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Title: Quintus Oakes - A Detective Story
Author: Jackson, Charles Ross
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 "Quintus Oakes - A Detective Story" ***

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                           Quintus Oakes

                        _A Detective Story_

                                 BY

                        CHARLES ROSS JACKSON

                    AUTHOR OF "THE THIRD DEGREE"

[Illustration]

                      G. W. DILLINGHAM COMPANY

                     PUBLISHERS        NEW YORK


                        COPYRIGHT, 1904, BY

                     G. W. DILLINGHAM COMPANY

                     [_All rights reserved._]


         _Quintus Oakes_              _Issued March, 1904_



CONTENTS


   CHAPTER                           PAGE

      I. The Rescue                    5

     II.  Quintus Oakes at Home       19

    III.  Oakes's Experiences         31

     IV.  The Departure               41

      V.  The Letter                  50

     VI.  The Murder                  56

    VII.  The Inquest                 69

   VIII.  The Mansion                 89

     IX.  Distrust and Suspicion     100

      X.  The Cellar                 108

     XI. The Night Walk              123

    XII.  The Witness                141

   XIII.  The Plan of Campaign       148

    XIV.  Clues                      159

     XV. The Ruse                    171

    XVI. The Negro's Story           191

   XVII.  Checkmated                 209

  XVIII.  Misadventures              221

    XIX.  A Faulty Story             240

     XX.  A Man's Confession         253

    XXI.  The Attack                 267

   XXII.  The Insane Root            278

  XXIII.  The Test                   287

   XXIV.  Across the Bridge          298

    XXV.  The Man of the Hour        311



                           QUINTUS OAKES



  _CHAPTER I_

  _The Rescue_


It was a warm summer evening; the air was stifling and still. I, Rodney
Stone, attorney-at-law, left my apartment to stroll along Broadway,
seeking a roof garden wherein to spend a few hours of change from the
atmosphere of the pavements, and to kill the ennui that comes to all of
us whom business compels to accept such circumstances.

As I walked down a side street, I noticed ahead of me a colored man rush
out from an apartment house, shouting something that I did not
understand. His actions seemed peculiar for a moment, but a curl of
smoke from one of the third-story windows made known the cause. It was
fire. I found myself among the first to reach the spot. From Broadway a
crowd was coming, such as collects readily under these circumstances. I
was soon mingling with it, watching the police in their endeavors to
rouse the tenants and to spread the alarm on all the floors. The
numerous dwellers were soon rushing out, and I saw several deeds
deserving of mention. As the crowd looked up at the apartment in which
the flames were showing and from which smoke was pouring, a window was
raised--evidently in a separate room--and a young girl appeared standing
at the sill. The effort of raising the sash had been a severe one for
her, for she was not over ten. Looking back into the room, she saw the
smoke filling it, and quickly scrambled out on the window frame. The
engines had not yet arrived, but I could hear them shrieking in the
distance, and we all knew that help was coming.

"Don't jump! Don't jump!" was the cry from us all. I advanced
instinctively, as did many, to be nearer, for we saw that fear had taken
possession of the child and that she seemed about to slide outward and
drop--to almost certain disaster.

A tall, handsome, well-built man in the crowd behind us spoke in a voice
of confidence and assurance.

"Hold tight, little girl. You're all right!"

I noticed that he was breathing hard; he had just arrived in haste.

Even as he spoke, the little one's head moved from one side to the
other, and she seemed in distress. Then something like an avalanche came
from back of me, tearing the crowd asunder. A hand fell upon my
shoulder, and I reeled to one side as the tall stranger sprang forward,
saying: "She is going to faint." Quick wit and quick eye had detected
what none other realized, that nature was being overcome and that the
fall was inevitable.

The limp little body slid a second, then pitched forward. A groan went
up at what seemed sure death. But the stranger's rush was timed to the
instant, and as the child's body curved head downward in its flight, his
strong figure reached the spot and his arms caught the child. The man
braced as they swung downward to his side, depositing the unconscious
girl in my hands and those of a policeman. She did not touch the
sidewalk, but the young giant came to his knees by the force of the
impact. It was a marvellous piece of work and the crowd cheered and
closed in upon the rescuer and our burden. The child was taken away by
those who had escaped. Then all hands looked at the man, and somebody
started to speak to him, and to ask him his name.

He turned to me. "Sorry to have smashed into you that way, sir," he
said. I answered, saying something about I was glad he did--and upon
looking up, I saw he was gone. We watched him, and saw him turn into
Broadway, bound on avoiding further notice.

"Who was he?" cried many.

A thick-set, tough-looking character spoke up: "Oh, he's de gazabo wot
did the turn on de----" At this instant a policeman pushed toward us,
and, shoving a club into the fellow's ribs, shouted: "Come, now, get out
o' this, or I'll----"

The fellow was off, and with him our chance of identifying the stranger
vanished. The police had been too busy with other matters to secure his
name. Another good act to be credited to an unknown!

The fire was soon under control and I renewed my walk, emerging on
Broadway as the shadows of night were coming on, and the street was
awakening to its characteristic summer life.

Suddenly I saw him--the identical man--walking across the thoroughfare.
I quickened my pace, although going rapidly at the time. It was my
intention to get closer to him and notice him better, as I was
interested. He turned up-town, and I saw that, although he was walking
easily, his pace was quicker than mine. What impressed me more than
anything else was his graceful carriage and the fine cut of his clothes.
He was dressed in a dark suit without waistcoat, and one of those soft,
white summer shirts which have become popular of late years. On his head
was a plain but expensive Panama. As he passed up the street ahead of
me, gaining all the while with his easy stride, he saluted a few
gentlemen, and the policemen seemed to know him. He evidently was a
striking figure to other eyes than mine, for I noticed several men stop
and half turn to look after him--a thing that one sees on Broadway but
seldom. He turned into a side street, and again I lost him. I fancied he
disappeared into one of the bachelor apartment houses of that section.

During the rest of the evening I regretted not having made stronger
efforts to learn his name; then I laughed at myself for being so
impressed by a stranger's appearance. The fact was, that the man's
action and personality had affected me so strongly that for days I
frequently found myself thinking of the fire and the rescue. I often
looked along the street when walking, in a vague hope of seeing the
handsome, clear-cut face of the man who had acted so promptly, but so
unostentatiously.

Little did I then know how great a factor that man was to be in the
moulding of my future--how circumstances were shaping, to link his
active nature with my career, and to lead me into one of the most
peculiar experiences that ever came to any one.

Over a month passed, and the first signs of fall were upon us. The
streets were assuming the appearance of activity, and familiar faces
reappeared in the public places, all invigorated and refreshed by the
summer's outings.

Early in October I found myself with my friend, Dr. Moore, a well-known
physician, standing in one of the popular theatres. We had dropped in
for one act or so, and, like many others, were unable to secure seats
owing to the hour and the popularity of the play. At first, engrossed
with the performance, we paid no attention to the audience; but when the
act closed and the lights were turned up, we glanced around as we
prepared to leave for a stroll. My attention was called to some ladies
in one of the lower boxes--two fair-haired and strikingly attractive
young women, and an older one, evidently a relative, for there was a
resemblance in features that was noticeable. The younger ones were
certainly sisters; their similarity of complexion, face and figure
rendered such an assumption a certainty.

My friend noticed them, and a change came over his face; he began to
beam as one does who has seen a friend. We were far off, and in a
position where we could admire, without impoliteness.

"Those are charming ladies," I said. "You seem to know them, Moore?"

"Yes, I have not seen them for quite a while; they are old patients of
mine. Do you see any one with them? If I mistake not, he is somewhere
in the box," continued Moore.

"He!" "Who?" As I spoke I noticed a gentleman--a tall, clear-cut
fellow--lean forward and speak to one of the sisters. As he moved, his
face came full in the light and I recognized him.

"It's he!" I cried. "I've found him at last!"

"Found whom?" exclaimed Moore.

"Him, that man!"

"Great Scott!" said Moore, "you must be sick. What ails you, anyway?
Have you been dining at the Club?"

I turned to my friend and said: "Doctor, I've found him at last--that
man in the box."

"Well, did not I tell you he ought to be there?" said Moore. "Because
you found him, do you think you have accomplished a wonderful piece of
work? Of course he was there."

"What do you mean? Whom are you talking about, anyway?" I asked.

Doctor Moore looked at me as though wondering if I were in my right
mind, then said: "Stone, I am talking about the gentleman in the box; I
said he should be there; he usually is with those ladies."

"Yes," I replied, "it is he!"

"Stone, what's the matter? Come and take something, old man"--and
seizing me by the arm, my companion led me away to the nearest café,
where he watched me closely as he poured out a bracer.

I seized it and said: "Here's to the man in the box! I've found him."

"Of course you found him, old man. I don't see what you are making such
a fuss over that fact for; it's not a question of priority."

"No," I said, "it's a question of identity."

"Explain."

"Well, I want to know who _he_ is. He has worried my mind for a month."

"Oh, is that all?" and Moore heaved a sigh of relief; he had been
genuinely anxious about me, that was plain.

"Have you run up against him anywhere?" he asked.

"No, he ran up against me," I answered.

"Here, sit down," said Moore. "What, in heaven's name, has got into
you?"

"Nothing. Only I desire to know that man's name. I have had an
experience with him."

"Indeed! You're not the first, then; have you been up to anything shady,
Stone?" said Moore, laughingly.

"No, only smoky--a fire. This man saved a child's life in a magnificent
manner. What's his name?"

"Oh! I see. His name is Oakes. You should know that. He left college
just a year or so after you and I entered. Don't you remember the fellow
who saved those boys from drowning in the harbor that day?"

"You don't tell me! Is that Quintus Oakes? I never met him, but of
course I knew him; everybody at college did, after that."

"Yes, that's the same fellow."

"Well, I certainly did not recognize his face. Only saw it a moment, but
there was something about him that seemed familiar--that _walk_ of
his--I remember it now."

As the memories of youth crowded upon me I recalled him well, and
realized that the years had filled out his figure and face; but it was
the same man, the same walk and carriage--I had seen them hundreds of
times. The quick, easy stride, erect figure and commanding bearing that
had marked him so in his youth were as noticeable now, in his full
manhood, as in those years of the long ago.

My companion and I did not return for the last act of the play, but
strolled out in the street, where I told him of the episode of the fire
and the part that Oakes had played in it.

"His actions, both at the time and afterwards when he tried to avoid
notice, are characteristic," said Moore. "He is reputed as doing things
vigorously and opportunely. His presence of mind is marvellous, I am
told. You remember, he had that gift years back in college. Now, it
seems to have developed greatly, until everybody who knows him well
speaks of it."

"Are you well acquainted with him? You seem to know all about him."

"Yes, indeed," answered my friend. "I met him one night several years
back, and I became so attracted to him that I cultivated his
acquaintance wherever possible."

"Then you will understand how I was glad to identify him," was my
rejoinder.

"Yes, indeed; if you like, you can easily manage to meet him."

I expressed my earnest desire, and Dr. Moore promised to arrange it so
that we could meet some evening at the Club.

"By the way," said my companion, "he is probably the best informed,
all-round man you have ever met. He did not cease learning at college."

"Lucky for him," I exclaimed laughingly.

"Well, don't be surprised if he starts in to discuss law with you, and
holds you up at your own profession; he is a surprise party, sometimes."

"All right, but what is his business?"

Moore looked at me, and said: "He is one of the most original detectives
in the country."

"Oh, a detective. Along what lines? He surely is no ordinary one at that
business."

"No. He used to work alone on unusual occurrences, but his success was
so great that now he has a large number of subordinates who do the
ordinary details, and he limits his work to the important points on
select cases. He is not heard of much, and is seen very little, but his
work is in great demand."

I was interested, and asked if he had ever done any special work of
prominence.

"Yes," said Moore. "He solved the matter of the 'Red Rose of Trieste.'
Do you remember hearing of that?"

I exclaimed in amazement: "He! Is _he_ the man who solved that affair?
You must be mistaken. That occurred, or began, in Europe."

"Exactly," said Moore. "Quintus Oakes works there, as well as here. He
speaks German, French, Italian, and perhaps more languages, fluently,
and can secure evidence anywhere. He has travelled over the world
several times. One year he was away ten months on a case, and secured
the necessary evidence for conviction in Sydney."

"I see. He is something decidedly out of the ordinary, as his appearance
suggests."

"He is on a new case just now, and he has promised to let me go, if I
want to. It's a very short affair, and perhaps I will take a vacation
that way. I have not been away yet this year," continued Moore.

We now parted for the evening, and as he started to go, I called out
after him: "Say, Moore, get me into it, if it's exciting. I have had no
vacation yet myself. Introduce me to Mr. Oakes as soon as you can,
anyway."

"All right. I'll arrange for a night at the Club, provided Oakes is not
too busy."

I returned to my rooms, little knowing how things were shaping, from an
entirely independent direction, to throw me, willingly I confess, for a
few brief weeks into a vortex of turmoil, to fight through it side by
side with my friend Moore and vigorous, cool, quick-witted Quintus
Oakes.



  _CHAPTER II_

  _Quintus Oakes at Home_


It was, therefore, a great deal in the nature of a surprise when, a few
days after parting with Moore, I received a note at my apartments by
messenger requesting me to call on Mr. Quintus Oakes that evening on
professional business. It was written in a brisk, courteous style, but
made no mention of Dr. Moore. Was it possible that I was to meet Oakes
through other channels? I realized that my profession of the law might
give many opportunities for such an interview with him, so I ceased to
wonder, and started up Broadway just before the hour appointed. I turned
into the long, dimly lighted side street near Long Acre Square, and
found that the number designated was a bachelor apartment house. It was
where I had lost him the day of the fire.

Taking the elevator to the third floor, I was directed to the door and
admitted by a Japanese servant, a bright-eyed fellow of about twenty.
He was dressed in our fashion and spoke English well--the kind of a chap
that one sees not infrequently nowadays in the service of men who have
seen the world, know how to live, and how to choose for personal
comfort. It was evident that I was expected, for I was at once led into
the front room and there met by Oakes himself. The instant he saw me, a
look of recognition and mild surprise came over his face, and as he
shook hands he said: "We have met before, at the fire the other day, Mr.
Stone! Won't you please step into my sanctum? We can be more comfortable
there."

He led me through a short hall, into a large airy room, furnished as
half-lounging room, half office. There was a large flat-top mahogany
desk in the centre, with a sofa and several upholstered chairs,
evidently for use as well as ornament. On the walls were pictures of
value, views of foreign places, and oil paintings that a mere novice
could see were works of art. There was that in the room which suggested
education and refinement.

A telephone was on the desk, and loose papers partly written upon bore
evidence that the detective had been busy at work when I arrived.

At a motion from my host I seated myself in one of the large arm chairs
facing him, while he remained standing.

I saw that he was a man about thirty-eight or forty years old, straight
as an arrow and splendidly proportioned. He was dressed in a
well-fitting gray suit.

The light was from above, and Oakes's face showed well--the clear-cut
nose and generous mouth of the energetic American.

He looked at me critically with deep-set, steady blue eyes, then smiled
slightly in a well-controlled, dignified manner.

"Mr. Stone, I am very glad that you were able to come tonight. Make
yourself at home," he said.

I made an appropriate answer of some kind, and then Oakes took the seat
near me and began, without further ceremony:

"I have arranged that our friend Dr. Moore shall come here this evening;
meanwhile, I will inform you briefly of the subject in hand."

"A few months ago Mandel & Sturgeon the attorneys, whom you doubtless
know, consulted me regarding the unpleasant happenings at the mansion of
one Odell Mark, up-State, in the town of Mona.

"Now, Mandel & Sturgeon suggested, also, that you might care to help
unravel the matter, acting as their legal representative.

"I have completed my arrangements for starting on the case, and am
particularly glad to find that you are a friend of Dr. Moore and that
you had expressed to him a desire to enter into some such affair. I
assure you, however, that Mandel & Sturgeon had previously spoken of you
and that this offer was coming as a business proposition. The fact that
you and Dr. Moore had spoken of such a trip is merely a coincidence."

He spoke with a well-modulated voice, and a fluency that told of the
intelligence of the man. His eyes fixed me, but not in an embarrassing
manner; it was the habit of observation that prompted their
concentration--that was obvious.

His forehead was high and slightly furrowed with two vertical wrinkles
between the eyebrows. His face was mobile and expressive at times, then
suddenly calm. In my very brief observation I knew that he was able to
govern its expression well.

In the days that were coming, I learned that in the presence of danger
or possible trickery that face became stony and immovable, a mask that
talked and commanded, while hiding the suppressed energy of the man.

The bell rang before Oakes could proceed with his statement, and Dr.
Moore was shown in. His coming enlivened us both, and after a few words
of greeting I found the opportunity, and said:

"Mr. Oakes, it is not exactly clear to me why Mandel & Sturgeon
recommended me as their representative. They have so many men in their
office whom they might use in that capacity."

"Doubtless you will hear from them yourself before we go, Mr. Stone.
Meantime, I may explain. You were in their employ at one time, I
believe?"

"Yes, a great many years ago."

"They think that some legal matters might arise, where a man on the spot
would be of value, and it seems best that their representative with me
should be one not easily identified as working with them. You know, Mr.
Stone, we are not advertising our mission."

"I have been in Mona as Mr. Clark, their agent, looking after the
Mansion and other property, and if I return there, it must be under some
business pretext, or people will suspect me. You, being an independent
party, not known as connected with the firm in any way, can accompany me
in the rôle of a friend on an outing, or as a possible purchaser. You
see, we are trying to solve a mystery, so the less attention we attract
the better."

"I see. So you have been there already, Mr. Oakes?"

"Yes, gentlemen. I will tell you about this affair very briefly now. You
will learn more later, if you enter upon its solution with me.

"The Mansion was originally the property of George Mark, who died some
years ago, leaving it to his two sons, Winthrop and Odell. Both were
single men at that time, but Odell married a couple of years ago and
persuaded his brother to sell his share of the property to him.
Winthrop, who was the older, did not care to part with it, but finally
disposed of his interest to his brother, who immediately moved into the
place with his bride. The old servants were still in charge, and
everything had been kept up to a high standard of excellence, although
no one had lived there since the old man died.

"Odell had travelled some, and lived mostly in the city, while Winthrop
had been engrossed in amassing a large fortune in speculation. He had
resided in Mona, keeping his own place, saying he did not care for the
Mansion as a home after his father died."

"Then why did he not care to give up his interest to his brother?" asked
Moore.

"That is as yet a mystery. But, as he was a great business man, it is
supposed by some that he saw opportunities to convert the vast grounds
into town lots, and sell at a great advance some day when Mona should
boom, as the town will sooner or later, owing to its natural advantages.
He told many, however, that it was merely a sentiment with him, the
place having belonged in Colonial times to the family. Be that as it
may, however, he finally sold, and never would buy it back again, even
after the mystery had made it practically valueless.

"His brother offered to sell it back for next to nothing, but Winthrop
only laughed, and refused. This conduct seemed to dispose of the
supposition that he was in any way responsible for the occurrences there
which had such a depressing effect in the value of the property."

"Then, if mixed up, he had a deeper motive," said I.

"Yes--if he has really been involved in the mystery at all. You must
remember, however," said Oakes, "that his story may be true. Having
disposed of his share of the property, he may have seen no reason for
bothering with it again, at least until it was clear of the depressing
occurrences which had lowered its value from half a million to
practically nothing."

"Goodness! What were these mysteries?" said Moore, with a feigned
shudder. "Evidently, they are unpopular."

Oakes proceeded slowly.

"They consist of a series of assaults on those who have occupied the
house, and they are conducted in such a way that detection has been
impossible.

"One evening Mrs. Mark was heard to shriek in her bedroom, and when
found by her husband was insane from fright. In her ravings she spoke of
a terrible thing choking her, and of a swishing sound. She never
regained her reason, and is now in an insane asylum. Alienists at first
thought that she had an experience common to those going mad--that she
had been subject to a delusion. But evidences were against this, as she
had in no way shown any signs of mental trouble before. While she was
being cared for at the Mansion, the two nurses in charge had similar
experiences. They reported hearing a tread on the stairs one night and
of seeing a figure disappear into the dining-room. One stated up and
down that it was a woman.

"The patient was removed from the place. Then Mr. Odell Mark received
such a scare one night that he packed up and left the Mansion for good.
He was assaulted by an invisible party from behind, and only escaped
after a severe struggle. Whoever, or whatever, assaulted him
disappeared in an instant, and he swore that he heard the closing of a
door somewhere downstairs.

"Everything was done to keep the truth quiet, but of course it leaked
out and the place has been regarded as haunted ever since. The servants
left, save a few of the oldest, who live away from the Mansion under a
separate roof, and have never seen anything unusual."

"That sounds very thrilling," I said; "but the affair may all be founded
on nervous dread and hysteria."

"So I thought," said Oakes. "I went up there alone recently, however,
and am glad to say that I got back alive."

"What! Did you see it?"

"No, gentlemen, I did not. There was nothing to see; but I learned
enough to know that murder stalks there in the Mansion--that the mystery
is a deep one, and my conduct nearly cost me my life.

"I have faced danger often, but I never faced an invisible violence, or
had such a fight for my life as I had at the Mansion about three weeks
ago."

Quintus Oakes was speaking earnestly, and we both were deeply
interested. That the celebrated detective should have met such an
experience placed the tale outside the realm of fiction. He was a calm
man, used to facing danger, and not one to be easily deceived or
frightened.

"Great Scott!" said Moore, "you must have had a fine time. Tell us about
it. It must have been what the boys call a 'lalapazooza' of a time."

I had to smile at my friend, able and successful, and already a
professional man of reputation, but ever fond of an occasional slang
expression as a relief from the care with which he was usually burdened.
He was well to do, but had been no idler, and knew the meaning of hard
work.

"Yes," said Oakes, "I had a fine time."

At this moment the telephone on the desk rang, and Oakes reached forward
and placed the receiver to his ear. After a few words of business he
replaced it, but I felt a curious sensation of something missing,
something unusual.

His hand had shot forward toward the hook and deposited the receiver
thereon in one quick, instantaneous movement. The action had been so
exact that the contact had given rise to no sound save the after-tinkle
of the bell. Moore noticed it too, and looked at me, as much as to say:
"How was that, for measuring distance?"

Then Oakes wheeled so as to face us again.

"Excuse me for the interruption. Now I will tell you my story in a few
words."



  _CHAPTER III_

  _Oakes's Experience_


Oakes began:

"Mandel & Sturgeon gave me a letter to the chief care-taker, Cook, and I
went to Mona as Clark, their agent, giving as an excuse for my presence
there that Mr. Odell Mark contemplated making radical alterations in the
Mansion before returning to it. Cook and his wife opened that portion of
the Mansion which I thought best adapted for my temporary
residence--about half of the place, I should say. I spent a few quiet
days looking around the estate and the house. I was always on guard,
however, lest I appear too inquisitive and thereby betray my true
mission.

"There was an old maid-servant, Annie by name, and several gardeners
about. These latter, I found, were never admitted to the Mansion. My
meals were served in the dining-room, and this room was the one in which
I spent most of my time. The servants gave me but little information
regarding the mysterious doings that had so frightened their employers.
I could tell by their action that they were genuinely afraid to be alone
in the place, and they all cautioned me repeatedly. They seemed anxious
that the affair should be investigated, and said that Mr. Odell should
have had detectives at work on the mystery. It was evident they were
afraid that they would lose their positions if no one returned to live
at the Mansion soon.

"I noticed a strong under-current of contempt for Mr. Odell; they seemed
to think he was a cowardly fellow, none too anxious to remain, or he
would have investigated the affair. In fact, they behaved sometimes as
though they thought that he might have been at the bottom of the
mystery. Occasionally, Cook and his wife and Annie had stayed in the
Mansion, cleaning up, and had never seen anything unusual. Nothing had
occurred since Mr. Odell Mark had left--which certainly was peculiar.

"I could see that my true identity was not suspected. My presence seemed
to have inspired confidence in them all. I called Cook and his wife, or
Annie, into my rooms for a talk quite frequently. Nothing happened, and
I began to feel that there was exaggeration somewhere; but,
nevertheless, I moved with caution and slept in the back room over the
dining-room with the doors carefully locked. I insisted that Mr. and
Mrs. Cook sleep in the front room. The servants at first demurred, but
finally consented when I told them that if they did not do so I would
not remain, and would report unfavorably as regards the remodeling of
the Mansion. I noticed that they bolted their doors carefully every
night and kept a light burning in their room. This I knew, as its rays
shone through under their door into the hall.

"This satisfied me that they were on guard and afraid, and consequently
unaware of the real nature of the mystery.

"Late one night, after about a week, I was looking out of one of the
windows in the dining-room, watching a boat passing. The lights upon her
and the throbbing of her engines, half a mile away, were plunging me
into a reverie, when suddenly I felt a peculiar sensation of uneasiness.
I glanced along the porch, and at the windows; everything seemed all
right. I turned, and saw Annie some distance up the hall attending to a
lamp at the foot of the stairs. The afternoon paper lay on the table. I
walked over to it and picked it up, stationing myself a few feet away
from the hall door, where I commanded a view of the entire room, the
windows and the balcony. I heard, or fancied I heard, a step or shuffle,
and then instantly something closed around my throat and I was pulled
backward and downward. I heard a rush in the hall and saw Annie's
terrified face looking into the room, but she did not see me. I tried to
cry out for help, but was unable to raise my voice. Realizing that I was
being killed without aid, I struggled with all my power. I have an
indistinct recollection of a shriek in the hall, then a rustling sound,
as of garments, near me. The next I knew, Annie, Cook and his wife, with
two gardeners, were working over me. One of the gardeners had opened my
shirt and thrown water upon my throat. I was unconscious for some
minutes, they said; but when I recovered my senses I ordered all hands
to keep their mouths closed, under pain of instant dismissal. Inquiries
instituted by me revealed that Annie had first heard my struggles, and
the shriek that had been given was hers. Response had been quick, but
when Cook first entered the room, backed up by the wife and old Annie, I
was lying limp and unconscious, face downward on the floor, as though I
had been thrown violently forward."

       *       *       *       *       *

The recital of this narrative had been given in a quiet, dignified
manner--one of absolute conviction. It was an impartial statement of
fact, and we were profoundly impressed.

Dr. Moore turned to me and said: "Well, do you feel like joining us?"

"Ah! Then you are in this too?" I exclaimed.

"Yes, Mr. Oakes is going to let me have my vacation in his company."

"I certainly shall go," I said; "it appears to me that this matter is a
serious one."

"It is very serious," Oakes repeated. "There is a deep mystery at the
Mansion, and its solution may be a dangerous one. There is murder in
that method of attack, and terrible strength behind it."

"What is it? A man?" asked Moore.

"That is conjecture as yet," said Oakes. "I certainly beard the sound
made by a woman's skirts, or something of that sort, but the strength
was too great for most women hereabouts."

"Yes, if you were overcome by it," I remarked.

"The servants are firmly convinced that the whole business is
supernatural. That is hardly worth discussing. I have no doubt that you
two gentlemen, as possible purchasers of the Mansion, will have
opportunities to settle the question for yourselves."

There was just the shadow of a smile on Oakes's face as he spoke.

"Did you notice anything peculiar about the people at the Mansion--the
care-takers?" I asked.

"No, I thought their actions were natural, especially when I was
assaulted. One of the gardeners, who did not do very much to help me,
seemed preoccupied and made advances for a better acquaintance before I
left. I think he will bear watching closely; he knows something."

"How long did you remain at the Mansion after the assault?"

"Only a few days," said Oakes. "I could learn nothing alone. It was too
dangerous. When we return, it will be in greater numbers. If our mission
is suspected we will be obliged to work through other channels, but I
think we can fool the care-takers; they will say nothing to you about
the mystery, and they will think that I am more anxious than ever to
dispose of the place. Should our work be suspected, however," continued
the detective, "we will be face to face with complications. We may have
to be reënforced by men from my agency, but they will probably not be
known even to you."

"The reward for the solution of this mystery is a large one, and the
prosperity of the town depends upon it. This matter at the Mansion has
not only affected its own value, as I said, but has helped greatly to
depreciate the worth of the surrounding properties."

Then, turning to Moore:

"I think your professional knowledge may come in handy in several ways,
so you may consider that your time will be well paid for, and your
vacation a profitable one--that is, of course, if you return alive."

This was so seriously said as to cause me a momentary feeling of
discomfort.

We now discussed details and arrangements for our start, for we had
decided to go. Oakes and I were to leave first, while Doctor Moore was
to come a few days later, owing to his inability to get away at once.

Having finished with his story and the necessary details of instruction,
Oakes changed his manner and offered us cigars. The Jap brought in a few
glasses and a bottle, which opened up the social side of our interview.

Noticing that our host had not lighted a cigar, I ventured the remark
that he was not a heavy smoker.

"No," said he. "I very rarely use tobacco during business; it is a
peculiarity of mine, I am told."

His face was quite smiling now.

He continued: "With some it acts as a concentrator of ideas--at least,
so claim its devotees. With me, it dissipates them; I use it simply as a
pleasure when work is done."

While he spoke, I was again impressed with that peculiar celerity of
movement in small actions which I had noticed before.

He passed the cigars in an ordinary, deliberate manner, conversing the
while; but when he reached for a match, I was amazed at the
lightning-like rapidity of the movement. His hand shot out, selected it
from the stand on the table, lighted it and the cigar, and returned the
burned stick to the tray with a rapidity and evenness which made of it
almost a continuous act.

It reminded me forcibly of the movement with the telephone receiver. I
felt that, given the necessity and the occasion, his general action
would be roused to quickness of the same kind--sure and instantaneous.
He impressed me as a man with a tremendous reserve of strength and
vitality.

When we left for the evening, Oakes shook my hand with a stout, firm
grasp, the kind that means friendliness and inspires confidence. When
outside, I asked of my companion what he privately thought of the affair
at the Mark Mansion.

"There is something extraordinary there, surely," answered the
physician. "Knowing Oakes as I do, Stone, I am fully convinced that he
is deeply worried over the matter. He would never think of having us in
such an affair unless he desired our company. He is as brave as any
man--his record shows that; but he is also noted for caution. He sees,
or thinks he sees, a dangerous game here--a plot, perhaps--where our
presence will be a support. He has often told me in conversation, that
he regards the legal and medical minds as particularly adapted to pass
judgment on certain problems of a peculiar nature. He has an idea that
our training will perhaps help him in the matter, I think."

With this remark, we parted at Broadway and Forty-second Street, and
went to our respective homes.



  _CHAPTER IV_

  _The Departure_


Next morning, while at breakfast, I received a letter from Mandel &
Sturgeon which was satisfactory to me, and I went down to my office and
notified my partner, Hart, that I was about to take a vacation.

Fortunately, we had just successfully finished a long legal fight in the
courts, and my excuse was a natural one.

I then went out and bought a good revolver, such as Oakes had told me to
get when we discussed details the night before. He had insisted upon our
being armed all alike, and furnished with the same kind of cartridges.
We could then exchange weapons in an emergency, and still be supplied
with ammunition.

Having completed my purchase, I went to the Club, where Oakes was
awaiting me. We lunched together, and during the conversation he told me
to express my baggage to the Mansion that afternoon, and to meet him at
the Central Station at eight o'clock P.M.

"And be cautious in your movements," he said. "Here is your ticket. Wear
serviceable clothes and a heavy dark overcoat, such as you had on last
night, with a black Fedora hat. Don't notice me, but enter the same car
as I do on the train. I will contrive to be with you before we arrive at
our destination."

"Why all this?" I asked.

"Well, I wish to be able to identify you easily in a crowd. If I know
how you are dressed, it might be valuable in several other ways also. We
may have to change our plans, in which event it will be easier for me if
I know how you look."

"I do not exactly understand," said I, "but I presume you do."

"Precisely. You may learn in time."

As we emerged from the Club a newsboy came up to Oakes, from whom he
bought a paper, and as he did so, the boy said:

"Martin says you are followed, sir."

Oakes turned to me: "Meet me as I said; and do as I do afterwards in
everything. I shall be forced to change my plans."

The boy had gone after another customer, and Oakes continued: "Martin is
my aide; he has posted me. Good-by! See you later. Explain some other
time."

We parted, and I went about my preparations for departure with that
exhilaration that men feel when about to enter into some strange
undertaking. It was to be a novel experience for me, and I frankly
confess that certain misgivings haunted me. That I was entering,
willingly, to be sure, upon a journey of many possibilities I did not
for one moment doubt; that I should need the weapon already purchased,
and the utmost coolness that I could muster, seemed to me more than
likely. At this date I felt nothing akin to fear, and the knowledge that
Quintus Oakes was to be our leader prevented a too serious estimate of
the possible consequences.

