Ah, yes. He was a disturber."

"No, no. Indeed, he was very quiet. Even when the other lodgers made a
noise he did not get mad. The only person he ever quarreled with was
Jackson."

"And who is Jackson?"

"He is the postman. It was something about letters that they fought
over. Once Karkowsky called the letter man a dunce. But Jackson only
laughed."

An hour later, in his study, Ashton-Kirk took down the telephone
receiver and asked for a certain number. When he was connected he asked:

"Is that Postal Station Seven?"

"It is," came the reply.

"Can you give me the address of Postman Jackson, attached to that
station?"

"No. But I can tell you where you can get him if you want him to-night."

"I'll be obliged to you."

"Call up Wonderleigh's place; he's sure to be there at this hour,
playing pinochle in the back room. The number's 35-79 Parkside."

In a few moments the secret agent had Mr. Jackson on the wire.

"I want to speak to you about Karkowsky, lately on your route," said he.

There was a laugh at the other end; then the postman answered:

"This ain't the police?"

"Not exactly, but something of the sort."

"Well, I've kind of expected that somebody would ask me about that old
scout; they seem to have asked everybody else."

"Would you mind telling me about the trouble you had with him regarding
some letters?"

"Oh, that! Sure. You see, Karkowsky for the first while that he lived at
Brekling's place received a letter a couple of times a week that always
got my attention. It was in a woman's writing--kind of a foreign writing
that was mighty hard to make out. It was always a brown, square
envelope, and it was always post-marked at Central Station. I couldn't
tell you all this about most of the letters I handle, but this one gave
me so much trouble at first finding out what the address was that I knew
it by heart.

"One day I handed one of them to Karkowsky, and he threw it back at me.

"'That's not for me,' he said. And sure enough it wasn't. It was for
another party a couple of blocks away--a party that was new to my route.
This same mistake happened a couple of times--me being so used to the
letters that I never looked at 'em twice--and every time old Karkowsky
got his back up. One day I kidded him about losing his girl and said I
guessed some other fellow had won her out, seeing that he was getting
all the letters, and Karkowsky swore. He called me some hard names that
day and threatened to report me. So I cut out the jokes."

"When the letters began arriving for the second person they ceased for
Karkowsky?"

"Right away. He never got another one."

There was a moment's silence; then the secret agent asked:

"Can you recall this other person's name?"

"Oh, yes. It's Kendreg. He lives on the top floor of 424 Lowe Street."

After Ashton-Kirk had hung up he sat for a few moments, a peculiar
expression on his face. Then he pressed one of the row of buttons. While
awaiting a response, he penciled a few lines upon a tablet; when Fuller
came in he tore off the sheet and handed it to him.

"Give this to Burgess," he requested. "Have him look this person up
quietly. Tell him to work under cover as much as possible; and to
especially note if he has any women visitors."

"Very well," said Fuller; and turning he left the room.



CHAPTER XIII

OLD NANON SPEAKS


Ashton-Kirk was at breakfast next morning when Fuller entered.

"I beg pardon," said the assistant, "but I've just had a call from
Burgess, and I thought you'd like to hear what he had to say."

"Good. Let's have it."

"He went to 424 Lowe Street last night after I gave him your
instructions. It's a large building, once used as a factory, but now
rearranged as an apartment house. There was a gas-lighted sign over the
door which said rooms might be had. Burgess took one on the fourth
floor, and in a conversation with the caretaker mentioned that he had a
friend, a Pole, who had lived there.

"'Do you know Kendreg?' says the caretaker. 'He's right across the hall
from you.'

"But Burgess says no, that's not the name. And when the man went away he
waited a while, and then knocked at the door opposite. The person who
opened in answer to the knock was a middle-aged man, stout and with
grayish hair. Burgess says he was enough like the description we had of
Karkowsky to be his twin brother."

Ashton-Kirk set down his coffee cup, a smile upon his face.

"It is Karkowsky himself, just as I expected," said he. "But," glancing
at Fuller, "what happened then?"

"Burgess merely asked if he could bother him for a match, which the
stout man provided willingly enough, and then promptly closed his door."

"Nothing more?"

"That is all, so far."

"What do the papers report that is new?"

"Nothing, except that Osborne has returned and will now plunge into the
intricacies of the case with renewed zeal. They seem to suspect him of
having made wonderful discoveries of some sort."

"Have you heard anything from Purvis?"

"Yes. He reports that no one but Drevenoff has made any movement away
from the house in Fordham Road, Eastbury. And that _he_ has merely
walked about a little, apparently for exercise, or gone to the nearest
post-box to mail some letters."

"Dr. Morse is to be buried to-day, I believe?"

"Yes, at about noon."

It was at that hour that Stumph entered the study.

"There is a woman below, sir," said he. "She is quite old--and quite
remarkable. She wishes to speak to you, and says that I'm to inform you
that she is from Dr. Morse's."

"Bring her up."

Old Nanon came in a few moments later, grim, erect and angular. Her keen
eyes seemed somewhat sunken, and her wrinkled face more gaunt; but her
glance was as sharp as ever, and her mouth was set in the same stern
line.

"You are surprised," she said, when she had seated herself and studied
him for a moment. "You thought that because Simon Morse was being
carried to the grave that I, an old servant of his family, would remain
near him to the last."

"It's the sort of thing that's usually expected," said the secret agent.

"No one who knows would expect it from me," said the old woman. "No one
who knows would expect it from me," she repeated, her lips forming the
words slowly, and her gray head swaying from side to side. "I knew him
from a child. He was evil--possessed of evil; and what he was in the
last days of his life, so he was always."

Ashton-Kirk said nothing; he remained gazing at the old Breton woman,
his hands clasping his knee and his head tilted so as to rest upon the
back of his chair.

"There was never any other in the family like him," she continued. "Not
one. I have known them for four generations. His great-grandmother it
was who employed me first; I was a girl then, and she was good to me.
They were _all_ good to me, and I remained with them and served them as
well as I could. But there must have been something wicked in them
somewhere, something hidden and black, and in this son it showed
itself." Here her voice lowered and she leaned toward the secret agent.
"In Brittany there is a belief that there are those gifted with a
strange vision. Have I that, I wonder? Sometimes I have thought so; for
it was I alone who saw Simon Morse entirely as he was. To be sure,
others have heard him blaspheme, and still others have read his books.
But I alone knew him for what he was."

The secret agent still sat attentively silent; if he wondered what all
this would eventually lead to, he made no sign.

"I have always been thankful," proceeded Nanon, "that only one of the
family was so cursed. All those who had gone before were mild and
religious and gentle. And because of this I felt that I should not
desert this tainted one, but remain and strive with him, even if it did
no good." She paused for a moment, and the bony old hands, with their
thick blue veins, were locked tightly together. "Yes," she resumed, "I
was always thankful that only one of them was evil of heart, but now,"
whisperingly, "I am not so sure that I have even that to be thankful
for."

A faint wrinkle showed itself between the eyes of Ashton-Kirk; but other
than this he made no sign that he was disturbed.

"Love," said the old woman, after a few moments, "is the one thing which
is thought to be the corrector of what is bad. Through love, I have
heard it said, the fair-hearted influences the wrong-doer. It is as a
bridge between them, over which is passed the saving grace. That is what
every one says. But," and there was a note in her voice which was almost
savage, "is it true? And if it works one way, why should it not work the
other? If good passes between two people because they love each other,
why should not evil? And," very slowly, "Simon Morse and his niece were
much attached to each other."

Through the open window, the roar of midday arose from the street. The
throaty voices of peddlers, the grind of wheels and the warning cries of
drivers were ceaseless; and below all this was an undertone, a subdued
murmurous undertone such as is made by cautious creatures, each with a
private design.

"Sometimes," said the old woman, "things are expected, and when they
come they create no surprise. And, again, there are others which are so
unexpected that they all but crush one to the earth."

Ashton-Kirk nodded.

"Something unexpected has happened," he said.

"You shall hear all for yourself," said the old servant. "It was for
that purpose that I came to you." She settled herself rigidly in her
chair, upright, unbending, full of purpose. "I have read the
newspapers," she said. "I have heard the police and the coroner's
deputy. They have all said much, and in the end their talk comes to
this: Philip Warwick murdered Simon Morse.

"Perhaps," and her gray eyes searched his face, "you too think so. But
no matter. I tell you, _and I know_, that he did not do this thing."

There was a moment's silence, then Ashton-Kirk said, quietly:

"Then who did?"

She gestured with both hands.

"Because I say that I know that _he_ did not," she replied, "does it
follow that I must know who _did_?" She waited for an answer, but as
none came, she went on: "You have heard that Philip Warwick and Stella
Corbin were to be married? I thought so. He is a very boyish fellow; he
was proud of her and told every one. I was glad when I heard it, for I
thought them well mated. But Simon was not pleased; the young man
perhaps would not follow where he led; at any rate he disliked him. They
quite frequently had high words; but Mr. Warwick never allowed himself
to go too far in his resentment--at least never until lately. The day
that you first visited the house, they almost came to blows; and on the
night that Simon was killed, he actually struck his secretary."

"This was not told to the police," said the secret agent. "Why?"

"I was the only one that saw it," said the old woman, "and I did not
tell of it because I knew that it would only make them suspect the young
man all the more."

"Go on," said Ashton-Kirk.

"This is how I came to be a witness to what passed between them. I had
gone to the front door to answer a ring, but it was only a person to
inquire about some one who had lately left a house across the street. As
I closed the door, I saw that of the library ajar; and through the
opening I saw Dr. Morse and Mr. Warwick standing facing each other.

"'Very well, then,' Mr. Warwick was saying, 'it shall be done in spite
of you.'

"And with that the other lifted his hand, and I heard the sound of the
blow even where I stood."

"Did Warwick return it?"

"I think not. I did not wait to see, however, but went on along the
hall. I turned, though, as I reached the end, and saw Mr. Warwick step
out of the library and walk toward the stairs. He had gone up perhaps
three steps when he stopped and was about to turn back; but, though he
was fairly shaking with anger, he thought better of it and went on up to
his room."

"At what time was this?"

"Immediately after dinner." If such a thing were possible, the old woman
sat more erect than ever, the craggy brows bent over the sharp eyes, and
the voice sank a tone lower. "And as Philip Warwick went up the stairs,
I saw Miss Stella come out of the room opposite the library; she stood
looking after him--and on her face was a look which I had never noticed
there before. She had seen what had happened, and for some reason was
glad of it.

"There was nothing more, until I left the front door some time later and
went to the kitchen to make the coffee. Then I heard something on the
back stairs. Thinking it might be Drevenoff, taken bad, I opened the
door. But it was Miss Stella and Mr. Warwick. They stood on the landing,
and were talking in low tones. I could not help overhearing what they
said; and I remember it because I have repeated it over and over to
myself a thousand times since then.

"'Is it possible?' Mr. Warwick said. 'Have you really got it?'

"I did not hear what was said in answer; and then he spoke again.

"'But how in the world did you manage it? I know he thinks a great deal
of you, but I never dreamed that he'd give----'

"Here she must have stopped him by putting her fingers to his lips, a
way that she had.

"'Don't stop to talk,' I heard Miss Stella say. 'You must go at once.
And no matter what you hear, do not return until I send you word.'

"Then I closed the door softly, as they stole down-stairs; and after a
little again came the soft footfalls, this time going up the stairs."

There was a pause, and then the old woman crossed her hands in her lap,
her eyes looking sternly into the face of Ashton-Kirk.

"It was only a few minutes after that," she said, "that I found Simon
Morse dead in his chair.



CHAPTER XIV

OKIU WRITES A LETTER


Ashton-Kirk, a short time after the old servant woman left, rang for
Fuller. When the latter entered he found his employer writing a
telegram.

"Have you heard anything from O'Neill?" asked the secret agent.

"This morning--yes. He merely said that he was still trying to strike
the trail of Philip Warwick."

Ashton-Kirk held out the telegram.

"Send him this," said he, briefly.

Fuller glanced at the yellow sheet, and then whistled, amazedly;
however, he said nothing, but instantly left the room.

The morning mail lay neglected upon the table. Some were sharp,
businesslike envelopes, bearing downright statements as to the senders'
identity; others were big and square, while a number were small and
dainty. A few were remarkable after the same manner that an oddly
dressed man is remarkable; and to one of these latter the eye of the
secret agent was first attracted.

"It's hardly to be wondered at," he mused, as he held up the envelope
and studied its characteristics, "that the postman should have mentally
marked the letters received by Karkowsky. There seems an individuality
about each piece of mail that must almost unconsciously impress the
person handling it. A strange style of handwriting is like a strange
face; the very manner of sticking on a stamp might give very clear
indications as to another's mental process."

He cut open the flap of the envelope; when he unfolded the sheet
enclosed, he glanced at the signature; then he lay back in his chair, a
smile upon his face.

"Okiu," he murmured. "I was beginning to wonder what his first move
would be."

Still smiling, he held the letter up once more, and read:

      "MY DEAR MR. ASHTON-KIRK:

      "I was most happy to meet you upon several occasions recently.
      But, believe me, I had no actual realization of what you were, or
      I should have been overcome.

      "To think that you know my own language, that you have studied the
      literature of Nippon, that you have even written a most delightful
      appreciation of it. And all the time I was ignorant of this!

      "It grieves me to think that you might consider me amiss in this,
      and so I try to make amends. May I not greet you at my house? I
      can show you some Japanese and Korean manuscripts which no
      Caucasian has ever laid eyes on before; and also I have rare books
      which may afford you some pleasure to see.

      "I should be gratified to have you call to-night. If it can be
      managed, have some one telephone me. And, in the formal way of my
      country,

      "I am, most honorable sir, at your feet,

  "OKIU."

For some time Ashton-Kirk lay back in his big chair, the smile still on
his lips. Then Fuller came in.

"O'Neill will be astonished when he gets that wire," he said.

Ashton-Kirk tossed him the letter.

"Answer this," said he, lazily. "Say that I'll come."

Fuller read the letter through without comment; then he went to the
telephone and did as directed. When he had finished, he turned to the
other.

"The Jap has made up his mind to something," he said.

"He made up his mind upon our first meeting," replied Ashton-Kirk. "He
has now decided what he will do."

Fuller shook his head.

"Look out for him," he warned. "He's dangerous."

Ashton-Kirk yawned. "The bird or beast of prey is marked by nature," he
said. "And there is no movement they make that is not in itself a
warning."

There was nothing more said for some little time. The secret agent read
his mail, and indicated upon each letter back what his answer was to be.
These he passed to Fuller, who read them over and arranged them for
answering. But after finishing this work the young man did not retire at
once, as was his custom. He hesitated for a few moments, and then said:

"Don't think I'm taken with the idea that I can run this case better
than you; but last night after I left here, I got to going over the
matter, and there are some things about it that troubled me."

Ashton Kirk nodded.

"You are not exactly alone in that," he answered. "Several times I have
seen what I fancied must be the bottom of the affair; but in almost the
next breath, something happened which changed my mind. This morning I
was ready to indicate to Osborne what steps to take to secure the
assassin of Dr. Morse; but again I received information that brought me
to a standstill."

"You found that you were mistaken as to the guilty person?" asked Fuller
curiously.

But the other did not reply to this.

"Just what are the things which you say troubled you?" he asked.

"First of all, the fact that this fellow Drevenoff has the free run of
the Eastbury house. Suppose Warwick did not, after all, make off with
the state paper you are seeking. Very likely it is still in the house.
You know that the Pole is searching for it; at any moment he may find
it, and if he does, how easy it would be for him to slip it in an
envelope and mail it to a confederate."

"There is very little danger of his coming upon it now," said
Ashton-Kirk quietly.

Fuller looked at him swiftly.

"You have learned, then, that it is not in the house!" he said.

Ashton-Kirk shook his head.

"As to that," said he, "I am not sure. But," and the singular eyes half
closed as he spoke, "perhaps it does not make a great deal of
difference.



CHAPTER XV

ALMOST


After dinner that evening, Ashton-Kirk looked over the last edition of
the papers. About eight o'clock he arose, stretched himself contentedly,
and then went to a stand, a drawer of which he pulled open. From this he
took several black, squat-looking pistols of the automatic type, and one
by one balanced them in his hand. Selecting the one which struck his
fancy, he slipped it into his pocket and prepared to go out.

"Shall you leave any word, sir?" asked Stumph, in the lower hall.

The secret agent paused for a moment. Then he scribbled something on a
card and gave it to the man.

"If I do not return by morning, get Fuller on the telephone and read
this to him," said he.

"Very good, sir."

At the station Ashton-Kirk was forced to wait some little time for a
train; and when, finally, he rang the bell at Okiu's door in Eastbury,
it was a trifle past nine o'clock.

There was a delay after he rang; the house was gloomy; not a light
showed at any of the windows; from all indications it may have been
deserted. But through the tail of his eye he caught a slight stirring of
a curtain at a window upon the lower floor.

"They seem to be very careful," mused the secret agent. "I am much
favored, as, apparently, they do not admit any one who is not thoroughly
convincing."

After another brief space, the door was opened. Ashton-Kirk saw a dim
hall and a short man of enormous girth.

"Mr. Okiu?" asked the secret agent.

"He is at home," replied the fat man. "Who are you?"

The secret agent gave his name, and at once the man stood aside.

"I will tell him that you are here," said he, as Ashton-Kirk entered.
"Will you sit down?"

He indicated a hall chair with much politeness; but Ashton-Kirk nodded
and remained standing. There was a single incandescent lamp burning in
the hall, and its yellow rays barely lit up the dark corners. At the end
was a railed stairway which led to the rooms above; and along the hall
there was a dark array of tightly-closed doors. However, these things
got but a glance from the secret agent. The Japanese who had admitted
him attracted his notice.

This latter had a huge, round head and a fat, brutal face, and his
immense body gave him the appearance of an overfed animal. His skin
glistened with a high-smelling oil; when he moved, its scent was
particularly heavy and unpleasant. Everything about him seemed to
promise inertia, ponderous movements, shortness of breath. But this
promise was not kept, for he passed down the hall with a light, quick
step; then he sprang at the staircase and went bounding up like an
enormous rubber ball.

There was something in this so unexpected, so utterly tiger-like, that
Ashton-Kirk felt the nerves of his scalp prickle.

"Rather a formidable sort," he murmured, and as he spoke his hand went
to his outer coat pocket as though to assure himself that the squat,
black pistol was still there. "One might hold him off and hit him to
pieces; but let him break down a guard and come to grappling and he'd
afford astonishing entertainment."

In a few moments the fat man reappeared. He paused half-way down the
stairway, and the light rays were reflected in his slanting eyes as he
fixed them upon the secret agent.

"You will come with me, please," he said.

Unhesitatingly Ashton-Kirk followed him up the stairs and along a hall
upon the second floor. A door at the rear stood open, and at a round
table, under a powerful light, sat Okiu. At sight of the visitor this
latter arose, a welcoming smile upon his placid face.

"Sir," said he, "you are too good. I am delighted beyond measure."

Ashton-Kirk shook the outheld hand.

"I am pleased to be asked here," said he. "I could have hoped for
nothing that would have agreed so well with my inclinations."

The heavy lids partially veiled the black searching eyes of the
Japanese; but the bland, childlike face was as expressionless as before.

"You are polite," smiled Okiu, still shaking the secret agent's hand.
"But I knew you would be so. All persons of real parts are kind and
ready to place the stranger at his ease."

Then turning to the other Japanese, who remained waiting in the doorway,
he added:

"Sorakicha, give the gentleman a chair."

With rapid, soft, tiger-like steps, Sorakicha advanced; lifting a
high-backed chair he placed it at the side of the table opposite where
Okiu had been sitting. And when the secret agent walked around the table
he came face to face with the man as he was about to leave the room.

"Sorakicha," said Ashton-Kirk, "I think you have been a wrestler."

The brutal face became a mass of yellow corrugations; a set of broad,
well-worn teeth shone whitely.

"I have been a champion," said he proudly.

Ashton-Kirk nodded, and critically his keen eyes ran over the monstrous
form before him.

"You are strong," said he. Then darting out one of his slim hands he
grasped the thick wrist of the wrestler. Instantly the man caught the
meaning of the act and his huge, blubber-like body grew rigid with
effort. There was a pause full of striving; the eyes of the two were
savage, the teeth shut tightly, the breath swelling in the lungs. Then,
slowly, the thick arm of the Oriental bent upward until the clinched
hand touched the shoulder; and at this Ashton-Kirk released him and
stepped back.

