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Title: Murder Will In Author: Carolyn Wells * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1900841h.html Language: English Date first posted: August 2019 Most recent update: August 2019 This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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Chapter 1. - The McCleods At Home
Chapter 2. - The Party Goes On
Chapter 3. - The Tragedy
Chapter 4. - Inquiries
Chapter 5. - Raynor Carries On
Chapter 6. - Revelations
Chapter 7. - Tangled Evidence
Chapter 8. - Clarence Bliss
Chapter 9. - Damning Evidence
Chapter 10. - Baffled
Chapter 11. - The Vital Point
Chapter 12. - Raynor’s Conclusion
Chapter 13. - In Jail
Chapter 14. - In Prison
Chapter 15. - Fleming Stone Takes Hold
Chapter 16. - Friends In Need
Chapter 17. - The Scene Of The Crime
Chapter 18. - Ebbitt’s Corners
Chapter 19. - Fleming Stone Is Not Idle
Chapter 20. - Peter Cobb Makes Good
Chapter 21. - Fleming Stone Goes Calling
Chapter 22. - Everything Happens At Once
Chapter 23. - Fleming Stone Goes To Jail
Chapter 24. - Let Justice Be Done
Chapter 25. - And Justice Was Done
It was not a large party, just a small mingle, but almost everyone there had been proud to get an invitation and glad to accept it.
For the somewhat taciturn Hugh McCleod and his lovely kitten-faced wife, Alma, were high spots in New York society, although they neither sought for nor cared about that accolade.
“Why do you build?” asked Murray. “There are hundreds of houses on Long Island just right for you two.”
“No,” Alma returned, with her usual decided air, “we don’t want a ready-made house, it must be built according to our own plans. Hugh and I have talked it over and over—”
“Why does building require so much talking?” Van Dyke Haynes inquired, in his gentle drawling voice. “If you want a house, just say what you want and have it built. I am an architect and I know.”
“You may know for yourself, Van,” Ogden Murray checked him, “but for most people, building, if it is to be a success, must be talked about. Look at the Tower of Babel!”
“Better look up your Scripture lessons,” Alma laughed. “It was the chatter at the outset that prevented that tower being built at all.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter. I say, Alma, let me drive you out to look at a few houses, before you decide—”
“Talk to Hugh about it, he’s right over there. If he’ll consent to buying a used house, I’ll agree.”
The big Park Avenue apartment was duplex and the floors were connected by a graceful stairway of white marble. The appointments were modified modernistic, the modernism being by reason of Alma’s insistence and the modification because of Hugh’s Scotch doggedness. The McCleods, though apparently ill-matched, were happy enough. He was big and sometimes boisterous; she was frail, both morally and physically, but she was very lovely.
Their home was the Mecca of many social pilgrims, but it was reached only by those who were worthy because of some attainment of merit or some charm of personality.
“Where is Brand Herrick?” Murray asked, and then answered himself, “Oh, here he comes, with Nadine, as always.”
“Is that true, Brand?” Alma said, as Herrick reached her side. “Are you always with Nadine?”
“Not when I can be with you, darling.”
“Take him off my hands, Alma, do. I’m awfully tired of him.” This from Nadine Glenn, who thought herself a glamor girl, and with good reason.
She was the serpent type. She writhed, very slightly but very effectively. For the rest, she was languid brunette with heavy-lidded eyes.
Alma, oppositely enough, was that rare combination, a blonde with a real mentality.
Brand Herrick admired them both, but he often realized, to his own amazement, that when he was with one, he invariably wished he might be with the other. Nadine was deeply in love with him, and Alma seemed to be. But Herrick shrewdly suspected that Alma’s interest in him was more to annoy Nadine than because of her own sentiments.
He was a clever lawyer, and his gay good nature made him a general favorite.
Doris Day was an odd combination of a wilful child and a capable and helpful friend. She was twenty-three, but looked about seventeen, until she found a chance to do something for somebody, and then she seemed mature and very wise. Large innocent gray eyes and softly curled brown hair made her pleasant to look upon, and her entire lack of malice set her apart from most of her associates.
Just now she came to Alma, and turning her away from the others, said softly:
“Who is that girl, over there by the palm bush?”
“I’ve no idea,” her hostess answered. “I never saw her before, she must have come with somebody.”
The girl seemed alone, seemed stranded, in fact, and kind-hearted Doris went to her.
“Come along to the bar,” she invited. “Are you with the Laings?”
“No,” and when the girl smiled, she looked attractive. But she was so evidently a stranger, and she seemed dubious about going with Doris.
Then she said, in a burst of frankness, “You think I’m a fish out of water, don’t you? Well, I am. Miss Malcolm brought me, and then she went off to look at a picture, and I’m just waiting for her. I’d like a cocktail.”
The girl laughed outright.
“You’re like a St. Bernard!” she said; “and I’m the lost traveler! My name is Una Deane—”
“Of course!” exclaimed Doris, “I should have known! It couldn’t be anything else.”
“Why couldn’t it? What do you mean? I’ve never seen you before.”
“No, but you are so perfectly a Una Deane, from top to toe!”
“Oh, I see. You mean I’m not—not smart, not glamorous.”
Doris looked at her.
“That’s a true bill,” she said, “but those things can be put right. And, if I had meant them, I should not have said them.”
“Miss Malcolm may expect me to be here when she comes back.”
“Who’s Miss Malcolm? What is she?”
“She is Miss Martha Malcolm—”
“What! You don’t mean Martha Malcolm, the painter?”
“Of course I do. I am a student in the Atterbury School of Design; she is there often, and she is my friend.”
“You’re a lucky girl! Martha Malcolm is a power. Come on, she’ll find you.”
They found a gay crowd at the bar, and Doris introduced her new find as a protégé of Martha Malcolm. The effect of this and the added effect of a well-selected cocktail gave Una a new confidence in herself, some hidden dimples came shyly into the open and she regained her pleasant modest savoir faire. Ogden Murray looked at her twice and came to sit beside her; Van Dyke Haynes waxed chummy, whereupon Nadine looked offended and said:
“Come on, Van, I want to dance,” and he went with her.
Martha Malcolm came to the bar.
“Oh, here you are, Una,” she said, smiling at the happy looking girl. “Wait a minute till I have me a drink, and then I want to take you to meet our hostess.”
“Let me take Miss Deane,” offered Ogden Murray. “You stay here, Miss Malcolm. I’ll hunt out Alma and present Miss Deane in your name.”
“Yes, do, Ogden. And find Hugh, too. I want Una to meet him.”
“Will you come, Miss Deane, and,” he added, as they walked away, “if you’ll let me call you Una, I’ll—”‘
He paused, for the girl was laughing at him.
“Sorry,” she said, “but you’ve got your lines wrong! Or have you? Miss Malcolm told me that the men here would be hilariously informal, and would call me Una at first sight and probably darling—”
“Yes, I meant to—I do mean to, but you see—”
Una laughed. “Tell me a little more about Miss Malcolm, won’t you? I’ve never seen her social side before, I’ve only known her in the classes.”
“She’s an important woman. Does work in many fields, in war, in peace and among her countrymen. But she’s eccentric.”
“Not in her manner?”
“Not exactly, though she is a little informal. We all are, but it seems odd in her. Then she makes queer friends.”
