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Title: The Disappearance of Kimball Webb
Author: Wright, Rowland
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                           THE DISAPPEARANCE
                            OF KIMBALL WEBB


                                   BY
                             ROWLAND WRIGHT

                     [Illustration: Publisher logo]


                                NEW YORK
                         DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY
                                  1920

                            Copyright, 1919
                    By DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY, Inc.

                          VAIL-BALLOU COMPANY
                        BINGHAMTON AND NEW YORK



                                CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE
  I A Mysterious Disappearance                                         1
  II Henrietta Telephones                                             15
  III Elsie Suspects                                                  31
  IV Aunt Elizabeth’s Will                                            47
  V Elsie Makes Inquiries                                             64
  VI A Haunted Room                                                   81
  VII Joe Allison                                                     98
  VIII Courtney’s Talk                                               115
  IX Gerty’s Plea                                                    132
  X Coley Coe                                                        148
  XI Sleeping Dogs                                                   165
  XII Coe’s Conclusions                                              182
  XIII The Expected Letter                                           199
  XIV An Easy Mark                                                   216
  XV In Uniform                                                      233
  XVI A Safe Man                                                     250
  XVII Gilded Acorns                                                 267
  XVIII Elsie’s Birthday                                             284



                          THE DISAPPEARANCE OF
                              KIMBALL WEBB



                               CHAPTER I
                       A MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE


Kimball Webb didn’t look at all like a man who would disappear
mysteriously. Though I’m not sure mysteriously disappearing men, as a
class, have physical characteristics in common. But one rather imagines
them eerie looking, with deep, cavernous eyes and hollow cheeks.

Kimball Webb had nothing of the sort. He was a bit distinguished
looking, but that was because he was a New Englander by birth, and a
playwright by profession and had won the D. S. C. in the late war. Now,
though a lame knee interfered slightly with his outdoor pursuits, his
mind was alert and eager to return to work and his brain was fairly
bursting with new ideas for his plays. First, however, he must needs
attend to a certain business of getting married. A delightful business
it seemed to Webb, for Elsie Powell was as lovely and desirable in the
flesh as she had looked to him when seen in his troubled dreams in far
off France.

There is a lot to be said about Elsie, but that properly comes in the
next chapter.

Mrs. Webb and Miss Henrietta Webb sat at their pleasant breakfast table,
and while they wait for the son and brother, I’ll describe them.

Every detail of their appearance and manner shrieked Boston,—so you
don’t need much more surface description. A mental interior view would
show hearts devotedly, even absurdly, fond of Kimball Webb, and minds
which reasoned against showing fully that devotion.

The New England repression of feeling is not effaced by life in New
York; indeed, the circumstance often accentuates the trait.

And the Webbs lived in New York. This condition crucified the souls of
both women but they came cheerfully, because it was Kimball’s wish. He
felt his dramatic talent was of a wing-spread too wide for the narrow
opportunities of his native town, and there were other lures in the
metropolis, especially Elsie.

So, with a smile on their lips but tears in their eyes, his mother and
sister left the shadow of their State House dome, and set up their
household gods in an old but comfortable house in the East Sixties, not
far from Park Avenue. It was on Park Avenue that Elsie lived.

Webb’s love of all beautiful things,—especially Elsie,—had led him to
have the back yard of their home fixed up like an old patio or close or
some such doings, and had scattered over its paved area, benches,
statues, lions and other more or less damaged stoneware, picked up from
certain worthwhile dealers in antiques.

So it was on this picturesque outlook the dining room windows opened,
and the house being on the south side of the street, the morning sun
added cheer to the already pleasant breakfast scene.

“Kimball is late this morning,” said Miss Webb, naturally, though
unnecessarily.

“Small wonder,” returned her mother. “I happen to know that he was up
till all hours at his dinner party.”

“What a foolish idea, having a bachelor dinner the night before one is
married. I should think he’d prefer a good night’s rest to fit him for
the responsibilities of the ceremony.”

“Few responsibilities devolve on Kimball’s shoulders. The best man looks
after everything, I’m told.”

“And Fenn Whiting can do that. He is the most capable man I ever saw,
when it comes to social matters of any sort. But I’m a little surprised
at his consenting to be best man. You know he worships Elsie.”

“I know. He tried to cut Kim out.”

“And I wish he had! I shall never be reconciled to Kim’s marrying that
girl—”

“Rather late now to raise objections, Henrietta.”

“As if I hadn’t been raising them right along from the day I first heard
the outrageous news!”

“Yes, and what good did it do?”

“None. But I’ve put myself on record as against the marriage.”

“You certainly have! And now, do hold your tongue about it; I think I
shall send Hollis up to Kimball’s room—”

“Oh, let the poor boy alone. The wedding isn’t until four o’clock, and
he may as well sleep late if he wants to. What time did he get in?”

“It was after two. He looked in to say good-night to me. He had the
pendant with him.”

“He did? I thought he was to give it to Elsie yesterday.”

“He was. But she was afraid to keep it in her possession over
night,—they have no safe.”

“Neither have we.”

“Well, anyway, she asked Kimball to keep it for her till today. He
wanted me to put it in my jewel box, but I said no. I didn’t want the
responsibility of such a valuable thing.”

“It is perfectly stunning. It’s wicked, I think, for Kim to put so much
money in diamonds.”

“It never was done in our family,” Mrs. Webb sighed. “But the Powells,
of course, have different standards.”

“Shall we go on and eat our breakfast?”

“I hate to, on Kim’s last day under this roof. I shall send up and at
least find out if he is still asleep.”

Hollis, the butler and general factotum of the establishment, was
dispatched on the errand.

When Hollis returned, though his face showed amazement and doubt, there
was no sign of fear, but rather a suppressed smile and an indulgent
twinkle of his eye.

“Mr. Kimball is very sound asleep, ma’am,” he reported to his mistress.
“Will you not leave him lay for awhile?”

“You are implying,” said Mrs. Webb, astutely, “that Mr. Kimball was at a
gay party last night. He spoke with me on his return, and I can assure
you, Hollis, that he had not been over-celebrating in any way.”

The butler looked chagrined, then relieved, then puzzled.

“In that case, ma’am, why does he sleep so very soundly? I rapped as
loud as I could, and also shook at the door-knob. And then, I listened
at the keyhole, but I could hear no deep breathing, as of a sound
sleeper.”

“I will go up myself,” said Kimball Webb’s mother, and the man held the
door open for her to pass through.

“It is very strange,” said Henrietta, with a covert glance at the
butler.

“Yes, Miss Webb,” and the man looked at her until she fidgeted.

“Leave the room,” she ordered, sharply, and he obeyed.

“There’s something wrong, Henrietta,” her mother declared, as she came
hastily back. “I’ve called and called, and pleaded with him to let me
in, but he won’t.”

“Did he reply at all?”

“No; not a sound. I should think he was up and out early, about some
business, but that his door is locked.”

“He always locks it at night.”

“Of course. And last night, as he had the diamonds in his keeping, I
daresay he fastened the door with extra care.”

“Oh, mother, perhaps somebody has murdered him and stolen the diamonds!”

Henrietta was always outspoken, and the result of this speech was a
hysterical scream from the elder lady, that brought Hollis to the scene
again, followed by the cook and a housemaid.

Leaving her mother to the attentions of the women servants, Henrietta
spoke to the butler.

“Mr. Kimball’s room must be opened,” she said; “can you do it, Hollis?”

“Not alone, Miss Henrietta. Shall I get the chauffeur?”

“Yes, and quickly. Meantime I’m going upstairs myself. Come up as soon
as you can get Oscar.”

Slowly Henrietta Webb mounted the two flights of stairs to her brother’s
room. A strange, thoughtful look was on her handsome face.

Not a young woman was Miss Webb, indeed she was three years older than
Kimball, who was thirty. But she was what is known as well-preserved,
and every detail of her perfect grooming spoke of a determination to
look her best at any expense of time, trouble or money.

A tradition in the Webb family was that “haste” is a word unknown to a
lady. It may have been the observance of this that caused the lagging
footsteps, but to an onlooker it would have appeared that Henrietta Webb
was thinking with a rapidity in inverse proportion to her movements.

At Kimball’s door, the door from the hall into the front room on the
third floor, she paused, and stood looking at it with a sort of
fascination. What lay behind it? Tragedy?—or merely the comedy of over
sleeping?

“If it should be!” she murmured, in an irrepressible whisper, and her
hands clinched into one another, as if in expression of some strong
emotion.

“Can’t you rouse him, Miss Webb?” asked Hollis, solicitously, as he and
the chauffeur came upstairs two or three steps at a bound.

“I—I haven’t tried,” said Henrietta, dully. “I—I’m afraid—”

“Now, now, Miss Webb,” Oscar, the chauffeur, put in cheerily, “I’ll bet
he’s all right. Anyway, we’ll soon see.”

The mechanician quickly picked the lock, but a firm bolt still held the
door closed.

“Have to smash in,” he exclaimed; “no other way.”

The door was heavy and solid, as doors of old New York houses are, but
after a few futile attempts, the two men burst the bolt from its
fastenings and threw the door open.

Kimball Webb was not in the room.

The three, crowding through the doorway, took in this fact without, at
first, grasping its full significance.

Then, “The bathroom,” said Henrietta, and Oscar, who was more alert than
the butler, flung open the bathroom door.

When the Webbs took the old house, they remodelled it slightly to suit
their needs. On this third floor, there had been a joint lavatory and
dressing room between two large bedrooms. This had been changed to make
it a private bath connected only with Kimball’s room, and having no
outlet elsewhere. The room behind it was used as a family sitting-room
or library, and there were no other rooms on the floor. What might have
been hall bedrooms were alcoves in the two rooms.

Therefore, when Oscar entered the bathroom, and found no one in it, the
situation resolved itself into the simple fact that Kimball Webb had
disappeared from a room that had but one exit door, and that had been
found locked and bolted.

Oscar turned white and shook, Hollis turned red and shivered, but Miss
Webb preserved her colour and her poise. It was not remarkable that her
colour remained stationary, she had applied it with that intention, but
her unshattered nerves bespoke a marvellous self-control.

“Where is he?” she said, and her voice betrayed her agitation, though
she strove to control it.

“Where can he be, miss?” exclaimed Oscar. “I never saw the like! He must
have jumped out of a window.”

“He couldn’t,” said Henrietta, briefly; “they’re all fastened.”

The two men, unfamiliar with these details, examined the windows.

There were three of them, facing front, on the street. Each was opened
at the top for the space of about six inches, and was securely held thus
by a patent device that proved to be very firm and strong. The small
window of the bathroom opened on a narrow airshaft, but this window was
closed and fastened.

Clearly, there was no outlet but the main door into the hall.

Closets and wardrobes were thrown open and examined, Oscar even looked
under the bed and behind the heavy window curtains, but there was no
sign of Kimball Webb.

“I never saw anything so queer!” exclaimed Henrietta, who had not yet
thought of tragedy in connection with her brother’s absence. “I should
think he has risen early and gone on some errand,—only how could he have
gotten out?”

Hollis merely stared in response to her inquiry.

“He couldn’t, ma’am,” declared Oscar. “Nobody could go out of this room,
and leave that door bolted behind him. And it was locked on the inside,
too, you know. I turned the key from the other side, with strong
pincers.”

Henrietta stared at him blankly.

“Where, then,” she said, “is my brother?”

“I don’t know, I’m sure, miss,” Oscar began, and then Mrs. Webb reached
the top of the stairs, and joined the astounded group.

After her, trailed the cook and the housemaid, joined as they passed the
second floor, by the chambermaid, so that there was a goodly company of
startled and excited people to discuss the amazing circumstance.

The servants, however, said little, save a few scared whispers among
themselves, for though the lady of the house was often lenient, yet they
well knew that no emergency or unusual occurrence was sufficient excuse
in Miss Henrietta’s eyes, for any breach of strict adherence to orders.

“Where’s Kimball, Henrietta?” demanded Mrs. Webb, as if her daughter
were entirely responsible for her brother’s keeping.

“I don’t know, mother; it’s the queerest thing! He’s gone off somewhere,
and yet, he left the door locked behind him.”

“I can understand that,” and Mrs. Webb looked superiorly informed. “He
had—that is, there was, something of value—”

“Oh, yes, I know he had Elsie’s wedding gift here,—but the question is,
how did he get out? The door was locked when we came up here.”

“He locked it himself, Etta. What ails you?”

“Listen here, Mrs. Webb,” broke in Oscar, a little forgetful of his
etiquette in his excitement. “We found the door locked on the
inside,—bolted, too,—we broke in,—so you see it’s most mysterious,
ma’am.”

“Broke in! How dared you?”

“Hush, mother, I told them to,” interrupted Henrietta; “there’s
something strange,—inexplicable,—impossible, even! What shall we do?”

“What is there to do, but wait for Kim to come back and explain
matters?”

“How can he come back? How did he get out? How—”

“Don’t be foolish, Henrietta. However he got out, he can certainly come
back. I’ve not the slightest doubt he’s over at Elsie’s.”

“At nine o’clock in the morning!”

“It’s half after now,—nearly ten. He must be over there, for where else
would he go,—on his wedding day? Why don’t you telephone Elsie, and
inquire?”

“Oh, mother, you are talking rubbish! Try to see things more clearly.
Kimball’s gone, and—he’s mysteriously gone!”

“Pooh, people don’t go mysteriously nowadays. Kim’s all right; he’ll
turn up soon, and have a good laugh at you.”

“Very well then, how did he leave this room, and lock the door behind
him, on the inside, leaving the key on in the lock?”

“On the inside?”

“Yes, on the inside, and bolted as well.”

“I don’t know, my dear, how he did it,—but Kimball can do anything!”

And with this comprehensive statement of her trust in her son’s
omnipotence, the elder lady went downstairs again.

“My mother doesn’t take it all in,” said Miss Webb to Oscar, who was
rapidly assuming the position of right hand man. “We must do something,
I think; can you suggest anything?”

She looked at the young chauffeur with an air of command, whereupon he
felt the immediate necessity of suggesting something,—however absurd.

“Shall I call the police, ma’am?” he said.

“No!” she cried. “What an idea! Of course not. My brother has not
absconded!”

“But we ought, by rights, to do something,” Oscar went on.

“There’s nothing to do,” Henrietta returned, evidently dissuaded from
all action by the mention of the police.

“If I might look around the room a bit, miss?” Oscar ventured.

Henrietta nodded, and the alert youth started on a tour of
investigation.

“Don’t touch nothin’,” Hollis growled. He stood, with stern eyes glaring
at the eager searcher.

“Why not?”

“It’s against the law—”

“Oh, Hollis,” and Miss Webb frowned at him. “This is not a criminal
case!”

“How do you know it ain’t, Miss Webb?”

Ignoring him, Henrietta watched the other.

Without touching anything, Oscar made a very intelligent and quick
search of conditions.

“Where’s his clothes?” he demanded. “You see, he’d been to bed,—yet his
night things are gone, and I don’t see the day clothes he took off. What
was he wearing last night, ma’am?”

“Evening dress. He gave his bachelor dinner, you know. Didn’t you drive
him to the club?”

“Yes, ma’am, but I didn’t bring him home. He said for me not to go for
him, he’d come home with some of his friends.”

“Well, he had on his customary evening clothes. Are they not in his
clothes closet?”

But they were not. Henrietta looked dumfounded. It had become evident to
her, at last, that there was a mystery connected with her brother’s
absence. And today was his wedding day! Ah, he _must_ be over at
Elsie’s. No matter how contradictory the facts, no matter if he was
wearing evening clothes in the morning, there must be a rational
explanation,—if only for the reason that there was certainly no
irrational one!

“Do let’s do something, miss!” urged Oscar.

Henrietta turned now to the butler as the man of better judgment.

“What do you think, Hollis?”

“I don’t know what to think, Miss Henrietta. There’s nothing possible to
think. But I agree, _something_ ought to be done. Suppose you telephone
to Mr. Whiting.”

“The very thing! Mr. Whiting is most capable and efficient. And too,
he’s to be my brother’s best man. I’ll call him up at once.”

And Henrietta ran downstairs to telephone.



                               CHAPTER II
                          HENRIETTA TELEPHONES


She made an impressive picture, as she swept the telephone from its
little table, even while she sank into the attendant chair. For
Henrietta Webb was a striking-looking woman,—only her Bostonian
restraint kept her from being a stunning one. Tall, but very graceful,
muscular, yet strictly feminine, her demeanor was marked by a calm
composure, that was absolutely unshakable.

“Mistress of herself, though china fall,” would be a true but an
inadequate comment on Miss Webb’s self-control. She ruled herself, as
she did all with whom she came in contact; she dominated every phase and
circumstance of her life and that of the household. This domination of
others was not obtrusive, was not always even evident, but it showed
itself upon occasion.

One person, however, her brother Kimball, Miss Webb could not always
rule. Though in many ways, and up to a certain point, he was a veritable
mush of concession, yet there came a moment, not infrequently, when he
calmly but very decidedly put her in her place. To do Henrietta justice,
she took these moments rationally, bowed to his will, and set herself
about achieving her desired end by other means.

And rarely, perhaps never, did she fail of achieving her desired ends.

Personally, Miss Webb was the type of woman that is adjudged beautiful
by some people while others say, “I can’t see how you can possibly call
her good-looking!”

She had great grey eyes, with dark—well, say, darkened lashes. She would
have had grey hair, but she preferred dark brown,—and had it. A faint
pink flush showed, usually, on her smooth cheeks, and her firm,
beautifully shaped lips were a lovely red.

Now, don’t run away with the impression that Henrietta was awfully
made-up and artificial looking. She was nothing of the sort. All her
aids to Nature were so skilfully achieved and so natural of effect that
he who ran might read them as nature’s own. It would be only one who
would peep and botanize who would discover the truth, and even he might
not.

Miss Webb’s exquisitely proportioned figure, too, owed something but not
all to the art of her _corsetière_ and modiste. But her own good
judgment and perfect taste kept them from overdoing anything, and the
result came pretty near to being a perfect woman, nobly planned. And
with the plans nobly carried out.

Her face, _per se_, was fine, aristocratic, and Bostonian of cast; so
now you can get a pretty fair idea of Miss Henrietta Webb’s appearance.
She had long arms, long fingers, long legs, and—if it interests you at
all—long toes. She was that sort, you know, and those long limbs and
digital extremities fairly shout a psychic nature. Which she had.

Her voice was charming. It had that indescribable, inimitable
_timbre_,—that only New England birth bestows; and those wonderful
inflections never inborn save in Massachusetts.

This voice and these inflections now sounded over the telephone, like
the sound of a grand Hello!

For Miss Webb was too truly correct, too innately proper to descend to
the silly subterfuges of “Yes?” or “What is it?” affected by the
would-be refined.

But her “Hello,” with her inflection, was like the benediction that
follows after prayer,—or like the harmonious echo of this discordant
life.

“Hello!” returned Fenn Whiting, in his cheery way. “How are you? How’s
old Kimmy?”

“Can you come up here right away?” asked Miss Webb, and catching the
serious note in her voice, Whiting replied, “Why, yes; in a few minutes.
What’s up?”

“I don’t want to talk over the telephone,” she informed him, “but do get
here as soon as you possibly can.”

She hung up the receiver, which was her efficacious way of decreeing the
conversation at an end.

“Mother,” she said, rising, “we may as well eat our breakfast. Thank
Heaven we’re not the sort of people who fly into hysterics. I admit if I
were that sort I should certainly do so, though, for this mystery is
baffling me. I feel my brain reel when I try to think it out! Whatever
the explanation of Kimball’s absence, no power on earth can explain how
he got out of his room.”

“There are other powers than those of earth, Henrietta,” Mrs. Webb
began, solemnly.

“There now,” spoke up her daughter, with some asperity, “don’t begin
that jargon! You’ll be saying next that spirits carried Kim off!”

“Can you suggest anything more believable?”

“I can’t think of anything more unbelievable! I’d rather think he went
up the chimney or oozed through the keyhole than any supernatural
foolishness!”

“Simply a choice of foolishnesses, then,” observed Mrs. Webb, calmly,
and she took her seat at the table and asked for hot muffins and fresh
coffee.

“Where is the diamond pendant?” said Henrietta, suddenly.

“Gracious! I don’t know. It must be in Kim’s room, somewhere. You’d
better hunt it out before anybody more goes searching around. Didn’t you
say Oscar showed some curiosity?”

“Not exactly that; he searched with a sort of detective instinct, a
systematic investigation to Kim’s clothes and that sort of thing.”

“All the same, Henrietta, I think the jewels should be secured. When Kim
returns he won’t like it much if they have been stolen.”

“Very well, I’ll hunt for the pendant as soon as I finish breakfast.”

But as they rose from the table Fenn Whiting arrived and the story was
told to him.

His face showed wonderment, even incredulity, and he had no sort of
explanation to suggest.

“The only thing I can think of,” he said, “is that somebody has played a
practical joke on Kimmy. You know we were pretty gay at dinner, last
night, and there was a lot of guying of the prospective bridegroom. It
was fun, because Kim is such an old sober-sides and so matter-of-fact,
that—”

“He’s nothing of the sort,” contradicted Henrietta; “Kimball has the
finest sense of humour—”

“Oh, that, yes! Doesn’t he write high-class comedies? But I mean he has
no liking for personal badinage, no relish for practical jokes—”

“The kind of fun known as horse-play, I suppose you mean,” Henrietta
observed, scathingly.

“Well, yes, Miss Webb, I suppose that’s just about what I do mean.
Anyway, there was a lot of fooling last night that didn’t appeal
strongly to our host, and though he behaved beautifully under fire, he
couldn’t help showing his distaste for some of the speeches.”

“Well,” said Henrietta, impatiently, “what sort of a joke, and
perpetrated by whom, would explain my brother’s present absence, and
disclose his hiding-place?”

“Oh, Lord! I don’t know! I don’t know that any such thing happened,—I
only caught at that as a possible way to turn.”

“Let’s turn that way, then,” and Henrietta looked at Whiting with an air
of awaiting further instructions.

“I’m willing, Miss Webb; I’ll do anything I can to help you,—but what
shall we do? Are you sure Kimball isn’t in the house?”

“I’m not sure of anything! I only know he is not in evidence; that his
bed was slept in, but that he has disappeared,—and, disappeared, leaving
his room locked on the inside.”

“What! impossible! How did he get out?”

“That’s the mystery. Oh, Mr. Whiting, think of the situation! Today is
his wedding day—”

“Well, I ought to know that! I’m best man.”

“Of course you are. But you can’t be best man without a bridegroom!”

“He’ll turn up, of course. But it is queer! Who can be responsible for
the performance?”

“Can you guess? Who, of all the men there last night would be the most
likely ones?”

“Nothing like that happened, Mr. Whiting,” broke in Mrs. Webb, who till
now had silently listened; “Kimball couldn’t have been tricked out of
that room. A human being can’t leave a locked room by human means. He
was supernaturally removed. I am a believer in Spiritism, I know all
about its manifestations and I am sure my son was levitated—”

“Levitated? What does that mean, Mrs. Webb?” the puzzled visitor
inquired.

“It is a well-known term among psychists. People have been levitated,
while in an unconscious state, from one house to another,—simply wafted
through the air—”

“Oh, rubbish! I beg your pardon, Mrs. Webb, but—do you really believe
that?”

“Of course I do—”

“Hush, mother;” Henrietta reproved her; “those fads of yours are
inopportune at this moment. She is a believer in all Spiritism, Mr.
Whiting, but this is not the time for such suggestions. Do you know it
is eleven o’clock? Something must be done! And oughtn’t we to let Elsie
know what has happened? She has a right to be told.”

“Who will tell her?” asked Whiting, looking troubled.

Remembering his own hopeless admiration for the girl, Henrietta readily
understood his disinclination to carry her the disturbing news.

“I’ll go and tell her,” she said, at last. “But you, Mr. Whiting, must
do something toward finding Kimball. The cruel person who would do such
a thing as to hide away a man on his wedding day is no less than a
criminal. Only a wicked mind could conceive of such a deed!”

“Perhaps he went of his own accord?”

“I truly hope so; then he’ll come back soon. But we must take no
chances. Leave no stone unturned to find out what has happened. Tell me
frankly, what men at the dinner would you think capable of such an
exhibition of cruelty and bad taste?”

“I hesitate to say; I can’t think any of them would be. Oh, don’t take
my whilom suggestion as a fact! I can’t believe it myself. But—what
else?”

“There is no other. And even that’s an impossible solution, remembering
the locked door!”

“If you leave out the question of the locked door,” said Mrs. Webb,
“then I should suspect a burglar, who came to steal the diamond
pendant.”

“Is that missing?” asked Whiting, looking shocked.

“We don’t know,” said Henrietta. “Kimball had it last night, he showed
it to mother after he came home—”

“He had it at the dinner,” vouchsafed Whiting; “he showed it to us all.
Oh, he wasn’t parading it,—he chanced to have it in his pocket, and
Wally Courtney, I think it was, asked to see it. Courtney’s a gem
fancier, I believe. Well, we all looked at it with interest. It’s a
great little old jewel, you know!”

“Yes,” agreed Miss Webb, “I never saw finer stones; and the four of
them, so perfectly matched, yet of graduated sizes, make a wonderful
pendant. As they hang, below one another, they look like dripping
water.”

“An exquisite gift,” said Whiting. “Have you searched for it
thoroughly?”

“Haven’t looked at all,” declared Henrietta. “You see, it would take a
careful search. For if Kimball hid it from possible thieves, he hid it
very securely, I’ve no doubt.”

“Under his pillow, maybe?”

“Oh, I don’t think so. But I’ll look everywhere. Just now, I’m more
anxious to find my brother than his diamonds.”

“I don’t blame you. Now, to be practical, suppose I name over all the
guests of last night’s dinner, and let’s see if we can fasten suspicion
on any one of them.”

But listing the guests meant nothing to Henrietta. The ones she knew,
she was certain would do nothing of the sort; and the ones with whom she
was unacquainted, she could not, of course, judge.

Whiting, also, couldn’t bring himself to accuse anybody. The greatest
jokers, even buffoons, present, were, as a rule, the most kind-hearted
chaps, and quite incapable of so distressing a prospective bridegroom.

“It can’t be that!” he said, at last. “I’ve rounded them all up in my
mind. I’d rather adopt Mrs. Webb’s theory than to suspect any of those
jolly, good-natured fellows! Every one is a friend of Kimmy’s, and
though they were hilarious, they were nothing more, and we all parted in
kindliest feeling.”

“You said some of them annoyed Kimball.”

“Oh, hardly annoyed; embarrassed him a little, perhaps. But I’ve been to
dozens of bachelor dinners, and I can assure you old Kim was let off
pretty easily last night. Most of them respected his dislike for
overintimate chaff.”

“I’m glad they did! It’s a horrid thing.” Miss Webb looked disdainful.
“But the time is simply melting away! What shall we do? Oh, Mr. Whiting,
do help us,—or, if you can’t, suggest somebody who can!”

“Honest, Miss Webb, I feel helpless. I am distressed, beyond all
words,—but I don’t seem to be able to think of anything to help. I
brought Kim home; there were four of us in my car, and he was the first
to get out. That was near two, I should say. Then I took Courtney home,
and then Harbison and then went home myself. Honest, I can’t suspect any
of those men. As to the others, I know nothing of what they did. We
separated as we left the Club, and I’ve not seen anybody this morning.
Shall I go up and give Kim’s room the once over? I might find a clue—or
something.”

“I hate that word ‘clue!’ It always seems to connote a crime!”

“Oh, not necessarily. Anyway, I can’t see any crime in this case, but I
confess it’s mysterious beyond anything I ever heard of.”

“Go up, if you like, Mr. Whiting. But I can’t see any use in it. Kim’s
room is exactly as it ought to be, there’s nothing upset or out of
place. Only,—we had to break in to get in at all!”

“He must have left the room by some other door, then.”

“There is no other door.”

“Window?”

“All fastened with special catches. But, do go up, Mr. Whiting, you
might chance on something that I overlooked. Hollis will show you the
way. Now, I’m going to Elsie’s. It isn’t right not to tell her.”

“Shall I go, Henrietta?” Mrs. Webb asked, docilely.

“No, mother. I’d rather go alone. I’ll take the little car. Hollis, tell
Oscar to bring it at once, and then do you take Mr. Whiting up to Mr.
Kimball’s room.”

With her usual quiet efficiency, Henrietta set the wheels moving, and
was ready, dressed for the street, when the car arrived.

She rode the few blocks down Park Avenue that brought her to Elsie
Powell’s home, in a deep study.

She was marshalling and formulating her thoughts. Possessed of great
mental concentration, she had her mind in order, so far as her knowledge
allowed, when she reached her destination.

The Powells’ apartment was one of the fine modern ones that cost more
than a house and are also more livable. The large rooms, light, airy and
attractive, were furnished in the best of taste, though of a very
different type from the Webb home. Everything was light, bright and
pleasing to the eye. But Miss Webb scorned the lack of all that she
deemed desirable; old mahogany, family portraits and heirlooms.

There wasn’t a “Treasure Table” to be seen, and the window curtains were
suspiciously spick and span.

Newness was a crime in the Webb calendar, and Kimball’s choice of a wife
was a very sharp thorn in the patrician sides of his mother and sister.

Yet few could find fault with the girl who came running into the room to
greet Henrietta.

“Oh, my dear,” cried the lovely little voice, “I’ve just had the most
wonderful gift from your cousin,—Kimball’s cousin, Mrs. Saltonstall!
It’s a set of old china,—a whole set! and really old! Do come and look
at it!”

Henrietta couldn’t help gazing kindly at the speaker. The shining eyes,
the soft pink cheeks, the smiling, curved lips,—even if the old china
was wasted on this chit of a girl, she was a very engaging chit.

Dark curls, stuffed into a tiptilted, rosebudded lace cap; dainty
slender white throat rising from a hastily tied together negligée;
fluttering little pinky hands and dancing feet, all were part of the
gladsome whole that was Elsie Powell. Happy enthusiasm, childish glee,
were combined with a touch of wistful shyness that always attacked her
in the presence of her critical sister-in-law to be.

But so gravely did Miss Webb look at her, that Elsie intuitively felt
something unusual.

“What is it?” she cried. “Henrietta, what is it?”

The big, brown eyes were full of a frightened premonition, the red lips
quivered, and the little butterfly hands clasped themselves in trembling
fear.

For Henrietta Webb had a speaking face, and Elsie Powell was by no means
dull or unobservant.

“Where is Kimball?” Miss Webb said, first of all.

“Why, I don’t know, I’m sure,” replied the girl. “I saw him last
night,”—she blushed divinely,—“he was on his way to his dinner,—at the
Club, you know. Of course I haven’t seen him since.”

“Nor heard from him?”

“No; and that’s queer, too; for he told me,—” the blush deepened, “that
he would telephone me this morning the moment he woke up,—to greet me on
my wedding-day. Oh,—nothing has happened—tell me!”

“Oh, probably nothing to worry about, my dear. But,—well, we don’t know
where Kimball is.”

“Didn’t he come home from the dinner?” The brown eyes wondered.

“Yes; and spoke to mother, and then went to bed. At least, we assume so.
But this morning, he is gone, and—we had to break open the door to get
into his room!”

“But,” Elsie smiled, “how could he get out and leave the door locked?”

“That’s just it! That’s the queer part!”

“Queer? It’s impossible!”

“Impossible or not, he did it! Or, that is to say, all we know is that
he’s missing, and he disappeared, leaving the room securely fastened.”

“I don’t understand.” Elsie became suddenly very grave and sat down
beside her guest. “How can what you tell me be true?”

“I can give no explanation,—I simply state the facts.”

Henrietta Webb looked coldly at the girl now; perhaps because Elsie was
looking very sternly at her.

“May I ask,—would you mind—stating them again?”

Patiently, Miss Webb repeated what she had told, and amplified it until
she had described the entire episode of entering her brother’s room by
force. She told, too, of calling Fenn Whiting, and of his suggestion of
a practical joke.

“Not at all,” said Elsie, decidedly. Her cheeks showed a redder flush,
her eyes were very bright, and though she repressed it, she was
trembling with excitement.

“May I call my mother?” she said, at last, in firm, even tones. “Will
you tell this to her?”

She left the room and returned immediately with her mother.

Mrs. Powell was an invalid, and had been for years. But her bright eyes
and strong, fine face told of an indomitable will and a capable
personality.

Again Miss Webb told her story. She liked none of the Powells, and
though she concealed this, yet there was no magnetism in her manner,—no
sympathy in her voice.

She told a straightforward tale, precisely as she had told it to Elsie.
She did not soften the facts, she held out no hope or encouragement; she
talked with a peculiar effect of giving statistics, as a conscientious
reporter might do.

At the close of the recital, Mrs. Powell promptly went to pieces. She
always did this on exciting occasions.

“Try not to, mother,” was Elsie’s softly spoken advice, and then she
turned to Miss Webb.

“You cannot deceive me,” she said, quietly, but with flashing eyes; “I
do not believe a word of your story! You have hidden Kimball somewhere
so that he cannot marry me today! You are desperately opposed to our
marriage, and you have resorted to desperate means to prevent it! Your
invention of the locked room business is too silly for words, and you
must think me an utter idiot if you think I would swallow such nonsense.
You have made no secret of your opposition to me, you have tried every
way possible to break off the match, and, failing, you have taken
matters into your own hands and you have done this despicable thing! You
have hidden or confined your brother,—what have you done with him?”



                              CHAPTER III
                             ELSIE SUSPECTS


“After such an exhibition of foolishness, one could scarcely wonder that
I can’t look upon you as a desirable mate for my talented brother,—but I
am willing to make allowances for your display of temper, as I can
readily understand how embarrassed you must be at the awkwardness of
having no wedding—”

Henrietta Webb paused as she saw the look that came over Elsie’s face.

“Don’t you propose to let him out in time to get married?” the girl
cried. “Oh, Henrietta, how _can_ you be so cruel? I _know_ you’ve done
this thing,—Kimball couldn’t disappear! Nor would he go away of his own
accord. But you’ve had something up your sleeve for a long time,—I saw
that you had,—only I never dreamed it was anything so heartless, so
awful as to stop the wedding at the last minute! Why, it’s after
twelve,—and the people will begin to go to the church soon after three.
Please, Henrietta, own up now! Give him up! You know you can’t prevent
the wedding,—you can only postpone it; and think of the trouble you’ll
make!”

“Be quiet, Elsie,” said Miss Webb, a little alarmed at the girl’s
excitement. “Tell her she’s all wrong, Mrs. Powell, won’t you?”

“I’m not sure she is,” said the dazed mother. “I can’t take it all
in,—but it seems to me Elsie has hit on the only possible explanation of
Kimball’s disappearance.”

“What _are_ you people talking about?” inquired a newcomer, and Elsie’s
sister came into the room.

Gerty Seaman, widowed by the war and left with two tiny children, was
one of those helpless, appealing women, who, having no self-reliance,
lean upon any one who chances to be near.

“What is the matter? Where is your brother, Miss Webb? Tell me
everything,—I refuse to be kept in the dark!”

But after hearing all there was to be told, Gerty took a light view of
the situation.

“Nonsense, Elsie,” she said, “of course Miss Webb has nothing to do with
it! It’s a joke of some of those horrid men! Some people love to do such
things. They’ve kidnapped him for fun, and they’ll let him loose in time
for the ceremony, but not much before.”

“I can’t think that,” said Henrietta, musing; “I don’t know all of
Kimball’s friends, but those I do know are far above any such uncouth
jests as that.”

“What _do_ you think, then?” asked Elsie, sharply.

“I’d rather not say what I think.”

“Oh. Well, what does your mother think?”

“You know my mother’s hobby,—spiritualism. She thinks Kimball has been
spirited away by supernatural powers.”

“What rubbish!” exclaimed Gerty. “But there’s small use in guessing at
the truth. Something has happened,—I suppose there’s no chance that he
has turned up at home since you left?”

“I told Hollis to telephone me here in that case.”

“Well,” and Gerty spoke briskly, “we must take steps to postpone the
wedding—”

“I won’t!” declared Elsie, “at least, not yet. Wait, Gerty, till the
last possible minute for that!”

“I think it is the last minute now, dear. Or shall we wait till one
o’clock?”

“Two,” said Elsie, thinking hard. “Give me till two to find him. I’m
going over to the Webbs’ now. Will you take me over, Henrietta?”

“Come on,” said Miss Webb, briefly, and Elsie ran to get ready.

“You mustn’t blame the child—” began Mrs. Powell.

“I don’t,” said Henrietta, justly enough. “She is in a fearful
position,—I don’t resent her saying to me what she did,—she’s really
irresponsible.”

“But what _can_ be the explanation?” urged Gerty. “You needn’t imply
that Kimball has hidden himself purposely, for I know that isn’t so. He
is desperately in love with Elsie,—desperately—”

“Of course he is,” said Elsie, coolly, as she returned, ready for the
street. “Come along, Henrietta.”

Not a word was spoken between the two women as they rode to the Webb
house.

Inquiringly, Elsie looked at Mrs. Webb, who was in the drawing room,
distractedly pacing up and down.

Her greeting was not affectionate; indeed, Elsie seemed to detect a
shade of relief in the elder woman’s face, a satisfaction, she quickly
thought, that the wedding could not take place.

“Where is he?” she cried, but Mrs. Webb only shook her head, and Elsie
felt herself dismissed.

“Where is he?” she repeated; “I have a right to ask! I am his promised
wife,—his bride! Where is my bridegroom?”

“Gone!” said Mrs. Webb, in a vague, faraway tone. “Gone for ever,
Elsie.”

“Oh, fiddlesticks! That he isn’t! I’m going up to his room,—I want to
see how he did get out.”

She ran up the stairs, and found Fenn Whiting in the sitting room back
of Kimball’s room.

“Oh, Fenn,” cried Elsie, “I’m so glad you’re here! What does it all
mean?”

“There’s no explanation, Elsie; I’m crazy with trying to think it out.”

“Is it a joke by some of the men?”

“That’s one notion,—but an absurd one, I think. And, anyway, it all
comes back to this. Whatever the reason of his disappearance, whatever
the cause, how was it accomplished? You see yourself,” they had now
reached the door of Kimball’s room, “there’s no way out of this room but
by this hall door, and that was locked on the inside.”

“So they _say_!”

“Oh, it was. The servants say so, and look at this broken lock. Yes,
that’s a true bill. You mustn’t suspect the Webbs, Elsie; it won’t do.”

“I’ll suspect anybody you can suggest, if there’s the slightest reason.”

“That’s just it,—I can’t suggest anybody. But what are you going to do?
_You_ must decide—”

“First, I want to look around the room. Here’s his watch on the
chiffonier—”

“They say he went to bed, and then got up again. All the clothes he had
on last evening are missing and his night things, too.”

Elsie stared.

“Shoes and all?” she said.

“I don’t know as to that. I suppose so. Hollis said, all his clothes.”

“You’ve talked with Hollis?”

“Oh, yes. But, Elsie, no talking with anybody amounts to anything! What
does it matter whether Kim’s shoes are here or missing? The thing is,
how did he get out of this room, shoes or no shoes?”

“But everything connected with the matter is important,” persisted
Elsie. “It may be a clue, you know.”

“Oh, clues! Well, hunt clues all you like, but remember, the hour for
the wedding is not so very far away, and you must say what I am to do.
As best man, it’s up to me to help all I can, but as the bride, it’s for
you to dictate.”

“Fenn, how can I? How could anybody know what to do?”

The girl was pathetic in her distress. Her lovely face white and drawn
with a fear,—all the more awful that she knew not fear of what!

Truly a strange situation! Her wedding hour approaching, and no
possibility of the wedding ceremony being performed, unless by some
means her lover should be restored to her.

Mechanically, almost unconsciously, she leaned down and with her
fingertips brushed at some white marks on the plain moss-green carpet.

“What’s that?” asked Whiting.

“I don’t know. Chalk, it looks like.”

“Oh, Elsie, dear, please don’t worry about ‘clues’ and such things just
now. Listen to me. We must make some plans to follow if Kim doesn’t show
up in time. If he does, there’s no harm done; but for the sake of your
own dignity do think what you’ll do if he isn’t here at four o’clock.
And before that! We ought to call in the invitations,—at once. You can’t
have people coming to the church and going away again!”

“I don’t care _what_ they do!” she cried, passionately. “Oh, Kimball, I
_want_ you!”

She flung herself into a chair and gave way to tears at last.