For a moment the amazement which the wrestler felt was plain; but again
the fat face broke into yellow corrugations.

"You, too, are strong," said he. "But it was a trick."

"The proper use of strength is made up of tricks," answered Ashton-Kirk,
simply.

Okiu had witnessed this little incident with a smiling calm. And now he
said to his countryman:

"And so, my friend, you have met your match at hand grasps? I told you
it would be so. But," and he turned to Ashton-Kirk, "I did not expect to
see it in a man like you." There was a curiously speculative look in the
half-closed eyes as they examined the tall, well-built form of the
white man. "But," he went on, "experience is knowledge, is it not? And
to profit by experience," to Sorakicha, gently, "is the sign of wisdom.
So remember, my friend," and he smiled as he spoke, "remember that Mr.
Ashton-Kirk is strong."

"I will not forget," replied the wrestler, his well-worn teeth shining.
And with that he left the room, the door shutting quietly behind him.

Ashton-Kirk sat down, as did his host. The latter fluttered the pages of
a great, uncouthly made book which lay before him; his yellow,
beautifully-shaped hands touched the leaves with careful gentleness; it
were as though the volume were a child which he was caressing.

"Again," said he, "I will tell you that I am greatly favored by your
coming. I had not hoped for so much when I wrote you, for I knew," and
here his voice grew even softer than before, "that your time was greatly
occupied just now."

"We all have our occupations," replied Ashton-Kirk, suavely, "but even
when one is interested, one can always find a little time to devote to
others."

"I suppose that is so," said Okiu, thoughtfully. "However, I who am a
mere idler, so to speak, know very little of the value of time. Day
after day, night after night, I spend wandering in the ancient gardens
of Nippon. There are no singers like these," and one pointed finger
indicated some shelves filled with books and scrolls; "there are no
written words quite so full of beauty."

"The poets of one's own nation are always the most touching," said
Ashton-Kirk. "This is especially so of the old poets. Sometimes we take
down a dusty, musty old fellow from a top shelf where he has long lain
neglected, and being in the humor for it, we are startled by the
sweetness of his vision. There is a fragrance about ancient memories
which is irresistible. The distance, perhaps, has something to do with
it. Yesterday has no perspective for the most of us; but 'yester year'
is deep with it, for all."

Okiu nodded.

"The ancient peoples had their prophets and their oracles," said he,
"and their gods spoke through them. But the shades of the old Nipponese
speak to me through the messages of the poets. The virtue of the dead is
here accumulated; the wisdom of my holy ancestors leaps up to me from
the pages of my books." Caressingly, the wonderful hands touched the
faded pages of the volume upon the table. "There are no thoughts so
reverent as these," he went on; "there are no gardens so still, so full
of quiet odors, so slumberous under the stars. And there is no moon so
silent, or so wan and soft in searching out the secret paths beneath
the flowering trees, where the shadows walk hand in hand."

"But," said Ashton-Kirk, "the great bulk of your countrymen have
forgotten these dreams of a past time. Modern progress seems to interest
them more than anything else."

Again the Japanese nodded.

"Progress was forced upon them," said he, and then with a smile, he
added: "It would be strange, would it not, if they should outstrip their
teachers?"

"It is a thing which has happened before now."

"Napoleon, I have read, once declined to molest the Chinese because he
feared to teach them his own great art, and so put the power in their
hands which might eventually crush him and his nation." Okiu laughed
softly, and his polished nails picked at the edges of the book. "The
Corsican, my friend, was not quite so venturesome as your merchants."

"Your history will point out to you the fact that soldiers are seldom so
daring as those in quest of trade. In most cases the trader is first
upon the ground; and the troops come later."

"In any event," replied Okiu, "your merchants desired the trade which
the Dutch possessed, and that desire, in the end, made Japan a nation to
be reckoned with. The more imitative the people, say your own
philosophers, the greater their future development. And no one,"
gently, "can say that my countrymen have not kept their eyes open."

Ashton-Kirk smiled.

"It is a way they have," said he. "And people who keep their eyes open
learn much."

"But not all," said Okiu. "The eyes will not tell us all." He arose and
walked to the window; the starlight was but dim, and there was no moon.
"Much as I might desire to see what is passing out there," said he,
after a moment, "I cannot do so. And it is so with other desires. Many
things which we might wish to know are hidden from us, some in one way,
some in another."

Ashton-Kirk said nothing in reply to this; there was a marked pause,
then the Japanese went on:

"The other night as I stood here, I saw----" he turned upon the secret
agent. "You recall what I told you?"

"Very clearly."

"I saw moving shadows, then I saw a man hurrying away. I should have
liked to have seen more, but I could not--and so I went to the house
over there to see what a closer look would do for me."

"And to tell Dr. Morse what you had seen."

"As you say, of course. And then I saw you--a friend of the family
of--was it two days' duration, or three?"

"Two only."

"Thank you."

Okiu looked out into the night; his arms were folded, his legs very wide
apart, his back turned toward the secret agent. Usually there is
something peculiarly disconcerting in a squarely turned back; it is so
blank, it tells so little. However, this was not so in the case of Okiu.
His bland, lineless face told nothing; whereas in his attitude there was
a purpose which Ashton-Kirk read easily. And, reading it, he looked
carefully but swiftly about the room.

The table was between himself and the closed door; a pair of heavy
curtains hung behind him. To all appearances these protected some open
book shelves, but a rapid swing of his light stick showed the secret
agent that their real purpose was to conceal a doorway. Calmly he sat
back in his chair, nursing his cane, his keen eyes upon the figure at
the window.

"I think," now resumed Okiu, "that I remarked at the time how short a
space there was between your forming the acquaintance of Dr. Morse and
his death. You meet him one night and he dies the next."

The tongue clicked against the roof of the mouth pityingly; it were as
though the coincidence excited his grief.

"I have always understood that you Americans were an impatient people.
You have the reputation, whether deserved or not, of forcing things
which do not happen as promptly as you would have them. This in itself
is an excellent trait at times, for it saves one from imposition of many
sorts. But it does not always serve." Here Okiu turned and faced the
secret agent. His face was as bland and meaningless as ever, and his
voice was low pitched and gentle, as he proceeded. "No," said he, "it
does not always serve. As it has resulted in this case, Dr. Morse is
dead, and you have not benefited in the least."

Ashton-Kirk looked at him with steady eyes; there was not the slightest
surprise in the secret agent's face, and his tone was unruffled as he
replied:

"I think I understand."

"I am quite sure that you do," replied Okiu, with equal suavity. He
resumed his seat at the table; and once more he began lovingly to
flutter the leaves of the ancient book. "That the methods pursued in
this case should be resorted to by a barbarous nation," said he, and a
gleam of mockery appeared in the slanting eyes, "would be the expected
thing; but that a Christian government should so stoop is something of a
surprise."

"Oh! You were surprised, then?"

"Only mildly. You see, I have been employed upon many international
occasions, and know the requirements of a secret agent. When the case
demands it, he does not hesitate. But," and here the smooth hands
gestured their disapproval, "this case did not demand it. Nothing was to
be gained by the mere death of this Englishman."

Ashton-Kirk nodded.

"In that," said he, "I agree with you."

"I do not know," continued Okiu, "what put you upon the scent, but that
a person possessing sufficient acumen to strike it at all should at the
same time be so great a bungler as to do that," and one leveled finger
indicated the Morse house, the lights of which could be seen through the
window, "astonishes me."

Ashton-Kirk bent the light cane into a bow across his knee; his
expression was that of a man waiting for an expected something to be
said or done. There was now a pause of some duration. Okiu studied the
man before him in the same impersonal fashion with which a man studies a
mounted insect, then he resumed:

"I have heard of you very favorably, and had counted upon one day having
the pleasure of testing myself against you; but now----" again the
remarkable hands gestured, this time to complete the sentence.

"I'm sorry you have been disappointed."

"You are not nearly so sorry as I, believe me." The heavy lids drooped
over the piercing eyes in a way which Ashton-Kirk had already come to
regard as a warning of something ulterior. "You have been searching the
house?" he asked.

Ashton-Kirk laughed lightly.

"Who has not?" he inquired.

Okiu joined in the laugh.

"It has all been labor wasted," said he. "Dr. Morse was not the man to
leave valuable property lying about." Again he regarded the secret agent
intently, and once more resumed: "I suppose by this time you have not so
much hope of coming on anything as you once had?"

Ashton-Kirk allowed the cane to spring back straight; with a look of
unconcern he made reply.

"On the contrary," said he, "I was never quite so sure as I am just
now."

Okiu stared, and then came slowly to his feet.

"You have found it?"

"No." And Ashton-Kirk yawned contentedly. "But I could place my hands in
a very few moments upon the person who has."

At this the palms of the Japanese came together softly.

"Why," said he, and his voice was full of gentle surprise, "perhaps I
have been mistaken in my opinion of you, after all."

"Perhaps," answered Ashton-Kirk.

But for all the secret agent's seeming ease of manner, at the soft slap
of the Oriental's hands, his every sense had grown alert; and now his
ear caught a rustling behind him which said plainly that some one had
stepped quietly into the room. An instant later, a peculiar, high scent
as of an Eastern oil reached his nostrils; and though he did not turn
his head, he knew that the newcomer was the wrestler, Sorakicha.



CHAPTER XVI

IN THE DARK


Though Ashton-Kirk was as sure Sorakicha stood behind him as he would
have been had his eyes rested upon him, he did not turn his head. The
man's entrance had been effected almost without sound; the rustling of
the curtains had been no louder than a lightly drawn breath.

"And now," reflected the secret agent, calmly, "he is waiting behind me
until he is told what to do. I trust that I shall be sufficiently
fortunate as to catch the signal."

But he continued to lounge back in his chair with crossed legs,
balancing the stick lightly between his fingers. Okiu stood regarding
him with careful attention.

"Yes," he continued, "I now see that it is probable that you are what I
have always understood you to be--a man of exceptional talents. No one,"
with a slow smile, "cares to admit that he is dull of perception, but I
confess, sir, that in this matter, in which I have been judging you, you
may have been more successful than I have imagined."

"It is more or less difficult to follow the workings of a mind, the
owner of which is not under one's immediate observation," returned
Ashton-Kirk, philosophically. "So, looking at the matter from that point
of view, you have nothing to chide yourself for."

But Okiu paid no attention to this; apparently he was grappling with a
more concrete matter.

"What you have said interests me," he said. "And so," putting his hands
upon the table, and leaning across to the other, "the paper has been
found?"

"You might call it finding it, if you were at loss for an expression,"
replied Ashton-Kirk. "Though on second thought, I confess I should apply
another term, myself."

"We will not discuss terms," said Okiu gently. "Let us call the matter
of getting the desired thing what you please; there are more important
matters to think about just now." He still bent forward, his hands
resting upon the table; his expressionless face was held close to that
of the secret agent. "And so," said he, "you could place your hand upon
the person who now has the paper, could you? That is interesting. And
still more interesting is the fact that you could do it in a very few
moments."

Ashton-Kirk nodded and smiled.

"It gives us all a certain satisfaction to learn that we are
interesting," said he. "This is so almost at any time. But at a moment
like this--when interest is created in a person who had utterly lost
confidence--it is doubly pleasing."

"Perhaps," said Okiu, and the purr in his low-pitched voice was more
pronounced than the secret agent had ever heard it before, "you have
occasion for satisfaction; and then perhaps you have not."

Ashton-Kirk met the black, heavy-lidded eyes squarely.

"Will you be more explicit?" he said.

"I can see no harm that it will do _now_," said the other, and the
secret agent quietly noted the emphasis which he laid upon the last
word. "So the facts are these. Though I regard you as a sort of fellow
workman, and though I have a very definite admiration for your talents,
still your interests are arrayed, so to speak, against mine; and this
being the case----"

[Illustration: THE GLITTERING EYES LIFTED]

Here he paused. The glittering eyes lifted and darted a look over
Ashton-Kirk's shoulder to the waiting Sorakicha. But even then the other
maintained his lounging attitude and his manner remained unruffled.

"Well?" said he, inquiringly.

"This being the case," said Okiu, smoothly, "I have thought it best
to----"

One of the supple hands began to rise; as it stirred, Ashton-Kirk
launched a kick at the table which threw it against the Oriental and
drove him back several steps. At the same instant as he delivered the
kick, the secret agent bent low and leaped forward. The great arms of
the wrestler closed above the chair upon empty space; then the light
cane swished through the air; the globes of the cluster of lights which
had hung over the table fell in a shower of fragments, and instantly the
room was plunged into darkness.

Softly, and with the catlike quickness of Sorakicha himself, the secret
agent gained the door. He had fixed its location in his mind, and so had
no trouble finding it in the dark. It opened as he turned the knob; the
hall too was dark, and he slipped into it, closing the door behind him.

Carefully, but with some speed, he passed along the hall, his hands
outstretched like the antennæ of an insect. From the room which he had
just left came the sounds of stumbling feet and the confused outcries of
angry men.

Just as the door was thrown open, Ashton-Kirk felt his hand touch the
stair-rail; and he softly descended as the feet of the two Japanese
sounded in the hall behind him. The lower hall was also dark; but
through a fanlight he caught the gleam of a street lamp.

"The front door," he told himself, as he carefully made his way toward
it. But it was fast. Up and down its edges ran his fingers; but there
was no bar, chain nor catch; the bolt of the lock was shot, and the key
had been removed. He turned with his back to the door and listened; the
Orientals were stealing down the stairs.

For the second time that night his hand went into the outside coat
pocket in search of the pistol. But, this time, when the hand slipped
from the pocket, the weapon came with it. Silently he stood there in the
shadows that lurked beneath the fanlight; the creeping sounds from the
staircase continued and then paused. There was complete silence.

"They are listening," was Ashton-Kirk's thought. "They think that the
fanlight may have attracted me, and desire to make sure."

At any moment he expected a flare of light, but none came; neither did
he hear any further sounds. He held the pistol hand close to his body,
the muzzle commanding the hall; the fact that ten grim, copper-clad
servants of death stood between him and his foes was reassuring, and he
continued to await the development of the situation.

For a long time there was silence; then he heard the creeping resumed;
his jaw tightened and his grip upon the pistol butt grew more rigid. But
another instant told him something else. The Japanese were not advancing
as he had expected; instead they were retreating along the upper hall.

"They have made up their minds to the situation," was Ashton-Kirk's
explanation. "And as facing a stream of bullets does not enter into
their calculations, they are about to try something else."

This latter, of course, would be based upon his remaining where he was;
and at once he took steps toward the confusion of things by also moving
along the hall in the same direction as the others. He had noticed upon
his entrance to the house that the hall was almost bare of furniture, so
there was small danger of his colliding with anything. Little by little
he went on; now and then he paused and listened intently. But there was
no sound, however slight. At length his hands touched a smooth surface.
It was a door; cautiously he turned the knob and opened it. The room
before him was as dark as the hall; and he halted with the door only a
few inches ajar, peering within.

"It's a room on the north side, and well toward the rear," passed
through his mind, "and it's only natural to suppose that there are
windows in it. The blinds must be tightly drawn, for I can't make out
even a glimmer of light."

He waited a little, his pistol held ready, then he stepped into the
room. The first thing that attracted him was a thin, bright line which
apparently lay upon the floor at his right. He studied this for a moment
and then it occurred to him what it was. There was a light in an
adjoining room, and the rays were seeping under the door. Again he
waited, and listened. It had been his purpose to locate a window,
unfasten it, and so make his way to the open air; but the light in the
room beyond indicated the presence of someone so close at hand as to
make this proceeding perilous.

But as no sound came from the lighted room, he made up his mind to
venture nearer. He had taken but one step, however, when a board creaked
behind him in the darkness. Poised for the next step he halted and again
stood listening. Nothing followed, and the breath slowly exhaled from
his lungs, his flexed muscles relaxed, and he settled back upon his feet
for another spell of silence. He had just about made up his mind that
the creak had been caused by himself, when he became aware of another
and barely discernible sound. It was soft and hissing, a sort of
rubbing, as though one smoothly-surfaced thing were drawn across
another. Like a flash the secret agent realized what it was. Some one
stood in the doorway with his hands outstretched, as his own had been,
and it was their contact with the door frame that made the sound.

Then there came a step, slow, careful, light; a pause followed and then
the unknown's breathing could be distinctly heard. Another step
followed, cautious, muffled, secret; and again came the pause.

The grip of the secret agent tightened upon the pistol; he faced about
softly to meet the newcomer, whom a few steps would bring to his side.

But now the steps ceased, and though he listened with eager ears,
Ashton-Kirk failed to note their resumption. This struck him as odd;
there had been no sound, nothing that could have startled the other into
a longer pause than formerly; and yet that he was standing stock-still
somewhere in the darkness was unquestionable. Then like lightning it
occurred to Ashton-Kirk why this was. Judging from the footfalls, he
stood between the unknown and the door under which crept the line of
light; and the break in this line, caused by his intervening feet, had
caught the other's attention.

Gradually the secret agent became aware of the unknown's breathing; at
first it was scarcely discernible, but little by little it grew in
rapidity and harshness; it became labored, straining and drawn with
increasing difficulty; as plainly as words could have done it, it spoke
of mounting excitement and a quickly forming purpose.

The automatic pistol began to lift--but too late. Like a wild beast the
unknown leaped through the darkness, and a pair of long powerful arms
enwrapped the secret agent. The pistol fell to the floor, and there
began a desperate struggle for the mastery. By a few swift twists and
the free use of his knee, Ashton-Kirk managed to free his arms which
had been pinioned at his sides; then he drove one elbow into his
opponent's neck, and they went reeling blindly about.

There was a moment of this, then the attack of the unknown abated; it
were as though he had felt his adversary out and found him rather more
than a match. And with this discovery came new tactics. Ashton-Kirk felt
the rugged grasp grow still slacker; one hand slipped away altogether.
This could mean only that it was feeling in unseen pockets for a weapon;
and upon this the secret agent began to fight silently, swiftly,
desperately.

A series of short jarring blows drove the other back; a short powerful
lock lifted him from his feet. But with a frenzied wrench the man broke
the hold, and as he did so they both fell with their full weight against
the door under which the light was shining. It gave way with a crash,
and a flood of illumination poured upon them.

And with the first flash of it, Ashton-Kirk saw a hand armed with a
"billy" lifted to strike him; and behind it was the white, desperate
face of the man who had followed him into the room--the face of Philip
Warwick. And as recognition came, the wrist bent with a quick practised
jerk, the leather-covered lead descended, and Ashton-Kirk fell prone
upon the floor.



CHAPTER XVII

THE SILHOUETTES


When one wakes from a heavy, unsatisfying sleep, it is with a vague
memory of flitting shadows, of empty spaces, of strange deeds and
peculiar sayings. There is also a painful sort of lethargy and an odd
sense of personal defeat which is peculiarly annoying.

It was with some such feeling as this that Ashton-Kirk opened his eyes.
The first person whom he saw was old Nanon, and she was bathing his head
with cold water. Near at hand stood Drevenoff; and seated by a table was
Stella Corbin.

"So," said the old servant in a gentle tone that he had not yet heard
her speak, "you are better."

The secret agent sat up; his head felt strangely light, and there was a
sharp, shooting pain across his scalp. But, for all, there was a smile
upon his face.

"I will not pattern by the young lady in the novel or the play and
inquire where I am," said he. "But I _will_ ask," and he looked from one
to the other, "how I happened to get here."

The old woman gestured toward the Pole.

"Drevenoff found you lying upon the back lawn, unconscious, less than a
quarter of an hour ago," she said.

The young man nodded.

"I did not recognize you at first," said he; "I thought it was some one
who had wandered in and fallen there. But when Nanon came with the
light, we knew you at once."

"And a good thing it was that he came upon you," said the old servant,
shaking her gray head. "You might have bled to death."

There was a moment's silence; then Drevenoff asked, curiously:

"What happened to you?--and how did you come to this?"

The secret agent smiled.

"I was making a call," said he, "and my presence was evidently not
altogether appreciated."

Though they waited for more, still he stopped at that; and raising his
hand he felt of a wet bandage which was drawn tightly about his head.
Stella Corbin during the above had sat quite still; her dark eyes were
fixed steadily upon him; their expression was strange and full of
speculation.

"It is queer how things chance at times," spoke Drevenoff, addressing
Nanon. "If Miss Corbin had not asked me to go to the city for her
to-night, I should not have gone out; and if I had not gone out, I
should not have found him."