Murray looked at her reprovingly.
“Don’t be silly!” he said. “It doesn’t suit you. You are—”
She interrupted him. “Never mind about me, tell me something about the McCleods. Quick, before we reach them.”
“I want you to be friends with Alma, she can do a lot for you.”
“I don’t choose friends because of what they can do for me.”
“Well, you ought to. Any way, do in this case. Alma McCleod can give you far more pleasure than Martha Malcolm.”
“They’re both Scotch, aren’t they?”
“Oh, no. Miss Malcolm is of Scotch stock, but Alma is Hugh’s wife, you know. He’s Scotch, of course. Oh, here we are.”
Alma, having come through a doorway, stood right in front of them, and Murray made the introduction.
“How delightful,” Alma said, and her tone was sincere. “Miss Malcolm told me of you and I was about to look you up. Tell me, do you live in the city?”
“Yes, I am in the classes with Miss Malcolm. She made me very happy bringing me here tonight.”
“I hope you will come again—often. And here is my husband. Hugh, this is Miss Deane, a friend of Martha’s, and now a friend of ours.”
He grasped Una’s hand a moment, and then went quickly away.
She looked up at Murray and found him watching her. Alma had disappeared.
“He’s very much in earnest,” she said, thoughtfully.
“Think so? Why?”
“Oh, his manner, and his haste.”
“He’s always like that, it’s just his way.”
“It isn’t a Scotch way.”
“That doesn’t matter. It’s Hugh’s way.”
“Now, I think you’re tired of me and I know I’m tired of you, so if you’ll take me back to the dressing room, I think I’ll go home, and you can tell Miss Malcolm I’ve gone, for I don’t want to hurry her off so early.”
“It’s well after two, nearly three. A nice time for a girl alone, to go home!”
“Rubbish! I shall take a taxi, and I am not afraid.”
“Oh, very well! Then, since you are leaving me and are making no plans for a future meeting, I am going to kiss you now. I meant to work up to it gradually.”
“No, you are not going to kiss me. Men kiss me only when I want them to, and I do not want you to. Do I have to say good night to Mrs. McCleod?”
“As you like. She’s right over there; it would be a graceful gesture.”
“Tell me, is Alma in love with that granite statue?”
“Meaning Hugh McCleod! He’s no statue, he’s a bending willow wand. He’s ready to do anything anybody asks him.”
Murray looked thoughtful and remained silent.
And then they were in the presence of Miss Malcolm, and she was quite ready to go home, and Una Deane went with her.
The party was a picturesque one.
Those on the upper floor could look down in the rotunda and those below could look up and see their friends over the circular railing.
Foo Chow, the Chinese butler, came near McCleod and made a slight movement of his eyebrows. Hugh stepped toward him, and waited for his message.
He did not like what he called heathens, and did not want a Chinaman in his service. But Alma did, and her whims were his laws. Foo Chow had been with them all their married life, four years, and his work and his attitudes were nothing short of perfection.
In a low voice he told his master that Miss Emmy wished to see him.
“My father?” said Hugh, quickly.
“Yes, sir, I think that is it.”
But Hugh was already on his way.
Foo Chow had found him in the upper hall, and he had at once left the group he was with, went through his own bedroom and into a tiny hall from which a spiral stair led upward.
Hugh’s father, Angus McCleod, and Miss Emily, Hugh’s sister, lived in a smaller apartment just above his own.
The old man was an invalid and subject to sinking spells, any one of which might be his last.
He had been fairly well of late, but Hugh realized the seriousness of the occasion. He had his own key, and in a moment he was in his sister’s presence.—
“A bad attack?” he asked.
“Yes,” Emily told him. “Is Doctor Larkin downstairs?”
“No, he has gone home. It’s half past two.”
“Yes, I know. And I think we needn’t send for him. Dunn has given Father his drops, and unless he gets worse, I shall not feel alarmed.”
“I’ll dismiss the crowd, Emmy, if you think there’s danger of—”
“No, he won’t die tonight—unless there’s a sudden change. It would be awful to send the people away! Alma—”
“Alma will do as I tell her. Let me take a look at Father. Is he asleep?”
They went to the bedroom and as Hugh approached Angus opened his eyes.
“Amaist gane,” he whispered; “aweel, ’tis a’ recht. Whaur’s Dunn?”
“Here, sir,” and the man servant, who was also nurse, stepped to the bedside.
He too was a Scotchman, and an old retainer.
But he used no Scotch lingo, and indeed, Angus McCleod did not, when he was feeling well. They often judged the extent of his attack by the broadness of his dialect.
Dunn turned to Hugh. “He’ll come out of this,” he said. “Often he’s been a deal worse, and all right again in the morning. Leave him to me, sir, I’ll guarantee him a night’s rest that’ll last till tomorrow noon, I’m thinkin’.”
Emily said, “He won’t last very long, Hugh.”
“I know and I’ll do just as you say about the party.”
“Let it go on. And I’m sure many of them will go soon; it’s only Alma’s particular crowd who stay on and on—and on! Now, you go back, Hugh, and say nothing of this to anyone, not even to Alma, or the servants. You can come back once in a while, and then I’ll know whether we ought to send for the doctor or not.”
He went down the steep little steps into his own bedroom. When he came to live in his spacious home, he took an apartment above his for his father and sister, and had the communicating stairway built in. He loved his people and though Alma was not affectionate with them, she was always kindly and ready to do anything she could for their pleasure.
Emmy tried honestly to establish sisterly relations, but she was forty-seven and Hugh’s wife was twenty-six, too great a gulf of time to be successfully bridged.
But, though having little in common, the two women were clever enough to invent a sort of make-believe friendship which passed for the real thing, even among those most interested. There never was any friction, they deferred to one another’s tastes and wishes, and none but themselves knew what a trifle it would take to demolish the air castle of affection they had so cautiously built up.
Even Hugh, who realized their entire incompatibility, assumed that they were as friendly as most sisters-in-law and he felt satisfied.
He sat for a time in his room, thinking what must happen when his father died, and the day could not be far distant.
He could see no plan but to have his sister live in his home. But he had a lively recollection of one time when he had mentioned this to Alma. It was not a pleasant memory, and he did not dwell on it. He sighed, and then he rose from his easy chair and went to rejoin his guests.
Half way down the marble staircase, he looked at the scene and saw at once that a number of people had left. Those still there had seemed to gather themselves into groups, and one of the groups centered about his wife.
Alma was surrounded by her intimates, and she was at her very best.
Hugh stared at her as if he had never seen her before. Indeed, as he often told her, he fell in love with her every time he laid eyes on her.
Van Dyke Haynes was nearest her, but he was not too near; Alma would take care of that. Ogden Murray was hovering. Hugh had never seen him so attentive before. Doctor Lloyd was telling a story, and Brand Herrick was just walking away.
Hugh was glad to see the doctor there still. He was Alma’s doctor, but if the old man should grow worse suddenly, he could be of first aid.
From his point of vantage in the curve of the staircase, Hugh stood looking at the people and the rooms. It was such an attractive scene that he wondered why Alma should want to build a big house on Long Island.
Of course, her reasons didn’t matter; if she wanted it she should have it, but what about his father and Emmy? Would Alma want them in her new home? He must have a talk with her about this.