Mrs. Webb and Henrietta came in, and seeing them, Elsie controlled
herself.

“You have succeeded, Henrietta,” she said with a scathing look; “you
were determined I should not marry Kimball, and you have succeeded
in—postponing it,—that’s all! The wedding will yet take place! You can’t
keep him hidden for ever!”

“Elsie! What nonsense!” exclaimed Whiting. “You know Miss Webb couldn’t
have done this thing!”

“Never mind that,” said Henrietta, hurriedly, “I don’t mind her raving.
But I think she must notify the guests that they must not come. It is
getting late, and, you see, if—if Kimball should return, they can be
married just the same, but—”

“But you know he will _not_ return!” Elsie stormed at her. “You think
you can calm me by saying such things, but you know he _can’t_ return
until you let him!”

Miss Webb smiled, as with kindly indulgence of a disordered mind, and
said, gently,

“For your own sake, Elsie, meet the situation as well as you can.”

“It isn’t Henrietta’s doing,” put in Mrs. Webb, solemnly, “I understand
it all; I know—”

“Never mind, Mrs. Webb,” Elsie stood up suddenly; “I’ll hear your
theories some other time. As Henrietta says, for my own sake, I must do
the best I can. I will, too. I’ve decided. I shall give myself till two
o’clock,—it’s half-past one now, and if Kimball hasn’t appeared by that
time, I shall telephone to my dearest friends; I shall ask you,
Henrietta, to telephone to your people,—those you can reach. Fenn will
look after the ushers and the church matters,—and,—I must go home now,
I’ve a lot to do.”

Her hearers were not surprised at this change of demeanour. Elsie’s
nature was mercurial. Quick of decision and of action, she had sensed
her position and had risen to the emergency. She would have time
afterward for emotion, for investigation, for sorrow even, but now there
was much to be done.

“Will you send me home?” she asked of Henrietta, who nodded. “Come with
me, Fenn,” she went on, “and, if you please, Henrietta, I want this room
fastened against all comers. I must insist upon this; I have some
rights, I am sure. See to it that nobody enters until after I come
again.”

Miss Webb looked a little rebellious at this dictation, but, fearing to
rouse the girl’s anger, she promised.

“That is, unless Kim comes home,” she said, but Elsie only gazed at her
with an accusing eye.

Alone with Elsie in the little electric brougham, Whiting made a
suggestion.

“You know,” he began with diffidence, “my own feelings for you,
Elsie,—oh, don’t be frightened,” he added quickly, as she turned
startled eyes on him. “I’m not going to shock you, only I must—I _must_
say, if you want me to,—if you would let me,—I—”

“You’d take Kim’s place as bridegroom,—is that it?”

“Yes,—oh, yes!”

“Well, thank you lots, and I know you mean it in the kindest way, but it
won’t do.”

“Don’t be offended, anyway, Elsie,—it seemed a—a way out for you.”

“Yes, I know; it would be. But not a way I can take. Forgive me, Fenn,
I’m not ungrateful for the kind part of your offer, but, oh,—we’ve had
all this out before!”

“I know it, dear, and I won’t refer to it again. But just remember, if
you do want to go on with the ceremony, there’s a bridegroom ready for
you.”

Elsie smiled. “I don’t feel wildly hilarious,” she said, and, of a truth
she was on the verge of hysterical tears, “but—your speech was funny,
Fenn!”

“It wasn’t meant to be,” he rejoined, stoutly; “and I stand by it,—no
matter how much you laugh at me.”

“Thank you,” she said, more seriously, and then they got out at her
home.

“Oscar,” she stopped to speak to the chauffeur, “you went into Mr.
Webb’s room first this morning?”

“Yes, ma’am; me and Hollis.”

“Did you notice anything,—anything at all, that seemed queer or
strange?”

“No, ma’am; except for Mr. Kimball’s absence and the fact that his
clothes were gone,—all of which you know about; there was nothing else
strange.”

“I didn’t suppose there was anything, but I wanted to make sure,” and
Elsie sighed.

“Yes’m; indeed, I wish I could help you, miss. There was a bit of a
smell of bananas,—but I don’t suppose that would mean anything?”

“No,” and Elsie smiled in spite of her misery.

Whiting followed her into the house. He assumed a protective air which
she did not resent; it was good to have somebody to rely on.

Elsie lost no time in perfecting her plans.

Rapidly she made lists of the most important guests, those to be
notified first.

“We can’t tell half the people,” she said, in despair. “They’ll have to
go to the church and go away again. Oh, I wish now I hadn’t decided on a
church wedding! It would have been easier at the house. Well, I shall
have the minister come here anyway, and then if Kim comes at the last
minute,—or later, even,—we can be married here. Fenn, we’ll wait till
two o’clock,—or shall we say half-past?”

She looked so wistful that Gerty cried, “Oh, do wait till three!”

“No,” Elsie decided, “half-past two, and not a second later. Then, as
we’ve only one telephone, and I shall use that, you take this list,
Gerty, and go out somewhere, into some other apartment, I mean, and
rattle them off. Mother, you take this, and do the same. Fenn, here’s
yours. You see, I’ve listed the necessary names; if you think of others,
follow up with them. We can’t head off the caterers, but they needn’t
send the waiters—”

“My dear child,” said her mother, “don’t think of those things! I’ll see
to the caterer’s people.”

“All right, mother,—oh, poppet, you do look so sweet!”

This last was spoken to Elsie’s niece and godchild, who ran in just
then, partly dressed in her wedding finery. She was to be flower-girl,
and never tired of practising her rôle.

The sight of the baby figure, dancing about—upset Elsie entirely, and
Gerty rose quickly and carried her daughter away.

“Now,” Elsie, resumed, with a glance at the clock, “the Webbs must tell
their own friends and relatives. You go and telephone Henrietta now,
Fenn, that she must begin at half-past two to notify them that there
will be no wedding.”

The finality of this made Elsie’s voice quiver, but she went on bravely.

“I’m pretty sure Kim will turn up at the last minute,—I think he’ll
break loose, whoever’s holding him—”

“What makes you think he’s held, Elsie?” asked Gerty, curiously.

“What else could keep him?” and Elsie looked her wonderment.

“Lots of things. Suppose he went somewhere,—he must have gone somewhere,
you know,—and met with a fearful accident. He may be in some hospital,—”

“By Jove, that’s so!” interrupted Whiting. “Shall I round ’em up, Elsie?
That would make a heap better case than—mysterious disappearance.”

“I don’t know,” Elsie hesitated. “Yes, Fenn, if there’s time, do that.
But I’ll go right on planning our immediate schedule. I must do it,—it
will save all sorts of awkwardness.”

Whiting attacked the list of hospitals, and the others waited on Elsie’s
will. Both Gerty and Mrs. Powell adored Elsie, and as they were at their
own wits’ end, they were only too willing to be guided by her ideas.

“Perhaps he had a stroke or something, and lost his mind and climbed out
of a window,” suggested Gerty, who was unable to keep from surmising.

“He couldn’t,” said Elsie, shortly. “His game knee wouldn’t let him get
out of a window,—and his are on the third story, and they were all
closed, except for a few inches at the top.”

“Well, maybe he squeezed through, and injured himself so, that they took
him to a hospital.”

“Who took him, Gerty! What are you talking about! I never heard such
nonsense.” Elsie returned to her lists. “I shall dress,” she said,
looking up; “I must be ready if Kimball comes,—”

“Oh, don’t!” cried her mother; “I’m sure it would be unlucky to dress
for your wedding and not be married after all!”

“Unlucky!” said Elsie, with a sad little smile. “I don’t think I could
very well be more unlucky than I am!”

“Don’t put on your wedding gown,” urged Gerty. “Put on a simple little
white frock, and then, if Kim comes, be married in that.”

“Yes; that’s what I’ll do,” agreed the poor little bride, her big, brown
eyes sombre with sadness, and despair. “And I’ll dress now, for at
half-past two, I take the telephone. After all,” she tried to speak
cheerfully, “it’s no crime to postpone a wedding. It is unusual, it’s
unfortunate, but nobody can blame me.”

“Blame you, you poor darling, I should think not!” cried her mother, who
was bearing up bravely for her child’s sake.

“I wish you had kept the diamonds,” Gerty said, ruminatively.

“Oh, what a speech! Gert, you are the most mercenary thing I ever knew!”
Elsie scowled at her sister. “The idea of thinking of such a matter at
this time!”

“Well, you may as well have had them. They’re yours, by right.”

“I don’t want them,—without Kim! I’m glad I didn’t keep them, it would
have been one more thing for Henrietta to sneer at.”

“How she hates you.”

“No; she doesn’t hate me. Only she never thought I was of good enough
family to marry into theirs.”

“I’m sure the Powells are all right,” said Mrs. Powell, plaintively;
“and as for my own family,—”

“It doesn’t matter, mother, what or who we are. We’re not Bostonians,
and that settles us for Henrietta Webb! It’s her fetich, that
Massachusetts blood of hers! Kimball laughs at her fanaticism. You know
his new play is a satire on that subject.”

“Is his play finished?” asked Gerty.

“No; only about three-quarters done. He expects to do up the rest
quickly,—after our honeymoon.”

Elsie couldn’t make herself quite realize that her honeymoon was
probably destined not to occur,—at least, at present.

She went away to dress, and was so expeditious that she returned just as
Whiting came from the library where he had been telephoning the
hospitals. “Nothing doing,” he reported; “oh, Elsie, how sweet you
look!”

In a dainty white house dress, with her lovely hair simply tucked up in
a curly mass, and no ornaments of any sort, Elsie was exquisitely
lovely. Her face was pale, but there was a dear, sweet expression that
went straight to Fenn Whiting’s heart. He had loved her a long time, and
it was in no way his fault that Kimball Webb had won her.

“Almost two-thirty,” he said, tearing his glance away from her dear
face.

“Yes,” said Elsie, and with a tense, drawn expression, she sat watching
the clock.

No one spoke. It was an awful moment, and yet each realized there was no
choice but to do as Elsie had decreed.

“Don’t act as if it was a funeral!” Gerty burst out at last, unable to
hold the tension longer.

“I’m not!” declared Elsie, indignantly; “and it’s nothing of the sort!
I’m just as sure that Kimball will come back to me as—as anything!” she
finished, a little lamely.

“If he only comes in time!” wailed Gerty.

“He can’t,” said Whiting; “it’s half-past two now.”

“I don’t mean in time for _that_!” Gerty said, and Elsie gave her a look
of scorn that made her blush, and fairly shrivel beneath her sister’s
glance of displeasure.

“It is half-past,” Elsie agreed, and rose, giving herself a little
shake, as if disciplining an unwilling child, and went straight to the
telephone.

“Every man to his post!” her clear voice rang out, and, obediently her
mother and sister went out with their lists.

Whiting delayed a moment.

“Are you sure, dear,—” he began, but Elsie, the receiver in her hand,
was already calling her maid of honour’s number.



                               CHAPTER IV
                         AUNT ELIZABETH’S WILL


Mrs. Powell soon returned, utterly unable to do her part in the awful
task of telling people not to come to the wedding. Their exclamations
and questions were too much for her. She went to her room, suffering
from a severe attack of nervous exhaustion.

Gerty Seaman, who like Elsie, had strong powers of endurance and ability
to meet emergency, stuck to her post until all on her list had been
spoken to and had promised to tell others.

It was a big undertaking to get word to the larger part of the expected
assembly, but it was fairly well accomplished. Of course, many people
did go to the church, and were informed that there would be no wedding
there that day. The Webbs, mother and daughter, were equally busy in the
matter, but with them there was a secret undercurrent of satisfaction,
not admitted, even to themselves, but there all the same.

The mystery of Kimball’s disappearance was yet to be looked into, but
whatever might be revealed regarding that, at least he was not to marry
Elsie Powell today.

The Webbs were honest in their disapproval of the match. They had really
nothing against Elsie or her family save that it was not, in their
estimation, in the same class with their own. And, too, they didn’t
approve of great wealth. A moderate income seemed to them more in
keeping with high standards and fine traditions than millions.

“Of course,” opined Henrietta, “she will marry some one else, if Kim—”

“Of course,” returned her mother. “By June, there will be no further
danger, I’m sure.”

The Webbs had decided not to state, over the telephone, what was the
reason for the recalling of the invitations. It seemed to them more
decorous merely to say there would be no ceremony, and let the people
find out why for themselves. Intimate friends were given a hint, but
others received only formal announcements, mostly from the Webb
servants.

“Of course,” Mrs. Webb said, to her daughter, “Kim saw the truth at
last. He realized how undesirable it was that he should marry Elsie, and
he chose this way of getting out of it. Not a very commendable way but
I, for one, don’t blame the poor boy.”

“You wouldn’t blame him if he had chosen to kill Elsie, as a way to
escape marrying her,” Henrietta returned, smiling grimly.

“Nothing could make me blame my son,” and Mrs. Webb complacently folded
her hands.

“But, if we have guessed the truth, Kim ought to let us know soon where
he really is.”

“That’s the queer part,” mused Miss Webb. “Wherever he is, how did he
lock his door after him?”


The afternoon dragged away, and the evening passed, somehow.

There was no further communication between the two houses; it had been
agreed that if either family heard any news of the missing bridegroom
they would at once notify the others.

Fenn Whiting went back and forth from one house to the other several
times. He, as best man, was alertly ready to do anything, in any way
bearing on the matter. He was in possession of the wedding ring, the
tickets for the projected honeymoon trip, luggage checks, and all such
details of a best man’s duties. Whiting’s all-around efficiency and his
general capability made him a valuable assistant to a bridegroom, and
Kimball Webb had entrusted everything to him.

“You’d better take the ring, Elsie, and keep it,” Whiting said to her,
in the evening. “I’ll try to redeem the tickets, and I’ll cancel the
reservations as far as I can. Understand, I’m perfectly sure Kim will
turn up soon, but there’s no use holding staterooms and hotel rooms. You
see, if the boy has met with some accident,—and to my mind that’s more
plausible than a joke,—it may be a day or so before we hear from him,
that is, assuming—oh, hang it all! It’s so mysterious there’s no
assuming anything! What do you want me to tell the reporters?”

“Tell them the truth!” Elsie replied; “there’s no sense in holding
anything back. And full details may help to find him. I have no fear
that Kim has deserted me,—that’s too ridiculous,—though Henrietta Webb
does more than hint at it! No, Fenn, Kimball is as true to me as a
magnet to the pole; I don’t care who knows the whole story. Kim has done
nothing wrong. A wrong has been done to him.”

So all the strange details were given to the press, and next morning’s
papers were full of the story of the mysterious disappearance of Kimball
Webb on his wedding day.

Though not a celebrity, Webb was fairly well known as a playwright. He
had had one or two real successes before he went to the war, and since
his return had been busy on a new play, that was to be his masterpiece.

High comedy, founded on satire, was his field, and the new play was
pronounced a wonder by all who had heard its plot and plan. A member of
the _Workers’_, and of a fraternizing nature, he often talked over his
play at the Club with other members engaged in the same occupation.

He had laid aside his work for a fortnight’s honeymoon, but both he and
Elsie were too anxious for the completion of the play in time for late
summer production, to devote more time to idleness, and they expected to
spend the summer in a mountain resort not too far from New York where
Webb could work.

Webb was a forceful man, tall, well built, and with a strong, fine face.
Athletics were his hobby, but an injury to his knee while in France, was
not yet entirely healed. He limped very slightly, and would eventually
entirely recover, but at present was debarred from active physical
effort.

Of the gentle, rather easy-going nature, Webb was an Indian when roused.
Even Elsie declared if she ever really deserved his wrath she should run
away from him,—nothing would induce her to face him when angry! But, on
the other hand, the man was so just in his dealings and so tolerant in
his opinions that only righteous indignation would ever move him to
punish an offender.

For the rest, Kimball Webb was merry, light-hearted, kindly, and if
careless of social obligations and indifferent to acquaintances, he was
a staunch friend and an ideal lover.

All the poetry of his nature was brought out in his love for Elsie
Powell, and the girl was enthralled, and sometimes bewildered at the
depth and sincerity of his expressions of devotion. And she was worthy
of it all. Notwithstanding Henrietta Webb’s disparagement, Elsie Powell
was a desirable mate for any true hearted man. Not clever in Kimball’s
way, she was a strong, true-hearted woman, and her faithfulness and
loyalty quite equalled Kimball’s own. Moreover they were exceedingly
congenial, enjoyed the same things, and liked the same people.

And Elsie was capable of appreciating Webb’s talent, and interested
herself in his plays with an understanding that surpassed that of
Henrietta herself.

Had it not been for Kimball Webb, Elsie would doubtless have married
Fenn Whiting. For the latter had great charm and his passion for Elsie
was a matter of long standing. Though a few years older than Webb, he
was of a vital energy that defied age and made him seem far younger than
he was. But when Elsie made her choice, Whiting stepped back and proved
his manliness by a cheerful acceptance of the inevitable.

When Webb asked him to be best man, he hesitated but a moment and then
agreed to do so.

And now, in the mysterious emergency that had come upon them all,
Whiting was endeavouring to do whatever he could and whatever Elsie
wished him to do, to be of any possible help or comfort.

“I think,” Mrs. Powell said, as the evening wore on, “we’ll send Elsie
to bed now. You’ve been a good friend, Fenn; I don’t know what we should
have done without you. Now, what are we going to do next?”

“What is there to do?” spoke up Gerty. “We can do nothing but wait for
Kimball to return,—and for my part I don’t believe he ever will. I think
there’s more to this thing than a disappearance,—I think you’ll find
there’s been a crime—”

“Oh, hush, Gert!” wailed Elsie. “I’ve been afraid somebody would say
that! I won’t think of it! Anyway, not tonight! And it isn’t true! It
can’t be true!”

On the verge of a breakdown, after her trying day, Elsie ran out of the
room, and her mother followed, bidding Whiting a brief good night as she
passed him.

Left alone with Gerty Seaman, Whiting asked if she had any errand he
might do for her, and then he proposed to say good night.

“No,” said Gerty, “there’s nothing more to be done tonight, I should
say,—but, oh, Fenn, what do you think of it all?”

“What is there to think, Gerty? Every one of us knows as much as the
next one about it,—and who among us can suggest even a possible
explanation?”

“Nobody can,—and yet, Fenn, there must be an explanation. I
mean,—Kimball _did_ get out of his room—”

“Of his own volition,—of course, Gerty. How he managed to lock the door
behind him is, to be sure, an enormous mystery, but not so great a one
as to imagine that any one else did it! Why, that idea of a practical
joke won’t hold water a minute.”

“I thought it was your theory.”

“Only until I figured it out. How on earth could anybody abduct Kim,
take him from his room unwillingly, and depart, bolting the door behind
them? It couldn’t be done. Kim’s fastening the door behind himself is a
puzzle, but an easier one, it seems to me, than for an outsider to do
it. Kim could get downstairs and out, unobserved, if alone, but not if
he was being kidnapped by a jocularly inclined comrade!”

“I don’t see it that way,” Gerty said, thoughtfully. “I think the
mystery of the locked door is a thing by itself, and in no way affected
by or dependent upon other circumstances. However, it doesn’t matter
much. Will the police take a hand?”

“Yes. I happen to know they are to be at the Webb house this evening.
I’m going there now. Oh, Kimmy will be found, of course. Never doubt
that!”

“But—but, you know about the will, Fenn,—do you suppose he’ll be found
by Elsie’s birthday?”

“When is that, exactly?”

“The thirtieth of June.”

“And it’s now the sixth of April. Nearly three months! I should say so!
If he isn’t found in that time, he never will be!”

“And—what then?”

“What then? Oh, you mean about Elsie’s money. I know there’s some tie-up
there, but I don’t know just what it is. Her old aunt’s freakishness,
wasn’t it?”

“Yes; Aunt Elizabeth Powell,—Elsie is named for her. She left all her
fortune, millions, to Elsie, with a reservation. You’ve heard the
story.”

“Not in detail; tell me.”

“Well, you see, the Powell money was half my father’s and half his
sister’s, Aunt Elizabeth. Father lost all his, sooner or later, in Wall
Street. Aunt Elizabeth, she never married, left hers with a Trust
Company, this way. Father was to have the interest of it all as long as
he lived; then it all went to Elsie,—for the name, you know. Besides, at
the time the will was made, my husband was alive and well-to-do. But,
you see, only the interest was to come to Elsie, until her wedding day,
then she is to have the whole fortune.”

“Oh, well, the interest is enough for you all to live on, isn’t it?”

“Goodness, yes; we’ve lived on it for years, comfortable enough. But,
here’s the trouble. If Elsie isn’t married by the time she is
twenty-four, the whole fortune goes to a distant cousin of Aunt
Elizabeth.”

“What an unjust will!”

“Oh, no; you see, everybody would expect Elsie to marry before she was
twenty-four. The reason of it all was Aunt Elizabeth’s own love affair.
If she had married young all would have been well, but she waited,
thinking she was _too_ young, and her lover married somebody else. She
never got over it,—I think it affected her mind. She wouldn’t look at
anybody else, though she had lots of suitors, of course. So, she made a
condition that Elsie should marry before she was twenty-four. And it
never seemed to us a hard condition, for Elsie was engaged to Kimball
before he went to France, you know. They would have been married much
sooner but for the war. However, the wedding day which was to have been
today, was in ample time to meet the requirements of the will. And now—”

“Oh, well, Gerty, Kim will surely turn up before the birthday in June!
And, if he doesn’t,—Elsie will surely marry some one else,—rather than
lose the inheritance!”

“That’s just it,—she won’t. She’s as stubborn as Aunt Powell herself,
and she’d go to the poorhouse before she’d marry anybody but Kimball
Webb!”

“Don’t worry, Kimball will return. Why, he’s too wrapped up in that play
of his to stay away from New York very long.”

“But there’s no sense to it all! If somebody spirited Kim off for a
joke,—they’d surely returned him in time for the ceremony.”

“You’d think so. And the only other alternative is to think that he went
away voluntarily,—which is, to say the least, hard on Elsie.”

“He never went away because he didn’t want to marry her,—not much!”

“Mrs. Webb thinks he was spirited away.”

“So do I! But by very human and physical spirits! I firmly believe
Henrietta Webb or her mother, or both, managed the whole business, and
they will keep Kim out of the way until after Elsie’s birthday, thinking
she will marry some one else, and then they’ll produce Kim!”

“A queer theory, but perhaps about the easiest one to believe. And if,
as you assume, Elsie won’t marry some one else,—what then?”

“That’s what I said a few minutes ago. And it will come hardest on
mother and me. Elsie doesn’t care much for money,—oh, of course, she
likes things comfortable,—she doesn’t realize what it would mean to have
them any other way,—but she’d give up all for love. Now, mother and I
have absolutely no income except the interest Elsie gets from the Powell
money. And I have two little children—and mother is practically an
invalid,—and I think I may well ask, what then?”

“I think so too, Gerty! It’s tough on you,—I didn’t know all this. Why,
it will be awful if Elsie doesn’t marry! What will become of you all?”

“I don’t know. I don’t even know how Elsie’s going to look at it. If she
sees it right, and if Kimball never returns, of course, she ought to
marry some nice man rather than let all that money go! But she’s quite
capable of refusing point blank to marry any one but Kim,—and that’s
what I think she’ll do.”

“She most likely will, if I know anything about Elsie!”

“You—you like her,—Fenn?”

“Oh, Lord, yes! I’ve been in love with her ever since I’ve known her.
But she won’t look at me. And,—ahem, Gerty, I’m not a fortune hunter!”

“Oh, no, of course not. But,—I do hope Elsie will be safely married
before she reaches twenty-four!”

“So do I! I’m with you there! I’d hate to see all that money go out of
your family. A pretty shabby will, I call it.”

“Oh, no, Fenn; nobody could foresee this thing that has happened. And
but for this mysterious disappearance, Elsie would be already married
and everything all right.”

“She’s willing to allow you and the children and your mother enough to
live on, after she’s married?”

“Yes, indeed. She’s most generous. Her allowance to us is all we could
ask. I wish I knew her ideas about it all.”

“Poor child, I don’t believe she has any ideas as yet. It’s an awful
shock to her, and it came so suddenly. I wonder she bears up at all.”

“Oh, that’s Elsie. You’ll see. Tomorrow, she’ll be ready with all sorts
of plans and suggestions about hunting up Kim. They won’t amount to
anything,—they can’t, but she’ll try every possible way to find him!”

“Hopeless task,—hunting for him, I mean. If he can,—he’ll turn up of his
own accord. And if he can’t—”

“Fenn! You don’t—you don’t think—he’s—dead, do you?”

“I haven’t any reason to think that, Gerty. Yet it must be considered
among the possibilities. You know, there’s the question of that diamond
pendant. Kim had it with him at the dinner, and he had it after he
reached home, last night, for he showed it to his mother, they say.
Well, suppose a burglar got into his room to steal that,—it must be
worth ten thousand dollars?”

“Yes, it is,—or a little more.”

“Well, isn’t a burglar a more plausible supposition than a practical
joker, after all?”

“How did he get in?”

“That question, Gerty, must be asked regarding any intruder. Moreover,
how did he get out? must be asked in connection with an intruder,—or
with Kim alone. Anyway, the diamonds are not to be found,—”

“Kim probably has them with him,—wherever he is.”

“That’s true enough, but a probability isn’t a certainty.”

“If, as I still think, the two Webb women are behind it all,—they have
the diamonds.”

“Yes, of course. Why are they so down on Elsie?”

“Oh, only because she wasn’t born in Boston!”

“Really? Is that all?”

“Yes; that is, I mean, the Webbs don’t think the Powells in their own
social rank. Nobody could dislike Elsie, personally; she’s the sweetest
thing in the world!”

“Of course she is, but she never seems to hit it off with Friend
Henrietta.”

“It’s Henrietta’s fault entirely! Elsie has been like an angel to her,
but Miss Webb is always haughty and superior. She has never been
reconciled to the match and never will be!”

“Well, I hope old Kimmy will turn up, and the match will come off,—and
in time to save the inheritance!”

“The match _will_ come off, if Kimball can be found, whether it’s in
time to save the inheritance or not!”

This announcement was made by Elsie herself, who suddenly appeared in
boudoir robe and cap. “I heard you,” she went on, “and I came in to tell
you my decision,—to state my platform!”

Her eyes shone with excitement, her cheeks were flushed and she was
trembling nervously.

“Elsie dear,” begged Gerty, “don’t let’s talk any more about it
tonight.”

“Yes, I will; I’ve been listening to you two, and as Fenn is going over
to the Webbs’ now, and he will see the police there, I suppose, I want
him to know just where I stand. I shall make it my work,—my life work,
if necessary,—to find Kimball. I know, as well as I know my own name,
that he was taken away by force. I won’t say who I think did it, or was
responsible for the deed, but I shall get him back! The police can go
ahead, let them do all they can,—it won’t be much. The abduction of
Kimball Webb,—for it is an abduction,—was a carefully planned, cleverly
carried out scheme. I won’t say who’s at the bottom of it,—but I know.”

“You mean the Webbs,” said Gerty sagaciously.

“It’s an awful thing to say,” Elsie admitted, “but I do mean the Webbs.
Who else could it be? That joke business is nonsense,—and besides the
jokers would have restored him in time for the wedding. They wouldn’t be
so cruel to me.”

“No; they wouldn’t,” agreed Whiting. “But, be careful, Elsie, how you
accuse the Webbs. You don’t want to get into deeper trouble than—”

“I can’t be in deeper trouble than I am now! You know that, Fenn. But
I’ve got sense enough to know better than to accuse the Webbs openly! I
know that would be the very way to spike my own guns! No, Miss Henrietta
Webb is a very clever schemer, but I’ll outwit her yet!”

“And if not?” said Gerty, alarmed at the possibilities crowding her
mind.

“If not, if Kimball Webb is never restored to me, I shall live and die
an old maid,—just as Aunt Elizabeth did.”

“But, Elsie,” Gerty cried, “think of mother! think of me, and the
children! Surely, you have some generosity, some loyalty to your
people?”

“Not to the extent of selling myself for them,” said Elsie, sternly. “If
anybody in this family is to marry for money, you can do it, Gerty. You
have several rich suitors, to my certain knowledge—”

“Nothing of the sort, Elsie! I think you’re disgraceful!”

“No more disgraceful than for me to marry some one I don’t love, in time
to secure Aunt Powell’s money! And, anyway, I can look after mother,—I
can work—”

“Yes! What could you do?” Gerty scoffed.

“Oh, I don’t know; stenography or something. Anyway, I could take care
of mother, and you certainly could do as much for yourself, Gerty. If
you don’t want to marry, you could work, too.”

“Oh, Elsie,—and leave this house,—this apartment—”

“Yes; I’d far rather, than marry anybody,—anybody except Kimball. But,
understand this; I’m going to find that man—”

“Elsie!” exclaimed Whiting; “you speak as if he were held somewhere in
durance vile!”

“Not durance vile, but held,—yes! And by his mother and sister.”

“With his own consent?”

“Most certainly not!”

“Then your theory is rubbish. How could they hold him against his will?”

“I don’t know—but I shall find out! Good-night.”



                               CHAPTER V
                         ELSIE MAKES INQUIRIES


Elsie Powell’s nature was generous. She gave of herself to all with whom
she came in contact, and gave freely and willingly; time, thought, and
sympathy as well as more material gifts. Her disposition was so free
from selfishness that not always did she sufficiently guard her own
interests.

But when need arose, she promptly rose to the occasion.

And the morning after the day which was to have been her wedding-day,
she awoke with a saddened heart but a mind alert and ready to plan and
execute action of some sort that should bring about the end of her
troubles. She wasted little time in grieving,—indeed her mental attitude
was that of dumfounded amazement rather than grief.

Lying in her pretty room, partly dismantled by reason of her anticipated
flight from it, she sized up the situation to herself.

“If I go to pieces,” she mused, “it will do no good, and will be small
comfort to me. Therefore, I will brace up, put my wits to work and do my
part toward solving the mystery. And I’ll do more than any fool
detective. I never had much opinion of their cleverness, anyhow. To
begin with, they’d never dare suspect Henrietta Webb, and if they did,
she’d pull the wool over their eyes. But she can’t bamboozle me, and I’m
going to start out by assuming that in some mysterious way she has
hidden Kim and means to keep him hidden until I marry somebody
else,—which, of course, she thinks I’ll do, in order to get my
inheritance. But I shan’t! How would I feel, married to John Doe, and
then have Kimball come home and look at me reproachfully! Not much. If I
don’t marry Kimball Webb, I marry nobody at all,—and that settles that!”

Her decision arrived at, Elsie hopped out of bed, and dressed and went
to breakfast quite as usual.

“Why, Elsie,” exclaimed Gerty; “you needn’t get up! I’ll look after
everything,—I suppose there will be reporters and, later on, callers in
shoals—”

“Yes, Gert, you may attend to those; I’m going on the warpath!”

“Meaning?”

“I’m going to solve the mystery of Kim’s getaway,—though it’s no mystery
to me! But I’m going to get him back. That’s all about _that_!”

“How are you going to set out?”

“Dunno. First, I’m going over to the Webb house, and see what they’ve
got to say. I didn’t get any satisfaction out of them yesterday, but I’m
going to make them surrender. They owe me one Kimball, and I’m going to
collect!”

“I don’t think you ought to go out today, Elsie.”

“Rubbish! You talk as if Kim were dead! I’m not a widow, to stay in
seclusion. No, ma’am; I’ve thought it all out and I’ve made up my mind.”

Gerty protested no more. She knew from experience, when Elsie’s mind was
made up, nothing could shake it.


At the Webb house, Elsie found her prospective relatives-in-law closeted
with a detective. He was a City Official, from the Bureau of Missing
Persons, and he was deeply interested in the case.

Often missing persons were merely placed on record, and little was done
by way of effort to discover their whereabouts. But in the case of
Kimball Webb a big story was anticipated. Moreover, the absolute
insolubility of the puzzle of how he managed his flight,—or how it was
managed for him, gave an added interest.

Elsie’s arrival, also, thrilled the detective, and he turned eagerly to
question her.

However, he found himself the questioned one instead of the inquirer.

“I’m glad to meet you, Mr. Hanley,” Elsie smiled at him; “tell me, won’t
you, just how you’re going to set to work on the case? For I mean to
help you, and I want to do so intelligently.”

She glanced at the two Webbs for a nod of sanction but she received no
such encouragement.

Indeed, Henrietta gave a scornful sniff, and Mrs. Webb remarked:

“Don’t be forward, Elsie. You can’t help, and it would look very queer
if you tried.”

“It’ll be queer if I don’t try,” Elsie returned, but with a smile that
freed her words from rudeness. “I’m most certainly going to work on the
case, and if Mr. Hanley doesn’t want my help, I’ll work on my own
lines.”

Hanley looked at her with growing respect. Here, he decided, was no
silly society girl, but a young woman of brain and, perhaps, initiative.

“You know nothing that will throw any light on Mr. Webb’s absence?” he
asked, gazing intently at her.

“No, indeed; if I had I should have told it without being asked. I’m
here to learn, to seek, to solve,—not to inform.”

“Yes,—oh, certainly.” The detective was a little flustered.

Miss Webb had been haughty, even condescending,—but Hanley knew that
sort. Elsie’s attitude was a new one to him, and he had to adjust
himself.

“Well, Mr. Hanley,” the sweet voice went on, “which is it to be? Do we
work together, or, each for himself?”

“Together, miss, by all means. I’ll be only too glad of any help you can
give me.”

Hanley had decided; it would certainly be better for him to be in with
the one most nearly affected, and he considered that Elsie was.

Although, to be sure, the Webbs had called him in, and he was
responsible to them. Nor did it require an abnormally acute mind to
discern that the Webbs and Miss Powell were not entirely at one.

This impression of his was deepened when Miss Webb said, severely, “I
must beg of you, Elsie, not to disgrace us by any public effort in this
distressing matter. We are already sufficiently embarrassed at the
unfortunate publicity it has gained, and I want to keep further
disclosures entirely to ourselves.”

“Can’t be done, Miss Webb,” said Hanley; “the thing is out,—why, ma’am,
it had to come out! And now, you can no more stop the press notice of it
than you could dam the Hudson! Better take that part of it calmly, for
the papers will be full of it for nine days, at least. Now, ma’am, I’d
like to see Mr. Webb’s room.”

Dejectedly, Henrietta Webb led the way. Elsie followed, as a matter of
course, and soon Hanley was silently but carefully scrutinizing the
furniture, walls and floor of the room in question.

“No exit but the door,—so far as appears on the surface,” he remarked,
at last. “You don’t know of any secret entrance, I suppose!”

“Certainly not,” said Henrietta, positively. “Those things occur in old
country houses,—not in city homes.”

“Well, we must think of everything,” Hanley said, and he proceeded to
tap walls, and partitions in a knowing manner.

“Nope, nothing of that sort,” he concluded, after exhaustive
experimenting.

“You’re sure?” asked Elsie, her eyes shining with eagerness. “I had
thought there might be something like that.”

“No, ma’am,” declared Hanley; “I know a lot about building, and I can
tell for sure and certain, there’s no entrance through these walls of
any sort. Why, look at the wall paper,—intact all round. And, not only
that, but I can tell by tapping, there’s no chance of a secret door or
panel.”

“Mr. Whiting is an architect, and he said the same,” observed Miss Webb,
coldly, as if to disparage Hanley’s would-be superior knowledge.

“There, you see!” said Hanley, taking the snub in good part. “If a smart
architect and a smart detective agree there’s no secret passage or
entrance or exit, you may depend on it there isn’t any.”

“What about the chimney?” asked Elsie. “I’ve thought this all out, you
see.”

“Quite right, miss.” But Hanley’s investigation of the chimney that he
made by looking up inside the big, old-fashioned fireplace, showed him
at once the impossibility of any one entering or leaving the room by
that means.

“A monkey couldn’t negotiate that,” he stated, “let alone a man.”

The bathroom gave no hint of help. The little window had been found
closed and fastened, and save for the entrance door there was no other
break in the walls.

In a word, Hanley expressed his positive assurance that nobody could by
any chance enter or leave Kimball Webb’s room, except by the door that
opened from the hall.

“The windows are out of the question,” he asserted. “To begin with,
they’re third story windows, with a sheer drop to the street.

“Next, they were opened only at the tops for a few inches, and fastened
in that position. Nobody could get through one of those narrow
apertures.”

This was so evident, there was no use dwelling on it.

“Then,” said Elsie, slowly, “the problem comes down to this; how did Mr.
Webb get out through the door, and leave it fastened behind him,—not
only locked with a key, but bolted with a strong, firm bolt?”

“That’s the problem,” and the detective looked at her in admiration.

He had never seen a young woman,—a mere girl, who could so succinctly
state a case.

“But, granting that,” urged Henrietta Webb, “where is he now? The front
street door was fastened with heavy bolts, all of which were intact in
the morning. The rear door, the same.”

“Then,” said Elsie, turning on her quickly, “he must be in this house
still!”

Henrietta Webb turned pale. “What nonsense!” she cried. “In that case,
Elsie, are you smart enough to find him?” and with a suppressed
exclamation, half shriek and half gasp, she ran from the room, and they
heard her go downstairs to her mother’s room.

“Good!” cried Elsie. “I’m glad she’s gone! Excuse me, Mr. Hanley, but
though she is his sister, I am Mr. Webb’s _fiancée_, and I have really
more reason to want to find him than anybody else on earth. And I’m
going to find him, too! But, first, can _you_ form any theory? Can you
make any suggestion?”

“I can’t. I’ve never seen a case that ran so hopelessly up against a
blank wall. There’s foul play, somewhere,—that is, unless—you don’t
think—”

Elsie read his thoughts.

“No, I _don’t_ think Mr. Webb went away of his own volition. I know he
did not! And quite aside from his love for me, and his wish to marry me
yesterday, if those things hadn’t been so, Mr. Webb is too much of a
gentleman, too kind-hearted a man, to go away and leave his mother and
sister, to say nothing of myself, in this fearful predicament.”

“That’s right! No decent man could do such a sneak! Well, then as it’s
perfectly clear you suspect Miss Webb of being complicated,—why do you?”

“I don’t want to say anything against Miss Webb. I’ve nothing to say
against anybody. But,—oughtn’t a detective to suspect everybody? Or at
least, to investigate the possibilities of every suspect?”

“Yes’m; that’s right. Never mind why. I’ll bear in mind that Miss Webb’s
part in the matter must be inquired into. Any more hints?”

“Oh, that isn’t a hint. What sort of a detective are you, asking for
hints? Why don’t you get busy? Hunt for clues, or something definite
like that!”

“Clues? Why, it isn’t a murder!”

“You don’t know,—it may be! And, anyway, there are clues to other crimes
than murder.”

“But it isn’t a crime. Leastways,—”

“Leastways, you’re absolutely useless! Go away, I’ll hunt for clues
myself. And, first of all, where are those white marks that were on the
floor yesterday?”

“White marks? What sort of marks?”

“Just some white daubs. They showed clearly on this plain green carpet,
and now they’re gone.”

“Anything else been disturbed?”

“No, except that the whole room seems to have been cleaned, the bed
made, and the chiffonier tidied.”

“Oh, well, they told me about that. The condition of the room only went
to prove that Mr. Webb had retired as usual on Wednesday night, and then
he went away either in his evening clothes and carried his night clothes
with him; or he went wearing his night things and carrying his dress
suit.”

“Either of which suppositions is absolutely ridiculous! As he had been
to bed, why dress again in his dinner clothes, and why take his pajamas
with him? Or, if he went away in his night clothes,—why in the world
wouldn’t he carry a morning suit with him,—and not full dress?”

“Right you are,—it all don’t get us anywhere!”

“But it ought to! The very fact that the conditions are
ridiculous,—inexplicable,—ought to make it easier to get up a theory. If
he had gone away in a business suit and carried his night things in a
bag, it would be easily believed he had suddenly been called on some
important matter. But to go off with evening clothes and no other suit
is so ridiculous, that it ought to point to some inevitable
conclusion,—even if not a definite one!”

“My! You sure are a thinker, Miss Powell! But,—let’s hear that
indefinite conclusion you’d draw from the facts!”

“I haven’t drawn it yet,—but I shall,—and, I want you to help me.”

Elsie’s appealing smile brought a hearty “Sure I will, miss!” and after
some further futile looking about, they both went downstairs.

Elsie waylaid the chambermaid, and stepped aside to speak with her.