But the old woman paid no attention to the latter part of his speech.
She gazed at him for a moment: then her eyes shifted to the girl.

"You are sending him to the city, then?" she said.

"Yes," answered Stella Corbin.

"Why?"

At this question the girl appeared to stiffen; it seemed as though a
curt rejoinder was upon her tongue. But, then, she changed her mind.

"There is an errand that I desired him to do," she replied, meekly
enough.

The gray eyes searched her face from beneath the craggy brows; the thin
lips were set in their hard, straight line.

"There will be no more trains back to-night," she said. "He cannot
return before morning."

"I know," replied the girl.

"Can the matter not wait until then?"

Stella Corbin arose.

"That I wish him to go to-night should be enough," she said, coldly.
Then turning to the young Pole, she added, "You remember my
instructions?"

"Yes, Miss Corbin."

"Then go at once; the train will reach here before many more minutes,
and you must not miss it."

Drevenoff took his hat and went out without any further words. And as
the door closed after him, Ashton-Kirk arose, rather unsteadily.

"If that is the last train to the city," he said to Stella, "I fear that
I, also, must make it."

The girl inclined her head ever so little, but said nothing. However,
the old servant spoke.

"It is a good walk to the station," she said, "and hurt as you are you
could not get there in time. Another thing, it is much better that you
should rest for a little. To exert yourself now might start your wound
bleeding once more, as I have not yet properly bandaged it."

"You may be right," said the secret agent, and his eyes sought those of
the girl. But if he expected her to agree with the old servant he was
much mistaken; her face was set, and rather pale; her hands, as she
trifled with a brooch at her throat, trembled.

There was a pause; then, as she did not speak, the old servant, who had
been watching her fixedly, said:

"Miss Corbin will be pleased to have you stay until morning, of course."

Still the girl's expression did not change, and still she said nothing.

"In that case," said Ashton-Kirk, quietly, "I will venture to trespass
upon her kindness. I confess that I feel somewhat shaky, and a night's
rest may help me wonderfully."

"It will," said Nanon, but never taking her eyes from the girl's face;
"sleep brings the strength back to one. And then," her tone changing,
"it will be so much safer to have a man about the place--even though a
sick one. Now that Drevenoff is gone for the night, we should have been
alone."

Again there was a pause; then:

"I dare say we should have managed," said Stella. Her manner had
suddenly changed, and her tone was even light; she smiled as she turned
to Ashton-Kirk and added: "Of course we must not turn you away; and you
are very welcome indeed. Please do not think me strange; but so many
things have happened of late that I am not altogether myself." Here she
turned to old Nanon, the smile upon her white face forced and pathetic.
"Of course we should need a protector. I had not thought of that. But
you, Nanon," and the look in the great, dark eyes was unfathomable, "you
think of everything."

"It is not that," replied the servant woman, meaningly. "It is that I do
not forget."

The eyes of the two were fixed upon and held each other steadily for a
moment; and Ashton-Kirk, as he sat and quietly watched, smiled and
seemed to fall to pondering.

After a few more remarks of a general and impersonal nature addressed to
the secret agent, Miss Corbin left the room; old Nanon stood for some
moments gazing at the closed door through which the girl had passed;
then she turned to the table and began stripping up some bandages and
preparing a lotion for the guest's wounded head.

"You are not to think her strange," she said in a low tone, "because so
many things have happened of late that she is not herself." The keen old
eyes turned on Ashton-Kirk a look of significance, and she nodded her
head. "Many things _have_ happened of late," she commented; "so many
that I have often wondered if there were not more of them than I have
seen. And who knows if she is now herself, or no? Indeed, perhaps I now
see her true self for the first time."

She removed the wet pack from his head and carefully cleaned the wound.

"It is not more than a deep scratch," she said, "but it bled a great
deal, and so weakened you. To-morrow it may feel stiff, and you may have
a headache; but that will be all."

Quickly, and with admirable skill, she put the bandages in place. When
it was done he surveyed himself ruefully in a mirror.

"With that," remarked he, "there is nothing left for me but my room. So
if you will show me there, I shall be obliged to you."

She led the way to the stairs, opened a door upon the second floor and
then halted.

"I beg your pardon, sir," she said, "but I shall have to go for a match.
I can never remember."

He produced a metal safe and struck a match. She took it from him, and
entering the room, turned on and lighted the gas.

"There is no wiring above the first floor," she said, in explanation;
"and I find it confusing at times." She went from one thing to another,
seeing that all was right "The room is small," she continued, "but I
think you will find it comfortable. And right behind it," opening
another door, "there is another room, sir, with fine large windows in
case this should get too stuffy for you in the night. You can open the
door and the back window, and so get plenty of air and no direct
draught."

Ashton-Kirk thanked her and she went out. He took off his coat, sat down
in a big cane chair and leaned his wounded head against a cushion.

"Rather a night," said he to himself. "Things seem to have crowded upon
me in a rather unexpected sort of a way. And this knock on the head has
not just helped to make it all clear, either."

The events of the night, from the moment he rang the bell at Okiu's
house, began to pass through his mind in a sort of review; then, little
by little, they grew hazy and indistinct; one seemed to melt into
another in an unnaturally complete and satisfactory manner, and he
found himself accepting weird conclusions with the cheerful ease of a
man falling asleep.

He may have remained so in the chair for an hour; it may have been
longer. At any rate he awoke at last with his head throbbing painfully.
He sat for some moments gazing at the flaring gaslight; then he heard a
clock from somewhere in the house strike once. He glanced at his watch.

"One-thirty," he said. "Phew! I've got a long night to put in."

He got up and looked at the bed. But there was nothing inviting about
it; all desire for sleep seemed to have deserted him. As Nanon had
suggested, the room _had_ grown stuffy; and so he passed into the rear
apartment and lifted the window. The stars still burnt palely in the sky
as they had some hours before when he looked at them from the window of
Okiu's house; small, swift-moving clouds were shifting across their
faces; and all about was dark and still and mysterious.

But the night air was cool and he stood drinking it in for a time, and
gazing down toward the dark loom made by the house of the Japanese at
the far end of the open space. No light, no movement came from that
direction. It was for all the world like a place deserted.

At this thought the secret agent smiled.

"That is the second time I've thought that same thing to-night. But not
a great deal of movement or light is to be expected of any dwelling at
this hour," he said to himself. "However, I should not be surprised if
deserted were now the right word, after all."

He had closed the door leading into the bedroom, and so all was darkness
in the apartment in which he stood. The quiet pleased him, and the cool
air felt grateful upon his aching head and so he remained at the window
for some time.

Then, suddenly, there came something like a dim burst of light. An
instant served to show him its nature; upon the lawn was sharply
silhouetted the outline of a window, with a blind but a few inches
drawn.

"Some one in the hall," he said to himself, "and he has lighted the
gas."

Curiously he gazed at the illuminated square upon the grass below; the
sash and even the swinging cord of the blind were sharply outlined. But,
as he looked, a figure partially filled in the square--the figure of a
woman, small, delicate and exceedingly graceful, her back was,
apparently, turned to the window, and she was waving one hand in a
beckoning motion as though to some one further along the hall. Then a
second figure appeared, and the two silhouetted heads bent together in
earnest conference.

"So!" said Ashton-Kirk, softly. "I understood that with Drevenoff gone
to the city I was the only man in the house. But I see now that there
was a mistake somewhere.



CHAPTER XVIII

GONE!


The words of old Nanon, spoken only a few hours before, came back to
Ashton-Kirk.

"It will be so much safer to have a man about the place, even though a
sick one," she had said. "Now that Drevenoff is gone for the night, we
should have been alone."

The two shadows remained with heads held close together for some little
time. It was plain to be seen that the woman was doing the greater part
of the talking; the man gestured now and then as though in protest.

"She is urging him to something which he does not fancy," thought the
secret agent, his keen eyes not missing a movement. "And, as his denials
constantly grow fainter, and her urging more insistent, I think she will
finally have her way."

Fancifully the two silhouettes went through their parts within the
lighted square as cast by the gaslight upon the lawn. The woman pleaded
and demanded; the man resisted with wide gestures and violently shaken
head.

But, as the secret agent had told himself, the woman proved herself the
stronger in the end. Sharp, imperious, even threatening grew her
manner; and the man's protests died, his head ceased to shake, until
finally his gestures were inquiring only, as of one who consents and
desires only to know the best way of going about the matter in hand.

At this stage the shadow of the woman became still for the first time
since it had appeared. It were as though she were endeavoring to recall
something, or devise a plan. Then with an impatient gesture she snatched
at a hand-bag which hung upon her arm and seemed about to open it. But
with a contemptuous sweep of the hand the man waved it aside.

Again the two began their mute debate. This time it was the man who took
the initiative; she had failed when she came to the carrying out of what
she desired; apparently she had no clear conception of the thing she
wanted done, and he was reproaching her for it.

But in the midst of this she stopped him. Her hand darted out, and from
the wall she drew something, the shadow of which was so fine that
Ashton-Kirk could not, at first, even guess as to its nature. But the
way it swung out at her touch finally gave him a clue.

"A folding gas fixture," said he, softly.

Once more the girl took the aggressive; she gestured sharply and
indicated frequently a point upon her left, some distance along the
hall, and apparently a little above her head. The silhouette of the man
remained motionless; what he heard was evidently bearing in upon him;
his whole attitude seemed to say: "Here at last is something worth
consideration."

Then there was a pause; the woman also became still; it were as though
the two were measuring each other's strength. At length the man stepped
toward the gas fixture, the woman drew back, and as she did so her hands
went to her face as though she would shut out something repellent. With
a handkerchief, the man brushed away any possible dust from the
gas-burner; then he reached toward where the valve should be, and the
half twist of his hand indicated that he had turned on the gas.

Then the man seemed to be gathering himself for an effort; he applied
his lips to the burner and remained motionless and tense; suddenly the
picture upon the lawn dimmed and then vanished entirely.

For an instant Ashton-Kirk remained looking out upon the now inky night;
if one could have observed his face, a smile would have been seen; but a
smile that would not have been an altogether pleasant one.

"It is not the most comforting thing in the world," he mused, "to have
one person beckon another along a deserted hall in the small hours of
the morning, have the couple pause almost outside one's door and then
confer as to the most effective means of taking one's life. And that the
one--a woman--should be so urgent in the matter is particularly
distressing." He turned from the window and faced toward the closed door
of his bedroom. "And a ready-witted young lady she is," he went on. "How
very quick she was to note that the gas was burning in my room; and what
an instant and murderous idea at once took possession of her. To blow
into an open gas-burner means that every jet upon the same line of pipe
will go out as soon as the injected air instead of the gas begins to
flow through the burners. About now I shall find the light out in my
room and," here he opened the bedroom door, saw that it was in complete
darkness and stood sniffing the air upon the threshold, "yes, the gas is
pouring from the open burner. If I had been asleep----"

The apartment was thick with the overpowering fumes; he softly raised
the windows and closed the valve. It would have seemed natural for a man
so circumstanced to have taken some steps to identify and apprehend
those who have made so murderous an attempt; but if this thought
occurred to Ashton-Kirk he made no attempt to carry it out. However,
another idea occurred to him.

"The old woman said that there were nothing but gaslights above the
first floor. If another jet should be open in an occupied bedroom, there
is still danger of a life being taken."

With this in his mind he pulled on his coat and opened the hall door.
There were no fumes in the hall, and this showed that the burners here
had been closed before the two had stolen away. He took out a match and
was feeling for the nearest of the hall jets when a sound from the lower
floor reached him. It was a continued, grating sort of noise, as though
a cautious person were drawing a refractory bolt. He paused, his groping
hand still outstretched, and listened with attention. The subdued
squeaking ceased, there was a pause, then the street door opened and
closed. He took a step or two toward the main staircase, and again he
halted. Another sound came from below, the distinct, heavy sounds of
falling objects striking the floor. Then came a shrill cry.

Like a shadow he slipped along the intervening space, and down the
stairs. The lower hall was also dark; but there was a light in the
library, and he gained the door at a bound.

Old Nanon, dressed as he had seen her when she showed him to his room,
stood in the center of the library. In her hand she held a large brass
candlestick; scattered upon the floor were a number of articles of
bric-à-brac which had apparently rested upon a shelf at one side.

Slowly the woman turned her gaze from the candlestick to the secret
agent; her face was rigid and a yellowish white; the gray eyes were hard
as flint.

"Ah, it is you," she said in a sort of subdued monotone. "I had
forgotten about you."

"What has happened?" asked Ashton-Kirk.

The eyes of the servant woman once more returned to the candlestick, but
she made no answer.

"I heard some one cry out," said the secret agent, his glance going
about the room in its searching way.

Nanon nodded her head.

"Yes," she returned, "you heard some one cry out. It was I."

"What has occurred?"

Once more the stern old eyes sought his face; and she said:

"She has gone."

"Who has gone?"

"Miss Stella."

Ashton-Kirk thought of the creaking bolt and the closing street door;
and his voice was pitched sharply when he again asked the question:

"What has occurred?"

The old servant placed the brass candlestick upon one of the desks; she
rubbed her hands secretively with a corner of her apron while she said:

"I have told you what I fear; I have been as plain as one can be who has
no proof. And as the hours passed I have grown more and more suspicious.
Not one movement did this girl make that my eyes were not on her; not
one word did she speak that I was not seeking behind it for some hidden
meaning.

"To-night, as you know, she sent Drevenoff to the city. It was something
of which I had heard nothing until the young man spoke. What was this
urgent thing that could not wait until morning? Why would not the
telephone or telegraph do as well as a messenger? I did not understand
it. And then she did not care to have you stay here to-night; that was
very plain--you must have noticed it."

Ashton-Kirk nodded.

"Go on," said he.

"It does not need a great deal to make me suspicious," resumed the old
woman; "and her manner to-night aroused me to wonder if there were not
something afoot of which I knew nothing. So when I went to my room I put
out the light, left the door ajar and sat listening. After a long time I
knew there was a light in the hall below; I stole out and bent over the
rail and listened. There was whispering, but I could catch no words.
Then I heard some one descending the lower staircase; and so I stole
down to the second floor. From the head of the stairs I watched once
more; then I saw the light go up here in the library.

"I had already started to descend when Miss Stella appeared in the
library doorway--and in her hand she held," the speaker pointed at the
desk, "that candlestick."

Here the old woman paused; and the secret agent, watching her face, saw
the yellowish white change to gray.

"Well?" said he.

"She looked along the hall as if afraid of being seen," said the woman;
"and all the time her fingers were picking--picking at something in the
socket of the candlestick. She was just turning back into the room when
she drew something out, looked at it and hid it in her glove. Then the
light went out and I heard the bolt being drawn. I rushed down the
stairs, but I was too late. The door opened and closed; I turned on the
lights, but she was gone."

For a moment Ashton-Kirk stood studying the woman's face; then he
stepped quickly to the desk and took up the candlestick. Something in
the deep socket of this seemed to attract him and he turned on more
lights. Under a cluster of incandescents he bent over the candlestick
and examined it minutely; then the magnifying lens came into play as it
had upon the broken knob of the highboy. One glance through this and he
sprang to the street door. The next instant a piercing whistle shattered
the quiet of Fordham Road.



CHAPTER XIX

THE TAXI-CAB


For a few moments after the shrill blast of the whistle filled the
suburban street, the secret agent waited upon the door-step. Then a
thought seemed to occur to him, and with an angry exclamation he went
quickly in and closed the door.

In a moment he was at the telephone, and stood with impatiently tapping
foot until he was connected with the number called for; then the sleepy,
dry voice of Fuller said complainingly in his ear:

"Hello, who is it?"

The secret agent made reply; and the aide's voice, now containing an
eager note, demanded:

"What's up?"

"Get O'Neill at once. It's too late for a train, but call Dixon to get
out the car in a hurry. Then come to Morse's, Fordham Road, with all the
speed you can."

"All right," replied Fuller. "I'll get Dixon first, and have O'Neill
ready when the machine arrives."

Ashton-Kirk hung up, and then turned to Nanon, who stood but a few
yards away, still nervously rubbing her hands with the corner of her
apron.

"You saw no one but Miss Corbin a while ago?" he asked.

"No," answered the woman.

"You are sure of that?" His singular eyes searched her face, but she met
the look without flinching.

"I am sure," she said. There was a silence; Ashton-Kirk then walked down
the hall toward the library door; and as he reached it, he felt her hand
touch his shoulder. "You did not see any one?" she asked.

He paused, and turned his head.

"What would you say if I answered--yes?"

The sharp old eyes wavered; she swallowed once or twice spasmodically.

"You did see some one," she said. Then with intense eagerness: "It was
not a man?"

He was about to reply when there came heavy footsteps upon the porch and
then a loud peal at the bell. Ashton-Kirk smiled.

"A policeman, no doubt," said he. "Let him in."

The woman opened the street door; the hall lights shone upon the buttons
and shield of a patrolman.

"I heard the sound of a whistle," said he, with a rich Irish accent. "Is
anything the matter?"

Nanon looked toward Ashton-Kirk as though expecting him to answer; he
came forward.

"How are you?" said he. "Will you come in?"

The policeman did so. He was a huge-chested and heavy-limbed fellow, and
had a head of fiery red hair. He surveyed Ashton-Kirk with a grin upon
his good-natured face.

"Oh, hello," said he. "So it's you, is it? I noticed you the other day
with Osborne while I was keeping the gate, outside."

"Sure enough," said the secret agent; "so you were."

"I was on the corner beyant, there," went on the red-haired giant, "and
divil the thing was I expecting when the blast of the whistle struck me
two ears. Sure, there's seldom anything happens in the place; it's like
a graveyard, faith; and to have a thing like that go off all of a sudden
fair took my breath."

"It was a call for a man whom I thought was close by," explained the
secret agent, as the old woman left them together in the library.

The policeman winked with much elaboration.

"I see, I see," said he. "A friend wid a good eye and a careful manner.
Sure, it's meself who's seen him often enough of late; but I thought he
was a headquarters man put here by Osborne."

Ashton-Kirk regarded him thoughtfully.

"You say you were standing on the corner when you heard the whistle,"
said he.

"There do be a convenient doorway there," smiled the policeman, "and
it's often enough I stop there. Sorra the bit of use is there to go
pounding about the edges of such a beat as this. A man might as well
make himself quiet and easy."

"How long were you there to-night?"

The policeman considered.

"The best part of a half hour," he ventured, at last.

"Did you notice any one go by in that time?"

"There was one postman," said the officer, "a couple of milkmen going to
the depot, McGlone's barkeeper on his way to open up for the early
gas-house trade--and--yes, there was a girl."

"What sort of a girl?"

"Rather a nice sort--dressed well and wearing a veil. And it's a hurry
she was in, for she turned the corner almost at a run."

"In what direction did she go?"

"Toward Berkley Street."

"It is not likely that you paid any further attention to her?"

"Well," replied the red-haired policeman, "maybe at any other time I
wouldn't have. But you see, I had my old pipe going in a comfortable
kind of a way, and was rather wide awake. Then, the queerness of the
hour, and the hurry she was in, made me step out of the doorway and gaze
after her."

"I see," said Ashton-Kirk.

"When she got to the corner of Berkley Street, she stopped for a bit,
just as a body will who is not just sure of what they are going to do
next. And from the way she looked, this way and that, I got the notion
into me head that she might be expecting somebody."

"Ah! And did it turn out so?"

The man shook his head.

"Sure, I dunno," said he. "But no one come along while she stood there,
anyway. She stopped for only a little, though; then she went on up
Berkley Street."

"Up Berkley Street? Do you mean north on Berkley?"

"I see you do be very exact," grinned the good-natured giant. "Yes; it
was north she went."

"Humph! South on Fordham Road, and north on Berkley Street. That seems
rather queer."

The policeman looked at him curiously.

"What makes you think so?" asked he.

"Of course she may have changed her mind while she stood on the corner,"
said Ashton-Kirk. "But it is scarcely likely. Her movements were not
left to chance." He paused and then asked:

"If a person goes south on Fordham Road, crosses to Berkley, which is a
parallel street, and then proceeds north, what does it mean?"

The policeman pondered the matter deeply; then a light appeared upon his
face.

"I get you," he said. "The woman was for stoppin' somewhere on Berkley
Street. That's certain. If she were not, she'd have gone north be
Fordham Road and so saved herself the walk av a full block."