He supposed he would have to build two houses. Well, if that would satisfy his three dependents, it would be all right by him.
“Could I but stand where Moses stood And view the country o’er,”
The crooning voice was of someone coming up the stairs, and Hugh turned toward him.
Brand Herrick laughed.
“I couldn’t help it,” he said. “You looked so satisfied, and yet something troubled you.”
Hugh was thinking of his father. “It is nothing I can help. Not going, are you?”
“I think so. And now I’ve a chance, I’m going to say something to you. I may be sorry, but I think it’s my duty.”
“The surest way to get into trouble is to do something you think is your duty.”
“I’ll take a chance on it. It’s about Mrs. McCleod.”
“Why do you call her Alma when you speak to her, and call her Mrs. McCleod to me?”
Hugh was smiling, but there was an edge to his voice.
Herrick refused to take offense.
“I don’t know why I do. But, seriously, I want to say this. Don’t let Alma see so much of Ogden Murray. I say this for her good and yours. He is not the right sort.”
“That won’t do. You must tell me of what you accuse him.”
A slight difference of tone was in Hugh’s voice and it was this that made Herrick answer him gently.
“I don’t accuse him, but I fear he is concerned in some money matters with Mrs. McCleod, and I thought and still think you ought to know about it.”
Alma came running up the steps to them, Nadine with her and some men following.
Brand had turned from his host and had started up the stairs. Alma ran after him.
“Oh, Brand,” she said, “come along with me into the rumpus room for a minute. I want to show you a statuette Gerald Vance made for me.”
“I don’t want to see it. His stuff is rotten. And I’m leaving now. I have a busy day ahead, and I must get some sleep.”
“I’ve hardly seen you at all tonight. Did you evade me on purpose?”
“Murray was with you and Ogden Murray is not one of my pals.”
“If you had come along, he would have gone—I would have made him go. Do be nice to me, Brand, I can’t think what has come over you.”—
“Nothing has come over me. But I’m sure you ought to be downstairs now. People are leaving, you know.”
She crossed the room and closed the door and then came back to him.
“Now tell me what is the matter with you.”
“Nothing. But I will tell you one thing. You’re making a big mistake in your dealings with Ogden Murray.”
“What do you mean by dealings? It sounds unpleasant.”
“It is unpleasant. And you know what it means. What is he doing for you that involves payments of money?”
Alma froze at once.—
“You have no right to ask me such a question,” she said, in a hard voice.
“Murray is trying to get you to subscribe to a swindle—or something like that, and I am warning you, before you get in too deeply.”
“When you say ‘or something like that,’ I can see you know nothing about it, and so please say nothing more about it. You are not my financial adviser and I don’t want you to be that!”
“What do you want me to be?” Brand realized his mistake as he finished his sentence.
“Oh, I want you to be my friend—my—”
The last word was spoken so low that its sound was lost as the door-knob turned and the door swung open.
Nadine came in, exclaiming, “Oh, here you two are! I bet with Hugh I’d find you locked in this room!”
“If the door was locked how did you get in?” Brand asked, taking it lightly. “We’re discussing modern art.”
“So I see,” and Nadine looked around, but found no art objects in view.
Both Murray and Haynes had come in with Nadine. But Alma paid no attention to any of them.
She said, carelessly, “Come on, Brand,” gave a look at herself in a wall mirror, and left the room.
Brand followed, perforce, and Van Haynes looked admirably at Alma as she passed him.
Hugh was in the rotunda, gracious and courteous, and when Alma came and stood by his side, he included her in his farewells to the guests.
There were more people still present than Alma had thought, and she set herself about making them happy.
She was charming to a few older people who were still there, and she made a delightful impression on some others who knew her but slightly.
Hugh was beaming with pride in his lovely wife, and Alma, for reasons of her own, showed a delightful camaraderie with her husband.
Several who had been about to go, delayed their departure, and indeed, the party seemed to begin all over again.
But Alma grew tired of it, and to create a diversion, she proposed they go up in the rumpus room and play games.
“Yes,” Nadine said, “and show us the statuette that Gerald Vance made you. I didn’t see it up there!”
“Too bad, dear,” Alma sympathized, “come along now and see it.”
“Have you really a Gerald Vance?” asked Martin Delevan, an artist of the new school.
“Yes, a small one. But he made it especially for me. It’s a pear-wood carving.”
They went upstairs again, and on a shelf that ran all the way round the walls stood the little statuette.
It was a beautiful thing, to those who could understand it, and Martin Delevan was enraptured.
He began a dissertation on the new art, and Vance’s work, which was more than Alma could stand, and she started a game of skittles to make a diversion.
This brought Delevan’s speech to a close, and then a few more of the guests went home and the rest went to the bar.
Ogden Murray found an opportunity to speak to Alma alone.
They were in a small card room on the lower floor, and Alma told him plainly that she could not talk about their business then for they were liable to be interrupted at any moment.
“Then let me come to see you tomorrow,” he suggested. “We must get this matter settled up, you know. The opportunity will not be held open much longer.”
“If you won’t accept my offer there are others who will. Who is that? Alma, there is someone at the door. I thought you locked it.”
“I did. No one can come in. But I must go now, and you can’t come here tomorrow. Meet me somewhere.”
“All right. At the Chandos, at two, for lunch, and we can settle it all up.”
“Very well. If I can’t make it I’ll telephone in the morning.”
“You must make it! Understand?”
“No, I don’t understand, and I shall do as I please.”
“Unless you do as I please, you will understand.”
They went back to the others.
You’re jittery, Alma,” said Nadine, as her hostess rejoined them at the bar. “You were shut up in that little reception room with somebody. Who was he?”
“No one interested in you, dear. And I am perfectly calm, don’t distress yourself about me, Brand, fix me a nice long mild drink, will you?”
“I’ll make it, Alma,” Van Dyck offered. “I know a new one, you’ll like it.”
“Then you come and sit by me, Brand. I want to tell you something.”
“I want to sit by you, Mrs. McCleod,” and Doctor Lloyd took the place she had meant for Herrick.
“Yes, do,” she smiled at him.
Suddenly Foo Chow came to them.
After a formal bow, he said:
“Misser Mac Allowed go topside to see the Old Father. He velly muchee sick, and Misser Mac Allowed say Doctor Lulloyd go up to him. Me show way.”
“Oh, go right away, Doctor,” Alma said. “Doctor Larkin has gone home. It’s probably one of Hugh’s father’s sinking spells. Hugh will know what to do.”
But Lloyd had already gone with the Chinaman.
“Why do you talk that gibberish?” the doctor asked his guide. “You are an educated man.”
“Yes, sir, but my lady likes me to talk so, it amuses her and entertains her guests. I think the old man is not worse than usual, but Miss Emmy is alarmed and will be glad to see you.”
He led the doctor to the little staircase, opened its door, and Lloyd went up alone.
Emmy met him and took him at once to her father’s beside, and a quick diagnosis told the experienced doctor that it was a temporary faintness, and the patient would come out of it.
The doctor stepped into the next room, and Hugh followed him.
“Your father will not die tonight, I feel sure,” Lloyd told the anxious man. “He may live a few weeks yet, perhaps much longer than that. Much depends on his being kept quiet. If he has too much excitement, it will be bad for him. Doctor Larkin is a splendid man, and understands the case. I’m glad to have been of help just now.”