“Did you do up Mr. Webb’s room yesterday?” she asked, with an
ingratiating glance.

“Yes, miss,” replied the girl, a bit frightened.

“That’s all right; only, tell me, did you notice those white marks on
the carpet?”

“I did, ma’am,—and I tried hard to get it all off? Did I leave any sign
of it?”

“No; I wish you had! But never mind. What do you think made those
marks?”

“I couldn’t say, ma’am. They was like chalk, now, and mighty hard to get
off they was.”

“You remember just how they looked,—and where they were?”

“Oh, yes, ma’am.”

“Very well, then, that’s all. Don’t mention the matter to anybody,
please.”

“No, ma’am, I won’t.”

Elsie went on down to the drawing room, and there found Mrs. Webb making
the detective’s hair stand on end, as she detailed to him her
experiences with spirits and her reasons for belief that her son had
been taken away from his home by supernatural means.

Hanley listened, more with a horrified interest in her talk than with
any belief in its bearing on the present case, and Elsie almost laughed
outright as she heard Mrs. Webb solemnly avowing that she had seen, at
_séances_, live people wafted through a solid wooden door.

“Oh, come, now,” she said, as she entered the room. “Dear Mrs. Webb,
don’t ask us to believe such things!”

“Believe or not, as you choose,” said Mrs. Webb, haughtily; “your
scepticism only exposes your ignorance. Why, innumerable such cases are
on record; to students of spiritism the passing of matter through matter
is one of the proved facts of psychical research.”

“And you think that Kim passed through that locked wooden door? Through
the panels,—and left no trace of his passing?”

“I do,—indeed I do, Elsie! For, my dear child, what other explanation is
there?”

Mrs. Webb’s triumphant air impressed her hearers, even though it amused
them. The trusting soul believed so implicitly in her creed that one
must respect her sincerity, at least.

“Who lives next door?” asked Hanley, suddenly.

“Which side?” asked Mrs. Webb. “On the left, is the home of Owen Thorne,
the banker; and on the other side, the Marsden St. Johns live. They’re
at Lakewood just now; they’re always there in the spring. But they don’t
own the house they live in. It’s Mr. Whiting’s. Part of the estate his
father left him.”

“Are the Thorne family at home?”

“Yes, so far as I know. They were there yesterday. Why?”

“I only wondered if any of the neighbors saw Mr. Webb leave this house
during the night.”

“Maybe he hasn’t left it,” put in Elsie.

“He must have done so. He couldn’t be concealed here against his will
all this time, and you won’t allow that he’s willingly absent.”

“Of course I won’t!”

“Then he must have left this house between the hours of two A. M. and,
say, seven,—or, when did you call him, Mrs. Webb?”

“About eight, or soon after.”

“Very well, say he got away,—somehow,—between two and eight,—there’s a
possibility that a watching or wakeful neighbor might have seen him go.”

“Oh, I see,” and Mrs. Webb nodded. “Well, make inquiries. As I said, the
St. Johns are away, and their house is closed; but ask the Thornes if
you like. It’s quite possible they saw something!”

The weird look came again into her eyes, and Elsie at once surmised that
Kimball’s mother had a mental vision of her son, wafted by supernatural
means through his own bedroom door, down two flights of stairs, and
through the closed and locked street door, out,—away, nobody knew where,
and the interested neighbors looking on!

Then Henry Harbison was announced, and with a sigh of relief Elsie
turned to talk to him.

Harbison was to have been an usher at the wedding, and he called to see
if he could be of any assistance to the family of the missing
bridegroom.

After sympathetic greetings and inquiries, the young man took an active
part in the discussion of the mystery.

“It’s the strangest thing I ever heard of!” he declared; “but I bet I
can put you wise to a possible solution, anyway.”

“Good!” cried Hanley; “I confess it baffles me. I’m about to give up my
part in it and ask the Chief to turn it over to a cleverer man.”

“Don’t!” begged Elsie; “you and I are working together, you know, Mr.
Hanley,—and I like your methods.”

Hanley stared. What had she seen of his methods, as yet, he wondered.

“Well, here’s my theory,” began Harbison. “I was at Kimball’s bachelor
dinner, you know, night before last, at the Club. Also, Wallace Courtney
was there. Now, you know, Mrs. Webb, your son is writing a play,—a
mighty clever one, too, founded on a satirical view of New England
aristocratic tendencies.”

Mrs. Webb flushed almost angrily.

“I do know it,—and I regret it exceedingly. I strongly advised Kimball
against such ridiculing of his native town and of his own family
traditions and standards, but he only laughed, and said nothing was too
sacred to use for material for a play. Yes, Mr. Harbison, I know all
about that play. It’s nearly finished, too.”

“That’s the point. As you may or may not know, Wallace Courtney is a
playwright, also, and by the merest chance, he is writing a satirical
play on the very same subject. Now, he didn’t know about Kim’s play,
until the night of the dinner. It was mentioned, and Courtney asked Kim
what it was about,—that is, how he had treated the matter. Well, sir, do
you know they’ve chosen almost identical plots! Why, whichever of those
plays first reaches the public, the other will be stamped as a
plagiarism. Courtney was terribly put out. He tried to conceal his
wrath, but it kept cropping out—”

“Why, Kimball wasn’t to blame!” cried Elsie.

“Not a bit. But Courtney was so upset at the coincidence, and the
peculiar situation. Well, he worried around until he found out that
Kim’s play was nearing completion,—and then he went to pieces for fair.
‘You shan’t put it on!’ he cried, excitedly. ‘I’ll move Heaven and earth
to prevent you! Why, it wipes out my every chance!’ Oh, he said a lot
more in that strain, and Kimball added fuel to the fire by treating it
lightly. ‘Go ahead with your play, Wally,’ he told him; ‘I’m going on my
honeymoon, and I’ll be gone a fortnight or more. You’ll have time to get
ahead of me.’ Of course that wouldn’t give Courtney time enough, nor any
where near it,—and he sulked all the evening. We all guyed him on his
ill nature, but that only made things worse. Now, here’s my suggestion.
Pretty slim, I admit,—but take it for what it’s worth. Might Courtney
somehow or other have kidnapped Kimmy, intending to keep him away until
he can get his own play finished and on the road to production?”

“Motive all right,” said the detective, smiling, “but how about the
method?”

“That’s where I get off,” and Harbison laughed. “You see, while the
whole affair is pretty awful in a social way, and has made a fearful
mess of the wedding, and all that, I can’t look on it as a tragedy.”

“Who does?” exclaimed Elsie. “Of course, there’s no tragedy,—if you mean
any harm to Kimball, personally,—but I do call it a tragedy all the
same!”

“It is,” Hanley agreed; “but, of course, the angle I get is the mystery
side of it. How did Mr. Webb get out of his door, and lock it behind
him? That’s what I want to know!”



                               CHAPTER VI
                             A HAUNTED ROOM


“You’re right, man,” declared Harbison; “let’s tackle that problem
seriously. How _could_ it be done,—no matter how absurd or unlikely the
suggestion?”

“First,” enumerated Hanley, “there’s Mrs. Webb’s suggestion of spirits.”

“It would be hard to beat that for unlikeliness!” said Harbison,
speaking very seriously, and entirely ignoring Mrs. Webb’s disdainful
expression. “Now, see here,—how about turning the key from the outside
by means of a very powerful magnet—”

“No such thing possible,” Hanley declared. “There’s not a magnet in
existence that could do that. And shoot the bolt also, did you mean?”

“Yes, I did. But, of course, it’s only a suggestion. Well, what else?”

“Untruthfulness!” said Elsie, suddenly, coming out into the open. “I
regret exceedingly to mention such a thing, but as there is no
explanation of the alleged facts,—must we not doubt the truth of the
alleged facts?”

Henrietta Webb glared at her. “Do you mean,” she cried, “that we have
not told you the truth about finding Kim’s door locked?”

“That’s precisely what I mean!” and a red spot appeared on Elsie’s
either cheek. “If you can offer the slightest, vaguest sort of a hint as
to how your story could be true, I’ll listen; but if you can’t, you must
not be surprised that I refuse to believe it.”

“Doubt my word? Let me tell you, miss, a Webb does not speak untruth!”

“Not ordinarily,—nor do most of us. But I know, Henrietta, that you
would resort to any means to prevent Kimball from marrying me, and I am
justified in thinking you have done so.”

“What do you mean, Miss Powell,” asked Hanley; “that Mr. Webb went away
voluntarily?”

“Not exactly. I mean that I think he was persuaded, forced or tricked
into going away by his sister, and that the broken lock and burst bolt
are fabrications to mislead investigators.”

Henrietta Webb looked at Elsie, first with amazed scorn, and then, her
face changing to a gentler expression, she said, “You are not quite
responsible, dear. I shall not hold your speech against you. And,
really, I’m not surprised that you try to grasp at any straw, in this
sea of mystery. But,” she turned to Harbison and the detective, “there
is no reason to doubt the truth of the story of my brother’s
disappearance. Our butler and chauffeur will corroborate it, and will
tell you just how much difficulty they had in entering the room.”

At Hanley’s request, Hollis and Oscar were summoned, and they told in
detail the events of the morning before.

“And you heard or saw nothing that could give you the slightest hint as
to any reason for Mr. Webb’s disappearance?”

“No!” both men answered.

“You saw or heard nothing unusual or that you could not understand?” the
detective continued.

“Well, sir,” Oscar began, “when I ran upstairs, and Miss Webb was
waiting outside her brother’s door, I heard her say, to herself, ‘Oh, if
it _should_ be!’—sort of excited like.”

“Whom was she speaking to?”

“To nobody, sir, just to herself.”

“What did you mean by that speech, Miss Webb?” Hanley inquired.

“I didn’t make it,” replied Henrietta coolly. “Oscar is mistaken. He
imagined it all.”

“I told you so!” Elsie cried, irrepressibly; “I knew Miss Webb was at
the bottom of it all!”

“Well, such a speech as that doesn’t prove it,” Hanley observed. “It
rather lets her out. If she had concealed her brother previously, why
should she say those words? And if she was merely hoping he had gone
away, it goes to show she had no hand in the matter.”

Henrietta’s face was expressionless, as if the subject interested her
not at all.

“You will all have to agree with me, sooner or later,” Mrs. Webb began.
“There is, as you’ve seen, no normal explanation. Only the supernatural
remains. And, you ought to know, that room of Kimball’s has been haunted
for a long time.”

“What, haunted?” exclaimed Hanley.

“Yes, sir. Not only my son and my daughter have heard and seen strange
things in it, but the maids have also had such experiences.”

“Such as what?”

“Hearing queer sounds. Once, there was a complete conversation carried
on by voices that belonged to invisible people.”

“This is interesting only if confirmed by credible witnesses,” Hanley
said.

“It interests me, anyway,” said Harbison. “I don’t believe in levitation
and the passing of a human body through a locked door, but a haunted
room always thrills me. Tell me some more about it.”

“I will,” said Henrietta. “For the last year or two, there have been
times when voices were audible there. Not loud or entirely distinct,—but
vaguely to be heard,—like the sound of a faraway speaker. My brother
heard them,—he frequently told me so.”

“Well, not frequently, Henrietta,” said her mother, correcting her, “but
two or three times.”

“Who else heard them?” asked Hanley, briefly.

“The servants,” Henrietta informed them. “One chambermaid was so
frightened she left at once.”

“Oh, fiddlesticks!” cried Harbison. “This gets us nowhere! If they were
really spirits it is absurd; and if, as I thought at first, they were
human voices, heard through a secret passage or a hollow panel, it’s up
to us to find the secret entrance.”

“There isn’t any,” declared Hanley. “I’ve sounded and tested every bit
of wall in the room.”

“All the same, I’d like a try at it,” Harbison declared, and asking
permission, he went alone up to the room that had been Kimball Webb’s.

“Who saw Mr. Webb last?” asked Hanley, by way of pursuing his duty.

“I suppose I did,” answered his mother. “He came to my room to say good
night, as he often does, after he’s been out late. We had a little chat,
and then he kissed me good night, and I heard him go upstairs.”

“Did you hear him, Miss Webb?”

“N—no; I was asleep.”

“And he didn’t wake you as he passed your door?”

“No; it was closed. I didn’t hear his footsteps.”

“But you went up to his room later!” Elsie cried, accusingly.

“N—no, I didn’t! What do you mean?”

Henrietta Webb spoke hesitatingly; one would have said she was
prevaricating, from the manner of her speech. But she looked straight at
Elsie, and demanded an explanation of her words.

“Then, you were up in Kim’s room before he came home that night.”

“No, I wasn’t. Why do you say these things?”

“When were you in your brother’s room last, before he—went away?” Elsie
demanded.

“Oh, not for several days. I sometimes go up there to chat with him, but
he’s been so pre-occupied lately, with his play and his wedding
preparations both, that I haven’t intruded on his time.”

“You were up there the night before last, after Kim came home from the
dinner!” Elsie declared, looking straight at Miss Webb, “and you sat on
the little sofa between the front windows.”

“I’ve been considerate of you, Elsie,” Miss Webb said, coldly, “because
I feel sorry for you, and I make allowances for your disturbed nerves
and your—your natural lack of poise,—but, I warn you I won’t stand
everything! Your accusations are not only false, they’re ridiculous! If
I had gone to Kim’s room and talked to him after his return, why should
I deny it?”

“Because you’re afraid it will incriminate you!—in his disappearance!
Oh, Henrietta, _where_ is he? Give him back to me! I love him so—I want
him so! Oh, Kimball,—my love—”

The girl gave way and burst into hysterical tears. Truly, she had not
the poise of the woman before her,—but she had resiliency.

In a moment she pulled herself together, steadied her voice, and said;

“You _were_ in Kim’s room that night,—and I can prove it by a witness!
Stay here,—all of you!”

She ran out of the room, and they heard her go upstairs.

“Don’t put too much reliance on what Miss Powell says,” Henrietta said
to the detective. “She’s not quite herself.”

“All right, ma’am,” returned Hanley, but he looked closely at the
speaker.

“Any news?” asked a man’s voice from the doorway, and Fenn Whiting came
into the room.

“I couldn’t keep away,” he went on. “I’ve been over to the Powells’ and
they said Elsie was here.” He looked about.

“She is,” began Henrietta, but Harbison, who had returned from his
futile quest, impatiently broke in.

“I say, Whiting, listen to my theory.”

He proceeded to detail the matter of Courtney’s play and recalled to
Whiting the wrath that Courtney exhibited at the bachelor dinner.

“By Jove, he was mad!” Whiting agreed, his attention arrested at once by
the ideas Harbison put forth.

“And, though it sounds like a cock and bull story,” Harbison went on,
“suppose Wally thinks to himself, if I could only tie Kim up somewhere
till I can get my play finished and accepted by a manager, it will be my
salvation! Now, of course, if he kidnapped Kim it had to be done before
the wedding, so—”

“It’s far-fetched,” said Whiting thoughtfully, “but I’ll say it’s the
first thing I’ve heard put forth by way of a motive. You know finding a
motive is a necessary step to be taken before finding the perpetrator of
this thing.”

“I know the motive,” Elsie’s voice announced, as she entered in time to
hear Whiting’s closing words. “I’ve found the perpetrator,—and I did
have proof,—but she’s destroyed it.”

Elsie’s stern gaze at Henrietta Webb decidedly discomfited that cool,
calm personality, and for the first time Miss Webb’s poise seemed about
to desert her.

Ignoring the others, Elsie addressed herself to Hanley.

“I found a real clue, yesterday morning,” she said, “when I went up to
look around Mr. Webb’s room. On the floor, in front of the little sofa
were several white marks,—”

“How absurd!” cried Henrietta; “I beg of you don’t discuss the
shortcomings of a careless housemaid!”

“White marks,” Elsie went on, as if uninterrupted, “that were made by
the rubbing on the carpet of a woman’s white shoes. Shoes, I mean, that
had been whitened with some of those chalk preparations that most women
use,—or their maids use for them.”

A side glance at Henrietta’s face showed Elsie that it was as white as
the chalk in question, but she went on: “I know that those marks were
made by Miss Webb’s shoes; I know that it was at her request that the
maid carefully removed the marks from the green carpet; I know she gave
the maid orders to say nothing about the matter; and I know she has
destroyed or concealed those shoes!”

Henrietta’s face became like a stone. Impassive, unreadable, its
expression showed neither embarrassment nor fear. Only in her eyes was
there a sign of perturbation. Her glance at Elsie was defiant, and a
little threatening.

“Well, Miss Webb,” Hanley began, “you advised me not to be too much
impressed by Miss Powell’s statements, so I’ll ask you for a bit of
explanation right here.”

“There is nothing to explain,” Henrietta began, calmly; “I deny
everything she has asserted. I may have been in my brother’s room during
the past week, I may have left some white marks from my shoes on the
carpet, but I do not recollect such an occasion, nor do I think it at
all pertinent to the matter in hand. As to the matter of the housemaid,
that is pure fabrication. I am not in the habit of conniving with
servants, as Miss Powell seems to be.”

“Which shoes of yours are so whitened that the marks on the carpet are
usual,—and where are the shoes?” Elsie demanded, pointing an accusing
finger at Miss Webb.

“I really don’t know,” Henrietta shrugged her shoulders. “You must ask
Janet, she looks after my wardrobe.”

“Come, come, Miss Powell,” said Hanley, impressed more by Henrietta’s
indifference than by Elsie’s “clue.” “I don’t think you’re adapted to
detective work. You overestimate the importance of trifles.”

“Nothing is a trifle if it points the way to discovery,” said Elsie, her
brown eyes flashing and her red lips quivering as she looked from one to
another for help or sympathy.

And it came, from Fenn Whiting.

“I think, Miss Webb,” he said, a bit shortly, “that you owe us a little
information. Doesn’t the maid clean the rooms each morning?”

“Certainly.”

“Then white marks, as of chalked shoes, early in the morning would seem
to me to imply that you _were_ there the night before. Why not own up to
it? It couldn’t have been on any secret errand?”

“Of course it couldn’t. But I wasn’t there at all. The marks, if they
existed outside of Elsie’s imagination, must have been made by one of
the maids. They wear white shoes sometimes.”

“Then call the maid, and let her produce the shoes,” cried Elsie. “I
tell you, Mr. Hanley, this is a clue, and a real one. If you let it
slip, you are not doing your duty.”

Hanley became angry.

“It isn’t for a man twelve years on the force to be taught his duty by a
chit of a girl who ought to be in school herself!” he exploded, and the
nod of approval from Henrietta decided him to go on. “I’m sorry, indeed,
for you, Miss Powell, and it’s a small wonder that you’re nearly
distracted, but I must insist that it isn’t right for you to imagine
that Miss Webb is implicated. It seems to me much more likely that we
ought to look in the direction of this Mr. Courtney. If he is the sort
of a man to stop at nothing in the furtherance of his own schemes, I can
believe that he has somehow secreted Kimball Webb in order to get his
play done first.”

“How could he?” Elsie cried; “how could he get into the house? How could
he get Kimball out?”

“Those questions are unanswerable at present, no matter who the suspect
is,” the detective returned, imperturbably. “Now, look here, Miss
Powell, I want to know about this will business. I’ve only heard a vague
story. Is it true that if you are not married by a certain date, your
fortune is taken away from you?”

“It is,” she replied; “and the date is the thirtieth of June. This gives
us three months, nearly, to find Mr. Kimball Webb.”

“And that’s about time enough for Mr. Wallace Courtney to finish his
precious play! I predict that you will not see Mr. Webb until Mr.
Courtney’s play is finished!”

“And you’re going to let him get away with it!” cried Harbison. “Can one
man put another aside in that fashion, at will, without prevention or
even protest?”

“Well, hardly; but after all, it may not be Mr. Courtney at all. Here’s
another point I want cleared up. In the event of your not marrying by
the given date, Miss Powell, what becomes of your aunt’s money?”

“It will go to a cousin of hers, who lives out West somewhere. I don’t
know exactly where.”

“A relative of yours?”

“No; my aunt was my father’s half sister. This man is a connection of
her mother, and is no relation to my father or myself.”

“You know him?”

“Only his name, Joseph Allison. I’ve never seen him, never heard from
him. You see, there was no question of the fortune not being mine, as I
expected to marry Mr. Kimball well within the prescribed time.”

“I see; and may we not assume an interest on the part of this young man
as to the disposition of the estate, in the event of your not marrying?”

“Hullo!” exclaimed Harbison, “that opens up a new field of conjecture.
May not the young man have been sufficiently interested to go to the
length of removing Kimball Webb from the field of action altogether?”

“Oh, no,” Elsie said. “You see, it’s this way. Mr. Allison tried to
break the will at the time of my aunt’s death, four years ago; but there
wasn’t a chance of it, and so, as the lawyers told me, he gracefully
gave up the matter and has never been heard from since.”

“That doesn’t prevent his still being interested,” persisted Hanley.
“You see, Miss Powell, I’m an experienced detective. I’m no story-book
chap, but I’m a good plain worker, and I keep my eyes open, with the
result that I see a hole through a millstone, now and then. And, I think
I’ve learned about all I can pick up here, just now. I shall look into
the matter of Mr. Courtney and his play; also into the affairs of Mr.
Joseph Allison. And let me advise you, Miss Powell, not to put your
inexperienced fingers into pies that you don’t understand. A girl of
your age and ignorance of these things can’t be a detective,—even an
amateur one. So leave it all to those who know the ropes.”

Hanley went away, and the others remained for a time.

There was a silence at first, and then Henrietta said, “I’m not going to
reprove you, Elsie, I feel too sorry for you to do that, but I am going
to ask you not to trump up any more such foolish yarns as the one you
spun about the white shoes!”

“What became of the shoes, then?” asked Elsie, bluntly.

“What shoes? There are no especial shoes to be considered. Drop the
subject, dear. Such harping on it makes it seem as if you were not quite
calmed down yet.”

“And I’m not, and I never shall be, until Kimball is given back to me!
I’m going to find him, myself, I don’t care what that detective says.
Who is going to help me?”

“I, for one,” said Henry Harbison, promptly. “I’m mighty sorry for you,
Miss Powell, and you may command me as you like.”

“Thank you, Mr. Harbison; I know you’re a firm friend of Kimball’s and I
gladly accept your friendship also.”

“I suppose you know you can depend on me to see you through, without any
definite avowal,” said Fenn Whiting, smiling.

“Of course, Fenn, you are my right-hand man. But I want all the help I
can get.”

“We’ll help you, Elsie,” Henrietta began, but Elsie only gave her a
scornful glance.

“When you are ready to help, Henrietta, begin by telling me about your
white shoes.”

Miss Webb made a scornful gesture, as of one powerless to aid such a
wilful girl, and Mrs. Webb began on her hobby.

“You can all search and detect and deduce all you like; there is nothing
that can explain Kim’s disappearance or solve the mystery of his absence
except supernatural forces. Carp as you will, object as you see fit, you
must admit there’s no other way out!”

“You’re right, to a degree, Mrs. Webb,” said Fenn Whiting slowly;
“there’s no other way out! I don’t for a minute believe in spooks,
but—I’m ready to agree there’s no other way out.”

“Then we must stay in,” said Harbison.

“Not we!” declared Elsie; “not I, at least. And you men have promised to
help me. Now, first of all, is there any chance of Joe Allison being
implicated? I hadn’t thought of it,—but it must, as Mr. Hanley said, be
looked into.”

“How could he manage it?” asked Whiting. “Courtney looks more possible,
if you ask me.”

“I do ask you,” said Elsie, “I ask you all. I want your help, your
counsel, your advice. I _am_ inexperienced, I’ve no knowledge of police
work or detective work, but I have courage, hope and a will that is
unbreakable and unshakable! I will go through fire and water, I will
move heaven and earth, I will face danger of any sort, I will suffer or
endure anything,—if it will help in the least degree to get Kimball
back.”

“Never mind the theatrical demonstration, Elsie,” said Henrietta,
scoffingly, “we all want Kim back, but we don’t announce it from the
housetops!”

“Nor am I doing so,” Elsie spoke quietly but with flashing eyes; “I will
omit all personal remarks, hereafter, but I must still insist upon my
determination and my perseverance,—which, after all, are my stock in
trade!”

“Good for you, Elsie,” and Whiting smiled at her. “I’m with you, and
we’ll never let up until we find the boy! Harbison, you’re in on this?”

“To a finish! Now, how do we begin? I’m all for looking up Courtney.
It’s too much of a coincidence that he should want Kim out of the
way,—and, immediately, Kim is out of the way! Isn’t that a bit curious?”

“It is, now you put it that way,” and Whiting looked visibly impressed.
“Let’s run him to cover first of all.”

And then, the telephone bell rang, and Detective Hanley informed them
that Wallace Courtney had disappeared as suddenly and as inexplicably as
Kimball Webb had himself!

“That settles it!” declared Harbison, jumping up and grasping his hat.
“I’ve got to get in on the ground floor! Good-bye, all!”

He left the house hastily, and Fenn Whiting was eager to follow. But he
spoke first to Elsie.

“Shall I go,” he asked, “or stay with you?”

“Go!” she cried, with shining eyes. “At last, we’re beginning to _do_
something! Go and find out all you can about Mr. Courtney, and report to
me at my home. I’m going over there,—as soon as I have this matter out
with Henrietta!”



                              CHAPTER VII
                              JOE ALLISON


“Well, I’m a red-blooded young American, and I’m not denying that a
fortune of a few millions would come in mighty handy in my business!”

The speaker was Joe Allison, and he was paying his first call on the
Powells.

They liked him at once, for one could scarce help liking the breezy
mannered light-hearted chap, and his frankness and straightforwardness
won Elsie’s heart.

“Of course,” he went on,—they were talking of Miss Elizabeth Powell’s
will, “the whole thing is pretty ridiculous,—freak wills are,—but it’s
none of my quarrel that she should run me in as an afterclap. You have
the inside track, Cousin Elsie,—let me call you that,—but I have a right
to feel an interest in your doings. And I’ve heard,—I may as well speak
frankly,—I’ve heard it rumoured that you’re determined to marry
nobody,—nobody in the world,—except Mr. Webb. Who is, I understand,
unavailable for the moment.”

“That’s all true,—” Elsie admitted, but Gerty spoke up:

“Only true in part, Mr. Allison.”

“Oh, call me Joe. I’m not really related, but it makes me feel good to
be connected in any way with the Powell money.”

“I fear you’ve a mercenary spirit,” said Mrs. Powell, smiling at the
boyish face.

“No more so than the average man. I’m no dollar-grabber, but when I’m up
against a possible inheritance, I want to know how strong a probability
there is.”

“A decidedly strong one, Joe,” Elsie said, looking at him, but Gerty
again interrupted.

“Don’t take her too seriously,” she begged. “Elsie doesn’t realize her
own position. And there’s considerable time yet for her to come to a
true sense of things as they are,—”

“And time to find the missing man,” suggested Joe, cheerfully. “I am not
going to pretend I don’t want to be the old lady’s heir, for I do,—but
not at the expense of Elsie’s happiness. I’ve known you less than half
an hour, Cousin Elsie, but, by George, I’m for you!”

“Why?” said Elsie, with a real curiosity.

“First, because you’re so pretty; second, because you’re so plucky; and
third, because the whole thing is so much of a gamble,—it would be an
awful pity for you to lose out,—even if it would be nuts for me!”

“You’re a good sort, Joe; and, truly, if Kimball Webb never reappears,
and you inherit Aunt Elizabeth’s money, I’ll be glad for you—”

“Come, come, Elsie,” said her mother, pettishly, “that’s all right in
Sunday-school books, and Uplift pamphlets, but we live in a practical
world, and I don’t propose to let you do yourself the injustice of
losing your rightful fortune for a bit of misplaced sentiment. You’re
young,—too young to realize what it would mean to you to go through life
alone and poor. And that’s what your life will be if you refuse to marry
any one except Kimball. You must know that he _may_ never return. Of
course it is possible that he will,—but he may _not_. And in that case,
I shall insist on your marrying some other good and worthy man,—if only
for the sake of your financial well-being in the future.”

“And that of your family,” added Allison, sagaciously, quite sensing the
undercurrent of Mrs. Powell’s thoughts.

“That, too,” she admitted. “Elsie knows that our happiness depends upon
her course in the matter. Gerty’s husband, a well-to-do lawyer, was
killed in action; for myself, I am practically penniless. It is,
therefore, Elsie’s duty to sacrifice herself to some extent for those
dependent on her. I am an invalid, Gerty has the care and support of two
tiny children, and I am sure we are not unduly selfish in our attitude.”

“And it isn’t,” Gerty took up the tale, “as if we were asking anything
wrong or unusual of Elsie. There is some time yet for her to look around
and choose among her various suitors,—and she has lots of them,—”

“Naturally,” said Allison, dryly.

“Oh, I don’t mean fortune-hunters! There are plenty of men who love
Elsie for herself alone. And they are first class, desirable men, who
would make delightful husbands.”

“Gerty, you give me the shivers!” exclaimed Elsie. “I’m merely an
investment, it would seem! I can tell you, Mr. Allison,—Joe,—I do not
propose to marry somebody in order to secure a fortune for my people! I
am fond of them, I will work for them, but I refuse to sell myself for
them!”

“Fine talk, Cousin Elsie,” the young man said, smiling, “but you won’t
last out. Let me see, Mr. Webb has been missing three days now,—isn’t
it?”

“Yes; three days, now.”

“And you have three months in which to find him,—you see I know the main
facts. Well, I hate to be discouraging, but I don’t believe you’ll ever
see that man again,—and you may as well begin to pick his successor.”

“I started out by liking you, Joe, but you’ve changed my attitude,”
Elsie exclaimed, her cheeks flushing with anger. “How can you speak like
that?”

“I’m a hardheaded Westerner, Elsie, and I look things square in the
face. It’s out of all thinking that Webb was kidnapped! Such things
aren’t done! And, too, how could it be possible?”

“How could his departure be possible, anyway?”

“Far easier, if he went of his own accord, than if he were forced to go
against his will. In fact, my girl, you must see that he couldn’t have
been taken unwillingly. Granting the mystery of the locked room, it can
be,—it _must_ be explained in some way,—but, only if Webb went away of
his own volition. You must see that?”

“I do,” declared Gerty, “and Elsie does too, only she won’t admit it.”

“I don’t,” Elsie denied; “but I refuse to discuss the subject at all. I
find it does no good. Nothing does any good! Here, three days have
passed; a detective has done his best,—and it amounted to nothing at
all! Two of my friends,—Mr. Whiting and Mr. Harbison have done their
best,—and it has amounted to nothing at all; Kimball’s mother and sister
have done their best—”

“Are you sure of them?” Allison broke in; “I mean, are you sure they are
hunting him,—or, are they foxy enough—”

He paused and looked from one to another to guess their attitude toward
the Webb ladies.

“I don’t think they know anything more about Kimball than I do,” said
Elsie, slowly. “I _did_ think Henrietta engineered the whole thing,—and
I had reason to think so,—I still have,—but, not enough to make me feel
sure of it.”

“I’m keen on the mystery part of it,” said Allison. “I’ve a fondness for
mystery and I’d like to know just how Mr. Webb did get out of that
room,—that is, if it was as securely locked as the stories made it out.”

“Oh, it was;” Elsie nodded her head, positively. “That is, if
Henrietta’s story is true. And it must be, for she couldn’t make all the
servants stick to a made-up tale, after all the grilling they’ve been
through by the detectives and by all of us. Yes, I do believe that
Hollis and Oscar,—they’re the two men servants,—broke in, just as they
say they did.”

“Then it’s the mystery of the century!” young Allison exclaimed. “I’m
going to take a hand at it!”

Elsie smiled with an indulgent air. “All right, Joe, go ahead. But, the
very simplicity of it all is the baffling part. Door and windows
fastened on the inside, and the man gone, with no trace of how he got
out, where he went to, or where he is now.”

“Can you beat it?” and Allison’s round face fairly glowed with interest.
“No secret passage?”

“No; everybody’s tried to find one, but there’s no unexplained space in
the walls, or between partitions, or anything of the sort. Mr. Whiting
is an architect, and he showed the police detective how he could see
there is no chance for any secret exit. The walls are intact and
solid,—oh, I don’t know how to express it, but there’s absolutely no
chance of a sliding panel or secret staircase or passage.”

“Makes it still more interesting. What theories have been suggested?”

“Nothing definite, except Kimball’s mother’s idea that spirits wafted
him away!”

“Oh, I don’t mean idiotic talk, like that! Is the maternal Webb a
Spookist?”

“Of the deepest dye. She really believes Kimball was carried bodily
through a closed door—”

“Don’t waste time on that. What does the detective think?”

“Can’t think of anything,—that fits all conditions. But he says Kimball
must have gone away purposely, and, in some unexplained fashion, locked
the door after him.”

“Street door open?”

“No; locked and bolted as usual.”

“Beautiful case! Finest mystery I ever heard of! I’m going to imperil my
chance at the fortune and try to get your man back for you!”

“That’s nice of you, Joe, but I wish I had more hope of your success.”
Elsie’s disconsolate face did not brighten at her cousin’s offer.

“Look here, Elsie; what say to offering a reward? Make a nice big
sum,—contingent on the restoration of your lover,—and then if I can find
him for you, I lose the fortune,—but I get the prize money.”

“Oh, I’ll do that, Joe! Gladly. How much shall I make it? Ten thousand
dollars?”

“No; fifty thousand. You see, I want a slice of the money and,—to be
honest,—I don’t think you’d let the fortune slip for want of a
bridegroom.”

“Indeed she won’t!” cried Gerty. “She’ll see reason before the thirtieth
of June!”

“That’s what I think,” agreed Joe; “so, Cousin Elsie, you’ll never miss
fifty thousand from your millions, and it’ll do me a power of good!”

“You haven’t solved the mystery yet,” said Elsie, but her face had
brightened at the mere idea of Joe’s success.

“Then, if I don’t, you won’t have to pay me.”

“Also,” said Mrs. Powell, “if some one else wins the reward—”

“That’s all right,” said Joe, casually. “If so, Elsie’ll be mighty glad
to pay it!”

“Of course I will! I’d pay it to anybody who will restore my lover!”

“And a good investment, too; the return of the man means the assurance
of the money.”

Fenn Whiting did not altogether approve of the plan of a reward.

When he came to see Elsie, after Allison had left the house, he advised
against it.

“You see, dear,” he said, “it is all right to offer the money to your
cousin, but the lure of a big reward will attract all sorts and
conditions of men, and you’ll get involved in devious bothers.”

“Such as what?” demanded Elsie. “I don’t care who gets the money if
Kimball is found. You know, Fenn, Kim must be _somewhere_! I don’t for a
minute believe he is dead, do you?”

“No; there’s no reason to think that. Who would have any motive for
killing him?—that is,—except,—oh, Elsie, can’t you see an inch in front
of your nose? The only one with a possible motive for taking Kim away
from you is that precious cousin of yours,—though why you call him
cousin, I don’t know.”

“Joe Allison! Why, Fenn, if you saw that boy, you’d never associate any
wrong doing with him! He’s the frankest, most honest—”

“Elsie! how innocent you are! Surely, child, you must have
intelligence,—if not experience enough to see that a scamp would assume
honesty and frankness of demeanour—”

“But you haven’t seen Joe!”

“No matter. I know he’s the only one with a motive,—if we except Wally
Courtney.”

“Haven’t they found him yet?”

“No; but they’re on his trail. He is hiding somewhere, but I don’t
believe he’s responsible for Kim’s disappearance. How could he be?”

“He could be,—as well as any one else. How could anybody be the means
of,—and yet somebody was!”

“Nobody but Kim himself,—Elsie. The method of his disappearance is still
a mystery, but a motive for any one is more dubious still. I merely
mentioned this Allison, but after all, I can’t believe he came here to
New York from Chicago, got into a strange house, abducted a strong,
able-bodied man, and spirited him away, leaving the doors locked behind
him! Your theory of Miss Webb’s connivance is more plausible than that!”

“You mix me all up, Fenn! I thought at first you suspected Joe.”

“I suspect no one, because, as yet, I’ve found no real motive. But this
Allison can be said to have a motive,—and still, my reason won’t let me
suspect him. We’re all of us at sea, Elsie. We all speculate, and wonder
and assume,—then, when it comes to a positive suspicion, we can’t find a
logical one.”

“Then I am sure I’m right in offering a reward,—and a big one. You see,
if Kim isn’t found in time, I won’t have to pay it,—and if he is found,
I shall marry him at once and so have plenty of money to pay it!”

“You mean, make the payment contingent on his restoration before your
birthday?”

“Of course. I shall never marry any one else. I’ll wait for ever for
him. If he never comes back to me, I shall never marry. If he comes
after my birthday,—then Joe Allison will have the money and I will be a
poor girl.”

“How foolish you are, Elsie!”

“You think so?”

“No, dear, not really. I appreciate your loyal love, and I know you
can’t dream of marrying another man. But,—you may change your mind
later. And, remember, Elsie, I have always loved you. I’m not asking you
to marry me, now; but if Kim _doesn’t_ return before your birthday, and
if the money goes to Allison, and if you’re, as you say, a girl
dependent on your own efforts,—for I suppose you wouldn’t accept an
allowance from Allison?”

“He hasn’t offered one, I never thought of such a thing! Yes, I would
accept it for mother and Gerty and the children! Not for myself.”

“He wouldn’t make you any such allowance as your mother and Gerty would
want. You know, Elsie, they _are_ a bit mercenary.”

“You sha’n’t call them that! They’ve always had lots of money,—they
can’t get along without it. And Gerty isn’t strong, and mother is
growing more of an invalid every day, and the children are expensive
little things. Oh, Fenn, what _can_ I do? I _can’t_ see my people in
want! And I can’t marry somebody just to get a fortune for them!”

“I’m in a sorry predicament, dear, when I try to advise you; you know
how I love you,—how long I have loved you. When I found you had chosen
Kimball, I never obtruded my claims. But, now,—oh, Elsie, I can’t ask
you to marry me to save the fortune! I’m not such a poor thing as that!
But, if Allison gets the money, and if he will look after your mother
and Gerty, won’t you, dearest, won’t you let me provide for you?—I can’t
offer to take the whole family,—I’m not a rich man,—but I love you
so,—dear,—and all I can say is, that you must remember my only wish is
to serve you,—in any way. Command me anything,—anything, Elsie!”

“Very well, Fenn, find Kimball for me.”

“I’ll do my best, dear. If I don’t succeed, you’ll know I tried.”

“You’re a good friend, Fenn; and I’ll say this. I shall never—_never_
marry any other man but my Kim, but I like you best of all my friends,
and I depend on you most of all to help me.”

“You may, Elsie. Now, are you determined to offer this reward?”

“Oh, yes; and if you win it—”

“_Don’t_! dear heart, you don’t know how you hurt me! Do you think for a
minute _I’d_ take it?”

“I don’t see why not, if you earn it, by restoring Kim to me.”

“Well, don’t let’s speak of reward! To give you happiness is all the
reward I shall ask. I don’t want pay for that!”

A visitor was announced, and in another minute Joe Allison entered the
room.

“Oh, Elsie,” he cried; “I’m finding out things! Beg pardon, I thought
you were alone.”

Elsie introduced the two men, and Joe favoured Fenn Whiting with a long
steady glance.

“How do you do?” he said; “I’m glad to meet you, Mr. Whiting, for lots
of reasons.”

“Thank you,” said Whiting; “am I to know them?”

“You bet. But, I say, you’re in with us on this deal?”

“Rather! Still, I’d like to know more of your ideas of what the deal
is.”

“Oh, yes; sure. I mean this notion of Elsie’s offering a reward for the
return of her missing man.”

“Don’t speak of it so—so bluntly, Joe,” Elsie urged.

“I side with Miss Powell,” Whiting said; “seems to me, Mr. Allison, the
matter might be put more delicately.”

“Oh, all right. But I’m a blunt man,—Westerners have that rep. Anyway,
I’m keen on the scent.”

“What have you found out?” cried Elsie.

“I’ve found that Mr. Courtney, for one thing.”

“Where is he?” exclaimed Whiting and Elsie, too.

“He’s practically in hiding, but not for concealment at all; merely to
get a chance to work in peace, I take it.”

“Where is he?” insisted Whiting.

“He’s staying with a Miss Lulie Lloyd,—only she won’t admit it.”

“Lulie Lloyd!” Elsie cried; “why, she’s Kim’s stenographer.”

“Yep; I found that out, too. Well, Miss Lloyd has an apartment of her
own,—lives there with her mother,—if it is her mother,—and I believe for
the present, Mr. Wallace Courtney is making his abode there also.”