The two remained in conversation for some time; but the policeman had
nothing more of an interesting nature to impart. After about half an
hour he went away, and Ashton-Kirk began to prowl from room to room on
the lower floor; though he passed old Nanon frequently, as she sat under
a light, her lips muttering over a book of fine print, she did not speak
to him. Indeed, she scarcely once lifted her eyes. If the secret agent
discovered anything in his mousing about he made no sign; and when there
came the strident hoot of a siren in the street, he threw open the door.

"This way, O'Neill," he called.

A smoothly-shaven man of middle age came up the walk and stepped upon
the porch.

"How do you do?" said he; then his voice pitched two tones higher as he
added: "Good heavens! What's the matter with your head?"

"A little affair in the next street," said Ashton-Kirk. "It is of no
great consequence, so we'll not speak of it. I want you to stay here and
keep track of everything that goes on; you will be relieved before noon
to-morrow."

"Very good," said the smooth-faced man as the other led him through the
hall.

"This man," said Ashton-Kirk to the old servant as they came upon her,
still poring over the book, "will remain here to see that everything is
well while I am gone."

She merely glanced at O'Neill, and then nodded; bending close over the
book, one gaunt finger following each line of the tiny type, she went on
reading and muttering in a husked sort of way that made the newcomer
stare.

"Rather a queer old party, I take it," he said, as he followed his
employer to the street door.

"Yes; but then," and there was a frankly baffled look in the secret
agent's eyes, "all the people in this house appear to be of that kind. I
fancied that I had them pretty well gauged; but now I'm beginning to
find out that I've been somewhat off the track."

With this he hurried out to the car and gave a quick order to the
chauffeur. Fuller, who sat with upturned collar and down-pulled hat,
exclaimed solicitously at the sight of the bandaged head, and the
investigator in as few words as possible told him what had happened.
The eyes of the aide grew round with amazement.

"Warwick!" he cried. "Well, now that's one ahead of me. I've felt
convinced from the first, as you know, that he had a good bit to do with
this affair; but I wasn't sure that he was connected with the Jap. And
so he is back, eh?" with a knowing nod. "Back and crawling about in the
dark, knocking people on the head."

At a word from Ashton-Kirk the driver halted the car at the corner of
Berkley Street.

"And this is where Miss Corbin stood, as the policeman told you," said
Fuller, looking about. "And then she went northward--northward," with
much significance in his tone, "toward Okiu's place."

His employer was looking about, and said nothing in reply; so Fuller
went on:

"And what we sought for was hidden in the socket of one of those
candlesticks all the time, and----" here he halted and his hand slapped
sharply upon his knee. "But no! By Jove, it was not, for I distinctly
recall that you examined all the candlesticks very carefully on the
night of the murder."

Ashton-Kirk nodded rather absently; his eyes were traveling the length
of Berkley Street.

"Then," cried Fuller, "the paper was placed there since that night. The
murderer, fearing to keep it in his or her possession, placed it in one
of the candlesticks, knowing very well that they must have been already
searched, and feeling that they would not be molested again. You said
you were sure that none of those who sought the document had found it,"
he continued, "but it seems that in this you were mistaken. Unless," as
though a fresh idea had come to him, "it should turn out that, after
all, it was not the state paper which Miss Corbin took."

But Ashton-Kirk shook his head.

"I wish I could think so," said he, gravely. "If I could, I should not
at this moment be classing myself as a blithering idiot."

"I hardly think I understand," said Fuller.

"Not many hours ago," said Ashton-Kirk, "I told Okiu that I could place
my hands upon the person who was possessed of the paper. And to have
found the assassin of Dr. Morse would have been no more difficult.
Well," somewhat bitterly, "if I had taken a leaf from Osborne's book,
and done these things when they became plain to me, I would not at this
stage of the affair be circling about like a hound that's lost the
scent."

"I see what you mean," said Fuller, "and I scarcely think you could have
acted otherwise than you have. The entire Morse household is so
entangled in this matter that it _was_ the best plan to arrest no one
until you had learned the extent of the guilt or innocence of all."

"That was my idea, of course," said the investigator. "But I am not sure
that it was not entirely the idea of a gambler, too confident of his
luck. I fancy that I allowed the stake to lie too long upon the board;
and now I find myself in a fair way to lose it entirely."

"But," and Fuller came back to the idea which he had expressed a few
moments before, "are you quite confident that the object Miss Corbin
took from the candlestick was----"

But the other stopped him.

"I have very excellent reasons for being confident. Listen to me." His
gaze was still searching the street before them, but the brain behind
the eyes seemed to be not at all concerned with what he saw. "Colonel
Drevenoff, the commander of the regiment in which Dr. Morse served
during the Russo-Japanese war, was a Pole. Most Poles are Roman
Catholics. Drevenoff was one, and he wore the scapular."

"Ah," said Fuller, a light beginning to come into his eyes.

"The paper for which we are searching----" here Ashton-Kirk seemed to
hesitate.

"And which Colonel Drevenoff stole from the Russian secret embassy,"
suggested Fuller.

"We are not at all assured that he did so," returned Ashton-Kirk.
"However, it was in his possession, no matter how it came there; and he
had reasons for desiring to conceal it. The scapular which hung about
his neck was a most likely place for this, being but several thicknesses
of cloth stitched together. He cut some of these stitches, laid the
paper between the layers of cloth and sewed them together once more."

"And," said Fuller, excitedly, "when he came to give the paper to Dr.
Morse, he gave the emblem and all."

"Exactly. And judging from Dr. Morse's lack of light afterward, the
elder Drevenoff said nothing about the paper itself. Of course he had an
object in entrusting the scapular to the Englishman; this was,
doubtless, that it be handed on to some third person, unknown to us.

"Then the Japanese government somehow got wind of the matter; and Okiu,
their most acute agent, was assigned to secure the document. Like most
artists, Okiu believes, so it seems, in preparing his material before he
sets about using it; and this process in his hands has had a peculiarly
Oriental tinge. True to his racial instinct his methods took an
insidious, indirect form, a sort of preliminary torture, as it were, and
this accounts for the series of enigmatic sketches with which Dr. Morse
was persecuted during the last weeks of his life."

"But," said Fuller, somewhat at loss, "just how does all this assure you
that Miss Corbin now has the paper?"

"I am coming to that," said Ashton-Kirk. "You recall, I suppose, what I
told you regarding the scapulars, their different origins, devices and
colors."

"Yes."

"There is one made of scarlet cloth--the 'Scapular of the Passion.' This
is the one affected by Colonel Drevenoff; for it was one of this type
which Miss Corbin took from its hiding-place. My lens showed me some
fine scarlet strands adhering to some fragments of wax at the mouth of
the candlestick; and as if this were not enough, I also saw the
impression of a row of stitching, such as runs along the scapular's
edge, upon a deposit of wax at the bottom of the socket."

"It seems incredible to me," said Fuller, "that a girl of Miss Corbin's
sort should have a hand in an affair like this. But then," with a shake
of the head, "I suppose her love for this fellow Warwick accounts for
it. Many a man has been ruined by love of an unworthy woman, and many a
woman, no doubt, by love of an unworthy man."

But to all appearances the secret agent did not follow these moralizings
with any great attention. The big lamps upon the car threw their long
white rays along Berkley Street; and while his mind was apparently
engaged upon other things, the eyes of Ashton-Kirk followed the stretch
of illuminated space to the end. Now he got out, and said to the
chauffeur:

"Move ahead very slowly."

With eyes fixed upon the dusty asphalt, the secret agent walked ahead of
the car. The lights of the latter threw everything they fell upon into
sharp relief. At the curb before Okiu's house, Ashton-Kirk held up his
hand, and the car halted.

"What is it?" asked Fuller.

"I caught the tire tracks of another car below there; they were so clear
and uncut by other marks that I fancied that they might have been made
late at night."

"Do you now think they were?"

"I can't say. But they lead up to this point. A halt was made, then the
machine turned and doubled on its tracks."

Some distance up the street on the opposite side, a flare of red and
green light caught the speaker's attention. It came from a drug store,
and with Fuller he crossed the street and entered. A white-jacketed
clerk stood behind a marble covered counter, and served them with the
cigars which they asked for. Ashton-Kirk lighted his at a swinging gas
flame near the door and drew at it with enjoyment.

"Rather out of the way for an all-night place, isn't it?" he asked

The clerk shrugged his shoulders.

"It's not a big payer after about nine o'clock," said he. "But you see,
it is one of a chain of stores, and the company's policy is to keep open
all the time."

"I see."

"We do some business by not closing, but not enough to shatter any
records. This isn't the swiftest place on earth, you know."

"I suppose not."

"Your car will make some talk to-morrow," smiled the clerk. "They'll all
be wondering who was up at such an hour as this. And those who heard you
will feel that they have something on those who did not."

"I shall be a thrilling sort of a person, then," smiled Ashton-Kirk. "I
suppose," after a moment, "that you do not have many automobiles pass
through Eastbury at night?"

"Not after early evening. But yours is the second to-night--or rather
this morning," with a look at the clock.

Fuller darted a rapid glance at the secret agent; but the latter
displayed no eagerness. Placing his cigar upon the edge of the counter,
he began carefully rearranging a frayed end of the bandage about his
head.

"Two, eh?" was all he said.

"I didn't see the other myself," said the drug clerk. "But _it_ stopped
over at the Japanese, too, so old Patterson, the watchman, told me. That
was a couple of hours ago."

Ashton-Kirk had finished with the bandage and surveyed it, in a mirror,
with an air of satisfaction. Then taking up his cigar once more, he
remarked:

"Stopped there, too, did it? Humph! I wonder if any one got in?"

"Patterson said there were two persons came out of the house, but only
Mr. Okiu got into the taxi. The other one walked up the street. But,"
and the clerk wagged his head in humorous appreciation, "that's not the
funny part of the thing."

"No?"

"It was the girl," said the clerk, a broad smile upon his face.

Again Fuller darted the inquiring look at the secret agent; but even at
this he did not display any indications of marked interest.

"There was a girl, was there?" was all Ashton-Kirk said.

The clerk nodded.

"Patterson is a funny old scout, there's no use talking," said he.
"He's got such a comic way of looking at things. And where he gets all
his expressions is more than I can say."

"I'd like to hear him tell about it," said Ashton-Kirk.

"He's taking a sleep in the back room," said the clerk, with a wink.
"I'll try and get him out."

He disappeared and in a few moments returned, followed by a short,
ruddy-faced old man with a short-clipped white moustache.

"Oh, the Jap and the taxi," said he, when the matter was explained to
him. "Yes, that was a queer kind of a little thing." He looked at the
secret agent in a knowing sort of way, and then proceeded: "You can't
keep track of everybody, no matter how hard you try. I've been noticing
that Jap, because he _was_ a Jap, ever since he came into this
neighborhood, but I never give him credit for this."

"Have a cigar?" suggested Ashton-Kirk.

The private watchman bit the end off the cigar and lit it with much
care.

"I smoke a pipe most of the time," said he, "but I like a cigar once in
a while." He puffed it into a glow, and then went on: "That taxi
to-night turns around and starts down the street and around the corner
toward Fordham Road. And just as it turns the corner I notices a chicken
standing there--regular broiler with a veil on and a little bag in her
mit. She starts up Berkley toward where I'm standing, but before she
gets half-way I heard the buzzing of the taxi once more; around it came
again into Berkley and shot up to the curb abreast of the girl.

"She stopped like a flash, the Jap threw open the door, and she gave a
little yelp as though she was just about as glad as she'd ever been in
her life. Then she jumped into the taxi, the door shut and around the
corner it whirled and was gone. There's no use talking," said the
speaker and he shook his head in a way that convulsed the drug clerk,
"you can't never tell anything about human nature."

Ashton-Kirk buttoned up his coat.

"In that," said he, "I thoroughly agree with you. Human nature is a
thing which we can base little upon with safety." Then to Fuller he
added: "Come! I think we have some work ahead of us."



CHAPTER XX

FRESH DEVELOPMENTS


On the following morning Ashton-Kirk entered his study; a few moments
later Stumph followed him, bearing a cup of coffee. And while his
employer sipped this, Stumph gravely remonstrated.

"You should not work. You have had too little sleep."

"Has Purvis come in?" asked the other, heedlessly.

"Yes, he is waiting." Then, not to be deterred, the man added, glancing
at the patch of white plaster which covered the wound on his employer's
head: "You will be ill--you should rest."

"There is work which must be done," smiled Ashton-Kirk. "You don't
always lay up yourself, Stumph, when you are out of sorts."

"No, sir," replied the man, gravely, "but this----"

"Ask Purvis to come in."

A few moments later a young man with a prominent nose and a long chin
came into the room.

"Good morning," said he. "I understand from Fuller that you wanted me
last night."

"It did not matter, as things turned out."

"My orders," said Purvis, "were to follow any of the household. When
Drevenoff left the place I got after him according to instructions.
But," with a disgusted air, "would you believe it?--I lost him."

If Ashton-Kirk was annoyed at this, he did not show it.

"How was that?" he inquired.

"He boarded the train at Eastbury," explained Purvis, "and I did the
same. For the life of me I don't know how he did it, for I thought I had
my eye on him all along; but when the train reached the city, he was not
on it. Perhaps he noticed me and took a desperate chance while the train
was moving."

"O'Neill is at the Fordham Road house," said Ashton-Kirk. "I want you to
relieve him at noon."

"Very good," said Purvis. "Any instructions?"

"Nothing more than that you are to keep track of anything that may
happen. O'Neill is to relieve you again at midnight."

When Purvis had taken his leave, Ashton-Kirk rang for Fuller. That young
man entered; in spite of his loss of sleep he looked as brisk as ever.

"What about the motor cab?" asked the secret agent.

"I looked up the various stations. The nearest to Okiu's house is on
Collingwood Avenue. I called them on the telephone, but could get no
satisfaction. Then I paid them a visit, with better results. Okiu called
a cab about midnight. Its driver's name is Freeman, and he lives on
Nineteenth Street. Having gone off duty I thought he would probably be
at his boarding-house; so I went there and was lucky enough to find him
at home.

"Yes, he recalled the trip to Eastbury, and remembered perfectly that he
had run his fare all the way to the city and to the railroad station.
Then I went to the station. Again I was fortunate. A Jap answering
Okiu's description had been sold two tickets at just about the time the
taxi driver said he had reached the station."

"You inquired to what points the tickets were bought?"

"Yes," and here Fuller's face expressed great satisfaction. "They were
for Washington."

The secret agent arose to his feet, his singular eyes shining with
excitement, his nostrils dilating like those of a thoroughbred facing
the barrier. After a few turns up and down the room, he said:

"This looks like the last stage of the chase. We must win now, or
never."

"Washington," said Fuller, "is headquarters for such things as that
secret document. The embassies just yawn for them."

There was a short pause; Ashton-Kirk halted at a window, and looked down
at the eager, grubbing horde in the street.

"What have you heard from Burgess?" he asked.

"He sent in a long written report this morning. It would seem that the
flurry on Fordham Road was not the only one last night--or rather this
morning."

Fuller handed the other a number of folded sheets. They ran:

      "I am sending this by messenger. Can't leave the job myself. About
      an hour ago Karkowsky got a call on the telephone. A man came to
      his room door and began hammering to wake him up. The 'phone is on
      the first floor; Karkowsky hurried down to answer; and I followed
      him.

      "He went into the booth; I couldn't hear what was said, but I
      could see him through the glass door; and if ever a man listened
      to anything with attention, he was that man. As I watched him I
      could see that he grew more and more excited; then he hung up, and
      rushed out of the booth. The first thing he did was to snatch down
      a time-table from a rack; skimming it over he threw it aside and
      then was off up-stairs. I managed to get possession of the
      time-table; it was a schedule of Washington trains.

      "Just now it looks as though my man were going to jump out for
      Washington. If he does I'll call you.

  "BURGESS."

"So," said Ashton-Kirk, as he laid the report upon the table, "our
friend Karkowsky also shows an interest in Washington. Has Burgess
called as yet?"

"Yes, I had a short talk with him a while ago. He was then at the
station waiting for the train which Karkowsky was to take. And,"
continued Fuller, "he told me of something more. It seems while he was
waiting at the Lowe Street place for Karkowsky to make a move, he
thought he'd like to know who had the Pole on the 'phone and put him
into such a state of mind.

"So he called the operator. 'This is such and such a number,' he says.
'What number was that who just called me?'

"'It was so and so number,' says the girl, after a little.

"'All right,' says he, 'give me that.'"

"Well?" said Ashton-Kirk.

"It was a tavern on Fordham Road about a block from Morse's," said
Fuller. "The barkeeper answered. The only person he'd seen using the
telephone was a young fellow who talked a foreign language--a Pole who
lived at Morse's--the place he said where the man was killed a few
nights ago. That was enough for Burgess; so he thanked the man and hung
up."

"Drevenoff has heard something," smiled Ashton-Kirk. "Altogether he
seems a marvelously well-posted young man."

There was some further talk between the two; then Fuller went out and
Ashton-Kirk continued to stand by the window, gazing down at the
thronging, chaffering, noisy crowd. Large horses drew small loads, while
small men staggered under large ones; heady cries summoned those at a
distance to the spots where bargains in faded vegetables or decaying
fish were to be had; the stone steps of the houses were filled with men
in hard hats and upturned coat collars; women with their heads wrapped
in knitted shawls peered out between the folds in stolid wonder.

At length he turned from the window, sat down in the wide-armed chair
and lighted the German pipe; clouds began to gather above his head and
to curl into the outer air; the rumble of wheels, the outcries of the
drivers and hucksters, the undertone of those cautiously sparring for
the advantage in a trade, stole into the room; however, he smoked on,
oblivious. But, when his pondering seemed at its deepest and the
corrugations between his eyes the most prominent, he suddenly struck the
table a blow with his palm and leaped up.

"That's it," he cried, "that's it! What an idiot I was not to think of
it before."

Putting aside the pipe he took down a directory and began turning the
pages rapidly. Now and then he made a rapid note upon a block of paper.
Then he pushed the book away, descended the steps two at a time, and in
the lower hall put on his hat. Stumph, hurrying to be of some service,
reached the hall just as the street door slammed; and through a window
he saw Ashton-Kirk, with eager tread, hurrying up the street.



CHAPTER XXI

THE MAN WITH THE DECORATION


It was rather late on the afternoon of the same day that Ashton-Kirk,
accompanied by young Fuller, entered a government building at
Washington. Apparently the secret agent was expected, for he was ushered
into the same superbly appointed office as upon his former visit; and
the same ruddy-faced, white-haired official greeted him.

"So," said the latter, "the hunt has brought you here."

Ashton-Kirk tossed his gloves and hat upon the desk and shook hands.

"That," said he, "is now the status of the affair--it's a hunt; and the
pack is an assorted one and in full cry."

"We received your wire yesterday, and the department's agents at once
went to work."

"Is there any result?"

"Nothing marked."

"But surely they have located the girl?"

"Oh, yes, of course. She did not make the slightest attempt to hide. As
soon as she arrived in the city she went to the Tillinghast and placed
her own name upon the register. And since arriving there she has not
once gone out."

"Any visitors?"

"No. But about noon a message arrived for her. And our man recognized
the messenger as one connected with, curiously enough--the German
Embassy."

"The German Embassy!"

A peculiar expression came into the face of Ashton-Kirk. He sat looking
at the secretary for a moment; and then the latter saw a slow smile
gradually creep about his mouth. He took a note-book from his pocket,
and glanced at some memoranda.

"Of course," said he, after a moment, "you have the names and
biographies of the various persons attached to the foreign embassies?"

"To be sure."

"If it is not too much trouble, I should like to see a list of the
German officials."

The secretary touched a bell; an attendant heard his wants, disappeared,
and in a few moments reappeared, placing a small book upon the desk. The
secret agent took it up, and his long, inquiring finger ran down a
column of names.

"Von Marc," he read, "Stelzner, Konig, Dietz." Then the finger paused.
"Von Steinmetz," said he. "Page twenty-nine." He turned the pages until
he came to the one indicated; and what he found there he read with
attention. When he had finished he laid the volume upon the desk.

"To have Germany drawn into this matter," said he, "will of course
complicate matters."

"You expect that she _will_ be drawn into it?" and the secretary looked
at him inquiringly. The secret agent nodded, and the secretary
continued: "To have a certain document fall into her hands might lead to
nothing--and then again it might lead to a great deal."

He sat pondering for a moment; then his ruddy face lighted up, and he
said:

"Pardon me a moment."