“Do you think we ought to ask the people downstairs to go home?”
“Oh, no, he cannot hear them, and it would be a pity to break up Mrs. McCleod’s pleasure.”
“Is it pleasure?” asked Hugh. “I thought she seemed languid. Do you think she will get overtired?”
“No, indeed. She is a bit worried lest you think she ought to send her friends away, but I hope you won’t ask her to do that.”
“Oh, no, since you say she is all right. I will go down, but I must come back here. I am a sort of comfort to my sister. Emmy is a tower of strength, but she leans on me. And I am not needed downstairs, but I will look in on them now and then to please Alma.”
“What are you going to do to please Alma?” said a soft voice, and his wife took his arm and drew it round herself.
Hearing Alma’s voice, Emmy came to them.
“Father is very low, Alma,” she said.
“Yes, dear, I know. I am so sorry for you, and I wish I could help in some way. But we must hope, and Doctor Lloyd says he will be better after he sleeps.”
Emmy gave a sniff. Alma’s one idea was to get away from the sick-room atmosphere, and from her husband’s relatives.
She kissed Emmy’s cheek and patted her shoulder, and then started down the little stair.
“I’ll go with you,” Hugh said. “Those steps are very narrow. Lloyd will stay for a little, and then I’ll come back.”
They went down, and Alma went to her own dressing room to take a look at herself.
With a few light touches to her make-up, she was ready to go downstairs again.
They left the room by a door opposite to the one through which they had entered, and passed through one of the guest rooms, which was turned into a men’s coat room for the duration of the party.
This opened into a small alcove which was part of the hall.
The plan of the apartment was complicated, and the hall made two turns before they reached the head of the marble stair.
They went to the bar, and Alma bade Van make one of his newfangled recipes for Hugh.
“Father McCleod is having one of his bad nights,” she explained, gently, “and Hugh is such a comfort to him, that we must let him go back to the invalid pretty soon. Drink that, Hugh darling, and you’ll say it’s a bracer.”
It was, and Hugh exerted himself to be entertaining, though anxiously wondering how soon he could make his getaway.
Alma saw this, and sooner than he would have dared, she said: “Now, I think we must let Hugh go up to see his father again. When he is safely asleep, dear, you come back to us, won’t you?”
“Yes, of course. And even though the doctor says he is all right I can’t help feeling anxious when I am not with him.”
Hugh went away, and Alma said, hopefully, “Poor dear, he is so afraid his father will ask for him and he won’t be there. Now, why don’t we have a dance? The musicians are pining to play for us; go and tell them what to play, Van. Will you be my partner, Mr. Delevan?”
They crossed the hall together, and stood near the door of the dance room, waiting for the others.
Martin Delevan took up his favorite subject.
“You are in great luck to have that bit of Vance’s work. It is one of his masterpieces. You understand it?”
“Oh, yes, in my simple way. I can’t talk the lore of the studio, though.”
“What a pity! Will you come some time to my studio parties?”
“I’m not sure. I think I’m frightened of them.”
They were dancing now, but slowly, and Delevan went on talking. “Then you cannot be happy. Fear kills happiness.”
“Not in my case. I’m afraid only of things or people that I do not understand. So, I must avoid them, to preserve my happiness.”
“Ah, yes, you have your vanity, the vanity of ignorance.”
Alma began to think this man was trying to annoy her, but she was not interested.
“Yes, I have,” she returned, with a charming smile. “And it contents me.” She had glanced at Haynes, and willingly enough he came to them and took Alma from her partner.
As they danced off, she said:
“He is the stupidest person. Do you know him?”
“He’s a celebrity.”
“Yes, I know that. Now run me up against Brand, I want to speak to him.”
“But, Alma, you haven’t given me a moment this whole night! You must stay with me now!”
“No! You heard what I said!”
“But I have something for you—a present.”
“Oh, you dear! But you can give it to me later. I must see Brand. There he is—turn this way!”
Van Dyke obeyed, for everybody always obeyed Alma.
As they reached Herrick, she said, “Our dance, I believe,” and put a hand on his shoulder.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” he said, and they danced.
Brand Herrick liked beautiful women and he greatly admired Alma, but he resented any hint of invitation on their part; he wanted to conquer not to be enslaved.
And sometimes Alma bored him by a seeming insistence on his attentions.
“I want to ask you something,” she said, “but not while we’re dancing. Take me over toward the hall door.”
They danced to the door, and then, as they stood a moment, she said, “Follow me,” and went swiftly ahead of him into a side hall.
As she turned a corner of the hallway, she saw Dickson, Hugh’s man. She smiled at him, laid her finger on her lip and ran on. “What’s this place?” Brand said.
“Open that door.”
Herrick obeyed and saw a tiny automatic elevator.
“Where does this thing go?”
“Up to my own rooms. It’s my escape in case of bores.”
“I see. You don’t propose to take me up to your rooms, do you?”
“Oh, Brand, how I wish you would love me! And I believe you do, only you’re afraid to say so, on Hugh’s account.”
“I’m not afraid of anything, and you know it! But I’m afraid for your reputation. Suppose someone sees us shut up in this place!”
“Oh, very well, open the door. And I won’t forget the secret about you—that you told me not to tell!”
Herrick’s face took on a stern expression.
“Don’t you ever dare tell that!” he exclaimed, angrily now.
“Open the door!”
Brand turned the knob but the elevator door remained closed.
“What’s the matter with it?” he cried. “It won’t turn!”
Alma began to laugh, at first merrily and then with a sound of hysterics.
She turned a little catch, and then she opened the door of the elevator.
When she saw Brand Herrick had gone back to the dance room, she went back to the little elevator and rode in it up to her own rooms.
She looked in the mirror, smiled at what she saw there, and started to go back downstairs, taking the short cut through the coat room.
To her surprise, Brand Herrick was in the room, looking for his coat.
“Not going?” she said, with a casual air.
“Yes, I must; it’s nearly four, and I have a big day’s work for tomorrow.
Alma went across the room and closed the door.
Coming back, she went to him, and put her arms around his neck.
“Then give me my kiss before you go. Or don’t you want to?”
“Now, now, Alma—”
“Now, now, Brand!” she said.
Downstairs, the party was going on as gaily as when it first started.
Doris Day had suddenly become frightened at the lateness of the hour. “I’m going home,” she declared. “You going to take care of me, Ogden?”
“Of course. Run up and get your wraps and I’ll be ready.”
“I suppose I must go, too,” Nadine said, regretfully. “That’s the worst of parties, they’re over so soon.”
“There’s always another ahead,” Murray comforted her, and then from somewhere upstairs came the sound of a loud agonized scream, a woman’s scream.
Nadine exclaimed, “That was Doris! I know her voice in all its inflections. What can be the matter with her?”
“Saw a mouse, likely,” Murray suggested.
“Not in this house,” Nadine told him. “They don’t allow ‘mouses’ on Park Avenue.”
Doris came uncertainly down the marble stairs.
It was Murray who ran to catch her, for her fright and terror overcame her, and she pitched headlong into his arms.
“Putting on an act,” said Nadine, as they laid the girl on a couch and gave her a drink.
“It’s Alma!” Doris moaned. “She’s asleep and she won’t wake up!”