“What’s he doing there?”

“Working like mad on his play!”

“Oh, then he did steal Kim away!” and Elsie’s eyes grew wide with glad
surprise. “If that’s so, we can soon get Kim back! I hoped it was Mr.
Courtney, but I couldn’t believe it!”

“I can’t believe it yet,” put in Whiting. “How did you get all this, Mr.
Allison?”

“Just by nosing around. I found out that Miss Lloyd had been Mr. Webb’s
stenographer, and I went to see her—”

“Why?”

“Just to quiz her, and maybe find out a thing or two. You know a
stenographer is often a mine of information regarding her
employer,—whether she lets go of it or not.”

“And did she?” Whiting was agog with interest.

“She did not! She has the tightest closed pair of lips that ever felt a
lipstick! She told me just about nothing. But—I caught on to some
points! I’ll say I did!”

“Go on,” said Elsie, breathlessly, “what about Kim?”

“Nothing about him,—nothing at all. But it’s my belief she has Mr.
Courtney there,—in her place,—because of her—well, because of a lot of
things I saw.”

“You went there?”

“I did. And Miss Lloyd so little expected any inquisitive intruders that
I caught her utterly unprepared. I rather rudely brushed past the maid,
who was taking my card to the lady, and I entered the room just as an
inner door closed behind a hurried departure of somebody. I only deduce
that somebody was Mr. Wallace Courtney, for these reasons. First, there
was a definite odour of good cigar smoke in the room. Second, there were
papers and notebooks scattered about a desk,—whose chair was pushed
aside as if just vacated by its occupant. Third, Miss Lloyd, herself,
who rose hastily from her typewriter table, was exceedingly flustered
and absurdly angry at my intrusion.”

“Hadn’t she a right to be?” asked Whiting, a little severely, for he did
not approve of the young man’s easy-going ways.

“Sure she had! I fully expected it. Well, I simply said, ‘Where’s Mr.
Courtney gone?’ and she did the high and mighty, ‘I don’t know what you
mean, sir!’ with a loud exclamation point after the ‘sir!’ And then with
the usual tragedy queen gag, she pointed to the door. But I had caught
on to the dope I was after, and casually picking up a few sheets of the
copy she had just written, I saw it was a play, and I saw the characters
in said play, were named. ‘Mrs. Saltonstall, Mr. Cabot and Miss Adams.’
I glanced at the notes on the abandoned desk hard by, and found the same
names scribbled there. To make assurance sure, I helped myself to a page
of the scribblement, and came away. That was all I did there. Then I
went to the _Workers’ Club_, and somehow or other I wormed myself in,
and I managed to get the information from a friend of Mr. Courtney’s
that the page of scribbled notes is in his handwriting and that Mr.
Courtney’s play included the characters named as I have hereinbefore
enumerated! That’s about all.”

“And enough!” cried Whiting. “Man, you’re a wonder! Courtney is there,
of course—”

“And I see farther into it than you do!” Elsie exclaimed; “that Lulie
Lloyd is giving Mr. Courtney all the points of Kim’s play! She’s Kim’s
stenographer, you know!”



                              CHAPTER VIII
                            COURTNEY’S TALK


When Elsie arrived at Lulie Lloyd’s home, that young woman greeted her
most pleasantly.

“I came to see Mr. Courtney,” Elsie said, briefly, looking about.

“Here I am, Miss Powell,” and Wallace Courtney came in from the next
room.

“I was told you were here,—in hiding!” Elsie exclaimed, excitedly.

“In retreat, not in hiding,” Courtney corrected her. “I am exceedingly
busy, and in order to work uninterruptedly, I’ve set up an office in
this house, and Miss Lloyd is helping me.”

“But you’re Mr. Webb’s stenographer,” and Elsie turned on the girl.

“I know it, Miss Powell,” she said, good-naturedly, “but Mr. Webb is
away, and nobody knows when he’ll come back, so I thought I had a right
to take another position.”

“Of course she has,” defended Courtney. “But tell me, Miss Powell, have
you any news of the missing man?”

“How can I have, unless you give it to me?”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning that I think you are in some way responsible for his
disappearance! I think you feared his play would clash with your own,
and in some clever manner you contrived to hide him somewhere until too
late to interfere with you.”

“What an idea! Miss Powell, you give me credit, then, for supernatural
cleverness, for I must say, from what I’ve heard, the hiding of Kimball
Webb,—if he is hidden,—is a masterpiece of ingenuity! How, may I ask, do
you think I did it?”

“I haven’t the least idea, but I know nobody else had any interest in
his removal; and now that you’ve gone to work at your play with such
energy, and have availed yourself of Mr. Webb’s stenographer, which must
be very advantageous, I’ve no further doubt that you did the outrageous
thing! When do you propose to liberate him?”

“Not having him in custody, I can’t answer that question. And, I tell
you frankly, Miss Powell, your suspicions are so utterly absurd I
decline to refute them. If you choose to think I abducted Kimball Webb,
you are at liberty to do so, but until you can produce some proof or
some indicative evidence, I have no call to defend myself. Also, I am
willing to admit that I’m glad he’s gone! I wish no harm to Webb, he’s a
friend of mine, but his play put the kibosh on my hopes, and now that I
have a chance at success, I’m taking it! As to Miss Lloyd, she is a
first-class stenographer and more. She is a real help in knowing all
about Webb’s play. Not that I mean to plagiarize,—on the contrary, Miss
Lloyd can tell me his points, and I shall take care to avoid using
them.”

“You are exceedingly clever, Mr. Courtney,” Elsie looked at him
curiously, “especially so in the attitude you take regarding Kim! I
believe you got him away,—somehow,—and that you will not give him up
until you are ready. How you did it, I can’t imagine, but I shall find
out, and I shall have you punished! There is,—there _must_ be a law that
will reach you, and you’ll have a worse fate than the failure of a
play!”

“Whew! Miss Powell, you take my breath away! If I were afraid of anybody
in this matter, I should certainly fear you! You have enterprise and
persistence to a marked degree. But, I’m not afraid of you, go ahead
with your investigation of my criminal career, and let me know your
results. You have the police back of you, I suppose?”

“I think you’re perfectly horrid, Mr. Courtney! Haven’t you a particle
of sympathy for me? Don’t you think I am in the depths of misery at the
loss of the man I love?”

“Oh, he isn’t lost, Miss Powell. Whatever the reason for his
disappearance,—and I could suggest several of them,—his absence is but
temporary.”

“You’re very sure! So sure, that I am more than ever convinced that
you’re behind the crime,—for it is a crime!”

“Fasten it on me, then,” retorted Courtney, cheerfully; “I deny it, but
if it’s proven on me, I’ll admit it!”

“Of course you will! You’ll have to! And I’ll get it proved, all right!
Miss Lloyd, be careful. You know how Mr. Webb trusted you, you know all
the ins and outs of his work, you must know that you reveal his secrets
at your peril—”

“Oh, wait a minute, Miss Powell,” Courtney broke in; “cut out the
dramatics. Miss Lloyd is a stenographer, and she has a right to work for
any one she chooses. If her previous employer returns and calls her to
account for taking another position, that’s one thing. But until he does
so, no one else has a right to question her course.”

“That’s right, Miss Powell,” said Lulie Lloyd. “But, anyway, don’t you
fear I’ll do anything wrong. As Mr. Courtney says, anything I can tell
him regarding Mr. Webb’s play is by way of caution against plagiarism,
not the means of bringing it about.”

“I don’t believe a word of that!” and Elsie’s little nose went up
scornfully. “I know perfectly well Mr. Courtney will use the best of Mr.
Webb’s ideas, and will so change and rewrite them that he can claim them
as his own. I may be baffled but I’m not fooled!”

The brown eyes swept coldly over the flushed face of the stenographer
and then turned again to Courtney.

“I’ve no desire to discuss the matter further,” Elsie said, calmly, “but
I can tell you, Mr. Wallace Courtney, you’ll be sorry for what you have
done. This is not the age of bandits and pirates! Citizens cannot be
secretly taken from their homes with impunity! You are the man with the
motive for desiring the disappearance of Kimball Webb, and so you are
the man who brought about that disappearance. And I shall see to it that
you get your just deserts.”

Elsie turned on her heel, and started for the door.

“Just a moment, Miss Powell,” said Courtney, and she turned.

“Do listen to me, for your own sake,” he urged; “I didn’t steal your
lover away from you,—but, though you will doubtless scorn it, I’d like
to give you a hint.”

“You can’t divert my attention from you in that way!” Elsie declared,
but she waited for further words.

“I daresay not; still, it ought to interest you to know that Kimball was
looking for something queer to happen.”

“Can you prove that, other than by your own statement?”

“So you won’t believe anything I say! Well, listen, anyway. We were
talking recently at the Club about spiritualism,—”

“Oh, don’t harp on that! That’s Kim’s mother’s theory,—and of all
ridiculous nonsense! Why,—”

“Now, wait a minute. This was only two nights before his bachelor
dinner. We were discussing the foolishness of _séances_, and talking
about the people who claim to have communication with their relatives
who were killed in the war,—and all that rot,—when Kim said, ‘There may
be something in it after all.’

“We laughed at him, and asked him if he had any experiences worth
telling. And he said he’d had one the night before.”

“I don’t want to hear it. Either you’re deceiving me, or he was hoaxing
you. Kim hates everything of the sort,—his mother will tell you that.”

“It isn’t a question of his hating it,—he did,—but he told us a tale
which I, for one, refuse to doubt. It bore evidence of its truth on its
very face.”

“What was it?” Elsie became interested in spite of herself.

“It seems Kim has had a number of queer experiences happen to him while
he slept. For instance, clothing that he left on one chair when he went
to bed he found in the morning on another chair.”

“Pooh, he might have forgotten which chair he left the things on!”

“But it happened three times in succession. And his door was carefully
locked each night. In fact, he said that’s why he formed the habit of
locking and bolting it. He was not at all afraid, but his mother had
talked about spirit performances and he wanted to know what it all
meant.”

“Is there any more of this rubbish?” Elsie asked.

“There is. The night I speak of, two nights before the dinner,—he told
us this tale. He was lying in bed with the bedclothing drawn smoothly
over him. He felt it slipping down as if it were being drawn off. He
made no effort to hold it, nor to rise, as he was bent on waiting to see
what would happen. Well, the sheet, blanket and counterpane, all, were
drawn slowly, steadily and entirely off the bed and they fell in a heap
on the floor.”

“I don’t believe it,” said Elsie, simply.

“You don’t have to. I’m merely repeating the story Kim told. Half a
dozen fellows heard it, they’ll all tell you the same. Want their
names?”

“Not now. I may ask for them some time.”

“All right. As soon as the clothes were all off, Kim sprang up, made a
light, and investigated. There was no sign of any one about,—the door
was locked as he had left it, and, he said, there was no other possible
access to the room. Kim wasn’t afraid, but he _was_ flabbergasted. He
asked us our opinion. You know what Poltergeist means?”

“Oh, I know it’s some foolishness the Spiritualists babble about,—that
snatches bedclothes off and clatters tin pans and that.”

“Yes; well, several of the men said it was Poltergeist.”

“Polter—fiddlesticks! It was a nightmare, and you only tell the story to
get me off the track.”

“Meaning the track of my own participation in the crime?”

“Meaning just that!”

“Well, listen to this, then. One night about a week before the
bedclothes affair, a diamond pin was stolen from Kimball Webb’s room.”

“A diamond pin!”

“Yes, a scarf pin. Small diamonds, set round a cat’s-eye. Not of great
value, but an expensive little trinket. In that case, too, the door was
locked and bolted on the inside.”

“Servants, I suppose. Why didn’t Kim report the theft to the police?”

“He said he was too curious to find out how it was done.”

“Poltergeist don’t steal things.”

“Oh, yes, they do; well, anyway, I wanted you to know that there have
been queer doings and they are not explicable by natural means. Kimball
told of strange sounds,—groans and moans,—”

“The same old stuff!”

“Yes, but Kim told it all as fact. I’ve no reason to doubt his
word,—he’s never been a man given to big yarns, and he has a reputation
for veracity. Do _you_ doubt him?”

“Kimball? No! But I believe these stories are embroidered, if not made
up out of whole cloth! And I don’t want to hear any more of them.”

But Elsie was not allowed to forget the stories.

For, her next stopping place was at the Webb house, and she found the
family there in a state of turmoil.

Mrs. Webb’s declaration of her belief in the supernatural disappearance
of Kimball, having been overheard by the chambermaid, the girl begged
permission to tell what she knew about the room.

“It’s haunted,” she had told the Webb ladies. “I know it is, for I’ve
seen things the haunt done!”

“Tell what you know, Janet,” Henrietta said, severely, “but don’t
exaggerate or colour your story in any way.”

“No, ma’am, I don’t need to. It’s this way. A few weeks ago, I went up
to make up Mr. Kimball’s room, and when I opened the door, the room was
full of smoke—”

“Cigar smoke?” asked Henrietta.

“Oh, no, ma’am. Smoke like from a fire.”

“Was there a fire in the grate?”

“No, ma’am, and no sign of one. Why, there hasn’t been a fire there
since winter time. But the smoke didn’t come from the fireplace,
exactly,—it was sort of around the room,—and a smell like that of fresh
kindled wood.”

“You could imagine the odour, Janet,” demurred Henrietta.

“No, ma’am, I didn’t. It was too strong for that. You know, ma’am,
there’s no smell like that of a fresh wood fire.”

“And no ashes or burnt wood in the fireplace?”

“No, ma’am; it was clean as clean.”

“You see, Henrietta,” said her mother; “Poltergeist is the only thing
that explains that. They carry fire about as easily as we carry water.”

“I don’t want to believe it,” said Henrietta, slowly,—“it’s too
absurd,—but Janet has always been a truthful girl—”

“Oh, it’s the truth I’m telling, miss,” Janet avowed, “and I was that
scared I never mentioned it to nobody.”

“That’s like Janet, too,” observed Mrs. Webb; “she’s very close-mouthed.
But you should have told us.”

“I thought I would, ma’am, and I feared you’d laugh at me. I never
supposed any harm would come of it. And now the little men have carried
off Mr. Kimball!” The girl broke into tears and ran from the room.

“The little men?” said Mrs. Webb, wonderingly.

“That’s what they call any supernatural force,” said Henrietta; “here
comes Elsie, let’s tell her about it.”

It was at that juncture that Elsie appeared, and as the Webbs told the
story of Janet’s experiences, she told what Wallace Courtney had told
her.

“There’s no doubt at all,” said Mrs. Webb, with a strange mixed feeling
of satisfaction at having her own theory gain ground, and a shock of
desolation at the loss of her son.

Elsie looked at her in amazement.

“Mrs. Webb,” she said, slowly, “do you really mean that you think
Poltergeist, or any supernormal power removed him bodily, and took him
out of his locked room, and is keeping him concealed somewhere?”

“Of course I do!”

“How are they keeping him alive?”

“I don’t know that he is alive.”

“And you are willing to believe such rubbish? You—”

“It does no good, Elsie,” interrupted Henrietta, “to talk to mother like
that. You’ve no right to scorn her beliefs,—she is a confirmed
spiritualist, and as such, she is entitled to a respectful
consideration, whether or not you agree with her beliefs.”

“That’s so, Henrietta, and I apologize. But it seems incredible that a
sensible woman can stand for that sort of foolishness! Dear Mrs. Webb, I
beg you to forgive me, I don’t mean to be rude, but—oh, I’m so crazy to
find Kimball, I’m not myself! I’m going to devote my life to it, I’m
going to try every means I can think of and then make up more, but I’ll
find him yet! You see, I start out by assuming that he didn’t go away
voluntarily,—you know he wouldn’t do that! On our wedding day!”

Henrietta said no word, but a slight sound of disagreement that could be
faintly heard made Elsie turn to her. She was amazed at the look of
hatred on Henrietta’s face.

“Why,” she cried, “you look as if you could eat me, Henrietta! Now, look
here, even if you don’t like me very much, I’m your brother’s promised
wife, and so I shall remain until I’m his wife in fact. You can’t change
that,—and though I don’t think,—now,—that _you_ spirited Kim away,—yet I
did think so,—and if you look like that, I may come back to that
opinion!”

“Your opinions don’t interest me, Elsie, and though I shouldn’t have
chosen you for Kimball’s wife, yet I am just enough to treat properly
the woman he himself selected for that honour.”

“All right, why don’t you begin to treat me properly, then? For, if you
ask me, I don’t think you’ve done so yet!”

Henrietta scorned to reply, save by a disdainful look.

“And now,” Elsie went on, “I’m going up in Kimball’s room to look around
a bit. I’m no detective, but then Hanley isn’t one, either, not a real
one. I suppose he does all he can, but I’ve been told that hunting a
‘missing person,’ is about as slow a process as that of ward in
chancery. Sometimes I think I’ll get a private detective, a big one, who
will find my Kimball and give him back to me.”

“My son will never be seen again,” declared Mrs. Webb, solemnly.

“I’m glad I’m not impressed by your dark views about it,” Elsie said,
smiling at the old lady, whom she really liked, in spite of her absurd
beliefs.

Mrs. Webb was more kindly disposed toward Elsie than Henrietta, and
Elsie responded gratefully.

“You’ll change your mind,” she went on, to Mrs. Webb, “when I make a
triumphant rescue of my beloved. Oh,” she burst out, suddenly, “don’t
you feel sorry for me? Think, a bride, left alone on her wedding day!”

“A deserted—” began Henrietta, but Elsie turned on her like a young
tempest.

“No! Not a deserted wife! My Kimball didn’t desert me,—and this minute,
wherever he is, he is planning and striving to get back to me. That is,
if he’s conscious,—and, I know he is! I’d die if I didn’t believe that!”

She ran from the room and made her way up to Kimball’s room.

It was no longer kept locked, and it had been swept and garnished, so
that any clues, if there ever had been any, had been removed.

“But,” Elsie mused, sadly, “how could there have been any clues? Clues
to what?” She couldn’t believe an intruder had carried Kim off, for
there was no possible way for an intruder to get in or out. What she
really thought was that he had been lured away; say somebody had
telephoned him and he had gone off suddenly, or something like that. How
he locked the door after him and the hall door, too, was a stumbling
block, but she didn’t try to get over it.

She wandered about the large, pleasant room. On the chiffonier was her
own photograph in a silver frame. Scattered about were several trifles
she had given him; a paper-knife, a single flower vase, a calendar.

She looked in the scrap-basket,—it was empty.

“What am I looking for?” she said, smiling to herself. “I’ve read in
detective stories how the sleuth ran about a room, like a hound on the
scent,—always like a hound on the scent. But he had something to
detect,—some criminal of whom to hunt traces. I don’t believe the
criminal was here in this room, so there can be no clues. Unless a note
called Kim away,—that might be!”

She looked through the small writing case that lay on a table. But it
held nothing but fresh stationery, stamps and so forth. It looked as if
it had never been used.

“A present from somebody,” Elsie decided. “Nobody ever uses ’em!”

She glanced through some dresser drawers, but there was nothing out of
order, nothing unusual, only the appointments of a man’s wardrobe.

Idly, Elsie tapped at the walls. She had no knowledge as to what sort of
a sound revealed a secret passage and what sort meant a solid wall. But
other and wiser people had thoroughly tested that point, and one and all
declared there wasn’t a chance of a secret or concealed exit from the
room.

And yet, Kimball had gone out of it, and had fastened the door behind
him. Whether alone or accompanied, whether of his own volition or not,
he had left the room that night, and had never been seen or heard of
since.

The very impossibility of the case made it weird. But no belief in
supernatural forces took root in Elsie’s brain.

“A clue,” she said to herself, over and over again. “I must find a clue!
In books they search the floor,—I’ll search the floor.”

She did, going over it on her hands and knees. But the careful sweeping
it had received had obliterated any footprints,—so beloved of writers of
detective fiction! and had also removed any of the conventional shreds
of cloth, ravellings or any such oft found bits of evidence.

However, the maid who did the sweeping was not entirely unique among her
sort, for she had slighted her work when sweeping under the bed. There
Elsie found some rolls of dust that would have roused Mrs. Webb’s ire
had she known of their existence.

Elsie smiled at the thought that not even New England aristocrats can
always command service beyond reproach, and after scanning the rug, as
far as she could see, she rose from her knees.

One scrap caught her attention, and from beneath the bed she picked up a
tiny twisted thing.

She carefully unfolded it, but it proved to be only a paper that had
once contained a quill toothpick and that bore printed on it the name of
a city restaurant.

Mechanically she twirled it in her fingers until the flimsy thing was a
mere wad, and then she threw it into the waste-basket.

She lingered a moment at the chiffonier, sadness stealing over her heart
as she looked at the prosaic, commonplace array of brushes and trays,
and she felt a fresh pang as she noted the absence of Kimball’s best
things, which, like her own ivory set, were packed for the wedding trip!

“And we’ll go on that wedding trip yet!” Elsie vowed in her heart. “I’m
determined to find that man! He never left me voluntarily,—either
Henrietta or Wallace Courtney hid him somewhere,—somehow! But I’ll find
out where, and I’ll get him back. He’s _mine_,—my love, my own, and
nobody shall take him from me!”

She went down stairs, slowly, thinking deeply as she went.

“I’ve decided,” she announced, as she rejoined the Webb ladies, “I’m
going to get a detective,—the best one I can hear of, anywhere.”

“They’re very expensive,” Henrietta reminded her.

“I suppose that means you won’t shoulder any of the expense. Well, I’ll
do it, then. My income will remain unchanged until my birthday, anyway,
and I’ll use it all, if necessary, to get him back,—but I’ll get him
back!”



                               CHAPTER IX
                              GERTY’S PLEA


But Elsie’s determination to get a special detective was not easily
carried out. She visited several who were recommended to her by
agencies, but none seemed sufficiently sure of success to make her
willing to pay the large fees they demanded, irrespective of the outcome
of their efforts.

In fact none seemed anxious to take up the case. They deemed it too
difficult to locate the missing man, for they held the opinion, that he
had been hidden with his own consent or at his own request.

One detective told Elsie plainly, that he had learned that Mr. Webb was
entirely amenable to the advices of his mother and sister, and that as
they so thoroughly disapproved of the marriage he contemplated, he had
at last agreed to their views and had vanished the day of the projected
wedding. He politely expressed his personal surprise at this state of
things, and with an admiring glance at his would-be client, implied
that, for his part, he didn’t see how Mr. Webb could have chosen more
happily.

Disgusted at his impertinence, Elsie left him, and after a few more
trials to find a detective who would take a real interest, aside from
his financial reward, she gave up in despair.

“I thought it would be an easy matter to get a detective like they have
in the stories,” she said to Gerty; “but they’re most of them stupid and
indifferent.”

“Give up the idea that you’ll ever see Kimball again,” Gerty urged,
“that is, before your birthday. There’s not the slightest doubt that
Henrietta is at the bottom of the whole affair. Nobody else could be.
Nobody from outside could get into the house and get Kim away. Henrietta
could, of course, and then all the mysteries are explainable.”

“Explainable, how?”

“Why, after he left the house,—to go wherever they planned for him to
go,—Henrietta could lock the street door for him.”

“And his room door,—locked from the inside?”

“Oh, that yarn isn’t true. Henrietta made it all up. She bribed the
servants to keep it quiet, and she made up the whole story. It couldn’t
be, you know, that he really got out of those locked doors. Unless
you’re going over to Mrs. Webb’s Spirit theory!”

“Good gracious, no! But, she says she’s going to see a clairvoyant about
Kimball, and she’ll find out the truth that way.”

“Poppycock! Of course she could learn nothing, but if she could, she
would have done so long ago. It’s nearly three weeks now since that he’s
been gone, and nobody has done one thing toward finding him. That proves
the Webbs did it. If he had been kidnapped or killed, the police would
have found it out. But the Webbs can keep him hidden indefinitely; and
they’re going to do it, until after your birthday.”

“If they’ll give him back to me then,—I’ll be glad!”

“Elsie, don’t talk like that. And, dear, I wish you would look at the
matter sensibly. You can’t mean to give up five million dollars—for a
mere bit of sentiment—”

“Don’t call my love for Kimball a mere bit of sentiment! You don’t know
what love means—”

“Don’t say that! I guess if your husband had been killed in the war,
you’d—”

“Killed in the war! That’s a glorious fate! Philip died honourably,
fighting for his country, and you can be proud of him! While I am not
only deprived of my love, my mate, but I’ve no notion where he is, or
what suffering he’s undergoing! Oh, Gerty, your sorrow is a great one, I
know, but it’s nothing to mine!”

“You talk like a silly girl! You can’t feel the same about a lover as I
do about a husband and the father of my children! And you can marry some
one else,—you can look on Kimball merely as a dear memory—”

“You can marry some one else, too!”

“No; my heart is buried in my husband’s grave. Elsie, dear sister, try
to look at these things from a rational point of view. Try to realize
that sad as your lot seems at present, there’s happiness ahead, if you
choose to accept it. No young girl can so love a man to whom she’s not
married as to be inconsolable at his loss.”

“I can,” Elsie persisted, “and I do. And you can talk as long as you
like, you’ll never persuade me that I could know a happy moment if I
married any one else!”

“Then, dear, don’t you think you ought to sacrifice yourself for
mother’s sake? She is so ill,—”

“One word for mother and two for yourself! You don’t fool me, Gerty, not
for a minute! You want me to marry because if I don’t we’ll lose Aunt
Elizabeth’s money! Why not speak out and say so!”

“Very well, I do, then! And it’s quite as much for your sake as for
mine! You don’t know what it will mean to leave this place to live in
some little cramped flat, and to work for your living,—unless, indeed,
you think of depending on Joe Allison for charity?”

“I don’t,—you know I don’t! But I’d work myself into my grave before I’d
marry a man I didn’t love! I can’t even think about it—it makes me so
indignant that you can suggest it!”

“That’s the natural feeling, dear, but your case is so different from
most girls’. Try to see it clearly. The income of five millions and all
the comfort that means, against the sufferings and discomforts that
poverty brings. And think not only of yourself, but of mother—”

“Yes! and Gerty; Gerty first, last and all the time!”

“Then, all I have to say is,—you’re a very selfish girl.”

The discussions always wound up like this. Gerty took occasion nearly
every day to repeat her accusations of selfishness, to impress on Elsie
her duty to her invalid mother; to refer to her own two little children
and her own inability to do any work, having the care of them; and
eternally did she harp on the fact that since Elsie had not been married
to Webb, her grief was merely a temporary regret for a man to whom she
had been engaged, which, Gerty held, was an episode that might occur in
any girl’s life.

None of the arguments had any weight with Elsie, except the charge of
selfishness. She was not selfish: she had always given lavishly of her
wealth to her family and to her friends and to various charities. There
was not a selfish impulse in Elsie Powell’s soul. And here was a very
strong sense of duty and of obligation to her own people.

She did not go so far as to think of marrying any one but Kimball,—that
determination was, as yet, unshakable,—but she tried with all her might
to think of some other way out.

Yet there was none. She had been to see one of the trustees, who had her
aunt’s estate in charge, and he had declared there was no possible
loophole. If Elsie was not married when she became twenty-four years
old, the entire property would revert to Joe Allison.

“A pretty hard place that young man’s in!” said Mr. Thorne, the trustee;
“he naturally has no ill feelings toward you, but if he’s human he can’t
help wishing he might inherit all the money. So, he’s doubtless
breathlessly awaiting developments, and every day that passes without
any word from Kimball Webb brings Allison one day nearer to his
inheritance. I suppose you’ve told him of your decision not to marry any
one else?”

“Oh, yes,” said Elsie, “I’ve told everybody of that. I thought if the
Webbs were made to believe that, they might give up and let Kimball come
back.”

“Why do you think they know where he is?”

“Who else could know? And if they find out that I shall marry him when
he does return, they may think that he might better marry a rich girl
than a poor one.”

“They have no desire for money,” Mr. Thorne remarked. “I live next door
to the Webbs, I’ve known them for years, and they’re among the few
people I know who really and honestly scorn money. They think great
wealth is vulgar, and though they require and have enough to live very
comfortably, they’ve absolutely no desire for more.”

“I know that,” Elsie sighed. “And I’m not so awfully keen for money
myself,—not at all, compared to love and happiness! But I’ve people
dependent on me. That is, my mother and my sister and her children have
no home except what I give them from my inheritance. And if I give that
up, what can we all do?”

“That’s a grave question, my dear, and if you’ll listen to my advice, I
suggest that you marry before your birthday. You’ll be glad in after
years that you did so, even though you dread the idea just now.”

“Everybody says the same thing,” Elsie rose to go; “but I’m not obliged
to take the advice. I think I can trust Mr. Allison to provide for my
mother, and Gerty can marry again. There’s no reason _she_ shouldn’t
marry for money, if it’s the thing for me to do!”

“That’s quite different, my dear. Mrs. Seaman is a widow, and her
husband’s memory is too dear to her—”

“Oh, hush! I get so tired of that argument! Let me tell you, Kimball
Webb’s memory is as dear to me as if he had been my husband for a
thousand years! And I shall never marry any one else,—never!”


Fenn Whiting continued to interest himself in the search for the missing
Webb. He followed up the proceedings of the detective, Hanley, and
brought reports, unsatisfactory as they were, to the Powell family.

“I feel embarrassed about it all,” Whiting said to Gerty, in Elsie’s
absence, “for, truly, I love Elsie enough to want her to get Webb back
and marry him. But if he never turns up,—and I don’t believe he ever
will,—I don’t mind telling you that I haven’t given up hope of yet
winning Elsie for myself. But not before her birthday. I’m not a
fortune-hunter, and rather than be thought so, I’d really rather take
her without the money, than with it.”

“But it would mean so much to her,” demurred Gerty.

“Yes, and to all of you. I’ve a good income, and it would be entirely at
Elsie’s disposal, and I know her well enough to know how she would feel
toward her family. But, my income isn’t a princely one, and so, the
matter of the inheritance would be up to Elsie herself. I’d be thankful
if she’d marry me, say in a year, or after she gives up her last hope of
ever seeing Kimball again. Do you think she’d do that, Gerty? do you?”

Whiting was very much in earnest, and indeed, it was easy to believe in
his great love for Elsie. He said little to her about it, but when in
her presence he watched her with an expression of devotion that seemed
all the greater for being untold.

He was at the house one afternoon, when Elsie came in, bringing Joe
Allison with her.

Gerty opened the subject of the inheritance, making no secret of her
opinion that Elsie ought to marry before her birthday.

“It’s hard on you, Joe,” she said, for they had all learned to like
young Allison. “But the fortune is rightfully Elsie’s,—Aunt Powell
merely put in that alternative clause to make sure Elsie married. And
but for Kimball’s strange absence all would have gone well, you wouldn’t
even have thought about being a millionaire.”

“That’s so,” and Joe smiled, grimly. “But, I say, the thought that I may
be one, has taken hold of me. I’m only human, after all, and I’d like a
fortune as well as the next one! Oh, I suppose it would be more noble to
say I don’t want it,—and all that,—but I _do_. That is, if it comes to
me squarely. I want Elsie to get her man back, and be happy. Or, I want
her to marry some other man—if she wants to. But, if Elsie, of her own
free will, gives up that bunch of ducats, I’m mighty glad that it will
then come my way! There, honesty is the worst policy, I daresay, but
it’s mine.”

“Good for you, Joe,” Elsie smiled at him. “I like your frank statement,
and it is, as you say, only human nature to feel that way.”

“But, Joe,” Gerty began, “how about some kind of a compromise? Why can’t
you and Elsie make a compact, that if Elsie gets the money she’ll give
you a good slice, and if you get it, you’ll give her—”

“Nothing doing!” Allison cried; “that isn’t cricket, and, besides, I
know Elsie well enough to know that she doesn’t want charity.”

“Not for herself, maybe—” but Elsie interrupted her sister:

“No, nor for any one else. You’ve proposed all sorts of plans, Gert, but
this last is about the worst of all! I may ask you, Joe, to look after
mother a bit, but not unless you’re glad to do it!”

“Oh, pshaw, Elsie, you know I’ll do the right thing by her. But, here’s
the truth: I don’t suppose it’s the time to say it,—but I do want you
all to know it,—and Mr. Whiting, too.”

Joe looked at Whiting with a glance of hesitation and then proceeded.

“It’s this way: if Elsie doesn’t marry by her birthday,—the thirtieth of
next month, the money comes to me. Well, suppose Elsie marries me, the
day after her birthday!”

Elsie gasped; Fenn Whiting laughed outright, and Gerty exclaimed
quickly, “Why not the day before?”

“No, sir!” retorted Joe. “I love Elsie. I want her for my wife, and I’ll
be glad to share the fortune with her, if she marries me. But my
independence, my manhood, my whole better judgment calls out for the
ownership of the fortune myself. I’ll gladly settle a big sum on her,
she shall have all the allowance she wants, she shall do as she pleases,
unquestioned and unconditionally, but I think I don’t care to be
dependent on a rich wife! Any man worth his salt, _would_ feel that way
about it.”

“Joe, you are too funny for anything!” and Elsie laughed in spite of her
shocked amazement.

“I am, am I? Well, I don’t care what you think I am, Elsie, if you’ll
marry me. This is a queer way to propose, I know, but it’s a queer
situation.”

“It’s all that!” agreed Whiting. “And, as I’ve proposed to Elsie many
times in the past, and in more appropriate circumstances, I’ll also take
this occasion to renew my plea that she’ll marry me,—the day after her
birthday.”

“Why, then she’d lose the money!” cried Gerty.

“Yes, but I can’t ask her to marry me in time to save the money! That
would stamp me a fortune-seeker. I love Elsie for herself alone, and she
knows it. This proposal, here and now, is so that you others will
understand the situation.”

“Well, I’m the most proposed to girl in the city, I do believe,” and
Elsie smiled at both her suitors as at two blundering children. “But you
see, gentlemen, I’ve no intention of marrying anybody. As Joe has
tacitly agreed to look after mother, and as I can look after myself, I
propose to live in single blessedness till Kimball comes home, if it’s
my whole lifetime. I’m sorry, Gerty, that I can’t sacrifice myself for
you and the babies—but—oh, Gerty, dearest, don’t!”

For Gerty had dropped her face in her hands and was crying silently.

“You must forgive me,” she sobbed; “I’m not mercenary, but when I think
of those two dear little innocent children, with no home, no means,—oh,
Elsie, how _can_ you?”

“I can’t!” declared Elsie, her arms round her sister. “But, what can I
do? I wish I knew,—Oh, I am the most miserable girl in the world!”

She ran from the room, and after a few minutes Joe Allison went away.

“I thought he’d prove more generous,” Whiting said to Gerty.

“I understand him,” Gerty replied. “He thinks if he offers to settle a
large sum on us, Elsie won’t marry him. And if he holds off, she may.”

“Yes, I see that, but I say, Gerty, I don’t want him to marry Elsie!”

“Well, I do! It would fix everything all right, and everybody’d be
happy.”

“Except Elsie! She couldn’t stand a life with that kid!”

“Oh, he’s as old as she is. He’s not quite our sort, but he’s a nice
chap, and Elsie could twist him round her finger.”

“But I want Elsie myself. She’d be happy with me—I could make her forget
Kim. Allison never could do that.”

“Well, marry her before the birthday, and it will be all right.”

“If I can get her to consent, I will. But before or after her birthday,
I want her just the same. I’ll tell you what, Gerty, _you_ marry young
Allison, and let him have the money, and after that,—I mean after the
birthday is past, I’ll hope to get Elsie to take me.”

“You don’t think Kimball will ever come back, then?”

“Not till after Elsie is married. There’s no solution, Gerty, but that
the Webbs know where he is. Doubtless, tucked away in some comfortable
place, working on his play. They’re so sure Elsie will marry, to get the
money, they expect he’ll be ready to return right after her birthday.”

“You think he went willingly?”

“I think he let Henrietta and his mother persuade him. He’s under
Henrietta’s thumb, you know, and always has been.”

“That’s not fair, Fenn. Kimball’s a strong character.”

“So’s Henrietta. She’s the only one in the world who can rule him.”

It was the day after this confab, that a stranger called on Elsie.

She willingly saw him, for she had always a lurking hope that news of
Kimball might come from some unexpected quarter.

So she entered the little reception room, where strangers were
entertained, and saw what seemed at first to be a shy, shock-headed
youth.

But a second glance revealed that the apparent shyness was merely the
quiet air of a thoughtful man, and the shock-headedness resolved itself
into a peculiar way of wearing his hair.

The unusually thick crop of light brown was cut short behind and at the
sides, but over the man’s brow the long locks stood out straight and
then fell over, not like a thatch, but like a long marquise over a
doorway! Elsie was fascinated by the effect. The thick tresses waved and
bobbed as the owner of them smiled at her.

“May I have a talk with you?” he said, impulsively.

“Certainly,” she said, smiling in spite of her amazement. “May I ask
your business?”

“Yes, indeed; that’s what I came to tell you. I’m a Stirrer Up of
Sleeping Dogs.”

“I—I beg your pardon?”

“Unusual profession, yes. But I’m a whale at it! Now, it’s this way,
Miss Powell. I read the papers, and I see a lot of funny things; I don’t
mean humorous, but queer,—inexplicable,—questionable. And, often they’re
things that ought to be investigated,—and aren’t. Aren’t,—because
somebody doesn’t want them to be,—although they should be! Well, I don’t
believe in letting sleeping dogs lie. So, I go around and stir them up.
See? Simple enough!”

“A detective?”

“I don’t call myself that,—for I’m not at the beck and call of the
populace. I don’t accept invitations to stir up the dogs, but when I
feel enough interest, I go and ask permission to do so.”

“Oh, I’m glad you came!” cried Elsie, fervently. “I believe you’re the
right man at last.”

“I’m the right man, all right. And, if I may, I’ll begin to stir at
once.”

“Oh, do! But, wait a minute,—Mr.—Mr.?”

“Coe, Miss Powell. Coleman Coe,—called Coley Coe, of course.”

“I was going to say, Mr. Coe, are your services very expensive?”

“Depends on time, place, degree and manner of the work, and more than
that, on the results. No results, no pay. Results,—pay accordingly.”

“Begin to stir, then,” said Elsie, with a straight glance into the
honest eyes that had already gained her trust. “You know the case.”

“I know all that has been in the papers; all I could glean from gunning
around among people; and I’ve a few stirring ideas of my own. Let’s work
together, shall us?” And the brown marquise shook eagerly.

“To a finish!” exclaimed Elsie.



                               CHAPTER X
                               COLEY COE


Nearly every evening Coley Coe came to report to Elsie.

The first time that he met the other members of the Powell family he
quite took them by storm. His big, blue eyes had a frank, even impudent
stare, but his smile was so winning and his laugh so spontaneous that it
was impossible to be otherwise than friendly toward him.

“Awful glad to meet you, Mrs. Powell,” he said, shaking hands cordially,
“and I want to congratulate you on your daughter. Miss Powell’s a
wonder! How? Oh, in every way, but especially in having a sense of
humour. So few girls do, nowadays!”

Coley spoke as a man of wide experience, though as a matter of fact, he
was only about Elsie’s age himself. “And you have, too,” he went on,
seeing the twinkle in Mrs. Powell’s eyes. “I suppose it runs in the
family.”

“You’re likely to find out,” said Elsie, as Gerty came into the room and
Coleman was presented to her.

Another of the young man’s comprehensive glances seemed to gather Gerty
into his acquaintance, and after pleasant greetings he said, “Now, we’re
all acquainted, and ready to begin work.”

He trotted around the room, selected the chair he preferred, and pulling
out the smallest from a nest of little tables, placed it in front of
him, and produced a notebook and pencil.

“I don’t want to know the facts or details of the case, for I know all
those,” he said, “I want to find some sleeping dogs to stir up. By
which, I mean,” his wavy mop of hair shook over his forehead as he
explained, “I want to get sidelights, I want to find out things that you
people know of, that others don’t,—I want your opinions, your
suspicions, your ideas,—no matter how absurd they may seem.”

Coe’s eyes were of that intense, yet light, China blue, that is said by
physiognomists to denote the vagabond character. And vagabond partly
describes the boy’s nature. Not that he was one, but his temperament was
roving, erratic, receptive and of wide interests. He saw everything that
came within the vision of those alert blue eyes, and most things he saw
he understood at once; if not, he kept at them until he did.