He called for a number on the telephone and chatted with Ashton-Kirk
while he waited. When the connection was made, he said into the
receiver:

"Did I understand that you have Stelzner for to-night?" There was a
pause while the answer was being made. Then he proceeded, evidently well
satisfied: "Very well; then you may expect an additional guest.
Good-bye."

He turned from the telephone and settled back in his chair.

"My wife is giving a dinner to-night," said he. "I do not know all her
arrangements, but I can promise you an excellent dinner and a most
distinguished company. Also," and there was a significant look in his
eyes as he said it, "there will be a person present who will interest
you a great deal."

"I shall be delighted to eat your dinner and meet your distinguished
company," laughed Ashton-Kirk. "But, above all, I am desirous of meeting
the person who will interest me."

At their hotel a little later, Ashton-Kirk discussed the situation with
his aide. Fuller listened with amazement.

"But," he cried, when the other had done, "this sounds preposterous! Why
should Miss Corbin desire to deal with the German Embassy in a matter
which she planned with Okiu?"

"Before we make up our minds that she _did_ plan with Okiu," said
Ashton-Kirk, "let us look further. As it stands we are not at all
assured of it."

"Assured!" Fuller stared in astonishment. "Have you forgotten her secret
conference with the Japanese that day at the window? Have you forgotten
the talk Nanon heard between the girl and her lover on the stairs? Have
you forgotten the presence of that lover in Okiu's house when you were
all but trapped, and his desperate attempt upon your life? And surely
the girl's own attempt in the matter of the communicating gas pipe has
not escaped you! I say 'the girl's own attempt' because it was she who
urged the man on. And, above all, the matter of the taxi-cab must be
still fresh in your memory. As soon as she was possessed of the paper
she made at once for Okiu's. And he was waiting for her. Did she not get
into the cab with him? Did they not drive to the railway station? Did he
not buy two tickets for Washington? Is she not here?" Fuller was tense
with excitement; his eyes snapped as he made each point. "And for all,"
he added in amazement, "you seem to doubt that she was concerned in the
matter with the Japanese."

Ashton-Kirk smiled at his aide's heat.

"I merely asked if we were assured that she was so concerned," said he,
quietly. "No case is built upon appearances alone. They merely point out
things which should be examined; the results of this latter are the
threads which, when woven together, make the case complete."

An hour or two later the secret agent was set down at the handsome
residence of the secretary; and upon entering found that genial
gentleman in the midst of a knot of his dinner guests and was warmly
greeted by both he and his wife. As soon as he decently could, the host
drew Ashton-Kirk aside.

"That round, rosy little man with the decoration upon his coat is your
interesting person," suggested he. "We shall put you as close to him as
we can."

The secret agent examined the little man, who was possessed of a
gleaming bald head, a cheerful manner, and a pronounced German accent;
and while he was so doing, the secretary went on:

"As I said this afternoon, I am not always acquainted with my wife's
arrangements. And now I find that we are also to have Matsadi--and
Matsadi, if you are not already aware of the fact, is the Japanese
minister's right-hand man."

"I have heard him mentioned," said Ashton-Kirk. "And I understand that
he is clever."

"He has a wonderful touch--scarcely perceptible, and unusually
successful."

At the table Ashton-Kirk found himself near to Matsadi and opposite the
rosy little German. The Japanese was spare and narrow-faced; he wore
glasses, talked little and ate less. But he seemed keenly alive to all
that was said and done; his diffident smile approved of everything.

The little German ate a great deal and drank quite a bit more. And he
talked ceaselessly. As the dinner progressed he grew rosier than ever;
his eyes and his bald dome seemed trying to out-shine his decoration.
There was a chuckle in his voice when he addressed his host, which was
often, and his head nodded humorously over what were evidently intended
as thickly veiled allusions. But as the secretary paid little attention
to his sayings, the German began to direct his remarks to Matsadi. The
latter replied with a courteous reserve which seemed to amuse the
German vastly; sometimes he shook like a portly mould of gelatine.

"Ach, himmel!" said he, nodding to Ashton-Kirk, whose eye he happened to
catch, "some the sense of humor have not. As for me, always do I laugh,
whether the joke is on me or not."

"You are to be envied," replied the secret agent.

The little man cocked his eye at Matsadi in a most knowing manner.

"I have heard it said, 'That the race is not always to the swift, nor
the battle to the strong,'" he said. "Was it a psalmist, a prophet or a
poet of our own time who so spoke? But no matter, it is very good--but
not complete. One might add 'That the reward is not always to the
industrious.'"

Observing that he was being spoken to, the Japanese leaned forward.

"I beg your pardon?" said he, inquiringly.

"There is philosophy in the wine," observed the German, and he added to
the luster of his brilliant scalp by rubbing it with a handkerchief.
"And with me its wisdom stays upon the tongue."

The Japanese smiled sedately.

"I have noticed that," said he.

The other laughed and quivered with all his round little body.

"Good," said he. "I was in hopes that you would wake up." Then he went
on in a sort of musing tone, but with dancing eyes: "Many a man has
toiled early and late to make a plant fruitful; and the result of his
work is that some idle one, who laughs and drinks and snaps his fingers
at labor, has the ripened fruit fall into his lap."

Matsadi seemed not to grasp the meaning of this; at any rate he smiled
in a vague sort of way and contented himself with nodding his head. Very
little passed between them after this, as the Japanese had his attention
taken by the lady beside him; but later, in the coat room, Ashton-Kirk
heard him say to the German:

"Your simile of the industrious planter and the vagabond was a very
excellent one. And it frequently happens so. I was much struck with it."

A young man, wearing a number of Austrian orders, said, as he was being
helped on with his coat:

"Are you going on to Von Stunnenberg's, Matsadi? Perhaps I could give
you a lift."

"Thank you," said the Japanese. "Yes, I had thought of going."

"I'll wait for you," said the other, as he went out.

Matsadi took up his gloves and hat; he paused before the laughing
German.

"Yes," said he, and there was a thoughtful look upon his face, "your
parable was a good one. But does the story always end so? As the idle
one lifts the fruit to his greedy lips, do I not see the patient toiler
reaching out to snatch it from him?"

And as Matsadi hurried after the Austrian, the portly little man
chuckled rapturously.

"They are so like children," said he.

As Ashton-Kirk shook hands with the secretary, the latter said:

"I trust that Stelzner entertained you. He loves to make a parade behind
the wall of innuendo and allusion when he is well fed. And, then, I
fancied that he might have heard something."

"He was invaluable," said Ashton-Kirk. "And," with a smile, "Matsadi was
not without his interesting weaknesses." After a short pause he said:
"There is to be something or other to-night at the house of the German
ambassador, Von Stunnenberg?"

"Yes, a ball, I believe."

"As a rule I avoid such things," said the secret agent; "but if you
could manage to have me received at this one, I should be delighted.



CHAPTER XXII

THE GERMAN EMBASSY BALL


The street before the German Embassy was thronged with motor-cars and
carriages; the windows sparkled with lights; lines of police sharply
directed traffic and saw to it that the space before the building was
kept open.

It was perhaps eleven o'clock when Ashton-Kirk, accompanied by Fuller,
arrived. The latter gazed about the glittering rooms, astonished.

"I'm not sure which it most resembles," he said, "a masked ball without
the masks, or an ensemble number in a musical comedy."

The women were magnificent; their gowns shone, their shoulders and arms
gleamed under the many lights. The officers attached to the various
embassies made a dashing picture in their gorgeous uniforms; the
official dress of the diplomats was stately and picturesque. Here was a
white-haired old Austrian, his chest aglitter with crosses and orders,
engaged with the Turkish envoy; the Chinese minister, his flowing silken
robes tucked in about him, sat placidly in the midst of a group of
admiring ladies; the flaming scarlet and gold lace of one South American
republic contrasted strongly with the white and silver of another;
Mexico vied with Russia in splendor, while less spectacular states ran
from sober greens and grays to the plain black of conventional dress.

Plants and lights were everywhere; from the ballroom came the strains of
a German waltz; the dancers floated about upon the shining floor.

The handsome Baroness Von Stunnenberg greeted the secret agent and his
aide; the ambassador, who was a massive man with a snowy, up-twisted
moustache and the stride of a Prussian cavalryman, stood near by.

"I was informed of your coming," he said to Ashton-Kirk. "And although I
do not quite understand, still I am pleased to see you."

The secret agent had replied, and Von Stunnenberg was turning away when
a delighted voice exclaimed:

"Kirk, old chap, I'm astonished! Here, of all places in the world."

Ashton-Kirk turned and came face to face with a brilliantly beautiful
woman, and a young man with a vastly contented look.

"Mrs. Pendleton," said the secret agent, as he took the outstretched
hand, "I can only repeat your husband's exclamation, 'Here, of all
places in the world.'"

"But what does it mean?" demanded Jimmie Pendleton, as he, too, gripped
his friend by the hand. "Here you are--you whom I have heard discourse
so wisely about such affairs as this--the folly and the vanity of it,
and the----" but he paused, snapped his fingers and turned to his wife.
"I know what it is! He's here on business."

Mrs. Pendleton gestured her dismay.

"Not that, surely," she said. "There can scarcely be anything here to
attract your talents," laughingly to the secret agent. "Ambassadors are
the frankest of men, and their doings are open to every one."

"The Baroness and Edyth are cronies," Pendleton informed the other, as
his wife turned to the hostess. The latter's expression as Mrs.
Pendleton spoke to her in a low tone changed formal politeness to one of
interest.

"Oh!" she said; "my dear, I'm afraid of him. And so," smiling to
Ashton-Kirk, "you are the remarkable person of whom Mrs. Pendleton has
spoken so often? Well, if I ever become involved in a mystery, I promise
to call in no one but you."

"I shall be flattered by your confidence," said Ashton-Kirk in the same
light tone. "But, I warn you, Mrs. Pendleton is scarcely to be depended
upon as regards my work. She allowed herself to be dazzled by a trifling
dexterity, so to speak, and makes a very wonderful performance of
something that was not at all remarkable."

"Oh, these modest men," sighed the Baroness. "The world is so full of
them." In turn she spoke a few words to her husband. His big German head
reared, and he curled the upstanding points of his moustache.

"I have heard of you, sir," and his blue eyes searched the secret agent
from head to foot.

"The old boy seems somewhat miffed," whispered Pendleton to Fuller; "I
wonder what's wrong?"

"He probably does not fancy being interfered with," said Fuller, and he
shrugged his shoulders wisely.

"Why," and Pendleton looked astonished, "you don't mean to say that
he----" here he paused and his glance was full of inquiry.

"No, nothing directly," answered Fuller. "Just a little affair that
seems to have been put up to him, that's all."

There was a brief, low-pitched conversation between Ashton-Kirk and Von
Stunnenberg. The latter's manner was one of massive dignity; and not
once while he spoke did he take his light-colored eyes from the face of
the secret agent. But if he expected to read anything there, he was
disappointed. Ashton-Kirk was smilingly candid, genially open. But he
said nothing that would throw light upon his errand there that night.
The Baron had served under Bismark, and his methods were identical with
those of the great chancellor--the sappers worked constantly under cover
of a blunt manner and pointed speech.

But in this case the blunt manner pounded vainly against an impregnable
wall of practised assurance; and the pointed speeches met with a
flashing defense. Impatiently the old diplomat twisted his white
moustache; and rather angrily he drew off his sappers, for they were
useless except under cover of their more obvious brethren.

"I thank you, sir," said he, with a bow. "To have seen you is a
pleasure. And now you will pardon me, I know."

A little later Ashton-Kirk sat with Mrs. Pendleton in a secluded corner.

"Now," she said, holding up one finger, "tell me all about it. Don't try
to deceive me. I know the Baron Von Stunnenberg very well, and have
never seen him assume that manner of a few moments ago unless there was
something of much importance going forward."

"The Baron flatters me by his manner," smiled Ashton-Kirk. "It puts me
in quite a glow to think that I am so noticed in high places."

She laughed musically; but her eyes were not without their gravity.

"I know you of old," she said; "you will tell nothing until you are
ready. That characteristic made me afraid of you once; but in the midst
of the fear there was a good deal of admiration," she confessed with a
nod of her stately head. "If you impress every one as you impressed
me--that is, every one you are working against--I don't wonder you
always succeed. Even while I planned, I knew that I could not hide from
you that which you wished to know."

"You were clever," he said; "and you were resourceful. You lacked only
experience." While he spoke his eyes went about from place to place as
though seeking some one. "Are you acquainted with many here to-night?"
he asked.

"Not many," was the answer. She noticed the roving of the singular eyes,
and her interest quickened. "Did you expect to see some one?" she
inquired.

He nodded.

"I wonder if I know who it is?" She paused for an answer, but he seemed
not to hear, and so she went on: "Some one who has done something amiss.
Poor thing! Do you know, I feel sorry for him." Then, after a pause: "A
man, of course."

He shook his head.

"It's a woman!" Her voice lifted. "It's a woman!" she repeated. "Oh,
poor creature!"

She turned upon him two fine eyes filled with concern.

"Perhaps it's a girl," she said. "A girl much like I was--one who can
confide in no one, or has no one whom she can trust. Tell me, what is
her----"

Just then, in the midst of a group which was about separating,
Ashton-Kirk caught sight of Stella Corbin. Mrs. Pendleton noted his
expression; her eyes followed the direction of his own. And when they
rested upon the slight, girlish figure and saw the eager, frightened
look, she turned upon him.

"For shame," she said, reproachfully. "Oh, for shame!"

"You know her then?" said he quietly.

"I only know that she is an English girl and came here with Madame
Steinmetz. But," and her brilliant, challenging glance met his own
squarely, "I know that she has done nothing. A girl who looks like that
_could_ not do anything very wrong."

"It is not always well to judge by appearances," said he, quietly.
"Physiognomists place great confidence in their power to read faces; but
theirs is scarcely an exact science."

She sat regarding him steadfastly; then nodded and said:

"That is mere evasion. I recognize the ruse, for I have met it once or
twice before. You draw upon generalities when questioned in a specific
instance; and if your questioner takes that as a direct answer, you do
not trouble yourself to put him or her right."

He smiled.

"I said that you needed only experience," he remarked.

Just then a sleek little form came rolling into view; the rosy face,
shining bald head and the decoration were familiar to the secret agent.

"Mrs. Pendleton," said the German, and he nodded and waved his hand, "I
am given much pleasure to see you."

"How do you do, Colonel Stelzner?" she replied. Then inquiringly: "You
have met Mr. Ashton-Kirk?"

"I have met him, yes, but I have not before caught the name." Colonel
Stelzner bowed until his gleaming scalp was fully in view. "It gratifies
me, sir, to know so famous a person," he concluded.

"Ah, you, too, have _heard_ of him?" Mrs. Pendleton smiled,
mischievously. The little German again waved his hand.

"Who has not?" he demanded. "Every one," authoritatively, "on both sides
of the ocean. That is," and the hand was held up as though begging a
moment's delay in her judgment, "every one who is interested such
matters in."

Here Pendleton came up with some friends to whom he presented the
secret agent; a few moments later a man-servant approached the latter
and said something to him. Ashton-Kirk asked to be pardoned and followed
the servant out of the room. But Mrs. Pendleton took no notice of all
this; she gave all her attention to the little German. He polished his
glittering scalp and chuckled.

"Most _secret_ agents," he went on, "are unknown to the public. They
cherish the fancy that they are also unknown to the diplomatic corps;
but it is _only_ fancy. Those who are unknown personally are recognized
by their methods. _Ach ja!_ They are as open as the day. A man who no
eyes has could see it! But he"--and he indicated the spot where
Ashton-Kirk had stood with one plump forefinger--"there is one who is
not like the others. No, no," he shook his head and his chuckle grew
more pronounced, "he is much different."

Ashton-Kirk returned in a few moments, and was soon talking generally
with Pendleton's friends, who were mostly young people who laughed a
great deal. And while he did not miss a word of what was said, neither
did he once take his eyes from that point where Stella Corbin still sat.
With her was a small, vivacious, pretty woman, undoubtedly French, whose
gestures were most eloquent and the play of whose eyes alone was almost
sufficient to tell a close observer what she was saying. Some little
distance away was a heavy jowled man with thick black brows and a slow
way of turning his small head; in close conversation with him was a
slighter man, blond, and with a short, pointed beard. And, for all their
apparent occupation in each other's words, their glances kept constantly
going toward Miss Corbin and her companion; each movement made by them
seemed a matter of intense interest.

And in this they were not alone. Behind where the girl sat ran a massive
marble staircase which led to a sort of balcony, palm-lined and used as
a resting-place by tired dancers, and a point of vantage by those who
merely desired to look on. At the top of the staircase, seated beneath a
wide-spreading and flowering plant, were Matsadi, and--yes, it was Okiu!

Fuller caught sight of this latter pair much about the same time as his
employer. The secret agent nodded in answer to the young man's low,
surprised whisper.

"Yes, I just noticed them," he said.

Fuller turned his glance from Okiu to Stella Corbin; that he was puzzled
was frankly shown.

"This is a rather queer situation," he said, in a low, careful tone to
Ashton-Kirk. "Japan wanted that paper in the worst way; and this Corbin
girl stood in with Okiu in an effort to gain possession of it for that
government. And now, with the document in their possession, they begin a
flirtation, so to speak, with the Germans."

But the secret agent made no reply to this except to give his helper a
warning look; then he plunged into the conversation which the others
were carrying on animatedly.

The eyes of the beautiful Mrs. Pendleton had kept Stella Corbin well
within range; both the girl and her companion seemed to interest her
greatly.

"And so," she said to Colonel Stelzner, "you think Mr. Ashton-Kirk very
different from the other government agents?"

He gestured with both hands.

"As different as the sun from the stars," declared he. "The mastery of
his art has been to him given. Every one knows him by sight; every one
knows him for what he is. And yet he works in such a way that his hand
is not noticed until it has closed," here he pantomimed expansively,
"and what he has been seeking is in its grasp."

The dance music came to them in swaying, stirring strains; the low
laughter and sound of gliding feet came with it.

"Madame Von Steinmetz," spoke Mrs. Pendleton, after a few moments, "is a
remarkably expressive woman."

The eyes of the little German went to the lady who was conversing with
Stella Corbin. His shoulders shrugged and his hands opened wide.

"It is her race," he said. "The French are mostly so. There is her
husband, now," and his gaze singled out the man with the pointed blond
beard; "he is German, and has little of the characteristics which mark
her."

"How long have they been married?" asked Mrs. Pendleton.

"About ten years, I believe."

"So long as that!" She seemed greatly surprised. "I thought that men did
not remain in love with their wives for so great a length of time. And
yet he is much in love with her. See, he can't keep his eyes from her."

Colonel Stelzner's little round body shook as probably it had never
shaken before. He chuckled and gasped; the tears stood in his eyes.

"Oh, you ladies!" he said at last. "Oh, you ladies, you see everything!
Nothing escapes you." Again he shook and chuckled and gasped. But
finally he recovered, wiped his eyes and went on: "Ah, yes, I suppose
Von Steinmetz is desperately in love with madame. And why not? She is
charming."

"Who is that with Von Steinmetz?" she asked.

"That? Oh," and the round little colonel nodded his head knowingly,
"that is Hoffer."

Her eyes lingered upon the large-jowled man for a moment. She had heard
of him.

"I trust," she smiled, "that Herr Hoffer is not also in love with Madame
Von Steinmetz."

Stelzner chuckled.

"It is not possible that you think he might be," he protested.

"Well, he seems inclined to pay her as much attention as her husband.
His eyes never move from her."

"Oh," gasped Colonel Stelzner, "you will be the death of me, Mrs.
Pendleton; you really will!" And when he had recovered from the fit of
laughter into which her observation had thrown him, he added: "But
consider, Madame von Steinmetz is not alone. Could it not be possible
that Hoffer is interested in the English girl?"

Her fine eyes were fixed directly upon his face, as she said:

"Ah, that is it."

There was something in her tone which drove the laugh from his face; he
answered soberly enough.

"I ask if it were not possible; that is all."

People who talk too much upon subjects regarding which it is best that
they be silent often get glimpses of their weakness. And Colonel
Stelzner had such a flash of inner vision just then. And while he was,
more or less dismayed, thinking it over, Mrs. Pendleton discovered
Matsadi and Okiu at the head of the staircase.

The interest which they displayed in the two women immediately attracted
her; and once more she turned to the little colonel.

"The two Japanese now, which of the ladies attracts them--the English or
the French?"

The usually rosy face of Stelzner was rather gray as he replied, and the
chuckle so habitual to him had given place to a wan smile.