“She will, now that you’ve left her,” Murray declared. “She was bored with your conversation.”
“Don’t, Ogden,” Nadine begged him. “Something has happened. I’m going up to see.”
She started up the stairs and Murray followed her.
The door of the coat room was open, as Doris had left it, and Nadine drew back as Murray stepped in. After a moment he beckoned her to him. Alma lay on a chaise lounge; her eyes were closed, and her head rested on a lingerie down pillow. A larger pillow lay on the floor beside the couch, and automatically Nadine picked this up and tossed it on the bed, which still held a row of men’s overcoats, neatly placed there by Dickson.
“She is dead,” Murray whispered, and Nadine was too startled to scream, but she looked at Alma more closely.
“She has bitten her lip,” she said, “see.”
“Get Lloyd up here. Where’s the man, Dickson?”
The valet was at the door, and Murray told him to go down and ask Doctor Lloyd to come, but to give no reason for the message.
Lloyd came, looked at Alma, felt her pulse and her heart, and said, gravely:
“Yes, she is dead.”
Doctor Lloyd assumed authority.
He sent Nadine and Murray out of the room, and told Dickson to go for Mr. McCleod who was up in his father’s apartment.
“Don’t tell him anything,” he directed Dickson, “and don’t let Miss Emmy or her father know there is anything wrong. Just get him down here quick.”
Dickson went and Lloyd stood looking at the beautiful face of the woman who had been his patient. But his medical advice to Alma had been of the simplest and most minor sort. Her maladies save for a slight cold or a touch of indigestion had been largely imaginery.
But Alma had thought it added to her importance to have a medical attendant, and, too, she liked Arthur Lloyd.
Lloyd looked at her and wondered. What had caused her death?
She had often feared or pretended that her heart was weak, but the doctor knew better. This was no heart attack.
And there was no wound, no convulsive effect, nothing peculiar about her appearance, unless—
Hugh came in, saw Alma lying on the chaise longue and went toward her, as he spoke to Lloyd.
“What’s the matter? Is Alma ill?”
The doctor grasped him by the arm, and said, “Your wife is dead.”
Experience had taught him the value of straightforward talk.
Hugh stared at him without comprehension.
“She doesn’t look so,” he said, going closer. “But—what is it, Lloyd? What does it mean?”
Hugh trembled all over, as understanding came to him.
Then he fell on his knees beside the couch.
“My darling,” he whispered, “my little Alma.” He took her hand and kissed it gently, then he rose, with a determined air.
“Was it her heart, Lloyd? She has told me she had heart trouble, I but I thought she imagined it.”
“She did,” the doctor declared. “And in any case that did not cause her death. McCleod, it was not a natural death.”
“What!” the man braced himself as for a blow. “What do you mean?”
“I know your wife’s physical condition and I know there was no hint of trouble of any sort that could have brought this about. I know that, McCleod, and I know she was killed. Do you understand? Murdered!”
Lloyd spoke blunty for the other was staring at him as if devoid of all comprehension.
Then Hugh gave a sudden upward jerk of his head and squared his broad shoulders as if physical force would help his shattered senses.
He said, clenching his hands. “Do you help me—tell me what to do.”
“Take a drink first, you need it.” Lloyd pointed to a decanter and glasses on a side table. “Now, this must be reported, and at once. Or do you want to call Doctor Larkin?”
“No, what for? He is my father’s physician, but you are Alma’s. It’s your case. But do you mean reported to—to—”
“Yes, to the police. See straight, McCleod. It must be done, and no time should be wasted. Shall I call Headquarters?”
“Y—yes, I suppose so. Poor little Alma, will they take her away?”
“Yes. It must be. Tomorrow you will be glad that you took my advice. Indeed, you must take it. Now, you stay here, Dickson will keep people out and I will go and telephone.”
“There’s one in the little writing room across the hall, go there.” Lloyd knew the room, it was Alma’s writing room. The thought passed through his mind that the open desk might offer access to secrets, but he could not do anything about that.
He called Headquarters and told his story which would set in motion the great machine of police activities.
Then he went back to Hugh.
“They’ll respond quickly,” he said. “I think it best, don’t you, not to tell your father or sister of this tonight. There will be more or less excitement which would be bad for the old man. And Miss Emmy would have a bad night. Can’t you keep it from them until tomorrow?”
“Yes, a good idea. Will they question everybody?”
“More or less. But that needn’t bother you. When they ask you anything, just tell the exact truth and say as little as possible. You know nothing of Alma’s death—do you?”
“No. But if they discover who did that awful thing—I say, are you sure it was—”
“Yes, there is no doubt about it. The Medical Examiner will tell you the same, I have no doubt.”
“Probably not. Don’t think about it now. I was going down to tell the guests who are down there still. But I think it would be better to let them learn it from the police. There’ll be less hysterics that way.”
McCleod nodded, and turned again to gaze at the still figure on the couch.
Then Foo Chow brought up the first comer.
“Mr. Raynor,” he said, and turned away.
“I’m Captain Raynor, from the Homicide Bureau,” said a straightforward voice, and a tall, active-looking man came in. “You are Mr. McCleod?”
“Yes,” Hugh returned, as he rose and faced him. “Can I do anything for you?”
“I’ll just look round a bit. Doctor Colville, the Medical Examiner, will be here shortly.”
Raynor stood a moment, looking at Alma and then asked a few questions of Doctor Lloyd.
But he soon learned that his information or advice must come from McCleod.
“Nothing has been touched in this room, I take it?” he asked.
“That’s hard to say,” Hugh told him. “This is a guest bedroom, but for convenience it was used tonight as a men’s coat room. We had a party, but many have already gone home.”
“Since Mrs. McCleod was discovered here?”
“That I don’t know. My valet is in charge, he may tell you.”
“Who first found her?”
“One of the guests, I think. Who was it, Lloyd?”
“Doris Day, first. And then Miss Glenn and Mr. Murray came up here. Do you want to see them now?”
“Not just now. Better wait for Colville.”
Then Doctor Colville came. A smallish dapper man with what seemed to be absorbent eyes, so instantly did they take in anything in sight.
“Oh!” he said, in a voice of real pain as he looked at the lovely face.
He bent over and examined the cut on her full lower lip. He touched it lightly with his finger, and looked at Raynor.
The detective picked up the large down pillow that lay on the bed.
It was a square one, with a cover of filet lace and embroidery, and a lace frill all around it. Holding it out to the Examiner, Raynor turned it over, and showed the other side, covered with plain linen. In the middle of this they saw a red mark, sufficiently shaped to show the impress of two red lips which had stained the white linen.
Closer examination showed some red spots of a different shade, and Colville’s glittering eyes read the story.
“Mrs. McCleod was smothered,” he stated, with a positive air. “I gathered that from the signs on her face, and this is proof. Some strong hands held this pillow over her face so tightly and so long that she ceased to breathe, probably without a struggle. It was an Othello performance.
“This stain on the pillow is where Mrs. McCleod bit at it in her frenzy, you see the linen is torn a little, or where the murderer dealt a blow or pressure. Her struggle was not a long one, nor did she suffer after the first few seconds.”
Hugh McCleod stared at the speaker.
The last was addressed to Raynor, who nodded his head with emphasis.
Colville looked round the room. It was a well-appointed guest room, fitted for a man or a woman visitor.