“Suspects, for instance,” he went on. “Whom do you suspect?” and he
turned suddenly to Mrs. Powell.

“Gracious! I don’t know,—” the good lady replied, flustered at his
attack.

“But there must be somebody,—that seems to you a possible factor in the
removal of Mr. Webb. Somebody, of whom you would say, if that person
proved to be the criminal, ‘I thought so!’ Isn’t there, now?”

“No,” said Mrs. Powell, but she spoke hesitantly.

“There! you’ve proved there is, by your tone. Come, now, who is it?”

“The Webbs,” said Mrs. Powell, speaking sharply. “I don’t say I’m right,
but I can’t get it out of my head, that they know where Kimball is.”

“That’s the ticket!” Coley smiled at her.

“I’ve got to get a line on this thing. Now, Mrs. Seaman, your suspect
is—”

“Wallace Courtney,” Gerty declared. “I’d suspect the Webbs, but I can’t
think they’d want all the opprobrium of the cancelled wedding party and
all the unpleasant notoriety that it caused—”

“A lot they cared for that!” exclaimed Elsie.

“Go on, Mrs. Seaman,” urged Coe. “You think that Mr. Courtney—”

“I think he somehow arranged to have Kimball Webb kidnapped,” Gerty
said, positively; “I don’t know how he accomplished it, but you see, he
just learned that very evening, that Mr. Webb’s play was so nearly like
his own and much farther along. He realized that Kimball’s play would be
done and produced before his own could be finished, and he was
desperate. He knew he couldn’t do anything after the wedding, so he made
a grand dash and put Kimball out of the way at once.”

“How?” cried Elsie, looking scornful.

“Never mind that side of it for the moment, Miss Powell,” Coley Coe
shook his forelock at her and smiled. “I’m going to find out the manner
of the exit, but first I want to find the guilty man.”

“The guilty man is a woman,” Mrs. Powell persisted, “two women, in
fact.”

A blue-eyed smile from Coe quieted her, and Gerty went on, “I know
Wallace Courtney pretty well, and he’s a man who, with all his quiet
ways is a firebrand at heart. If he wants a thing, everything else must
give way. He is unconventional and lawless. He cares nothing for
appearances,—why, look at him! He’s practically living with Lulie
Lloyd,—”

“Oh, that’s all right,” Elsie broke in, “he merely took rooms in that
same house, to be quiet for his work and to have the services of Lulie.
I went there, you know. Mrs. Lloyd lives with Lulie,—and, too, there’s
nothing that interests Wallace Courtney but his play. He is bound up in
it, and, as Gerty says, he would sacrifice everything,—his reputation,
or Lulie’s either,—if it would help him along with his work.”

“That’s right,” Coley agreed; “I’ve looked up the Courtney side of the
case, and it’s all as Miss Powell says. I don’t trust the fair Lulie,
though,—do you?” and he looked at Elsie.

“No, I don’t. She adores Wallace, and I know she’ll tell him a whole lot
of points from Kim’s play, which Mr. Courtney will use in his own. But I
don’t care, if we can only get Kim back,—his play can go into the
discard.”

“That’s the talk! Now, Miss Powell, who’s your suspect?”

“I’m of a divided opinion, between the Webbs and Mr. Courtney. And
sometimes,—I don’t think it could have been either of them.”

“Spooks, then?”

“Oh, gracious, no! Cut out all thought of that idea!”

“But what about the queer things that have happened in the room Mr. Webb
used? I’m told there have been unexplained sounds and missing jewels and
pulled-off bedclothes—”

“All garbled reports of servants or the Webb ladies themselves, who are
foolishly inclined to the supernatural.”

“Miss Webb, as well as her mother?”

“Partially. Henrietta doesn’t admit it, but she believes in
visitations,—or premonitions, anyway.”

“Well, so much for suspects. Now, for motives: The Webbs’ motive being,
of course, to prevent their beloved son and brother from making a match
of which they don’t wholly approve.”

“Right,” said Elsie, her lip curling.

“Mr. Courtney’s motive being the sequestration of Kimball Webb, his
rival playwright, until his own play is completed.”

“Motive enough in his estimation,” commented Elsie.

“Yes; motive enough for his desire to put the man away, but not enough
to explain his accomplishment of what must have been for him a difficult
feat. The abduction of Mr. Webb would have been easy enough for his own
people but for no one else. That so?”

“Yes,” Elsie added. “But if his own people did it, where are they
keeping him all this time?”

“The same question is pertinent, whoever is responsible for the
disappearance. I’m leaving out the reckoning that Mr. Webb went away
willingly. I don’t believe that for a minute. I’m working entirely on
the assumption that he was kidnapped, abducted, carried off by force and
for a wrong purpose. That means there’s a criminal to be found, and I’m
going to find him. The witnesses against him are sleeping dogs, so far,
but I’m going to stir them up! You’ll see!”

“But there couldn’t have been any witnesses,” exclaimed Elsie.

“Why not? Granting that somebody took Mr. Webb away from his home,—and,
unless he’s still in that house, somebody did, why couldn’t some other
body have seen him taken?”

“I suppose somebody could,” Elsie admitted, “but in that case, why
haven’t they come forward and told of it?”

“There are lots of good and expensive reasons why they don’t.”

“But you know there’s a reward of fifty thousand dollars—”

“Which, to my mind, goes to prove that whoever took him had a bigger
deal on than that. Now, let’s consider a motive. This isn’t a murder
case,—so far as we know—oh, don’t do that!” for Elsie broke down at his
implied suggestion and shook with sobs.

“Look here, Miss Powell, we’re going to stir up things and we must be
prepared for whatever we find. I’ve not the slightest reason to think of
foul play in the case, but we must hunt the criminal just as carefully
as if we were looking for a murderer. Now, brace up and don’t be scared
by a sleeping dog that isn’t there!”

“Go on about a motive,” said Gerty, who was listening intently.

“Well, we’ve got to admit that Kimball Webb has been stolen. We’ll use
that term as being more graphic than kidnapped or abducted. The former
always connotes an infant, and the latter seems to me to imply a girl.
Let’s say Mr. Webb has been stolen, and we’re out to get back the stolen
goods. Now, what’s the reason he was stolen? It’s got to be an awful big
reason, for the robber took awful big risks. And it’s a daring,—a
stupendously daring stunt that he pulled off! He’s been planning it for
a long time,—I say, he,—but if it turns out to be the Webb ladies, we’ll
change our pronoun. Now, there’s no reason big enough but money. I’m
prepared to stand by that statement. Love is a strong motive for lots of
crimes,—but you don’t suspect any of your disappointed suitors, do you,
Miss Powell?”

“No,” and Elsie smiled at his expression. “There are lots of them
heartbroken, of course, but none that I can think would have inclination
or ability to cut up such a trick.”

“Well, then, grant the reason is acquisition of money, somehow. Perhaps
the reward is not big enough,—”

“Fifty thousand dollars!”

“Maybe the criminal is out for bigger loot. Who would benefit
financially by the disappearance of Kimball Webb?”

“Nobody; he is not a rich man by any means,” Elsie informed him.

The mass of brown hair wagged wildly, as Coley Cole shook his head.

“Not from his estate,—the man isn’t dead. But supposing you, Miss
Powell, stuck to your resolution not to marry any one else, thereby
losing your aunt’s money, who would benefit?”

“Joe Allison!”

“Exactly. No, we’ve no definite reason to suspect Mr. Allison, we’ve no
scrap of evidence against him, no clue to his guilt. But I shall stir up
some sleeping dogs and see how they bark at him.”

“Joe!” Gerty exclaimed; “ridiculous!”

“So, Mrs. Seaman? And who _wouldn’t_ be ridiculous?”

“The Webbs wouldn’t. It would be natural, quite in keeping with their
way of doing things, and it wouldn’t be ridiculous to suspect them.”

“Now, I think it would,” Coley put his head on one side, and his blue
eyes smiled at her. “I do think it would be ridiculous to imagine two
staid, respectable ladies putting a man out of the way, against his
will. And, if with his consent, why the mystery at all? Why not let the
man go off of his own accord,—or, even tell Miss Powell of his wish to
break off the affair, and ask her to release him.”

“He didn’t want to be released!” Elsie cried, indignantly, “and you know
it, Gert!”

“Of course I know it! No, Mr. Coe, Elsie’s bridegroom never deserted
her! I know him well, and I know his devotion to my sister was loyal and
faithful.”

“Yes, I know all that, too,” Coley tossed back his hair. “If the Webbs
are responsible for his disappearance, it was done without his knowledge
or consent.”

“How do you mean?” Elsie exclaimed.

“I mean he was carried off while unconscious.”

“Impossible!”

“Any other theory is impossible. Mr. Webb is no weakling,—although
hampered by his wounded knee. He would put up a stiff fight if he knew
he was being stolen!”

“How do you know that?”

“Oh, I told you I had all the facts of the case. I’m getting fancies
now,—and I’ll admit yours are illuminating.”

“Go on,” Elsie said, “ask for more,—we’ll give ’em.”

“Nope. Got enough now. Next I want to see friend Allison.”

“Don’t let him know you suspect him,” Gerty begged. “He can’t be the
one.”

“Leave me to judge of that. How can I see him?”

“He’ll probably be here soon,” Elsie said, “but as Gerty says, don’t
suspect _him_,—it’s foolish.”

Coley glared at her, his blue eyes glinting with mock severity. “Don’t
tell me whom to suspect, Miss Powell! I shall suspect everybody. Not
omitting yourself, your mother, your sister,—or her babies! Now, will
you be good?”

“Oh, if it’s merely a matter of universal suspicion, all right.”

“That’s my custom. Suspect everybody, and then eliminate the useless
suspects as fast as you can.”

“Eliminate my two kiddies as soon as possible, won’t you?” laughed
Gerty, and Coe promised.

Before Allison came, Fenn Whiting turned up.

He looked at Coley Coe with interest, as they were introduced, and Coe’s
business there explained.

“Good work!” Whiting said, heartily. “Count on me to help.”

“First you must be suspected, Fenn,” Elsie said, and Whiting looked
inquiringly at Coe.

“You’re after me?” he asked, genially.

“After everybody,” Coe returned. “I’ve just crossed off the two Seaman
children as suspects, because of the pleadings of their mother, but no
one else may be stricken from my list until he is proved to be beyond
suspicion.”

“Good! Go ahead. Where do I get off? Want my alibi or what? I’m not
impatient, but I’d like to be passed, so I can begin to help you.”

“Good for you, I want help. Start in, will you, by telling me whom you
suspect,—if any?”

“Suspect is too strong a word,—but my theory is that Kimball Webb
abducted himself, with the connivance and help of his butler and
chauffeur.”

“And the knowledge and consent of his mother and sister?”

“That I’m not so sure of. But looked at from the viewpoint of plain
common sense, there seems to me no other way for that man to have gotten
out of that room and out of that house, but to have walked out
voluntarily.”

“And the locked doors?”

“A fabrication of the said servants. You may theorize and talk fairy
tales all you like, but there’s no other rational explanation.”

“And the motive?”

“I can’t say. Quite aside from the rudeness and impoliteness of hinting
any lack of his desire to marry Miss Powell, I can’t believe such a
thing could be true. I’m positive that man, when at his own bachelor
dinner, at which I was present, expected and intended to become a
bridegroom the following day. Now, I believe something transpired, after
his return home, that made it impossible or undesirable that he should
be married. I can’t say what,—for I’ve no idea,—but something pretty big
and unavoidable.”

“You mean something disgraceful?” the blue eyes of his questioner looked
into his own.

The steel grey eyes of Fenn Whiting met the others squarely.

“I don’t want to say that,” he spoke slowly, “but it may have been.
Better men than Kimball Webb have been brought to bay by force of
circumstances; wiser men than he have been the victims of blackmailing
schemes; stronger men than he have met disaster through no fault of
their own. I make no suggestions,—I have none to make,—but I maintain
the only logical theory of Webb’s disappearance is that he went
voluntarily, if not willingly.”

“I think you’re horrid!” Elsie cried, her eyes flashing. “Kim _never_
did anything wrong or underhanded! He couldn’t have been blackmailed! He
couldn’t have been involved in any thing disgraceful! How idiotic!”

“If the idea is idiotic, Miss Powell, it will meet the fate it deserves.
But we must stir up those sleeping dogs of blackmailers, if they exist.
It is a plausible theory, if not the only possible one, and I shall
remember it.”

Whiting gave the young detective a look of appreciative interest and the
glance was returned, for the two men seemed to understand each other.

“I admit it’s only a theory,” Whiting said, his prominent, muscular jaw
set with a grim decision, “but you’ll be hard put to it, to trump up a
better one.”

“That may well be,” Coe agreed, “but I’d be sorry to depend on one
theory alone. I like to have lots of them, then, if I pick up a clue
here or there, I can fit it in where it belongs.”

Like a Skye Terrier, he blinked through the absurd mop of hair that
covered his forehead, and Whiting, his own brow bared, showing lines
that sloped up to a point, gazed at Coe with a fascinated curiosity.

He wondered why the man chose that peculiar haircut, but it was not his
business and he asked no questions.

“All right,” he said; “any of your theories ripe for discussion?”

“Yes; one of them. I think a very strong motive could be ascribed to the
young man from the West,—the alternative heir, you know.”

“Allison?” said Whiting. “Oh, come, now, you’ve nothing against him.”

“Only his certainty of inheriting the millions, in case Miss Powell
doesn’t marry by the stated date. Fine scheme, to steal the
bridegroom,—thus lessening by a large percentage the chances of her
immediate wedding.”

“Yes, the motive is all right,” Whiting agreed, “but you don’t know Joe!
Why, he’s the whitest young chap—”

“On the surface; why not? But, do you suppose a criminal goes about
labelled? Count every man guilty until he’s proved innocent, is a better
plan to work on than the reverse principle. If Joe Allison is innocent
it will be far easier for him to prove it, than for me to prove it if
he’s guilty.”

Whiting pondered over this, then he said,

“Well, I admit, you’re the most novel detective I’ve ever run up
against! Have you usually succeeded in your quests?”

“That’s a leading question.” Coley Coe looked a little surprised at it,
as if he thought it a breach of etiquette.

Whiting flushed and his thin lips shut together sharply, as they did
when he was a bit embarrassed.

“I beg your pardon,” he said, simply. “That did sound rude, but
honestly, I didn’t mean it so. It was the unconsidered expression of my
interest in your methods,—which, if I may say it, are refreshingly
unusual.”

Coe accepted the honourable apology, and met Whiting half-way.

“My methods are unusual, and I’m properly ashamed of them.” His eyes
smiled. “But they do work,—and I have had successes,—oh, lots of ’em!”
he wound up, boyishly.

Then Allison came.

The others looked on curiously as Coley Cole made his first survey of
the young Westerner.

Unsuspectingly, Joe stood the ordeal well. He looked his usual frank,
good-natured self, and he greeted the detective with unconcealed
interest.

“Miss Powell told me about you,” he said, “and I’m downright glad you’ve
begun to look into this thing. It seemed to me nothing was being done.
Not that it’s my business,—but I’m more or less mixed up in it, and I
want to see the mystery cleared up.”

“When did you arrive in New York?” Coe asked him, with a straightforward
glance.

“About a week after the disappearance of Mr. Webb. Why?”

“Merely getting information. You’ve no objection to giving it?”

“Not a bit. But if you’re suspecting me, say so, right out. I’d like it
better.”

“I daresay you would, but we detectives don’t always ask suspects their
preferences.”

Joe’s blank look of surprise at this speech was funny to see. He glared
at Coe, and then under the influence of the shining eyes and the
ridiculous hair, Allison laughed and said, “You’ll do! And so you don’t
suspect me, after all? Why don’t you?”

“That’s part of the tricks of my trade,” Coe returned. “I never let my
suspects think I suspect them. It would spoil my investigation work if I
did.”

“By George!” ejaculated Allison; “you’ll get me scared if you talk like
that. I suppose you think I had a motive for putting Mr. Webb out of the
way—”

“Oh, Joe,” cried Gerty, “don’t take Mr. Coe so seriously; of course he
doesn’t suspect you.”

“Of course I do,” said Coley, calmly. “I suspect everybody. I’ve told
you that before. At this moment I suspect every person who I’ve heard
has any connection with the matter at all,—_any_ connection, mind
you,—and I shall finally fasten the guilt on one of my suspects.”

“Do you know already which one?” Elsie cried, quickly.

“I do not; but I’ll say that I suspect some more than others,—though I
may be mistaken. I’m not infallible.”



                               CHAPTER XI
                             SLEEPING DOGS


No one deemed Kimball Webb dead, yet the grave itself could not have
been more silent than the circumstances of his absence.

The public generally were divided into two classes, those who thought he
had decamped to avoid his wedding and those who thought he had been
abducted for some undiscovered reason.

The Webb family were extremely reticent, and neither Mrs. Webb nor
Henrietta expressed definite beliefs or fears. Even to their nearest and
dearest friends they showed an attitude of patient waiting and cheery
hopefulness of Kimball’s return. This caused, in many minds, suspicion
that they knew where Kimball was, and had no fears for his safety.

The Powell family,—that is, Mrs. Powell and Gerty, were growing daily
more alarmed and anxious about the future. If Kimball did not reappear
before the thirtieth of June, and if Elsie persisted in her refusal to
marry any one else, their present income would cease entirely, they
would have to move out of their luxurious home, and the outlook was most
dismal.

There were many men ready and willing to marry Elsie Powell, and not
alone for the fortune she would inherit. Elsie had had “shoals of
suitors” ever since her school days, and though when she met Kimball
Webb, she discarded all serious thought of the others, they did not so
easily give her up.

Fenn Whiting was the most zealous and insistent of the lot. He had
worshipped Elsie for years. He had been forced to step aside in Webb’s
favour, but now, with Webb out of the running, he renewed his suit with
all the ardour of his intense nature.

He put the matter before Elsie in every possible light. He offered to
marry her after her birthday had passed and she was a poor girl, or
before her birthday, when the marriage would assure her the fortune. The
decision was left to her. Or, he suggested, he would consider her
engaged to him, she could set the wedding day whenever she chose, and,
then, if Webb turned up before the hour, he would abdicate in his
favour.

No one could make more generous or more magnanimous proposals, and Elsie
was touched by his patience and devotion.

Yet she could not bring herself to agree to his plans. There was nearly
a month, still, before her birthday, and much might happen in a month.

Then, too, Joe Allison was to be considered. He, also, wanted to marry
Elsie, but he adhered to his plan of waiting until after her birthday
when the control of the fortune would be his.

This, he declared, in no way reflected on his love or consideration for
her, but it seemed to him, more fitting in every way, that the husband
should own the fortune,—especially as he was willing to give his wife
_carte blanche_ and also to provide liberally for her family.

Elsie rather admired the staunchness of his purpose in this respect, for
she had come to know Allison well enough to appreciate his strong will
and his hard common sense.

Meantime, Coleman Coe was busily stirring up his sleeping dogs.

He seemed to possess an uncanny intuition as to where sleeping dogs were
lying, and he went straight, though secretly, after them.

His methods were, perhaps, unusual, for he depended largely on
assistants. His belief was, that he could do better work by farming out
the drudgery of his pursuit, and doing only the thinking parts himself.

So, he had a fairly good-sized corps of assistants, whom he had trained
to do just what he told them and no more.

By far the greater part of them were shadowers.

Not professional trailers, from a detective Bureau, but men, boys,—and
also girls, whom he had picked here and there with a view to their
special adaptation for the work.

Coe’s great first principle was to learn what a suspect is doing when he
doesn’t think he is watched.

Therefore, with careful and comprehensive effort, he was making a list
of the people he wanted shadowed.

Coley Coe, was neither visionary nor imaginative. He did depend a great
deal on intuition, but only when it was undoubtedly in accordance with
facts.

His list completed, he put his machinery in motion, and soon had quiet
but efficient trailers following the daily routine of both Henrietta
Webb and her mother, also their two men servants, Hollis and Oscar.

Then, a competent shadow never lost sight of Joe Allison. Another was
unobtrusively at the heels of Fenn Whiting, and another reported duly
every move of Wallace Courtney.

Lulie Lloyd was under secret surveillance, as was Owen Thorne, the
trusted trustee.

This work in the hands of efficient workers was neither difficult nor
onerous, and it gave Coe a wide outlook of possibilities when the
reports came in.

Nor was Coley himself idle. He could cover a great many occasions denied
to his underlings. He could see the Webb ladies in their home
surroundings; could call on Allison or Whiting when he chose, could
demand an interview with Wallace Courtney however much that busy
gentleman might object; and could see Lulie Lloyd any time he cared to
invite her out for an evening.

In fact, Lulie was quite taken with the gay young Coe, and small wonder,
for he deliberately determined that she should be.

No girl of Lulie Lloyd’s stamp could resist the lure of Coley’s admiring
blue eyes, or the fascination of the tossing hair above his brow.

Even Elsie found him so agreeable that her mother said pettishly, “If
that young busy-body never succeeds in finding Kim, you might marry
him—”

She stopped, a little frightened at the look Elsie gave her.

“Don’t look at me like that,” she cried.

“Then never say anything of that sort again,” Elsie warned her, in a
severe voice. “I’ve trouble enough, mother, without such thoughtless,
heartless speeches from you.”

“Oh, pshaw, Elsie,” spoke up Gerty, “mother didn’t mean anything. If you
take it so seriously I shall think you’re really interested in Coley
Coe.”

“I am, to the extent of his work for me,—and no further.”

“I’ve yet to see any extent to his work,” sneered Gerty; “it seems to me
that he doesn’t get anywhere.”

“Give him time,” Elsie retorted. “He’s only been on the case about a
week. But, truly, Gert, I have faith in him. I believe he’ll find
Kimball yet!”

“Well, I don’t. You may rest assured that whoever put Kim out of the way
will keep him out till after your birthday. And I think, Elsie, you
ought to decide what you’re going to do. It’s too awful for you to sit
still, and let your birthday go by, without marrying anybody.”

“Far more awful to marry somebody you don’t care for. Look here, you and
mother both married for love; why should _I_ sacrifice myself for the
greed of my family—”

“Oh, Elsie,” cried her mother, “what a way to put it!”

“It’s the truth,” said Elsie, doggedly, “and you two must admit it. You
want me to marry just so you can continue to live here in luxury, and
have no care about money matters.”

“I’m sure I think more of your welfare than my own,” insisted Mrs.
Powell. “I want my child to secure the inheritance that was left to
her.”

“At the cost of all my happiness in life!” stormed Elsie. “At the cost
of a broken heart and a loveless marriage,—the saddest fate that can
befall a woman!”

“Rubbish!” exclaimed Gerty. “Cut out the histrionics, Elsie. You’re too
young to think your heart is for ever bound up in Kimball Webb. There
are lots of men as good as he,—and if you’d never met him, you would
have been entirely satisfied with Fenn Whiting,—who is really the finer
man of the two.”

“Gerty, I’m ashamed of you. Suppose somebody had told you another man
was better or finer than Philip, would you have calmly agreed?”

“That’s different. And it doesn’t matter. Had I been situated as you
are, I would have thought it my duty to marry some good man rather than
let my mother and sister know want.”

“Yes, had you been situated as I am, you would have married anybody, for
your own sake, rather than lose five million dollars!”

“I should,” Gerty calmly agreed; “and ninety-nine women out of a hundred
would do the same.”

“Then I’m the hundredth,” Elsie spoke with a quiet decision, “for I
repeat, what you already know, I will never marry any one but Kimball
Webb,—money or no money,—family or no family.”

“That I should live to hear a child of mine talk like that!” wailed Mrs.
Powell. “Elsie, have you no heart? Have you no compassion for an invalid
mother,—a sorrow-stricken sister,—two helpless little children? What
sort of a monster are you?”

“Don’t, mother!” Elsie begged, her lovely face aghast at the accusations
hurled at her.

“Mother is right,” said Gerty; “I haven’t the same authority over you,
as your mother, but if I had, I should command you to do what is so
clearly your duty. I do not speak for myself, but for mother’s sake, and
for the sake of my lovely innocent children, I humiliate my pride and
beg of you,—beg of you, Elsie, to save us from disgrace and poverty.”

“You do speak for yourself,” Elsie’s clear eyes rested on her sister,
“you do think of yourself first, Gerty, you always do,—though you
pretend you don’t. And I don’t see how you can! It is
outrageous,—heathenish for you to talk as you do,—both of you! You
practically want to sell me,—sell me for your own comfort and ease! And
I refuse to be sold!”

“Very well, then,” and Gerty looked despairing, “there’s no more to be
said. We may as well begin to get ready to leave this apartment. Where
we can go, I’ve no idea. You know what rents are, now; you know how
impossible it is to get an apartment of any sort,—and, too, we can’t
afford _any_ apartment! I suppose we shall have to live in a tenement
house,—or go into the country.”

“I expect to get work,” said Elsie.

“Don’t be ridiculous, child,” said her mother. “What work can you
possibly do?”

“Oh, there are lots of things,—stenography,—private secretary, open a
tea room—”

“Elsie,” and Gerty looked very stern. “Do try to talk sense! If you’re
really thinking you can do those things, let me remind you that
stenography requires a year, at least, for tuition and practice; a tea
room requires capital, influence and a special adaptation for that sort
of thing,—which you haven’t got. As for a private secretary, you’re
about the least fitted for that of any one I know! You can’t keep your
own desk in order, or your own correspondence looked after. You’re for
ever forgetting engagements, and you’re accustomed to an idle life,
getting up when you choose and being absolute mistress of your time. You
couldn’t adapt yourself to routine work, or to being always at the beck
and call of anybody, so you couldn’t make a success of any of those
things. The result would be that instead of providing a home, you would
be everlastingly sent back home from your work because of your failure
to give satisfaction.”

Elsie looked at her sister, a dumb acquiescence in her big brown eyes.
They had a hunted expression, as of a frightened fawn at bay.

“Then, what _can_ I do! Oh, Gerty, help me! You’re my older sister, give
me some real help—tell me some way I can satisfy you and mother, and
not—not be sold like a slave in the market!”

“Dear child,” and Gerty became suddenly suave and gentle, “it isn’t
being sold to give yourself to some good and worthy man. And, it is as
your loving elder sister that I advise you as I do. I speak truly, when
I tell you you could never earn your living at any business. In this
day, skilled labour is required; the services of experienced, efficient
girls are demanded and a beginner, a learner, has no chance at all. Now,
marriage, with a true-hearted, honourable man, is the best lot that
could befall you,—”

“Without love!”

“Love will come. No woman can remain insensible to the devotion of a
loving husband. Fenn Whiting—”

“I won’t marry Fenn Whiting! I hate him!”

“Well, Mr. Harbison—”

“I hate him, too!” Elsie was white with angry excitement. “I hate
everybody but Kim!”

“Oh, well, if you’re going to act like that!” Gerty gave up the
argument.

But Mrs. Powell took it up.

“Your sister is right, Elsie, dear,” she said; “and I’m sure you must
know your own mother would be the last person in the world to advise you
to do anything wrong or anything that might endanger your happiness. But
a woman’s happiest life is the married life. You will eventually believe
this; you will some day marry, and if Kimball never returns, it will be
some other man. Why not realize this, and marry now, thus securing the
great wealth that is rightfully your own but can be attained only by
your marriage. Don’t harp on love,—as Gerty says, it will come with your
married life. It will unfold like a beautiful flower as the time goes
on,—as you live with and in the companionship of a good kind man—”

“Mother, do stop!” Elsie cried, in desperation. “If you want me to
sacrifice myself for that detestable money, say so! But don’t get off
all that foolish argument about love coming after marriage and all that!
In fact you stand a better chance of persuading me, if you say frankly
it’s for your sake and Gerty’s, than if you talk rubbish about me.”

“I thought you’d see your duty,” Gerty cried, clutching at the straw
Elsie had tacitly held out. “Do it for us, then, Elsie! Marry whomever
you will, goodness knows you’ve enough to choose from, but do it before
the thirtieth of June! Will you,—_will_ you, Elsie?”

She hung on her sister’s words, she listened for Elsie’s decision.

“Oh, Gerty, let me think—”

“You’ve had time enough to think. If you’re to be married before the
thirtieth, it’s time we began preparations.”

“Preparations? They’re all made. I have my trousseau,—”

“Yes, of course. The principal preparation is to decide on the right
man.”

“There’s only one right man,” and Elsie’s eyes were piteous.

“Yes, yes,” said Gerty, hurriedly, “I mean the nicest man except
Kimball. Now, let’s think him over. You don’t really hate Fenn, do you?”

“No, I don’t hate him,—he’s a good friend, and all that. But, oh, Gert,
I couldn’t live with him! He has no,—no imagination.”

“You mean no love of hifalutin poetry, and that sort of thing that you
and Kim fooled so much time over.”

“Yes,—I suppose I do.”

“Well, let me tell you, a strong, sound personality like Fenn Whiting,
is worth a lot more in the long run than a mooning, visionary sort of
person.”

“Kim isn’t mooning and visionary.”

“Never mind Kim. Say, Elsie, how do you like Joe?”

“Joe Allison! Marry him! Oh, Gerty, ridiculous! And, too, he insists on
having the money in his own right.”

“He won’t, if you insist the other way. Joe’s over head and ears in love
with you, and if you like you can twist him round your finger.”

“I suppose I could,—but Joe is so—so—, oh, sort of raw—”

“Raw! Joe Allison! Why, Elsie, he’s most polished,—most correct of
manner, most delightful conversationalist—”

“Hold on, Gert, you’re making him out a paragon! If he’s all that, in
your eyes, why don’t you marry him yourself? You’re bound to marry
again, sooner or later, and really, it would settle things beautifully,
if I let my birthday pass, let Joe get the money, and then let him marry
you instead of me. You could give me enough to live on,—and I could wait
for Kim.”

“Great scheme, Elsie,” Gerty said, coldly; “there’s only the
objection,—Joe wouldn’t have me.”

“Oh, so you’ve thought it over, have you? Well, Gerty, I don’t know just
what I shall do. But I’m not going to be pushed to a decision. I’m
waiting on Mr. Coe’s actions. He may find Kim for me—”

“Not likely!” Gerty scoffed.

“No, I fear it isn’t likely. But I’m still hoping for it. Anyway, I
won’t be forced into this wedding you insist upon. If I agree, I’ll tell
you in time for you to make the ‘preparations’ you talk about. But I
won’t have a big wedding—”

“No, dearest, just a small, quiet affair,—oh, Elsie, how sweet you are!
I knew you’d see reason at last—”

“I haven’t seen it yet,—and I haven’t said positively that I will!”

Gerty kept silent, lest she should lose the ground she had already
gained in the conflict.

That evening Coley Coe called to report to Elsie.

“Let’s go out somewhere where we can talk unheard,” he urged.

“Oh, we’re all right in the drawing room,” Elsie demurred, “no one can
overhear us here.”

“Yes, they can. Come out somewhere.”

So Elsie agreed and they went for a stroll, winding up at a quiet
pleasant restaurant where they had supper.

“I’ve a lot of wild information,” Coe informed her; “and I believe when
it’s sifted out, we’ll find out things, decidedly important, if true!”

“Such as?” Elsie asked, smiling at his impetuous manner.

“I’ve had my minions out stirring up sleeping dogs, and by George, Miss
Powell, they’ve wakened up some mighty funny curs!”

“Tell me all about it,” and Elsie’s interest equalled Coley’s own.

“Well, to begin with, the Hen, Henrietta, is a most mysterious person.
That is, she goes on most mysterious errands, secretly and alone.”

“To visit her brother! In his concealment!” Elsie jumped at the
conclusion.

“Dunno yet. Know where she goes, all right,—but not what for. But we’ll
find out. Things are working. Then, Mrs. Webb, the old lady, she goes on
private missions also. They’re a queer pair!”

“Doesn’t that seem as if they must have Mr. Webb hidden? Or, at least
know where he is hiding?”

“Looks a little that way, I admit. Then we’re trailing the Webb
servants, you know. Well, Hollis seems all right, but Oscar’s a lame
duck!”

“How?”

“He goes to the same place Miss Webb goes to, and he goes on the sly,
too. I’ll get onto it, but I haven’t been able to do so yet.”

“Go on,—who else?”

“Then there’s Mr. Courtney. I doubt there’s anything wrong about him,
after all. I think he’s tickled to death at Mr. Webb’s disappearance for
he’s fairly digging at his play, but I don’t think he had anything to do
with the crime.”

“Crime?”

“Sure. Abduction is a crime,—and I’m positive that Kimball Webb never
went away of his own initiative! Never!”

“I agree to that! What about Joe Allison?”

“Can’t pin anything on him,—nor on Fenn Whiting.”

“I didn’t expect you would.”

“Well, I’m having them both watched. Allison frequents second-hand
jewellery shops, that’s the only queer thing about him.”

“You’re thinking of my diamond pendant.”

“I am. Maybe Mr. Webb has that with him,—wherever he is, and then again
maybe he hasn’t.”

Elsie looked thoughtful. “If the Webb ladies know where he is, they know
where the diamonds are,” she declared. “I can’t help thinking there may
be a thief in the matter though. You see, he showed the diamonds at his
dinner party,—oh, I don’t mean his guests,—but, maybe the waiters,—”

“I’ve thrashed that all out,—and there’s small chance of burglary. If
anybody had wanted to steal that valuable pendant, he wouldn’t have
attempted to get away with the man at the same time! And, if anybody
wanted to abduct the man, the diamonds would have been a secondary
consideration. To be sure the abductor might have stolen them,—just
because they were handy by,—but in that case, they won’t be on the
market for a long time, and then, not here.”

“Then how do you mix Joe Allison with it all?”

“I don’t know. But he’s such a good one to suspect.” Coley grinned, and
tossed his brown mane back like a war horse, prancing. “You see, if he
can’t get the fortune, it’s a next best thing to get that big diamond
haul. I’m told it was a pretty high-priced gewgaw.”

“Oh, it was. And the Webb ladies were mad as mad that Kimball bought it
for me.”

“That’s not enough to stamp them as burglars,—but their disapproval of
the match is quite enough to lay them open to suspicion as to the
disappearance. And the necklace would be missing in either case.”

“Haven’t you done anything toward finding out how Kim got out of the
locked room?”

“Not a thing. If the Webb ladies made up that yarn, there’s no use
worrying over it. And if they didn’t, I’ll know soon that they didn’t.”

“How?”

“By finding out where their secret errands take them to.”



                              CHAPTER XII
                           COE’S CONCLUSIONS


Coley Coe sat in his somewhat eccentric looking den, in an attitude
characteristic of his working hours. He occupied a big over-stuffed
chair, and while his head and shoulders rested on one of its wide arms,
his feet and legs were draped carelessly over the other. His remarkable
hair fountained out over his forehead and almost hid his eyes, which
were fairly blinking in the earnestness of his thought.

He was clearing out his always methodical mind, and tabulating his ideas
as he went along.

“There are two distinct things to hunt for,” he said to himself; “first,
Mr. Kimball Webb, and second the abductor of Mr. Kimball Webb. In fact
it doesn’t matter which I find first,—one will doubtless lead to the
other. Now, it’s practically hopeless to hunt for Mr. Webb, for if he
could have escaped his confinement,—granting that he is confined,—he
would have been heard from before this. There’s the theory that he’s
staying away willingly, but that I do not believe. Now, so far as I can
see, there’s nobody likely to know anything about where he is, except
the person or persons who put him there. And while his mother and sister
are possible suspects, they are not, to my mind, plausible ones.
For,—oh, well, I just can’t see ’em in that light.

“Now, I’m also ready to cross off Wallace Courtney. He’s benefited
largely by the absence of his rival playwright, but, even granting his
willingness, I don’t see how he could have pulled it off. Owen Thorne is
out of the question, also. Just because he is Elsie Powell’s trustee is
no reason to think he would stick a finger in her romantic pie. As to
his having played ducks and drakes with her money, and daren’t
acknowledge it, I’ve yet to find any proof of that. So far as I can get
hold of the facts, the Powell fortune is in honest hands, and is intact
and safe.

“Now, I’m left with mighty few people to suspect. And those few I
propose to run down pretty quick. There’s just one element that’s
bothering me and that’s the supernatural one. Those yarns that Kimball
Webb told at his club are not to be passed over lightly, for as far as I
can make out Mr. Webb is a pretty much worthwhile chap. And judging from
the line I’ve got on his character, he’s not the sort to tell those
stories unless they were true. True that the things he related happened,
I mean. Not true that they happened by supernatural forces. If there’s
some sort of hocus-pocus possible in that room of Kimball Webb’s, that
means somebody has access to it, when it’s apparently securely locked.
It might be his mother, after all,—or that high and mighty sister. But
Mrs. Webb is too sincerely a believer in the spirit business to fake it,
and—well, it doesn’t fit in with that scheme of things called Henrietta!

“But what it is, or what it may be, I’ve got to find out,—and that with
neatness and dispatch.”

Disentangling himself from his easy chair, Coe put on his hat, and
started out on his quest.

But, according to his principle, “when in doubt, go to Elsie’s,” he went
straight to the Powells’ home.

It was late afternoon, and he was not surprised to find the faithful
pair, Allison and Whiting already there, and having tea.

It was no secret now, that these two men were rivals for Elsie’s hand.
Urged on by her mother and sister, strongly advised by the Webb ladies,
and even besought by her trustee and guardian to marry before her
birthday, the poor child felt she would be unable to combat their
decrees much longer.

The arguments that she was foolish to throw away a fortune, that she
owed it to her mother and sister, that she’d be sorry afterward if she
didn’t, all had no effect on her personal inclination, but they had the
wearing action of constant dropping of water upon a stone, upon her
will.

Her strong determination was giving way under pressure and she had no
one to bolster up her side of the decision. Even Coe, with his clear
vision and good judgment, did not dare advise her against marriage, for
he feared she might later regret her course.

Yet, when alone, Elsie was as positive in her determination as ever, and
vowed to herself that she would not be swayed by others, and that she
would never marry if she could not marry the man she loved.

And, then, Gerty’s pale, martyr-like face, or her mother’s gentle
coaxing would so shake the poor child’s will power, that she wavered and
almost allowed herself to be convinced.

The great question was whom to marry. Gerty favoured Joe Allison, but
Mrs. Powell inclined toward Fenn Whiting.

Gerty declared that Elsie could easily change Joe’s plan of a marriage
after the birthday, if she made her consent conditional on an earlier
date. For each day saw the young man more and more in love with Elsie,
and he was rapidly approaching the stage where he would agree to
anything if she would marry him.

Fenn Whiting, adhered to his statement that it was for Elsie to say
whether she would marry him, a rich girl or a poor one. For his part, he
had no advice to offer in that regard. He wanted the girl; if she wanted
the fortune, all right,—if not, all right, also.

This was the only manly attitude for Whiting to take, but, as Gerty
observed, there could be no possible reason for Elsie to throw away the
money if she concluded to marry Fenn.

Elsie wouldn’t say what she would or wouldn’t do. She went around—as one
in a daze; hoping against hope that something would transpire to give
her some idea of what had happened to Kimball Webb.

And so, when Coe came in, bright and cheery as always, she turned to him
with renewed hope and cried out:

“Anything new?”

“Nixy; except that I have crossed off some suspects and I’m going to
cross off some more. Elimination’s the thing!”

“Go on,” cried Elsie, “tell me what.”

“Well, next, I’m going to sleep in that room of Mr. Webb’s. Do you
suppose the powers that be will permit it?”

“I don’t see why not,” offered Whiting. “What’s the great idea?”

“I want to see if the Poltergeist snatch off my bedclothes, or any stunt
like that.”

“I can’t see that it would get you anywhere,” Whiting laughed, “but
there’s no harm in it.”

“It’s a good plan,” Allison said, slowly. “That Poltergeist business is
the real thing. I’ve looked into those subjects, more or less, and I’m
interested. Let me spend a night there with you, will you, Coe?”

“Not the first trip. I don’t look for anything to happen, but it might
and I want to tackle it alone.”

“What are you going to prove?” asked Gerty, puzzled.

“Only that if a Poltergeist comes after me, and I can’t catch him, that
there’s a possibility that one carried off Kimball Webb.”

“Rubbish!” said Whiting.

“Rubbish, I admit,” said Coe, placidly, “but what’s a theory that isn’t
rubbish?”

Nobody knew of any, and Coe soon departed for the Webb home to put his
plan in action.

The Webb ladies liked the pleasant young man, with his winning smile and
his good-natured ways.

His request to sleep for a night or two in Kimball Webb’s room met with
a willing, though surprised consent.