Later on I did feel some regrets at having hurled myself into the
episodes that followed, but this feeling vanished soon in the excitement
of the events that transpired at Mona.

Shortly before the appointed time I arrived at the station and strolled
about the rotunda in search of Oakes.

I espied him at the paper stand, dressed in a dark heavy overcoat and a
hat like mine. His recognition of me was instantaneous, but he made no
movement until, after buying a paper, he walked past me to the door.

Looking at me with a glance that warned me, he stepped out and into a
car that was approaching. I jumped on the same car, and in a very few
moments he and I were going up the Sixth Avenue Elevated stairway, but
acting as strangers to one another.

There were many persons boarding the Harlem train with us. It was a
tiresome ride to the terminus, but when Oakes and I stepped out and down
to the street, he jumped into a carriage in waiting, drawn by a pair of
horses, and beckoned to me. I stepped in also, and sat by his side on
the back seat.

The driver started at a quick pace across the bridge and into Jerome
Avenue.

Oakes turned to me: "It seems that my movements are watched by men in a
rival agency. I have detected no followers, but time will tell if they
exist. I saw a fellow watching me at the station, and we may have easily
been followed on the elevated train; in such a crowd one cannot detect."

"Why do they watch you, Mr. Oakes? Are they suspicious that we are going
to Mona?"

"No, not at all," answered Oakes. "They are watching to see _where_ I am
going. You see," he continued, "I am working on several other cases, and
perhaps they are, too. You realize there are times when men of my
profession cross each other's paths, and it is advantageous to know what
the other fellow is doing."

"I see. Keeping tab on one another!" I said. "Rather expensive work, is
it not?"

Oakes smiled. "Yes, but it is business. I like to know when a rival
leaves town. I keep a pretty close watch myself on some of them."

We drove rapidly, and soon pulled up at an out-of-the-way roadhouse.

"Come," said Oakes, alighting.

A portly German was behind the bar, evidently the proprietor.

Oakes made a sudden movement of his hand, and the door was locked. We
two were then shown into a rear room where two other men were
seated--both tall, well-built fellows, and both dressed as we were, in
dark overcoats and black Fedora hats.

They saluted Oakes, and after a word or two stepped into the bar-room,
where the German served them with drinks. In a minute they were in our
carriage and driving away toward Yonkers.

"I see now why you were particular as to my dress."

"Yes, a substitution like this is useful sometimes. I thought I might be
forced to make one. Much better than nonsensical disguises. We will soon
know if any one is coming after us," he continued. "This is really the
last place before the fork of the road, and anyone following us would
have to be in sight all the time, or else stop here for information."

The proprietor motioned us upstairs to a front room, and Oakes said to
him: "Remember, we have gone to Yonkers." But the good-natured German
evidently knew his business, for he only smiled and went off muttering
something to himself about a "damned good mix-up."

In a few minutes two men drew up in a buggy, and were admitted below by
the obsequious old fellow.

Then we heard the question: "Have you seen two tall gentlemen in black
coats and soft hats hereabouts, Dutchy?"

The German thought a moment: "Yah, yah; dare vas two big fellers just
here; dey vas took some viskey and got away quick."

"Which way?" asked the men.

"Dey vas gone up dar Yonkers Road."

Oakes chuckled. "The old fellow is all right; an old friend of mine."

Then we heard the men say: "Here, Dutchy, here's something for you," and
we knew they had given him a tip.

In a moment they were gone, and the old fellow was to be heard chuckling
audibly to himself: "Five dollar for von great big mix-up."

Oakes watched the team turn up the Yonkers Road after our decoy, and
then he said:

"Come, Stone, move quickly." He led the way downstairs to the back
entrance, and to the stable, where we found a man with a team. He
saluted us. It was the carriage in which Oakes's men had come out.

"Drive hard for the Harlem Station; we can catch the 10:30 train," was
the order.

Our driver evidently knew what to do, and we soon passed out of the
carriage-way.

At the side of the door we halted a moment, and I saw Oakes give the
German a twenty-dollar bill.

"Remember," he said, "not a word."

We caught our train after a long drive to the east, and back over the
Harlem River. When we seated ourselves in the sleeper, Oakes turned to
me quietly. "Please remember, Stone, that you are a possible buyer, and
that I am Charles Clark, agent for the owner of the Mark Mansion. We
have had a pleasant evening together so far, have we not?"

He smiled in his quiet, unruffled manner as he spoke.

"Yes--rather active," I said. "I presume those other fellows are
thinking so too, probably."

"Only the last two," said Oakes; "my men are home by this time."

Shortly after midnight we arrived at the station at the foot of the hill
which hid the beautiful town of Mona.

"Keep your senses alert," said Oakes as we left the train, "for we are
now in the region of uncertainty. We had better not walk to the hotel,
although it is only about a mile. The hour is too late."

The solitary hackman, seeing us approach, roused himself from his sleepy
lethargy and soon we were slowly ascending the hill. The well-kept road
was lighted here and there by electricity, an agreeable witness to the
civilization around us.

I saw Oakes place his weapon in his outside overcoat pocket--as he said,
the most convenient place for it to rest, clad as we were.

The action was a vivid reminder of the experiences of his last visit,
and of the caution of the man.

Without further adventure of any kind we arrived at the little hotel,
with its sleepy night clerk and its gloomy office. This opened right on
the sidewalk by means of a large wooden door, hung a low step above the
pavement, and fitting so poorly in its frame that the rays of the light
from within sought exit beneath it.



  _CHAPTER V_

  _The Letter_


While Oakes and I were in the first stages of our journey, Dr. Moore
stood in his back office at the close of business hours, wondering if
the adventure that Oakes had so well described to us could in any way
have been originated by other than physical forces. Moore was a deep
student of mental phenomena. He had on more than one occasion heard
histories of terrible tragedies, so real in their wording that the
picture conveyed was the practical guarantee of their origin at human
hands; but, nevertheless, these histories had been proved to be but the
imaginings of a diseased mind--products of a delusion.

In every other respect the narrators had been, in appearance at least,
perfectly sane individuals. While he hesitated to think that Oakes might
have been suffering from an overworked brain at the time, still he knew
that it was not impossible.

The struggles that the servants had heard had been those of Oakes; the
actual evidences so far of assault were vague. Oakes was in a partially
unconscious condition, to be sure; but what evidence of violence was
that?

Moore's cool professional judgment told him that queer sensations are
common after a severe shock, whether delusional in origin or not.

He had known Oakes for years, and the good judgment and coolness that he
had always shown spoke greatly against a recently developed mental
disorder.

Still, Moore was uneasy; he longed for more evidence of physical force
from without--something more positive.

Of course, Oakes was not alone in his experience--there had been
others--but it was possible that the mere contagion of terror might be
in part responsible for some of these. There had been no witnesses. The
statement of violence rested on the word of the victims alone. Dr. Moore
knew that men thinking constantly of the same thing, to the exclusion of
all else, might develop similar delusions. The physician had seen many
strange things, and was not a man to be easily deceived. Could it be
that Quintus Oakes was the victim of a mental process?

It was this very power which Moore possessed--of thinking along such
lines--that made him, in Oakes's opinion, a particularly desirable
addition to the party. Little, however, did the detective imagine that
the trained mind of the physician would first weigh the possibilities of
Oakes's own mental instability.

While Moore was deep in thought, he was suddenly interrupted by the
bell, and the receipt of a note which had been delivered by the postman.

He glanced at the postmark, and saw that it was from Station O and was
mailed at 4:30.

Somehow, he felt an instinctive dread of its contents. Of course, he as
yet had no adequate cause for misgivings; but there was that in the
subject of which he had been thinking that seemed to forecast evil and
dread. His mind was in a state of unrest at the very thought of the
possibilities. He tore the letter open, and read:

"DEAR DR. MOORE: You may not deem it wise to pay attention to an
anonymous communication, but let me assure you that, if you value a
life, you will pay attention in this case.

"It has come within my province to know that a great tragedy may be
averted by you.

"Some short while ago a man, tall, straight as an arrow, and with blue
eyes, went to the town of Mona and stopped at the Mansion. There he came
near being murdered, and if he ever goes back, I personally know that he
will be killed in short order.

"His business was said to be that of an agent for the owners. I saw him
in New York several years ago, and he was pointed out to me as a
celebrated detective, but I cannot remember his name, or that of the
person who informed me.

"At Mona he was known by another name. I cannot go there, however, or
learn any more particulars. The reason I address this to you is that I
know that you are acquainted with him, as years ago I used to see him
often in your company.

"Now please communicate with this man; you are the only thread that I
have to his identity.

"_Reach him, if possible, at once._ Warn him. Tell him to turn back--to
abandon his quest, for death to him is the only alternative.

"Do not attempt to trace my identity. _Act_, and _act quickly_, if you
wish to prevent a great horror."

       *       *       *       *       *

The letter terminated abruptly. Dr. Moore realized in an instant that
Oakes's movements were known to some outsider already--someone who had
either been in Manhattan that day, or who had sent the letter there to
one who had mailed it.

He saw the whole matter in a most serious light. Oakes was in danger
from forces he did not suspect, perhaps, and the assault he had
described had been known to others besides the immediate household of
servants. For who, of that household, could have written such a letter?

Moore thought of his plans gone astray, of his business engagements, but
they all paled into insignificance in the face of the danger to Oakes.

He decided to follow up Oakes by the very next train. Finding he had
time for one or two calls, he rushed in his carriage to make them, and
as he entered his office upon his return he found an energetic young man
awaiting him. He knew him as Martin, one of Oakes's aides.

"Good evening, Doctor! You're on the rush tonight. My! but I had to
hustle."

"Good evening! But how did you know so much of my movements--how, why,
did you have to hustle?"

"I just arrived here a few seconds ago. I have been watching you this
evening. Mr. Oakes told me to take care of you and keep you out of
mischief. You see, he feared trouble of some kind. I was told to report
to you once in a while--and here I am."

The physician understood, and then they discussed the recent
development. It was agreed that Dr. Moore should leave for Mona; and
this, after arranging his business by telephone and hastily making
ready, he succeeded in doing.

As he boarded the train he asked of Martin, who was with him, if he was
to go to Mona also.

"That depends upon who enters after you. If I think you are followed, I
go too." And Moore realized that Oakes's hand of caution had been shown
once more.



  _CHAPTER VI_

  _The Murder_


The rising sun was invisible from the little station hidden in the gloom
of the hill, but away out on the river its rays reached the water and
marked out sharply the shadow of the high ground.

Further down the stream the rugged outlines of the Mansion were cut in
silhouette on the surface of the river, which was, as yet, smooth as a
mill-pond, but which soon would be moved by those thousands of ripples
advancing from the opposite shore.

As the sun shot his beams clearer and sharper, the mist of the distance
unfolded and the rays struck the ragged granite cliffs of the shore, and
revealed them yellow and gray in the bluish haze of the morn.

Away up, miles beyond, the river broadened and the mountains of both
sides rose abruptly and ruggedly, apparently from the water's edge,
causing the effect of a wide, placid lake.

All was quiet, lonely and dark on this side of the shore under the hill,
but beyond, where the rays of the sun had reached, was beginning life
and activity.

A schooner, becalmed until now, began to move with the breeze that
greeted the waking of day.

The train had but just left the little station, and again had two
strangers alighted. One, the older, trudged up the hill covered with a
great-coat, and with hands in his pockets. He walked rather rapidly,
looking sharply around once or twice. As he neared the top, where the
country rolls off into the plain, he turned to admire the spectacle of
the breaking day. His glance followed the road, and he saw below the
second figure walking along in a hurry, as though to make up for lost
time.

He smiled and said to himself: "That fellow Martin is a persistent
youngster, anyway."

A few yards more brought him to the crest of the hill; then he suddenly
stopped, for before him was unfolded a stretch of rolling ground, well
filled with trees in autumnal foliage, and beyond, the spires and the
sky-line of a sleeping town. To his right he beheld a large wooded tract
extending for at least a mile down the river, and in the dim distance
the shaded outlines of an old mansion. Over all was the glorious yellow
sun. The new fresh rays caught the leaves on the trees and on the
ground, and kissed away the frost of the October morning. The traveller
drew a long breath.

"I have been over the world, almost, but never did I know such splendor
was so near my office," said he, half aloud. He had discovered what some
few had already known, that here at our doors, if one is not too
indifferent, can be found the scenery one seeks in a month's journey.

While walking along, Moore, for he was the man, was overtaken by a
milk-wagon which rattled by with its two horses; the driver, lashing his
whip, seemed to mark the actual awakening to life of this rural
community.

"Say, how far to the hotel and which way?" asked Moore.

"Down the road a piece. Come, get in. I'll drive ye."

Moore jumped up alongside, and was thankful for the lift.

As they sped along, he started at a sound in the distance like the faint
crack of a whip, but duller.

"What was that--a shot?" he said.

"Yes; rather early, but poachers like to get on to the Mark place 'most
any time. Didn't sound like much of a gun, though."

They were now at the hotel, and Moore registered in the old dilapidated
book, and went to his room before his breakfast. As he lay down for a
moment to rest, all of the vivid experiences of the last twenty-four
hours coursed through his brain. He followed the events of the evening
before, and congratulated himself on being now relieved from anxiety,
for a time at least.

He had seen my name and that of "Clark," whom he knew to be Oakes, on
the register, and had located our rooms as right opposite his own.
Perhaps he had better communicate with Oakes and myself, now it was six
o'clock, he thought. He looked into the corridor and saw no one about,
for no attendant watches in these little hotels in the country. He
locked his door, and knocked at Oakes's. In a moment he heard the key
click, and Oakes looked carefully through the partially opened door.
The recognition was quick and Moore was admitted.

In another moment I had joined them, for Oakes's room and mine
communicated; he had thought it best that we should have access to each
other at all times, if possible.

We two hastily dressed, and Dr. Moore presented the cause of his visit
as briefly as possible.

"Let me see the letter," said Oakes.

He read it carefully. "One thing is certain--it is written by a person
of some education. That proves nothing, however. It may have been
dictated originally by a very illiterate person."

"It was sent from New York."

"Oh, yes," said Oakes wearily, "but it may simply have been written
there. It may have gone under cover in different language--from any
place almost--and been copied or put into shape by an accomplice."

"Hard to trace it," said Moore.

"Yes, practically impossible, along those lines. But in any event it was
written on a woman's paper; see the texture."

We all noticed its fineness and agreed.

"And the odor of musk is not a man's favorite, either," remarked Oakes,
as we noticed the scent. He was standing erect, with a slightly
abstracted air. He was thinking.

"Well," said Moore, "we cannot find out much then."

"Oh, yes, you can."

"The letter speaks of the color of my eyes. The originator has seen me
many times at close range. This is an unintentional clue. The style of
the writing, the paper and the perfume point to a woman, but the wording
is a man's, as is the description of myself, I judge."

"Well, what do you think?"

"I hazard a guess that the letter was written or dictated by a man of
some education, and rewritten by a woman as a disguise."

"Ah! And where was it written?"

"That it is impossible to say. Perhaps in New York--but it may have been
here in Mona. As I said, the originator is a man, probably, who knows me
by sight, and knows Mona and its affairs very well, but who also knows
New York and your city address, Moore; for the letter went there. By his
knowledge of late events in Mona I should imagine that he perhaps lives
here, but has recently been to New York, or else has an accomplice
there--a woman--who rewrote and remailed the letter for him."

At breakfast we contrived to keep the waitress busy filling orders, for
we wished to discuss our affairs and had no mind to be overheard. Oakes
had prepared the proprietor for Moore's arrival, saying he expected him
at any time; so his coming excited no particular attention. While the
girl was out, the doctor narrated his morning's experience as far as the
walk up the hill. We addressed Oakes as Clark, as had been previously
agreed.

"Did Martin follow you?" asked the detective.

"Yes, I saw him ascending the hill after me."

Our leader thought a moment. "Curious! Why has he not made himself
visible here? The chances are you were mistaken, Moore."

"Oh, no. I feel confident it was Martin."

We left the cheerless, low-ceiled dining-room and walked out into the
corridor, where the porter was mopping the floor, and the cigar-stand
opening for business.

I went over and bought something to smoke. Moore took one, but Oakes
refused. That meant he was worried, and not at his ease. Presently the
doctor remarked: "Seems to be shooting around here."

"How? What do you mean?" asked Oakes.

"Yes, I heard a shot when I was in the wagon. The milkman said it was
poachers on the Mark property."

Oakes wheeled and regarded Moore austerely.

"You heard shooting on the Mark grounds? Why did you not say so? You
tell a poor story."

At this moment we heard a commotion outside, and the cry: "A runaway!"

We all stepped to the sidewalk, where a few early risers had gathered,
and looked down the road. Coming over the crest of the hill from the
station was a milk-wagon, rushing along at a terrific rate. The horses
were leaping, with heads hung low. The smashing of cans was audible,
even at the distance.

"That is no runaway," said Oakes. "Look at the horses' heads--they are
low. Those animals are not scared."

We all looked, and beheld what Oakes had already noticed.

"Look at the driver," said a by-stander.

He was standing up on the dashboard plying his whip without mercy. By
his side was a boy, hanging on for all he was worth.

In the quiet, self-possessed way that marks a leader in all emergencies,
Oakes spoke up: "That is a race for help, boys, not a runaway."

Down the long road came the wagon--a heavy affair. Milk-cans were
falling out and the roadway seemed scarcely enough for the swaying team.
The driver, a strapping fellow, balanced himself as best he could,
holding the reins with one hand and using the whip with the other. The
intelligent animals were straining to their limit in dumb, intense brute
desire to get there, or die. A murmur of applause arose from the crowd,
and the country apathy gave way to subdued excitement. Never did Roman
charioteer drive better! Never did artillery horses pull harder!

In a minute or so the team came abreast of us, and the driver, by a
wonderful control of his animals, pulled up abruptly. He dropped his
whip and held up his hand.

"There is a gentleman dying on the road by the top of the hill!"

"Who? Who?"

"I don't know, but he's on his face--with blood all over his back. He's
been shot!"

Oakes turned to Moore. His arm made that quick, silent movement so
peculiarly his own and rested lightly on the physician's shoulder.

"The shooting you heard," he remarked.

Moore turned pale and seemed almost to stagger. "Meant for me!" he
blurted out.

"Yes, and Martin got it instead," said Oakes. "Come!" and in an instant
he was off down the road.

We followed, and the crowd of about thirty closed in. It was a quick
dash down that turnpike. Never had early-riser in Mona had such an
experience before. The terrific flight of the milk-wagon and its
dramatic ending had inspired life in the crowd. Hotel porters, barmen
and milkman, gentlemen and loafers, all went down that road with one
object in view--the succoring of a fellow being. As we ran, the
strongest forged ahead. Moore and myself came abreast in the rear of
the leaders, but near to the bunch.

"Terrible! Poor Martin!" said Moore.

"Keep quiet," I said between breaths.

A murmur arose in the crowd. "Look at that fellow," said a runner near
us.

We looked. It was Quintus; he was steadily distancing all. "Gosh! Ain't
he a beaut?" said another.

"Look at Oakes," said I.

"Shut up," said Moore. "Call him Clark, now."

The heavy breathing around us became noticeable; men were tiring now. It
was a hard run. Away up in the lead was the solitary figure of our
friend, running with body pitched a little forward and the long, even
stride of the athlete. My mind now recalled that Oakes was a runner in
college--a noted one in his day. Swish, swish! thump, thump! went the
feet of those around us--and always that tall figure in the lead, taking
the ground like a thoroughbred, and steadily increasing the distance
between us.

As we reached the crest of the hill to turn down, the milk-wagons were
beginning to rumble behind us and the sounds of the approaching crowd of
vehicles and belated citizens became distinct. We dashed down the slope
and beheld Oakes--in the lead--halt, and bend over a figure. He seemed
to be speaking to the injured man. As we drew near, we saw the blood and
heard the sighing breathing.

"Dying!" said Moore, by my side.

We all encircled the victim, and Dr. Moore bent over him. Then he and
Oakes straightened up suddenly, and removed their hats. We all knew what
had taken place. The motley crowd uncovered, panting and pale-faced.

"Dead!" said Oakes, and turned to Moore, who had joined me in the crowd.

"Be careful," he said. "The murdered man is _not_ Martin."

The rougher of the followers started to move the body, so as to see the
face.

Again Oakes showed his power to lead. "Stop, men; this is a crime. Don't
touch the body. Wait for the police and the coroner."

They obeyed. The first official now arrived on a wagon. He hesitated as
he saw the bloody back; and then turned the face so that all could see
it.

Several stepped forward, and a cry of consternation arose: "_It's
Winthrop Mark!_"



  _CHAPTER VII_

  _The Inquest_


At the suggestion of Oakes, we mingled with the crowd for a short time
and then returned to the town with some of the hotel employees, leaving
the others in their excitement to await the action of the authorities.

"This man Winthrop Mark seems to have been very well known?" Oakes
inquired of the hotel porter by his side.

The latter, anxious to identify himself with the town and its people,
and also to please the stranger beside him who had made himself so
prominent during the last few moments, gave much information.

"Yes, Mr. Clark, the murdered man has lived hereabouts for a long time;
his brother owns the Mark Mansion over yonder; the town has been very
proud of it, you know."

"Yes, a beautiful old place."

"It is, sir. But no place to live in; there has been something dangerous
about it, sir."

"Seems to me I heard something of it when I was last in Mona," said
Oakes.

"Did you have any experience, sir?"

"Experience! What do you mean?"

"I do not know, sir, but _it_ always appears. Something that scares
people."

"Hurts the town, doesn't it?"

"Yes, indeed, sir; and this murder will spoil everything here now."

"I cannot quite follow you."

"Oh, sir, you don't know how good Mr. Mark was: Always improving the
roads; always giving the town money; forever clearing up jealousies,"
said the porter.

Oakes looked at him: "Say, my man, how long have you been a porter? You
don't speak like a man brought up in such work."

"I was not, sir. I used to be a merchant, years ago; burned out; no
insurance; broke; went to work as a porter; nothing else to do. The old
story, Mr. Clark; I am not the first one!"

We knew Oakes was seeking some information, so we remained quiet.

"Sad enough," said he; "perhaps times will improve for you."

The porter, Reilly by name, smiled and looked at Oakes with that
expression of hopeful despair we have all seen, we who rub the world in
our continuous efforts.

"Who could have shot Mr. Mark?" asked our companion, "did he have many
enemies?"

"No, Mr. Clark. I know of none. But----" and the man paused.

"Well, what?" said the detective in an off-hand way.

"Well, it's peculiar," said Reilly, "very peculiar to me. Two or three
years ago, sir, Smith, the leading man of the town, was shot at the very
same spot in the road."

"What!" I cried; but a look from Oakes silenced me. "Indeed! quite a
coincidence," said he. "Who shot him?"

"Nobody knows. I was just going to work when it happened."

"Early in the day, then?"

"Just about six o'clock, sir--and he was shot right through the chest,"
volunteered our informant. "Well, I hope they catch this fellow," said
Oakes. "You have a good police chief here."

"Yes, sir, very. He came up here first for his health; but he was once
chief in some large city."

"Ah, then he will get the murderer surely. Mona is fortunate in having
such a man."

Reilly looked pleased at the compliment, and it seemed as though Oakes
had won another follower.

Before we reached the hotel, we saw that the town was now wide awake.
There were groups of men talking excitedly before nearly every business
place--the bank, the dry-goods stores, drug-stores and newspaper
offices. It was about their opening hour, and rumor had travelled fast.

On the main street, Oakes left us with a word of caution. "Be careful
what you say. There may be a connection between this affair and the
Mansion mystery, but--we know nothing of either. The inquest may tell us
something. Meantime, you two find out what you can by mingling with the
crowd. Learn all about Reilly; and anything you can pick up of the
Smith murder he mentioned. I am going to see the Chief of Police; and,
if possible, telephone to my office in New York."

Moore and I walked around in the fast-increasing crowd, and talked with
those who were returning from the scene of the murder.

The people were settling down into a dull, sullen silence, as people
will, after a great tragedy. This was a blow to the inhabitants here.
The death of Mr. Mark was the loss of a friend to many, and of a leading
citizen to all. Those engaged in business in what had been until
recently a most prosperous little town foresaw the probable after-effect
on confidence and the town's future.

The demon of vengeance was rising in many hearts. The report of the
coroner's jury was awaited with anxiety. The murderer would probably
have escaped by that time--but better so--if once his identity could be
discovered, than have another mysterious horror in the community.

The police headquarters, a trim little brick building facing the square
and the hotel, was the centre of real activity.

Oakes made his appearance alone at the top of the steps coming out from
the corridor that led to the Chief's room. As he stood at the door
glancing calmly around at the crowd, I thought what a magnificent man he
was. He stood erect and composed, as though inviting scrutiny. His long
overcoat was not carefully closed--its collar was turned partly up. He
had put it on like the rest of us, after our return from the run, and he
had done it quickly. His left hand was hanging down in a natural
position; his right was in his overcoat pocket. The Fedora hat was
slightly tilted back. He looked a half-careless, indifferent fellow, but
the keen eyes missed nothing; they rested on me, on Moore and then on
the crowd. He was the embodiment of searching coolness. The crowd
recognized him and knew that he had seen the Chief of Police. They
reasoned as one man that something important had been done. The tall
city fellow had been first at the side of the victim; they had seen
that. What did he know? And then they thought of that run and the
exhibition of physical perfection that his powers had shown; and like a
gentle ripple on the brook came a murmur of admiration. Oakes stepped
down and was the centre of much questioning. All the time the right hand
remained in the coat pocket. I knew that it held death at command; that
the revolver lay well in his grasp; that Quintus Oakes was now on guard,
and the field was one with which he was well acquainted.

Soon he entered the hotel, and we followed him to his room. "You must be
at the inquest--both of you. Dr. Moore, you are well known as a surgeon
and will view the body with the local doctors. They wish you to do so.
They say you are known to them by reputation. You will be required as an
expert witness. I have made my identity known to the Chief of Police."

"Indeed," I said; "then everybody will know it."

"No, they won't," said Oakes. "The Chief knows me by name. I know all
about him; he is a good, shrewd man. I have explained our mission here,
and have disclaimed any desire to have anything to do with this mystery,
unless--unless it touches the other. The Chief, Hallen, wants my
evidence, and he knows enough to see that we can all stand in together."


"He may help in the Mansion affair later," said Moore.

"Yes," said Oakes. "I thought I might need him. Anyway, this murder is
for the police at present. I succeeded in getting long-distance
telephone, and found that Martin did not come here at all. He returned
to the office after seeing Dr. Moore off on the train."

"Good!" we exclaimed. "And what did you learn from the dying man? He
spoke to you, we thought."

"I learned something that has great possibilities," said Oakes. "Wait
for the inquest. What have _you_ learned?"

I answered for us both: "Reilly is well known here and reliable. We
could learn nothing of the Smith murder save that it had occurred about
as this one, and was never solved. The old Chief of Police resigned on
account of public opinion of his incompetency; the new Chief, Hallen,
came in here a year or so ago."

"Well," said Oakes, "so far--so good; but it looks to me as though there
is some connection between these murders. I do not envy the local
officials a bit; the people won't stand much more mystery up here.
Suspicion of one's neighbors is a terrible thing in a small community.
By the way, when I give my evidence, watch me but little--watch the
audience more. The criminal might be there!"

"Yes," said Moore, turning to me; "they often seek the court under such
circumstances, don't they?"

"I believe it has been recorded," I rejoined. Then seeing Oakes move
away, I asked where he was going.

"I am going to look around for a while."

"Better be cautious; you may be the next to get a bullet, for the
criminal probably knows that you saw Mark alive. He may be anybody in
town," I said.

"Anybody! Nonsense. You may clear the women and children at least. That
wound was made by a heavy-calibre weapon; it takes strength to handle
such."

Then he walked away.

The coroner empanelled the jury that afternoon. It was composed of
milkmen, porters and farmers, and some men of more substantial
condition; for instance, the leading banker and the secretary of the
Young Men's Christian Association. They were all alert to the importance
of their position, and anxious to appear well in this drama that was
opening in Mona.

The jury viewed the body in the anteroom, and the wound was examined
carefully. They marched into the court-room next to the apartments of
the Chief of Police, and were seated before the bench. The large room
was filled to its utmost with the representative men of the place. To my
eyes, the scene was novel indeed. My practice had been in the courts of
the metropolis, and the methods here interested me. They were simple,
straight-forward people. The intensity of their faces, the hush of the
crowd, was awesome. I obtained a seat facing most of the people, and Dr.
Moore was by my side.

The room looked on a lawn which extended to the next street, and
opposite to me were three windows, the centre one of which was open. At
the open window was a young negro, handsome and well built. He leaned
on the sill with folded arms, and, judging by the height of the window
from the ground, I knew he was standing on a box or a barrel. A couple
of other faces were visible outside the closed windows. The crowd within
was uneasy, but quiet--a volcano in its period of inactivity.

Then the milkman who discovered the body related his story. He had come
up the hill from the station and saw the body near the top of the hill.
He saw the wound from his seat on the wagon, for, realizing what had
happened, he did not alight. Fear had seized him. He knew he was perhaps
watched by the assassin, so he had lashed his horses and rushed for the
town and aid. The little boy who had ridden by his side was brave and
cool in the court-room; the Chief of Police had his arm on his shoulder
in a fatherly way. He corroborated the milkman's story, and said he was
scared even more than his uncle, the driver.

One or two others certified to the finding of the body and spoke of the
stranger, Mr. Clark, who had reached the place first, and of the wild
run from the town.

Then came the coroner's physician, who certified to the nature of the
bullet, a large one undoubtedly. Then he said in a courteous,
professional way: "Gentlemen, we have by accident among us Dr. Moore
from New York, who witnessed the finding of the body, and who has viewed
the injury. Dr. Moore is a well-known surgeon, and perhaps he will favor
us with an opinion--only an opinion--of the nature of the weapon used."

The coroner bowed and motioned to Dr. Moore, by my side. The physician
hesitated a moment, then advanced before the crowd of strangers. He was
a surgical lecturer, but this was an unusual audience.

"Dr. Moore, you have seen many wounds from firearms, have you not?
Please state where."

Dr. Moore answered in his pleasant voice: "I have seen quite a number in
hospital service in the last ten years, and very many in Cuba during the
Spanish War."

A murmur arose--the crowd hung on every word.

"State what your opinion is, please," said the coroner.

"To begin with," said Moore, "the bullet entered the breast; the point
of entrance is large, about the size of a 44-bullet. I know it entered
there, because a part of the coat was carried into the wound. It came
out at the back under the right shoulder-blade and pierced that bone,
tearing it partly away from its muscles. In piercing the bone it also
fractured it, and made a large hole of exit, as was to be expected."

"Explain, please."

"Under some circumstances a bullet losing its speed pushes the tissues
before it and makes a larger hole of exit than entrance, especially if
it shatters the bone."

"What do you think of the nature of the weapon used?"

"In my opinion it was certainly no modern pistol or rifle; they are of
smaller calibre and the powder used gives greater velocity, and less
tearing is evidenced."

"How is that?"

"Well, a small bullet going at great speed makes a clean hole usually,
at ordinary range. This was a large bullet, going only at moderate
speed."

"Could a rifle have done it?"

"Yes, if fired at a long distance, so that the speed was slackening."

"What seems the probable weapon to you?"

"A revolver, because a rifle of large calibre, to have produced such a
wound, must have been discharged at considerable distance, for the
bullet was losing its velocity when it found the victim. Now, to have
seen the victim from afar was impossible, the banks on each side of the
road and the incline of the hill would prevent it. That, to my mind,
excludes a rifle.

"The assassin could not have seen Mr. Mark much more than one hundred
and fifty feet away, owing to the configuration of the ground. Had he
been _much_ nearer than that distance, the bullet would have travelled
with greater speed than it did, and would probably have pierced the
shoulder-bone without so much crushing and pushing effect.

"Thus we see that a rifle in this case could not have been used far
enough away to cause such a wound. A heavy revolver discharged at good
distance for such a weapon would have met the requirements, however; and
I believe such a one was used. The assassin could not have been farther
off than the configuration of the ground permitted--about one hundred
and fifty feet--and judging from the wound, he was not very much
nearer."

The crowd shifted and a deep sigh of emotion arose.

"Now, Dr. Moore, you arrived in town this morning! Please tell us what
you know about the events that transpired," asked the coroner.

"Well, I arrived at six o'clock A.M. and walked up the hill. As I
reached the top, I noticed a man coming up behind. A milkman came along
and offered me a ride to the hotel--there he is," and he pointed to the
fellow. "As we rode along, we both heard a shot, and I remarked upon it.
The man in the wagon with me said it probably was a poacher. I have no
doubt, sir, it was the murderer at work."