“Better have these coats and hats put in some other room. This room must be locked up.”
“Must have the place photographed first,” Raynor said, and opened the door as he heard men in the hall just outside.
The camera men came in and the fingerprint men, and Doctor Colville took Hugh by the arm and led him away.
“Where can we go,” he asked, “for a few minutes’ talk?”
“Come in here,” and Hugh led the way to the waiting room.
“Tell me,” Colville said, “have you any idea who could have killed your wife?”
“Not the slightest.”
“She was smothered. Someone did it with force, by reason of a sudden spasm of rage or maybe by premeditation. She had no enemy?”
“No! Everybody loved Alma. She had hosts of friends, but she never made an enemy.”
“Lovers, then? Were men devoted to her?”
“Yes, of course. But she only laughed at them. She told me all about the things they would say to her, she liked to be admired, but it meant nothing to her—nothing serious.”
“It was serious to someone. Your servants are of good character?”
“Oh, yes, the butler has been with us ever since we were married, and my man I have had for more than ten years. There are others, but Alma never came in contact with them, except the maids. My wife was not a domestic type, the servants were not people to her, they were furniture. I can’t get a ray of light, can you? Unless it was a burglar, a sneak thief, you know.”
“Not very plausible. There was always someone on guard?”
“Yes. Dickson was in or near that guest room all the time. And Foo Chow is always everywhere. He would know if a fly came in.”
“Then you have no theory, Mr. McCleod? No suspicion?”
“How can I have? All the guests are our friends, or were brought by our friends. Strangers come that way, you see, for our friends know that their friends are welcome here.”
“Were there many strangers here tonight?”
“No, I think not. But I’m not sure. You see, owing to my father’s illness, I was with him a great deal of the time. I can’t make it out.”
“Do you not think that Mrs. McCleod might have had some friends that you did not know of?”
“If you’re implying her acquaintance with anyone of whom I would not approve, cut it out. She was not that sort.”
“The guests were all over the house? Or only the drawing rooms?”
“Oh, they were all over. Up and downstairs, but, of course, they did not go up to my father’s place. He is just above this.”
“This apartment of yours is a bit complicated, isn’t it? As to arrangement, I mean.”
“Indeed it is. Visitors staying here say they need a guide to find their way around. There are many rooms and lots of halls and nooks.”
“An intruder, then, could have hidden himself at will.”
“Oh, I think not. Foo Chow was on the job, and then, why would an intruder, I suppose you mean a robber, kill Alma in that strange fashion? She had on valuable jewelry, but I don’t think there was any of it disturbed. But I don’t know that—I didn’t notice—”
“I have to go now, Mr. McCleod. We will take the body away tonight, and there will be an autopsy in the morning. Then you will have the report.”
“Autopsy! Must you—”
“Yes, it is customary and necessary. We may find some condition that will be of evidential value. I know you will not put any obstacles in our way. The case is in Raynor’s charge and he will be glad of your information and counsel. Do you want to see any of the guests before they are allowed to go home?”
“Guests? Are they downstairs yet?”
“Oh, yes. But you need not see them unless you wish. Raynor is taking care of it all.”
“I think I won’t see them. Isn’t it very late?”
“It’s after five, nearly half past. I must go now. Why don’t you stay right here for a time? I’ll tell Dickson where you are.”
“I’ll stay here a few minutes. I want to think a little.”
“Very well; I’ll tell Foo Chow to make some coffee.”
But Hugh McCleod had already become immersed in his thoughts, and he merely nodded his head as Colville left him.
The Examiner knew that they had already taken Alma’s body away, and another room was made the coat room.
Foo Chow told him that the house manager had been with the mortuary men, and all had been done quietly and well.
Dickson carried the same news to Hugh, and told him gently that he had better go to bed and get a little rest against the day that must come.
Hugh paid no attention to this advice, and he drank the coffee offered to him, with an equal lack of notice.
“Dickson,” he said at last, “will you help me to get the beast that killed my wife?
“I don’t know how we will do it,” Hugh went on. “Have you any suspicions, Dickson? You know most of the people at the party. Can you imagine any of them as a murderer?”
“Don’t think about that now, Mr. McCleod. And you couldn’t do that sort of thing, sir. If you want to, you could get a detective, a private one, I mean.”
“They don’t know anything. They do in the books, but not in real life. The police detectives know more. They are trained workers. That Raynor is a smart chap. He’ll do better than a Sherlock what d’y’call ’em?”
“Well, then, Holmes. I don’t want his sort. I’ll ask Raynor about this. You didn’t notice anything queer about anybody tonight? None of the men jittery, or anything like that?”
“No, Mr. McCleod. Now, sir, if you won’t go to bed, you must lie down for a while.”—
“Yes, I’ll do that—come on.”
The rooms occupied by Hugh and Alma were across the front of the house. Each had bedroom, dressing room and bath, and a small living room besides, which connected the two suites.
Hugh looked in at Alma’s door and saw Linda, her maid, putting away some things.
“What are you doing, Linda?”
The girl gave a start.
“Oh,” she said, relieved to see her master instead of a policeman. “I’m putting Mrs. McCleod’s jewels in the cases. They took her, just as she was, except for these. Shall I put them in this little safe, sir, or will you take care of them?”
“Put them there for now, Linda. I’ll see about it later.”
Captain Raynor was conducting his investigation.
He was a methodical sort and he now had all the guests who were still there marshalled into a reception room.
With his stenographer at his side, he addressed certain people whom he knew or knew of, and who, his practised judgment told him, could not be implicated in this crime.
He had already examined and dismissed some of the older guests. He was a little surprised at the number of these; then he remembered that Hugh McCleod was years older than his wife, and these were his long time friends.
With his wide experience and knowledge of these things, Raynor reduced his audience to a few uncertain strangers and a group of younger guests who were Alma’s particular friends.
These, he announced, he would interview separately, one at a time, leaving Sergeant Colby in charge.
“Who first discovered Mrs. McCleod’s death?” he asked, and was immediately answered.
“I did,” Doris Day said, with a distinct air of importance.
“Then come with me, please,” and to her disappointment, Doris found herself conducted to another room. She had anticipated a dramatic scene when she would be in the limelight, and would impress all by her pathetic story.
But Raynor read her mind, and requested her to answer his inquiries briefly and concisely.
“Why did you go upstairs to the men’s dressing room?” he said. “Oh, it wasn’t only the men’s rooms,” Doris smiled at him, “some of us girls had left our wraps there, too.”
“Just happened so. You see, it’s a guest room, and there was a maid there, a new one—I suppose she just came for the party. Alma’s own maid was in the ladies’ dressing room.”
“Why did you go up there?”
Doris opened her mascaraed eyes.
“Why, I thought it was time to go home. I was tired, and I thought I’d start and then our crowd would all go. That’s the way we usually do.”
“So you ran upstairs for your wrap?”
“Yes, and I went in the room and I saw Alma lying on the chaise longue. I thought that was odd, and I said, ‘Get up, Alma, we’re going home now.’ And she didn’t say anything, and I spoke to her! two or three times. I was sitting at the powder table, you see, and I had my back to her, but I could see her in the mirror, and she didn’t say a word! I was frightened, and I went toward her, but she looked so queer, I screamed. I couldn’t help it! I didn’t think she was dead, you see, I thought she had a stroke or something queer! I screamed because I couldn’t help it!”