"The Japanese?" said he. "Oh, yes, those two up there, of course. I have
found," with the air of a man speaking more or less at random, "that the
Occidental types of women interest Orientals. Oh, yes; it is much so. I
have known Japanese to admire---- Ah, Hoffer, how do you do?"

The heavy man, accompanied by Von Steinmetz, was moving by, and Stelzner
grasped at their passing as a shipwrecked seaman might grasp at a spar.
Reluctantly, so it seemed, the two men paused; and the beautiful Mrs.
Pendleton smiled as she bent her head to the salutation of Von
Steinmetz.

"Your wife," she said, "is lovely to-night. We have just been admiring
her."

The husband seemed none too pleased at this; he fingered his short,
light-colored beard and his small blue eyes went to the lady in
question.

"It occurred to me also," he said, "that she looked well. But then," and
he smiled a little, "I think she usually looks so."

"You are a good husband," and Mrs. Pendleton laughed lightly. "Madame
should be proud of you. But," and she arched her brows in wonder, "what
an exceedingly interesting girl Miss Corbin must be. See how she holds
madame's attention! Even the slightest gesture seems loaded with
meaning."

The slim fingers of Von Steinmetz tugged at the pointed beard; Hoffer
turned his head with his peculiarly slow motion toward the speaker and
his eyes searched her face. But there was nothing there but smiles and
bright looks and admiration for what she apparently considered a marked
talent.

That Madame Von Steinmetz seemed greatly interested in what Stella
Corbin said was plain enough; her eloquent hands were still; her eyes
had ceased their byplay and centered themselves upon the girl's face.
This latter was even paler than usual, and her face seemed a trifle set;
her attitude was one that told of suppressed excitement.

In a throaty German which was sharply distressing, Hoffer began relating
a heavy anecdote. Both Von Steinmetz and Stelzner gave it much
attention, but Mrs. Pendleton, while she listened, never took her eyes
from Stella Corbin and her companion.

For the girl had ceased speaking and leaned back in her chair as though
exhausted; Madame Von Steinmetz, her vivacious countenance illumined,
was carefully outlining something for the girl's benefit. Hoffer
finished the anecdote and his two friends laughed eagerly; Mrs.
Pendleton smiled and nodded her appreciation though it is doubtful if
she had heard much of it. To Von Steinmetz she said:

"How wonderfully expressive your wife's manner is! See, it is almost as
if we could hear what she is saying!"

That Von Steinmetz would have vastly preferred his lady's manner to have
been less wonderful was evident; his blue eyes were cold with
disapproval; the pointed beard was twisted and tugged painfully.

And while she was manifesting this interest in Miss Corbin and the
French woman, Mrs. Pendleton did not altogether lose sight of
Ashton-Kirk. She noted that, in a few minutes, he drew away from the
group of which her husband made one; and also she noted that his eyes,
though they did not seem to do so, never lost a movement made by Stella
Corbin.

The two Japanese, as though they had caught sight of some one or
something upon the lower floor, had suddenly arisen and descended the
staircase.

"The Senora Maselli," murmured Mrs. Pendleton, as she saw Matsadi speak
to a beautiful, dark-eyed woman, evidently an Italian. "He is asking her
to sing."

And that Senora Maselli was willing to do so was apparent; for she took
Matsadi's arm and they crossed to a room, the door of which was only a
few feet from where Miss Corbin and Madame Von Steinmetz sat. Okiu,
however, remained behind; and as Matsadi was passing through the door,
he turned to look over his shoulder toward his countryman which, to a
close observer, seemed full of significance.

Madame Von Steinmetz still talked, eagerly, with her hands, eyes and
tongue. It were as though, as Mrs. Pendleton thought, the English girl
had pictured some dilemma in which she stood and the French woman was
pointing the way out. More than once Miss Corbin's hands had gone toward
the bag which hung from her arm; but each time they left it unopened, as
though she were not altogether persuaded.

"But," Mrs. Pendleton told herself with conviction, "she will do it in
the end. When one is anxious to take advice, one usually does so."

The dance music had stopped some little time before; now came the notes
of a piano, almost immediately followed by the rush and ring of a human
voice. Heads were turned, laughter stopped, voices ceased. Then there
was a stir.

"It is Maselli," ran the whisper.

A movement began toward the room from which the singing proceeded. In a
moment Mrs. Pendleton's view of Stella Corbin was cut off by the eager
and somewhat undignified scamper; through the press she saw the sleek,
black head of Okiu and, at no great distance, caught a glimpse of
Ashton-Kirk.

A sort of fluttering assailed her ear-drums; it were as though the air
were charged with an impending, unseen something. A feeling of suspense
filled her; she was astonished to feel herself possessed by an almost
irresistible desire to cry out a warning to some indefinite person. And
apparently she was not alone in her impression, for now she saw Hoffer,
his great jaws rigid, almost thrusting his way forward among the guests;
Von Steinmetz and Stelzner were also on the move, and from different
directions.

Suddenly there was a pistol shot; startled cries rang out; the throng
split as though divided by a great knife. And as it fell asunder there
arose another cry, higher and in a different key. The first had been the
outcry of those who felt harm impending; the second was that of a single
person, and one upon whom the harm had fallen.

It was Miss Corbin; Mrs. Pendleton could see her as she stood white and
startled, staring at the silken bag which she held in her hands. Upon
one side of her stood Madame Von Steinmetz, aghast, trembling with
shock; upon the other stood Ashton-Kirk, imperturbable and keen eyed.

For an instant the affrighted guests swayed upon the verge of panic;
then like oil upon troubled waters, soothing words were spoken and
explanations suavely proffered. A young man, who looked very red and
foolish, had dropped and exploded a chamber of a newly invented
revolver, which he had brought to exhibit to an influential official
whom he expected to meet. And in the ensuing excitement, Miss Corbin had
lost a cherished trifle which would no doubt be found shortly.

Startled people are always anxious to be convinced that there is no
occasion for their alarm; and so, more or less satisfied, Von
Stunnenberg's guests broke into laughter and relieved chatter.

Passing through little groups, all absorbed in the enjoyment of relating
their mutual sensations, Ashton-Kirk made his way toward the hall. His
step was unhurried, his manner nonchalant; he spoke lightly to a number
of people as he went by.

As he turned into the hall, Mrs. Pendleton followed; she saw him
disappear into the coat room, and reappear a moment later, his overcoat
on and his hat in his hand. And at the same instant she saw him
confronted by the burly forms of Hoffer and the Baron Von Stunnenberg.



CHAPTER XXIII

WHAT VON STUNNENBERG THOUGHT


For a moment the secret agent and the two Germans stood face to face;
then the former said, smilingly:

"I am sorry to be forced to go at such an early hour; but," and he
lifted his brows in such a way that might mean much or little, "there
are certain things which require my attention."

Von Stunnenberg twisted one point of his white moustache, and his blue
eyes glinted coldly.

"It would grieve me to keep you from your affairs," said he in his
rumbling voice, "but there is a trifling matter which I should like to
discuss with you. It will require, perhaps, only a few moments. The
length of time altogether depends upon yourself."

"I shall be only too glad," said Ashton-Kirk, agreeably. He glanced at
his watch and then added: "But since you say that the length of time
depends upon me, I will make it as short as possible. It is more than
likely that my presence will be urgently needed quite a little distance
from here in perhaps half an hour."

There was a small room at one side, and the German ambassador entered
this, followed by the others.

"Will you sit down?" he asked with grave politeness.

The secret agent did so. Hoffer also seated himself; his small head was
drawn down upon his big shoulders, the heavy face worked spasmodically;
the veins and cords of his tightly clinched hands stood out in high
relief.

"It would be a waste of time for us to indulge in any preamble," spoke
Von Stunnenberg, coldly. "I know why you came here to-night; and I know
that you have been in some degree successful in your errand. And so, as
that ground is covered, there is no need to go over it again."

Ashton-Kirk leaned back in his chair, and his white, even teeth shone as
he smiled.

"I have always found it best to _examine_ my ground; leaping over it is
seldom satisfactory," said he. "You say that you know why I came here
to-night. We will not discuss that if you are opposed to so doing," and
again the quick smile showed itself. "But as to your knowing I have been
in some degree successful, that is open to debate."

Hoffer protruded his small head, slowly, much as a turtle might do.

"Of course," said he, "we expected you to deny it. But your making a
statement and our accepting it are two different matters."

Ashton-Kirk nodded.

"To be sure," said he, calmly.

Hoffer was about to say something more; but his chief held up a hand.

"A certain instrument was about to pass into my possession to-night,"
said Von Stunnenberg to Ashton-Kirk. "You knew of this and came here to
prevent our being entrusted with it if you could. You are an able man,
Mr. Ashton-Kirk, but do not forget that we still have the faculty of
vision. Neither are we in the habit of allowing things to be taken from
beneath our noses."

"You represent a friendly power," said Ashton-Kirk, coldly, "and of
course could have no desire in the matter of the instrument in question
other than to hand it with your compliments to this government."

Von Stunnenberg nodded.

"Of course," said Hoffer.

"And it was so understood by others and myself," proceeded Ashton-Kirk.
"But there was a chance--I am perfectly frank, you see--that there might
be a desire upon your part to make sure that the document in question
was really what you supposed it. To venture to examine it would be a
matter of delicacy," and the speaker's voice was suavity itself, "and so
I concluded that it were a rather friendly thing to save you any
mental wrench of that sort by anticipating you."

"That," said Von Stunnenberg, and the smoothness of his voice was not a
whit behind that of the other, "was most considerate of you. Accept my
thanks. But," and his blue eyes were wide open in the fixity of the look
which he directed toward the secret agent, "we would much prefer to
assume our own responsibilities."

There was a short pause, then the ambassador leaned a trifle toward the
other.

"And so," he resumed, "I should take it as a further expression of your
good-will if you would hand the paper to me immediately."

Ashton-Kirk rose and looked at his watch once more.

[Illustration: "MY TIME IS SHORT"]

"My time is short," said he. "So if there is anything of importance, I
beg that you mention it at once."

Von Stunnenberg twisted his up-pointing moustache; his blue eyes were
like ice, his manner was grim and menacing.

"There is nothing to be gained by this attitude," said he. "We are not
children to be so deceived."

"You are not children to be so deceived," Ashton-Kirk smiled as he
repeated the ambassador's words. "Perhaps not; but Matsadi apparently
fancied it not very difficult when he arranged his little scene a few
minutes ago."

Von Stunnenberg cast a quick look at Hoffer. The latter's small head
turned slowly upon the secret agent.

"Matsadi _did_ arrange the scene," said he, and there was admiration in
his voice. "No stage manager could have done better. He had not watched
the English girl more than a moment when he saw--as did you and I," with
a conclusive wave of the hand, "that the papers desired were in the bag
at her side. At sight of the Italian woman he grasped his opportunity
for creating a momentary ruffle; in the midst of this, at a signal, his
confederate allowed the revolver to explode, so transforming the slight
confusion into a panic. During this his agent was to abstract the
document."

Ashton-Kirk nodded, after the manner of one workman exchanging
experiences with another.

"That was not all that I saw," went on Hoffer. "I saw Matsadi's agent
making his way toward Miss Corbin to play his part, before the discharge
of the revolver. Also," and the big jaws tightened, "I saw you doing
your best to anticipate him."

Ashton-Kirk laughed, and there was an odd expression in his singular
eyes.

"Was there nothing more that you noticed?" he asked.

"It was sufficient," put in Von Stunnenberg, grimly, "that he saw you
reach the girl's side before the Japanese. And, if anything more were
needed, an instant after you got within reaching distance, Miss Corbin
discovered that the papers were gone."

"And that Okiu was baffled," said Hoffer, "one had only to give him a
glance to discover. The rage in his face showed that you had beaten
them--that you had taken the prize out of their own trap."

Ashton-Kirk laughed once more.

"My dear sir," said he, "you credit me with a dexterity which I do not
possess. It is true that I did----" he paused and then turned to Hoffer.
"Aside from Okiu, did you see any one else--of Matsadi's?"

"No."

"Upon the fact that I reached Miss Corbin's side before Okiu you base
your belief that I must have secured the paper." Ashton-Kirk placed his
finger tips together with great nicety, and then looked placidly at
Hoffer. "Have you encountered Matsadi before this?"

"I have," answered the German.

"In that you have the advantage of me. But from what I have heard of
him, he is a man who plans with considerable effect. Is it likely," and
he bent toward the other slightly, "that he would stop at one man in the
crowd?"

The thick jowls of Holler bulged, and a dull red crept into his face.

"You mean----" he got this far and then stopped. "You think," he
continued, after a moment, "that there were more than Okiu?"

"_I know it_," said Ashton-Kirk. "I counted at least three. Matsadi is
not restricted to the use of his own countrymen. The man who dropped the
revolver, for example, was an American."

At that moment Fuller, his face wearing an anxious expression, looked
into the room. Seeing Ashton-Kirk he hurried to him.

"This," said he, holding out a message, "was just handed in. I told the
man that I would look you up."

Ashton-Kirk took the envelope, murmured an apology and tore it open.
There were but a few lines, and he read them at a glance; then he handed
the paper to Von Stunnenberg and arose.

"It seems," said he, "that everything is about ready for me, and I
really must go."

      "Saw Matsadi come out just now," read the German ambassador. "Two
      men who had preceded him signaled from across the street. He
      joined them and all three hurried to the Japanese Embassy. Have
      building surrounded and am awaiting you.

  "CULBERSON."

Von Stunnenberg lifted a crimson face as he finished the message.

"The rats!" he cried. "They have beaten me!" He handed the paper back to
the secret agent; as he did so his countenance cleared somewhat, and he
smiled grimly. "And also," he added with some appreciation, "they have
beaten you."

"Not quite," replied Ashton-Kirk, coolly, as he buttoned up his long
coat. "I have still a card to play."

"You would not dare----" Hoffer paused as though the act the other had
in mind were too daring to even put into words. "Not in a foreign
embassy," he added, fearfully.

But the secret agent smiled.

"If the search for what I desire leads me to a foreign embassy, why
not?" asked he. "What I ventured in the German surely I shall not
hesitate to repeat in the Japanese. And now, gentlemen, I must say
good-night."

And with this he left the room and hurried down the hall, Fuller
following close behind him.



CHAPTER XXIV

SURPRISED!


When Ashton-Kirk and his aide reached the sidewalk a man in a cloth cap
approached.

"Mr. Culberson is awaiting orders," said he.

"Tell him to call off his men," replied the secret agent promptly.

Without comment, the man in the cloth cap walked away. Fuller was
amazed.

"You have changed your plan?"

"Our affairs do not wear the aspect they bore when I called upon the
Culberson Agency for help," said the secret agent.

There was an unemployed taxi-cab by the curb a little distance away;
they got into this and in a short time were put down at their hotel. The
secret agent asked some question of the clerk, which the latter seemed
to answer in the negative; then they ascended to Ashton-Kirk's
apartments.

The secret agent threw himself into a comfortable chair and drew a
tobacco pouch toward him. As he rolled a cigarette he said:

"We must lie idle until I get a call from Burgess."

"He is in Washington, then?"

"Yes; I had a few words with him over the wire while at Von
Stunnenberg's. The secretary told him that I was there."

Through the open window the drone of the night could be heard. It was
now perhaps two o'clock, and the city was deep in sleep. From somewhere
in the distance a car could be heard passing now and then; occasionally
the smooth hum of a motor, or the sharp "clup-clup" of a cab horse
sounded nearer at hand. In silence the two young men sat smoking; half
an hour went by and then the telephone rang, brusquely. Ashton-Kirk
sprang to the receiver.

"Hello," said he.

The voice of Burgess made reply.

"Everything right," said he. "I followed them from the embassy to the
Tillinghast."

"The Tillinghast!"

"Yes, I'm speaking to you from there."

"I will be with you in a very few minutes." Then as an afterthought, the
secret agent added, "They are _all_ there, I suppose."

"They all came here--yes. And they held a consultation in a small
reception room on the second floor. After this the young fellow went
out."

"I see."

"Those men of Culberson's came in mighty handy. One of them followed
him."

"He has not returned?"

"Not yet."

"Very well."

Ashton-Kirk hung up the receiver, and reached for his overcoat.

"Is it the Japs?" asked Fuller, expectantly.

But the secret agent shook his head.

"No," said he, "it is not the Japs. But," and the other noted the
speculative look come into his singular eyes, "I rather think we shall
see something more of those very interesting personages before the night
is over."

A cab took them to the Tillinghast in less than a quarter of an hour. It
was a huge, ornate place, showily furnished and glaring with lights. In
an office floored with marble and rich with gilt and mirrors, they found
Burgess, engaged in conversation with a clerk. He greeted Ashton-Kirk
eagerly.

"You are just in time," said he. "The young man just came in, and two
Japanese were with him."

Ashton-Kirk smiled as though well pleased.

"I rather fancied that he had gone to fetch them when you told me that
he had gone out," said he.

"I hope," said the hotel clerk, earnestly, "that this matter is nothing
that will harm the credit of the house."

"Not in the least," Ashton-Kirk assured him, smoothly. "It is more than
likely that it will never even be heard of outside ourselves."

The clerk breathed freer.

"In that case," said he, "it's all right. And now, gentlemen, seeing
that it is a government affair, if there is anything that I can do, I
will do it cheerfully."

"Thank you," replied the secret agent.

As he spoke there came the sound of a buzzer; a youth at a telephone
called:

"A waiter in Parlor F."

"That's the parlor your party is occupying," said the clerk,
interestedly.

"Hold the waiter until I can speak to him," said Ashton-Kirk. He
considered a moment. "This Parlor F," he added, "does it communicate
with any other room?"

"Yes, with Parlor G."

"Excellent!" After a few more questions to which the clerk returned
pointed answers, Ashton-Kirk gave Fuller and Burgess some low-voiced
instructions. "And now," he said to the clerk, "I will see the waiter,
if you please."

The man was a Swede with sandy hair and mild blue eyes; and his name was
Gustave.

"Gustave," said the secret agent, "how long have you been a waiter?"

"Fifteen years," replied the Swede.

"In that time," said Ashton-Kirk, "you should have learned your business
pretty well."

Gustave grinned mildly.

"Oh, yes," said he.

Ashton-Kirk handed him a coin.

"When you go into Parlor F," said he, "forget what you have learned. Be
clumsy. Make a noise. Do something that will draw people's attention to
you for a little."

Again Gustave grinned.

"I will forget," said he, slipping the coin into a pocket. "The peoples
will not be pleased, but I will forget."

That he kept his promise was evinced by sundry crashes and exclamations
which came from Parlor F shortly after; and in the midst of these
Ashton-Kirk entered the room adjoining and unlocked the communicating
door. Then Gustave retired, followed by a series of remarks in a voice
that was strange to the secret agent, and for a few moments there was no
sound save the clinking and clash of glasses.

"Such a clown," said the voice, "such a clown to be sent to serve
gentlefolks. It could happen in no other country but this."

"Will you please come to the matter in hand?" said the gentle voice of
Okiu. "You sent for us for a specific purpose, and we should be greatly
obliged if you would hold to that, Mr. Karkowsky."

Karkowsky laughed in the manner of a man who was very well contented
with himself.

"Of course, of course," said he. "Business is always a pleasure to me.
Especially very profitable business such as this will prove to be."

"We do not ask your price," said a voice which the secret agent
recognized as that of Matsadi. "We merely desire to be certain that the
paper is ready for delivery."

"You may rest assured upon that point," replied Karkowsky. "Drevenoff,
show him the scapular."

There was a moment's pause, during which the secret agent could well
imagine the young Pole drawing the desired object from his pocket.

"There!" said the triumphant voice of Drevenoff. "There it is. And see
here where the edge has been opened--the paper."

Karkowsky laughed once more.

"Ah," said he, contentedly, "these little matters! What a time we have
in hunting them out--what a chase they sometimes lead us. And how glad
we feel when it is all over."

"There would have been no chase in this matter at least," said Matsadi,
"if you had lived up to your word in the first place."

"Not my word, my dear sir," spoke Karkowsky. "That has always been good.
But one cannot always depend upon the steadfastness of a boy."

"I am as steadfast as you," broke in the voice of Drevenoff. "But blood
is thicker than water."

"I will not deny that," said Karkowsky, soothingly. Then, as though
turning to the others, he added: "It happened this way. This was a wild
lad. Russia drove him out. He fled to this country. When his father came
with Count Malikoff they became reconciled. He was permitted to return
home. But he was a Pole; he hated Russia; and beside that, _I_ pointed
out a chance to make a fortune. He stole the document which we now have
here."