This was getting near the horror, and the court-room seemed to echo the
deep breathing of the listeners.

Then the milkman, who had picked the doctor up, gave his testimony. He
had entered the highway at the Corners and had seen a man coming up the
hill. He drove in toward Mona, and picked up Dr. Moore, as related.

He corroborated Moore in his statements, and ended by saying that he
went about his business after leaving Moore at the hotel, and knew
nothing of the finding of the body by the other milkman and the boy,
until about eight o'clock.

"I remember the shot; it was short and dull. We said it didn't seem like
much of a gun."

"When did you hear the shot?"

"About 6.30, sir," was the answer.

"And, gentlemen of the jury," said the coroner, "Mr. Mark lived until
seven, when he was found."

"If that shot was the one, he lived a long time. I believe he might have
done so, however. The hemorrhage was not very severe. He may have lain
unconscious for a while. As you know, the autopsy showed that the bullet
entered in front and, striking a rib, followed that around and came out
behind. It followed a superficial deflected course, as bullets
frequently do. Men sometimes live a long time with such wounds."

More evidence, of an unimportant nature, was given. The station-master
remembered the man getting off the train and following Moore. He knew
him well; he was Mr. Mark, and had lagged behind and spoken to him.

The body was undiscovered before, because most milk-wagons entered the
town at the Corners, and no one had alighted from the seven o'clock
train to climb the hill.

Charles Clark was now called, and the spectators made room for Oakes, as
he walked down and faced the audience. Watching the crowd, I saw its
excited expectancy. Here and there was a man, pale as death, nearly
overcome by the strain of the evidence. Everyone in that room knew that
the important part was at hand. Many expected the name of the assassin.
A man behind me sighed and said: "Gosh! why don't you hurry?" I knew
that he was nearly ready to collapse.

Oakes, or, as Mona knew him, Clark, crossed his hands behind him and
inclined his body a little. He glanced coldly around, then at the clock,
and instinctively the audience followed the movement. I noticed that the
time was four, and that the ticking was very heavy and noisy. Then I
remembered Oakes's orders, and watched the crowd. The coroner went
through the usual formalities, and Oakes began his testimony.

He spoke in that fluent style of his: "I reached the man ahead of the
others; he was breathing. Realizing that his name was important, I asked
him for it. He was conscious; he opened his eyes and looked at me. 'Mark
is my name; all Mona is my friend,' he answered. At mention of those
words I heard a sob and then another outbreak; the audience was going to
pieces."

Oakes resumed: "I then asked him, 'Who did this deed?' He seemed to be
losing consciousness. I repeated the question. This time he answered, in
an almost inaudible voice: 'The man--the man--with the great arms.'" As
Oakes uttered this sentence, he did it in a strong whisper--heard
clearly all over the court-room. He paused. Moore and I noticed that
one-half the men in sight mechanically put their hands to their
arms--curious is the effect of such scenes.

Others, seeing the actions of their comrades, glanced at them harshly
and suspiciously, but instantly began to smile.

Just then the fat grocer thought it was funny, and laughed outright in a
paroxysm of hysteria. The crowd began to titter, and then a roar, short,
sharp, of pent-up emotion--a laugh of suppressed excitement--pealed
forth like a thunder-clap; then all again was intensity.

Oakes now continued: "He did not say more, so I again asked quickly,
'Who did it? Speak, man! Speak!' Then he answered distinctly--it was a
last effort."

The audience leaned forward in awed expectancy. The faces of some were
hard and set, and the eyes of all were riveted on Oakes.

Moore whispered to me: "Watch the negro." I looked and saw him leaning
forward over the window-sill, his face ashen gray; one arm held on to
the sill, the other hung limply into the room.

"Mr. Clark, what did Mr. Mark say to you then, just before he died?"
asked the coroner.

"He said: 'It was the fellow--the man with the blue cross on his left
arm.'" As Oakes spoke, his voice became metallic and incisive, while
his quick eyes suddenly swept the audience.

There was a shuffling of feet, a turning of bodies, and a man of weak
nerves cried out: "The blue cross on the left arm!"

The negro made a lunge forward, swung both arms into the room, and cried
out: "Oh, Gawd! Oh, Gawd!" then dropped on the other side of the wall.

The Chief of Police stood up and pointed to the window.

"Catch that coon," he cried.

The tumult which followed was a relief, but the crowd lost sight of the
negro. No one had ever seen him before, and he escaped--at least for the
time being.

The jury brought in a verdict "that Mr. Mark came to his death at the
hands of a party or parties unknown."

As Dr. Moore and I discussed matters later, we could but agree that the
identity of Quintus Oakes had apparently been well hidden in that of
Charles Clark, the agent, and that our first day in Mona had been a
memorable one.



  _CHAPTER VIII_

  _The Mansion_


Mona was situated on a plateau terminating rather abruptly at the river
on the west, and elevated well above its waters. In the neighborhood of
the station it was high, and a long climb. A mile farther down stream,
where the Mansion sat on the edge of the cliff, the elevation was not so
great--perhaps a hundred feet or more above the railroad tracks by the
river. The Mansion end of the plateau was lower, therefore, than the
town. Beyond, up the river, the land lay at the same elevation as Mona.
The beautiful place itself was some distance back from the crest of the
plateau and was approached from the river by the highway we had known so
well that day. This was intersected at right angles on the plain above
by River Road, which ran parallel to the waters below.

The junction of these two roads was known as "The Corners." Upon
following River Road for nearly a mile toward the south one would
arrive at the Mansion gate.

The other road--the Highway, as it was called--led directly to Mona, in
the centre of the plateau which gradually terminated to the north, south
and east in the rolling hills of that region.

Never was town site better selected; never was place more hopeful until
recently, when the blackness and gloom of the unoccupied Mansion, with
its tale of dread, seemed to have extended to men's minds and laid its
grasp of uncanniness and uneasiness on business and pleasure. And now,
to make the slough of despond deeper, had come the sharp, quick act of a
murderer--above all, an unknown assassin--and a crime similar to one
scarce forgotten.

The Mansion gate opened directly from River Road, and a walk of about
two hundred yards brought the visitor to the front door. The back of the
Mansion faced the river directly to the west, the balcony of the back
parlor and dining-room half-circled the south and west sides of the
house, and had evidently been much used. The woodwork was old and the
flooring quite worn. The front of the place was pillared in old
Colonial style, and was of stone, hewn in the rough and built in a
permanent fashion.

Across River Road, right in front of the gate, came an uneven roll of
the country, or break in the plateau. The ground billowed deeply for at
least a quarter of a mile, parallel to the road. The slope from the road
was gradual to a little pond of considerable depth at the bottom of the
depression. On the farther side the ground rose more abruptly, but not
so high as on the Mansion side. The pond itself was about one hundred
feet in width; and one standing by the Mansion exit could see both the
pond and the ascent beyond, and, over the crest of the billowy ground,
the distant woods and the country to the east.

Down from the road a little path dipped, and at its foot a frail bridge
crossed the pond; for here the two shores were quite close. Either shore
projected into a point, and about fifty feet of bridge had been built
with logs, resting half-way on a rude pillar of stones in the water.
This bridge continued the path up the far slope and over the crest
beyond. It was a short cut to the country and the southern suburb of
Mona.

Within the grounds of the Mansion, extending northward to the Highway
and the scene of the murder, and southward into the uninhabited country,
was a forest of oak and of elm, interspersed with an occasional fir. One
could easily wander between the trunks of these trees, but having
entered a few rods, all traces would be lost of the outside world. It
afforded an excellent shelter for anyone desiring to escape detection.

We noticed all these points as we drove to the Mansion next morning. We
found the care-takers awaiting us, and more than glad to again see Mr.
Clark, as they knew Oakes.

The events of the day before had crowded fast upon us, and had left us
well known in the town. The name of Clark was on every tongue. Oakes
remarked that morning, before we started for the Mansion, that he hoped
the people would not identify him. "If they do, we cannot help it,
however," he said; "we cannot control events like these." Then he
suddenly asked me: "How about that negro? He was handsome, you say?"

"Yes, rather black, with remarkably clear-cut features."

"Indeed! Then he may be traced through his good looks."

"Do you think he is the murderer?"

"That's difficult," said Oakes; "but I should think not. Had the deed
been done by a negro boy, the victim would have remembered it; they are
uncommon here. He would have said, 'A negro, good-looking,' or something
of that sort. His color would have impressed the dying man."

"Well, why was the negro so scared?" I asked.

"Probably recognized the description as that of someone he knew."

"Perhaps not," said Moore. "He may have been just emotional; the race is
very superstitious."

"If I make no mistake," continued Oakes, "Mona is going to see queer
doings. The people's minds are at a great tension. In any event, this
affair is not ours. That is--not as we see it now."

Our welcome from the servants seemed genuine in its sincerity, and Cook
and his wife ushered us up to our rooms. The hall from the front door
was a long one, and the stairs leading to the upper floor was broad and
well carpeted. Our rooms, two in number, were over the parlor and the
dining-room, the latter the scene of the occurrences so frequently
described. Oakes was given the back room looking on the river, and over
the balcony; Moore and I occupied the front room, over the parlor. On
the other side of the hall were two large rooms--guest chambers, we were
told. They formed the roof of the dance or reception hall below--to the
right of the door as we entered--and always kept locked, as Annie told
us. In fact, the dance hall and the two large chambers overhead formed
the north side of the house and had not been used for many years.
According to tradition, the hall had been a gay centre in the years gone
by, when the Mansion was the leading house in the village. It had now
lost its prestige to new and magnificent residences of the rich New York
men of affairs, who had recently come into the town to make it their
home and to transform all its social conditions and to add life and new
energy to the country around.

During the forenoon we examined the downstairs rooms pretty
thoroughly. We did it in an unostentatious manner. The rooms had several
windows, and the front one facing the road in the distance had a large
fireplace. Oakes examined this carefully and shook his head in a
negative manner.

The back room facing the river on the west, the lawn and the estate on
the south, was the dining-room. Its four large windows, two on each
side, extended down, in the old style, to within a foot of the
encircling porch. Again there was a large fireplace, and I looked over
it closely; but it was solidly built and seemed to have been undisturbed
for years. The entire room was paneled in oak, and this appeared to be
new.

"It was right here that I had my experience," said the detective, as he
stood by the windows to the west.

I was near the centre of the room, leaning upon the table, and Moore was
farther along on the other side of the fireplace, near the eastern wall.
We were quite interested in the place, and I am sure I felt anything but
secure.

Dr. Moore laughed in his careless way. "Look out, old fellow," said he,
"it will catch you again."

Oakes and I stepped out on the balcony, through the low-silled window,
and looked across the river. I heard a rustle, I thought--a half-muffled
tread; a swish, a peculiar noise--and Oakes jumped to the centre of the
balcony.

"Look out! That's the noise," cried the detective.

We both glanced toward Moore, and saw a terrible sight. The strong man
was unsteady on his feet, his knees were bent, and his head thrown
forward. Great drops of perspiration were rolling off his pale face. He
looked like a man about to fall. "Help, for God's sake, help!" he cried,
and clutched at his neck.

That instant the physician came across the room, hurled by terrific
force. I caught him as he fell, and saved him from an injury against the
table. He was overcome completely; he held his neck in a pained position
and groaned.

Oakes, weapon in hand, advanced to the hall. We all heard a distant
muffled noise, preceded by a slam. At that instant our attention was
called to the balcony. A figure jumped on the porch from the west side
and dashed past the windows, leaving the balcony near its southern end,
and disappearing in the trees beyond.

"A man!" said Oakes, "and he was hiding behind the porch."

"Yes, but _he_ did not do it; how could he have run there so quickly?" I
answered.

"Better take Moore upstairs," saying which, Oakes jumped from the room,
and instead of going out of the front door, he sprang to the west end of
the hall near the dining-room, and opened a door I had not noticed.

"Where are you going?" said I.

"Into the cellar. Don't follow, unless I shoot." He was gone.

I partly carried, partly helped Dr. Moore up to his room and placed him
on the bed. He was pale, and I realized he was shocked. I found my
flask, and gave him a good drink, and then saw that the back of his neck
was bleeding. I bathed it, and tied it up in a clean towel.

As I worked, he held his revolver in his hand and watched the door,
talking quickly and earnestly. He told me about how he had wondered if
Oakes were insane, then of the assault on himself; how he had heard the
noise and had certainly been attacked by some living being, and was
satisfied that his suspicions could not be correct. He had been
thoroughly converted. All this took some time, and now we were wondering
what had become of our friend. The minutes passed, and I decided to
descend and see what the servants were doing, and raise an alarm.

Just as I was setting off we heard two pistol cracks, muffled, but the
noise from cartridges such as we carried, nevertheless. I grasped my
weapon and started downstairs. As I reached the top of the landing, I
heard the cellar door close with a bang on the floor below, and heard a
slow tread ascending the stairs. I retreated, so as to aid my wounded
companion.

The tread advanced along the hall. It was that of a man, limping. The
next instant we recognized Oakes's voice: "Where are you, anyway?"

We spoke, and the next instant he appeared on our threshold, revolver in
hand, with his face pale and drawn, and his figure less erect, less
self-reliant than usual.

He was bloody from a wound on his head, and his clothes were torn in
shreds. He steadied himself with his left hand against the door frame.

"Great goodness, Oakes, what is wrong?" said Dr. Moore, rising to help
his friend.

"What the devil!" I exclaimed. "Where have you been?"

"In the cellar," said Oakes.

"What have you been doing?" said Moore, in a most excitable way.

Back came the answer in a feeble tone: "Really, I don't know. Having a
little practice, I guess."

"Catch him, Stone," cried Moore.

I jumped forward, and the stalwart figure dropped vertically--collapsing
at the knees, then pitched headlong into the room.

I saved the face before it struck the floor.



  _CHAPTER IX_

  _Distrust and Suspicion_


The day following the murder of Winthrop Mark was one of uneasiness and
dejection for the towns-people of Mona. The court scenes of the day
before and the great excitement caused by the discovery of the crime had
left their stamp. Disquietude was bred and nurtured by the crime itself,
and the absence of clues save those of the arm. It was rumored and
reiterated that Chief Hallen had failed to discover the slightest
evidence as to the perpetrator, and that the bullet even had remained
unfound, as was most natural; but people look at things in a narrow
light sometimes, and this was an occasion of deep trouble and much
gossip for the town.

The peculiar action of the negro, whom few had seen but all had heard,
and who was pronounced a total stranger by those who had seen him,
pointed strongly to him as the possible assassin. With his escape had
come mutterings against Chief Hallen. Why had the court-house not been
watched? Where were the local authorities? Why had he been allowed to
get away so easily? All these questions remained unanswered, for few
stopped to think that there were _no_ local detectives, and only a few
local policemen.

Then in the midst of these disgruntled thoughts and assertions appeared
the mental picture of Clark, known in the town before, and now the most
conspicuous man in it, towering above all in his active personality, as
in his figure and sayings. Talk is cheap in such a place, and talk has
made or unmade many a man. The great run of Clark to the victim's side
and the dramatic and terrible evidence he gave at the inquest was spoken
of--at first with awe, and then with alarm. And to think he had gone to
the Mansion to spend a short time again, gone to the place of all others
that one should avoid at this time--gone to the house where terror dwelt
and at the end of whose grounds the murder had been committed! Hallen,
whose word was known to be "law," had vouched for this. The personality
of Clark--stood silhouetted on the sky of lowering discontent.

The only clue worth having was that one relating to the arms of the
murderer, and, given to the public as it purposely had been by Clark in
a moment of suspense, it had found deep rooting place in all minds. Who
was the man with the great arms, and with the "blue cross" on one of
them--the left?

Here was a small town--perhaps one thousand grown men. Who had the
cross--who? Might it be _anyone_? Yes, almost _anyone_! Did anyone know
of such a scar? No, but who knew of his neighbor's arms? Who could vouch
for his friend? Some few had been associated, one with another, as boys.
What of that? It was years ago.

Suspicion was growing like a prairie fire, first a light that goes out,
then flickers again and smoulders, anon meeting resistance and
apparently dying; but all the while treacherously gaining and advancing
in the roots and the dry stubble below, then suddenly bursting into
flame. With the first flame comes the inrush of air; then come the heat
and the smoke and the low wall of fire; then the glare, the roar and
the conflagration sweeping all before it.

So came suspicion to Mona. And friendship, respect and brotherly love
fled at its breath, as wild animals of the prairie flee before the
advancing destruction.

By evening of the second day the far-sighted and most influential
citizens detected the condition of affairs. The older residents had
noticed the peculiar similarity of this murder to that of Smith. The
coincidence of time and place was another factor. Could it be the same
assassin? Had he dwelt with them all the while since? The most respected
and wealthy of the inhabitants shared the unenviable position of being
under suspicion; there was no relief for anyone.

The two local newspapers published "extras," and could scarcely supply
the demand. The murders of Smith and Winthrop were reviewed carefully,
and their similarity much written about. The hotel and the two leading
business streets were filled with suspicious, muttering groups.

Nothing had been found missing from the dead man; his watch and money
were untouched. His arrival by such an early train was not unusual. He
frequently went to New York for an outing, and returned before breakfast
to his magnificent place on the hill to the east of the town, where he
lived with two old maiden aunts--his mother's sisters.

Now all this uneasiness and suspicion had been noted--by Hallen, the
Chief. He was a man who, after living in the country for many years, had
finally pushed himself to the top of a large police force in a city of
importance. The physical strain had told on him, however, and now he
found himself back in a small town, recovered in health, but shut in as
to future prospects. The murder of Mark had come to him as a thunderbolt
from a clear sky, but he saw opportunities in it. When Oakes had visited
him and made himself known, he had at first been jealous; but the
former, with his wonderful insight, had made a friend of him.

"Hallen, if you manage this affair well, you will be famous. They are
looking for good men in New York all the while. My work is in the
Mansion; if our paths cross, let us work together."

So had suggested Oakes. He had known about Hallen, as he knew the
history of all police officers, and had thus given hope to the man who
had been used to better things. Instantly Hallen had seen that to
antagonize Oakes would be foolish; to aid him, and perhaps obtain his
advice and friendship, would ultimately redound to his own future credit
and, possibly, advancement. For Oakes's work had brought him in contact
with police heads in all the large cities. His boldness and genius for
ferreting out mysteries were known to them all, and they had paid him
the compliment of studying his methods carefully.

Hallen had agreed to have Oakes's testimony at the inquest taken at just
the proper moment for effect, and had agreed to call Dr. Moore as an
expert.

Of course, the coroner did what the Chief asked.

As Oakes had said: "If you want expert evidence, get it from Moore; if
you don't ask him, you won't get it in Mona."

The idea of Oakes bringing in his testimony as he did was part of the
plan to watch the audience. The planning of the Chief and himself had
accounted for the somewhat informal presentation of the evidence that I
had noticed. In rural courts, affairs are not conducted as they are in
the city, and I had observed a quick swing to affairs, hardly accounted
for on the ground of practice. I recognized the hand of Quintus Oakes,
and knew that the scene had been carefully manoeuvred.

Hallen sat in his office on the evening of the day after the inquest,
reviewing the happenings that had crowded so fast in Mona, and thinking,
not without misgivings, of the wave of suspicion that was rising to
interfere with the affairs of the town.

At this moment the editor of the "Mona Mirror" entered--a whole-souled,
fat individual, breezy and decidedly agreeable. He was one of the
natives, a man of growing popularity and decided education. Dowd was his
name, and he hated _that fellow Skinner_, who edited the rival
newspaper, the "Daily News."

Skinner had "bossed" things in a free-handed fashion until Dowd (a clerk
in the post-office until middle life) had decided to enter the field of
journalism--less than two years before. Dowd was inexperienced, but he
was bright, and he wielded a pen that cut like a two-edged sword; and
the love that was lost between the two editors was not worth mentioning.

As Dowd entered and found Hallen alone, he took off his hat and
overcoat, and laughed sarcastically. He really liked Hallen, and was on
intimate terms with him. Hallen looked up. "Well, what's ailing you
now?" he said.

"Oh, nothing. Only this town is going loony, sure as fate, Hallen. What
are you going to do?"

Hallen chewed the end of a cigar viciously. "I am going to do the best I
can to solve the mystery; if I cannot do that, I can at least keep order
here. Give me a few 'specials' and the necessity, and I will make these
half-crazy people do a turn or two."

The burly chief turned the conversation into other channels, but Dowd
was satisfied. He knew the speaker well.



  _CHAPTER X_

  _The Cellar_


Meantime our first experience at the Mansion, previously recorded, bade
fair to be a serious one. When Oakes had collapsed on his return from
the cellar Dr. Moore fortunately was sufficiently recovered to reach his
side in a few seconds.

"Elevate his feet, Stone. He'll be all right in a few minutes; he has
fainted."

I did as directed, and Moore threw the half of a pitcher of water on the
unconscious man's neck and face. Gravity sent the blood back to his
head, and when the water touched him, he gasped and presently opened his
eyes. Then we carried him to the bed.

In an instant he attempted to rise, but the Doctor refused to allow it,
giving him instead an enviable drink from his flask. "Keep your guns by
you," said Oakes, "and give me mine."

The tension had told on me, and Moore was now by far the best man. He
smiled and ordered me to take a drink also, and to sit down. I obeyed,
for I felt, after the excitement, as limp as a boy after his first
cigar.

Dr. Moore was examining Oakes's head. "Fine scalp wound," said he, and
proceeded to sew it up and dress it. His pocket case came in handy. He
had been wise to bring it. "Hurt anywhere else, old fellow?" asked he.

"No; sore as the devil all over, that's all," and Oakes arose, took off
his coat, and began to bathe his face. "Keep an eye on that door," said
he.

I was myself now, and took my chair to the hall door, sitting where I
could command the head of the stairs and could also hear anyone who
might approach from below.

"What happened?" asked Moore.

"Well, nothing very much," said Oakes; "only I guess I got a mighty good
licking."

"You look it," said I. "Did you shoot for help?"

"Yes, I did. I could not _shout_. The shots saved my life."

"How? Did you kill anyone?"

"Don't know, only the other party kindly quit killing me when I began to
shoot. I heard something drop, however, and there may be a dead body
somewhere."

The shots had aroused the household, and we heard shouting and cries
from the Cooks and from Annie. Soon they appeared, hunting for us, all
distraught and frightened. They said they were in the kitchen when they
heard the shots, and did not know whence they came. This was probable,
as the cellar was away from their section. Annie cried when she saw
Oakes, and ran out to bring in more help. One of the gardeners returned
with her, and as he came into the room I received the impression of a
silent, stern-looking man, past forty and rather strong in appearance,
although not large. He had seen better days.

"Ah!" said he; "ye have run up aginst it agin, sorr. It's nerve ye have,
to go nigh that room after what ye got last time." Oakes looked at me
and at Moore, and we saw he wished us to keep silent.

"Yes! I shan't try it again in a hurry. What's your name?" he asked.

The question came quick as a flash. I knew he was trying to disconcert
the fellow.

"My name is Mike O'Brien, sorr, gardener; you remimber, 'twas me that
helped you last time, sorr."

"You mean you stood by and let the others help me, Mike."

We knew now that this was the indifferent gardener of whom Oakes had
spoken.

"Thrue for ye, sorr; 'twas little enough I did, and that's a fact; I'm
not used to being scared to death like ye be, sorr." Was that an
unintentional shot, or was it a "feeler"?

Oakes had a sharp customer before him, and he knew it.

"Where were you when you heard the shots, Mike?"

"In the woods at the front of the house. I was raking up the leaves, be
the same token."

"What did you see?" Oakes spoke in a commanding voice and fingered the
breech of his revolver in a suggestive way.

"I seen a shadow come out av the cellar door."

"What door?"

"The _only_ cellar door; near the side av the house, sorr."

"What sort of a shadow?"

"'Twas the shadow av a man, and a big one. The sun cast it on the side
av the house, sorr."

Oakes thought a moment, then arose and said: "Step here, Mike, and point
out the side of the house you mean."

Mike hesitated. The other servants withdrew at Oakes's suggestion that
he wished to talk with the gardener. The latter advanced. We felt that
Oakes was trying to spring a trap.

"The side of the house where the cellar door is," reiterated Mike.

"Nonsense, O'Brien. Your story is impossible. The sun was then in the
east and the shadow would have been thrown on the east wall. There is no
door on that side; it is on the west side of the house."

O'Brien looked at Oakes defiantly.

"Yer intirely wrong, sorr. _There is_ the cellar door to the east." He
pointed to a hatch, opening about forty feet from the house, near the
well. "The door _ye_ saw on the west is niver opened--'tis nailed up."

The tables were turned. Oakes was disconcerted.

"If what you say is true, you have my apology. I have not investigated
closely."

"So I thought, sorr," was the answer. And we all wondered at the amazing
coolness and self-possession of the man. It was one against three, and
he had held his own.

"Sit down, Mike," said Oakes. "How long have you been here?"

"Only a matter av six weeks. I came from New York and tried for a job.
Maloney, the head man, giv me wan."

"Where is Maloney?"

"He was in the tool-house whin I come by, sorr. He didn't hear the
commotion, being sort o' deef."

"All right, Mike! Stay where you are a moment." Then Oakes turned to us.

"Just after Moore was attacked I heard a sound like a quick footstep,
and having certain suspicions of my own, made a dash for the cellar. I
found there was no cellar under the north wing; but toward the west, and
directly beneath the dining-room, was a door. As I opened it all was
dark; but my eyes soon accustomed themselves to the light, and I made
out a good-sized chamber--and what I took for a man near the farther
end. I remained silent, pretending I had seen nothing, and, closing the
door, made a movement back up the cellar stairs. There I waited for
about five minutes. The ruse worked. The door of the chamber opened, and
a man, dressed in a dark cloak and a mask, partly emerged, and, I
_thought_, started for the other stairs at the west end of the cellar. I
jumped and grappled with him, but he struck me with the butt end of a
revolver, and I was dazed; in another minute, he was punishing me
severely. I fired two shots, then he threw me away from him and
disappeared. He was stronger than anyone I ever met," said Oakes,
apologetically, "a regular demon, and he got in the first blow. I think
I wounded him, however."

"What shall we do?" said Moore.

"Go quickly and investigate," was the answer. "Here, Mike, you lead the
way."

Mike did not hesitate. If playing a game, he did it well.

"Want a gun?" said Oakes.

"No, sorr, not if youse all are armed. Guess we can give him all the
scrap he wants."

We descended the stairs, Oakes last, as became his condition. He touched
Moore and myself, and pointed to Mike. "Watch him; he may be already
armed," he whispered.

The cellar was lighted by one window at the western end. A door at the
same end, which evidently led to some stairs, was padlocked, and, as
Oakes said, had not been recently opened. The dust lay upon it
undisturbed and the padlock was very rusty. This corroborated Mike's
story. The door above that opened on the ground. It was boarded up, he
said.

No means was found of passing beneath the dance hall, as Oakes had said.
From the lay of the ground, we concluded that the cellar was very low
there and not bottomed--a shut-in affair such as one finds in old
buildings of the Colonial epoch. Across the cellar, to the other
side--the south--the same thing pertained except at the western
extremity under the dining-room; there a door opened into a cellar room
or chamber.

"Here! take this," said Oakes, handing Mike a small pocket taper. "Light
it."

Mike did as told, and stepped into the room, I after him. Oakes held the
cellar door open, and I, happening to look at him, saw that he was
watching Mike as a cat watches a mouse. He had dropped a match at the
moment, and, with his eye still on the gardener, stooped to pick it up.
His hand made a swift, double movement, he had the match and something
else besides; but Mike had not observed, and I, of course, said nothing.

The room was low and without windows, but the air was remarkably clean
and fresh. "Plenty of ventilation in here," said I.

"Yes, and blood too," said the gardener.

Sure enough, the floor was spattered with it.

"Mine, I guess," said Oakes. "Moore, kindly fetch a lamp from upstairs.
Ask Annie for one."

Moore went, and soon brought down a small lantern. We could hear Cook's
voice at the head of the stairs; also his wife's and Annie's. It was the
long-expected hunt that no one had ever before made, and which might
clear up the mystery at any time.

By the better light we saw evidences of the struggle that had taken
place--a strip of Oakes's coat, and a piece of glazed red paper an inch
or so long, and perhaps half as broad--white on one side, red on the
other.

"Piece of a mask," said I; and Oakes placed it in his pocket.

Dr. Moore walked to the east side of the room, where he and I saw a door
in the wall, and some plastering on the floor under it. Mike was busy
examining a heap of rubbish at the other end. His conduct had been most
exemplary. Moore turned the light on the door, and we three observed it
for a moment. Mike had not seen it distinctly, if at all.

"Moore, come here," said the detective, retreating; and the Doctor
followed with the light.

"Come on, Stone." I left the room with them.

"Curious!" he heard Mike say behind us.

"What is curious?" asked Oakes.

The smart hired man answered. "Mr. Clark, the air is good in here. Where
does it come from?"

"I guess we have learned all we need this time, Mike," was the reply,
and the gardener came out reluctantly.

Oakes had seen the door in the wall: it was all he wanted to know. He
closed the outer entrance of the room, and called to Cook for hammer and
nails. The man brought them quickly; then the leader took a board that
was standing against the wall, and Mike and Cook nailed it across the
door from frame to frame.

"Mr. Clark, ye will _have_ the devil now, sorr," said Mike.

Oakes took a pencil out of his pocket and wrote "Clark" on one end of
the board; then with a single movement continued his hand over its edge
carefully, and on to the frame, where the line terminated in a second
signature--"Clark."

"Anyone removing that board has got to put it back to match that line,"
said Oakes, "and that with a board is practically impossible where
nailing has been done. Now for the exit that opens near the well."

We went back through the cellar hall and found at the east end a door
ajar. It did not lock, and was hung on rusty hinges. Beyond was a dark
passage.

"Where does this lead, Mike?"

"To the opening by the well, sorr."

"How do you know?"

"I don't know, myself, but Maloney said the outside opening by the well
led into the cellar; Cook says so, too. 'Tis a passage they used in wet
weather, sorr."

"Mike, you and Cook go round and guard that outer door by the well. Open
it. I'm going through."

"Mr. Clark, don't go in there alone!"

"I'll attend to that," said Oakes. "You go with Cook."

The two went to the well and lifted the hatch door. As they did so,
Oakes held a lighted match inside one end of the tunnel. It blew
strongly toward us; the air was rushing in, and we knew the passage led
to the opening. We heard their voices calling to us. Dr. Moore spoke.

"Oakes, you shall _not_ go in there; you have done enough to-day; you
are a wounded man." I caught up the lantern and my revolver, and Moore
followed.

"Hold on!" said Oakes. "You are in the most dangerous part; don't be
rash. Here, Stone, you go first--and Moore, you follow about ten feet
behind, without a light, in order that you may be undetected. Take
matches. I'll stay here with the taper, and watch. When you get to the
other end, don't go up the steps leading to the ground until both Mike
and Cook show themselves. We know nothing about them, you know. Be
cautious. The man we want went out this way, whoever he is."

I threw the light ahead and advanced some ten feet. I heard Moore
following. "Careful!" said he in a whisper.

Again I threw the light ahead, and beheld only the walls of the square
tunnel. I could hear the breathing of Moore behind me. I knocked on the
wall here and there with my revolver; it rang true and solid. We
gradually advanced until we beheld the daylight and saw the men waiting
at the head of the stone steps.

I ascended. Moore took the lantern and called back to Oakes, addressing
him as Clark. In a moment he came.

"Stay where you are, Stone," said he to me. "Come here, Mike."

Mike descended willingly enough. I watched Cook and looked all around.

"Open that door." Oakes pointed to a little wooden opening in the side
of the stairs. Mike obeyed, but instantly closed it again with a bang.

"A man!" said he.

Oakes and Moore levelled their revolvers.

"Come out," said the detective, "or take the consequences. I shall
shoot."

Mike opened the door again, hiding his figure behind it for protection
as it swung out. I expected to see some one shot, but Moore threw the
light in, and instantly Oakes dived forward into the alcove of stone. We
could hear him chuckle. Cook, at my side, was standing on one leg in his
excitement. Then Dr. Moore burst into laughter.

"What is it? What's the matter?" I cried. I could not see very well, and
ran half-way down. Oakes was standing beside Moore, trying to look
grave. In his hand was a red paper mask and a long black robe!

O'Brien looked on, his eyes twinkling, but his face serious. "I'm
thinking it's lucky, Mr. Clark, sorr, that ye saved yer ammunition,"
said he.

"Yes," retorted Oakes, "and it's still more fortunate you're a good
actor."