“And then someone came?”
“No, nobody came, and I ran downstairs, as fast as ever I could and I almost tumbled down—I was so frightened—and Ogden Murray caught me just as I was falling, and they laid me on a couch and brought me a drink—it was one of those new ones they’re all crazy about—”
“Never mind the drink, what happened next?”
“How do I know? They were taking care of me—I nearly fell downstairs—but Ogden began to tease, and Nadine said she thought something was the matter and she ran upstairs, she has a lot of curiosity always. Then Ogden ran after her, I think, and the others took care of me. I saw Doctor Lloyd go upstairs, and that’s all I remember; you see, I was ill from shock.”
“I see. And the new drink brought you round.”
“Yes, it’s a wonder! Van learned it in Honolulu or some place.”
“Miss Day, have you any idea as to who could have killed Mrs. McCleod?”
“Why, no. That is, she had lots of enemies, but they were not killers!”
“Why did she have enemies?”
“Oh, just because she was so beautiful and rich and important and—well, fascinating. The men adored her.”
“And Mr. McCleod?”
“Her husband? Oh, he couldn’t help himself. He just adored her with the rest.”
“Didn’t he mind her—er—flirtations?”
“Oh, he didn’t know of them, the serious ones. Of course, he saw her dancing with the boys, but you know he is awfully old.”
“Forty-five, I am told.”
“Well, that’s terribly old. But Alma was very discreet.”
“You said she had enemies?”
“Mostly among the girls, just envy and jealousy. You know how we are.”
“You mean, a woman might have killed her?”
“Well, more likely than a man! How could a man kill Alma! She was too beautiful!”
“Do you suspect any woman?”
“Mercy, no! You sort of led me on to say that. I can’t suspect anybody.”
“Yet somebody killed her.”
“Well, that’s what you’re here to find out. But I don’t believe it was any of the guests—”
“What do you mean?”
“I think Alma had other friends, that none of us knew about, and one of them came here secretly tonight, and—”
“You mean some lover, not of her own set?”
“I’d rather think that than to suspect one of our own crowd!”
“We can’t always think what we’d rather think. Have you the least knowledge of such a thing?”
“No, I haven’t. But if you must look among our set, keep your eye on Nadine Glenn. I don’t believe she did it, but she’s the only one who could.”
“What do you mean could?”
“Why she has temperament and deep passions and all that. You know. Most of us are just ordinary every-day girls, but Nadine has a soul that seethes—she told me so.”
“And just exactly how does a soul seethe? Do you know you are talking stark nonsense!”
“But it isn’t my nonsense! And Nadine is mystic, you know.”
“That’s in her favor. People who go in for cults are very seldom of homicidal instincts.”
“No, I don’t suppose she’d do it. Even if she wanted to, she’d balk at the last minute. Anybody would.”
“But somebody didn’t! Now, Miss Day, I want you to hold our talk confidential. If I find you’re telling what we have said in here, I shall be greatly mistaken in my judgment of your character.”
“I won’t tell,” said Doris.
She was dismissed and Raynor asked to see Nadine next.
Colby brought her, and she entered the room like a tragedy queen.
“It’s nearly six o’clock!” she exclaimed, angrily. “It’s outrageous keeping us here like this!”
“Murder is outrageous, Miss Glenn,” Raynor said, gravely. “Your name and address, please,” he nodded toward Barry, who wrote down the information she snapped out.
“Please be as quick as you can, Captain,” she said, and then she smiled at him, suddenly deciding that he was not to be intimidated by a grand manner.
“I will, Miss Glenn. Tell me, then, of your going upstairs when you heard Miss Day scream.”
“Well, Doris was so excited she hardly knew what she was saying. But she said Alma was asleep and wouldn’t wake up so I feared something was wrong and I ran up to see.”
“It was very late and Mrs. McCleod might well have been worn out. But when you heard she was asleep, why did you at once think there was something wrong?”
“That is a trap,” and Nadine looked at him calmly. “But it doesn’t frighten me at all. We always stay up late, and we are never so worn out at a party that we drop asleep from fatigue. I felt something was wrong more from Miss Day’s manner than her words, and I naturally went up to see. Fortunately Mr. Murray followed me; if I had gone in that room alone, I should have fainted, I know. Indeed, I was so sure there was a tragedy, I made Mr. Murray go in first. Then he beckoned to me, and I went in. Mrs. McCleod looked awful! Her face seemed bluish, maybe it was the lights, and her lip was cut and bleeding!”
“Then what did you do?”
“Then Ogden went to look for Dickson, Mr. McCleod’s man. He was hovering in the hall, and Mr. Murray sent him down to get Doctor Lloyd, and when he came up he sent Ogden and me away.”
“Have you any knowledge of anyone who could have caused Mrs. McCleod’s death?”
“No, indeed! How could I have?”
“Have you any idea, any suspicion?”
“None at all, Captain Raynor. I cannot think it was someone that Alma knew, and yet nobody else was here. I mean, all the guests were her friends, or her husband’s, so how could they be suspected?”
“Yet it was done by someone in the house. No one has voiced any suspicion of the servants.”
“Oh, no! A servant would have no reason to kill Alma!”
“Why do you say that so positively?”
“Why, because Alma was the grand sort. She had no association with the servants; they had no access to her, except just the tops.”
“The upper servants, I mean. Foo Chow and Dickson and Linda, her own maid. She never saw the others to speak to.”
“What do you know about Linda?”
“Not much. She is a superior maid, and Alma set great store by her. But only as a servant. She never was friendly with her.”
“Would Linda, perhaps, resent this?”
“Oh, no. And Alma was generous. She gave her holidays and presents of money now and then, and she remembered her in her will.”
“Does Linda know that?”
“I don’t know. Probably. But Linda didn’t kill her to get the legacy! Don’t get that bee in your bonnet!”
“How do you know?”
“I know everything. I am psychic.”
“Psychology is a great science, Miss Glenn. But the psychic temperament does not greatly impress policemen.”
“No, it requires education to understand it.”
Though meant to be scathing, this remark only brought a slight smile to Raynor’s eyes, and he went on:
“There were two maids, I understand, looking after the ladies’ wraps.”
“Yes, an extra, from somewhere. But she cannot be suspected, Dickson had his eye on her.”
“I do not suspect her. Nor, at present, any of the servants. Also an intruder from outside seems to be out of the question. That brings us to the guests again. I daresay, if you suspected anyone, you would not divulge the name?”
“I’m not sure whether I would or not. But I have no suspect.”
“And that’s a pity! For you have told me you know everything—”
“I didn’t mean in that sense—but you cannot understand.”
“You might be surprised to know how fully I understand. I have made a serious study of psychology, under the best available teachers, and it is useful in my work at times. Yet plain police inquiry is necessary too. Tell me this, Miss Glenn. Supposing you were assured that it was one of what you call her crowd who killed Mrs. McCleod, would you surmise it was a woman or a man?”
“Man, most likely. A woman can hate harder, but her will isn’t strong enough for killing. A man kills in a moment of madness, and repents afterward.”
“You are right—as a rule. But rules have a way of possessing exceptions, you know.”