“What in the world do you hope to learn that way?” Mrs. Webb asked, and
Coley returned, gravely: “I want to test your theory, Mrs. Webb. If
friend Poltergeist,—is that his name?—carries me through a closed and
locked wooden door, I’m ready to drop all else and follow your cult for
life!”

“You’re going to lock the door?” asked Henrietta.

“Surely, otherwise it’s no test! All New York city,—I mean any one of
its inhabitants, might come in and play at poltering otherwise. Of
course, I’m going to lock the door and bolt it, too.”

The broken lock on the inside of Kimball Webb’s door had been replaced
with a new one, for no special reason save that the Webb ladies were too
orderly by nature to leave anything incomplete in the way of household
appointments.

And so, when that night, Coley Coe locked himself into the mysterious
room, he was securely entrenched against attack from the hall.

He scrutinized the window fastenings and corroborated his knowledge that
the patent catch enabled one to get sufficient ventilation, yet left no
possible chance of a man entering or escaping that way.

Coley Coe locked himself into that room at ten-thirty, at one o’clock he
was still hunting for the secret entrance that he had been so sure of
finding. But his search had been utterly fruitless, and in an unusual
spirit of despair, he decided to abandon it. He arrived at this decision
only after a most exhaustive and repeated investigation of every part of
the room. He proved to his own satisfaction that there was not a break
in the walls, not a chance of a secret passage between the partitions.

He made sure the window frames or door frames could not be taken out
bodily, as a whole. The old woodwork was as firm and true as when it was
built, many decades before.

“And yet,” Coley observed to himself, “there’s got to be a secret
entrance,—there’s _got_ to be! There’s no other way out!”

He smiled at his inadvertent play on words, and renewed his search. He
paid special attention to the chimney, for except the windows and door
that was the only outlet from the room.

It was a large fireplace, of the old fashioned style. There was an empty
and scrupulously clean basket grate, wide but not deep, with horizontal
bars in front after the fashion of most old grates. The black japanned
parts were shining, and the gilded rim round the fireplace opening was
brilliantly bright. Surely the Webbs had been scrupulous in their
tidying up of Kimball’s room.

Coe looked about. The white paint was immaculate, the window panes
fairly sparkled with cleanliness. He gave a sigh,—any clue that might
have been left in that room must have been destroyed by the ruthless
hands of the Webbs’ servants.

Coe poked his head well up the chimney, to the imminent peril of his
waving forelocks, but the flue was not sooty at all. Neither was it in
any way a possible means of escape. Coe’s imagination was well nigh
boundless, but he couldn’t, by the wildest flight of fancy, see Kimball
Webb making an exit that way. It was simply impossible.

He sat in a chair and strove to reconstruct the scene. Webb, perhaps,
had sat in that very chair, the night before the day that was to have
been his wedding day. Coe knew that Webb had every intention of
attending his own wedding. He had learned from Elsie the indubitable
truths of the man’s character and of his love for the girl he had
chosen. Not for a minute did Coley Coe think Webb had absconded
purposely.

And abduction presupposed one other person at least. How did that person
get in,—and accompanied by Webb, get out?

“He couldn’t,” Coe decided, and then turned his attention to the idea
that Webb had been lured away,—say, by means of an imperative message.

But that made the exit from the locked room no easier of solution, and
Coley Coe gave it up, and turned in for the night.

As he stretched himself between the sheets of Kimball Webb’s bed, he
realized there was no night light, as is usual in modern houses.

He thought of going down stairs for a candle, but concluded that the
switch of the centre chandelier was within two jumps of his bedside and
depended on that.

He thought of leaving the light on, but assumed that that would bar the
intruder,—human or supernatural,—who, he felt sure, would come.

Worn out by his hard thinking and his long and indefatigable searching,
the healthy young chap was soon asleep.

How long he slept, he had no idea, but he awoke suddenly, with a feeling
of something happening.

He rubbed his sleepy eyes, and saw plainly, though not clearly, a
strange light at the foot of the bed. It seemed to be a wraith or
phantom, of translucent, shimmering light.

Wide awake in an instant, Coe sprang out of bed and switched on the
light.

There was nothing, absolutely nothing unusual in the room.

Nothing had been moved, nothing disturbed.

Coe ran about the room frantically. Not for a minute did he believe he
had been dreaming or imagined the vision. He had just as surely seen
that white, glimmering apparition as he now saw his own hand. He knew
it,—and he knew too, it was some human agency that had compassed it. No
supernatural for him! That ghost was the work of some mischievous or
wicked human, and who it was Coley Coe determined to discover.

He determined to have another try at it some other night, for, he felt
sure, there would be no further performance at this time.

He switched off the light, and went back to bed, feeling that he had at
least accomplished something in having had any experience at all.

Again he slept,—and, again he awakened.

This time, he saw nothing. The room was pitch dark, but,—and his thatch
of hair rose from his forehead,—he could certainly feel his bed clothes
being pulled off!

He lay still a moment, unable to believe his senses, but there was no
mistake, they were certainly slipping down,—down, away from his neck,
his shoulders,—and then, as he gathered himself for a spring, they were
pulled entirely off of him, and thrown back, helter-skelter over his
face and head.

A low, and it seemed to him, demoniac chuckle reached his ears, and
struggling to free himself from the entangling sheets and blankets, he
finally got to the light switch and threw it on.

Again there was nothing to be seen,—nothing to be heard, of any human
presence.

Coley sat down in the big chair, lighted a cigarette and began to size
the matter up.

He thought a while, and then he again went the rounds of the room, only
to find no more sign of a secret entrance than he had before discovered.

What was the explanation? Must he accept the foolish Poltergeist? He
knew,—his reason told him, no supernatural agency could have pulled off
those bedclothes and thrown them back over his face, but his reason
failed to inform him who or what could have done it,—and above all how.

The door was still securely locked and bolted. The windows were
untouched,—Coe knew this, for he had taken the precaution to sprinkle a
little talcum powder beneath them, and this showed no marks of
foot-prints. He looked up the chimney, where he had pasted across a
strip of paper, just before he got into bed. The paper was intact.

In the brownest of brown studies he sat till morning, but he could
imagine or invent no theory that would work. He knew,—he positively
_knew_ the semi-luminous ghost was a fake,—he knew, he positively knew
human hands had pulled off his sheets, and a human throat had sounded
that low laugh, but how?—HOW?

At breakfast time he dressed and went down stairs.

He met Miss Webb’s eager questions as to what had happened with a denial
that anything had. He wanted to see if a look of surprise or incredulity
came to her face, but it didn’t. She only said,

“I scarcely thought it would. Are you satisfied, or do you want to try
it again?”

“I may try it again later,” he thanked her, “but not at present.”

To Mrs. Webb who soon appeared he also denied that he had had any queer
or inexplicable experience, having resolved to keep the matter strictly
secret as the best chance of finding out who did it.

But at breakfast, the subject of Kimball’s past experiences in that room
was mentioned.

“I don’t believe it,” Henrietta stated calmly. “Oh, Kimball told the
truth, of course, or what he thought was truth. He dreamed so vividly
that he really thought his dream was true. I am more convinced than
ever,—since you saw or heard nothing unusual. Did you have any peculiar
dreams?”

“No,” Coley said, truthfully. “I did not. I’m positive I did not.”

After breakfast, Coe went straight to Elsie. They went for a stroll in
the Park, a not unusual proceeding with them, and he told her the whole
story, for his plan of secrecy did not include the girl he was working
for.

“It must be supernatural,” Elsie said, after she had heard the whole
tale. “I’m ready to believe you when you say there’s no chance for any
one to get in,—so it’s got to be spirits, or Poltergeist, or what ever
you choose to call it. I’m no Spiritualist,—I think the whole thing is
silly,—but what _are_ we to think, after this?”

“We’re to think that somebody is too clever for me.”

“But lots of people have tried to find a secret entrance, and they can’t
do it. Mr. Hanley said he was a sort of an architect, and Fenn Whiting
is an architect, and they’ve both tried their best but they can’t find
any loophole of escape. I tried, too,—oh, you needn’t laugh. Sometimes
an ignoramus can succeed where the wiseacres fail.”

“I know it; but, look here, Miss Powell. Supposing, just for argument’s
sake, that there is somebody back of it all,—some master-mind criminal
who has made a way to get in and out of that room at his will, defying
discovery, then you must admit, we’re up against it.”

“How? What do you mean?”

“I mean that I can’t find the way he enters or leaves. I spent many
hours last night seeking the means, and I admit I can’t succeed. There’s
no use my trying again, for I went over every square inch of walls,
floor and ceiling. I considered every plausible method or manner of
entrance, and I’m at the end of my rope in that direction. If solving
the mystery of Webb’s disappearance depends on finding a secret entrance
to that room, I confess I’ll have to give it up.”

“Do you think it does depend on that?”

“Frankly, I do.”

“Then are we to give up all hope of seeing Kimball Webb again?” Elsie’s
lips quivered, and Coe was so sorry for her he scarce knew what to say.
But he had to tell her the truth.

“I fear we are, until after your birthday, at least.”

“Do you think he’ll return after that?”

“I can’t say. You see we haven’t decided definitely on the motive of the
person or persons who abducted him. If the Webb ladies, and it may be,
then they hope you’ll marry before the date, and he will then return. If
not the Webb ladies,—then,—the motive is a very different one.”

“Meantime what do you advise me to do?”

“I am not going to give up entirely,—but I have to confess to you that
I’m not sure I can discover a criminal who is so deep and so clever as
this one.”

“You’ve been trailing the Webb ladies, what did you learn?”

“Nothing, so far, that affects the case,—and I doubt if we do. To tell
the truth, Miss Powell, I’m discouraged,—deeply discouraged. I can’t
solve the mystery of last night, so how can I solve the mystery of
Webb’s disappearance—for I am positive the same agency compassed both.”

“Well, I’m ready to believe it was a supernatural agency. I never was
before, but what you’ve told me convinces me. After all, lots of great
and wise men believe in it—”

“Lots of great and wise fools! Pardon me, Miss Powell, but I’d rather be
baffled by any human cleverness than to admit the possibility of
superhuman intervention.”

“But that doesn’t help matters, Mr. Coe. Your preferences don’t solve
mysteries,—your disbelief doesn’t help to find the truth. I’m
vanquished,—I’m ready to go over to the other side. I’ll accept the
theory of Poltergeist or disembodied spirits or levitation or anything,
now that you tell me a human being couldn’t get into that room!”

“But a human being did!”

“You only assume that because you’re not willing to believe the other.
Anyway, I can see you have no hope of restoring my lover to me?”

“I can’t say I’ve a definite hope,—that is a hope founded on belief,—but
of course, I hope.”

“Oh, that kind of hope,—merely a wish or desire,—that doesn’t mean
anything!”

Not blaming Coe, but deeply disappointed, Elsie turned her thoughts to
duty. Her torn, bleeding heart knew at last the meaning of the word
despair. Yet her unselfish nature would not let her forget those
dependent upon her. And so she made up her mind what she would do.

That night Fenn Whiting renewed his suit.

“Have you any hope of Kimball’s return?” he asked, gently.

“No,” Elsie returned in a low voice, devoid of all inflection, “no,
Fenn, I haven’t.”

“Then, oh, Elsie, won’t you marry me? Won’t you, dearest? Set the date
yourself,—you know I don’t care about that confounded money,—but give me
your promise.”

“I suppose I may as well,” she said, slowly.

“Elsie, darling! do you mean it? You make me so happy. When, dearest,
when?”

“I’m going to marry you, Fenn, in time to get the money, for Mother and
Gerty’s sake. So, I’ll set the day before my birthday,—the twenty-ninth
of June.”

“Darling! Oh, Elsie, I can hardly believe it.”

“Yes; I mean it. And, Fenn, as soon as the ceremony is over; and as soon
as I have signed the necessary papers to leave the fortune to Mother and
Gerty, with a good bit for Joe Allison,—I shall kill myself.”



                              CHAPTER XIII
                          THE EXPECTED LETTER


Fenn Whiting was not unversed in feminine ways. And, especially did he
count himself familiar with the ways of Elsie Powell. And though the
average woman would make a threat of killing herself as a melodramatic
bluff, not so Elsie. Whiting knew, for a certainty, if she had made up
her mind to such a desperate step, she would assuredly take it. No
interference or hindrance could prevent her. She might be foiled in
several attempts but she would succeed finally, if she had set her face
that way. And she had. Further conversation only revealed the depth and
steadfastness of her purpose. She was willing to die for her mother and
sister but not to live for them.

“But, Elsie, darling,” Whiting urged, “I can’t marry you that way. You
must choose some one else, then. Could you live with Allison?”

“No! I couldn’t live with any man except Kimball Webb. And I never will!
But my people have hounded me about that money, until I can’t stand it
another minute. I must marry before my birthday, in order that they may
get it,—but I don’t have to live on _after_ that!” The big brown eyes
were wide with despair, and the suffering, hunted look on Elsie’s face
went to Whiting’s heart.

“Marry me, dearest,” he said, softly; “I’ll engage that you sha’n’t kill
yourself afterward. Why, sweetheart, I’ll make life a continuous round
of pleasure for you; you shall have your own way in
everything—everything! I’ll be your humble slave, and you may command
me—”

“Hush, Fenn. I’ve told you the course I shall take. Now, I think I may
as well marry you as any one else. Then I’ll be legally entitled to the
money. I’ve made a will, which I must sign after I’m married,—and then—”

“Don’t, Elsie! You’re talking rubbish! Girls don’t kill themselves so
easily, with friends around to prevent.”

“Never mind about that,” Elsie smiled mysteriously, “the way is already
provided. And I shall make no horrible scene, I shall merely go away
from this horrid, horrid world!”

“But I shall transform the horrid world into a world of light and
flowers and love! Give me a chance, Elsie, let me prove my words—”

“Don’t discuss it, Fenn,” Elsie was imperious, “you know nothing of my
heart,—you couldn’t even appreciate my feelings if you knew them. But I
do like you, and you are a friend. Marry me, then, and the rest is in my
hands.”

“No; Elsie. I refuse to marry you under such conditions. What man
would?”

“That’s the trouble,—no man would! That’s why I’ve decided on you, as my
only hope. Marry me, Fenn, to save the money for my people. I’ll leave
you a goodly share, too—”

“Elsie!” Whiting’s look made her flush.

“Well,” she defended herself, “that’s only fair, if you’re my husband.”

“But I won’t be,—I can’t be,—the way you’ve arranged things!”

“Yes, you can, and you will! Don’t desert me, Fenn, it’s the only thing
you can do for me. I’d marry some one else, and not tell my plans,—but I
don’t think it fair to any man.”

“I should say not!”

“But you,—you have always been a friend of Kim’s and I want you to be
friend enough of mine to go through the ceremony with me, and for me.
Why, Fenn, there’s no way for me to get that money without marrying,—and
no way else, to secure the happiness of my people.”

“If only Gerty would marry Joe,—”

“That would fix it all right,—but in the first place, Gert wouldn’t
marry anybody just yet,—it’s too soon,—and, oh, Fenn, it’s an awful
thing to tell, but I sounded Joe,—and he—he doesn’t want to marry
Gerty.”

“Of course he doesn’t! He’s insanely in love with you!”

“I know it,—and he’s too nice a boy for me to marry him and then—and
then carry out my plan.”

“So’m I, for that matter!” Whiting tried to speak jocularly.

“I know you are,—any man would be. But, you’re my only hope. I’ve
thought this thing out to the bitter end. Whoever took Kimball away has
killed him. That I am sure of.”

“Oh, no, Elsie, I don’t believe that.”

“I know it. He isn’t in this world. And so, I want to go where he is,—I
don’t care where that may be.”

Elsie’s gaze was a little wild, her voice a trifle hysterical, but she
was in complete control of her speech.

“Well, let’s wait a bit, anyway. There’s nearly three weeks yet before
the birthday, and in that time you may hear something from Kim.”

“No, I won’t. And I’d rather get it over with. Marry me at once,—won’t
you, Fenn?”

“Well, for a young woman whom I’ve begged and coaxed to marry me, it’s
turning the tables to have you urging me to marry you!”

“All the same,—will you?”

“Not this week. Do wait a few days, and consider matters a little more
fully. I promise to tell nobody of this plan of yours, so you can revise
it when you wish. But, oh, Elsie,—my little girl,—if you’ll marry me and
stay right here on earth with me,—I’ll engage to make earth a heaven for
you!”

“Nobody could do that but Kimball,” and Elsie’s eyes filled with tears.

True to his promise, Whiting told no one of Elsie’s gruesome plan. For,
he decided, to tell her mother or sister would only stir up trouble in
their household. And he hoped Elsie would change her mind. It was a
forlorn hope, for the girl was so positive in her decisions and was
rarely if ever known to change one. He thought of telling it all to
Coley Coe, but decided against it, for he could see no use in passing
the hateful secret on to anybody.

Any other woman he would have expected to weaken when the time came for
the tragic deed. But he knew Elsie’s determination well enough to
believe that she had the means already at hand,—poison, probably,—and
that if prevented several times, would finally manage to turn the trick.

The more Whiting thought it over, the more he was convinced he would
marry her. If he didn’t, she would pick up somebody else and marry him
without telling her plan,—for she could never secure a bridegroom who
was in her confidence. Then, he argued, he would stand a better chance
of persuading her to give up her tragic course, than if he were not her
husband. He thought he could watch her so closely that she would have no
chance for a time, at least, and then if he couldn’t persuade her to
live for him and with him, he could offer her the privilege of divorcing
him,—and the money, the great object in Elsie’s dilemma, would be all
right.

So Whiting determined that if nothing transpired to change the situation
he would soon urge Elsie to announce their engagement, and trust to Fate
that all might yet turn out well.

Elsie, after her talk with Whiting felt better than she had done since
her sorrow came to her. She was filled with an exaltation that buoyed
her spirit up, and she went around as one in a trance.

It may be that her strange experiences had affected her brain a little
but except for a slight absent-mindedness she showed no eccentric
impulses.

And then, in her morning’s mail she received a letter.

A letter that she had sub-consciously looked for,—a letter she had
vaguely expected,—a letter from the people who had stolen Kimball Webb!

Realizing its purport, she went off to her own room to read it by
herself.

Written in a strong, bold hand, on decent, inconspicuous paper, it read:

  _Miss Elsie Powell:_

  We have Kimball Webb hidden and in confinement. Where he is neither
  you nor your smarty-cat young detective can ever discover. We make no
  secret of the fact that we abducted him for ransom. How we secured his
  person, though a clever performance, will never be known by any
  one,—not even himself. The whole point of this message is, do you want
  him back enough to pay us fifty thousand dollars,—and no questions
  asked? If so, follow our directions implicitly,—if not, the incident
  may be considered closed and neither you nor any one else will ever
  see the gentleman in question again. We are no bunglers, we have
  covered our tracks, and have no fear of being caught. If you want to
  pay the money and if you are willing to agree not to refer this matter
  to anybody, not to speak of it to your people or to the police, you
  may hang a white towel,—or a handkerchief out of a window of your own
  room any time tomorrow afternoon. This will be taken to mean that you
  agree to our terms. If you play any tricks, Mr. Webb will vanish at
  once from this world of ours. We enclose a bit of a note from him that
  you may have faith in the reality of our story.

The letter was not signed, but the enclosure was. It was from Kimball
himself,—there was no mistaking his small, scholarly writing, and even
before reading it, Elsie pressed it to her lips in a frenzy of joy. Then
she read:

Elsie, darling! do as the note says. It is the only way. I love you!
Kim.

It was no forgery, every word, every letter was the work of the hand of
Kimball Webb. Elsie knew his writing too well to be deceived. And there
were peculiar little quirks and twirls that made it impossible for the
note to be a forgery.

It was the real thing! And, noting the date on the letter, Elsie
suddenly bethought her that today was the day to hang out her flag of
truce! Her white handkerchief,—no, a small towel would be more
visible,—must be displayed that very afternoon.

Quivering with excitement, she got out the towel, and was of half a mind
to hang it out at once, but desisted, as she wished to follow
instructions implicitly.

How to get all that money troubled her not a whit. She hadn’t a tenth of
it at her command, but get it she would, if she had to break a bank! And
then she began to think. A wild suggestion of breaking a bank meant
nothing,—she couldn’t do it, with all the will in the world. And how
could she get it from Mr. Thorne unless she told her story? And if she
did that,—the writer of the note would find it out,—already she pictured
him in her mind as omniscient,—and the whole deal would be off!

But, even with no plan for getting the money, she obeyed the written
instructions. She told no one of the letter. That afternoon she hung out
a small towel, and it hung undisturbed until sundown.

Then next morning she received the second letter.

This one was as explicit as the first.

  _Miss Powell:_

  Glad to see you’re amenable to reason. Now, you may have plenty of
  ways to raise the cash, but if not, use the enclosed card. You may go
  to that address without fear of any unpleasantness or publicity.
  Remember, if you give us the money as we direct, you will have your
  lover in time for you to secure your inheritance by marriage with him.
  Here are the directions. You will not hear from us again. Have the
  money in cash, with no bill larger than one hundred dollars. Go to
  Altman’s tomorrow morning, and when you come out, take a taxicab that
  will be waiting. You will know which one when you see a driver with a
  yellow plaid cap. We are relying on you not to have anybody with you,
  or in watching,—if you do, we shall know it, and the whole deal is
  off. You will not hear from us again. If you attempt
  anything,—anything at all but the most perfect good faith and honesty
  in your course, you will be more than sorry. In a word, you will then
  bring about the sudden death of the man you love. There is no more to
  be said on that score. Get into the taxi and when it stops, near
  another taxi, make a quick change. Have the money with you in a small
  compact parcel. The second taxi will take you along a certain road.
  When it meets a certain car, it will slow down and you will hand the
  parcel to the man who leans out of that car for it. That is all.
  Good-bye.

Elsie read and re-read the missive.

She was uncertain what to do. Her impulse was to lay the whole matter
before Whiting or Coleman Coe, and follow their advice.

But suppose they should say,—as so many people do,—make no bargains with
the kidnappers. Treat any such communications with silent contempt,—or,
arrange for police protection, even if it is forbidden.

The more she thought it over, the more she was inclined to manage the
whole affair alone. She could do it,—and she was not afraid. It was all
to be done in broad daylight, there was no danger if she herself acted
in good faith. And if she brought any one else into it, there was grave
danger, not only to herself but to Kimball.

She looked curiously at the card that had come in the letter.

It was an address on Broadway, and was evidently,—even to her
inexperienced mind,—the office of a loan broker.

From him she could get the necessary money on the assurance of her
nearby wedding and consequent inheritance. Arrangements had, of course,
been made by the perpetrators of the crime against Kimball Webb. They
must be a clever and powerful set,—they were so unafraid of anything or
anybody. The thought of her restored lover and their wedding at last, so
thrilled Elsie, that she began preparations at once.

She could scarcely control her impatience to get to the broker’s office.

Once there, she found indeed, that all had been arranged.

The affable Hebrew, who presided over the establishment, was
confidentially minded, and was quite ready to advance the large sum
required in return for Elsie’s signed promise to pay,—with exorbitant
interest, the day after her marriage.

For Elsie Powell and her affairs were well known to newspaper readers
and the affable Jew felt no qualms of doubt as to his future
reimbursement and his usury.

The parcel, made up neatly and inconspicuously, was handed to Elsie and
her signed document carefully put away in a big safe.

The transaction meant little to Elsie, herself, so wrapped up was her
whole soul in her coming adventure.

She would get Kimball back! That was all she knew or cared about!

She went to Altman’s, her precious package in her handbag, which she
carried with seeming carelessness, but with a watchful eye.

She had a strange feeling of security because of the character and
appearance of the notes she had received. Had they been illiterate
scrawls she would have hesitated to go ahead as she had done, but the
educated and socially correct tone of the letters gave her the
impression of brains and character, however big a villain the writer
might be.

With a beating heart, but with a steady step she came out of Altman’s
shop and seemed to glance casually about for a cab.

Seeing a driver with a yellow plaid cap, she beckoned him and got into
his cab.

No word was spoken as she settled herself on the seat, and watched the
man start the car.

He, too, was nonchalant of manner, and drove away toward Madison Avenue.

From there they followed a devious course, turning often, returning on
their own tracks, wheeling suddenly, performing various eccentric
detours, all, doubtless in an endeavour to detect a follower, if any.

Elsie sat quietly, unmoved by these strange motions, and full of buoyant
hope that all would be well, since she had not betrayed her trust.

After a time the taxicab stopped at a curb, another cab drew up at its
side, and Elsie stepped from one to the other.

The second cab had also a taciturn, grave-faced driver. Though he said
no word, gave no look of intelligence, Elsie felt a sense of safety with
him, from his very silence. She was free from all fear, and looked
forward eagerly to the consummation of her errand.

This time it was a long drive. On they went, northward from the city and
into a pleasant, wooded locality. Swiftly the car flew and after an
hour’s journey they were on a smooth road, with groves of trees on
either side. But it was a travelled road, and its well-kept asphalt
proclaimed its nearness to civilization.

Elsie kept her eyes open and her mind clear. She grew impatient for the
end of her trip, but she preserved her poise and her balance.

“Here’s the car, miss,” the taxi driver said suddenly, and she saw a red
roadster approaching swiftly.

Both cars slowed down and then stopped.

From the red car a man leaned out. He had a small mask on that concealed
most of his features, but Elsie caught a gleam of many gold filled teeth
in his lower jaw. Into his outstretched hand, conveniently near, Elsie
placed the packet, from her hand-bag. She felt a shock of disappointment
that she did not receive Kimball in return, right then and there, but
she had no time to speak. In a flash, the driver on the cab she was in,
sprang from his seat, jumped into the red car, and like a streak the
roadster disappeared.

Alone, in a driverless taxicab, Elsie sat, unable for a moment to
realize what had happened.

Slowly it dawned upon her that she had been tricked,—swindled,—but no,
she couldn’t believe that! She felt sure that the men had only carried
out their plans for safety. That they feared pursuit and had made off
with the money and would restore Kimball in their own good time, she had
no doubt. The thing was, now, how was she to get home?

She wasn’t greatly alarmed, for the well-kept road gave hope of frequent
travellers, and somebody would take her back to New York.

And, after a time, somebody did. She let several cars pass before she
asked help, and though curious looks were cast at her, no one intruded
upon her. But when she saw a car come by, with a good chauffeur, and a
benignant looking lady in the tonneau, she asked for a ride to New York.

The benignant looking lady was not all that could be hoped for in the
way of cordiality, but when Elsie explained that the taxicab had refused
to go and the chauffeur had gone for help and that she was in great
haste to get to the city the lady agreed to take her. Remarking,
however, that for a girl who wanted to get to New York in haste, her cab
was turned astonishingly in the opposite direction!

But Elsie’s smile and winning manner soon overcame the other’s asperity,
and they were affably chatting long before they reached the city.

Naturally enough, the kind lady asked the name of her passenger, but
Elsie, knowing the necessity for caution, gave an assumed name and
address and made up a story of her life that was as plausible as it was
false.

But she dared take no chances on breaking her pledge of inviolate
secrecy, lest she lose her chance of getting Kimball back, and after all
she had gone through, that would be unbearable.

She asked to be set down at the Grand Central Station, as she was going
back to her home,—avowedly in Boston,—that night.

Warmly friendly by this time, the benignant lady set her down as
requested, after exacting a promise to hear from her by letter.

Alone again, Elsie flew for a taxicab and went straight home. She
glanced at the mail, arrived since her departure, but was not surprised
to find no letter in the writing of her new correspondent. He had said
he would not write again, and she did not think he would.

She had nothing to do now, but wait. She had conscientiously fulfilled
her part of the bargain, and she had utter faith that the abductors of
Kimball would do the same. They had their money—what more did they want?

She waited all that evening, dully patient, quietly serene of manner,
but with a heart that beat wildly when the door bell or telephone
sounded.

Occasionally, she telephoned to the Webb house, hardly thinking Kimball
would go there before coming to her, but unable to resist general
inquiry.

At bedtime, she had heard nothing from him, and resolved to go to bed
and to sleep in happy hopes of a blessed meeting tomorrow.

She could not sleep,—slumber does not come for the willing of it and as
she tossed in wide awake suspense, her thoughts took a new turn.

Suppose,—just suppose she had been tricked! Suppose the notes had not
come from the men who stole Kimball,—ah, they must have done so! She had
Kim’s note to prove it! Nothing ever could make her believe that note a
forgery. She knew his dear writing too well—she knew every stroke of his
pen, every peculiarity of his really unusual handwriting, and she felt
in every letter of that note that he himself had penned it. There was no
chance that he had not. Therefore, the letters from the kidnappers were
in good faith. They proved the fact that Kimball had been abducted,—and
held for ransom. Well, now they had the ransom, and Kim would be
returned. Of course he would! She would not think otherwise, or she
would die! She knew he would come tomorrow,—and in that knowledge she at
last fell asleep.

She awoke with a start. Throwing on her night light, she found it was
three o’clock in the morning. She felt a strange numbness of mind, a
peculiar feeling as if the end of the world had come. Striving to
determine what it all meant, she realized that she had lost hope,—that
she was now persuaded that she had been tricked. The notes were from the
kidnappers but they had no intention of returning her lover!

Something, she could not tell what, brought the conviction to her soul
that she had done very wrong in following their bidding blindly in
giving them the money on such uncertainty. She remembered clearly the
smile of the man in the red car,—the smile that had disclosed those
gold-filled teeth, and she knew she had been duped, deceived and
swindled!



                              CHAPTER XIV
                              AN EASY MARK


Though slow to anger, Elsie was a little firebrand when roused. And the
more she thought over the matter the more furious she grew at the game
that had been played on her. The fact that she brought it all upon
herself only made her more angry.

And, yet, she didn’t blame herself utterly, for she had felt so sure
that only by following instructions implicitly, could she accomplish her
end.

She didn’t for a moment believe that some one had tricked her who knew
nothing of Kimball Webb, for she had his own letter to disprove that.
She concluded they had tricked him, too, and had forced him to write the
note and then had cheated him as they had her.

Still, he might come home yet; the day might bring him or news of him.

But when the slow hours passed and morning melted into afternoon, poor
Elsie gave up hope.

By the time Coe came in the evening, Elsie had decided to tell him the
whole story, assuming that since the money was paid, it was now no
breach of trust.

Coley Coe stared at her as she unfolded the surprising tale.

“You chump! You Easy Mark!” he cried, angrily, quite forgetting in his
astonishment to whom he was speaking.

“I beg your pardon,” he said, as he noted her rising colour. “I oughtn’t
to say such things,—but, oh, Miss Powell, how could you go off on such a
wild-goose chase,—and a dangerous one, too?”

His thatch of hair bobbed wildly about in his excitement, and he
clutched at it as if almost frenzied.

Then he calmed down, and looked at the thing squarely. His blue eyes
seemed to grow darker as their concentrated gaze fell on Elsie’s
troubled face.

“It’s outrageous!” he cried, “it’s a shame, but, Miss Powell, the
villains may have overreached themselves. They may have started
something that will lead to their own undoing. We’ve learned a heap from
this experience of yours. Now, tell me all over again,—every smallest
detail.”

So again Elsie went over the whole story, and told of every step of the
way.

“Clever! clever!” was Coe’s grudging tribute to the ability of the
abductors.

“You see the first taxicab was a real one. They engaged the driver to do
just what he did do. The second was a fake one,—their own car and one of
their own men. Then when the time came, the car was abandoned,—and so
were you. They knew you’d get a lift back to the city,—and they didn’t
care whether you did or not! In one way, I can’t blame you, Miss Powell,
for I see you didn’t dare tell me. Yet, you might have known they’d not
release their prisoner.”

“I don’t agree,” cried Elsie. “How could I know that? And if they had
given him to me the money was well spent.”

“That’s so; it wouldn’t have been surprising if they had let him go;
they’d doubtless be glad to get rid of him. But I think your quick
willingness to give the money make them greedy for more, and I think
they’ll try the same game right over again.”

“Oh,” Elsie cried, “I couldn’t do it again!”

“No, indeed! And you’re not going to throw away another fifty thousand
dollars, if I can prevent it! Now, let’s consider. What have we learned?
What sleeping dogs have we stirred up? Much depends on the positive fact
that this note is really from Mr. Webb himself. You’re sure?”

“Absolutely,” declared Elsie. “I know Kimball’s writing, and I know
that’s it. Nobody could forge so skilfully,—you can see that yourself.
It’s dashed off.”

“Yes, that’s so. A forgery would show a little hesitation or painstaking
effort. But I’m going to show it to an expert. He can tell if he has
some of Webb’s other letters.”

“Anybody could tell,” insisted Elsie. “Wait, I’ll get some letters.”

She ran away to her own room and returned with a packet of them.

Comparison soon made it evident that the note in question was beyond all
doubt the work of Webb himself. A thousand little points proved it. Coe
was satisfied, and went on with his conclusions from it.

“You see, it proves a whole lot of things,” he cried, jubilantly.
“Perhaps your money, enormous sum though it was, bought worthwhile
evidence.”

“Such as what?”

“Well, to begin with, we know now that Webb was really abducted, and is
now held against his will. This does away with all thought of his having
decamped on purpose,—also, to my mind, precludes the theory of his
mother or sister being implicated. Miss Webb is a Tartar,—if you ask me!
but she never managed the affair of yesterday!”

“No, she never did! Henrietta is not acquainted with those—”

“Loan Sharks! Right! Kimball Webb was carried off by desperate and
clever men,—and, here’s a strong point,—he was unconscious when removed
from his room.”

“How do you know?”

“Because in this first letter, it says the means used will never be
known by any one,—not even himself. So, as I imagined, he was taken from
his room,—from his home, while unconscious,—in a drugged sleep probably,
and therefore, we must assume a secret entrance!”

“But there isn’t any!”

“There is! There’s got to be! They couldn’t take him through the door
and fasten it behind them! They couldn’t get him out of that six inch
opening at the top of a window! There _has_ to be a secret way out! And,
by George, I’m going to find it, if I have to tear the house down!”

“I’d rather you’d find Kim,” said Elsie, sadly.

“You poor child! Of course you would. Forgive me, I’m afraid I seem to
think less of the quarry than the chase! But I don’t really. We’re going
to get Kimball Webb back,—and we’re going to do it by means of the
information you unconsciously achieved through this adventure of yours!”

“And you don’t think they mean to give him back after I did my part?”

“I do not! They look on you as an inexhaustible gold mine. They’ll wait
a while and then make a stab for another big sum. Less maybe than the
first, but exorbitant. Apparently they’re not afraid of anything or
anybody. Clever chaps, but sure to come a cropper yet!”

“How do you know?”

“Oh, they’re _too_ cocksure; they’re bound to overlook or forget some
little thing, and now I know there is a scent to be followed, I’m all
for following it. Now I know there’s a sleeping dog, I shan’t let him
lie! Take that letter! The two letters from them! Look at ’em! No
attempt at disguised writing. Plain, bold penmanship,—not printed nor
words cut out from a newspaper, nor any of those hackneyed stunts.”

“Well?”

“Well, that proves they were written by some one who never could by the
remotest chance be suspected. Somebody so outside suspicion that they’re
willing to send his regular handwriting.”

“Proving?”

“Proving a clever, bold master spirit, who stops at nothing and who
knows just what he dare do and what not! I believe he fully intended to
set Mr. Webb free on the receipt of the money,—then, when you proved
such a ninny,—pardon me, it slipped out,—but you were! then, he
concluded you were good for one more touch, at least.”

“Well, if what I learned,—or made it possible for you to learn—restores
Kimball Webb to me,—I’ll never begrudge the money.”

“That is, if we get him home in time for the wedding.”

“Oh, I don’t care for the fortune—”

“Then, just how are you going to pay your indebtedness to the Hebrew
gentleman?”

Elsie’s face fell. “I hadn’t thought of that!”

“It’s a big thing to think of, Miss Powell! You can’t get out of that
obligation, you know. And while the receipt of your aunt’s money would
make it easy for you to pay it, yet if you are not married by your
birthday—”

“And do you think if I had acted differently in any way, I could have
held those men to their agreement?”

“I can’t say positively,—but I do think so.”

“What ought I to have done?”

“Demanded the person of Webb before you gave up the money,—or at least,
asked for some assurance of his return, and asked when and where you
might expect to see him.”

“I was too frightened.”

“I know you were, and they knew it, too.”

“And anyway, even if they had made me promises then, they wouldn’t have
kept them.”

“Likely not. Now, Miss Powell, here’s a hard fact,—if Mr. Webb is not
here by your birthday, you’ll have to marry somebody,—in order to get
that money so you can pay off that loan.”

“What?” Elsie’s face went white, and her eyes were filled with horror at
the sudden realization of the truth of Coe’s statement.

“I won’t,—I’ll kill myself first!”

“Oh, come now, don’t talk about killing. And that would be a cowardly
thing, for your people would be hounded,—whether legally or not.”

“Mother and Gerty! Oh, no!”

“I don’t say they could be made to pay it, but there’d be some mighty
unpleasant experiences coming to them! No, Miss Powell, don’t kill
yourself,—surely a marriage with some man other than Mr. Webb would be a
better fate than suicide!”

“No, not to my way of thinking. But I _must_ think of my mother and
sister! Oh, Mr. Coe, _do_ help me! I think I shall go distracted!”

“Small wonder! You poor child! I wish, now, we had more time. The
birthday is drawing perilously near. Something must be done. Of course,
you can’t describe either man well enough for positive identification?”

“No; the taxi driver, the second one was a decent looking man, of medium
build, with a grave, rather stern face. He was dark, I think,—with
brownish hair. I saw his back mostly, and didn’t notice his face at all.
I thought of him merely as a means to an end, and when the red car came
along, I thought only of giving up the money. And the man in the red car
wore a mask,—just a small one, but it covered his eyes and nose and came
down partly over his mouth. But I noticed several gold filled teeth in
the lower jaw. Unusually bright they were.”

“That would be a help, if we could get any other hint which way to look.
But, as I said, the master mind behind all this scheme is so
diabolically clever, that he has discounted all chances of discovery
and, I’ve no doubt, feels secure from police and detectives.

“Now, I’m for spending another night in that room of Kimball Webb’s, and
I’ll bet there’ll be no Poltergeist this time!”

“Why?”

“Why, don’t you see it! The arch villain,—I feel sure there’s one
principal and two or more subordinates,—the chief devil, we’ll say, has
a means of access to that room. It was he who was responsible for all
the Poltergeist performances, he who pulled bedclothes off Webb, and
later, off yours truly,—he who made a ghost appear,—”

“How?”

“Oh, lots of ways for that. I’ll tell you some other time. I must
skittle, now. Go to sleep and dream of Webb’s return. But,—and this is
very serious, Miss Powell,—if I don’t succeed in getting him back,—if
the villains are scared off or any such matter, you must make up your
mind to marry somebody else. For I should hate to see you in the
clutches of that wretch of a Loan Broker! You’ve no idea what it would
mean!”

Coe went away, and Elsie went straight to her room. She denied
admittance, when Gerty begged for it, and said she wanted to rest.

But rest, she did not; in fact she was such a victim of unrest, worry
and anguish, that morning found her in a high fever and grave danger of
nervous collapse.

The doctor came, a nurse was summoned and for a few days brain fever was
feared. But Elsie’s strong constitution and brave will power conquered,
and she pulled through without the dreaded attack.

The doctor ordered, however, a change of scene, were it ever so small a
journey, and after some discussion Elsie agreed to go to Atlantic City
for a few days.

Coley Coe was the one who finally persuaded her to adopt the plan. He
promised to keep in constant touch with her and tell her any bit of
information he could gain. He said he would come down to see her as
often as necessary for their mutual conference, and he felt sure that
she would be better off in every way from her family for a time.

He had slept in Kimball Webb’s room several nights, since, and as he
anticipated, nothing at all had happened.

“You see,” he said, “the rascal thought he could make it appear
supernatural, now he knows I’m on his trail, he has given up that idea.”

“How does he know it?” asked Elsie. “Is he omniscient?”

“Nearly so! You may depend he knows every step that is taken toward his
discovery! Why, Miss Powell, he’s a man in the know, every way. He may
not be one of Mr. Webb’s own particular circle, socially, but he’s
enough in his set or in his life somehow, to be in touch with everybody
even remotely connected with the case.”

“Have the police done nothing at all?”