O'Brien's somewhat insolent manner changed instantly to one of civility,
and Oakes turned to us.

"No wonder some said there was a woman in this affair."

Then he ordered the hatch door nailed down, and handed the things to me.
"Please take these upstairs, Stone; we must investigate this more
fully," and we withdrew to discuss our findings.

"What do you think of O'Brien, Oakes?" I asked. "He seems to be a cool
sort of a customer."

"Yes, he is no ignoramus. He's a shrewd fellow, and a deep one; but I
have learned a few things."



  _CHAPTER XI_

  _The Night Walk_


Events were following each other rapidly at the Mansion. After leaving
the cellar, Oakes led us back through the grounds, around the south side
of the house. There was no entrance to the cellar there, apparently.

When we reached our rooms and I had deposited the mask and gown on my
table, Oakes turned to the care-taker, Cook, who accompanied us: "You
have been several years here, have you not?"

"Yes, Mr. Clark."

"When did the first trouble begin?"

"About three years ago, sir, following some repairs that were made after
Mr. Odell Mark bought the place from his brother."

"What do you know of those repairs?"

"Well, sir, as perhaps you have noticed, the door from the dining-room
to the parlor opens on a short hall about three feet deep. Now, sir, Mr.
Odell Mark had the wall thickened between the rooms; he thought it was
weak, and this hall represents the thickness of the wall."

Oakes stood at the window, his hands in his pockets, looking out.

"Did you see that wall being built yourself, Cook?"

"I didn't notice particularly, sir."

"Well, Stone, we'll try the simplest theory first. Will you kindly go
with Cook up to the roof and look around carefully. I have an idea that
the wall is double, and that you will find an opening up there
somewhere."

We went, and, as Oakes had surmised, soon found a small opening like a
chimney, grated in solidly and protected by a covering, and so reported.

"Good!" said Oakes. "The wall is double--in part at least--and the
opening was carried into the cellar room and a door placed there."

"What for?" said I.

"Perhaps to ventilate it. We may find some other reason."

"We seem to be solving the mystery," was Moore's comment.

Oakes looked at him quizzically. "Are you satisfied, Doctor, that there
is a physical agent at work here?"

Moore grew red. "Certainly," he said. And Quintus smiled.

"I thought probably you would be convinced in time. A thorough licking
is an excellent argument. It is my belief that the escapes were made
through that double wall, and that we shall find movable panels in the
dining-room."

"But the motive! We are strangers; we gave no provocation," I cried.

"We have yet to learn the motive; also _why_ a man should wear a robe.
The mask is sensible enough, but why he impeded himself with a robe is
beyond us as yet. It would hide his body, to be sure, as the mask would
hide his face, but it would certainly greatly affect his chances of
escape, if pursued. Cook, why was no investigation ever made before?"

"I don't know, sir. Mr. Odell was very timid."

"Did you ever go through the tunnel to the well?"

"Yes, sir. I used to go before the mystery began, but never afterward."

"How about the place in the stairs where the robe was found?"

"That was always there, sir, and used for the gardener's tools."

"Then the gardener knew of it?"

"Maloney, the older one, did, I am sure; he has been here a long time."

"Was he here before the mysteries?"

"Yes, sir, he has been five years on the place."

"Cook, what do you think of the murder of Winthrop Mark?"

It was one of those sudden questions that sometimes bring results.

"I don't know, sir--it is terrible, sir, of course."

"Where was Maloney yesterday, Cook?"

The man looked long at us. "He was here when I got up at six o'clock,
raking the leaves on the front walk."

"Indeed!" said Oakes. We could not tell whether the answer surprised
him, or not.

"I suppose Mike worked all day?"

"Yes, sir, he was about on the place the entire time."

Oakes made no remark whatever at this, but dismissed Cook.

"We cannot go too far in presence of the servants," said he, "for I am
only Clark the agent here, you remember. The time is coming when we may
have to declare ourselves and we may need police help to make arrests,
but," he smiled, "we have Hallen as a friend, I guess."

Oakes was calmly sanguine, I could see, but of course he did not know
that collateral events were brewing of grave importance to us all.

"Now for the robe and mask," said he.

I handed over the mask, an old affair and considerably worn from usage.
A piece of it was missing, which Oakes replaced with the fragment of
paper picked up in the cellar; it fitted exactly, settling the fact that
the mask had been worn by the man who fought him in that place.

The detective looked it all over and said: "This is such as was sold in
New York years ago. It is ordinary, and offers no clue as to the owner
or the place of purchase. I know the kind."

The robe was fairly long, and made of old velvet lined with satin, quite
shiny inside and out. The name of its maker had been carefully cut away.
It was spotted with blood--Oakes's, no doubt--for it was fresh.

"It served a good purpose this time, anyway," said I; "saved the man's
clothes from being marked."

"Medium chest measure," said Oakes. "Try it on, Stone."

I did so, and it just met around me.

"Good! The fellow who wore it is not a giant in chest measure, at all
events, though larger than you, probably, since he wore it next to his
undershirt."

"How in the world do you know that, Oakes?" said the doctor.

"Look at the discoloration of the lining on the shoulders, and also
across the chest and back. The soil is old, but there is a moisture
about the front yet, the moisture of fresh perspiration--it has been
used quite recently. _That_ would not have come through a coat or a
vest. I should not be surprised if he had worn it over his naked chest."

"Where do you suppose the outfit came from?" I asked.

"Probably a relic of some masquerade ball of many years ago. This house
used to be a popular place for entertainments."

"What did you pick up in the cellar when you stooped for the match?"

"Oh, you noticed that? See for yourselves," and he showed us an
old-fashioned heavy-calibre cartridge.

"And how about the closet in the steps, from which you took the robe?" I
pursued.

"I happened to see the door, although both of you missed it. The person
who hid the disguise there is quite familiar with that exit, evidently.
That narrows the search considerably," said Oakes. "But the robe is a
mystery; it is a senseless thing to use under such circumstances."

"Yes--senseless; that is the word," spoke up Moore.

Oakes's eyes searched the physician's, but the latter made no further
remark. I thought Oakes was sizing him up as pretty far from "senseless"
himself.

We now examined the robe more carefully, and saw that it was soiled with
what appeared to me to be soot. Oakes shook his head. "No, it seems to
be wood ash of some kind; see how light some of it is," he said.

He ran his hand along the inside of the robe, and found a small,
well-worn slit--an opening to a deep pocket. Instantly he turned it
inside out, and a small roll of paper dropped from it. He carefully
unfolded it and spread it on the table.

"It is a piece of an old newspaper," said he, "and has been read much.
It has been thumbed till it is ready to fall apart. Read it, Stone. Your
eyes are best."

I studied a while, and then began:

    "DAILY NEWS, _October 30, 189-_.--The body was found face
    downward, on the main Highway, just below the crest of the Mona
    Hill. It was first seen by John Morney, who was going to the
    reservoir in advance of his gang of laborers. They were in sight
    when he discovered it; the time was therefore shortly before
    seven. The men were going to work at 6.30 from Mona. They
    recognized it instantly as the body of Orlando Smith, our
    beloved and esteemed citizen. Death had occurred only a short
    time before, and the murder must have been done about daybreak.
    It was evident that Mr. Smith was returning from his factory,
    where he had spent the night, the shift having been doubled
    recently, owing to the pressure of business. Later examinations
    showed that the bullet entered the chest and was from a large
    revolver, a 44 or 45 calibre. The ball was not found.

    "We are unable to give any more particulars now, before the time
    of going to press."

"That is all," I said.

We remained standing while we thought over the matter. There was a
satisfied air about the detective that I could not quite fathom, and Dr.
Moore seemed to be quite pleased also.

"Well, what is it?" I asked.

With a voice that betrayed traces of elation, Oakes answered me: "The
man in the cellar wore this robe; if he thumbed this paper, the murder
of Smith interested him. The murder of Mark was similar, and I believe
our Mansion affair is going to involve us in a peck of unexpected
trouble. The clues are showing now, and we must know more about the
Smith murder, as well as the Mark affair."

"Yes," put in Moore, "and all about the suspected motives in the Smith
affair."

Oakes smiled. "Don't be too previous, my boy. If Hallen looks for our
help, well and good. Otherwise, remember, I have given my word not to
interfere with his search at present. Meanwhile, we must get into town
and look around."

"You must remain here," said Moore. "You cannot go out until that wound
begins to heal--in a day or so."

"That is so," said Oakes. "But perhaps Stone can find out what is going
on."

So it was arranged that I should call on Chief Hallen that evening and
spend a few hours in Mona.

At supper, Oakes said that tomorrow he would have men from the city who
would make a complete search of the walls, and perhaps tear down some
partitions. "Masons, and other workmen, you know," said he; and I saw a
twinkle in his eyes and realized that he was going to surround himself
with men, in case of an emergency.

"Are you expecting trouble?" I asked.

"No," said he, grave again in a second, "but I believe in being
forearmed. This matter is capable of developing into a very serious
affair for all hands, especially if we have a band of conspirators
against us."

"_A band!_" said I.

"Yes, certainly. Has it never occurred to you that there may be several
desperate characters in this affair and the murder? This is no boy's
play; we are facing unknown dangers. Now, Stone, go about town
carefully, and send this cipher to New York first thing. When you come
back, tell Chief Hallen that I want you escorted to the Mansion by two
men. Remember! He will understand, for he spoke to me of the
advisability of giving me aid."

It all seemed strange to me, but I was not fearful when I left just at
seven for the town.

I took the short cut over the bridge, and up the hill beyond, and they
watched me as I crossed the rolling plains to Mona.

It was a clear night, and I could see well over the hills, the
three-quarters moon giving me excellent light. I could not help thinking
how careful was this man Oakes, and what a peculiar nature was his;
alert, severe even to austerity at times; then solicitous, friendly and
even fond of a joke. I was more than glad that I came, although I
realized that perhaps it was foolish to interfere in such affairs. Of
course, that murder of Mark had been cast upon our notice by curious
circumstances, and unexpectedly.

As I walked over the rolling ground, I kept my eyes well upon my
surroundings; but not a living thing did I see except myself and the
night birds until I entered the town.

There was an air of subdued excitement about the place. As I walked to
the post-office to send my despatches the loungers seemed numerous, and
some were amiss in their greetings; others, whom I knew, approached in
an affable manner enough, but there seemed no genuine friendliness.

The telegraph manager took the cipher and smiled when he saw it. Then he
said to me in a whisper: "Tell Mr. Clark there is trouble coming."

To my look of surprise he answered: "Oh, that's all right; I had a visit
from your friend before he went to the Mansion."

Again I recognized the work of careful Oakes, and understood why he did
not hesitate to send the cipher--a thing unusual in a small town.

The indications of impending trouble in town were quite impressed upon
me. The little hotel was the centre of a lounging crowd, large, and
composed of representative men as well as the usual hangers-on. There
were evidences of much interest around the police building also--much
more than would occur under normal circumstances in a town of this size,
and even more than was present the night before.

I noticed a couple of brawls, and considerable raising of voices; many
men were walking about as though watching the others. The prairie fire
had been lighted; the sparks were burning near the roots of the grass;
the air was uneasy--ready to rush in as wind, to fan and feed the first
flame.

I visited the Chief, who was with his subordinates. He invited me into
the private room, and then said:

"Mr. Stone, I am doing all I can to detect this murderer and to satisfy
the public demand for his apprehension, but the clues are practically
worthless. The populace is uneasy and suspicious."

Then he detailed to me all that he knew. I then told him how the
people's actions had impressed me.

"I am going to have all I can do to keep order. I am going to ask your
friend Oakes to take a hand."

"He will do it," I said, "for he is greatly interested."

"It is for the welfare of the town which I serve that I ask him to join
me in this matter. Go to him, and tell him I shall see him in the
morning if possible."

I was glad that affairs were taking such a turn, for I knew the facts
in our possession, and that Oakes's counsel would be valuable.

I then requested an escort of two men to accompany me on my return to
the Mansion, as Oakes had suggested.

"Certainly! I had no intention of letting you go back alone," he said;
and then he summoned two of his men clad in citizen's clothes and
introduced them to me. "Now take a walk to the outskirts, and return the
same way by which you came. My men will follow you at a short distance."

Before I left I noticed my companions--fine-looking fellows both of
them--and saw the tell-tale pouching of the hip pockets, and knew that
we were all well armed.

"In order not to attract attention, we will walk some distance behind
you. We will keep you within sight and hearing. If we fire a shot,
return to us."

I started across the rolling country, and saw the two figures behind me.
Why were they so careful? Why did they not accompany me? They separated,
and we advanced, I myself following the narrow path.

The night was still. I halted occasionally and looked back--a dim figure
would halt on my left and on my right. It was lonesome, but I felt I had
company.

I neared the slope to the pond, and looked down; there was nothing
visible, and I began to descend with an easy stride. Although nearing
the Mansion, I felt an unaccountable dread. This was the trying part of
the journey, and my followers were now invisible to me, being on the
plain above the crest of the hill. I gripped my revolver firmly, and
stepped rapidly on to the bridge; but as I did so I heard a pistol shot
from above, and knew instantly that I was in danger--that my companions
had signalled me to return.

I faced about, and commenced my ascent of the hill.

From somewhere near a voice came to me clearly. "Run for your life," it
said.

I could see nothing, but retreated hurriedly, and was soon with the
others at the top of the hill.

"Why did you tell me to run?" I panted.

They looked at me. "We said nothing," was the answer; "we merely
signalled you to come back."

"Well, someone ordered me to run for my life."

"Ah!" said they. "We thought we heard a voice. We saw a figure at the
other side of the pond. We came over the crest cautiously, and he did
not expect us. He was crossing in range of the light from the Mansion
gate when we detected him. So much for following you!"

"Well, but who spoke to me? He could not have done so; his voice would
not have sounded so near."

"No, evidently someone near you was watching him; he was about to waylay
you, and the watcher knew it and warned you."

We heard a commotion and saw a figure dash from the bridge, away toward
the north end of the pond, and disappear.

Then another figure showed at the crest on the River Road and followed
him at breakneck speed.

"See--the man on the bridge was the fellow who warned you. The other is
after him. He won't catch him, however."

"Come!" I cried; and we darted down and over the bridge to the road
above, but nothing was visible. Suddenly a couple of figures emerged
from the darkness by the Mansion gate. We recognized Oakes and Moore,
who had been awaiting us.

We related the circumstances of our return to the Mansion to them.

"Yes," said Oakes, "we were watching the man near the road. He had a
gun, and was evidently waiting for you. We were just going to make a
rush at him when we saw you run back at the signal."

"Who was he?" asked I.

"I will answer the question by asking: Who was the man who warned you?"

"I haven't the least idea," said I.

"You see, you were in great danger, and only that man's foresight saved
your life. But there are _two_ unknowns now--the friend and the enemy."

We watched my escorts descend and cross the bridge, mount the ascent and
disappear over the crest toward Mona. Then the moonlight silhouetted
their figures for an instant, as they turned and waved a farewell.



  _CHAPTER XII_

  _The Witness_


Mr. George Elliott, aristocratic, well-to-do club-man and all-round
agreeable fellow, lived in bachelor apartments on the upper West side of
New York.

He was engaged now in the brokerage business, but, times having been
dull, he found it rather difficult to occupy himself and was
anticipating taking a vacation--but where, he had not yet decided.

Events were shaping themselves, however, to bring him into the
happenings at Mona as one of our party.

On the corner, near the apartment, was a boot-blacking stand, presided
over by one Joe, an intelligent and wide-awake colored youngster, whose
general good-nature and honesty had made him popular with many. Among
his patrons and general well-wishers was Mr. Elliott, to whom Joe had
taken a particular liking, and whose opinions the young negro had often
sought in an off-hand way; for, despite his general air of reserve and
hauteur, Elliott was kindness itself at heart, and a man who could be
easily approached by those who were suffering from worry and hardship.

At about the time of the beginning of this story, Joe's mother had been
taken sick and had died in Troy, and the boy had gone up there for a few
days.

Then he had gone to Lorona, a little town farther south, and from thence
to Mona on his way home to New York. At Mona he had seen a terrible
thing--a murder.

Bewildered, frightened, overawed by his fateful knowledge, he had
managed, however, to reach New York, where he sought out Mr. Elliott for
counsel; he knew the latter was kind and good and would tell him what to
do. Joe realized that he needed advice--that he was in a terrible fix,
being the only witness, so far as he knew, of a crime of the worst kind.

As Joe told Mr. Elliott the things he had witnessed, that gentleman
realized the tremendous value of the evidence being told him.

By adroit questioning, he determined that the celebrated Quintus Oakes
was in Mona. The boy said he recognized him, for he had frequently
"shined" Mr. Oakes's shoes in times past on Broadway. Elliott realized
that as he was called Clark at the inquest--according to Joe--the people
in Mona did not know him as Oakes; he must be travelling under an
_alias_, on important business probably. Elliott also grasped the fact
that Oakes was there at the time of the murder by coincidence only. He
had read of the affair in the evening paper, but only in a careless
manner. It was all of deep interest now.

What should he do with Joe?

If he allowed the boy to think that he was in a tight place, he might
run away, and that would defeat justice. There was the alternative of
telling the police; _that_ would mix himself up in an unpleasant affair,
and Joe might not be believed--might be falsely accused of the murder.

Again, he knew Mr. Oakes. He had seen him at the Club, and he did not
desire to frustrate whatever investigations the detective might be
making.

The best solution would be to find Quintus Oakes and tell him. He
certainly would be able to give some attention to the murder, even if
not in Mona for that purpose. Meanwhile, he himself would hold the boy
at all hazards.

With skill scarcely to be expected from one of his easy-going type, he
told Joe to remain and sleep in his flat that night and that he would
fix things for him. The terror-stricken negro was only too glad of
sympathy and protection from one of Mr. Elliott's standing, and
complied; for he was at the mercy of his friends. What could he, a
colored boy, do alone?

After tired nature had asserted herself and Joe had fallen asleep in a
room which had been given him, Elliott called up Oakes's office by
telephone. In less than an hour a dapper young man sought admission to
the apartment, and was met by Elliott. He introduced himself as
"Martin--from Oakes's place." In a few words Elliott explained matters,
and Martin said:

"Let Joe go to his boot-blacking stand in the morning. Get your shoes
shined, and place your hand on his shoulder in conversation, so that he
can be identified before you leave. Our men will be in sight. Then meet
me at the elevated station, and we will go to Mona together, if you care
to do so."

"Good!" said Elliott. "I am willing; I will take my vacation that way."

And that was how, several hours later, Joe went to his boot-blacking
stand, feeling secure in being near friends, and oblivious of the fact
that strange eyes were watching all his movements.

A little later Elliott patronized the stand, and in leaving placed his
hand on Joe's shoulder and said: "Nobody will trouble you, old fellow.
Don't say a word; it will all come out right. I will back you to the
limit."

And after that several pairs of eyes watched every movement of the
boot-black. Several affable strangers gave him quarters for ten-cent
shines. Joe was not in the police net, but he was in the vision of those
silent men whom one cannot detect--those experts employed by men like
Oakes. Escape was impossible for the negro.

Joe remained in good spirits, for had not Mr. Elliott befriended him? He
was ignorant of the doings of those brief hours when he slept.

Elliott's going to Mona was perhaps unnecessary, but he felt a natural
curiosity to know Oakes better, as well as to see the outcome of the
case and the effect of the evidence the negro possessed. He was also
actuated by a desire to do all he could to establish the accuracy of the
boy's statement, and to see that he obtained as good treatment as was
consistent with the ends of justice.

He and Martin arrived at Mona the day after the murder--our first one at
the Mansion. The two stayed at the hotel and studied the town, finding
it impossible to go to the Mansion without creating talk.

As Martin said: "We must go slowly and not appear too interested in
Oakes, or rather Clark, as he is known up here--so the office informed
me. So far as we know he has nothing to do with the murder case, and we,
being strangers and consequently subject to comment, must be guarded in
our actions. I have seen and heard enough to realize that there is much
suppressed excitement among the people. We must communicate with Oakes
quietly, and find whether it is wise to see him. He may not desire our
presence at the Mark place."



  _CHAPTER XIII_

  _The Plan of Campaign_


Next day, as we were at breakfast at the Mansion, the masons and
carpenters came. Curiously enough, one of them brought a note from
Martin, asking if it would be convenient for him to bring a stranger,
with valuable information, to see Mr. Oakes that morning; and the man
found it convenient to drop into town a little later and incidentally to
meet Martin and let him know that Oakes expected him. Then he went to
the hardware store and bought a few trifling things, as any carpenter or
mason might do.

"Looks as though I am going to hold a reception this morning," said
Oakes: "The Chief of Police making an engagement last night for an
interview this morning, and now Martin asking for another."

"What is Martin doing up here?" asked Moore.

"Well, don't get impatient. He has something important, anyway. Just
wait." I think Moore felt aggravated at Oakes's apparent indifference.
Of course it was simulated, but he seemed so calm and oblivious of the
mass of happenings that had put Moore and myself in a state of extreme
excitement.

It was not long before Martin and Mr. Elliott were with us. Oakes
received Elliott in a most agreeable manner, which placed us all at
ease. He said he knew Mr. Elliott by sight, and esteemed it greatly that
he should extend information to him. Also he was sure it must be of
great value, since the gentleman had travelled all the way from New York
to place him in possession of it. And this was said before any
information was given. We saw that our friend was a diplomat.

Quickly Mr. Elliott gave all the particulars of the negro's confession,
and the detective said: "If I am called into the case by Chief Hallen, I
shall want to see the boy; if not, the information should be given to
the Chief, as the matter belongs to his jurisdiction."

Looking out of the window at that moment, I espied Hallen coming up the
walk.

"Good!" said Oakes. "Now, Mr. Elliott, will you kindly retire with Dr.
Moore, while Stone, Martin and I hear what the Chief has to say."

When Hallen came up, he seemed very cordial, but worried, and made no
attempt to disguise the fact that he anticipated trouble with the unruly
element in Mona by Saturday night.

"You see," he said, "we are few here, and I have been kept busy with the
brewing uneasiness in town and cannot handle the murder affair
satisfactorily. I have come to ask you to help me, if you are
sufficiently at leisure. We cannot get any clues at all, save that the
man was killed by a bullet of large calibre in the hands of a good shot,
as the distance from which it was fired would seem to show. The road has
been searched but nothing found, and the crowd that went with you to the
dying man's side trampled away all clues on the ground.

"My men have reported to me the curious affair of last night," continued
the Chief. "I suppose you have a explanation for it; in any event, it
must be followed up. The people must be diverted, and more must be done
at once than I can do. Will you help me?"

"Yes," said Oakes. "Of course!"

"Hello, what ails your head?" said the Chief, after thanking him.

And then Oakes told him as much as was necessary of the events of the
day before.

"I am very glad your _carpenters_ have arrived," said the Chief; "they
may help." He smiled, as did Oakes. They understood one another--they
were in similar lines of business.

"Now that I have a hand in this thing, let's all get acquainted," said
Oakes; and he called in Moore and Elliott, and the discussion became
general.

Elliott was admitted unreservedly to our councils, especially as Oakes
knew that he held the keys to the conviction of the assassin--the
witness.

Oakes, in his fluent style, acquainted the Chief with the fact that the
negro was already under surveillance and that, in his opinion, he should
be brought to Mona for further examination.

"Yes, but we must smuggle him in. It would be unwise to let the populace
know we have him now; they might infer he was the murderer and violence
would certainly be done him. At present, I have all I can do to keep
order in the town," said Hallen.

Then he gave a lucid account of the wave of suspicion and of the
evidences of nervous tension the citizens were showing.

"Why," said he, "almost every man suspects his neighbor. Life-long
friends are suspicious of one another and business is nearly at a
standstill. One man looked at another in an absent-minded sort of a way
to-day, and the other retaliated with a blow and an oath, and asked him
if he would look at his own arms--not his neighbor's."

"Yes," said Oakes, "we have here a great mental emotion--_suspicion_--to
deal with, which may amount to a public calamity unless checked. One
must always take account of the actions and reasonings of communities.
Emotional waves rush through them as through individuals sometimes. Look
at history, and consider the waves of religion, emotional in character,
that have occurred. Look at the unreasonableness developed in our own
country from ignorance and fear, when witches were burned at the stake!"

"Oakes," said Moore with a smile, "you seem to make mental processes and
conditions as much of a study as the physician does."

"Certainly," Oakes replied. "It is most important. Did we not study the
workings of a criminal's mind, for instance, we would often be baffled.
You see, the determination of the probable condition of such a one's
mind is often paramount, especially in such a case as this. In other
words, was the _motive_ one that would naturally sway an ordinary
healthy individual under the conditions appertaining to the crime--the
so-called _sane_ motive? Or was it in any way dependent upon
peculiarities of the criminal's reasoning--a motive built up of
something unreal, a _delusion_ in the mind of one not in his right
senses?"

I myself had frequently had cause to study such mental processes in the
practice of my profession, but I was amazed at the knowledge shown by
Oakes, and stated in such a broad, untechnical manner. The man was no
ordinary one, to be sure, but I had scarcely expected him to show such
education in these matters.

I now recalled what Moore had once told me of Oakes's all-round
attainments.

Dr. Moore broke the silence.

"You are a lalapazooza, Oakes."

Oakes did not notice the remark, but said: "I don't know what other men
do, but I have tried to bear in mind such things."

"Yes," said Hallen, "and consequently there is only _one_ Quintus
Oakes."

"It seems to me," continued Hallen, "that your work here at the Mansion
will soon lead to results, and I trust that you will find time to
consider the murder also."

"Gentlemen," said Oakes very seriously, "from what I saw after the Mark
murder in town and from what you report, I feel that Mona is in a very
serious plight. I shall make time, Hallen, to do what little I can."

And thus Quintus Oakes became the leader in the unravelling of the Mark
murder mystery.

After a few remarks of no particular consequence and a more or less
general conversation, he resumed:

"Suppose, Chief, that we now smuggle the negro into Mona as soon as
possible, and bring him here. I believe that if Mr. Elliott goes back
with Martin and they explain things to the boy, he will come without
much trouble. It must be impressed upon him that he is regarded in the
light of a _hero_: appeal to the innate weakness of the race--desire for
flattery."

"I believe we can bring him here easily," said Elliott, "for he has
confidence in me."

"If he refuses to come," said Hallen, "we can get him here in plenty of
ways."

"Yes," said Oakes, "Martin knows how; leave it to him. Only, we must
have him soon, and he must come here by way of another station,
incognito, lest the people become too excited."

This being agreed upon, the conversation became more general, and in
answer to questions we found that Oakes had not as yet formulated any
solution to the mystery of the identity of the murderer. As he said, the
affair of downstairs might be connected with the murder, indirectly or
directly, but as yet we had not had sufficient opportunities for
studying the surroundings of the house or the life of its attachés to
venture an opinion. He laid particular stress upon the fact that
opinions should never be formed on poor evidence, since a biased mind
was incapable of appreciating new discoveries or new clues. To theorize
too much was very easy, but sometimes fatal to detection of crime. He
preferred to work along several lines of investigation before
concentration on any one idea.

"The affair of last night, in my estimation," said he, "is one of very
grave import. Unquestionably, from what you saw, Stone, and from the
evidence of us all, there were two men near the place you were going to
pass. That the first one warned you and was, in a sense, a friend, is
mysterious enough--it needs solution; but that the man who warned you
should have run away and been pursued by the other is peculiar, to say
the least. The signals of your companions were heard by the man at the
bridge undoubtedly, and he ran to escape detection himself. The
other--the one on this side, who was a probable assassin--would under
ordinary circumstances have run away when he saw you were warned. He
did run, but it was after the man who warned you."

"To my mind, the explanation is this," continued the detective. "The man
at the bridge is friendly, but cannot expose his identity or risk
capture. The would-be assassin was convinced that the man who warned you
knew of his purpose. He therefore pursued him--to finish him in
self-protection."

"I don't see why," said Moore; "he could have escaped instead."

"Exactly," said Oakes. "He could have done so, but he did not wish it.
He has not completed what he wants to do around here. He wished to come
back, and to do so with safety he must rid himself of the one who knew
of his doings."

"Looks as though he was planning more trouble. He may have been the man
of the robe, or the man with the arms," I ventured.

"Or both," said Oakes.

"At all events," said Hallen, "I wish that we could divert the minds of
the people in town; the tension is great--too great for safety."

"Perhaps, Chief," said Oakes, "that you and I can arrange a little
matter that will distract their attention and which will tend to make
them believe that progress is being made."

He laughed as he spoke, and we knew that he was thinking over some
little scheme to help Hallen back into popular favor.



  _CHAPTER XIV_

  _Clues_


The carpenters and masons came and went in a very business-like way all
that morning, while we were closeted upstairs with our companion and
Chief Hallen.

After he left us, Moore and I walked down to the gate and around the
grounds, leaving Oakes to attend to details with Martin. Carpenters were
very busy around the dining-room, carrying in boards and implements, and
examining the woodwork and the balcony.

A few of the masons were about the grounds, engaged on small details,
and all seemed to be on good terms with Cook and his wife, and Annie.
Mike was busy at one end of the garden, and Maloney was not far off.

"This, Stone, is to be a day of events here. But things are being done
very quietly, are they not? You would suspect nothing out of the
way--far less a hunt for a murderer or the investigation of a mystery,
would you?"

"No; were I not informed, I should think that Oakes had merely a gang of
laborers at work."

"He has that; but he has also a body of the best detectives, for the
purpose, to be had. Maloney and Mike are puzzling him considerably,
Stone; they are very close to one another always, and seem quite
intimate."

"Yes," I replied. "I have noticed it. They both show a great deal of
interest in these alterations. Have you noticed how Maloney is watching
O'Brien? He keeps him continually in sight."

We had approached the front door of the Mansion as we spoke. Oakes was
standing just outside, his eyes likewise upon the two gardeners. Our
last remarks were made in his presence, and he entered the conversation
with a quiet observation to the effect that Maloney seemed to fear that
Mike might not attend to his business, but that Mike _would_,
nevertheless.

I was obliged to acknowledge that I did not quite understand.

"Oh, Mike is a good laborer," he explained; "he needs no such watching,"
and there seemed to be a peculiar significance in his words. They were
stated in a slow, indifferent manner that caused me to look at the
speaker, but his face wore the inscrutable expression which I had
frequently seen before, and I learned nothing. I knew him well enough by
this time, however, to realize that something was taking shape in his
thoughts.

"Now, let us go inside," said he. "After lunch we will attack the final
solution of the manner in which these mysterious assaults were
performed. Like all such things, it will be simple enough, I know, and
the point remaining to determine will be not _how_ it was done, but _by
whom_.

"I feel confident that that door in the cellar room leads upward to an
interspace which communicates with the dining-room through panels in the
walls. The peculiar noise--the swish--that I heard, resembled the sudden
sliding of a board, and it was the conviction that the person who
assaulted Moore disappeared into the wall which made me run downstairs.
I felt sure there would be some explanation of it below."

That afternoon a systematic search of the entire house was made. The
cellar room in which the assault upon Oakes had occurred was thoroughly
lighted and examined. The heap of rubbish which Mike had been
investigating at our previous visit proved to be composed of plaster and
bricks.

The wall in which the door was cut was found to be about three feet
thick, and one of the foundations of the house. It was solid, save for a
chimney-like opening which had been trapped with the door. Above, at the
level of the dining-room floor, the great wall ceased. From one edge was
continued upwards the original partition between that room and the
next--the parlor; but it was thin, and had evidently been recently
strengthened by another wall, slightly thicker, and built from the
opposite edge of the foundation, leaving a space between the two. Into
this space entered, at a certain point, the opening from the cellar room
below.

It was a peculiar arrangement. As Oakes remarked, the new wall had been
made with no regard to the economizing of space; for, had it been built
immediately back of the old, considerable room would have been saved
for the parlor. One of the "carpenters" thought that the original idea
had been to utilize the space for closets. The only other possible use
for it, so far as we could discover, was the one which Oakes had
surmised--ventilation for the cellar. Still, to our ordinary minds, a
chimney would have answered that purpose quite as well.

A little further investigation, however, showed the top of the
foundation wall to be covered with cement well smoothed, and the walls
themselves were plastered. It was generally conceded, therefore, that
the first idea had been to use it as closet room, which could easily
have been done by cutting doors through the walls. As Oakes said, the
notion had evidently met with opposition and been abandoned, so
communication had been made with the cellar instead, and the roof opened
to afford ventilation.

The opening into the cellar was large. A man could easily enter it, and,
standing, reach the top of the foundation wall; then, by a little
exertion, he could raise himself into the intermural space. Oakes, Moore
and I proved this by actual experiment and found that the passage was
quite wide enough to accommodate a man of average proportions.