"And then," said Okiu, "you opened negotiations with Tokio. And when all
had been settled, you would not turn the instrument over to us for the
price asked."

"That," said Karkowsky, "was the result of the indiscretion of a very
young man. I could not turn it over to you. Drevenoff had given it to
his father."

"What else would you have me do?" demanded the young Pole, warmly.
"Could I see him wrongfully accused, disgraced? No. I returned the
paper, told him what I had done, and stood willing to have him do with
me what he would."

"But his father," said Karkowsky, "was afraid to act; he feared for
himself and for his son. He hid the paper in his scapular, and when
dying gave it to the English physician."

"He was afraid to trust a Russian--he dreaded to risk giving the paper
into the hands of one who might profit by it. I know that was his
reason, because I knew my father," said Drevenoff. "But the Englishman
attached no importance to the scapular; he placed it among his effects
and forgot it. If my father gave him any instructions with regard to the
disposal of it, he also forgot them."

"I reasoned out what must have become of the scapular when this young
man came to me after his father's death," said Karkowsky. "He was then
willing, once more, to join me in the sale of the paper, because," and
the man's laugh was full of mockery, "there was no near and dear one who
could be harmed by it."

"Because you would sell your soul, Karkowsky," said young Drevenoff,
"don't think me a fool if I would not."

"I beg your pardon," said the elder Pole, "I meant no offense. And as to
selling my soul for so little money, don't believe it. If I ever come to
such a transaction, my dear child, the price will be of some
consequence."

"And when you reasoned that the English doctor must have what you
desired," said the smooth voice of Okiu, "you began your operations?"

"At once," answered Karkowsky. "We took ship to England, located him at
Sharsdale, and went to work on the matter. We tried everything, but with
the same lack of success."

"From what you said a few moments ago," said Matsadi, "you think that
Dr. Morse was unaware of the document's existence."

"At first I did not dream of such a thing," said Karkowsky, "and,
indeed, it was not until after he had come to America that it occurred
to me. On going to Sharsdale I tried to open negotiations with him; I
tried the same here. But in neither case did he rise to the bait. But
_now_ I am convinced that he never knew the thing was in his
possession."

Matsadi laughed.

"Then, Okiu," said he, "all your planning was wasted."

"So it would seem," replied Okiu, gently.

"We suspected that you had some hand in the queer communications which
Dr. Morse received from time to time," said Karkowsky. "We knew that it
was not by chance that you took the house directly behind him.
Drevenoff," with a laugh, "tried to get your man to talk many times, but
could not."

"Humadi," said the Japanese agent, "never talks."

Here there was a sort of rustling sound; the swish-swish of silken
skirts over the floor; then a new voice spoke, a voice which made
Ashton-Kirk breathe a quiet sigh of content.

"I think you have rambled long enough in this thing. It will not benefit
any of us in any way to know what the others have done to gain
possession of the paper. That it is here is, I think, sufficiently to
the point."

There was a subdued clapping of hands at this.

"Bravo, Julia," cried Drevenoff. "To business, I say. That is what we
are here for."

"Exactly," spoke Karkowsky. "That is what we are here for. The
price----"

"Is what was named before," interrupted Julia. "And the paper is to be
delivered when the money is turned over."

"To-morrow?" asked Matsadi.

"To-morrow will do very well," said Karkowsky. "Ready money--no checks,
or drafts," cunningly. "They are things not always to be trusted. The
hard coin, or the downright bank-note; that is what pleases me in a case
like this."

"To-morrow, at noon," said Matsadi, curtly. There was a drawing back of
chairs and the sound of several persons arising. "You can be seen here,
I suppose?"

"Yes," replied Karkowsky. "We will come here. Have the money in large
bills, if possible," with a laugh; "we don't care to be loaded down, if
it's to be avoided."

"It shall be as you desire," said Matsadi. Then there came the sound of
footsteps crossing the floor of Parlor F, and a door opened.
"Good-night," said Matsadi.

"Good-night," replied the others.

Softly Ashton-Kirk opened the communicating door, and stepped into the
room. Karkowsky was just about closing the door leading into the hall;
at his side was Drevenoff and a girl with flaxen hair. As the door
clicked behind the Japanese the girl threw up her hands and laughed
triumphantly.

"Alexander," she cried, "it is ours at last! We have won! In spite of
all _they_ could do--in spite of the clever American, we have won!"

She threw her arms about the neck of Drevenoff; but as she did so there
came a queer, throaty cry from Karkowsky; and then for the first time
since he had entered the room, she saw Ashton-Kirk.



CHAPTER XXV

CAUGHT!


The expression upon the faces of the three as they gazed at Ashton-Kirk
were of mingled amazement and fear. But the secret agent only smiled in
return; the twinkle in his eyes was altogether humorous.

"I know," said he, "that I am exceedingly annoying in happening
here--especially at such a time as this. But, you see, we all have our
tasks in life, and mine is to convince people that things are seldom
what they seem."

There was no reply; and the secret agent fixing his gaze upon the girl,
continued:

"That you think I am clever is a compliment for which I thank you. It is
hard," with a smile, "to be indebted to a person and be able to make
only a--so to speak--left handed return."

The girl was the first of the three to recover. She stared at the
speaker unflinchingly.

"And that is----?" she asked.

"Only that in saying that you have won you made a slight mistake."

"Don't be too sure that it _is_ one," she said. Then with a fierce,
bitter ring in her tone, she added: "There would have been no mistake
had I had my way a few nights ago."

The secret agent laughed.

"Ah, no," said he. "I can well believe that. You urged our friend here,"
nodding toward Drevenoff, "rather strongly, to be sure."

Drevenoff's face was waxen with increased fear; the wide open stare of
his eyes grew more marked. He was about to say something, but before he
could do so Karkowsky spoke.

"Who," asked the elder Pole, "is this gentleman?"

The girl laughed in a mocking sort of way.

"An amateur policeman," she said. "Perhaps you have heard of him. His
name is Ashton-Kirk."

Karkowsky seemed to ponder; but at length he shook his head.

"No," said he, "I do not recall the name." Then to the secret agent:
"Would you mind stating your business, sir?"

"You would make an excellent comedian, Mr. Karkowsky," said the other.
"I do not recall ever having seen that so well done before. And when one
considers how many times the device has been used, that is saying a
great deal."

Drevenoff took a step toward the speaker.

"What," demanded he, "did you mean a moment ago when you spoke of my
being strongly urged?"

"So!" Ashton-Kirk darted a keen look at him. "That attracted your
attention, did it?" He remained with his eyes upon the young man for a
moment, and then continued: "You seem to have a habit, when dispatched
upon messages, of seeing to your own affairs first I recall,"
reminiscently, "that upon the night of the murder of Dr. Morse I asked
you to go for the police."

"I did so," said the Pole.

"Oh, yes, to be sure. But you took occasion first to fasten a window
which had been previously neglected."

For an instant it seemed as though Drevenoff would cry out, but with a
great effort he held himself in check.

"I don't understand you," he said.

"I sympathize with you in that," said Ashton-Kirk, "because there are
many things I do not understand myself. For example," and he wrinkled
his brow as though in an attempt to recall something, "I do not
understand how you escaped the eye of the man I had at your heels the
other night when Miss Corbin sent you to the city. Was it by a leap from
the train while it was moving?" He shook his head in strong disapproval.
"That was dangerous."

A quick look passed between the three; but the secret agent proceeded:

"There are some, however, who are willing to take chances, no matter how
desperate. Then, again, there are others who dislike to risk anything.
You, for example," and he looked once more at the girl, "refuse to run
risks of a certain sort. You are one of those who believe in clearing
the way of obstacles as you come to them. That," and he nodded
appreciatively, "is an admirable method. But to be absolutely effective
it should contain a dash of imagination. For, then, if one were planning
a murder by illuminating gas, for instance, one would realize the result
of a raised blind. A grass plot is an excellent background for the
shadows cast by a strong light."

Again the quick glances were interchanged; and then Karkowsky spoke
briskly.

"We have listened to you, Mr. Ashton-Kirk, as you must admit, with a
great deal of patience. So you will pardon me if I insist upon your
stating the nature of your business without further loss of time."

Ashton-Kirk looked at the fresh-faced little man with his frank, well
opened eyes and well-fed figure; and a look of amusement came into his
face.

"As to that," said the secret agent, "I am entirely at one with you. I
desire to finish my business as quickly as I can. I am here upon much
the same errand as the two who just left," he continued. "But there is
this difference. _They_ were willing to pay for the paper contained in
the scapular; while I expect to have it handed to me for the asking."

Karkowsky sat down and crossed his legs much after the manner of a man
who is interested. The young man and the girl remained standing and were
silent.

"A paper," said Karkowsky, as he stroked his chin, thoughtfully. "Will
you kindly be more explicit?"

"Again I felicitate you upon your talent," said the secret agent; "you
were meant for the stage." He sat upon the edge of the table and nursed
one knee with his clasped hands. "But let me assure you that you are but
wasting your breath and your ability." He paused for a moment and then
went on: "If every one concerned in this matter had displayed a like
degree of talent, things might not have turned out as they have. Let me
suggest to you," to the girl, "that you make an effort to change your
style of handwriting; if you continue in your present trade, you can't
hope for success while possessing so noticeable a characteristic."

For the first time since his discovery of the secret agent's presence,
Karkowsky lost his presence of mind. He uttered an exclamation.

"The postman," smiled Ashton-Kirk, "told me of Mr. Kendreg of Lowe
Street, and it did not take a great deal of time to reason it out that
you and he were one, and that the second address was a ruse to throw the
police off the track should there be any need of it. The man who had you
in charge also had orders to keep an eye out for a woman, for the
handwriting which had so attracted the attention of the postman,
together with some other little things, had told me that a woman was
concerned. But, as a matter of fact, he never had a glimpse of her until
you went to meet her at the station and boarded the train for
Washington. On the journey here, he occupied a chair in the same car."

"He is a clever man," sneered the girl.

"Quite so. But there are things which are out of his line. For example,
he has not been able to find out how you obtained entrance to the Von
Stunnenberg house. But that you _did_ enter he knew, for he watched you
as you went in. And then he called me on the telephone and described
you. I knew that I could not mistake you," with a little bow, "for there
are not many of your marked type, and if that were not enough, your
costume is unique."

"Well?" said she.

"I did not see you take the paper from Miss Corbin," said Ashton-Kirk.
"But I was quite sure that you had it, for all that."

"And you allowed me to go!" The girl sneered once more; but Ashton-Kirk
shrugged his shoulders.

"It made no great difference," said he quietly. "The man who watched you
enter was watching you when you left. His arrangements were such that
only a miracle could have permitted your escape."

For a moment the three were silent; then young Drevenoff spoke.

"You heard what Okiu and the other said while they were here?"

"All that was essential, I think. I know that _you_ have the paper, and
this being the case, it is to you whom I now direct my attention."

"By that," said Drevenoff, "I suppose you mean that you expect me to
give it up."

The secret agent nodded.

"I credit you with some common sense," said he, "and therefore think
that you will do so."

The young man was about to answer, but Karkowsky stopped him. The elder
then bent toward Ashton-Kirk; his usually good-humored eyes wore an
entirely different expression, his round face was set and hard.

"I perceive," said he, in a cold, even voice, "that there is nothing to
be gained by further evasion. We _have_ the paper of which you speak--we
have it after several years of constant effort; and the reward that was
to follow the finding of it is all but in our hands." He rose, and his
small figure seemed to dilate as he proceeded: "Perhaps you heard this
reward mentioned a while ago. It is to be a large sum of money paid by
the Japanese government; but do not suppose that we," and he waved his
hand so as to include the other two, "hoped for personal profit."

Ashton-Kirk shook his head.

"I do not suppose so," said he. "Some few facts which I gathered as to
your reading at the public libraries gave me an idea as to your
purpose."

"Humanity," declared Karkowsky, "its development and progress!--that is
our creed. This money was to help fight tyranny as represented by
Russia. The Japanese whom we have dealt with know nothing of our
intentions; for they, too, are ruled by a tyrant, and we feared that
rather than advance our cause, if they knew the truth, they would forego
leveling at your own country a blow which they longed to strike.

"We have given ourselves to this thing," he went on, "have stopped at
nothing. No chance has been too desperate, no hope too small. And now
that, as I have said, the reward is all but in our hands, do you think
we will pause--that we will weaken in our purpose--that we will
surrender the paper to you because you come here and demand it?"

"If you do suppose so," said Drevenoff, "you do not know us. You are
only one; if we failed before, it does not follow that we will fail
again. You were right, Julia," to the girl; "I should have used the
revolver you offered me instead of the gas. It would have been sure, and
would have saved us further trouble."

"Ah," said the secret agent, "so it was a revolver she offered you. I
recall your refusal of it very well. And I also recall," thoughtfully,
"that it was a pistol shot which ended the life of Dr. Morse. Perhaps
she also offered you the weapon in that instance."

"What!" cried the young Pole. "Do you mean to say----"

But Ashton-Kirk interrupted him.

"I mean to say," said he, "that I know you were in the library on the
night of the murder.

"Wait!" As Drevenoff seemed about to interrupt him. "Do you mean to say
that you were not in the library that night, secretly? Do you mean to
say that you did not steal down the front staircase, unfasten a rear
window, and admit a woman? And do you mean to say that you did not make
a search, and in doing so cut your hand upon a glass drawer knob?"

Drevenoff gasped, and a wild look came into his eyes; in a moment the
girl was at his side, whispering soothingly to him, all her defiance
gone, her manner soft and anxious.

"If I were to tell these things in a court of law," said Ashton-Kirk,
and he shrugged his shoulders, "and then followed them up by showing
your entire willingness to take human life, as demonstrated by your
venture with the illuminating gas, do you think there would be much
chance of your escaping conviction for the murder of Dr. Morse?"

Drevenoff shook himself free from the girl; his face was white, and he
trembled from head to foot; but the wild look of terror in his eyes had
given place to one of desperate resolution. Karkowsky seemed to read the
look; and what it told him, apparently, agreed well with his own
inclinations at the moment, for his hand stole to his pocket and he took
a forward step.

"You would have us into a law court, would you?" asked the younger Pole,
in a husky voice. "And you'd put a rope around _my_ neck! Well, maybe
you would, if you got the chance; but you have not yet done it, and you
_will_ not!"

With the last word he leaped upon Ashton-Kirk, his hands gripping at his
throat, and at the same moment Karkowsky drew a shining object from his
pocket. What would have happened would be difficult to say; but at the
first sign of violence, Fuller, Burgess and some others burst into the
room; Karkowsky was seized and the younger man was torn away from the
secret agent.

The latter readjusted his collar with one hand, and smiled quietly.

"To grip a man by the throat is a very primitive mode of attack, my dear
sir," said he. "The very best authorities have set their faces against
it, for while you are so engaged, you leave yourself open to more or
less deadly counter movements. But as it happened, this," and a scarlet
something showed in his hand, "is the only thing that happened to you. I
was too seriously engaged in picking your pockets to think of anything
else."

What reply Drevenoff made to this did not seem to interest the secret
agent a great deal, however; for he turned his back upon them all, and,
under a light, began making an examination of his find. They caught the
rustle of paper, and saw him place something carefully in his
pocketbook. When he finally turned, his aides were about leading the
prisoners from the room. At the door there was a halt; the girl turned
toward him.

"It's too late to deny anything in which we have had a hand," said she,
disregarding the muttered warnings of Karkowsky. "But the one thing
with which we had nothing to do I will deny. Neither he," pointing to
Drevenoff, "nor I killed Dr. Morse. I admit everything else; but that
one thing we did not do."

Ashton-Kirk said nothing; and the girl went on:

"Drevenoff _did_ admit me to the house on the night the doctor was
killed. He had searched for the paper everywhere; and knowing that I was
clever at such things, he asked me to help him. It was for the same
purpose that I was in the house on the night we tried to fix you with
the illuminating gas.

"But," and her hands went up dramatically, "we did not lay a hand upon
the doctor. He was seated in his chair, dead, when we went into the
library. If he was murdered," and her voice sank, "I can indicate the
guilty person."

"Who was it?" asked Burgess.

"It was his secretary--Warwick."

"You did not see him do it?" It was Fuller who asked the question.

"No; but after we had searched everywhere, we heard a sound; I was just
about to open a bag which I saw on the floor and Drevenoff whispered to
me to run. I did so, taking the bag with me. I had stepped out of the
window and was looking about, when Warwick leaped out after me and
seized the bag. I tried to tear it from him, but could not. Then I ran,
leaving it in his hands." There was a silence for a moment, then she
added, "What I have just said is the absolute truth. If you are even
half as clever a man as you are said to be," to Ashton-Kirk, "you will
find this to be so."

And with that she followed Karkowsky and Drevenoff from the room, each
guarded by a stout plain clothes man.



CHAPTER XXVI

THE TRUTH


Ashton-Kirk, after Burgess led the prisoners away, turned to a telephone
and in a moment had the office.

"A gentleman will probably ask to see me in a little while; if so, send
him here."

And as he turned toward Fuller, that young man said, in a dubious sort
of way:

"What do you think of that story which the girl just now told? Can there
be any truth in it?"

"It is all truth," said Ashton-Kirk, quietly.

"All truth!" Fuller opened his eyes to their widest extent. "Then you
have made up your mind Warwick is the murderer."

Ashton-Kirk smiled.

"As to that," said he, "we will allow him to speak for himself. I expect
him here at any moment."

"Here!"

"Yes," replied the secret agent. And then as a low knock sounded upon
the door, he added, "More than likely that is he now."

In response to his "Come in," Philip Warwick entered. Closing the door
behind him, he advanced slowly, and then paused facing Ashton-Kirk.

"I believe," said he, quietly, "that you desire to see me."

He was rather pale and obviously nervous; but for all that he made a
good attempt to appear at ease.

"It was very kind of you to come at this hour," said Ashton-Kirk. "Will
you sit down?"

The young man did so.

"I did not know just where you were putting up," proceeded Ashton-Kirk,
"and so had to call up one hotel after another."

"I was at the Carlton," said Warwick. "I got the call a half-hour ago.
And now that I am here," with a squaring of his shoulders, "will you
kindly be as brief as possible?"

"Brevity suits me exactly," said Ashton-Kirk. "But before making a
beginning, don't you think it advisable to secure the presence of one
more person? I think," significantly, "she has returned from Von
Stunnenberg's by this."

For an instant Philip Warwick hesitated; then he went to the telephone;
and in a very few minutes there came a knock upon the door. Fuller
opened it, and Stella Corbin entered swiftly; with a cry she ran to
Warwick, and he put his arms about her protectingly, while his eyes
seemed to defy the secret agent.

"And now," said the latter, after the girl had gained control of
herself, "suppose we make ourselves as comfortable as possible, and then
come at once to that which has brought us together."

When all were seated, he resumed:

"There are a great many points in this case which remain to be cleared
up. Some of these," and his eyes searched their faces, "are things upon
which you two only can throw a light."

But the girl and the young man remained looking at him coldly and in
silence. He smiled.

"Your present attitude is not unfamiliar," said he to Miss Corbin. "I
think," reflectively, "that I noted it first upon the day after the
murder of your uncle when we met you upon the stairs. And," his brows
lifting in polite inquiry, "as you had just finished a somewhat earnest
conversation with your neighbor Okiu, I've often wondered just how much
he had to do with my loss of your confidence."

"You are right," said Stella Corbin, steadily. "It was Mr. Okiu who
first told me what many things have since convinced me is the truth. He
was passing the window where I stood that morning and stopped to express
his sympathy. We entered into a conversation and he told me of the
paper--I had never heard of it before--and he told me that you were
endeavoring to become possessed of it.

"But I believed in you then, and replied that you had been engaged by
Mr. Warwick to clear up a mystery which surrounded my uncle. However, he
said he knew your methods. You had no doubt in some insidious way caused
yourself to be suggested to Mr. Warwick for the----"

"Stella!" cried Warwick, in astonishment.

"Is it so surprising that this should be true?" she asked turning to
him. "Have not much more surprising things happened of late?"

Warwick made no reply to this, but directed a look toward the secret
agent.

"One would have thought," said the latter, composedly, "that Okiu's
being so manifestly an interested person would have weakened the
plausibility of his story. But," and he smiled as he went on, "perhaps
he did not divulge the real nature of the paper." He caught the look
that came into her face, and added: "I see that he did not. A clever man
_would_ not, and Okiu is really very clever."