“Yes, they’re working at it. But their methods are different from mine,
and while they’re all right, I doubt if they get anywhere. Sometimes I
doubt if I will, either. Howsumever, you toddle along to Atlantic City
with Nursey, and I’ll try to corral a nice young man for you to marry
before the fatal thirtieth gets much nearer. You wasted some good time
with that illness of yours,—though I don’t wonder at it, I’m sure.”

“Why, what could I have done,—if I hadn’t been ill?”

“Nothing definite, but I feel sure the abductors would have written you
another of those good-looking notes, and if you had gone on another taxi
ride, I should have been off in the offing somehow.”

The nurse, a Miss Loring, was a pleasant, sympathetic girl, and as she
of course knew all about Elsie’s tragedy from the papers, she was deeply
interested in her young charge. She was experienced and capable and
Elsie found herself really glad to go away with the kind and gentle
nurse.

They were pleasantly located in The Turrets, a new hotel, and after
twenty-four hours of rest and sea air Elsie felt wonderfully better.

“I’m not really ill, you know,” she said, and the nurse agreed.

“No, Miss Powell, but it was a real nervous breakdown, and another will
follow, unless you try to keep it off.”

“I’ll try,” and Elsie voluntarily became a biddable and obedient
patient.

It was on a Thursday,—just one week before the thirtieth of June that
the two went for a ride in the rolling chairs. Sometimes they rode
together, but this day they chanced to take separate chairs.

The man who pushed Elsie’s was a big, husky chap, with an engaging
smile. Miss Loring’s man was a slender youth, but of a wiry strength.

For a time they rode close together, chatting casually, and then as
Elsie grew silent, the nurse ceased to bother her with talk.

Thus, it chanced, now and then, one chair or the other forged ahead, by
reason of the traffic or danger of a collision.

And one time, when Elsie’s chair was pushed ahead of Miss Loring’s it
did not fall back beside the nurse’s chair as promptly as usual.

Elsie looked around for the nurse, but failed to see her.

“Where’s my companion?” she said over her shoulder; “don’t let us get
separated.”

“No, ma’am,” smiled the big man who pushed her, and she settled back
into her seat, thinking deeply.

A moment later, she looked around again, and still not seeing the nurse
told the man to wait for her to come up to them.

“Why, the other lady is ahead, ma’am, I’ll catch up to her,” and he
moved her chair more quickly.

Elsie looked about with a sudden thrill of alarm, and saw no sign of the
nurse anywhere.

“Here we are, ma’am, she just went in here,” the man stopped the chair
in front of a tall hotel.

“Went in here? What do you mean?”

“Yes’m, the lady who belongs with you,—the nurse, ma’am, she went in
here in great haste and motioned for you to follow her. Better go in,
ma’am.”

Bewildered, Elsie allowed herself to be assisted from the chair and
ushered inside, not thinking at the moment that it was strange for the
chair-pusher to be so officious.

“What in the world did Miss Loring come in here for?” she asked, as they
stood a moment in the hall.

“I don’t know, ma’am, but I just saw her go up in this elevator. She
beckoned for you to follow.”

Elsie hesitated a moment, but it was a first class hotel, not a large
building but a tall one, and handsomely appointed.

She got into the elevator, the man following, indeed, urging her in by a
guiding hand on her elbow.

“Tenth,” he said to the elevator girl, and the car shot upward.

It was not until they were walking along the corridor on the tenth floor
that Elsie felt a thrill of fear. What did it mean? Surely Miss Loring
never came up here,—expecting Elsie to follow!

“Here you are,” and as they reached a closed door, the man swung it open
and led Elsie firmly inside. “Sorry, Miss, but I’m only obeying orders.
Good-bye.” He jerked off his cap, closed the door behind him and went
away, leaving Elsie alone, in a strange room in a strange house.

She flew to the door, but she could not open it. She was trapped,—and
she had walked into a trap, unresistingly, in broad daylight!

What would Coley Coe say to her now?

She went to the window and looked out. The familiar sight of the ocean
and the boardwalk cheered her. She didn’t know what she was to
experience next, but she felt a sense of relief at sight of the throngs
of people.

She was alone in the room for what seemed hours but was not more than
twenty minutes when the door was flung open and in rushed,—not the man
with the gold teeth, whom she had rather expected to see,—but Fenn
Whiting.

“Oh, Elsie,” he cried, wildly, “am I in time?”

“Time for what?” she asked bewilderedly.

“Why, I met Miss Loring and she said she had lost you, and I chased
madly about asking everybody questions, and I finally traced you here!
Who brought you? What does it mean?”

“I know no more than you do, Fenn,” and so relieved at sight of a kind
and familiar face was she, that Elsie burst into tears on his shoulder.

“There, there, darling,” he soothed her, “never mind,—it’s all right.
Stay there, dearest, that’s your rightful place. I hope it will always
be your haven in troublous times. Be quiet, my love, don’t try to talk
yet,—and when you can, then tell me what happened.”

“Yes, I can talk! I’m all right,” and Elsie stopped crying; “I’m only
mad! Why, Fenn, somebody trapped me into this room!”

“Trapped you! What do you mean?”

“Just that!” and Elsie told how the chair-pusher had led her to the
house, and urged her up in the elevator and into the room, and then had
locked her in.

“Why, the door isn’t locked,” Whiting exclaimed, “I walked right in!”

“How did you know I was in here?”

“Asked the elevator girl,—she told me.”

“Well, the door was locked on this side,—must be a spring catch.”

“It must be, then,”—and Whiting went to examine it. “Yes, it is. Thank
Heaven I could open it from outside. Well, dearest, we’ll go home, shall
we?”

“Yes, I suppose so. But I want to know what it all means.”

“Didn’t you know your chair man?”

“No; we pick up different ones every time,—wherever we happen to be. He
wasn’t a real one, of course. He must have been placed there, so I’d
engage him, by those villains—”

“What villains? What are you talking about?”

Elsie bit her lip. She had promised Coe to reveal no slightest word
regarding her experiences with the kidnappers of Webb, and now she had
given a hint!

“Nothing,” she said, “_nothing_, Fenn. Oh, I am ill, please take me
home!”

“You’re not ill, Elsie, but you’re terribly frightened. Tell me what
about and tell me who are the villains who are troubling you. Let me
settle with them! I am your rightful protector. You are engaged to me,
and in less than a week is our wedding day! Can’t we announce it, at
once, and let me be known as your proper protector? You shall not leave
this room until you say yes!”



                               CHAPTER XV
                               IN UNIFORM


“Is that a threat?” Elsie turned on Whiting, with sudden rage.

“Not unless you choose to take it so.” But the man’s steely grey eyes
were commanding rather than imploring, and his thin lips were set in a
straight line that bespoke determination. “Don’t make me threaten you,
Elsie,—why should it be necessary? I love you and I want you,—but more
than that I want your promise to marry me at once to save yourself from
persecution and trouble. You were trapped here, you say,—you just
referred to some villains who have, I must infer, already annoyed you.
Why haven’t you told me of it?”

“Why should I? I _can’t_ marry you, Fenn, after all. I know I said I
would,—and you know what I said I’d do right afterward. But I can’t do
that. Perhaps I’m too much of a coward, to take my own life,—perhaps it
would be a cowardly thing to do, anyway. But, I can’t marry you—”

“You must, Elsie, you promised me—”

“Such promises have been broken before this! A consent to marry is not a
marriage contract! Sue me for breach of promise, if you choose,—I refuse
to marry you!”

Her voice rose at the last to an almost hysterical shriek. She was both
nervous and frightened. The knowledge that she had been abducted,—for
that was what it seemed to be,—scared her, and though grateful for
Whiting’s rescue and his presence, yet she felt a strange fear of him,
too.

“Let me go,” she said, at last, starting toward the door.

“No,” and Fenn strode across the room, locked the door and pocketed the
key. “No, you shall not go until I have your promise,—and an unbreakable
one this time. In fact, Elsie, I want you to marry me right now and
here. I’ll arrange all details,—I have arranged most of them. Just
consent, dearest, and then you’ll be mine to love and care for and to
protect from those villains you speak of.”

“Fenn, are you crazy?”

“No, I’m not, but you’ll be, if you keep up this nervous tension you’re
living under. Be guided by me, Elsie, darling; marry me out of hand, and
we’ll go away to some beautiful, quiet spot, and all care shall be
lifted from your dear shoulders.”

Elsie looked at him curiously.

“Suppose I agree to marry you the day _after_ my birthday,” she said;
“will that do?”

“Do perfectly, as far as the loss of your fortune is concerned. I’ve
told you before I’m no fortune hunter. You _must_ believe it by now. I’d
rather marry you at once, for your sake, and for my own. But not for the
sake of the inheritance. So, promise me sacredly to marry me the day
after your birthday, and I’ll take you home now.”

“Oh, no, Fenn, don’t you see, if I marry you, it must be before the
thirtieth, to get the money for Mother and Gerty. They’d never forgive
me otherwise. And, too, why should I wait? I’d like the money all
right,—if only I didn’t have to marry to get it. What an awful will! And
yet, it all seemed so lovely when I had Kimball with me!”

“It will seem just as lovely when I’m with you. Let me try, dear; give
me a chance to make good! I’m not over conceited, but I’m sure I can
make you happy. If you choose to marry me in time to get the money, we
can do wonderful things! Take wonderful trips, see beautiful places,—but
beautiful to me, only because you are with me!”

There was a deep thrill in his tones that moved Elsie by its genuine
passion and devotion. She looked into his grey eyes,—their steely glint
softened now, and read there a great unconquerable love for herself.
Should she cast this aside for a chance, an uncertainty? She must get
the money for her people,—she had decided on that,—and she felt it her
duty to sacrifice herself for them. But, when she tried to say yes to
Whiting’s pleas, the word would not come.

“I can’t! Oh, Fenn, I can’t!” she moaned. “I love Kimball,—oh, I love
him _desperately_! I can never marry any one else,—I can’t—I can’t do
it!”

“Hush, Elsie, don’t sob so. Listen, dear; the time for that sort of
thing is past. There are only seven days now to your birthday; you can’t
wait till the last minute to decide. And if Webb had been coming back he
would have been here before this. He will never come back,—I’m sure of
it!”

“You can’t be sure of it, Fenn; but will you arrange it this way,—you
said you would, once. Let the wedding take place the day before my
birthday, and if Kim comes home, let him be the bridegroom, and if not,
I’ll marry you.”

“No! I’ll not do that! You’ve played fast and loose with me long enough!
I’ve stood for it because I love you so, and I want you so. But I won’t
be that sort of a cat’s-paw! You’ll say right now you’ll marry me, or
I’ll drop out of it all, and you can marry anybody you choose to get
your precious legacy!”

Whiting’s face was distorted by passion and by rage at the idea of being
baffled at the last. “I do not think for a minute that Webb would show
up, but if he did, I’d not stand having my bride snatched from me at the
very altar! No!”

“Then, you _may_ drop out!” Elsie’s determination was as great as his
own. “I refuse to promise. I’d rather marry Joe Allison, at the last
minute, and so keep a chance for Kim, than to promise _you_, and have no
chance at all!”

“Allison! You would, would you? We’ll see about that!”

Whiting quite lost control of himself and flew into a veritable frenzy.
“You’ll marry me now, and here,—get that?”

Elsie was horror-stricken. Fenn’s teeth were set together and his
expression was that of a hungry, wild animal. She wasn’t afraid that he
could force her to marry him, but she was afraid of what he might say or
do if he were further defied.

“Fenn,” she said, gently, “Fenn, dear—”

“Don’t ‘Fenn, dear’ me unless you mean it! Don’t think you can placate
me by soft words that mean nothing! Will you marry me, _now_?”

“I will not,” Elsie’s hauteur was the last straw.

“Then, you’ll stay here until you will!”

Whiting flung himself into a chair, and looked at her as if he held the
whip-hand.

“What do you mean?” Elsie said, icily.

“These are my rooms. You are locked in here with me, alone. How long
must you stay here before you decide it’s wiser to be my wife than—”

The look the girl gave him made him quail.

“Elsie,” he said, more gently.

“Hush! Don’t dare to speak to me again. Let me out!”

She flew to the door, but it was locked, the key in Whiting’s pocket, or
the spring catch holding it, she didn’t know which. She pounded on the
door, with her soft hands, but made little commotion that way.

“Useless, my dear,” Whiting said, calmly. “These rooms are on a wing
containing but few guests. Nobody will hear you. Pound away, if you
like.”

This wasn’t true; as a matter of fact, Whiting was very much afraid
somebody would hear her, but he deemed this the best way to stop
her,—and it was.

Elsie believed him and quit pounding. Nor did she scream. An idea had
come to her. Whiting had said rooms. Therefore there was more to the
suite than the one they were in. Covertly she glanced at the doors, and
decided that while one rather narrow one was doubtless a closet, the
wide one, the other side of the room, probably opened into an adjoining
room, which was likely to give on the hall.

At any rate, it was worth trying.

Cleverly, she seemed not to be noticing these details, but sat, her
handkerchief to her eyes, apparently subdued and dismayed. And, in fact
she was both, but not to the point of surrender, as she appeared to
Whiting’s anxious watchfulness.

Cautiously looking about, with seemingly a vacant stare, she saw many
little personal belongings, that convinced her the room was Whiting’s
sitting room. Doubtless the next was his bedroom. All the same, she
determined to dash through it in an attempt at freedom. If she were
quick, and the other hall door not locked, she could get to the
hall,—while if she were trapped in the other room, her plight would be
no worse than it was at present.

She rose and walked disconsolately about,—looked from the windows,
stared, unseeing, at a picture on the wall,—and generally appeared to be
aimlessly wandering, while she thought matters over.

Whiting watched her, but so cannily did Elsie mislead his thoughts, that
he didn’t notice she drew nearer and nearer the bedroom door.

At last, she was almost against it, her eyes fastened on a small clock
which stood on a table at the opposite side of the room.

“What time is it?” she said, dully, as if her decision depended on the
flight of the hours.

The ruse succeeded. He followed the direction of her straining eyes, and
looked at the little clock instead of taking out his own watch.

Like a flash, Elsie tore open the door, found that it opened into a
bedroom, with a hall door, and crossing the room in the fewest possible
steps, wrenched open the hall door. It was not locked, and she flew
through it and down the corridor toward the elevators, of which there
were two side by side.

Elsie pushed the bell so violently, that the car came up immediately and
she sprang into it, just as Whiting came racing down the hall after her.

He rang, a long steady ring, and though Elsie’s prayers persuaded the
girl in the car with her not to go up again, the other car shot past
them flying upward.

And now Elsie achieved a master-stroke. Thinking swiftly, she knew
Whiting would make the other car drop without a stop, and would await
her on the ground floor.

Determined to outwit him, she ordered the girl to stop between floors
and change gowns with her.

Willing enough, when Elsie offered her all the money in her bag, and
also told her she would be aiding a crime if she refused, the little
elevator girl slipped out of her uniform, Elsie dropped off her own gown
and in two minutes they were transformed, even the cap of the girl in
place of Elsie’s pretty hat, and the hat on the other’s head.

A little bewildered the girl then ran her car on down, without stop.

At the ground floor, acting at Elsie’s orders, the other girl stepped
from the car in a furtive, hunted manner, and ran swiftly down a long
cross hall,—Whiting, full tilt after her.

Elsie, meanwhile, stepped briskly out the front door, sprang into a
taxicab and was whirled away.

Elsie’s spirits rose. She had outwitted Fenn Whiting, and she had
escaped from a situation more dangerous than that of the deserted
taxicab of a few days before.

She went straight back to the hotel where she and the nurse had been
staying. Here the desk clerk told her that the nurse had packed up
everything and had returned to New York.

Elsie was amazed. She trusted the nurse absolutely, but she now began to
fear her sincerity. To the poor girl it seemed as if there were nobody
in whom she could place confidence. And there was the ever dreadful
question of the fortune. Had it not been for her insistent family, she
would have given up all thought of the money and would have run away to
hide by herself until her birthday had passed.

But, she argued, this was not the way to feel. For she must be at home,
in case Kimball should somehow miraculously appear.

Unable to fathom the meaning of the nurse’s departure, though since she
had taken all their luggage, Elsie couldn’t think she was honest, she
concluded to go right back to New York herself.

She couldn’t hope to escape Fenn Whiting’s presence much longer, for
having learned the trick played on him, he would of course come at once
to The Turrets.

Moreover, Elsie was attracting curious looks, and even disapproving ones
by reason of her standing about in the hall, dressed in the uniform of
an elevator girl! She wondered what the poor girl was doing, who now
wore her clothes. Perhaps she would lose her position! Elsie determined
to look after her as soon as she could secure and count on her own
safety.

And now a new dilemma presented itself. She had no money!

All she had carried with her, in her handbag, she had given to the girl
in the elevator, thinking she would go back to the hotel where she had
her check book.

But that was gone with her trunks. Even the unpaid cabman was already
clamouring for his fare!

“Why did Miss Loring say she left?” she asked the clerk.

“She said you had sent her word you had already gone home, and she was
to follow at once,” he returned, glancing at her severely. “She packed
quickly and caught the first train she could get.”

“She paid the bill?”

“Yes, in full to the time of her leaving.”

“I will ask you then, to pay this cabman, and let me have money enough
to get to New York. I will send you a check from there.”

But the desk clerk didn’t seem to care for this plan at all. He paid the
cabman, who was becoming a nuisance, but he declined to advance money to
such an erratic person as the lady before him seemed to be.

She had made no explanation of her strange garb, and his manner had so
roused her indignation that she kept her own counsel.

But she was at her wits’ end. It was after four in the afternoon and a
hotel who wouldn’t lend a few dollars, would doubtless object to her
re-registering there, with no money, and in most eccentric costume.

As she thought it over a man approached and asked if he might be of
assistance.

It was the man of the gold-filled teeth!

Any fear of him she might have felt vanished in a strange sense of
seeing an old friend! For so helpless and friendless was the poor child
that even this man, presumably one of the “villains,” seemed a godsend!

And he was polite and deferential.

“Well,” she said, her poise returning, “all things considered, I think I
am privileged to ask you for the loan of a few dollars.”

“I’ll do better than that,” he said, with a really cordial smile, “I’ll
escort you back to New York. I’m going myself, on the four-forty-five.
And you need have no fear,” he said, coming nearer. “I’ve no reason to
wish you any harm. I’ll deliver you safe and sound at your own home on
Park Avenue.”

There was something about him that inspired confidence. And Elsie was
tired, faint and exhausted. She thought this plan offered her, however
it might turn out, a lesser evil than to stay alone at The Turrets, even
if this new friend gave her money, for there she was still in the
vicinity of Fenn Whiting. Indeed, he was liable to appear at any minute.

She made up her mind, quickly.

“I’ll go with you,” she said. “Will you lend me enough money to buy some
sort of a large cloak or cape, and a hat?”

“Yes,” he said, and he looked at her uniform with the queerest glance.

But it was not to be wondered at, doubtless he was striving to keep from
bursting into laughter. The cocky little cap, above Elsie’s lovely
troubled face was a picture!

So, the strangely assorted pair took a cab, stopped at a goods emporium
and Elsie procured a decent hat and a large full cape, and then they
reached the station just in time to take the desired train.

In the car he left her to herself, and went away to the smoker.

He was most deferential, most polite.

“And why shouldn’t he be?” Elsie asked herself. “I’ve paid him,—or his
gang fifty thousand dollars,—surely they owe me something! I’ve a mind
to ask him something about Kim,—he seems so nice.”

But thoughts of Coley Coe kept her silent on any save the most casual
subjects.

She felt, during the ride to New York, as if she ought to plan some way
of trailing the gold-toothed man after he left her. But how could she do
it? Vague thoughts of telegraphing from the moving train,—of having
policemen meet her at the station,—all sorts of plans went through her
mind, but none were practicable.

So she determined to talk more with the man and find out anything she
might, that way, and then do the best she could to get Coe quickly, as
soon as she was safely at home.

For she dreaded any further abduction or trapping,—and she longed only
to be at home once more and safe from impending danger.

As they neared the big station the gold-tooth man returned.

“Sure,” he replied to her request, “I’ll tell you my name. It’s Pike.
Richard Pike. And now, miss, you’re bound for home?”

“Yes, as soon as I can get there. Please leave me at the platform, I can
get a taxi myself.”

“Desert you at the last post? No indeed, ma’am. Don’t be afraid,—I’m not
going to carry you off!” He laughed good-naturedly, and again Elsie’s
fears were drowned in a sense of his honest intention to treat her with
courtesy.

So they walked to the taxicab, and after she got into one he followed.

So amazed was she at this, that she made a protest.

“Oh, it’s right on my way,” he said, “so why pay two fares?”

The ride was not long, but when the cab stopped, it was not at Elsie’s
home.

It was at a house, a fine-looking brownstone house, that had the
appearance of being closed for the summer. The windows were boarded up,
the front door likewise, and all was silent and still.

“Where’s this?” Elsie asked, refusing to get out.

“Hush!” and Pike put his finger to his lip. “The taxi driver is a bad
one! Get out, miss, quick!”

Scared at his serious tone, and secret manner, Elsie got out, through
sheer force of the other’s will, and in a moment the fare was paid and
the cab had disappeared down the street.

“Now, miss,” and the hitherto kind voice had a hard note in it, “you’ll
stop in here for a minute on your way home. Don’t refuse, now, it
wouldn’t be healthy!”

The cold little ring of an automatic pressed against Elsie’s temple, and
with a glance at Pike’s face, she knew in an instant she was trapped
again!

Almost without volition, for this new terror seemed to deprive her of
her senses, Elsie stumbled along, through the gate the man opened, and
which led to the area entrance.

Through the basement door, they entered the house, and in the doorway,
Elsie was met by a woman, a decent, middle-aged body, who took the
fainting girl to her breast.

“There now,” she said, in the kindest tones, “there now, miss, brace up.
It’s faint you are, dearie. Sit there, now, and let me fix you up.”

She bustled about and gave Elsie a glass of warm milk, then taking off
her shoes and her wraps, she laid her down on a wide couch in the front
one of the basement rooms.

“Sakes alive! what’s she got on a uniform for?”

“I don’t know,” Pike returned, but he winked at the woman to make her
refrain from further queries.

Elsie was exhausted, but not to the point of going to sleep.

After a second glass of milk and some bread and fruit, she was quite
herself again, and, buoyed up by excitement and anger was ready for
combat.

“What does it all mean?” she asked the woman, thinking it wiser not to
show her indignation at first.

“Don’t ask me, miss, _I_ don’t know,” the woman returned.

“That’s right, miss,” Pike broke in; “my wife don’t know anything about
it all,—and neither do I. We’re paid tools,—that’s all we are. Now,
there’s the matter in a nutshell. We’re paid to look after you good and
proper. We’ll do it, too, and if you let us, we’ll be kind and gentle
with you. But if you force us to it, we may have to use stronger means.
I’d be sorry to lay a hand on you, miss, and I hope to goodness you
won’t make it necessary,—but I’ll say straight out, you’ve got to obey
our orders.”

“I’ve no objection, so long as you’re merely taking care of me, as you
say,” Elsie returned, coolly. She felt a conviction that her best plan
with these people was to placate them all in all possible ways.

It could do no good to combat them, and might do great harm.

“Who pays you?” she asked, so casually, she hoped for an answer.

“We’re forbidden to tell,” Pike said, simply. “And, you must see, miss,
questions will not get you anywhere, for we’re paid to keep our mouths
shut, so it stands to reason we’re going to do it.”

“Of course,” Elsie agreed. “But suppose I pay you better, far better
than your present paymaster?”

The woman looked up quickly, her small black eyes shining with cupidity,
but Pike said in a voice that rang with truth:

“I wouldn’t _dare_, miss. I wouldn’t dare even _listen_ to you!”

“Oh,” she said, “you’re afraid of _him_—” and she whispered,—“the master
mind!”

“You said it!” Pike exclaimed. “Nobody dares stand up against _him_!”

And at that moment a shout rang through the house. The two Pikes turned
white and fairly trembled with terror, but Elsie cried out,

“That’s the voice of Kimball Webb!”



                              CHAPTER XVI
                               A SAFE MAN


There was consternation in the Powell household when Miss Loring arrived
without Elsie.

“Where is she?” cried Gerty.

“Here, isn’t she?” returned the bewildered nurse.

“No, of course not! Why did you think so?”

And then Nurse Loring told how she had received a message from Elsie
saying she had been obliged to return to New York suddenly, that she had
gone with some friends, and for Miss Loring to follow as soon as she
could pack off.

“Did she write you a note?” asked Mrs. Powell.

“No; the word was brought by a man.”

“What sort of a man?”

“A decent appearing person, who said he was the chauffeur of Miss
Powell’s friends with whom she had gone.”

“What did he look like?”

“Ordinary looking, like a servant, but respectful and well-mannered, and
he had a great many gold filled teeth. Do you know him?”

“No; and I think there’s something wrong. Elsie never would have done
such a thing. She hasn’t any friends down there with their car,—that I
know of. Has she, mother?”

“No,” Mrs. Powell agreed. “There is something wrong.” She clasped her
hands nervously. “Do send for Mr. Coe, Gerty.”

Coley Coe came on the jump, and listened to the tale with a grave face.

“I should say there was!” he exclaimed, “something _very_ wrong! That
girl has been kidnapped and the villains mean to keep her till after her
birthday! I’ve been fearing some such performance, but I thought she was
safe with the nurse.”

Miss Loring spoke quickly: “Oh, I was so careful of her! I never let her
out of my sight for a moment, but if I had known there was any danger of
this sort, I should have been doubly careful! Why didn’t you tell me?”

“My own suspicions were not definite enough,” said Coe. “Nobody blames
you, Miss Loring, you could not help it. In the crowd, the trick was
easily turned. Now, Mrs. Powell, don’t cry so; you need fear no harm for
your daughter, no bodily harm, I mean. She will likely be treated with
greatest consideration and kindness,—but—”

“But I don’t understand,” Gerty looked doubtful,—“why should any one
want to kidnap Elsie?”

“It’s a moil, Mrs. Seaman,” Coe said, shaking his long thatch out of his
eyes. “I’m not yet discouraged, but I’m getting to see that we’re up
against not only a very clever villain but an utterly unscrupulous one.”

“Aren’t all villains that?”

“Not entirely. Some draw the line at certain crimes. But this
master-fiend, for that’s what he is—”

“Do you know him?” Gerty asked eagerly.

“No, I don’t! I know so much about him,—I’ve so many sidelights on him,
so much evidence against him, and yet I lack the one connecting link
that would give me his identity. I have my suspicions—but, oh, there
were some things I wanted to ask Miss Powell!”

“Perhaps I can tell you, she talked over everything with me.”

“No; I only wanted her to tell me over again the little things she
picked up that first morning at the Webbs. You know the white marks on
the floor? Well, they’re explained. Miss Webb was in the room that
evening, but it was before her brother came in, and she, foolishly
enough! tried to conceal the fact, lest she be suspected of having
Kimball Webb in hiding!”

“She was suspected.”

“Yes, but she isn’t now. At least, not by me. That speech, ‘if it should
be!’ referred to spooks; and I had her trailed, you know, and though she
was reported as going on mysterious secret errands, they were,—what do
you suppose?”

“Oh, what?”

“Trips to a Beauty Doctor!”

“Poor Henrietta! It’s pathetic, but I can’t help laughing. And Mrs.
Webb, she went on secret errands, too, didn’t she?”

“Yes; and hers were to _séances_ with people that she didn’t want to
acknowledge as her friends! Common people,—as mediums usually are, and
some cronies that Mrs. Webb only cultivated in the pursuit of her
psychic researches! No, there’s no reason to suspect that the mother or
sister know where Webb is. Nor, do I see any chance of finding his
hiding place before the thirtieth. After that, I’m very sure he will be
freed.”

“But now Elsie’s gone, too!”

“Yes, and I’ve no doubt, taken away by the same people.”

A few questions asked of the nurse gave Coe no information concerning
the man with the gold teeth.

“Oho!” he cried; “it is the same gang, then! We _must_ get them! Do
describe him further, Miss Loring!”

But her detailed description was only such as called up a picture of an
average looking man, large, strong, with dark hair and eyes, healthy
colour, and with no striking characteristic but the unusual number of
gold filled teeth in the front part of his lower jaw.

“Enough to identify him,” said Coe, “but not enough to find him! We
could scour the dentists’ records, but we’d have to visit thousands, and
then, maybe, fail because the work was done in another city! If we only
had one more line on him.”

“Maybe he’s the Sherman’s man,” mused Gerty.

“What! What’s that?” said Coe, quickly.

“Why, Elsie picked up a paper in Kim’s room, and it was one of those
little toothpick wrappers, tissue, you know, and it was stamped
‘Sherman’s.’”

“Yes, the big restaurant.”

“Yes; now Kimball Webb never went to Sherman’s in his life! I know he
didn’t, and Elsie says she knows he didn’t. He isn’t that sort of a
man.”

“Why, Sherman’s is all right.”

“Yes, for the class of people that like it. But Kim is fastidious and
Elsie says she knows of his prejudice against Sherman’s. Of course she’s
been out with him so much she knows his tastes.”

“And this paper was in Webb’s room! When?”

“Elsie found it the day after or a few days after his disappearance. She
threw it away—”

“That doesn’t matter, the fact of its being there is the important
thing! You see, the man who got in the room may have dropped it—”

“How could any man get in the room! You’re crazy!”

“’Deed I’m not! Some man _did_ get in that room, and carry off Kimball
Webb while Webb was unconscious! Now, you put that away in your mind,
and keep it there, for it’s true!”

“How did he get in?”

“Mrs. Seaman, if any one ever asks me that question again, I’m going to
run away! I don’t know _how_ he got in,—but, he _did_ get in,—and, if
this interests you, I’m going to find out how he got in! But even more
than that, I want to find the man! That’s the objective point. To find
how he got in, would be fearfully interesting and would gratify my
overweening curiosity,—I think overweening is the word for it! Anyhow,
it’s the biggest order of curiosity I’ve ever experienced in my career!
But, overweeninger yet, is my desire to get the man! It’s an obsession
with me,—a craze! My fingers itch for him,—and I feel he’s so near—and
yet so far! But this little old toothpick paper may be a clue! You know
what flimsy little bits they are, how they cling in a pocket and are
easily flirted out with a handkerchief or such matter!”

“Wouldn’t it be a good deal of a coincidence if your man, a frequenter
of Sherman’s, left the paper,—as one might a visiting card?”

“Don’t be sarcastic, Mrs. Seaman!” Coe smiled good-naturedly. “And the
coincidence wouldn’t be so extraordinarily strange! They say, a man
can’t enter and leave a room, without making half a dozen at least
ineffaceable marks of his presence there. Now, the only reason I doubted
the entrance of my man, as you call him, was the fact that I hadn’t been
able to find any trace,—not even the slightest, of his visit there. That
made me think Webb might have been lured out,—stop! don’t you dare ask
me how he got out. We know he did get out,—and as I told you I’m going
to find out how. Well, this little paper changes the whole map of my
cogitations. Now, do you know of anybody who does go to Sherman’s?”

“I do not. My friends don’t care for the place.”

“Probably not; but I’ll bet it’s the great little old rendezvous of
Friend Gold-teeth, and his boss.”

“Oh, he isn’t the principal, then?”

“Surely not! The man higher up is a big-brained chap, and working for
big stakes! Sherman’s! Ho, ho! Pardon my unholy glee, but I’m ’way up
over this thing! And now I’ll skip. Look for me when you see me!”

Coe went away and went straight to Wallace Courtney’s.

He began by saying frankly, “Do you want to help me to find Kimball
Webb, or don’t you?”

“I do,” returned Courtney, “I’m not a heathen! I’m working on my hay
while the sun shines, but I’d do anything in my power to find Webb even
if it meant the failure of my masterpiece. You know, I think he had a
spell of divine afflatus and went away to finish his own play by
himself.”

“Leaving a bride, practically at the altar!”

“Oh, I think Elsie’s in the secret. She knows where he is! I shouldn’t
wonder if they were married before he went,—that would make her fortune
all right.”

“Well, what do you think of this? Elsie’s kidnapped too, now!”

“That carries out my theory. She’s gone to him.”

“Oh, you’re impossible! Well, tell me this, and I’ll scat. Do you know
anybody who frequents Sherman’s? Or who goes there occasionally?”

“I should hope not! Why?”

“Oh, don’t be so supercilious. Sherman’s is decent if it is popular.”

“I know it. I’ve been there. It’s just a big, gay dance hall. No, I
don’t number any of its regular patrons among my friends. Kimball Webb
was not one, if that’s what you want to know.”

“That isn’t what I want to know. Don’t any of your crowd go there at
times,—anybody who was at Webb’s dinner?”

“Why, Coe, I’d tell you if I could. I suppose every chap at that dinner
has been inside of Sherman’s, but I doubt if many of them have been more
than once or twice as a mere matter of curiosity. If that’s all you’re
asking me, clear out, I’m busy.”

Coe was about to clear out, when Lulie Lloyd stopped him.

“I know somebody who goes to Sherman’s a lot,” she said; “he sometimes
takes me there.”

“Thank you, Miss Lloyd,” Coe said, politely, “but I mean some one of Mr.
Webb’s friends.”

“So do I,” said the girl, her colour rising and her expression a little
defiant.

“Oh,” and Coley Coe began to see things, as in a glass darkly. “Some one
who was at Mr. Webb’s dinner?”

“Yes,” she spoke almost sullenly.

“May I ask his name?”

“I’ll tell you, but I don’t want Mr. Courtney to hear.”

“I don’t want to,” the busy playwright returned, and Lulie Lloyd leaned
over and whispered a name into the ear of Coleman Coe.

He nodded his head, as one who was not overwhelmingly surprised, and
continued in a low tone, “And do you know a man with ever so many gold
filled teeth in his lower jaw?”

“Do I?” she cried. “Why, he’s that man’s valet!”

“And a friend of yours?”

“He was! He isn’t now!”

“Ah,—he went back on you?”

“He did all of that,—and then some!”

And then Lulie Lloyd looked frightened, looked as if she regretted
deeply what she had involuntarily blurted out, and she returned to her
typewriter and began madly pounding the keys.

But Coe had learned enough.

He left quickly, and hopping on a street car, he arrived at the house
where lived the man whose name Lulie had whispered to him. The man whose
valet had the auriferous teeth.

The man he asked for was out, and though not an easy matter, Coe
succeeded by dint of threats and bribes to gain admission to the room
where, he said, he would await his host’s return.

Left alone Coleman Coe proceeded to ransack the desk, which stood,
carelessly open.

He ran rapidly through a sheaf of letters and bills, now and then
shaking his feathery forelock wildly, in mad bursts of satisfaction.

The bills, paid and unpaid, were illuminating. The letters even more so,
and Coe grew more and more beaming of face as he proceeded.

He kept a wary eye on the door, and at last finding an old letter that
specially interested him, he read it three times, though this was the
quickly mastered gist of it:

“I think Simeon Breese will be a _safe_ man for you.”

The address of the said Simeon followed, and this short bit of
information seemed to afford Coley the deepest pleasure.

The underscoring of the word safe, particularly entertained him, and he
laughed as at a great joke.

“I knew it!” he cried, though silently. “I knew it!”

Then, replacing such papers as he had visibly disarranged, Coe sauntered
forth and left the house.

“Tell him I couldn’t wait any longer,” he said, casually to the door man
and went his way.

His way took him to the establishment of Simeon Breese, Safe Maker.

“You make safes?” was Coe’s totally unnecessary query.

“Yes, sir,” admitted Breese, “what can I do for you?”

“I don’t exactly want a safe,” Coe said, with what was meant to be an
ingratiating wink. “I,—that is,” he looked embarrassed, “I want a sort
of a—well, a very confidential matter.”

“I don’t understand, sir.”

There was no invitation to proceed, but Coe went on: “I want a secret
entrance built—”

“Whatever made you come to me on such an errand, then? My business is
building safes,—not building means to rob them.”

“Nonsense, that’s not the idea. I merely want a private passage from one
room to another in my house,—”

“You’re way off, sir. You’ve come to the wrong place, entirely. Good
morning, sir.”

“But,—stay,—wait a minute. I’m recommended here by—” And Coe whispered
in the ear of Breese the same name Lulie Lloyd had whispered to him.

Breese looked utterly blank.

“Don’t know your friend, sir; never heard of him. Good morning!”

This last dismissal was accompanied by a glance that meant a very
definite invitation to leave, and as there seemed small use in staying
Coe left. But he was disappointed. He had hoped to get a line on the
secret entrance which he knew gave into Kimball Webb’s room.

One forlorn hope came into his breast. He would try to get hold of the
valet, the gold-toothed valet, who had played fast and loose with Lulie
Lloyd. This showed him to be a man of not unimpeachable morals, and he
might be useful.

He went boldly back to the house he had so recently left, and inquired
if his friend had yet returned.

“No, sir,” the imperturbable doorman informed him.

“Then is his man in,—his valet?”

“Bass? That he ain’t. He’s left.”

“He has? How long ago?”

“Oh, a matter of a couple of months or more now.”

Ah! Not a great discrepancy between that and the date of Kimball Webb’s
disappearance!

“Funny looking man, Bass,” Coe said, casually.

“All right, I should say.”

“Queer teeth, at least.”

“Yes,” the other admitted. “I shouldn’t care to carry round such an El
Dorado, but Bass is rather proud of it.”

“Well, we’re all more or less proud of something. You don’t know where
Bass hangs out now?”

“I don’t.”

Coe sighed and turned away.

He had so little to work on. That ridiculous toothpick paper,—Webb might
easily have dropped that himself. Many a man would go to Sherman’s
without the knowledge of his sweetheart, and think it no crime.

And the safe builder seemed to dwindle to even greater insignificance.
For if he hadn’t built the secret entrance which _had_ to be in
existence, who had, and how was Coe to find him.

There was only one answer to it all. Coleman Coe was up against the
necessity,—the actual bare necessity of finding that entrance for
himself. No matter whether he _could_ do it, or not, it had to be done,
and he had to do it.

As he had previously argued, the finding of the secret didn’t prove the
perpetrator of it, nor did it produce Kimball Webb,—but these things
might result from the discovery of how he was taken away, and anyway,
there was no other way to find out.

The master mind of the villain who took him was so clever, so
diabolically canny, there was nothing to work on or to work with.

And, now, Elsie was gone,—there was added necessity for hasty action and
result.

The motive, Coe had long ago decided, was the fortune. Just how that
affected the case he wasn’t sure, but he felt an unshakable conviction
that had it not been for the freak will left by Miss Elizabeth Powell
there would have been no disappearance of either the bridegroom or the
bride.

This naturally turned his mind to Joe Allison. But he had long ago
ceased to suspect Joe. He had, at first, but now he knew the chap, and
it was impossible to connect him with such a crime as abduction to gain
a fortune. Allison was money-mad, that Coe admitted,—but, well, he
wouldn’t put it on Joe till he had to.

He decided he’d go to the room of Kimball Webb and once again make those
hopeless rounds of walls, ceiling and floor; doors and windows; chimney
and bathroom window, which were all the points to be examined.

He asked Miss Webb a few preliminary questions. How long had they lived
in the house, and such things as that.

This led nowhere. How could it possibly help to know they had lived
there six years; to know where they had lived in Boston; to know when
Kimball first met Elsie Powell; to learn why the Webbs didn’t fully
approve of the match; all these things were as chaff which didn’t even
show which way the wind blew.

And Miss Webb’s attitude had greatly changed since the last time he
talked with her.

She had now begun to despair of ever seeing her brother again.

With a womanly injustice she was inclined to blame Elsie for the whole
trouble, but when Coe told her that Elsie, too, was mysteriously
missing, she saw the thing as he did, that a gang or at least a pair of
able and ingenious villains were at work.

Coe was tempted to tell her of the valet, Bass, and his master, but
concluded to wait a little longer.

He asked for a talk with the two men servants, who had broken into
Kimball’s room that morning, and this being willingly granted, he asked
them again of any point or hint they might remember that hadn’t yet been
brought.

“No, sir,” said Hollis thoughtfully, “I’ve had all sorts of notions, but
they’ve all been wrong, and sometimes I’m ready to agree with Mrs. Webb
herself that it’s the spirits as done it.”

“Rubbish!” Coe observed, and Hollis really agreed, though he had no
wiser suggestion to make.

“How long have you been here?” Coe asked, idly.

“Two years, sir.”

“And have you seen or heard anything mysterious?”