I have said that the dining-room was finished in oak panels. These had
been reached from our side of the wall by removing the bricks and
mortar--the same stuff evidently which helped to form the rubbish heap
in the room below. One of the larger panels had been made to slide
vertically. It had been neatly done and had escaped detection from the
dining-room because of the overlapping of the other panels. Some débris
still remained between the walls.

"The fellow we are after knew of the space between the walls and worked
at the panel after the repairs were completed," was Oakes's remark.

"How do you know that?" asked Moore.

Oakes looked at him and smiled, then said: "Moore, where is your
reasoning ability? Do you think, if the panel had been tampered with at
the time the repairs were made, that the débris would have been left
behind? No! It would have been removed with the rest of the dirt."

We had gone to our rooms upstairs while the men were hunting through
the tunnel to the well. They found nothing; everything was as we had
left it after our adventures there.

It seemed to us that, all things considered, the work on the panel must
have been done by someone within the household, or, at least, that some
of its members must have been involved in the matter.

"It may have been accomplished at night, however, and by an outsider,"
said Oakes. "The servants' quarters are separate from the house. Anyone
might easily have entered the cellar by the tunnel route. Still, there
may have been collusion also."

"It seems a nonsensical idea to leave the débris in the cellar," I said.

"No, I think not," was the answer. "The care-takers are afraid even to
enter that place. The miscreant knew that detection would be probable at
the hands of strangers only."

That evening Elliott and Martin left for New York. They were to bring
the negro boy, Joe, to Mona. Late at night, before we retired, Oakes
asked us to go with him into the parlor.

"What for?" said I.

"To forge another link in the chain--the strongest yet," he said.

"What?"

"Do you remember the cartridge I found in the cellar?"

"Yes, yes; but you did not pay much attention to it, I thought."

He looked gravely at me. "Stone, that cartridge probably corresponds in
calibre to the one which was used in the murder of Mark."

"Ah!" said Moore. "I had a notion of that myself. Why did you not tell
us your opinion before?"

"Because, when I found it, we were working on the Mansion affair only. I
divined the value of the find; but why should I have mentioned it? I was
not hunting the Mark murderer then."

"Quintus, you consummate fox--you worked Hallen well!"

"Not at all; business is business. What is the use of gossiping? There
are no ladies to be entertained in _my_ profession, Doctor."

He led the way to the parlor--we meekly following--to where a cluster
of arms hung upon the wall: one of those ornaments of crossed swords,
guns and a shield, so common in old houses.

He remarked that he had noticed these arms on his previous visit. He
looked at a revolver hanging across the shield, with a pouch beneath it,
and then suddenly, in surprise, said: "Last time I was here, a few weeks
ago, there was a large old-fashioned revolver here of 44 or 45 calibre.
I remember it well, being interested in firearms.

"This one now here is of a similar pattern and appearance, but of
smaller calibre, and newer. Look! The cartridges in this pouch are of
about 45 size; they belong to the old weapon and cannot be used with
this one."

"Again, some of them are missing; there were at least a dozen before,
now there are only three or four. The old revolver and some cartridges
have been taken away, and a newer weapon substituted."

"Indeed! But why?" said Moore sceptically.

"Partly because"--and Oakes was decisive, curt, master of the
situation--"because this one cannot be loaded. See!" He then tried to
turn the chamber and showed us that the mechanism was faulty.

"The old revolver," said he in a low tone, "and some cartridges were
taken away, and in order that its absence should be less noticeable,
this one was left here--it being useless.

"Now, boys, the cartridge I found downstairs on the cellar floor is a
45-calibre and belongs to those of the pouch and the original revolver,
as you see."

He took it from his pocket and showed us that it did _not_ fit the
weapon in his hand but matched the cartridges in the pouch. It belonged
to the _old_ weapon.

"We are closing in," said I.

"Yes--the man of the robe has the old revolver and cartridges; he took
them within the last few days, finding his own weapon out of order. It
is he who is responsible for the mystery in this house--and in all
probability it is he who shot Winthrop Mark. You remember, the evidence
at the inquest showed that a heavy revolver had been used--a 44 or 45
calibre--exactly such an one as the old weapon which I saw here."

"Excellent, Oakes," remarked Moore. "There's only one objection."

"Yes, I know," said Oakes. "You were going to ask why the fellow did not
take all these cartridges and put his own in the pouch to match the
weapon he left here."

"Exactly," said Moore.

"Well," said the detective, "he either had no cartridges of his own
handy, or else, like all criminals, however smart, he tripped--the brain
of no man is capable of adjusting his actions precisely in every
detail."

"Guess you're right. No man can be perfect in his reasoning, and, no
matter how clever the criminal, he is almost certain to make an error
sooner or later," said Moore.

"Yes, but it takes peculiar power to discover it," I chirped. The events
of the day had tired me, and my mind was growing confused. I desired to
go to bed.

Oakes smiled slightly. "No, Stone; it takes study, worry and patient
reasoning to discover the faulty link in a clever criminal's
logic--that is why there is a profession like mine."

I was half asleep, but I heard him continue: "We may consider we have
excellent cause to look for a man who has in his possession an ancient
revolver and some very old dirty cartridges covered with verdigris, like
these here."

"Murder will out," I interpolated.

"Yes, eventually, sometimes. However, it is easy to say, 'he who had
that revolver did the murder,' but as it may have been destroyed since
then, or thrown into the river, it is another thing to find the _man_."

We were crestfallen. Oakes himself looked wearied.

"I wish the whole Mansion was in the river, and there were a decent café
round here," protested Moore.

"You're a vigorous pair of assistants, I must say," said Quintus. "I
have some samples in my room. Come!" and we all adjourned.



  _CHAPTER XV_

  _The Ruse_


After all, however, the doctor and I decided to spend the night at the
hotel and acquire any information that we could as to occurrences in
town.

We chose to walk along the River Road to the Corners, keeping ourselves
on the alert for any treachery. The night was cool and bracing and the
sky cloudless. As we journeyed, the moon rose, throwing its rays athwart
the tangled outline of the wood. The great high trees were just
beginning to drop their leaves. Occasionally a woody giant, separated
from the rest, would fix our attention, standing silhouetted against the
background of forest--majestic, alone, like a sentinel guarding the
thousands in column behind. An occasional flutter of a night bird or the
falling and rustling of the dead leaves was all that we heard as we
walked rapidly the mile to the Corners.

As we were about to round into the Highway and leave the forest of the
estate behind us, Moore grasped my arm, and led me to the deep shadow of
a tree by the roadside.

"Hark! That sounds peculiar," he said. We listened, and heard a thumping
sound, repeated at intervals.

"An uneasy horse standing somewhere in the woods hereabouts," said I.

"Yes. What is he doing there at this time of night--and in _these
particular_ woods?"

We consulted together and waited. Then, having satisfied ourselves that
the noise came from the woods of the estate near the crest of the hill,
we decided to investigate as quickly as possible, and entered the forest
stealthily and with but little noise. Unused to the life of the woods,
we doubtless made more rustling than was necessary, but we were favored
by the fact that the trees were not very close together, and in
consequence the carpet of dead leaves was not thick.

Halting behind the trunks of trees occasionally, we listened for the
sound which came from further within the wood. Soon we came to an
opening--a glade--perhaps two hundred feet from the road. The moonlight
fell upon the far side, but on the side next us all was shadow--dark and
sombre. We stood well within it among the trees. I fancied I heard a
horse whinny. The animal was certainly restive. I saw the doctor take
out his revolver and lie carefully down behind a tree; I remained
standing. We both waited; we were within a few feet of one another, but
did not speak.

Suddenly, on the far side we saw a figure walking towards the shade and
heard him say a few words to the horse. Quickly he led the animal away
into what appeared to be a path. Moore whispered to me: "Watch the road;
he is going there."

We retraced our steps and soon saw the horse appear on the edge of the
wood. He was a large, powerful animal, and seemed to act as though he
understood what was expected of him. The man was still leading the
horse, but was now also speaking in a low voice to someone else, who
disappeared toward the town and came out on the Highway further down,
walking rapidly toward the village, as any belated citizen might.

"See!" said Moore. "He brought the horse and is going back. Watch the
rider."

The latter had been standing in the shade looking after the man who had
gone, when suddenly, seeming satisfied that he was not watched, he
vaulted into the saddle. He came out into the moonlight in a second or
two and rode rapidly up River Road, past the Corners and northward away
from the town. We had managed to get near the road, and as he dashed
into the open we saw that he held the reins with the left hand, his
right resting on the horse's neck, and in it, as we both recognized, a
revolver.

"A splendid rider," was my remark.

"Yes," said Moore. "Did you recognize him? It was Mike, I thought."

"Yes, Mike it was, and acting in a very suspicious manner. He has done
this before, evidently--knew the road and the horse, and was on the
lookout for trouble, for he was armed."

We decided to follow the first man, it being useless to attempt to
overtake the rider. Taking the darkest side of the road, we walked on
after the figure in the distance.

Soon my companion's spirits began to rise and he laughed at our
_adventure_, as he called it.

"Stone, I cannot help thinking that you and I are destined to become
great sleuths. We have been away from the Mansion only a short
half-hour, and already have detected a man on horseback who is carrying
a revolver--and have identified him as Mike."

"Yes, we're improving--but why did you lie down behind that tree?
Afraid?"

"No!" answered Moore, with a laugh. "I have been studying caution. I
want to see Broadway again." Then he continued: "Stone, this adventure
is becoming more and more complicated, and occasionally I wonder if I
was not foolish in coming here. It is so different from practising
surgery--this being assaulted by invisible foes--seeing victims of
murder and things like that, to say nothing of men chasing one another
by moonlight."

He was half-serious, and I acknowledged that the affair _was_ rather
nerve wearing. Then we looked ahead, and suddenly realized that the
figure we were following had vanished.

Moore gasped in astonishment. "Hang it all! we certainly are a pair of
apes to let that fellow get away. Won't Oakes be disgusted?"

"Yes, and he will have good cause."

The lesson was a needful but costly one. Thenceforth when on business we
ceased to discuss our feelings and endeavored to use our eyes and ears
more, and our tongues less.

We received a cordial welcome from the people at the hotel and gossiped
around the corridor for some time. The crowd outside was sullen, but
within the atmosphere seemed less strained. We learned that Chief Hallen
had made several arrests that afternoon, a measure which had had a
sobering effect. The saloons had been warned not to abuse their
privileges. Many persons spoke of the work done by Hallen as excellent;
indeed, we were both impressed by the fact that the sentiment toward
him, of the better citizens, was friendly. Considerable disgust was
expressed, however--privately, of course--at the lack of evidence, so
far, bearing upon the murder itself. In the course of the evening we
managed to see Reilly the porter, and he pointed out several men to us.

"These fellows are new in town--they must be detectives. If they
discover things, well and good; but if they don't, the people here won't
stand it--they will resent what they call 'outside' work."

"Hallen must have gone in for business," said I.

Reilly grew confidential. "No, it ain't Hallen, they say. There's a lot
of talk about some New York man coming up here to run things."

"Who?"

"Oh, they say that Quintus Oakes--you've heard of him, of course--is
coming soon, and these are some of his men."

"Indeed!" And Moore and I exchanged glances.

"But, say," continued the porter, "that is confidential; only we fellows
round here know it."

We parted from Reilly. Moore said: "If they know about it in here, of
course half of the town has heard already."

"Yes. The tale was doubtless started by Hallen as a great secret; he
knew it would spread."

"Evidently Oakes has not been recognized by the people as yet."

"No," I rejoined, "but the fact that the rumor is out shows to my mind
that Hallen and Oakes have some little scheme on hand. At any rate, we
must know nothing of Oakes; remember that he is _Clark_ to all but a
select few."

We decided to go to one of the newspaper offices, after a brief call on
Chief Hallen, who gave us no news of value, but was nevertheless very
agreeable. He advised us to see Dowd, and gave us a note to him. We
found the newspaper man at his office, just finishing his night's work.
He was very attentive in furnishing us back copies of his rival's paper,
the "Daily News." He said he kept them filed as samples of "daring
journalism." "I have only been a couple of years in this business, but I
have the pedigree of the town in these newspapers. I got them from
people who had saved them--as country people will. Skinner would not
sell me any--the rascal. Whenever he grows fresh and criticises things
improperly, I investigate what he has previously said on the subject and
then publish a deadly parallel column. He has a rather poor memory--and
I worry him once in a while," he remarked with a laugh.

We found the paper which corresponded in date to the piece we had taken
from the robe. There was a full account of the murder of Smith, which we
read, but nothing that seemed to us of any value. On that occasion no
clues whatever had been found. _Only_, again the local physicians had
thought the wound was made by a large ball.

The old chief of that time had been succeeded by Hallen, who had never
been able to gain any definite clue to the murderer. The interest had
then died out, and the mystery became a thing of the past.

Dowd discussed the similarity of the recent murder to that of Smith, and
hinted, moreover, that he knew the identity of our friend Clark. He said
Hallen had made a confidant of him, as he might want to make use of his
newspaper.

"By the way, speaking of the old murder, there is something that has
never been published, but which some of the old codgers about here have
cherished as perhaps relating to it."

"What is it?" asked the doctor.

"Well, a couple of old men who have since died, both milkmen, used to
say that once or twice they had seen a woman near the scene of the
murder at that hour in the morning. Also, that she always ran into the
woods, and was dressed in black."

"Who were those old men?"

"Well, they were both reliable fellows. Their tales were laughed at, so
they refused to discuss the matter any more. They both claimed to have
seen her at a distance, however; and since they were on different
wagons, their stories seemed to corroborate each other."

We expressed our great interest in the news, and Dowd advised us to see
Reilly the porter, who had heard the story of the woman from the men
themselves.

We returned to the hotel, feeling much elated at the courtesy of Dowd
and at the prospect of learning something not generally known, and
bearing upon the murder.

Soon we managed to find Reilly. He came to our rooms on the excuse that
we had some orders to give concerning baggage that had not yet arrived
from New York.

The porter was decidedly intelligent, having been reduced to his
present position through adversity, as we already knew. It took only a
little questioning to elicit his story, which he told about as follows:

"You see, gentlemen, about the time of Smith's murder the milkmen were
in the habit of watering their horses at an old fountain just by our
curb, but since done away with.

"Well, about two weeks before Smith was murdered, one of the milkmen,
Moses Inkelman, a driver for a large farm north of here, told me that he
had that morning seen a very large woman on the crest of the hill as he
was driving to town. She was seemingly anxious to avoid notice and
stepped into the woods as he passed by. Moses asked me if I thought she
was anyone from Mona. He seemed so curious about the matter that several
who had heard his story laughed at him. He was very sensitive and did
not mention the episode again until after the murder--long after, I
remember--and then only to me, when he said: 'If these people would only
stop making fun of a Jew, and believe me, they might learn something.'
He disappeared a little while afterward, and we learned from his
successor that he had suddenly died of heart disease, on the farm.

"The other milkman never told his story save to a few--one night around
the stove in a grocery store. The others were inclined to scoff at him;
but I remembered what Moses had told me, and saw this fellow, Sullivan,
alone.

"It was about a year after the affair. He said that he had seen a
woman's figure lurking around the crest of the hill on two different
occasions before the murder."

"Did he say anything about her appearance?" I asked.

"No. He said he never came very near to her, but he saw that she always
wore black, and ran very heavily. He thought she was one of the drunken
creatures that sometimes infest the water front on Saturday nights.

"You see, gentlemen, there were more factories here then, and the town
was tougher than it is now, especially along the railroad and shore
where the canal-boats came in. The new piers farther down the river have
changed all that. Sullivan told his story to the police, but they saw
nothing in it, or pretended they didn't; so Sullivan shut up."

"What became of him?" Moore asked.

"Well, sir, that's the curious part of it, to my mind. He was found dead
only a short time ago on River Road, 'way down near Lorona, and there
were marks on his throat and blood in his mouth. The examiner said he
had had a hemorrhage and had choked to death, scratching himself in his
dying struggles. But----"

"Well, continue," commanded Moore.

"Gentlemen, I believe he was murdered."

"Why, what makes you think so?" I asked.

"I saw the body at the undertaker's in Lorona, gentlemen, and the marks
on the neck were not only scratches, but black and blue patches. The
examiner was a drunkard himself and not a good reasoner. I always had
the idea that the milkman was choked to death by the woman because he
had seen her.

"And the other fellow, Moses--I think he was done away with likewise,"
continued Reilly. "I tell you, gentlemen, there is more to all this than
is perhaps wise to know, unless one keeps pretty quiet."

We tipped Reilly a good fee and then turned in for the night in a most
uncomfortable frame of mind. As Moore said: "things are coming up so
rapidly here that we will all be twisted before long."

Our visit to the town had so far proved more valuable than we had hoped
for, and we both wished that Oakes could have been with us. Several
times in the night I awoke, and each time heard footsteps passing to and
fro, and subdued voices in the corridor downstairs, and could but
reflect how very different this was from the usual quietude of such a
place.

When we arose in the morning, Moore remarked that he never knew of such
a noisy hotel in a small town.

"Guess the place is going to give me nervous prostration pretty soon, if
things keep up like this," said he.

While we were at breakfast, Chief Hallen walked in and sat down beside
us in a rather pompous manner, I thought. He seemed desirous of calling
attention to himself. "Well, gentlemen," he said in a quiet enough way,
"don't be taken aback at anything you may witness to-day. You may have
a surprise. I want you to meet me in the hotel corridor soon and see who
comes on the nine o'clock train."

He bade us adieu, and walked out in an unnaturally aggressive manner.

"He's showing off like a schoolboy," said I.

"Or else acting," corrected Moore.

We sat down in the corridor by and by. Hallen was talking with the clerk
at the desk. The hangers-on were numerous and wore an air of expectancy;
they were waiting for some one.

The rickety old carriage from the station arrived at this moment, and
the man on the box opened the door with more than usual courtesy. Out
stepped a medium-sized man of good figure and a most remarkable face. It
was bronzed like that of a seafaring man; the eyes were black as jet and
piercing; the nose hooked and rather long. He wore a thick, short
moustache, which matched his hair and eyes in blackness; otherwise, his
face was smooth-shaven, and his attire was in the perfection of good
taste for a business man. When he spoke, one noticed particularly his
strong white, even teeth.

"He looks like a pirate from the Spanish Main, dressed up," said Moore.

"A remarkably attractive fellow, anyway."

"Yes," I said; "he has the air of a celebrated man of some kind."

As he walked to the desk, the by-standers spoke in subdued tones,
watching him the while. I heard one lounger say: "Sure, that is the
fellow. I've seen him before. Ain't he a wonder in looks?"

Chief Hallen advanced and spoke a few words to the stranger, and then
shook hands with him. He registered, and the clerk thumped the bell for
Reilly with an air of tremendous importance.

As though by accident, Chief Hallen espied us and, taking the stranger
by the arm, walked over to us.

We arose and bowed as the Chief repeated our names, saying, so that
those near could hear: "Gentlemen, you are from the city. Let me make
you acquainted with one of your fellow citizens--Mr. Quintus Oakes, of
New York."

Moore calmly shook hands and mumbled something, and then, in a side
whisper to me, said: "It's up to you, Stone; say something."

Although I was nearly as surprised as he, I managed to make a few
audible remarks about how glad the town would be to know that Quintus
Oakes was here. I saw a merry twinkle in Hallen's eyes, but the stranger
made a suitable reply, and left us with that peculiar business-like air
of his.

I turned to Moore and half-gasped: "What does this mean, old man?"

"A decoy," said he. "Just keep your nerve. Hallen has been giving us
practice in acting."

The by-standers and the groups in the street were discussing the
stranger with peculiar, suppressed excitement. Many of the smart ones
claimed to have seen him before and to know all about him; already,
"Quintus Oakes" rang familiarly from their lips.

We presently returned to the Mansion and related to our leader the facts
we had learned from Reilly regarding "the woman's" appearances before
the murder, the sudden ending of both the milkmen who had seen her, and
Reilly's own suspicions in the matter. Oakes was thoughtful for quite a
while.

"You have done more than I thought you could in so brief a time," said
he at last. "Have you any theories regarding the identity of the woman?"

We had none to offer, and he began to smile ever so slightly. "Well, it
seems to me your woman is a mistake--there was no woman. The assassin
was a man in a black robe. He ran heavily, of course. You have drawn the
murderer of Smith nearer to that of Mark. As regards the sudden deaths
of the milkmen, probably both were killed; the examinations after death,
conducted as these were, amount to nothing. The murderer of Smith, the
two milkmen and of Mark is probably one and the same. Stone, you nearly
fell a victim at the bridge the other night, too."

I did not reply, but a cold perspiration broke out over me. The chain of
events seemed clearer now in the light of Oakes's reasoning. Then he
turned to Moore.

"Doctor, loan me your cigar-cutter, will you?"

The physician reached for it, but it was gone.

"I think this must be it," said Oakes, holding out the missing article.
"Next time you hide on your stomach behind a tree, do it properly."

Moore was dumfounded.

"What!" I cried, "you know that too? We did not tell you."

"No, you did not. You began your narration at the wrong end--or perhaps
you _forgot_," and his eyes twinkled.

"But how did you learn of it?" demanded Moore, recovering. And Quintus
smiled outright.

"My man was behind another tree only ten feet away from you the whole
time. When you left, he picked up this as a memento of your brilliant
detective work."

Moore and I smarted a little under the sarcasm, and I asked what the man
was doing there.

"Oh, he was watching Mike and, incidentally, keeping you two from
mischief. You need a guardian. You never even suspected his presence,
and--suppose he had been the assassin!"

"Well," I said, "I suppose that you know all about your namesake in
town, and don't need any of our information."

He heard the chagrin in my voice and smiled as he replied:

"Don't mind those little things; they happen to all of us. I am glad
'Quintus Oakes' has arrived. Chief Hallen and I concluded that the
sudden arrival of such a man as our decoy would have a salutary effect
on the citizens. An appearance of action on Hallen's part would tend to
quiet their restlessness; and, now that public attention is focused upon
_him_, Mr. Clark and his friends can work more freely."

During the discussion that followed, he told us that Mike's errand on
horseback was as yet unknown, but that the man whom we followed and lost
on the way was from a stable in Lorona.

"You see," continued he, "Mike has been doing this before. The horse is
brought from Lorona in a roundabout way. Doubtless, on his return, he
leaves it at some spot where it is met and returned to the stable."

"Mike is a mystery. What is he up to?" said Moore. "Can he be the
murderer?"

"Wait and see," replied Oakes enigmatically, as he ended the
conversation.



  _CHAPTER XVI_

  _The Negro's Story_


Saturday came and went without event. So far, at least, Hallen's
arrangements for the preservation of order had been effective. Or was it
that the eyes and hopes of the people were centred upon the new arrival
in town, the great detective--as they were led to believe--who had grown
famous through his skill in ferreting out just such mysteries. In any
case, the Chief's forebodings of a lawless outbreak were unfulfilled.

The real Oakes spent most of his time in the Mansion while we remained
in town; but our little party came and went as it pleased. Our movements
had ceased to attract that attention which Oakes found so undesirable.
As he said, in the well-known phrase of the sleight-of-hand operators:
"the more you look, the less you see." The eyes of Mona were focused on
the _false_ Oakes--the wrong hand; we ourselves--the hand doing the
trick--were over-looked. And the more absorbed they became in the
movements of the decoy, the more oblivious were they of the fact that
keen eyes were studying them deeply. The criminal, unless very educated
and clever, would be fooled with the multitude and caught off his guard.

A rather curious fact was that, while Dowd's newspaper published an
article in its personal column about the great detective's arrival and
all that he was expected to accomplish, Skinner's journal remained
absolutely silent. Dowd said he could not understand it, unless the ruse
had failed to deceive Skinner, in which case we might hear from him
soon. We knew that our friend Quintus Oakes held the same idea. As he
said, if the cheat were discovered it would lead to trouble, which must
be met as it arose.

Moore and I became daily more imbued with the spirit of the adventure;
besides which, we were keenly alive to Oakes's feelings and his desire
to succeed. The newspapers far and near were following the case
carefully, and we knew that his reputation and financial success
depended largely on the outcome of this case.

A few evenings later Moore and I were standing in the square, discussing
the very apparent change in the temper of the crowd since their
attention had been directed by the arrival of the man they believed to
be Quintus Oakes.

"Yes," said Moore, in answer to a remark of mine, "it is a clever scheme
and makes the people think that Hallen is doing something; but how will
they take it if they discover the trick?"

"Well, perhaps by that time the real Oakes, our friend, will be in
position to reveal his identity--that would calm any bad feeling--they
would realize that work had been done quietly all the while."

Moore shook his head doubtfully. "I don't like Skinner's attitude," he
said, "he knows something."

Reilly approached us at this moment to say that Clark wanted us at the
Mansion immediately, and that a conveyance was waiting for us at the
hotel. We went at once and found it, a four-seated affair, with Hallen
and Dowd on the back seat. We two sat in front with the driver--one of
Oakes's men; and after we had left the town I turned to the Chief and
asked him if he knew what Oakes wanted of us.

"Yes," said he; "the _negro_ is here."

Oakes was awaiting us upstairs, with Martin and Elliott. The first thing
we learned was that Oakes had recognized the negro "Joe" as a former
boot-black on Broadway. Joe's identification of _him_ during the court
scene had placed the negro in a state of less fear than would otherwise
have been the case.

"He came readily enough," said Martin; "he was threatened with arrest if
he did not; but he is acting peculiarly. Seems more worried than an
innocent man should be."

"He naturally dreads the ordeal; innocent men frequently appear guilty
to the onlooker. The really guilty ones are prepared and go through more
coolly," said Oakes.

"Yes, sir, I know that; but this one is different. I should hardly say
he is guilty; still, his actions are peculiar--I cannot explain _how_."

"Think a little, Martin," said Oakes. It was the tone of the superior,
firm but kindly.

Martin thought a few seconds, then he said: "Well, sir, he seems anxious
to describe what he saw, and seems to think that you are his friend and
will believe him; but he appears to be actually fearful of punishment."

"Rather ambiguous," said Oakes. "Perhaps he is hiding some vital point,
Martin. Is he not?"

"Yes, sir; and that point is against himself."

"Of course it is, or he would not hide it; against himself, or one dear
to him."

Oakes's correction was without malice, polite and patient. He was the
clear reasoner, the leader, instructing a trusty subordinate--the kindly
Chief and his young, but able lieutenant.

We ranged ourselves round the centre-table--we four who had come in the
carriage, besides Elliott and Martin, who had brought Joe from New York.
Oakes stood near a chair, away from the table and the group. After a
moment the negro entered, ushered to the door by one of the men. We must
have looked a formidable conclave to the poor fellow, for he halted just
inside the door at sight of us all. He was a negro of that type seen in
the North--strong, lithe, with a clear-cut face whose features showed
the admixture of white blood. He advanced to the chair besides Oakes,
and sat down at a sign from the latter.

He was nervous, but a pitiful effort at bravery showed in his carriage
and manner. Bravery was necessary. A lone negro boy facing such a
gathering, and--worst of all to him--that mysterious, awe-inspiring
person, Quintus Oakes!

With consummate tact Quintus won the boy's confidence. Elliott spoke to
him, kindly and reassuringly; and Hallen walked over and shook his hand
with a protecting air. Joe brightened visibly. It was plain that the men
who hunted crime were going to try kindness and sympathy first. It has
always seemed to me a pity that such tactics are not more in vogue,
especially toward witnesses. The master detective can throw a sympathy
into his every act which will win secrets actually barred from other
methods of attack.

Reassured, Joe presently began his story. In a clear, remarkably able
way (for he had been to school), and with the peculiar, dramatic power
possessed by some negroes, he brought vividly before us the scenes he
had witnessed. As he warmed to his subject, Oakes and Hallen watched him
carefully, but without emotion, occasionally questioning him adroitly to
develop points which seemed to them valuable. Dowd took notes, at
Oakes's suggestion, for future use.

When Joe's mother died in Troy, he went up to attend the funeral. On his
return he stayed a few days in Lorona--a little place already mentioned.
It was without railway connections and lay to the east of Mona, along
the Highway. He had passed through the latter place afoot, late at
night, and had walked the ten miles to Lorona. His sister lived there in
service, also his sweetheart Jennie. Naturally, he did not pass it by.

He had left very early one morning to go back to New York and had cut
across country from the Highway on the east of Mona, coming around by
the hill and the pond, in front of the Mansion, to River Road. He had
arrived at the Corners in time to see a milkman pick up a gentleman on
the road and drive with him into the town. Joe wanted to get back to
New York early and begin work, for he had been absent a week. He was to
catch the seven o'clock train, so he had abundance of time, as he could
tell by the sun.

He started down the hill slowly, but took the woods along the north side
of the Highway; he was fond of the woods and he knew the way--he had
travelled it on previous visits. Just after he entered among the trees
he heard a shot, followed by a groan--on the road, he thought--a little
way above him. He trembled and stood still, then his courage manifested
itself, and he crept cautiously to the roadside, which was hidden
below by a few feet of embankment. What he saw paralyzed him! A man was
lying in the road, and a little lower down on this side, not a hundred
feet from himself, stood another in full view, with a smoking revolver
in his hand. Instantly the negro understood. A murder--and _he_ was a
_witness_! He did nothing--waited. To have shouted would have been to
invite death. But he kept his eyes open.

"I'se the only witness. I must look at him good," he thought. The man's
back was partly turned, but Joe took in all that he could at that
distance, and saw him retreat after a moment into the woods. Then he
grew frightened. The assassin was not far from him, but, fortunately,
going deeper into the woods, and down toward the stony glade below.

Did the negro run? No. He gathered a couple of good-sized stones and
followed. He thought the man on the road was dead; and he saw the other
one going down into the gully to cross the small stream at the bottom.
"Good!" he thought; "I'll follow him. If he sees me now, and comes after
me, I can run a long way before he can climb that hill."

The assassin was picking his way--carefully--until he came to the rocky
bottom. He wanted to cross the stream where a large flat rock gave an
invitation for stepping. He had followed the stony formation carefully,
avoiding the earth; he did not wish to leave marks to be traced.

Now, at this moment the negro became conscious of a new danger; he was
near the scene of the crime alone, and if found, he would be suspected
of having done it. So he looked about for a moment, and then decided to
run back to Lorona and his people. He was growing scared. Who could
blame him? He saw the murderer stoop down right below him, deep in the
gully; and the negro, obeying a sudden impulse, swung one arm and hurled
a stone straight at him. It struck the fugitive on the shoulder, turning
him half around; and he broke into a run, full tilt, for the brook and
the stepping-stone. Joe had not seen the murderer's face, but he told us
that the man's chest was protected only by an undershirt. It was a
chilly morning, and the fact had impressed him afterward as curious. He
watched, and saw the assassin take the brook like a frightened stag,
landing first on the rock in the centre, then on the other side. As he
stepped on the rock in the middle of the stream, the boy saw something
fall from his waist--something red. It fell into the water.

"I'd like to know what that is," he thought; "but I'd better _skip_."
Then horror took possession of him; he crossed the road quickly and
dashed into the Mark property. Then he ran to River Road and the bridge,
up the incline on the other side of the pond, and into the fields
beyond. On he went until Mona was passed; then he sat down in a little
patch of wood and thought.

He was sure nobody had seen him except a farmer in the distance, too far
away to know he was a negro. He was innocent, and perhaps he had better
wait and see the police. Had he done so then and there, all would have
been solved sooner than it was; but, poor boy, he had no one to advise
him and he was alone with a terrible secret. He had done well; he could
identify the murderer perhaps; his was a great responsibility.

He stayed around, and from afar witnessed the crowds of the morning. In
the afternoon he sneaked into town, hungry and worn and terribly cold.
When he saw the people gathering in the court-room, curiosity conquered.
He listened with all his soul, and made up his mind to go in and tell
what he knew.

He saw Oakes come forward to give his testimony, and his heart beat fast
and furious. He felt ill--the cold sweat poured from him as he heard;
but he remained, entranced. He was going to tell all, for surely that
tall fellow--Clark, they were calling him,--was the great detective
Oakes; he had shined his shoes many times at the stand on Broadway
before he went up-town. How peculiar that they didn't seem to know him!
Then intelligence came, and he said to himself: "These people don't know
him because he does not want them to." Joe did not understand all that
had been said, but he knew things were uncanny and that this man Oakes
was playing a game.

Suddenly had come the statement of Oakes about the arms, and the tension
became too great. He cried out and ran, like the fleet-footed boy that
he was, for Lorona.