He paused for a few moments as though expecting either one or the other
to speak; but as they did not do so, remaining cold faced and
unbelieving, he resumed:

"I see that there is very little that I can say that will tend toward
reëstablishing our first friendly relationship. And this being the
case, we shall waste no more time upon the attempt." He took a note-book
from his pocket and turning over the leaves, said: "Here I have the main
points of the affair of Dr. Morse from the time of your visit to me,"
nodding to Warwick, "until the time Miss Corbin removed the sought-for
document from the candlestick in the library of the house on Fordham
Road."

At this the girl started up with a little startled cry; but Warwick drew
her back with a whispered warning.

The secret agent smiled.

"You seem surprised that I should know just where you found the paper,"
he said. "Do you forget that I was in the house on the night that it was
done?" There was another brief pause; then he went on: "However, in
tracing out this matter, I have come upon indications and have arrived
at conclusions which may surprise you still more." His turning of the
pages of the note-book stopped, and with his finger marking a penciled
entry, he said to Warwick: "This woman in New York--have you settled
your matters with her?"

It was now the young man's turn to show discomposure. But it was for an
instant only.

"A woman?" said he, inquiringly. "I don't think I understand."

"Of course," said Ashton-Kirk, with a gesture, "it is your privilege to
assume any attitude you choose; but I must say that I consider this one
faulty. There _is_ a woman! And she insists that she has some sort of a
legal claim upon you. This you deny; and Miss Corbin believes you."

"Mr. Warwick," exclaimed the girl, warmly, "has my utmost confidence."

"Thank you," smiled Ashton-Kirk. "We will now consider the existence of
the woman as having been admitted." He settled back in his chair, and
went on: "Some time ago Dr. Morse received a number of letters. They
were brought to him by a second woman--one whom you," to Warwick, "did
not know."

A quick look of surprise passed between the girl and the young man; but
they kept silent.

"From that time," said Ashton-Kirk, easily, "there was a decided feeling
between Dr. Morse and his secretary. Quarrels were frequent; he was not
careful as to his words and you resented his brutality. On the night of
the murder he struck you," looking at Warwick. "He struck you in the
face; and you," turning his eyes swiftly upon the girl, "saw the blow
and were glad."

"Glad!" the girl echoed the word. "Yes, I _was_ glad. Because I knew
that that would mark the end of your hesitancy," to Warwick. "I knew
that you would act--that you would not be content with merely denying."

Ashton-Kirk nodded.

"If you had read my notes," said he, tapping his book approvingly, "you
could not have made a statement more in accord with them." He looked at
them for a moment, and then went on: "Dr. Morse had made up his mind
finally to interview this woman. He had placed the letters in his
hand-bag and was preparing for the trip when you," to Stella, "convinced
him that he was making a mistake, and succeeded in obtaining his consent
that Warwick make the journey with the letters instead. Am I right?"

"You are," replied Warwick. "I had known this woman," in explanation.
"She heard of my intended marriage with Miss Corbin, claimed that she
was my wife and forged certain letters to substantiate her claim. The
entire matter was absurd, though Dr. Morse chose to regard it seriously.
But at last he _did_ consent to giving me the letters, permitting me to
seek out the woman and force her to tell the truth."

"I see," said Ashton-Kirk. "It was while upon a landing of the back
stairs that you were told that the letters were in the hand-bag in the
library, and you at once went to get them, meaning to catch the next New
York train. Miss Corbin went as far as the lower hall with you, then
returned to her room. You entered the library. It was dark. A sound
attracted you in the rear room. You went toward it, and as you gained
the doorway you saw a woman with the bag in her hand step out of the low
window to the lawn."

"You were there!" cried Warwick.

"No," smiled Ashton-Kirk. "Some of the things which I have told you were
seen, or heard. Others I have gathered from signs. I have merely
connected all of these by reasoning out what must have occurred to bring
about the results that followed."

"I did see a woman step out upon the lawn," said Warwick, "and I
followed her."

"Of course," said the secret agent. "You knew it was a woman who had
brought the letters to Dr. Morse; and that you had not seen her is shown
by the fact that you suspected that the woman with the bag was the same.
You fancied that she had somehow learned of Dr. Morse's intention to
turn the letters over to you; and in fear of what you might do and
knowing that the letters were palpable forgeries, she had effected an
entrance to the house and was trying to make off with them. If it
occurred to you that she had been exceedingly quick to gain her
information, and had suspiciously little trouble getting into the house,
you might have suspected the collusion of Dr. Morse. As you had a
deep-seated aversion to him, this thought would have been natural
enough."

"As a matter of fact," said Warwick, slowly, "what you say is
practically the truth. But," and there was a strong curiosity in his
voice, "it is not possible that you have reasoned your way to this."

Ashton-Kirk smiled.

"Most things to which we are unaccustomed seem difficult," replied he.
"This particular conclusion was arrived at very simply. It is based upon
the fact that you did not give an alarm. Had you thought the woman was a
housebreaker, you would not have contented yourself with taking the bag
from her and watching her make away." And as young Warwick was staring,
deeply struck by this explanation, the secret agent continued: "But,
tell me, what made you reënter by the window after she had gone?"

"To have an understanding with Dr. Morse. But I got no further than the
back room when I changed my mind. That would wait, but the railroad
wouldn't. If I became involved in a quarrel with him I might miss the
train."

"Ah! I saw your tracks upon the window-sill, showing that you had gone
in that way as well as come out. But your reasons puzzled me. You will
observe," smiling, "there are some things for which I _cannot_ supply
the answer."

"I passed around the back of the house, just as the newspapers said,"
spoke Warwick, "and leaped the fence. I did this to save time. I had no
idea what the hour was, and did not wish to be late."

"It was then that the Japanese saw you," said Ashton-Kirk. "Okiu sent
one of his men to follow you, thinking something was in the wind. It was
this man who was afterward found dead in your room at the New York
hotel."

"He got into the room during my momentary absence," stated Warwick, who
now seemed not at all backward in rendering help. "I came upon him just
as he had slashed the bag open and removed the letters. These I snatched
from him, and as he leaped at me I knocked him down. In a rage at his
defeat he then killed himself, Japanese fashion, before my eyes. Knowing
that I should be held for an explanation of this, and not wishing to
become involved in a delay at that time, I managed to slip from the
hotel without being seen.

"Later I saw the account of Dr. Morse's death in the newspapers and
learned that my sudden and secret departure had caused me to be
suspected. But I determined not to make my whereabouts known until I
completed the business which took me to New York. This I did very
effectually after I found the woman I had sought; then I returned."

"First," said Ashton-Kirk, "you communicated with Miss Corbin, made
certain arrangements with her on the telephone and then paid a visit.
You had probably recognized the Japanese of the hotel room as one whom
you had seen about Okiu's. This had aroused a suspicion in you that
possibly Okiu knew more of certain things than any one else."

"What you have said is quite correct," said the young man, composedly.
"First I intended making an open visit to the Japanese, and made my way
to his house for that purpose. But I saw you entering at the front door
and changed my mind. Miss Corbin had spoken of you with some suspicion
over the telephone. I thought it best to take no chances and at the same
time I wanted to learn more about the Japanese and your apparent
intimacy with them. So I entered secretly from the rear of the house.
However, I had not gone further than the first floor when I came upon
you in the dark."

Ashton-Kirk laughed and touched the patch of plaster with a finger tip.

"You strike a sharp blow," he said. "But tell me, what had Okiu to say
when we burst through the door into the lighted apartment?"

Warwick shook his head.

"There was no one there. I saw that it would not do to leave you, so I
lifted you and carried you out of the house by the rear door. I meant
to call attention to you, and after gaining the lawn behind the house of
Dr. Morse, I heard some one opening a door. I placed you upon the ground
and stepped back. It was Drevenoff who came out, and he found you almost
instantly."

"I thank you," said Ashton-Kirk, "not only for that good service, but
for your willingness to speak." He turned to the girl and added:
"Perhaps it would help matters greatly if you were equally willing.
Believe me, Okiu had his reasons for implanting suspicion in your mind
against me. He was quite right if he told you that I was searching for
the paper concealed in the scapular; I knew that it was in your uncle's
possession after my first visit to Fordham Road, and made up my mind to
have it. But murder is not my business. I gain my ends by other means."

"Tell me," said the girl, and she bent a little toward him, "have you
gained your end in this case?"

"I have," returned the secret agent.

She gave a little gasp.

"It was you, then, who took the scapular from me at the embassy?"

He laughed and shook his head.

"No," he answered, "it was not. It came to my possession only about a
half hour ago." He looked at her for a moment, and then went on: "I
will not ask how it came into your possession, or rather how you knew of
its being in the candlestick, for I already know."

"You know?" She arose, her face white.

He nodded.

"Yes;" and here his voice sank. "I also know who killed your uncle."

Her hand went out, trembling; her face was so bloodless that Warwick
sprang up, alarmed.

"You are sure?" she asked, quaveringly.

Again the secret agent nodded.

"I am quite sure," he said



CHAPTER XXVII

CONCLUSION


At an early hour next day, Ashton-Kirk paid a visit to the secretary;
what passed between them can only be guessed, but that the scarlet
scapular and its accompanying document was one of them, is a certainty.
Then the secret agent, accompanied by Fuller, boarded a train leaving
Washington and went speeding homeward. Fuller, though sorely troubled,
managed to contain himself until they had almost finished the journey.
Then, as one unable to combat his curiosity any longer, he said:

"I wonder how many of those things which old Nanon suspected regarding
the Corbin girl are true?"

Without turning his eyes from the flat country which whirled by the car
window, Ashton-Kirk said:

"There are a great many well-meaning people whose views or statements
cannot be accepted without great risk. Nanon is one of these."

"Then you do not believe what she told you upon the various occasions
when you talked to her?"

Ashton-Kirk proceeded as though he had not heard the question.

"As we saw at almost the first glance, the woman is a fanatic; she hated
'pagans,' as she termed the Japanese; she feared Morse because of his
views; to her mind he was possessed by a spirit of evil. This feeling
grew so strong in the course of time that she began to feel that even
his surroundings must necessarily be evil, that those who possessed the
same blood, or for whom he cared, must be filled with demonic impulses."

"That is probably so," said Fuller. "Something of the sort occurred to
me once or twice after you told me of the things she said on the day she
visited you." He was silent for some little time; his mind seemed to
have turned to a fresh matter for bewilderment, for he finally said: "I
heard all you said to Miss Corbin at the Tillinghast and a great deal of
it was plain enough. But what I can't understand is the affair of Okiu,
Miss Corbin and the taxi-cab. She was seen to enter the cab with the Jap
at a time when she had in her possession the thing which he desired most
in the world. And, instead of taking it then, he preferred to wait and
lay a rather ornate plan which was not at all sure to succeed."

"The story of the old watchman, whom we talked to at the drug store
that night, gave me some hours of hard work," said Ashton-Kirk. "And I
burned up quite a bit of tobacco before I finally worked the truth out
of it." He turned toward his aide lazily and asked: "Suppose there had
been two taxi-cabs instead of one that night?"

"Two?" Fuller did not seem to grasp the suggestion.

"Okiu got into one; it turned, and vanished around the corner. Then a
second appeared, coming from the direction in which the first had gone.
As taxis are unusual in Eastbury at night the watchman never dreamed but
that it was the same one returning."

"But," protested Fuller, "he saw the Jap open the taxi door."

"He said so, yes. But after I had considered the matter I went to him
and asked a few questions. It was as I thought. He had taken the cab for
granted in the first place, and he took the Jap for granted in the
second."

"But Okiu bought two tickets for Washington."

"One was for his confederate, Humadi, who joined him at the station."

"The second cab, then----" Fuller paused, expectantly.

"I hunted it up. It had been engaged by young Warwick. He and Miss
Corbin had agreed over the telephone to meet at a certain hour upon the
corner where the policeman noticed the girl waiting. Warwick went to
secure the cab to take them to the station, and was delayed in some way.
As he did not appear, she evidently became nervous, fancied that she had
made a mistake and that he had really named the corner above as the
place of meeting. She had started for this, when his cab turned the
corner, halted and took her up."

"Yes, yes," said Fuller. "I see now that that could very readily have
happened. But," with a lift of his brows, "if the Japanese were not in
on the finding of the scapular, why did they take it into _their_ heads
to bolt so suddenly for Washington?"

"The attempt upon me had failed," returned Ashton-Kirk. "They feared to
remain without instructions, and so hurried to Washington to lay the
facts before their superiors. Burgess noted them upon the train, and was
a witness to the amazement they showed at sight of Karkowsky and his
friends.

"However, none of the latter saw the Japanese. Okiu, as I think I have
said before, is a clever man. He saw that something was ripe, or
considered to be so by the Poles, and so he clung to them secretly after
they had reached the capital. And within an hour he had learned that
Miss Corbin was at the Tillinghast! The observation of all this was a
deft piece of observation upon the part of Culberson's fellows. They are
much more deserving than I ever gave them credit for."

There was quiet a long period in which nothing more passed between the
two men. Indeed the train was slowing up to stop when Fuller asked:

"You have given up all thought of the girl or Warwick having had any
hand in the death of Dr. Morse?"

"I never had any such thought," said Ashton-Kirk. "To be sure,"
smilingly, "they puzzled me more than a little from time to time. The
girl's fear of the police, from the very first, was a thing that
interested me. But that may be safely attributed to a natural
uncertainty. There was bad blood between her lover and her uncle;
perhaps the former in a fit of rage had killed the latter. She feared
this possibility, and in consequence dreaded the police."

"And the shoes with the caked soil upon the soles?"

"As I remarked at the time you discovered them, our own shoes were in
like condition."

"Okiu is a resourceful, secretive man," said Fuller. "And, being so, why
did he tell Miss Corbin of the paper? Her knowledge of its existence
could not benefit him in any way, and her possible discovery of it could
only have hurt him."

Ashton-Kirk laughed.

"By telling her what he did, he gained a valued aide. He had planted an
unwearying searcher in the house which he could in no other way enter.
If the girl found the paper, so he figured, she would at once acquaint
him with the fact. And I have no doubt but that this is the very thing
that would have happened had not Warwick arrived with his newly created
suspicions of the Japanese."

They took a taxi at the station and were speeding toward the house of
Ashton-Kirk, when Fuller spoke again.

"Several times," said he, "I have heard you say that you know who killed
Dr. Morse. I suppose that to-day will see the arrest of the murderer."

Ashton-Kirk nodded.

"Yes," said he, "I suppose so."

The driver of the cab was paid and dismissed and the two entered the
house.

"Any one here, Stumph?" asked Ashton-Kirk.

"Mr. O'Neill and Mr. Purvis," replied the man.

These two were seated in a room off the secret agent's study, engaged in
conversation.

"How is this?" demanded Ashton-Kirk, rather sharply. "I thought that
either one or the other of you was to remain at the Fordham Road place
until I called you off."

"Well, seeing that the regular police are there," said O'Neill, "we
thought we could ease up a bit."

"The regular police!" exclaimed the secret agent.

"Then you didn't get my wire. Yes, the regulars are on the job there
now. The old servant is dead--died while sitting muttering over her
prayer-book. It was perfectly natural, I feel sure, but the police, in
view of what has already happened in the house, are going to take no
chances."

The two men had gone, and Ashton-Kirk sat smoking a cigar in his big
chair.

"A while ago," said he, "you said that you supposed that to-day would
witness the arrest of the assassin of Dr. Morse; and I think I agreed
that it would. But now----" he stopped and shook his head.

Fuller regarded him for a moment; then an expression of incredulity came
upon his face.

"By George!" cried he. "Surely you can't mean that----"

"I mean that it is too late," interrupted Ashton-Kirk. He drew at the
cigar reflectively for a space and then continued: "The thing as far as
I could learn happened this way:

"One day while still at Sharsdale, Nanon, in turning over her employer's
belongings, came upon the scapular given him by Colonel Drevenoff. She
was horrified at the thought of so holy an emblem being in the
possession of such a blasphemer, and at once all sorts of reasons for
his having it occurred to her. She had perhaps heard of the Black Mass,
and fancied no doubt that she had come upon evidence of some such
another sacrilege. She quietly took the scapular, therefore, and hid
it."

"And she never told him?"

"Not until the night of his death. Then she was called into the library,
as she stated, and in some manner the thing came out. I talked with her
as to this later before leaving for Washington, but she could give no
clear account of it. However, I think he uttered some sort of a taunt,
as was his habit, and she replied in kind. The meaning of the drawings
sent by Okiu had gradually dawned upon her, it seems, and she had
concluded that the suspense which he suffered because of them was a sort
of retribution. She must have put this thought into words, and in an
instant the truth was out. In a rage he took a revolver from his desk.
She did not know whether it was merely an attempt to frighten her or no;
however, she feared for her life and snatched at the weapon. It exploded
and he fell back into the chair.

"Yes; it was old Nanon who killed Morse. She concealed the revolver upon
her person and went to the front door, where she sat for some time, as
she told in her first story. She was calm and self-contained--she felt
that she had done no wrong."

"And so she concluded it would be best to 'find the body' when she
brought in the coffee?"

"Yes; and while she was engaged with this Drevenoff stole down the front
stairs, admitted his woman confederate to the room back of the
library--and discovered the dead body of Dr. Morse. Then followed the
fear-filled search; the approach of Warwick added to their fright. They
evidently carried a pocket torch, which accounts for the library being
dark when Warwick entered. Then the girl, Julia, made an effort to
escape with the bag; and while Warwick was in pursuit of her, Drevenoff
crept back to his room."

Fuller nodded slowly.

"Yes," said he, "it could very easily have been that way. But tell me
this: The old woman knew all the time that she was responsible for the
death of Morse; so why did she manifest so much uneasiness whenever
Warwick was mentioned in the matter?"

"She was alarmed at his disappearance because she was shrewd enough to
know that this would attract attention toward him. There were two
reasons for this. She felt kindly toward Warwick, and so disliked his
being falsely accused. Then, if he was arrested, she would be forced to
confess the truth to save him. She had these things in mind when she
withheld the fact that she had seen Morse strike the young man.

"She claimed to have heard voices in the library while she sat upon the
step. Now, Dr. Morse was dead at that time and none of the others had
yet gone into the room.

"The voices were a fiction. She thought to mislead the police by the
invention. Or perhaps she really thought she heard them; I did not
question her very closely upon this point. A woman like that is apt to
see and hear things which do not exist. Witness her suspicion of Miss
Corbin. She fancied that for some dark reasons the girl was making an
effort to have the crime fixed upon Warwick, while professing to love
him. That Miss Corbin had been long under the influence of Dr. Morse
made this idea, to Nanon's mind, not only possible, but probable.

"This thought grew upon the old woman until it seemed she could scarcely
think of anything else. Her constant espionage finally attracted Miss
Corbin's attention, as she told me at the Tillinghast after you left the
room. In her turn she began to suspect and watch. With the feeling that
the scapular should be well hidden, Nanon placed it in one of the
candlesticks, cunningly calculating that as the article had once been
searched, it would be passed by thereafter."

"And Miss Corbin saw her place it there," suggested Fuller, quickly.

"Exactly--and awaited an opportunity for obtaining possession of it."

"When did you first come to suspect that Nanon might have the paper?"
asked the aide, with curiosity.

"At the time we hit upon the fact that the drawings received by Dr.
Morse were meant to represent scapulars. What had actually happened at
once began to take form in my mind. And feeling sure that the old woman
had the paper safe, without, possibly, knowing of its existence, I made
no attempt to obtain possession of it. And I did not fear Drevenoff's
finding it, because I was convinced that they would never dream of her
having it."

The speaker sat for some time smoking in silence; then he added:

"I was about ready to tell her what I knew, secure the paper and hand
her over to Osborne on the day she paid me the visit. But the story she
told rather gave the matter the air of further entanglement; and so, to
learn first how deep was the apparent involvement of Miss Corbin and
Warwick, I postponed the arrest."

"I should think, all things considered," said Fuller, "that you'd be
rather glad that it happened so."

"I am," replied the secret agent. "She was without real guilt. And,"
with a nod to his aide, the meaning of which that young man did not fail
to catch, "as there are but a few who are possessed of the facts she
will, I think, continue to appear so."


Other Stories in this Series:
ASHTON-KIRK, INVESTIGATOR





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Ashton Kirk, Secret Agent" ***

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