“No; not myself, sir. But I’ve heard the other servants’ stories.”

“So have I,” groaned Coe, wearily. “I’ve heard the tales of moans and
groans that grew weirder each time,—the tales did, I mean. But I’ve
heard nothing definite. Have you, Oscar?”

“No, sir,” said the chauffeur, a taciturn chap. “Nor I’ve never seen
anything myself, nor heard anything. But, Mr. Coe, everybody laughs at
this, so I haven’t harped on it. You know I did smell bananas as I
opened that door, that morning, and I’d swear to that on a stack of
Bibles!”

“Bananas!”

“Yes, sir. And Mr. Kimball Webb didn’t care for bananas. I mean he
wouldn’t think of having them in his bedroom to eat! He never did things
like that. Now, doesn’t that smell mean something?”

“It’s queer, but I can’t see any indicative evidence in it.”

“No, sir, I s’pose not. But I’d like to know what made it. Maybe ghosts
eat bananas.”



                              CHAPTER XVII
                             GILDED ACORNS


And so again Coe went over the room.

“Lord!” he cried, “I’m sick and tired of looking for a mousehole when
the mousehole isn’t here! Not a baby mouse could get in or out of this
box,—let alone a swashbuckler villain, carrying a drugged unconscious
man on his back!”

For that was the way Coe visualized it,—he felt sure the abductor had
entered by his confounded secret entrance, had drugged or chloroformed
the sleeping Webb, and had returned the way he came, carrying his prey.

For how else could it have been done? And anyway details didn’t matter.
Even if Webb had been cajoled,—say by a tale of Elsie in immediate
danger,—or her sudden illness,—even so, the secret entrance must have
afforded the way in.

And so the secret entrance had to be found, and Coe vowed he wouldn’t
leave the room until he left through that entrance itself!

Patiently he went over the walls again,—the floor, the ceiling, noting
unmarred decorations that precluded an opening of any sort.

But this he soon finished and set himself to work with his brain,
thinking up some other type of entrance than any he had yet thought of.

“Suppose the whole side wall swings out,” he thought. “Suppose this wall
between his house and the next—swings like a door,—no, that’s too
wide,—suppose it swings on a pivot,—a central pivot,—oh, shucks, it
couldn’t! Well, suppose the whole hall door came out in one piece,—frame
and all. Suppose the frame is hinged on like a door,—then the bolted
door wouldn’t matter.”

But this ingenious plan likewise failed to work, because the door wasn’t
built that way. It was just an ordinary, regular made and regular hung
door.

The windows, too, failed to prove themselves freak windows of any sort
but insisted on remaining the regulation, prosaic windows of commerce.

The chimney was the only outlet left.

Coe had peered up this so many times; poked up it with so many rods and
poles; invented and discarded so many clever schemes of how it might
work; that he felt no hope of further light from this source.

He glared at the great fireplace with an air of righteous indignation.
Why,—oh, why couldn’t it obligingly turn out to be some sort of a
mechanism that would solve his puzzle.

He scrutinized every inch of it.

All he got for his trouble was the conviction that certain parts of it
had been recently touched up with gilding,—where the gilt iron filigree
work decorated the edges of the wide opening. Moreover, the newer
gilding was of a slightly different shade and lustre from the old.

Of course, all this meant, that in their housekeeping zeal the Webbs or
their servants had touched up some points of the oak leaf design that
needed such renovation.

They were here and there among the leaves and acorns that surrounded the
opening of the fireplace.

Grasping at any straw Coe went downstairs and made inquiry, learning
that there had been no such gilding done.

Coe went back and sat looking at the oak leaves.

It seemed more conspicuous now,—indeed, he wondered how he could have
missed seeing it sooner.

Then he realized it was not really conspicuous,—it had doubtless been
done last housecleaning time.

But it was too bright for that theory. No, sir, that gilt had been
applied to those scratched or marred leaves lately, and it had been done
carefully and well. Done by somebody who knew how,—not a professional
decorator, necessarily, but some one who knew about that sort of thing.

Why, he used to do it himself, when he lived at home,—and he remembered
even yet the way the gold paint got all over his fingers and the way it
smelled of—

Great Scott! of bananas!

It did! Every metal paint he had ever used,—gilt, bronze, copper,—all
smelled of bananas,—acetate of amyl,—or something like that!

Had Oscar’s reference to a banana odour proved valuable after all?

And what could it mean? Why, the answer flashed across his eager
brain,—it meant that the entrance,—the secret entrance, was somehow
connected with that fireplace,—that the kidnapper had scratched the gilt
leaves so badly when making his exit, that he had, to escape detection,
to retouch the marred places!

To work uninterruptedly Coe went and closed the room door and locked it.

Then he sat down on the floor in front of the fireplace, and pondered.

Not the chimney. No. He had long ago discarded that as a course of exit.
But the fireplace, somehow.

He peered and scrutinized; he fingered and pinched; he reasoned and
cogitated; and at last his patient effort was rewarded by seeing the
tiniest bit of rust or rubbed enamel that looked as if it _might_ mean a
hidden spring.

And it did! Careful manipulation, gentle urging, without forcing made
the fireplace give up its secret at last, and the whole grate with its
back piece, all, swung round on a pivot into the house next door, and
the fireplace that belonged in there swung into Coleman Coe’s astonished
ken!

The back of the fireplace, was a mere gate,—hung on a pivot, instead of
on side hinges, and it swung as easily as if recently oiled, which it
doubtless had been.

Half dazed, Coe went through the opening,—a wide enough one, as the
grates were exceedingly shallow, though very broad.

He found himself in a pleasant bedroom, almost a duplicate of Webb’s
own, as to size, shape and arrangement.

The secret entrance was found at last!

Eagerly Coe examined every part of it. The grates in the two rooms were
alike,—the Webb one much cleaner and brighter than the other.

Coe’s mind flew back to the story of the servant or somebody who smelled
a newly kindled fire without reason therefor.

It was, of course, because some hand had turned the revolving grates
around when there was or had been a fire in one side and not in the
other.

“Slick!” mused Coe, admiringly. “Very slick!”

And then, he remembered the Poltergeist! What easier than to enter
noiselessly, pull the bedclothes off the drowsy sleeper, and with a toss
of the sheets over the victim’s face, escape again before discovery
could be made?

And this was the way Kimball Webb had been abducted. The kidnapper had
come through the opening, had chloroformed Webb, and had carried him
back with him. The grate opening was wide enough for that. Or, would be
if the victim were, say, dragged through after the abductor.

Oh, it was possible—possible? Why, it was what had been done! The
mystery of the disappearance was explained as to means.

And the ghost that had been meant to frighten Coley Coe and had only
roused his hilarity.

That too, had been prepared and exhibited by the same clever Artful
Dodger responsible for all the rest.

Yes, the discovery explained everything. And, the rogue, having so
marred the gilt acorns, that attention must necessarily be drawn to
them, had crept back and touched them up with gold paint,—that smelled
of bananas! Thus overreaching his own cleverness!

Good old Oscar! To remember to mention the banana odour!

Hesitatingly, Coe went through to the other house.

He looked about the room. Unused, evidently. Dust on furniture, windows
closed. Dry atmosphere and blinds drawn.

He switched on a light. That had not been cut off.

Then he remembered the people were away and the house was closed. Well,
one of them could have returned from his summer resort to carry out his
fell purpose, and return again. Who were the people?

Oh, yes, the Marsden St. Johns. Coe didn’t know one iota about them, but
he proposed to find out.

He tried to learn the character of its inhabitant from the room itself.

But it seemed to him the abode of a lady. There were no clothes in the
wardrobe, but a stray hairpin or two, and a scantily furnished
workbasket were indicative of a departed feminine incumbent.

Still, this didn’t make it probable that a lady had carried Webb off.
Her room, in her absence, might well be used by another.

Coe returned to Webb’s room, closed the fireplace carefully, unlocked
the door and went down stairs.

He went to Miss Webb and asked about the people next door.

“A delightful family,” she said, “but very quiet. They are away much of
the time. They leave very early for their summer place, and close the
house the first of April. Then they return about October. But before the
holidays they go South, and after the holidays to California or
somewhere else, so that, as a matter of fact, they’re almost never at
home,—if you can even call it their home.”

“Who occupies the front room on the third floor?”

“I think Miss Marsden, the old spinster aunt.”

Coe nodded. He felt sure the kidnapper was not the one who belonged in
the room with the turning fireplace. Of course, she knew nothing about
it. Really, it was mysterious enough still!

He told Miss Webb of his discovery. Naturally, she wanted to go up at
once and see it.

Calling Mrs. Webb in they all three went up and Coe showed his treasure
trove.

“Well, of all things!” exclaimed Mrs. Webb; “why, it’s big enough to
crawl through!”

“To go through without crawling,” returned Coe, as, squatting, he fairly
shuffled through on his feet.

“And you think that’s the way Kim went out?” asked Henrietta, as Coe
returned.

“I know it’s the way,—but I think he was taken out unconscious.”

“Of course he was!” cried Mrs. Webb. “He never would go through into a
strange house of his own accord.”

“Well, where is he?” asked Henrietta, as if, Coe, having done so much
must now produce the missing man.

“I don’t know. But, Miss Webb, are you sure the Marsden St. Johns had
nothing to do with the kidnapping?”

“Of course they didn’t! They were away, and aside from that the thing is
preposterous! Why, we scarcely know them, and moreover, they’re the
quietest, most reserved people. That’s why we like them.

“Steal Kimball! They’d be more likely to protect him! But I tell you
they were not at home then.”

“Let me go through,” and Miss Webb looked at the open way.

“Certainly, the people are not home,—come along,” Coe agreed.

“Why, Henrietta,” cried her mother, “I don’t think you ought to.”

But curiosity triumphed, and soon all three stood in the room in the
next door house.

“What awful housekeeping!” Mrs. Webb cried, and her daughter’s
expression of distaste spoke volumes.

Coley Coe stood smiling to himself, at the way the aristocratic ladies
descended to the vulgar depths of prying. They peered into cupboards and
bureau drawers until he was positively shocked.

But it brought about a strange result.

“Why, here’s the diamond pendant!” exclaimed Henrietta.

And sure enough, in a small drawer in the dresser was the very jewel
case Mrs. Webb had last seen in her son’s hands the night before his
mysterious disappearance.

“Impossible!” Coe cried. But it was, beyond all shadow of a doubt. The
four magnificent stones, hung one below another, of perfectly graduated
sizes, sparkled and scintillated as Henrietta let it dangle from her
finger.

“I don’t understand,” said Mrs. Webb, utterly bewildered.

“Who could!” exclaimed Coe. “I’m all at sea. Tell me more about those
St. Johns. What sort of people can they be?”

“Oh, they aren’t thieves,—they can’t be!” Miss Webb stared, wide-eyed,
at the gems. “And yet, how else explain all this? Tell me, Mr. Coe, why
did they take Kimball away?”

“It looks to me as if whoever took him, did it to get the diamonds, at
least partly for that.”

“But the St. Johns are wealthy; they could buy these stones and never
miss the money.”

“Well, let’s look further. Suppose somebody utilized this empty house of
the St. Johns to—”

“Oh, they don’t own the house,” Mrs. Webb interrupted, “they rent it.”

“Millionaires, and rent a house!”

“Yes, they’re in the city so little, you know. And it’s a most desirable
house. Fenn Whiting owns it.”

“What?” Coley Coe was stunned.

“Yes, it belongs to Mr. Whiting. It was left to him with several other
houses by an uncle who died years ago.”

“Oh! Whoopee! Wow! I beg your pardon, Mrs. Webb, but I _must_ be allowed
to yell! Fenn Whiting owns this house! My heavens and earth!”

“What is the matter? Are you crazy, Mr. Coe? Why does it so please you
to learn that?”

“Oh, because—because—excuse me, ladies, I must run away,—I’ve most
important business. I’ll see you again later,—this evening, say,—and
then I’ll tell you,—oh, a whole heap of things!”

“Wait a minute,” as he started back through the fireplace. “Help us
through, please!”

“I beg pardon, Miss Webb! I guess I _am_ crazy! Come, give me your
hand.”

The trip was safely made by all three, and then Coe carefully closed the
fireplace, and noted that it showed no crack or crevice where the pivot
turned.

“Please don’t tell about this just at present,” he requested. “It’s all
most important! We shall not only recover Mr. Webb very soon now but
bring his abductor to justice and punishment, and also find Miss Powell,
and oh, maybe it will all be in time for the wedding.”

“What shall I do with this?” and Miss Webb held out the jewel box
helplessly.

“Oh,—put it—haven’t you a safe?”

“No.”

“Well, lock it up in your room somewhere. Nobody knows you have it so
there’s no danger of theft. Hide it securely.”

And with a brief word of good-bye Coe ran downstairs and out of doors.

First of all, he went to Fenn Whiting’s home. Only to be told that that
gentleman was not at home. He was expected any minute, however, and Coe
waited. This time he did not go up to Whiting’s rooms, but waited down
in the lobby.

But his wait was in vain. He grew restless, and began to cast about in
his mind how to find the man he sought. He telephoned various clubs and
homes of friends, and some business houses but not a word of information
could he get concerning Mr. Whiting.

At last, in hopeless despair he went away, after leaving word to
telephone him as soon as Mr. Whiting came home.

“I do have the hardest stunts to do,” poor Coley Coe told himself.

“Now I’ve found my criminal and I can’t lay my hands on him. And
something tells me I may never lay my eyes on him!”

He went to the Powells, for he must tell them that he had a hope at
least of recovering Elsie before long. Yet, had he?

However, he told the Powells the whole story of what he had found in the
way of a secret entrance.

“I should think it was secret!” Gerty exclaimed. “I don’t see how you
were clever enough to find it!”

“I was stupid not to find it sooner,” Coe bewailed.

And then he told his further discoveries. Allison was present, and with
the two Powell ladies made a most interested audience.

Mrs. Powell was in a nervous and broken down state, but she rallied
perceptibly at Coe’s hints of good news.

“You see,” he told them, “Mrs. Seaman’s tip about the toothpick paper
put me on a scent. I went to Courtney’s to see if I could trace
anything, and by sheer luck, Miss Lloyd,—bless her! told me that Fenn
Whiting frequently, or at least, occasionally, took her there.”

“Why, I thought Fenn looked higher than that!” sniffed Gerty.

“Some men look high and low by turns,” commented Joe.

“Well, anyhow,” Coley went on, “I took her tip for what it was worth.
Then she also informed me that Whiting’s valet, named Bass, possessed
just such gold filled teeth as Miss Elsie described, and as the nurse
mentioned in connection with the man that brought her that fake
message.”

“Do explain clearly,” begged Mrs. Powell, “I’m getting all mixed up!”

“This is how I dope it out,” Coley said, slowly. “Whiting is the master
villain. He has all the earmarks of a depraved, criminal type.”

“Why, I never thought so,” Gerty said.

“I saw it,” said Allison. “His jaw and the shape of his head gave it
away.”

“Yes, and his ears. Those points at the top,—and his steely grey eyes.
That colour marks the sly, even murderous type.”

“Oh, I never dreamed Fenn was so bad!” Gerty almost cried.

“Well, he is,” Coe declared. “Now, after Lulie Lloyd’s tip, I went to
Whiting’s rooms, and I found a letter from somebody recommending a safe
man for him to employ.

“At first I thought this meant a reliable man, but it turned out it
meant a man who built safes! To make a long story short, Whiting engaged
that man to build that fireplace door some time when his tenants were
away, and, of course when the Webbs were away also. He owned the house,
he could do it, and too, he doubtless paid the fellow well to do it, and
keep quiet about it. For the safe builder denied all knowledge of
Whiting. Then, I found that the diamonds were hidden in that house,—”

“Elsie’s diamonds?” Gerty gasped.

“Yes, put there by Whiting of course, after he stole them from Webb that
night. A perfect hiding-place!”

“Where is Kimball?”

“That’s the point of the whole thing. As I reconstruct it all, Whiting
sneaked into the room that night soon after Webb went to bed,
chloroformed him, and then dragged or carried or shoved him through into
the next house. He must have taken his clothes along and put them on the
unconscious man. You see, he had that brute of a man with the gold
teeth, his own man, to help him.”

“How do you know?” Allison’s eyes gleamed with interest.

“I don’t know, but it _must_ have been that way. Then, he and his
precious helper, managed somehow to get Webb away and carried him off,
doubtless in Whiting’s own car, to some place of concealment where he
still is.”

“And stole the diamonds too!”

“Yes; and has since stolen Elsie too,—and, worst of all, has now
disappeared himself!”

“Whiting stolen?” Allison’s eyes nearly popped out of his head.

“No; he is the thief, not a victim. He has those two people hidden and
he has now hidden himself.”

“Why? What for?” Mrs. Powell was unable to comprehend.

“This, I think. He wanted to marry Elsie,—he really loves her,—but even
more he loved the fortune she would get. He planned to remove Webb and
step into his shoes. The rest is all consequent on that determination.
He took the diamonds because they were there in Webb’s room, and
Whiting’s predatory instinct couldn’t resist the temptation. He hid Webb
securely,—time has proved how very securely,—and then he tried every way
to win Elsie.”

“But he always said he didn’t want her fortune,” Gerty interrupted. “He
said he’d just as lief marry her the day after her birthday as the day
before.”

“He said that, because he knew it was a safe bet if the girl would marry
him at all, she’d secure the fortune too. If she had agreed to marry him
the day after her birthday, he would have changed his schemes a bit. So,
as he couldn’t get Elsie to marry him,—I happen to know how hard he
tried,—he determined she shouldn’t marry at all, and kidnapped her. I’m
sure he has her somewhere where he can use every influence still, to
make her consent.”

“And was he at the bottom of the ransom scheme?” asked Joe.

“Sure he was. His gold toothed tool trapped Elsie, and they secured the
fifty thousand dollars without a bit of trouble. He never meant to
return Webb,—or, if he did, he changed his mind when he found how easily
he could get cash from Elsie. Oh, you’ve no idea of the depths of this
man’s baseness!”

“And where is he now?” Allison half rose, as if he couldn’t longer keep
himself from meting out punishment to this prince of malefactors.

“That’s it,” and Coe’s bright face clouded. “I’ve not the slightest
idea! Nor do I see a glimmer of light toward finding out. He has hidden
Webb and hidden Elsie so thoroughly, he can, of course, conceal himself
with equal surety. I don’t know where to look for him!”

“But let’s look all the same!” cried Allison, boyish in his haste.



                             CHAPTER XVIII
                            ELSIE’S BIRTHDAY


It was the twenty-ninth of June.

Elsie Powell had been nearly a week in confinement, under the care and
at the mercy of the woman she called Mrs. Pike, but who was in reality
the wife of Bass, the valet and general factotum of Fenn Whiting.

When Elsie had asked his name he had said Pike, on the spur of the
moment, and Pike he had remained to her.

Elsie was not at all uncomfortably housed. She had comforts if not
luxuries. She was allowed to go in the several rooms of the basement of
the house, which were fitted up with more elaborate appointments than
most basement floors are. Mrs. Pike, as Elsie knew her, was kind enough
to the girl, except when she took it upon herself to advise her. This
Elsie invariably resented, and there was war. For Elsie had a temper of
her own, and when it was roused it was by no means inconsiderable.

There was a door at the foot of the basement stairs. This was always
locked. From the time when Elsie had heard that shout the first night of
her arrival, that door had never again been opened.

Elsie was positive that it had been Kimball’s voice, but the two Pikes
denied it, and she thought she might be mistaken.

Every afternoon at four o’clock, Fenn Whiting came to talk with Elsie
and urge her to marry him. But now, knowing that it was he who had
brought her where she was, she vowed she would stay there till she died,
rather than marry him! So angry did she become at mere mention of it,
that she flew into passionate rage, and looked so wondrously beautiful
with flaming cheeks and flashing eyes that Whiting was more infatuated
than ever.

The days went by somehow. By turns, Elsie stormed, sulked, wept, coaxed
and plead with her keeper, the imperturbable Mrs. Pike, but all to no
purpose. The woman was adamant. She had been inclined to listen to
Elsie’s suggestion of higher pay than they had been promised, but her
husband had forbidden her any such ideas. And so the days went by, and
Elsie wondered what would finally become of her.

And so came the twenty-ninth, the day before her birthday. Elsie
resolved to make a final desperate effort with Mrs. Pike. She did, and
she had the satisfaction of seeing that the woman was interested at
least.

“If you’ll let me out,” Elsie begged her, “I’ll see to it that you shall
never be blamed or punished in any way for what you have done, I’ll give
you ten thousand dollars and I’ll find you a pleasant home somewhere in
the country,—which I know you want.”

It was the mention of a home in the country that touched the woman most
deeply, and for a moment she wavered. But even as she began to speak,
Fenn Whiting arrived and the conversation was stopped.

“Now, Elsie,” Whiting said, “here’s your last chance to be sensible. I’m
nearly at the end of my rope, but so are you. If you’re not married by
tomorrow,—that’s your birthday,—you lose all that money. And I tell you
plainly,—I swear to you, you shall not leave this house until after your
birthday, unless you marry me first. You’ve no chance at all, you see,
for nobody knows where you are,—you don’t know, yourself! But here you
are and here you stay, unless you agree to my wish. Remember your mother
and sister, and remember your sister’s two little kiddies. Will you doom
those innocent children to a life of poverty, when you could so easily
make them happy and comfortable for life? And I’m not a bad sort, Elsie.
I’ll let you have your own way in everything. What I’ve done, I’ve done
for love of you. Not the money, you know I don’t care for that, but my
devotion to _you_ is unbounded. Come, Elsie, dearest, say yes.”

“I say No!”

“Think of your mother. The loss of you and the loss of the fortune both,
may kill her. Then you would be her murderer!”

“Hush!” and Elsie clapped her hands over her ears.

“I won’t hush. I want you to see what you’re doing! Yes, you may be the
death of your poor invalid mother. You will surely spoil the lives of
Gerty and her dear little ones, and what do you gain by it?”

“Did you do away with Kimball Webb?”

“I most certainly did not. I know nothing of him or his fate; but you
must see that he left you willingly,—deserted you, and on the very eve
of your wedding.”

“I don’t believe it!” but Elsie’s tortured soul could bear no more and
she fell in a dead faint.

Whiting was a little scared, and he called Mrs. Pike quickly.

“Poor lamb,” she said, gathering the unconscious girl in her arms. In
the days together she had learned to love Elsie, and she turned on
Whiting. “Go, you! How dare you torment the darling so! Away with you,
you shall trouble her no more tonight.”

Whiting went away, and Mrs. Pike helped the sick girl to bed.

“There now, dearie, try to rest and forget your troubles,” she crooned
over her, with real affection.

“I will,” Elsie whispered to her, “if you’ll help me out. Can’t you let
me get away tonight?”

“Oh, no, I wish I might,—but I daren’t,—I daren’t!”

“Tell me this, then. Isn’t Mr. Webb in this house?”

“Hush, hush, now,—don’t say such things.”

“But isn’t he?”

“I can’t tell you,—I daren’t.”

“I am answered!” cried Elsie, triumphantly. “I know he is! Oh, what a
refinement of cruelty. Are you a human being, that you countenance such
fiendish cruelty? Please,—please, dear, good Mrs. Pike, let me get away!
You needn’t do anything. Just let me steal your key when you’re not
looking—”

“There now, there now, go to sleep, my girl. I can’t do a thing for you
and you know it! If I could, I’d have done it long ago.”

“I believe you would,” and Elsie sobbed herself into a troubled sleep.

The next day was her birthday.


She awoke early, and lay, with a leaden heart, but with an alert brain,
trying to think of some plan of escape. She was sure if she could break
her prison doors, she could get help and rescue Kimball Webb, who, she
felt certain, was confined in the upper part of the same house.

Desperate, she rose early, and looked about. Her tiny bedroom, though
clean and airy, was protected by the iron barred windows so often seen
in basements, and the one door was locked at night by Mrs. Pike.

There was no chance, and yet she would not give up. She wrote on a bit
of paper, her home address, and wrote beneath it, “Take this paper to
the house, and tell them the number of this house, and they will give
you ten dollars.”

This paper she folded small and secreted in her waist. She had a last, a
forlorn hope, but she meant to try it.

She manœuvred very carefully to be about when the milk man came, and
with what was almost sleight of hand she did manage to tuck the paper
into his big red hand almost under the very nose of Mrs. Pike.

The man gave her a sharp glance and closed his fingers on the paper,
going off without a word.

“What you doing up so early?” asked Mrs. Pike, and Elsie said, “I
couldn’t sleep so I got up.” Then she quickly changed the subject and
managed to divert the woman by her chatter.

The milkman, not at all averse to getting an extra ten dollars,
concluded to get to the address so strangely given to him, as soon as he
had finished his morning rounds. It never occurred to his limited
imagination that he could do otherwise than continue his daily routine.

So it was nearly noon when he arrived at the Powell home.

The wooden-faced doorman advised the caller to go round to the
tradesman’s entrance, and the milkman expressed his entire willingness
to do so.

“But,” he said, “these people are going to be mighty glad to see me! I
bring them a message from a young girl—”

“What!” for the doorman knew the principal facts of the tragedy in one
apartment of the big house. “Here, you, go right up. Take that
elevator!”

And so it happened that the uncouth and unkempt person went up in the
shining and luxurious elevator, and was eagerly shown by the elevator
man to the Powell door.

“I want to see the head of the house,” he announced, as he stepped
inside the hall.

“I’ll do,” said Coley Coe, on the alert for anything new or strange.

“Well, sir, here’s a note.”

Coe read the few scribbled words, recognized Elsie’s writing and gave a
low, but very triumphant shout.

“Oh, Gerty, Mrs. Powell, Joe,—everybody,—listen here!”

Coe capered round like a happy child, he grasped Gerty round the
shoulders, he grabbed Mrs. Powell’s hand, he shook his queer forelock
until he looked like a shaggy dog, and then he read out the words on the
paper.

“Do I get my ten?” asked the milkman, stolidly.

“You do!” shouted Coe. “You get twenty,—and here it is!”

Murmuring his astonished thanks, the man disappeared.

“Hold on!” Coe yelled, “wait a minute, you! Where’s this house? Where’d
you get this paper?”

The man told him the number, a fairly high number, on Madison Avenue.

“Good gracious, in a classy section! Whose house is it, my man?”

“It’s Mr. James Van Winkle’s house, but it’s closed for the summer,—the
folks are away.”

“Closed!”

“Yes, but there’s a coupla caretakers there, and they keep things going.
And, between you and me, sir, I think there’s something wrong.”

“If this young lady’s there, it’s something very wrong.”

“She is, sir, and to my way of thinking, she’s kept there against her
will.”

“You bet she is! But she won’t be there long! Thank you, my man,—here’s
another five. It’s worth it. Now, good morning!”

The milkman left and Coe made ready to depart also.

“You’d better come with me, Joe,” he said; “and I think I’ll be on the
safe side and take a brace of policemen. I’m looking for trouble. Hold
on,—I want a word alone with Mrs. Powell,—just a minute.”

And then, Coe was ready and he and Allison went off.

“I’ll let you know as soon as possible, Gerty,” Coe called back, and the
two hurried on.

It took a little time to gather up two policemen and get over to the
Madison Avenue house, but they arrived before two o’clock.

The house was boarded up after the manner of houses vacated for the
summer, and repeated pulls at the bell brought no response.

“Nothing doing,” opined a policeman. “Guess you people were stung.”

“I guess we weren’t!” declared Coe. “Break in. I’ll take all
responsibility.”

“Try the basement door,” suggested Allison; “that’s where the milkman
would see the caretakers, you know.”

Down they trooped and recommenced their knocking there.

“I’m scared they’ll escape at the back,” warned Coe. “One of you chaps
scoot around there.”

By this time, though there was no response to their summons, they heard
faint sounds of a commotion inside the house.

And at last a girl’s shriek rose high, though muffled at once by
interception of some sort.

“That’s Elsie!” whispered Coe, not so much from recognition of the voice
as from an intuition of the facts.

At sound of the shriek, the policeman burst in the door, and they rushed
in. Nobody was in sight, but they went on to the rear room, and found
there Elsie and Fenn Whiting.

The two caretakers had managed to hide themselves, but small attention
was paid to that.

It was quite evident from the girl’s trembling, nerve-racked condition
that Whiting had been frightening her with some terrible threat, and his
brutal, rage-drawn countenance corroborated this.

“Drop that lady’s arm,” the brawny bluecoat ordered, and Whiting turned
in startled surprise and fury.

“What do you want here?” he bluffed. “This is my house,—get out!”

“Not so fast, Whiting,” said Coley Coe, as Elsie flew to Joe Allison’s
protecting arms.

“Arrest him,” Coe went on. “On the charge of abduction and theft and
housebreaking, and—oh, lots of other things! Anything to say, Whiting?”

“No, except that you’ll pay for this. I tell you, this is my house and
you’ve no right here!”

“Stuff and nonsense!” commented Coe. “But how do you make out it’s your
house?”

“I’ve rented it,—sublet it from the owners—”

“Who are away for the summer! Oh, yes—I see! I especially _see_!
And,—ahem,—just when did you take the house over?”

“Long ago, I’ve had it for months. I tell you it’s mine!”

“Sure it is! I don’t dispute you. And you rented it before the sixth of
April, didn’t you? And you’ve used it ever since as a—”

“Yes, Coley, he has!” Elsie cried out. “Kimball is upstairs,—I know he
is! Oh, find him,—find him quick!”

The second policeman was now present, and he and Allison ran upstairs by
leaps and bounds, leaving Coe and the other to attend to Whiting.

Elsie was quite herself again, hope and gladness having restored her
like magic. She was for running after the man, but Coe said, “Wait,
Elsie, they’ll soon be back,—you stay here,—” for he was all uncertain
as to what the men might discover.

On the two rushed, finding no one in the rooms on the first or second
floor. On, up to the third floor, and there, from a closed room they
heard faint sounds.

Smashing the light door in, they found Kimball Webb.

Allison had never seen the man before, nor had the policeman, but they
knew him from his photographs, and they gasped at his condition.
Emaciated, pale, with a haunted look in his big, dark eyes, the man
seemed half crazed. But at sight of them he revived instantly. “Police!”
he cried, “oh, thank Heaven!” He mumbled unintelligibly, because of a
diabolically clever gag which impeded his speech, while it allowed him
to breathe and eat.

This was removed quickly, and the restored man, cried imploringly,
“Elsie?”

“She’s all right,” said Allison, cheerily, and Webb smiled happily,
then, immediately his face darkened and he said, “Whiting?”

“Safe in custody, sir,” the policeman assured him, staring as if he
could scarce believe that the long lost man was really found.

“Let me at him!” and Webb’s look of righteous revenge was something so
awful that the other two stared in awe.

“Tell me everything, quick,” Webb went on, for he was rapidly regaining
his poise, strength and activity. “Where is Elsie? Where is Whiting? Oh,
men, I’ve been here an eternity!”

“You have!” cried Joe. “I say, have you been here all the time?”

“Yes, every day,—every hour of it! I thought I’d die,—I wanted to,—but I
wanted to live to give Whiting his!”

“And for Elsie’s sake,” put in Joe, to divert Webb’s thoughts from the
more dangerous channel.

“Yes, Elsie! Where is she? Can I see her now?”

“I don’t see why not,” said Allison, and the other man nodded as Joe ran
to the stairs and called down over the banister.

At the sound, Elsie came flying upstairs, and the men, unable to hold
Webb back, followed him as he descended one flight to meet her.

They met in the second floor hall, and clasped in each others’ arms were
so silent in their shock of joy that the others went rapidly downstairs
and left them to themselves.

“Oh, Kimball, I knew I’d get you back,” Elsie kept repeating, “I _knew_
I would!”

“I didn’t, dearest, I didn’t dare even hope for it. I’ve been so
helpless,—gagged always, lest I attract attention from outside and bound
much of the time, lest I break out, somehow.”

“And you couldn’t manage an escape?”

“Not possible. Bass, that’s Whiting’s man,—”

“Mr. Pike?”

“No, Bass is his name. And his wife’s here, too. They’ve looked after me
with decency, but they were absolutely unapproachable as to bribery.”

“I know it,” and Elsie smiled ruefully. “Oh, Kim, never mind, now,
dearest, I’ve got you at last! Did they force you to write that note to
me?”

“Yes, at the point of a pistol.”

She wept softly in his arms, and he held her close, forgetting all his
misery in his present joy.

“How did he get me?” he said, presently. “How did Whiting pull it off?”

“Oh, he had a contrivance in the fireplace by which he could get into
your room, and he carried you off, drugged, I suppose—”

“Yes; I remember the sweetish smell of chloroform and that’s the last I
knew.”

“Well, never mind. You can hear all these details some other time.”

“After we’re married,—you _will_ marry me, won’t you, Elsie,—dearest!
you,—you—haven’t married anybody else, have you?”

“No!” she cried, frightened at the grasp on her arm. But her assurance
restored his poise.

“Forgive me, dear. I’m weak from being housed and tortured so long.
Come, can we go away from this dreadful place?”

“Yes, we will. And I will marry you, of course. Haven’t I waited for
you? But, we can’t get the money, Kim, it’s too late. Today’s my
birthday, and the time is up.”

“Never mind, dear heart. I’ll make money enough for us. Don’t worry.
I’ve finished my play since I’ve been here,—and it’s a corker! I had to
work on it to keep from losing my mind. I almost did, anyway. But they
let me have paper and pencil, and I finished the thing some time ago.
Oh, Elsie, it has been the most unutterable hell!”

“Yes, dearest, but I’ll make a Heaven for you that will make you forget
it all.”

“You shall, my beloved. I’ve forgotten it already! The sight of your
dear face has blotted it all out.”

“You’re awfully thin, Kim, but otherwise you look just the same.”

“Good! I feared I’d be but a small remnant of my former beauty! Come on,
girl, darling; let’s go home. Lord, I don’t know a thing that’s going
on,—and I don’t much care. I’ve got you,—and some day I shall have a go
at Whiting,—but I’m too happy now to tackle him. Is he about?”

“He is indeed! Very much about. Here comes Coley Coe.”

“Who’s he?”

And then, at Elsie’s introduction, the two men shook hands.

“I’ve hunted for you long enough,”—said Coe,—“I’m right down glad to see
you!”

“And I’m glad to see any one who was instrumental in bringing about my
rescue!”

“Miss Powell did that,” Coe said; “she cleverly corralled a milkman and
made him serve her ends!”

“But Coley did lots,—oh, lots!” Elsie cried, her eyes sparkling with
appreciation. “You’ll adore him after you know him better, Kim! I do!”

Webb smiled happily at his lovely _fiancée_, and said, “I see I must
marry you out of hand, to be sure of you! When can we pick up our broken
threads?”

“Pretty soon,” Elsie promised him. “There’s no special hurry for a day
or two,” she added, “for it’s just too late to get the fortune,—and that
must go to Joe.”

“Never mind,” Webb reiterated. “But I won’t wait very long for you, I
can tell you that!”

“Want to see Whiting?” Coley Coe asked of Webb.

“I do indeed! But you’d better hold me!”

“Stay here, I’ll have him fetched up.”

And so it was in the parlour of the Madison Avenue mansion that the
master criminal and his principal victim met.

Whiting was blustering,—bragging. Subdued at first by the defeat that
had so suddenly overwhelmed him, he later became cocky and insufferable.

“Hello, Webb,” he jeered. “You’re on top at last,—but I led you a dance!
And I achieved my purpose, too! You won’t marry a great heiress after
all! You’ve lost your chance!”

“Hush!” and Webb took a step toward him, though warily watched by the
two policemen.

“Let him come, I’m not afraid of him,” blustered Whiting.

“No, you coward,” Webb said, “you are not afraid of a man weakened by
months of confinement, and suffering from a lamed knee! You are bravery
itself! And furthermore, you are beneath even my scorn! I refuse to tell
you what I feel for you. I scorn to speak to you at all. Let the police
deal with you and all such as you!”

The repressed wrath, the scathing tones, the loathing evident in Webb’s
glance made even the depraved Whiting shrivel as if seared with a hot
iron. He said nothing and his cocksure manner fell from him, leaving him
limp with futile anger.

“You—you—” he muttered, but could find no words.

“Come, Elsie,” said Webb, without a further glance at Whiting; “may we
go, officer?”

“Yes, Mr. Webb, and all joy go with you.”

Whiting found his voice, and called out, “Small joy to marry a poor girl
when you hoped for a fortune!”

Webb’s face flushed darkly, and but for Elsie’s restraining hand he
would have turned on his tormentor.

“And you must hand it to me for cleverness!” Whiting went on. “I had
that connection between the houses made four years ago. I meant to get
you sooner or later, you stuck-up aristocrat. You won’t be quite so
proud when you find you’ve married a penniless bride. Oh, yes, I had the
thing built that I might go in and kill you! Yes, that’s what I planned
to do,—kill you! Then, I saw better game than that! I kidnapped you,
meaning to marry the girl and get all that money myself!”

A chattering laugh broke from the speaker, and Elsie shuddered. Without
doubt the wicked brain had snapped its tension and Whiting was demented!

But he wasn’t,—except momentarily.

“Or,” he resumed, “I thought I’d scare you to death with ghosts and
things,—but I didn’t—I waited and I had the best scheme after all,—it
all worked perfectly,—only scratched the gilt so badly, had to regild
it—just a little—just a little—” he babbled on like a veritable idiot,
and fearing lest his next phase might be one of violence the policeman
urged Webb and Elsie to go at once.

Coe and Allison went too, for they all wanted to be at the jubilee of
reunion.

“And,” said Coe, as they were seated in a swiftly rolling taxi, “Friend
Whiting is ’way off about the fortune, Elsie. For, I chance to know the
will is worded, ‘married before you are twenty-four years old’; nothing
is said about marrying before your birthday. Just before I started I
asked your mother what hour you were born, and she said, late in the
evening,—after ten o’clock! As it isn’t five yet, you’ve ample time to
set your wedding bells ringing!”

“Yes,” said Joe Allison, his fine face lighted up with honest joy. “Yes,
Elsie, that’s so,—and I congratulate you from the bottom of my heart!
I’ll probably feel mighty different later on, but now I’m so keyed up
with excitement and noble generosity, that for today, at least, I can
say I’m glad you’ve got the money,—glad for you, I mean.”

Elsie couldn’t help smiling at his qualified joy over her prospects, and
she was a little excited herself.

“Are you sure, Coley?” she asked; “then we must be married at once. Will
you have me, Kim?”

“For richer for poorer,” he murmured, and Elsie, laughing, went on
making plans. “You’re only the bridegroom, anyway,” she said, “and you
haven’t a word to say. Joe, don’t cry, dear, I’ll give you a goodly
slice of that old money. I’ll give you a hundred thousand dollars,
anyway, and maybe more.”

“Lord! Elsie, that’s enough! I wouldn’t wish any more than that! Now I’m
truly happy, all over!” and his round young face beamed joyously.

“We’re ’most home,” went on the happy bride to be. “We’ll telephone
everybody we want to, and we’ll be married,—let me see,—well, we’ll be
married as soon as I get things ready enough! I sha’n’t trust you out of
my sight, Kim, you stay right at our house, and somebody can bring you
clothes from home, and all that.”

Elsie had her way, she called the Webb ladies over first, and then
arranged all sorts of things to make a pretty wedding, and the ceremony
took place in ample time to make her the inheritor of the fortune left
by her eccentric aunt, and later on, Allison received his promised
portion.

Coe earned the fifty thousand dollars reward, for his efforts were at
the bottom of the final discoveries.

Elsie even remembered the elevator girl and all others who had helped
her, and the use of the money proved a source of genuine satisfaction to
the newly married pair, as well as to the mother and sister of the
bride.

Both Joe Allison and Coley Coe insisted on being best man, and were
allowed to share that honour.

The wedding was a happy one, for every one put aside all present thought
of the base and despicable man who had tried so hard to prevent it. He
received his due reward in good time, but Elsie Webb and her husband
refused ever to hear his name mentioned.

The beautiful diamond pendant,—the gift of the bridegroom, flashed at
the bride’s fair throat, and there was no discord or jangling of the
merry marriage bells.


                                THE END



                          Transcriber’s Notes


--Copyright notice provided as in the original—this e-text is public
  domain in the country of publication.

--In the text versions, delimited italics text in _underscores_ (the
  HTML version reproduces the font form of the printed book.)

--Silently corrected palpable typos; left non-standard spellings and
  dialect unchanged.





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