There he told nothing, except that he had missed the train. His friends
gave him food--the murder story was yet vague in the little village--and
then he dashed on for New York. He shook the dust from his clothes and,
catching a train miles down the line, arrived safely in town. He was far
away from Mona at last, but he must see Mr. Elliott, his good friend,
and tell him all that he could.

As the negro finished his story he looked around, and partially
recovered from the state of ecstasy into which the recitation had
thrown him. His eyes were rolling and shifting, his dark skin had that
peculiar ashen color that comes to the negro under stress of great
excitement.

Dr. Moore arose and walked to the boy, and, placing his hands on his
wrist, said reassuringly: "Good boy, Joe! you are a brave fellow."

Oakes handed him a drink of brandy--he needed it--and then we all joined
in praising him. He soon recovered himself, and then Oakes took up his
position beside him again.

"Now, Joe, what did the murderer drop when he jumped over the stream
from the rock?"

"I dunno, Master Oakes--but it was a banana, I think."

"What!" said Hallen; "a banana?"

The negro looked worried.

"Yes, it did look like one of dose red, white, spotted cloths wat de
niggers down South wear on their heads."

We all laughed.

"Oh, a bandana handkerchief, Joe."

And Joe laughed also, in relief.

"And now," continued Oakes, "what did it do? Did it float away?"

The boy thought a moment, then his quick brain came to his aid.

"No, no, Master Oakes; it splashed, sure enough it did. It went down--so
help me Gawd!"

"Good!" said Oakes. "It contained something heavy, then. Now, Joe," he
continued, slowly and clearly, "tell me, when you heard the evidence
that the murderer was the man with a mark on his arm, why did you say,
'Oh, Gawd!' and run away?"

We all felt uneasy--the question was so unexpected, to some of us at
least.

The negro hesitated, stammered, and lurched forward in his chair. Great
beads of perspiration stood out on his brow and on the back of his
hands. Oakes was behind him, and in a caressing way slid his left arm
across the boy's chest. We divined instantly that that arm was ready to
shoot up around the boy's neck for a strangle hold.

Joe tried to speak, but could not. I saw Hallen prepare for a spring,
and Martin edge toward the door. Dr. Moore's breathing came deep and
fast, and I began to feel like shouting aloud. What did it mean?

"Come! Speak, boy, speak!" said Oakes.

No answer.

Then Oakes stooped forward and said loudly enough for us all to hear,
but right in the negro's ear: "Boy, you ran because _you_ have a scar on
your left arm!"

We were on our feet in an instant.

"The murderer," we cried.

The negro made a frantic effort to rise, but the arm closed on his neck
and Oakes's right hand came down on his right wrist.

Joe's left hand went to the arm at his neck, but he was powerless.

In a voice as firm as a rock, clear and emotionless, Oakes cried out:
"Don't move, boy! Don't try to run."

And then he said to us: "This boy is _not_ the murderer; he is only a
scared, unfortunate negro, and I will prove it."

The meaning of the words came to the boy gradually, and he became limp
in the chair. Oakes relaxed his hold.

"Now, boy, if you try to run, we will bore you," and Chief Hallen drew
his revolver and put it before him on the table.

"Now, Joe, show us your arm!" commanded Oakes.

The negro arose staggering, and took off his outer garment and his
shirt. There, on his left arm, was a large irregular birthmark, blue and
vicious-looking.

Oakes looked at it. "Gentlemen, this boy is a victim of circumstances.
This is no cross, but the coincidence of a mark on the left arm has
scared him nearly to death. That, in my opinion, is why he was afraid,
and why he acted so peculiarly."

This was said deliberately, and with emphasis.

The negro fell on his knees. "Oh, Gawd! Oh, Mr. Oakes! Dat is it. Dat is
it. I never done any murder. No! no! _no!_" and he burst into racking
sobs. The strain was terrible. Dowd opened a window.

Hallen spoke. "How are you to prove his innocence, Mr. Oakes, as you
said?"

There was a slight element of doubt in the question.

"Get up, boy," said Oakes; "get up." And turning to us, the cool man
looked long at us all, then said: "The evidence showed conclusively that
the weapon used was a heavy one, of 45-calibre probably--a revolver in
all likelihood, and fired from a distance of about one hundred and fifty
feet. That means a good shot. Now, this boy is right-handed, as you have
noticed, but he could not use his right hand to shoot with, for the
first two fingers have been amputated near the ends. Plenty of loss to
preclude good pistol shooting!

"To have used such a weapon with the left hand, and with such accuracy,
is out of the question save for a fancy shot. If this boy could shoot
like that, he would not be boot-blacking for a living.

"Again, he has not noticeably strong arms, nor a wrist powerful enough
to handle a heavy weapon properly. The boy is innocent--in my opinion."

"Oakes, you are a demon," said Hallen.

"Oh, no, I hope not; only I hate to see mistakes made too often. Poor
devil!"

And Oakes patted the boy on the back.

With a pathetic, dog-like expression, sobbing with joy, the befriended
negro seized the man's right hand and, kneeling, showered kisses upon
it.



  _CHAPTER XVII_

  _Checkmated_


The negro was led away. He was in better spirits now, and smiling as
only a negro can. That extraordinary genius--the mystic Oakes--had, by a
process of reasoning that Joe himself was able to follow, not only
cleared him of suspicion, but made a _hero_ of him. The innate vanity of
the race was reacting on the boy, and coming to the rescue of his
nervous system, recently so severely strained.

When he had gone, Oakes turned to us and, interrupting our exclamations,
remarked:

"Now that we are all here together, it would be wise perhaps briefly to
review what clues we have obtained and their probable significance."

We all assented to this suggestion, and by tacit consent Quintus Oakes
began:

"First, we have found that the _cartridge picked up_ in the cellar, and
evidently dropped by the man in the robe, _is of the same pattern as
the old ones in the pouch upstairs_.

"They all belong to the old revolver which was taken away from its
place--and for which another was substituted since my first visit here.
With regard to its calibre (the important point), _that old revolver
meets the requirements of our deductions about the weapon used to murder
Mr. Mark_. Therefore we have a chain of evidence connecting my assailant
in the cellar--the man in the robe--with the assassin.

"We know also that the revolver was fired not far from the
hundred-and-fifty-foot distance; _the man was an excellent shot_, for
you must consider the old style of weapon.

"He must have been _large_, or at least _strong in the wrist_, for a
good shot with such a weapon cannot be made by a weak person."

I interrupted: "The murder of Smith was considered to be due to a pistol
ball of large calibre. Could the same weapon have been used?"

"It could," said Oakes. "That one has been in the family for years. The
style of the cartridges is somewhat similar to our modern ones, but
they are very old, as we know by their appearance.

"Further," he continued, "in my opinion the 'woman story' connected with
the Smith murder is based on a _man_ in a black _robe_. It may have been
the same man who is at the bottom of these later mysteries--though we
are to remember that when Mr. Mark was killed Joe saw no _robe_.

"In the annals of crime we find very few women doing murder in that way;
it is a man's method.

"We must look then for a _strong-wristed_ man--a man who has also strong
arms, and a _cross_ on the _left_ one; finally, a man with a knowledge
of revolvers, and who has in his possession--or has had--a large,
old-fashioned weapon and cartridges, and also a robe.

"And one thing more strikes me," added Oakes in a slow, deliberate
voice, "he is a man _with a mania_--_an insane man_--always, or at
intervals."

"Yes," said the doctor. "I had concluded so too, Oakes. The wearing of a
robe--especially in a confined place like the wall space--the cutting
out of a panel and the peculiar method of attack seem nonsensical and
without proper reason. And the absence of provocation for those
assaults, and for the murder of good men like Smith and Mark, point
strongly to an unbalanced mind."

"Probably correct," Oakes replied. "And I should say that the _insanity
is present at intervals only_."

"Mr. Oakes," said Chief Hallen then, "don't you think it advisable to
investigate that story of the bandana handkerchief as soon as possible?
Affairs in town may become pressing at any time, and we may be needed
there."

"Yes, Chief, certainly. We should lose no time about it," said Oakes.
Then he spoke to Martin; and the latter retired and presently returned
with Joe.

The detective asked the boy if he would go and point out the stone from
which the murderer was leaping when the handkerchief fell into the
water. "You know it is nearly full moon and several of my men will go
with you, and so will Mr. Martin."

The negro assented reluctantly, though bravely, for he was not devoid of
superstition. Oakes called in four of his men and said:

"Go with Mr. Martin and Joe. Take lanterns, and find the handkerchief
which is at the bottom of the stream if the boy is telling the truth,
and the murderer has not recovered it. He did not notice it drop, did
he, Joe?"

"No, Master Oakes; he just flew along and never looked round. He did not
know where it dropped." The negro was using good English, and standing
erect with a very important expression. He was innocent, and the central
figure now. He realized that dignity was becoming. An educated boy of
his race can show great self-control under such circumstances.
Vanity--thou Goddess of Transformation!

While the searching party was gone, we spent the time discussing Mike's
peculiarities--most of all his horseback ride in the moonlight, a
curious departure for a hired man.

"This whole thing is unusual in the extreme, Stone. Since the night that
you were escorted to the pond by Chief Hallen's men and there warned of
impending danger, and your unknown friend was chased by the man lying in
wait for you, I have had a net around Mike and Maloney and Cook, but
with negative results," said Oakes.

"You see, Maloney and Cook go about their business in a quiet fashion,
while Mike cannot be approached very well; the men report him as very
shrewd and suspicious."

"Did you find out where Mike went on his horseback trip?"

"No, that is another curious thing. The Lorona man who brought him the
horse says he has done it for a few days and received good pay. The
horse was always returned promptly, once or twice by a boy; the other
times by Mike himself."

"To have done that, Mike must have walked back from Lorona," said
Hallen.

"No, he may have ridden part way. We found a man this evening who saw
him take a team on the Lorona Highway and ride into Mona after dark."

"Where is Mike now?" I inquired.

"Since the episode of that horseback ride, witnessed by Dr. Moore and
yourself, he has disappeared."

"Disappeared!"

"Yes, eluded all our men and never returned the horse."

"Skipped! Got away!" we cried in amazement.

"Yes, but he won't stay away long; he will come back."

We did not quite understand Oakes's speech, but there evidently was
something behind it.

At this point, with his characteristic swiftness of movement, he lighted
a cigar and began to smoke, offering the box to us all.

That meant that, as far as he was concerned, talking on business had
ceased for a time. He was now recreating.

       *       *       *       *       *

Elliott and I walked to a window and looked out upon the front walk and
the road, conversing upon the manner in which Joe had been brought to
Mona.

He had resisted the idea at first, but through the efforts of Martin and
Elliott, and the promise of a reward, he had finally consented to the
journey. They had explained to him that his refusal would defeat the
ends of justice, and that escape was impossible; and when he realized
that he had been unconsciously talking to watchers, and polishing their
shoes in his innocence, he saw the folly of further remonstrance. Thus
was the important evidence of the negro secured.

The strain of events was telling on us all. Quintus Oakes showed his
deep concern by a tendency to leave us and remain alone.

As Elliott and I were talking, he looked at the rolling hills beyond the
pond and exclaimed:

"Look! Can I be mistaken, Mr. Stone? Look in the direction of Mona--away
off on the plateau--is not that a horse?"

I followed his pointing and discovered in the moonlight the figure of a
horse advancing rapidly over the blue-green fields, along the path that
led to the bridge.

Oakes advanced to the window and gazed intently, shading his eyes with
his hands. On the crest of the hill that dipped to the pond the horse
soon stood out clearly against the dark blue of the sky. We could see a
figure which had lain low on his neck rise and sit straight in the
saddle, then flash a light.

From near the road, on our side of the pond, came an answering light; a
man stood there and exchanged signals with the horseman.

The rider was moving his arms rapidly, and with them the light. The
other was answering in a similar manner.

Oakes remained quiet, and we all gathered at the window about him.

"What is it?" I asked.

He turned and said to me: "Here, write as I read."

I took an envelope and pencil from my pocket and wrote as Oakes
deciphered the signals.

"A message from Mona," he cried. "Quick!"

Then he read the letters as they appeared:

"Discovered. Skinner has extra out. Pronounces me false; says Hallen has
tricked the town. Beware of Skinner. Tell Hallen to look out. Am off for
New York."

Then came a long wave over the head, and the horseman dashed back toward
Lorona.

We detected another horseman at a little distance, who joined him; they
rapidly disappeared together.

"Excellent!" exclaimed Oakes. "He has done his duty well."

We saw the man on this side run post haste for the Mansion. As he rushed
up the steps, Oakes met him. "All right, boy! I saw the signals myself."
Then to us he said: "Quintus Oakes the false is discovered. That was he;
he came to warn us."

"Then Skinner has caught on, confound him," said Dowd, and we all
silently assented.

Oakes paced the room slowly. "Boys, we have been unexpectedly checked.
The enemy has a strong hand: there is trouble ahead."

"Yes, there is that," retorted the vigorous Hallen. "I must get away to
headquarters, gentlemen!"

"Correct!" answered Oakes; "and we will go with you, Chief. If trouble
is coming, we will be useless here."

With one accord we prepared to depart for Mona immediately. The carriage
was brought to the door and saddle-horses also.

Then we waited anxiously for the return of Martin's party. We were not
long delayed. A commotion in the hall was heard, and in stepped Joe and
Martin, followed by the men. Oakes's assistant advanced and laid a red
handkerchief, dotted with white spots, upon the table. It was wet and
heavy, and knotted by its four corners so as to form a pouch.

"We found it, sir, in about two feet of water, partly covered with sand.
Its weight was gradually sinking it into the bottom."

Joe laughed hysterically and lapsed into negro dialect: "See, Mars
Oakes! see, boss! I dun tole you the truth."

Oakes seized the handkerchief, and we all looked inside. It contained a
few large cartridges.

"They match the one I found in the cellar, and those of the old
revolver," said Oakes. "The man of the Mansion mysteries and assaults
_is_ the murderer of Mr. Mark."

We were intensely excited as we stood there viewing the evidence that
was so conclusive. Not one of us made a remark, but the deep breathing
of some and the pale faces of others showed the interest that was felt
by one and all.

Oakes discovered on one end of the handkerchief the initial "S," and we
all studied its appearance closely. Then Oakes asked Hallen if such
handkerchiefs were unusual in Mona.

"No, not at all; there are hundreds of them sold here, especially to the
laborers on the water-works--the Italians and Poles," answered the
Chief.

"It is a very peculiar 'S,'" said Oakes, as he folded the handkerchief
and put it in his pocket, giving the cartridges to Martin. He said
nothing more, but seemed serious and thoughtful, as usual. And then we
set out all together on a wild drive to police headquarters.

Despite the lateness of the hour, the crowds were increasing. The
square, with the hotel on one side and headquarters on the other, was
the centre of a vicious body of men, pushing, struggling and forcing its
way along, and pausing now and again to surge around headquarters. We
could all see that Hallen was to have his hands full.

"I should like to see Skinner very much," remarked Oakes in a sarcastic
vein.

"I should like to see his arms," said Moore; "they might be
interesting."

Oakes looked at the speaker with one of his undefinable expressions. We
could not tell whether the shot had been a true one or not.



  _CHAPTER XVIII_

  _Misadventures_


Toward morning the crowd thinned. The street grew more quiet, although
the very air still throbbed with action, even as the heart-strokes
within us. Quickly as events had come, we were yet only in the midst of
our experiences.

The clock in the Chief's room was striking three, and drowsiness was
stealing over me, as over the outside world, when a knock came at the
front door and Hallen admitted a man, weary-eyed and panting. I
recognized him as one of the men who had been masquerading about the
Mansion as a carpenter. He was dressed in a heavy jersey without a coat,
and was evidently suffering from fatigue.

He walked over to Oakes and spoke to him in a low voice. The detective
asked a question or two, and turning looked at Dr. Moore, asleep in a
chair, fagged out, then at me. I was wide awake, anticipating more
trouble. "Stone," said he, "are you good for a ride with me on
horseback? We have found something important."

"Yes," I answered, "I am ready."

Speaking a word to Hallen and Martin, Oakes drew me aside. "Leave your
overcoat. Come, we are needed."

We passed out into the night and down a side street, led by the man who
had summoned us. In a few minutes we reached a stable and found horses,
and I knew that it had been so arranged. We were mounted and off without
notice from any but an hostler and the proprietor, who had told me that
my horse was strong and capable.

We pounded to the east, along the Highway, toward Lorona, for a mile or
so, then swerved into a narrow road winding across the plateau to the
south and west. I knew we were making for the River Road below the
Mansion. I had heard of this lane, which swept in a long curve around
the southern end of Mona, connecting the Highway with River Road about
two miles south of the Mansion gate.

As we galloped along, Oakes communicated to me the cause of our trip.

"Two of my men have located a hut deep in the forest at the south end of
the Mansion grounds. There is something going on there. They think they
have the murderer. One of the men came for me; the other is watching."

I felt the blood surge to my brain, and the hardships of the night were
forgotten in the intensity of my anticipations. At last, and I was to be
at the finish!

Instinctively I felt for my revolver. It was safe, and the assurance
that it was with me gave relief.

Fortunately, I was a fair horseman and my mount was one of those animals
that respond to the rider's every command. My two companions were also
well mounted, and the long ride was soon over. Arriving at River Road,
we dismounted and left the horses in charge of the man who had
accompanied us. Another man now came from the darkness--another of
Oakes's retinue. He was to lead us to the hut.

Then we three entered the fringe of the woods, and cautiously followed
our guide deep into the denser section. The moon was hidden occasionally
by fleeting clouds, and as we advanced farther and farther, its rays
ceased to reach us. All was gloom, deep and almost impenetrable.

Our guide whispered: "He is in the hut, sir, waiting for someone. Follow
me."

Then he advanced a few paces, and led us through a more open section of
the forest. Soon he stopped.

"Stay here until you see a light flash ahead; that is his signal. He has
been here an hour, but his friend is slow in coming."

"Perhaps he knows it is too dangerous," said Oakes.

Our guide went from us to a short distance, to keep separate watch.

The giant trees around were more scattered than elsewhere in the forest
through which we had passed. Occasionally the sheen of the moonlight was
visible far above us as the branches swayed in the breeze. Here below,
the air was quiet and the gloom deep. Our eyes, accustomed to it now,
could detect the silent army of tree-trunks around us for a considerable
distance.

The air was chilly, but excitement kept us from feeling the need of our
great-coats. Beneath our feet the ground was soft but dry, and the
leaves were scattered about in profusion; for this was the fall of the
year and the woods had begun to strip at the touch of the frost king.

Quintus Oakes stood by my side behind a tree. We were both gazing
intently in the direction that had been indicated to us. Nothing was
visible for a few moments, when suddenly Oakes pressed my shoulder with
his hand and said in a low, quiet voice: "See--off there, that flash!"

I had noticed nothing, but as I drew breath to answer, I beheld the
diverging rays of a light--probably a lantern--play up and down a
tree-trunk at least a hundred feet away. It moved quickly, and then
jumped to another trunk; in its transit it threw a long, narrow yellow
streak on the ground between. Then it would be lost suddenly to our
view. I thought the trees intervened in our line of vision at such
times, but Oakes explained: "He is waiting and signalling with a dark
lantern; see how the light is shut off at will. He is surely within a
hut of some kind; I can see the outlines occasionally."

"What can he be up to?" I whispered. "He is at least a mile from the
Mansion, and nearly as much from the road."

"That light is a guide," said Oakes. "His confederate cannot find the
hut without it; the forest is too dense."

We waited in silence, stealing very carefully nearer to the hut, and our
patience was finally rewarded. We saw the door, which was sidewise to
us, open with a quick movement and a man enter. Then all was dark within
and without, save in one little spot where, through the back wall of the
hut, a few rays found exit in long, narrow streaks of yellow light,
scarcely visible to us.

"He has turned his bull's eye away from the window and the door, and has
not shut it. They are using the light for some purpose," said the
detective, touching my arm and motioning me to follow him.

With utmost caution we advanced until we were near enough to hear
voices. At first they came to us as a low, indistinct muttering, but as
we neared the hut we determined that they were raised in argument. At
our distance, however, we were unable to recognize either.

"Keep away from the front," said Oakes, "lest the door be opened and we
be discovered."

We stationed ourselves in the shadow near the window, which was low in
the side of this curious log-cabin--for such we saw it to be. It was
boarded inside evidently, for the light was kept from without too well.

Through the window we beheld two dim forms bending over a board table.
One was handling something like paper, in the diverging streak of
illumination from the bull's eye opening of the lantern, which was on
the table, facing the back wall of the hut, just as Oakes had said.

The figure could not be distinguished either as to face or form, for the
light was very indistinct save in the immediate path of the rays. As we
moved ever so little from our chosen positions, our vision of the table
and the streak of light upon it was cut off, owing to the small size of
the window. I knew by the movement of Oakes's arm that he had secured
his weapon, and I closed my hand about mine, holding it--muzzle down--by
my side, ready for instant use.

The voices within, became louder, and I distinguished the words: "You
_must_, man, you MUST get away."

It was answered by a half-mumbled protest, and then we saw one figure
arise and stoop over the light on the table.

"Here, take this, and go!"

Oakes touched me. "The murderer preparing to get away," he said.

We could see a pair of hands counting what appeared to be money; then
they extended their contents to the other hands that awaited them. The
figure who had given the money arose, and with his back to us made as if
to leave. Suddenly, without an instant's warning, we saw the form of the
other come partially into view, and an arm steal slowly upward. As the
first figure moved away, it closed about his neck and a death struggle
began, revealed to us by the blurred swaying of the two and a deep,
despairing gasp from the man being strangled.

"Murder!" said Oakes, and we moved toward the door of the hut with one
thought in mind--the helping of a fellow being meeting his death at the
hands of what we believed to be the assassin of Mona.

I was excited; it was unquestionably the most trying moment of my life,
and I met it as we had not foreseen. Advancing two steps hurriedly, my
feet caught in one another somehow, and with a wild war-whoop of
distress I fell forward on my face, carrying Oakes with me in a
crashing, headlong mix-up that must have been heard for a hundred yards
in that still morning air.

It was all over!

The two in the hut heard us, the strangler released his hold and the
light was extinguished instantly. Out of the door the figures flew like
demons. They were both anxious to escape detection--that was evident.
They must have thought it was the charge of the Light Brigade.

Oakes and I were up and after them. He shouted a word of command, then I
heard more footsteps, and our guide answered. Instantly came the sounds
of a struggle, fierce but short, in the darkness beyond. We could see
nothing, but we heard a heavy fall, and then the rush of an escaping
man, or men. Oakes and I were quick to reach the spot, and managed to
find our forest guide groaning on the ground.

At Oakes's suggestion we carried him back to the hut, which I
ascertained was now quite empty. It was a grewsome experience, this.
Oakes refused to allow a match to be struck, saying: "Don't draw their
fire, Stone; we may be in a nest of them." My chagrin was deep as I
thought of the opportunity that my clumsiness had brought to naught. We
soon succeeded in reviving our man; he had been felled by a fist blow on
the face, evidently.

"Did you see the other fellow?" asked my companion.

"Yes, sir, I saw one; he was Skinner. I caught his face in the lantern
light just as they doused it."

"Indeed!" cried Oakes. "Skinner! You mean the man who runs the
newspaper--the one I have ordered shadowed."

"Yes, sir; the same. It was he who was counting the money."

"Yes, that agrees. Go on. Who was the other?"

"I did not see him at all, Mr. Oakes, but I ran into him, or rather he
into me. I have a piece of his shirt here, sir."

The man handed something to Oakes, and together we peered at it in the
dim morning light. We soon determined that it was a good-sized piece of
the neck of a shirt.

Then, watching carefully the woods around, I stood on guard, while Oakes
examined the inside of the hut. It was an old hunter's cabin evidently,
and had not been recently used. The table was made of rough boards, and
was supported by two stumps. It might have served as a place to lie upon
also.

Oakes uttered an exclamation, as the guide handed him a piece of paper
money that was on the floor. Nothing else was found. The lantern had
gone with the men.

"One man was giving money to the other to get him away, and nearly lost
his life in defense of the rest in his possession. This is a piece of a
bill torn off in the struggle," said Oakes.

"Do you recognize this shirt pattern?" asked he.

"Yes, sir," said our guide; "it is like what O'Brien wears."

"Exactly!" said Oakes. "And you"--he addressed the man--"come with us to
the road. Can you walk that far?"

"Yes, indeed. I am all right now, but I was finished for a few minutes."

"You were knocked out well," remarked Oakes; "lucky you were not
killed."

We returned to River Road by the way we had come, arriving there as dawn
was breaking and the sun beginning to throw his rays across the plateau
before us. We found our horses and the man who had escorted us from
Mona.

Oakes spoke to him: "Here, Bob, let Paul ride on your horse; he has had
a smash. You walk. Both of you go to the Mansion and tell the others to
find O'Brien, if possible. Paul will explain. Make no arrests, but don't
let your man get away."

We vaulted into our saddles and galloped ahead. As we were returning to
headquarters by way of the Corners I felt like a culprit; I was devoured
by chagrin, and thoroughly ashamed of my awkwardness.

Oakes's face was grave--much more so than usual--but he rode his horse
with alertness and confidence, and I wondered at the endurance he
displayed--also at his consideration; for in this hour, when keen
disappointment must have been his, he did not mention my mishap, which
had so changed events. He acted as though it were beneath him to notice
it, and that made me all the more mortified; but at the same time I
vowed to redeem myself in his eyes.

Dashing toward the Mansion gate, we both pulled up our horses as Oakes
uttered a sudden exclamation. He rested one hand on the pommel of his
saddle and pointed with the other at a man inside the Mansion gate. His
back was toward us, and he had been raking the walk apparently.

"Look--notice!" and the voice of my companion grew sharp and
significant; "look!"

The man was now reaching upward with one hand, the rake held within its
grasp, and with a graceful, well-calculated swing he was deftly denuding
a branch overhead of its dying leaves.

"Well, I see," I answered; "it's Maloney cleaning up."

"Exactly!" came the staccato answer; "but how about the strength of the
wrist that can handle such a heavy rake with such certainty?"

"Oh, yes, he's strong," I cried. "He's got plenty of muscle,
apparently."

"He has a strong wrist and a strong arm, and not such an awfully large
chest," answered Oakes calmly, as though speaking of the weather or of
something of no importance. Fool that I was, it was only then that his
meaning suddenly went home to my slow-acting brain. I saw a light in
Oakes's eyes that I had never seen before--cool, steely, calculating.

"No," I whispered; "_impossible_!--but you are searching for just such a
person."

"Yes, of course," was the laconic answer; "but let's talk with the
gentleman of the rake."

Oakes led the way to within a few feet of the gate, then rising in his
stirrups shouted to Maloney.

The latter turned, and with a look of recognition came quickly toward
us. "Good morning, sir;--good morning, Mr. Clark. I was going to
headquarters for you soon, sir; they told me you had gone there with
Chief Hallen----"

"Yes! Why did you wish to go there, Maloney?"

"Because, sir, there is something wrong--something about the mystery
here. You know, sir, you left word to report if anything unusual
happened."

Maloney spoke quietly, and without embarrassment. We had noticed before
that he was fairly well educated--another victim of unfortunate
circumstances.

"What has occurred?" There was a hard ring in Oakes's voice. It told me
to be discreet; I had heard that accent before.

"Mr. Clark, I went down to Lorona last night to see my brother, who is
sick. When I returned it was late. I was on horseback, and I noticed a
man on the road lighting a lantern. I spoke to him; he would not answer,
but started into the timber at the far south end of the grounds."

"Well, what was peculiar?"

"It was Skinner, sir."

"Skinner!"

"Yes, sir; I saw his face by the light. I thought it strange, tied my
horse and followed him. He went a long way into the woods to a hut, and
waited a couple of hours with the light. Then another man came, and they
had a quarrel. There was a terrible noise, and then the light went out
and they disappeared. I went back to my horse and have just got here."

"Who was with Skinner?"

"I don't know, sir. I was facing the door of the hut, but it was too
dark to see. They worked with a dark lantern."

We had quietly walked our horses up to the gate while listening to
Maloney. Oakes's eyes were upon the ground.

Suddenly he looked up. "Thank you very much, Maloney. You have done well
in reporting to me. I will see Chief Hallen; this is a matter, perhaps,
for the police, certainly not for me, to work on."

Wheeling our horses, we darted to the Corners and on toward Mona.

Quintus Oakes was very quiet; he seemed annoyed--or nonplussed--and the
pace that he set was terrific. As we neared the town we slowed up, and I
asked excitedly of the taciturn man by my side: "Tell me, what's up?"

He turned slightly in his saddle. "Maloney was there; he acknowledged
it. So far he told the truth; but he _lied_ about returning on
horseback. There were no hoof-marks going toward the stable--none
entered the Mansion gate. And he lied also about his brother in Lorona,
for there is no such relative of his there; Maloney has no brothers or
sisters hereabouts."

I now remembered Oakes's careful scrutiny of the ground while we were
talking with Maloney, and I also realized how close was the net he had
spread about everyone at the Mansion.

"If Maloney was at the hut, how did he get back ahead of us?" I asked.

"Ran, of course--took the inside way through the woods; he knows the
paths well. He may not only have been _near_ the hut, Stone, he may have
been _in_ it. If so, he tried to kill Skinner, for the old man had
money."

Then Oakes continued: "Perhaps it was Maloney who was about to get away,
if he could. But he can't," the detective added with a sardonic laugh,
as he closed his jaws firmly.

"But," I exclaimed, "suppose it was Maloney, what of O'Brien? He was
there; we have his shirt--in part at least."

"Oh, bother O'Brien! he makes me tired," cried Oakes enigmatically; "he
will get himself into trouble some day."

"Yes, yes," I contended; "but he too has strong arms and a strong wrist
and could have used the revolver."

"Surely! So could many men. These clues are merely the primary ones.
Many men answer their requirements. They are worth very little by
themselves. They simply point to a certain type of man. They are simply
_links_, as yet unforged into the chain."

"But one thing more, Oakes," I cried, "why should Maloney volunteer the
information that he was at the place if he had no good excuse for being
there?"

"That's it exactly. Perhaps he mistrusts he was seen and wants to get in
his story first. Perhaps he cannot hold his tongue; perhaps his mind is
weak. We are looking for a mind somewhat unusual, Stone, remember that."

We were now at the Square in front of the little hotel and, dismounting,
we proceeded to enter the door of the inn. As we did so, I took my
companion by the arm and drew him aside.

"Say, Oakes," I said, "don't tell Dr. Moore how I involved matters by
that stumble. I would never hear the end of it."

Oakes looked surprised, then his eyes beamed in merriment. He smiled
ever so slightly.

"That certainly was a beautiful charge you made over me," said he.

He did not promise not to tell, however; but months afterwards, Dr.
Moore learned all about it from me, and I then found that Quintus had
remained silent.



  _CHAPTER XIX_

  _A Faulty Story_


After breakfast, while Oakes gave the doctor a brief résumé of our
night's adventure, the two rival newspapers came out with "extras" on
the recent doings. Skinner's comments were sarcastic and bitter, and,
while not actually inciting to lawlessness, played upon the roused
feelings of the towns-people by scathing allusions to Hallen's
inefficiency, and by reiterating the story of the false Quintus Oakes.

Our friend Dowd, on the other hand, came forward with a moderate,
well-worded article that swayed the minds of the more thoughtful. The
reading of his words won us more friends. Who does not like to hear two
sides of an argument, or to read cool words of wisdom from one whose
career entitles him to respect?

We had learned at breakfast that Hallen had taken hold with a grip of
iron during the night. Many arrests had followed his activity, and the
quietude of the forenoon was largely due to his efforts of the night
before.

As we stood outside the hotel remarking upon the changed appearance of
the streets, our attention was attracted to a small crowd approaching
the Square from the direction of the Corners. There were men running
ahead and shouting; then a close, compact body swaying around a central
attraction. We thought we detected a man being helped along as though he
were severely injured, and we clearly distinguished the words "Shot at!"
"The murderer!" and many expressions of anger and terror.

Oakes looked into the mass of men and scanned the pale face of the
injured one. "It's Maloney," he said, seizing the doctor and myself by
the arm. He pushed his way forward as the crowd recognized and opened
for Mr. Clark.

"Well, Maloney, what is it?" asked Oakes.

"I was shot at, sir," he exclaimed, "shot at, in the very spot where Mr.
Mark was killed; and then, sir, someone hit me a blow on the head, and I
fell."

I saw Oakes run his hand over Maloney's scalp.

"I was dazed, sir, when these men found me," finished the gardener.

"Yes," said two laborers, "we found him on the ground just waking up,
and acting queer-like. And here's the revolver; it was lying behind the
rock, sir."

"How did it happen?" asked Oakes.

"I heard a shot near me," Maloney answered, "a heavy revolver shot. I
turned, and was then hit with something like a sand-bag, I guess, for
everything got dim."

Hallen walked him into the headquarters building, to avoid the rapidly
increasing crowd.

"Shut the doors," he ordered. The command was quickly obeyed, and we who
had worked together were all within the building now, away from the
crowd.

"Who was it?" asked Hallen of Maloney.

The man hesitated a while, but upon being pressed for an answer finally
replied: "I have not dared to mention my suspicions, sir, but the fellow
looked like Mike O'Brien. At any rate, he was wounded; he was walking
with a limp, sir, and I saw blood on his trousers leg. He must have
been in a scrap or an accident."

"When I was coming to," he continued, "I saw him hiding a revolver
behind a rock. I pointed out the place to the men when they came a few
moments after, and they found it."

"Why did you not cry out for help?" asked Oakes suddenly, even
viciously, I thought.

Maloney answered quickly: "Because he thought I was dead, and I let him
think so. If I had made any noise, sir, he would have finished me. I did
not move until I knew help was near."

"Good!" said Oakes; "you had presence of mind. Let us see the revolver;
the men left it here, did they not?"

Hallen stepped forward with the weapon.

Oakes examined it; but his look informed us that it was not the _old_
one taken from the wall in the Mansion.

Further questioning failed to reveal anything of importance, but it
seemed clear from what Maloney said that the assaulter escaped on
horseback after he was seen by his intended victim, for Maloney
insisted that he had heard a galloping horse afterwards.

"He was wounded, you said?" queried the detective.

"Yes, sir, quite badly, I thought."

Moore examined Maloney's injury and took careful note of his condition;
then the gardener was told to go, and he was soon joined outside by the
two laborers--his new found friends. Together they went for the hotel
bar across the street. As they disappeared, Oakes exchanged glances with
the doctor, and I knew that something was wrong. There came a long
silence, which Hallen finally broke.

"This is a queer story, Oakes; I don't understand it. Is it the murderer
at work again--and O'Brien accused? You say the Mansion mysteries are
the work of the same hand that shot Mr. Mark, and possibly Mr. Smith.
But those mysteries are old, and O'Brien is a recent arrival here and
knows very little of the Mansion. I cannot see his guilt. How do you
explain it, Oakes?"

The keen man addressed faced the Chief, and we all knew the words that
were coming were valuable.

"Chief, I have just told you of Mr. Stone's adventures with me this
morning--of my proof that Maloney lied to us. Well, he has lied again."

"Yes," chimed in Dr. Moore, "the man's a fake. He was not seriously
injured, if at all."

"I saw through Maloney's story instantly," continued Oakes. "He said he
was assaulted by O'Brien, who was, according to his own story, a badly
wounded man. He said O'Brien hid the revolver afterwards, while he,
Maloney, was shamming death, and that O'Brien sought to escape. It is
nonsense."

"Why? I fail to see!" I asked excitedly.

Oakes turned to me: "Why, Stone, don't you see the flaws? Would a
seriously injured man attempt deliberate murder? What show would he have
to escape? Then, again, if able to get away himself, would he hide the
revolver near the scene of the crime, behind a rock? No, he would take
it with him as a defensive weapon, or else hide it where it never could
be found; in the Hudson, for instance, or the brook--both near at hand."

"True enough," cried Hallen, his face showing his admiration; "but
what's your idea, then, Oakes?"

"Just this, gentlemen. Maloney _himself_ shot O'Brien, and seeing the
latter escape knew that his game was up, for he had been identified by
O'Brien. So he hid the revolver that he himself used, and then pretended
to have been sand-bagged and shot at. He relied on the weight of his
word against O'Brien's, not knowing anything of the evidence collected
against him or that we were anything but agents and workmen about the
Mansion?"

The Chief looked long and half sceptically at Oakes, then asked: "Does
Maloney meet your requirements? Does he fill the bill?"

"Well, he has a strong wrist and long arms," answered Oakes--"that
places him among the _possibles_; he also has a comparatively narrow
chest, such as the man had who wore the robe--you remember we reasoned
that out. Those three things cover much ground. Then, again, he is an
old resident, knows all about the Mansion, was here when Smith was
murdered."

Elliott now spoke up: "Oakes, you said the murderer was a good shot. Is
Maloney a good shot with a revolver?"

"Yes, he was; he used to belong to the National Guard years ago. He was
a splendid shot then, according to evidence procured by my men."

"But the revolver to-day was not the old one?" queried the Chief.

"No," answered Oakes; "but he can easily have two."

"I had better arrest him now as a suspicious person," exclaimed Hallen
excitedly.

"Not yet. Let us be _sure_ first--remember Skinner has a motive for
crossing us; he has tried to defeat the aims of justice right through.
He was dealing money this morning to someone; suppose it was to
Maloney--what is his reason?"

Hallen thumped the table furiously as though a new thought had come to
him. "Skinner answers the physical requirements also, Mr. Oakes--he was
also a guardsman--a good shot."

"Yes," answered Oakes, "but scarcely strong enough to overpower me at
the Mansion."

"Unless he was acting while in mania, as we presume this criminal acts,"
said Moore.

I sat spellbound as these men discussed the intricacies of the affair,
realizing the truth of their reasonings and marvelling at the clues,
conceptions and brilliant memories revealed, especially by the masterly
Oakes.

"Too bad you cannot find Skinner, and see what he is up to," I remarked.

"We must let Hallen keep watch on him until we are ready for our final
move. It would be easy to arrest him on suspicion, but that might defeat
our object, and, again, I do not believe in making arrests until my case
is clear," said Oakes.

"Do you not think Skinner might be the murderer?" I asked.

"Not as I see things now. It seems more probable that he is interested
in someone whom he wants to get out of harm's way. His motive throughout
this affair has been to hide the guilty, I think."

"And what do you make of that man O'Brien?" queried Dowd; "he seems to
be a mysterious fellow."

Oakes and Hallen exchanged knowing glances. "He's another possibility;
he's a little Tartar," said the detective.

"But won't Maloney get away now?" asked Elliott.

"Nit," was the answer from Hallen. "Those two 'laborers' with him are my
'specials.'"

I was getting entirely tied up now, but, desiring to appear erudite and
worthy of such company, I blurted forth: "Who is Mike O'Brien, anyway?"

Oakes looked at us all coolly and exasperatingly. "He seems to be a
little extra thrown in. I'll tell you all about it when you tell me if
the 'S' on the handkerchief has anything to do with Mr. Skinner."

An exclamation of surprise went up. We had all forgotten _that_. But
before we could resume, a message arrived for Oakes. It was brought by
one of the men whom we knew so well by sight around the Mansion. He told
of the finding of a burned tree, hidden in the forest, near the scene of
the murder of Mr. Mark. Those who were searching had discovered that the
tree was recently struck by lightning and that within its burned
interior was ash.

The man had brought some with him, and also a small, crumpled piece of
newspaper. Oakes looked carefully at them as we glanced over his
shoulder.

"At last!" cried he. "Here is wood ash--wet, as was that on the robe;
and here is paper like that of the 'Daily News,' which we found in the
robe; is it not?"

"Yes," cried Moore. "It is indeed--can it be?"

"Yes," came the answer from Oakes; "my orders to search for the origin
of the ash have been crowned with success. The robe was in that tree."

"But," I cried, "of what value is that?"

"Just this--the robe was not worn at the time of the murder. Remember,
Joe did not see it--it had been hidden, probably. The murderer used it
to go and to come in, but for some unknown reason discarded it at the
shooting."

"Excuse me," said the messenger, "excuse me, Mr. Oakes--but that's about
right. The tree was beyond the stone where he crossed and lost the
handkerchief. He was running for the robe, sir; the murderer was after
his disguise."

Oakes looked at his subordinate calmly and smiled ever so slightly. The
man bowed and retreated, abashed at his own impetuosity.

Hallen turned to our friend Oakes and said: "I never in my life saw
anything like this--like you."

Oakes, always ready to side-step praise in any form, answered, with one
of his chilling glances: "Oh, bother! You're young yet, Hallen; you need
age."

Hallen half resentfully yanked his cap on his head and strode to the
door.

"Well," he remarked, "here's where I take a look at Maloney's arms--I am
dead tired of theorizing."

"Stop!" commanded Oakes; "you'll spoil it all."

"I won't spoil the cross on the arm--the cross of indigo--if it's there;
and if it ain't there, it ain't. Hang it all, anyway." And forthwith
Hallen strode out the door, down the steps toward the hotel bar-room,
with Oakes and the rest of us following in a vain endeavor to head him
off.

When we reached the bar-room, Hallen was already in the side room. We
rushed toward the little room door, expecting to see Maloney in the
grasp of Hallen; but instead, we beheld the Chief gazing in stupefaction
at his two men dead drunk, heads between their hands on the little round
table.

"------------,----!" cried the Chief in a voice that shook the
glasses on the shelves in the bar-room and brought the white-coated
attendant with one bound to the door. "Hell--en--Maloney's escaped."

"Escaped!" cried the bar-keeper. "Escaped!--nit. Why, he paid for the
drinks and walked out half an hour ago--said he had a job at the
Mansion. These fellows--gosh!" cried the man as he shook them--"drunk!
What's up--what does it mean, Chief?"

Then Quintus Oakes spoke in tones of dulcet and ineffable sweetness,
cooingly, charmingly. "It means that Chief Hallen pays for a round of
the best you've got. In order to see a cross on a man's arm it becomes
necessary first to catch the man--something like the bird's tail and the
salt proposition."

"Mix 'em up quick!" shouted Hallen, advancing to the bar. "Hell--en--be
damned! Get the two samples of Mona's police out into the air!
Hell--en----!"



  _CHAPTER XX_

  _A Man's Confession_


The assault upon Maloney was now the talk of the town. Hallen, who had
enjoyed a respite from censure, was again furiously blamed for inability
and incompetence. None but our select few discerned that Maloney was
lying, for none knew as much of the intricacies of the case as did we.
All were crying out for the instant arrest of the one who had attempted
to kill him, but none but the few who had heard Maloney's statement
within headquarters knew that it was O'Brien he had accused--and only
those few knew that his story was probably false.

Although the order had gone forth quietly, as we knew, to "find Mike
O'Brien," still it was not known to any save Hallen's and Oakes's men.

The masses were in ignorance of the strides we had made twards
the solution of the horrible happenings at Mona, and, of course, Hallen
was getting more than he deserved in the way of criticism.

Oakes told us that he momentarily expected some new developments in the
case, as Hallen was endeavoring to find Skinner and bring him to the
Mansion. His surmises proved true, for it was found an easy matter to
locate the old man; and early in the evening Hallen arrived at the
Mansion and joined us in the apartments upstairs, and with him were
Martin and Skinner.

Dowd, the rival of the old man, was with us, having begged earnestly of
Oakes to be allowed to follow as close to the action as possible, and
having stuck by us like a veritable leech since the morning. Dowd was a
nice fellow, and a newspaper man from start to finish, and he seemed to
have developed a great liking for Oakes.

We were all upstairs when Martin ushered in the tall, rather slender,
but powerful old man, Skinner. None of us, save Hallen, had seen him at
close range before; but I saw a curious expression, half of defiance,
half of dismay, in his face, that made me watch him most closely. Dr.
Moore was scanning his features carefully in a way that showed he had
detected something, but Quintus Oakes, rising from his seat and
advancing politely to meet the old gentleman, seemed neither to have
seen anything nor to know anything. He was just the polished gentleman
we all knew so well; but I noticed that, as he shook hands with Mr.
Skinner, he cast a quick glance at the man's arm and the wrist, and then
at the old man's eyes.

Moore whispered: "He has excluded Skinner as the criminal. Look! see him
take it all in."

Oakes was leading Skinner to a seat, and as he walked, he spoke freely.
He had discovered that which Dr. Moore had also seen, but which I had
failed to detect.

"Mr. Skinner, allow me," said he, gracefully. "It's not well lighted
here; I imagine that little white scar on your right eye--on your
cornea, just in front of the pupil--interferes somewhat with your
vision."

"Yes, Mr. Clark, it does interfere just a trifle."

"Just enough to spoil duck-shooting, eh! I understand you used to be
quite fond of that sort of thing, Mr. Skinner."

Moore and Hallen exchanged glances; and the knowledge was general to
us--the old man was _not_ the murderer, for the assassin could shoot
well, and the old scar on the eye prevented that in Skinner's case.

"But to what do I owe the honor of a request to call at the Mansion,
escorted by such a nice young man, to see Mr. Clark, the agent?" queried
Skinner.

The old fellow was shrewd--he looked at Hallen and smiled
half-heartedly. Then he looked at me, and remarked that we had met
before somewhere, and extending his hand to Moore, he said he guessed he
was glad to know us all better. Then turning quietly to Chief Hallen, he
laughed, and gave us a shock from which we were unable to rally for a
few moments.

"Well, Chief, they're keeping you busy. They tell me you don't like it
because I exposed that fellow who palmed himself off as Mr. Quintus
Oakes--that man Rogers, you know."

"No, I did not like it particularly--it interfered with my plans; I am
trying to catch the murderer of Mr. Mark, you know."

"Suppose you are! you haven't got him yet. You can search me, Chief. I
think Mr. Quintus Oakes here is entitled to all the credit so
far--eh--don't you?"

The old fellow turned to Oakes as he spoke the words that showed he was
not to be fooled into believing Oakes was Clark.

We moved nearer. Skinner knew all, apparently.

Then Oakes arose to meet the occasion, and stood before the old man:
"Mr. Skinner, I thank you for warning me not to come to Mona--it was
your letter I received. But why did you warn me? Was it to protect your
secret?"

Oakes had acted all along as though he had learned some things he had
not spoken of to us--he and Hallen had seemed to comprehend more than we
others knew; but I was scarce prepared for such a sudden revelation.

"Stop!" cried the old man, "stop! you have no right--I did warn you to
keep away from Mona--I knew of the Mansion mysteries--I knew you by
sight in New York--I recognized you here on your first visit--I did not
want to see a good man get in trouble."

"Thank you," said Oakes, "thank you. Your kindness was appreciated, but
you have another motive--you are shielding someone."

"None--no one," came the answer.

"Nonsense!" and Oakes's eyes blazed as he spoke; "you tried to send him
away this morning. You gave him money at the hut. You were nearly killed
by the man you are protecting. Can you explain it?"

The old man was shaking violently. He arose, tottered and sat down. Then
burying his head in his hands, he remained silent for a space of
seconds. Then shaking his head, he moaned: "No, I can't explain. I had
given him all. Mr. Oakes, he was not robbing me--he seemed angry--he--I
could not understand."

"I can," said Oakes. "The man you have befriended these many years, the
man Maloney who used to work with you in your shop, to whom you gave,
among many other things, a red bandana handkerchief with your initial
'S' upon it--one of those handkerchiefs you use about the printing
office--that man, we think, is a maniac. We surmise that he has the
killing mania. Did you not suspect it?"

The old man's manner changed to one of terrified inquiry. "Why, I never
suspected--I--I thought he was peculiar--I mistrusted he was at the
bottom of the Mansion mysteries--I wanted to send him away to give him a
show."

Oakes hesitated, then answered evasively, but forcefully: "Maloney is
probably irresponsible. He is the man of the Mansion--the woman, so
called, of the Smith murder--the murderer of Mr. Mark--we believe, but
we are without _proof_ as yet."

The old man's face filled with the blood dammed back from the throbbing
heart, then paled as the heart-strokes weakened, and the cold sweat of
collapse appeared in beady drops upon his brow.

Moore was at his side with a drink, and we all placed him on the sofa
and watched the color return to the yellow-white face, and the
respirations deepen again.

Oakes bent solicitously above him. "There is something back of all this,
Skinner. Maloney is more than a friend." Then, as the old man rose, the
detective, in tones gentle but strong, called Skinner's attention to
the fact that his conduct in using the influence of his journal against
Hallen and the discovery of the criminal needed an explanation.

Skinner arose, steadied himself, and turning to Hallen said, in a voice
scarcely audible: "Chief, I have always been a good citizen till now. I
wanted Maloney to get away. He would not go. I thought he might be at
the bottom of the Mansion mysteries, but I had no idea he could be a
murderer. I did not wish his identity revealed; I tried to discourage
Mr. Oakes. I tried to save my reputation, Chief--to save a name good as
the world goes; but this is my punishment. Study my face, Chief--study
my eyes, my chin. Then imagine a handsome Spanish face--dark-haired,
dark-skinned. Do you see why Maloney has blue eyes and a square
chin--with hair black as the Indian's and skin swarthy as night?
Gentlemen, do you understand? She is dead. Maloney does not know. I
cared for the lad. He is my son. He always has been eccentric, but
although perhaps insane, I had no proof. I tried to hide my secret, but
if Justice demands his capture, Chief, I am at your disposal."

The old man extended his hands, his lips quivering with the words that
spelled ruin, and advanced to the Chief, as though expecting arrest,
while we all remained motionless, in pitying silence.

Hallen glanced at him. Then the burly fellow turned suddenly to Martin:
"Here, you son of a dandy!" said he, as we all smiled and Oakes bit his
lip in suppressed emotion, "here! you go on down to the stable and tell
my coachman to drive round to the front door--I am going to have him
drive home with Mr. Skinner." Then they walked to the door, the old man
half-leaning on the thick-set, muscular shoulders of Hallen. At the
threshold the Chief turned quickly: "If any of you ducks say anything,
you're a lot of dudes," and the two disappeared downstairs to the
coach.

After Hallen had returned to the room, and as the rumble of the wheels
died away in the distance, Dowd addressed a question to Oakes. He wanted
to know how Oakes had secured advance information as to the history of
Skinner and the handkerchief.

"Well, Dowd, as soon as Skinner began antagonizing our moves, I
suspected that he was the writer of the letter of warning. Then I
ordered his history--you know those things are easily obtained. He came
here years ago it seems, comparatively unknown, and worked his way up,
employing a young fellow for many years in his office. This young fellow
went West, but returned later. He was Maloney. He had not the mental
attainments for his employer's business, but the older man kept in touch
with the younger, even after he found it necessary to dispense with his
services. When I saw Skinner, I detected some resemblance between
them--this seems to have escaped general notice, but Dr. Moore was not
deceived. A study of the eyes and the ears and the nose confirmed my
suspicions of the paternity of Maloney; but all that, while interesting,
was not so valuable as the knowledge that Maloney had several
handkerchiefs given him by Skinner. You see, Skinner's conduct was so
suspicious throughout that we have investigated him thoroughly. We found
he wore such handkerchiefs around his neck in the printing office. We
found Mrs. Cook was aware that Maloney had some of them--he told her
that Mr. Skinner gave them to him. He always was proud of Skinner's
friendship."

"Then you knew all about it this morning, Quintus," I cried, exasperated
at the man's taciturnity; "you knew when you said you would tell who
O'Brien was, if I would tell whether the 'S' had anything to do with
Skinner."

"No, but I mistrusted; the proofs were only more recently secured."

"Then, as you now have the answer regarding the 'S,' it seems only fair
that you tell us who O'Brien is," I cried.

Oakes became very serious. "I believe O'Brien was the man watching on
the balcony when Dr. Moore was assaulted; also that he was the man at
the bridge who warned you, Stone, of danger, but who has kept his
identity hidden. We had strong proof that he was at the hut watching, as
were we; he accidentally left a part of his shirt with my man, remember.
I also believe that he was wounded and is in hiding--wounded by Maloney,
on the Highway, when he was about to close in upon him."

"What do you mean?" cried Moore. "What curious conduct for a man--to
keep in hiding!"

"No, not at all," answered Oakes sharply. "Remember how you saw him on
horseback one night, revolver in hand. Well, he was attending to
business. _O'Brien is working on the Mansion mysteries._ I believe he
only knows half of the affair; he does not realize Maloney may be the
murderer of Mark--his conduct is in accord with that of a brave
detective working single-handed and desiring to keep his identity
secret."

"A _detective_!"

"Yes, I fancy so," answered Oakes, with a smile on his face. "Why not?
We are not the only bees around the honeysuckle."

"By George! I never thought of that," exclaimed Moore.

"Indeed!" retorted Oakes in dulcet tones. "Why should you? You have not
played this game before--it is new to you."

"And does Hallen know, does he mistrust that O'Brien is a detective?"

Oakes laughed. "Boys, you're slow. Of course he does. He has even found
out there is a well-known detective by the name of Larkin who is fond of
the alias O'Brien. This Larkin has a scar under his hair in front. We
will perhaps be able to identify O'Brien soon."

"What made you first mistrust?" I asked.

"Why, remember how curiously O'Brien acted when we hunted the robe--how
indifferent he was--how he used dialect!"

"Yes, but why--how?"

"Well," interrupted Oakes, "that dialect was poor--unnatural,
consequently perhaps assumed. That was the first clue to explain the
curious actions of Maloney's loving friend, who has stuck to him like
molasses to a fly's leg."

"Let us go into town and have dinner at the hotel," I cried, disgusted
at my lack of perspicacity. My invitation was accepted with the usual
alacrity of hungry men, and we soon were striding along--Hallen, Oakes
and Moore in front and Dowd, Elliott and myself behind. We walked close
together, discussing the events and joking at one another in great
good-natured animal spirits, for things were coming to a head now and
Broadway was not so far off after all.

As the darkness closed in upon us, relieved only by the faint glimmering
of the rising moon, we were in a compact body--an excellent target.
Strong in the presence of each other, we had for a moment forgotten that
we were in the land where a brain disordered was at liberty. We, the
criminal hunters, were but human--and this was our error.



  _CHAPTER XXI_

  _The Attack_


We had advanced along River Road to its junction with the Highway, and
Martin had just closed in from behind as Dr. Moore started to say
something about the dinner that was coming, when, just as we came into
the shadows of the great trees to our left, a flame, instantaneous,
reddish-blue, streaked forth from the side of the road and a deep,
muffled, crashing sound came to our ears. Everyone recognized it
instantly--it was not the high crack of a modern weapon such as we
carried, but the unmistakable guttural of an old-style heavy revolver.

An instant, and the voice of Oakes rang out, cool, but intensely
earnest, "To cover"--and we covered. Never before had six men melted
from a close formation so rapidly, so silently, so earnestly.

Dr. Moore, Elliott and I reached the trees on the other side together,
and lost our identity trying to find a place for our hunted bodies. We
lay down in a heap behind a burned tree-stump, and said "damn"
together.

Somewhere around was the fiend of Mona, and somewhere were Oakes, Hallen
and Dowd, but not with us--we could swear to this, for we were in a
class by ourselves and we knew one another even in the darkness.

We heard a sudden scuffle in the road, and saw a giant figure rush by
us, throwing a silhouette on the roadway. It turned, faced about and
crouched as another figure darted from the woods across the road. Then
the figure crouching made a spring, and the two swayed to and fro before
us like great phantoms, and then the figures separated, and one started
down the Highway followed by the other at breakneck speed. Then we heard
the voice of Oakes from somewhere:

"Halt! or I'll shoot."

The fugitives stopped, ducked, dashed toward us and by us, into the
woods, and after them came the report of Oakes's revolver--we knew it by
the quick, high-pitched note--and then--Oakes himself. It was evident to
us he had fired in the air, for we all saw the small flame point
heavenward as his weapon was discharged.

Neither fugitive slackened his speed, but both rushed across the plains
east by northeast into the face of the moon as it rose off the plateau
of Mona.

"What is who?" gasped Moore.

"The which?" I answered, as a polar chill chased up my spine.

"Oh, the d----l!" soliloquized Elliott.

"See, the second man limps--he must be O'Brien; he is chasing the first
one," whispered the doctor as we gazed into the night.

"And Oakes is cavorting after the bunch--I play him straight and place,"
spoke Elliott; "he is gaining."

We watched Oakes, fleeter than ever, steadier, disappear in the distance
as the moon entered a passing cloud-bank and all became lonesome and
dark.

"Let's get on the plain," said Elliott, and we crawled as best we could
out of the woods toward the place where the three were last seen by us.

"Let's be in at the finish," I cried, and we started in the dim steely
haze of the obscured moon to follow the chase. Darkness impenetrable
came on, and suddenly a wild moan of anguish reached us--an awful,
convulsive cry of terror. It neared us and was in our very
neighborhood--in our midst--and again away; and with it came the rush of
feet, heavy and tired, and soon the light tread of the pursuer--the
athletic, soft tread of Oakes. I shall never forget that cry of terror.
It was as though the soul had left the body in anguish--it was a cry of
fear greater than man seemed capable of uttering.

From out of the darkness came the voice of Moore: "A maniac in terror!"
Then the heavy tread was upon us again, a body darted past me, and the
heavy revolver spoke again. I felt a stinging sensation in my arm, a
numbness, a feeling of dread and of fear; then I reeled and recovered,
and looking around me saw the figure dashing away like mad. The moon was
uncovering again, and the fighting instinct of the brute was aroused
within me. I knew I was wounded, but it was a trivial matter. I felt the
surging of blood to my brain, the pumping of my heart, the warmth and
glow of the body that comes when one rallies from fear or surprise, and
the next instant I was off in pursuit.

Always a good runner, I seemed endowed with the speed of the wind;
slowly I gained. The man before me ran rapidly but heavily; he was
tired. He glanced around and moved his arms, and I realized that he was
unarmed. His weapon had fallen. I shut my mouth and saved my breath, and
loosened joints which had not been oiled since the days of long ago,
when I played on my college foot-ball team. Slowly I closed in--the
capture was to be mine--the honor for Stone, yours truly--lawyer. I
unreefed some more, and the ground went by under me like mad. I was
dizzy with elation and courage and bull-hearted strength, and then, just
as I came within talking distance of the fleeing terror, there was a
report and my right leg dragged, my stride weakened and tied itself into
bowknots, and I dropped my revolver. I realized I was done for. We all
know the symptoms--the starboard front pulley of my new Broadway
suspenders had "busted."

The next instant the "terror" had turned and was upon me. I felt a
crashing fist in my face and another in my neck, a swinging blow on my
jaw and a quick upper cut in my solar plexus; and as the moon had just
again disappeared behind the cloud, I sank to the plain of Mona nearly
unconscious--overpowered. I felt hands with the power of ten men seize
my wrists. I felt them being tied together with handkerchiefs; I felt a
heavy weight on my stomach, and realized that I was being used as a
sofa. Then I started to call for help, to speak and to struggle; but the
terror who had murdered and frightened, and held up this part of the
State, soaked me again with both fists. I thought of home and New York
and mint juleps, and of the two dollars I spent to railroad it up to
Mona, and realized that it was cheap for all I was getting. Then I
started in to die; and the fiend struck a match in my face, and I nearly
did die. For it was that quiet, aristocratic Elliott. "You're the
darndest ass I ever saw," said he as he got off; "why didn't you tell
who you were?"

"Couldn't," I muttered. "I was thinking of----"

I never finished that remark, for the next instant Elliott was borne
down to the ground by the force of the impact of a great body. He
rolled about with the unknown, and tore and twisted. I heard the
deafening blows rain on his head, and was powerless to aid, for my hands
were tied and I was strangely weak--I was done for.

"You d---- fiend! I've got you. You will murder Stone along with the
others, will you? You terror, you."

I recognized the voice as I heard the handcuffs click on Elliott, and
realized it all.

It was too much. "Hallen!" I murmured. "Thank God! Soak him again," and
I heard the blows descend on Elliott's anatomy. Then I relented.

"Spare him, Chief--it's Mr. Elliott."

Hallen roared in surprise. "Then the murderer has gotten away, with
Oakes after him. I beg pardon--I--I--ha, ha!" and then the Chief roared
again as he undid us and called for the others.

Lanterns were now brought from the Mansion, and a crowd of Oakes's men
collected around us. I noticed that Moore and Hallen were looking at me
curiously; and then Oakes stepped to my side from somewhere out in the
darkness.

"You're sick, old fellow!" he said softly.

"Sick!" and then I realized that things were strangely distant, that
faces seemed far, far away, and that Moore's voice was miles off as he
rushed to my side.

"Wounded! Look at his arm," he cried.

"Yes," I murmured; "it was that last shot--I forgot it."

I tried to raise the arm and saw that a red-blue stream was running down
and dripping from my hand upon the ground.

I stepped forward to point to Hallen, and to tell about how he slugged
Elliott; but as I moved I lurched forward, and a great strong arm closed
about me and a tender voice whispered--miles--miles away. It was Oakes's
voice.

"Here, Hallen, give us a hand," and I felt myself lifted tenderly and
carried across the plateau. I was dimly conscious that Moore was working
silently, rapidly, at my side, and that the strong, supple arm of Oakes
was about me, and that Hallen was helping. A great wave of affection
came over me for these tender, dear fellows--and I talked long and loud
as Elliott wiped my face; and I told Moore that Elliott was a past
master at slugging--and all the time the crowd grew. I heard the name of
Mr. Clark shouted, and then my own; and then, as they bore me in at the
Mansion gate, I passed away off into the distance and went into a deep,
dark tunnel where all was quiet and still. And then I again heard
Moore's voice saying: "He has fainted, Oakes. Get him to bed, or he will
faint again."

There was such gentle tenderness in the faces around me, such gentle,
strong words, and such gentle, strong lifting of my body, that I sighed
at the deliciousness of it all--the splendor, the beauty of my
journey--and all for two dollars' railroad fare.

I heard some curious statements about great bravery in dashing after the
unknown, and all that sort of thing--and I knew enough to realize that
the crowd had things twisted. Oakes was speaking to me like a big
brother, and Hallen had somehow quit all his bluster, and was quiet and
grave, and Moore and Elliott seemed foolishly attentive. I appreciated
their kindness, but did not quite understand, and their attentions
amused me. I should have laughed outright, but things were becoming
confused.

Then I realized that they were worried. How peculiar it seemed! The
angel of friendship was about me. I felt a strange peacefulness as I
entered the great Mansion. It seemed like a palace with golden walls,
and the familiar voices of welcome warmed me.

Then I heard a deep, thumping, rhythmic tremor as it was borne through
the air, and I knew that the boat on the river was passing the Mansion.
I laughed long and loud at the peculiar words it was saying. I talked to
it, commanded it to breathe more quietly, or it would disturb those
asleep on the shore. Then I tried to explain to the judge that I was not
a brave man--that it was all a mistake; that I had chased Elliott
instead of the murderer; that the jury had failed to understand--and I
laughed again.

My merriment grew as I caught sight of Oakes's face; it was so
nonsensical of him not to have perceived that the steamer was at the
bottom of the whole mystery. I tried to explain, then I shouted at
their stupidity, and finally laughed angrily and in despair. I was in
the grip of delirium.

       *       *       *       *       *

During the night they searched for the bullet, and found it--and some
time next day I awoke in my right mind.



  _CHAPTER XXII_

  "_The Insane Root_"


During the next few days Elliott called frequently and apologetically.
Although he had suffered considerably at the hands of Hallen, he
appreciated how much attention he had given me on the plains of Mona
where was my Waterloo, and he kept me informed of the doings of our
party in the search for the murderer. But it was several days before he
brought me the information that both O'Brien and Maloney had been
found--O'Brien in a farm-house, nursing his leg; Maloney walking about
town, cool and collected, apparently with nothing to conceal. I was told
that he was not yet under arrest, but had been coaxed back to the
Mansion to give evidence against O'Brien, as he was led to believe.

"But why doesn't he suspect? He must realize that suspicion is against
him."

"Well, Dr. Moore told me recently that the criminal, if insane as we
surmise, may be oblivious during his lucid intervals of what he has
been through during his periods of aberration."

"I see," I answered, remembering that such had been often recorded; "and
as his attacks of mania may be unwitnessed, he escapes detection because
he carries but little ordinary evidence of these during the interval of
quiescence."

Before my companion could frame an answer there was a sudden commotion
below--a hurrying of feet, and the quiet, commanding voice of Oakes
heard now and then above all. We knew the time had at last arrived for
the closing scene; we both felt that the hour had come when the final
settlement was to take place.

Next moment Oakes appeared. I had not seen him for many hours. He was
changed, haggard, worn. His handsome face showed worry and loss of
sleep, but his carriage and voice were as usual--vigorous, independent.

Grasping my hand firmly and turning a pleased glance of recognition at
Elliott, he said, "Come, Stone, you're strong enough"; and next moment
he had thrown a coat over my shoulders and was helping me down the
stairs to the dining-room. He seemed to me to have grown more serious,
more quiet than was his wont; but his actions were, as ever, strong,
quick, easy of execution, and I knew that it was the steadying of the
mind and body for the final strain. Oakes's reputation was at stake, and
he was fully cognizant that an error of judgment, a flaw in his
reasonings, a mishap in the execution of his well-formulated plans,
might readily result disastrously, not only to his reputation but to the
cause of justice.

Then I stepped across the threshold of the dining-room, and beheld a
scene that will always linger in my mind. At the head of the table sat
Hallen, and to his right was Dr. Moore, whose dress contrasted strangely
with the Chief's blue uniform and brass buttons. Across the table from
Moore was Dowd, and here and there about the room were some of Oakes's
men, and some of Hallen's as well, lounging, looking out of the windows
carelessly, but comprehensively.

As we entered, a deep guttural of welcome greeted me; and Oakes seated
me by Moore's side, and Elliott went over and sat with Dowd. Then the
detective took the chair at the foot of the table, near which was an
empty one.

It was evident at a glance that Oakes was to be the chief actor, while
to Hallen had been given the chief position.

There was a moment's silence, then Hallen turned to Dr. Moore: "Are you
positive," he said, "that Maloney is insane? I see no evidence."

"I am not positive as yet," was the reply. "Some signs indicate that he
may be in the so-called interval between outbreaks of mental disease;
but he is clever, as are almost all the insane, and he covers his
condition well. Still, we can, and will put him to the test; we will
soon determine if we are dealing with the 'insane root that takes the
reason prisoner.'"

"But how can it be? He is not violent. I do not comprehend."

Moore glanced at the Chief. "Let Mr. Oakes explain--I should be too
technical, I fear; he has an easier flow of words."

Hallen looked surprised. "Well, how is it, Oakes? How can you suspect
such a man? Nobody ever saw him violent. What reason have you?"

Then Oakes turned. He was somewhat nettled, I thought, at Hallen's
manner, but his voice did not betray him. His words came clearly, even
curtly; but as he revealed his comprehensive knowledge of the matter in
plain, every-day language, Hallen's manner changed wonderfully. Never
before had he had such an opportunity to see the education of the man
before him. Now it came as an overwhelming surprise.

"A lunatic does not necessarily rave or carry the ordinary signs of
rending passion," began Oakes as he turned a quiet face of
acknowledgment toward Dr. Moore. "The one who hears voices, real to him,
but really arising in the diseased mechanism of his own brain--ordering
him to be a martyr, a saviour of his country, or to spend the millions
he imagines he possesses, is usually melancholy, reserved, cautious,
ever on the watch, deceptive, but doubtful sometimes as to his own
brain-workings.

"Likewise, the man who possesses the homicidal mania may be cautious
and quiet--to the ordinary observer a normal citizen. But the aura of
insanity is around him; he lives and moves and deceives, and hides from
the outside world the words that come to him day or night--the words
that arise not in the voice of a living man, but in his own diseased
mind. The sufferer says nothing of the voices that tell him he is
persecuted--that the world's hands are against him. By accident, in a
moment of unwariness, he may reveal that he hears such voices; but it is
an even chance that he will be laughed at and the warning fall on ears
that fail to understand. He is considered a 'crank.'

"Then the unfortunate shrinks more into himself, becomes absolutely
dominated by the ideas and commands generated in his own false mind. He
may become violent by degrees, may scare and haunt the places where he
believes himself abused; and all the while the voices tell him he is
foolish, being put upon, and finally he becomes controlled by the
delusion that he is being persecuted. Then perhaps suddenly comes the
incentive, usually a command of false origin within his own brain, that
makes the worm turn that reveals to the world that he is a maniac--a
'killer.' He hears the word 'kill,' and his mind, no longer even
suspicions of its own disease as it was at first, becomes frenzied. He
sometimes attacks openly, but usually does so secretively, with the
cunning of the tiger, and kills and slaughters. Then he returns to his
dreams--quiet, satisfied, spent."

Oakes paused. "You understand, Hallen," he said, "I am no expert; but
such cases have come to my notice--it is not easy for me to explain more
fully."

"Go on," was Hallen's answer; "go on, sir. I am deeply interested--it
amazes me."

The Chief showed his words were those of genuine interest and surprise.

"The insane man leads a dual life," continued Oakes, "perhaps for a long
time. Such a man is not yet an inmate of an asylum. His case is
unrecognized--he is a soul battling with madness until some awful
tragedy occurs, like that of Mona, to reveal his greatest of all
misfortunes--the loss of reason."

We were all silent when Oakes finished speaking. Not a man there but
now recognized and realized more fully what we had been fighting
against. Then Hallen rose and looked at Oakes, then at all of us.

"Boys," he said, "according to custom, being Chief of Police of Mona, I
am to make the arrest. That I will do, but let me tell you right here it
is Mr. Oakes who will point out the culprit. I have been unable to get a
clue, and I am damned if I'll take credit from a man like that." As he
spoke he thumped the table with his hamlike fist. Hallen was not a
clever man. He was about the average, perhaps a little above; but he was
as honest as the day was long--a staunch, vigorous man--and we all
admired him.

"Sit down," commanded Oakes harshly. "Don't give us any more such
nonsense," and the Chief sat down, while we all half smiled at the
discomfiture of both.

"Now, gentlemen," said Oakes, "let us keep our wits about us. First let
me identify O'Brien, if possible, and let us study Maloney afterward.
Remember, if O'Brien is not Larkin the detective, my case is _not_
ready; if he _is_ the man we suspect, then we must turn to Maloney
regardless of any presence of insanity now, as he maybe in the quiescent
period, so called, and may succeed in baffling us. Having once excluded
O'Brien from suspicion, we will be justified in action against Maloney.
We must prove his knowledge of the heavy revolver, if possible. Then if
we succeed in forging that link to our chain, we will move quickly; upon
his arm should be the cross seen by the dying Mr. Mark."



  _CHAPTER XXIII_

  _The Test_


As Oakes ceased speaking there came a silence. Although we were many
there, there was not a motion for a space of seconds--not a sound save
the deep breathing of Hallen and of some of the others upon whom the
duty of the hour was to fall. Men trained for such scenes--always alive
to the possibilities, always alert for trickery or treachery--are yet
but human, and subject to the tension that is felt even by the most
courageous.

Then, in obedience to a signal from Oakes, Martin appeared, escorting
O'Brien, who was limping, into the room, and to the chair facing Oakes.

It soon became evident to us that Oakes's real identity was unknown to
O'Brien. Even if the latter were the detective Larkin, he had failed to
realize that Mr. Clark was anything but the agent for the property.

"You are wounded, my man! They tell me it happened in the Highway the
other day, and that afterwards, at night, you chased Maloney on the
plains of Mona, after he had fired upon us. Tell us about it, O'Brien."

Oakes's voice was calm and strong, but in it I fancied I detected a note
of pity.

O'Brien hesitated, stammered. "How did you know when I was shot?" he
exclaimed. "I told no one." Oakes smiled slightly. "Out with your story,
O'Brien. Did you chase Maloney for revenge, or for revenge and
business?"

O'Brien straightened in the chair. "Who is this man Clark? How peculiar
these questions are!" his look plainly said.

"Why, for revenge, of course," he answered.

"Let's see your wound," commanded Oakes.

O'Brien bared his leg: the injury was now nearly healed; but was still
enough to make the man limp. Then, as he bent down to readjust his
trousers Oakes, accidentally as it were, brushed against his forehead,
throwing back the hair from O'Brien's brow.

We all saw a long, white, glistening scar, now exposed to full view at
the line of the heavy hair. The man before us _was_ Larkin the
detective.

Oakes with marvelous tranquillity apologized for the "accident," and
said: "Why should Maloney have shot you? what is behind it all? Speak."

"I do not know." It was evident to us all that O'Brien was avoiding the
issue.

"I see," exclaimed Oakes. "As O'Brien you know nothing; as Mr. Larkin
the detective you know more than it suits you to tell."

O'Brien was on his feet in an instant. "Who dares insinuate--who dares
say I am a detective, sir?"

"Nonsense! Keep cool. The Chief here has satisfied himself. Tell us--why
should Maloney hate you?"

O'Brien glanced around and fixed his gaze on Hallen. "I am Larkin. He
hates me because I have been watching him. Maloney is the man
responsible for the Mansion mysteries, I think," he said.

"Indeed! What else?" queried Hallen suddenly.

"I believe he may be the murderer of Mr. Mark."

"What proofs have you?" asked Oakes, as we all leaned forward intently.

"No proof as yet."

"Exactly! But, Mr. Larkin, you deserve much credit," said Oakes, as he
led O'Brien to a chair by Hallen's side. "Sit here," he continued. "I am
going to have Maloney brought in now. He has always been a good
gardener--a decent sort of fellow. I must hear his story before I give
him up to the Chief. It has been suggested that Maloney may be mentally
unbalanced; you will excuse me, Mr. Larkin, if I use you as a foil to
draw him out while Dr. Moore assists me."

Then, by way of explanation, Oakes, whose identity was still unknown to
Larkin, went on:

"You see, Chief Hallen wishes to be sure of some little points, and so
do I. Perhaps Maloney will not resent my questioning; he should have no
feelings against the agent of this property, whereas he might object to
Hallen as an interlocutor."

Oakes was now a trifle pale, I thought. There were furrows on his
forehead; his manner was suave and deliberately slow. But little did I
dream the true depth of the man, the masterly manner in which he was
about to test the mental balance of Maloney.

To one who was ignorant of the terrible events this story tells of, and
the dire necessity of discovering once for all who was responsible for
them, the efforts of these keen, scientific men to entrap a weakened
brain would have seemed unfair and cruel.

But for those who knew the story and knew of the murderous deeds done in
Mona by some unfortunate with a cunning, diabolic, although probably
unbalanced mind, there remained only one alternative--to uncover and
catch the criminal at all hazards.

Martin left the room, and returned escorting the suspect, who was
dressed in his working clothes, his coat covering a gray jersey. His
face was stolid, but not unprepossessing; his bearing, quiet and
reserved. His blue eyes shifted quickly. Then, as Oakes stood facing
him, he respectfully saluted "Mr. Clark."

The detective met him cheerily.

"Good-morning, Maloney; I have asked you as a favor to come here and
identify the man who shot at you the other day; O'Brien has reached the
end of his rope now."

As Oakes finished his sentence, Maloney's face changed hue, but he faced
O'Brien, hesitatingly, as though somewhat at a loss. "There's the man!
Yes, he shot me," he cried.

Then again Oakes began to speak, and we all knew that he was purposely
deceiving Maloney, playing with him--waiting for the moment when he
would make the slip; when, if of diseased mind, he would fail to
differentiate facts from fiction, when the false paths suggested to him
would hopelessly entangle him.

"The other night, Maloney, someone fired upon us on the road. We have
well-nigh proved O'Brien is the guilty one. You chased him across the
plain. We owe our thanks to you, one and all of us. Had _you_ not been
so close behind him, he would have killed Mr. Stone here."

Oakes motioned toward me as he spoke. I saw it all. He was twisting the
facts, drawing Maloney into a false idea that he was unsuspected--that
he was a hero.

"Yes," I cried, seeing the point instantly. "I owe my life to you, old
man. I thank you."

A sudden flash of remembrance seemed to cross the suspect's face. Then
his brow darkened. There was some error here--he was no hero. But what
was it? Somehow things were wrong, but where?

Dim recollection came to him, then a calmness curious to witness; but
his eyes were shifting quickly, and the fingers of one hand were moving
silently over one another, as though rolling a crumb of bread. The man
was suspicious of something, but clever enough to be apparently calm,
although not yet able to understand the flaw in the presentation of
facts.

Then with a supreme effort he seemed to rally to the occasion, and
cleverly evaded the issue. "I only did a little thing," he said, "you
need not thank me."

The voice was uncertain; the tone pathetic, groping. Oakes had befuddled
the poor intellect. Maloney was at sea and sinking.

"Maloney," said Oakes again--there was gentleness in the detective's
voice; he knew the man before him was going down--"Maloney, when we
were fired upon you were watching the would-be murderer--this man
O'Brien. You acted with the promptitude of lightning--O'Brien dropped
the weapon he had with him. Did you see where it fell? It was a great
army revolver, a 45-calibre weapon."

Maloney started and straightened up; there, at least, was a familiar
subject. He remembered _that_, even though his mind failed to remember
the details of the assault.

But Maloney knew there was some mistake; it was his weapon, not
O'Brien's, that they were talking about. Suddenly, like a flash, came
full remembrance--momentarily, only--and he unguardedly blurted out:
"There is only one in the county like it"; then cunningly ceased
speaking as though he feared his tongue, but could not exactly reason
why.

There was a scarcely audible sigh of anxiety around the room--Oakes had
_proved_ Maloney's knowledge of the old revolver. Dr. Moore was gazing
intently at the gardener's neck. The carotid arteries were pumping full
and strong, down deep beneath the tissues, moving the ridges of his neck
in rhythmic but very rapid undulations--the man was showing great
excitement.

"Maloney," said Oakes again, quickly returning to the attack, "before we
were fired upon we fancied we heard a cry over the plain, a curious one
like someone yelling an oath or an imperious command. Did you hear it?"

"Yes," interpolated Moore. "We thought the words were 'Fire!' or 'Kill!
kill!'"

We all realized what the clever men were doing--telling imaginary
things, trying to draw from Maloney an acknowledgment of a delusion.
They were sounding his mind, playing for its weak spot.

The suspect looked surprised, bewildered, then suddenly fell into the
trap. His weakened mind had been reached at its point of least
resistance.

As in nearly all insane individuals, it took but a proper mention of the
predominant delusion to reveal that which might otherwise have gone
undetected for a long period.

"Yes," whispered Maloney. "I heard the command. It was 'Kill!' 'Murder!'
I have heard it before. I am glad you heard it then--that proves that I
am right. I knew I was right. I can prove it. Surely it is not uncommon.
Gentlemen, I have heard it before. I know--I believe--it was meant
for--ha! ha!--O'Brien--ha! ha!--no! no!--for _me_!"

Moore stepped toward the man, whose speech now came thick and fast and
unintelligible. Hallen closed nearer. Maloney was shaking. His face was
turning dark, his jugulars were bulging like whip-cords down his neck,
his eyes sparkling with the unmistakable light of insanity. He stooped.
"There it is again! 'Kill! kill!'" he cried in thick, mumbling tones,
and bending low. Then he straightened up suddenly and flung himself
around, felling Hallen and Martin as though they were wooden men.

He seized a chair and hurled it across the table at Elliott, who dodged
successfully, allowing it to crash through the opposite window. Quick to
see this means of escape, Maloney followed through the smashed panes--a
raving, delirious maniac.

       *       *       *       *       *

The test, carried out with such consummate skill, had not only proved
Maloney's knowledge of the revolver and that he was subject to
delusions, but it had also precipitated an unexpected attack of insane
excitement--an acute mania.

And now Maloney was gone--escaped.

As Hallen and Martin staggered to their feet, the Chief bellowed forth
an order in a voice of deepest chagrin and alarm: "Catch him!" he cried.
"If he escapes, the people will rise in fury."

We all heard a sickening, wild yell of defiance from Maloney as he
reached the ground--a deep, guttural, maniac cry that struck terror to
my weakened nerves and which froze our men for an instant in their
tracks, like marble statues.

Someone broke the awful spell--it was Oakes, crying out: "He is going
for the pond and the bridge." And next instant he and Hallen were out of
the front door, the men following in a rushing, compact body.



  _CHAPTER XXIV_

  _Across the Bridge_


As I staggered behind the pursuers I saw the tall, erect figure of
Quintus glide rapidly across the road and disappear down the decline. In
the briefest space we were at the crest by the road, looking down upon
the pond. I saw Moore and O'Brien by my side--the latter swearing like a
trooper.

"Who is that Mr. Clark, anyway? How did he know who I was? Since
Hallen's men found me at the farm-house this man Clark--this agent--has
had a lot to say."

"He is a man by the name of Oakes," I said.

O'Brien, or rather Larkin, looked at me a moment.

"Quintus Oakes?"

"The same."

"The deuce you say! No disgrace to me then. I understand things now. But
I should have suspected."

The murderer reached the bridge and, hesitating, stooped suddenly at
its near side. He had evidently picked up something from under one of
the logs that formed the span. He straightened up and, turning, suddenly
fired at Oakes, who was rapidly approaching. The deep tones of a heavy
revolver were unmistakable. Maloney had secured his murderous weapon
when he stooped; he had had it in hiding under the log. He was armed now
with a weapon of terrible possibilities. In another instant he was
across and mounting the green sunlit slope beyond. A hundred feet behind
was Quintus, untouched by the bullet that had been sent his way. A few
steps, and he reached the other side, but as he struck the ground, the
bridge--frail thing that it was--loosened from its centre support and
went crashing into the pond, leaving Hallen, who was close behind Oakes,
on this side of the bridge with the rest of us. Oakes was alone,
pursuing the murderer up the slope of the hill on the other side of the
water, facing us. We saw him turn, as the bridge fell, and look at us;
then he made a sweeping gesture toward the north and south, and turned
again after the murderer, who was just half-way up the slope now; his
body dotting the surface of the ground with a shadow at his side--a
shadow of himself--company in the race for freedom.

We all simultaneously interpreted the gestures made by Oakes, and Hallen
dashed to the north end of the pond to skirt it, while Martin and Moore
dashed for the southern end, leaving Elliott, Larkin and myself standing
where we commanded full view of what was coming. We were conscious of
several other figures dashing by us, and we knew that his men were
straining every nerve and muscle to reach Oakes in his dangerous
position.

It was a long run to skirt either end of the pond, and to swing around
the opposite shore, and thence up the sloping sides to Quintus's aid. We
three remaining behind were anxious beyond expression. I leaned heavily
on Elliott, and really prevented him from joining in the chase, where he
would have been useless; the others were so much fleeter of foot.

"God--that man Oakes is alone with the murderer!" cried Larkin. "He is
too good a man to lose his life in the fight that is coming. Look!"

We saw Maloney halt and face about. Then came a slight flash, followed
by the heavy report of the revolver in his hand.

Quintus was running slowly up toward him and was perhaps one hundred
feet away. At the report he staggered, and dropped upon the green,
slippery sward.

"He is wounded," cried Elliott.

I felt sick at heart and weak, and sat down, Larkin by my side; we two
were powerless, being only convalescent.

"An elegant shot! That Maloney is a crack one," cried the detective.

"Yes," said Elliott; "it was determined before that Mark's murderer was
a good shot."

Then came another report, and we saw that again the murderer had fired.
Oakes remained quiet. His body showed sprawled on the hill-side.

"Damnation!" cried Elliott. "Is Oakes dead? He does not answer with his
revolver."

"No," cried Larkin. "I saw him move, and see--he is braced to prevent
himself slipping down the hill. He knows he is a poor target, and is not
anxious to move lest he slide into the pond. That grass is frosty and
very slippery."

Then came the delayed crack of Quintus's weapon, and Maloney sprang into
the air as he ran. He now went slowly and painfully, lurching forward
along the crest of the hill.

"Slightly wounded, thank Fate--but Oakes could have killed him had he
wished," cried Larkin.

We saw Quintus rise and follow Maloney, then drop to his chest again, as
the latter wheeled and fired three shots rapidly at him in delirious
excitement.

Oakes remained quiet and huddled, and despite the fact that Maloney was
now an excellent target, he did not fire.

"Oakes is hit badly," exclaimed Elliott. Then the speaker did an
unexpected thing. Seizing his revolver, he discharged the weapon again
and again in the direction of Maloney. "A long shot," he muttered, "but
I'll keep him guessing."

We could see the bullets hit somewhere near the fugitive, for he seemed
disconcerted and turned toward the northern end of the pond, to run in
that direction; he was now outlined on the crest of the hill. We heard
another shot ring out--a shot sharp, staccato it was; and we then
emitted a yell, for we knew by it that Oakes was alive. Maloney fired
again, and again Elliott, by our side, tried two more long shots with
his revolver.

We heard Oakes's voice, clear and firm it came, wafted across the pond.

"Don't shoot again. He has no more ammunition. I will get him."

And Elliott, in suppressed excitement, exclaimed: "He was drawing
Maloney's fire all the time. He was not wounded."

"Yes, he knew Maloney had the old six-shooter, and he knows it is empty
now."

"That Oakes keeps everything in mind," said Larkin. "He is a good one."

Then we saw the figures of the runners skirting the northern end of the
pond. Hallen was leading. He fired at Maloney, evidently not having
understood Oakes's word, and again came that clear voice across the
pond.

"Don't fire, Hallen; remember, he is a lunatic and he can't get away
now."

We saw Oakes rush to close in on Maloney, but the latter met his attack,
and the detective was borne to the ground heavily.

"Shoot, Oakes, shoot!" I yelled, as did Hallen; but Quintus responded
not.

We saw that the fight was furious, but were unable at first to
distinguish the figures as they remained on the ground. They were locked
in one another's embrace in a deadly, awe-inspiring struggle. Then
across one man's neck we saw a forearm--the cuff was shining in the
sunlight--and Elliott cried out: "That is Oakes."

The two rose to their feet, powerful black objects, and by the outline
we recognized the tall figure of our friend as they swayed and surged,
gradually slipping and sliding down the incline, toward the deep waters
of the pond below.

"Oakes has got him," cried Larkin, "choking him. Look at them!"

We saw the murderer's body arch sideways and backward, with Oakes's
hands around his neck.

As Maloney's body came down, down to the ground again, Larkin and
Elliott by my side shouted in admiration at the power and skill
displayed.

Suddenly like a flash the maniac turned, twisted, and next moment
encircled Oakes's body with both his arms, and rolled toward the water
with him.

"He is going to drown Oakes--see!"

The words came in a hurried gasp from Elliott, who was throwing off his
coat and his shoes in a movement quick as the thought that had come to
him.

"He's too good a man," he cried, and with a sudden rush Elliott was at
the water's edge and into the pond--swimming with strong overhanded
strokes, head low and sideways, toward the opposite shore.

Larkin and I could scarcely believe our eyes. The man was apparently
gifted with great powers, for he cut through the water steadily, surely,
with a rapidity that was amazing. Over opposite, the fight was furious,
always nearing the edge of the pond.

Help for Oakes was no nearer than Hallen, who, we could see, was dashing
around the northern end of the pond in a desperate race to save him. On
the other end, moving like the wind, but farther away from the fighting
men, I distinguished young Martin leading several others in the race for
life. And down beneath us, quarter way across the pond was the solitary
swimmer, lifting his shoulders well out of the water each time his
stroke reached its limit--each moment advancing steadily, surely. I saw
at a glance that Oakes was doomed--Elliott could not reach him, neither
could Hallen. Larkin by my side supported me, for my head was reeling
with weakness. Suddenly he shouted across the pond--"Fight him!--fight
him! Oakes, strangle him."

I could see now that, somehow, Oakes's arm was around the maniac's neck,
and that they were on their feet again. Neither had a weapon--they had
long since been lost in the hand-to-hand fight.

"Oakes can't do it. Why, in the devil's name, did he try to capture him
alive? Why did he not shoot to kill instead of to wound simply?" cried
my companion.

Now Maloney was surging, dragging Oakes close to the water's
edge--closer, ever closer.

Suddenly Oakes weakened and half stepped, half retreated, to the water's
edge; then as suddenly the two figures swayed up the hill a few feet
again, and with a quick, cat-like movement Oakes was free. It was his
one supreme effort, a masterly, wonderfully executed, vigorous shove and
side-step. It was evident Maloney was dazed. Oakes's strangle-hold had
told at last.

We heard a mighty shout from Hallen, and another from the swimmer now
rapidly approaching the bank.

Maloney faced Oakes a moment; his chest heaved once or twice as his
breath returned; he crouched, then sidled into position for a spring and
launched himself toward Oakes, who, pale as death, stood swaying, his
arms by his side, apparently all but done for.

Then we all witnessed that which thrilled us to the heart--the sudden,
wonderful mastery of science, aided by strength, over sheer brute force.
Maloney came toward Oakes in a fearful rush that was to take both
together out into the pond to death.

Instantly Oakes's swaying body tightened and steadied. I knew then, as
did Larkin, that Oakes had been deceiving Maloney--that the detective
was still master of himself. As the heavy body closed upon him, Oakes
stepped suddenly forward. His left arm shot upward with a vicious,
swinging motion, and as his fist reached the jaw, his body lurched
forward and sideways, in a terrible muscular effort, carrying fearful
impetus to the blow.

Then instantly, as Maloney staggered, Oakes swung himself half around,
and the right arm shot upward and across to the mark, with fearful speed
and certainty.

The on-rushing maniac was half stopped and twisted in his course. His
head swung sideways and outward with the last impact upon the jaw; his
legs failed to lift, and with a wabbling, shuddering tremor the body
sank to the water's edge. The next instant Hallen came tumbling on to
the murderer. I heard the click of handcuffs; I saw the white shirt and
black trousers of Elliott squirm up the bank, and next moment the
vigorous swimmer, the aristocratic, great-hearted club-man, caught Oakes
in his arms as the detective lurched forward and fell, momentarily
overcome by his last supreme effort.

A great, rousing cheer reverberated from bank to bank. We took it up,
and sent it back in lessened volume, but undiminished spirit.

They now came back from the other side of the pond by the way of the
north end, the men assisting Oakes carefully up the incline to us, and
bringing also Maloney.

His eyes were bloodshot--his features squirming in horrible movements;
and through it all he talked and talked; his brain was working with
great rapidity; he was shouting, declaiming, laughing, and all the while
his sentences were without significance, without lucidity.

Oakes pointed to the maniac. "I regret extremely," he said, "that I was
forced to wound him slightly. I could not let him escape with that
weapon in his hand."

An approving murmur rose from the men, but Oakes checked them, frowning
his displeasure. Then he turned to Martin:

"Look at his left arm, boys."

Hallen and Martin ripped off the sleeve, and Dowd, after peering at the
arm, excitedly exclaimed: "The blue cross! Quintus Oakes, you are
right."

Yes, surely, there on the left arm, just below the shoulder, was a cross
done by some skilled tattooer's hand in days long past--a cross of
indigo.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then in the road a team appeared from the Mansion, and Dowd jumped in
and waved his hand as he started.

"Where are you going?" cried Hallen.

"To Mona to get out an extra--to tell how Clark, Mr. Clark of the
Mansion, has captured the murderer, aided by Hallen of Mona."

As the team started, Dowd yelled back again: "And I am going to tell
Mona that Clark is QUINTUS OAKES."

Hallen waved his arms, while we all again cheered the name of our
friend, as we bore him in triumph back to the Mansion.



  _CHAPTER XXV_

  _The Man of the Hour_


Soon we heard the tones of a bell from far away--one, two, three--then a
pause, then a few quick strokes, followed by a low, single deep note.
Hallen answered our looks of astonishment.

"That's the old bell of headquarters. The Mayor promised to ring it, day
or night, when the mystery was solved, and Dowd has carried the news."

Then again came the deep tones in quicker rhythm, and we knew it was all
the old bell could do in the way of joy.

We scarce had time to congratulate Oakes on the splendid termination of
his work before Hallen was away with his men, taking Maloney to town by
a roundabout way.

Then came the crowd to besiege the Mansion and to call for Oakes, and
for Hallen; in fact, for us all. The growling and discontent had
vanished; the past uneasiness was gone. Oakes and Hallen were now the
heroes of Mona. Oakes spoke a few words of thanks to the crowd and tried
to dispose of it by saying that Hallen had returned to town with the
prisoner; but it lingered long before the Mansion, discussing the
successful termination of Mona's woes.

Now that a master had unravelled the mystery, details were not difficult
to supply. Many recalled, suddenly, that they had always thought Maloney
"queer," though they had never considered as significant the points that
might have been vital. Such is always the case with untrained observers.

We made our farewells that night, for we were to return to New York next
day; but Quintus kept the hour of our going private, for, as he said to
us, he had had too much of the kindness of Mona already, and there were
whispers of an ovation or something of that sort reserved for our
departure.

"You know, Stone," Oakes said to me, "we really don't deserve all this
good feeling; these people will never stop. I am going to slip out
quietly tomorrow, and you and Dr. Moore can come later."

"Nonsense," said I, "stay and let them show their appreciation of what
you have done. Why, old man, you have changed the course of events in
Mona--you cannot help being in their minds."

"You don't understand," said he. "I dislike heroics. Mona overestimates
matters. I am going away unexpectedly."

Here he set his jaws hard and looked determined, self-reliant,
half-disgusted. I knew that he was in earnest and that his nature was
calling once more for action and not for praise.

At eleven o'clock next morning Oakes walked over to the police
headquarters, while Dr. Moore and I remained in the hotel, casually
watching him. He was going to make a short call on Chief Hallen, as he
had frequently done before, and it was to be his farewell. He had
planned to have a horse at the proper moment, and to mount quickly and
leave for the station alone, thus avoiding notice and any demonstration.

Since we remained at the hotel, he hoped that the people would be misled
into thinking that he would return to us, and that we would all go
together.

But for once Quintus Oakes was wrong. Mona was on the lookout for him,
and he had no sooner gone into headquarters than some one started the
rumor that the man was going away quietly. In a minute the place was the
centre of a seething, happy, expectant crowd. When Oakes finally
appeared at the steps, instead of seeing his horse rounding the corner
as he had planned, he beheld the crowd in waiting.

He made a step back to enter the headquarters door, but Chief Hallen
laughingly held him, and Quintus Oakes was cornered.

Moore and I were now with the crowd, and joined in the laugh at his
expense. A deep flush appeared on his face, but we all noticed a merry
twinkle in his deep blue eyes, nevertheless.

Somebody cried for a speech. Oakes hesitated and again tried to retreat,
but at that moment all eyes were turned suddenly to a wagon coming down
the side street and accompanied by a small crowd.

It turned into the Square and a hush fell over all, for there in the
vehicle was Maloney--the murderer, and an old gray-haired man--Skinner.
The murderer of Mr. Mark was handcuffed, and sat heavily guarded; but
the old man was not a prisoner--his head was bowed in silent grief, as
he sat by Maloney's side. It was evident to all that the prisoner was
being removed from headquarters to the court-house for trial, and that
the father was bearing his burden before the world.

Quintus Oakes gave a glance of pity at the prisoner, and an extremely
sorrowful expression crossed his strong, handsome face as he recognized
the old man by Maloney's side.

The populace, recovering from its surprise at sight of the wagon,
changed its mood, and surrounded it with angry demonstrations, hissing
and threatening. The face of the prisoner was calm, proud, defiant--the
face of a man in triumphal entry. He was unconscious of his awful
position, his awful crimes. He saw only the notoriety.

Dr. Moore turned to me. "See Maloney--see his face; he thinks himself a
hero--he is too insane to appreciate the truth." But Skinner looked out
upon the crowd and paled; then glancing up, he caught the eyes of
Quintus Oakes, and with a harrowing, beseeching expression, bent his
gray head into his hands.

The populace in fury tried to stop the wagon; but now, at this instant,
Oakes rose to the occasion, and the _man_ showed the mettle and the
humanity that was in him.

Rising to his full height, he spoke:

"Stop! This is no time to hiss. Remember, the murderer is irresponsible;
the other is his father--an _old, old man_!"

As Quintus's voice rang out in its clear, strong notes, with a
marvelously tender accent, and as the full meaning of his words became
apparent, a sudden silence seized the crowd--a silence intense, uneasy,
sympathetic. Quintus Oakes was single-handed, alone, but the master
mind, the controlling man among us all.

The silence deepened as men glanced about with ill-concealed
emotion--deep, suppressed.

The wagon moved on, and the stillness was broken only by the crunching
of the wheels and the occasional sighing, heavy breathing of the
populace. Over all was the suspense, the quick, awe-inspiring change
from vicious hatred to pity and grief, blended instantly in the hearts
of all by that strong, vigorous, quick-minded man of action and of
justice--OAKES.

Taking advantage of the lull, Quintus stepped into the crowd, and before
any could foresee his purpose, he threw his coat over the pommel of a
saddled horse just being led around the corner--his horse--and springing
lightly, gracefully to the saddle took the reins.

The crowd, divining his intent, closed about him, but with horsemanship
beautiful to behold he forced the animal to canter to one side, and then
to rear, making an opening in the crowd. The next moment he darted
forward--away--as the people, realizing the tenderness of his speech and
that he was leaving them, perhaps for always, bellowed a reverberating,
tumultuous _farewell_.

Chief Hallen shouted a hurried command, and the next moment we were all
electrified to hear the deep tones of the bell of headquarters ringing
out its ponderous "God-speed."

Oakes turned in his saddle at the first stroke and, with blazing eyes
and suppressed pride, waved a last vigorous acknowledgment.


FINIS.


Transcriber's note: A few printer's errors in the punctuation have been
corrected as has the spelling of 'possibilties' which is now
'possibilities'. The oe ligature has been expanded.





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