“Yes.” Nadine looked grave. “That is where your great responsibility lies.”
“You never wanted to put an end to Mrs. McCleod’s life, yourself, I suppose?”
“I’ve been waiting for that. And the truth is, that I should have welcomed the news of her death, had it come about by natural causes.”
Raynor nodded his head.
“Yes,” he said, “yes. You needn’t tell me why; I know. But does it not seem strange to you that a woman so lovely and so beloved, should invite murder?”
“You put it strangely. But it is not inexplicable to me. Alma was a queen and a tyrant. One time, she went too far.”
Raynor never noticed innuendoes.
“Have you thought at all,” he said, “as to a motive for the deed? Not often, but sometimes, we find the effect from the cause.”
“I have often read lists of the most usual motives for murder,” Nadine told him, “but in this case, I think it must have been jealousy or sudden, blinding rage.”
They were silent a moment, and then Raynor said:
“You have helped me a lot, Miss Glenn. I thank you.”
A look that seemed almost fear flashed in her eyes, and accepting his tone as a dismissal, she rose to go.
“I may want to see you further, Miss Glenn, please leave your address with Mr. Barry.”
“I will. And Captain Raynor, I suppose you will be talking with Mr. Murray.”
“Yes, I believe his name is next on my list.”
“Well, and this is not merely ill-nature, take whatever he says with a grain of salt. I mean, if he tells you anything of great interest or importance, have it verified before you act upon it. And don’t believe anything he says about me.”
“Because he will speak against me if he has a chance.”
“You stood beside him to look at your dead friend,” Raynor spoke gently. “Does not that constitute a bond?”
“Not between me and Ogden Murray, no! It was mere chance that brought that about. He did not love Alma, but he was making use of her.”
“Oh, just in a matter of finance. He has a new get-rich-quick scheme, and he wanted her to invest in it.”
“Did she do so?”
“I’m not sure. I think so. But get his word for it and then get somebody else to corroborate it.”
“I see. Is he in love with you?”
“He’s not in love with anybody but his own dear self. But he pretends he is.”
“Thank you, Miss Glenn.”
And Barry opened the door for her.
It was because of Nadine’s hints and implications that Raynor called Ogden Murray next.
This new witness came in with a quick, firm step and an assured manner. He took the chair indicated and awaited questioning.
“As one of the first to see Mrs. McCleod after her death, Mr. Murray, will you give me an exact description of her appearance?”
“As nearly as I can,” Murray said, in a crisp, almost curt tone. “I followed Miss Glenn up the stairs and as she was badly frightened, because of Miss Day’s scream, she made me go into the room first. I stepped in and crossed over to the couch where Mrs. McCleod lay. I felt sure she was dead, she looked so, and I beckoned Nadine to come on in.”
“What did Miss Glenn say or do?”
“She didn’t say anything; there was a big pillow on the floor, and she picked it up and threw it on the bed. I don’t think she knew she did it, it was a natural gesture for a woman, sort of clearing up, you know.”
“That’s all. I went to the door and told Dickson to go down and bring up Doctor Lloyd. And he did, and then Doctor Lloyd said Alma was dead, and he shooed us out of the room.”
“And you and Miss Glenn went downstairs at once?”
“We did. I made a beeline for the bar. I don’t know what she did.”
“Where do your suspicions rest, Mr. Murray?”
“I haven’t any suspicions, and if I had they wouldn’t rest anywhere. I should be using them to the limit.”
“Well then, who, in your judgment, could not have done it? Do you exonerate all the ladies?”
“I hadn’t thought of that. No, I wouldn’t put it past all of them. And when you look at it, it does seem more like a woman’s deed. A man would shoot or stab or even strangle, but he wouldn’t pick up a pillow and smother the girl!”
“Don’t harp on Othello. Everybody has already exploited him.”
“Naturally. You knew Mrs. McCleod very well, Mr. Murray?”
“We all know each other pretty well in our crowd. Frankness is rampant nowadays, as you doubtless know. But, of course, our frankness is not always the truth.”
“You mean when one is announcing his life as an open book, there may be some pages stuck together.”
“Yes, and some pages easily read as fairy stories.”
“Do you ever offer fairy stories, Mr. Murray?”
“About investments, perhaps.”
“I’d rather you’d speak out, Captain Raynor. I don’t like veiled allusions.”
“Well, really now, that wasn’t much veiled. More plainly then, do you deal in business matters that are so attractive as investments, that their description sounds like a fairy tale?”
“I decline to answer your irrelevant questions.”
“You have practically done so. You saw nothing about the appearance of Mrs. McCleod then, that gave you any hint or clue as to her assailants?”
“I didn’t, no. But there was a bracelet—did Miss Glenn tell you about that?”
“A bracelet, no; I think not.”
Raynor seemed uninterested, indeed, a bit absent-minded, for he had already sized Murray up pretty well.
“It seemed to me as if it might be important.”
“Well, see what you think. We, Nadine and I, stood only a few minutes, looking at Alma, when Doctor Lloyd came, but Nadine’s quick eye had spotted a new bracelet on Alma’s arm—a bangle she called it.”
“And you think that points to her murderer?”
“I don’t know, but Nadine said it was a very grand affair. Just a single row of good-sized diamonds.”
“I thought a bangle was usually a trifling affair, silver or some inexpensive stones.”
“Often it is; but it seems the word bangle refers to the form of the trinket. It’s merely a narrow band. If it’s wider, or if it has a clasp, then it’s a bracelet.”
“The point being that the bangle was given to Mrs. McCleod very recently?”
“Very, indeed. She had not been wearing it while she was downstairs. The point is that she had just received it, and that it might well have been given her by the murderer.”
“Not very plausible! He gave her the expensive gift and then took her life?”
“Plausibility doesn’t count in a crime passionnel. Alma has many friends; say, one of them gave her the bangle, and then they had a lovers’ tiff, and in a rage he grabbed a pillow and, with no intention of killing her, he held it over her face an instant too long. There’s a theory for you.”
“Interesting, but lacking any proof or evidence.”
“Captain Raynor, I think you must grant a very clever criminal in this case, and my suggestion may be the right one, though you now scorn it.”
“I don’t scorn it, Mr. Murray, and I will remember it and look into it. But I must ask you directly, were you selling or expecting to sell her any shares or interests of any sort in some money-making scheme?”
“And I reply that since that matter has no bearing on the inquiry you are making, I refuse to tell you anything about my financial dealings with Mrs. McCleod, if any.”
“Then I shall have to find out in some other way.”
“You have my permission to do that.”
“That is all, for the present, Mr. Murray. You are excused.”
As Murray went out, Dickson appeared at the door, saying that Mr. McCleod begged that his turn might come now, as he wished to go up to his father’s apartment.
Raynor agreed, and Hugh came in.
“I’m sorry,” said the detective, “to trouble you at this time, but I think a few words will be sufficient. Where were you when you were told of your wife’s death?”
“I was at my father’s deathbed.”
“Is your father dead?”
“No, but he had had another sinking spell; he may pass at any time. You see, he really lives on his deathbed. He has been very ill for a long time, but he is losing ground rapidly now.”
“I will detain you but a moment, Mr. McCleod. Who called you from him at the time of the tragedy?”
“My man, Dickson. Doctor Lloyd sent him up for me. My father’s apartment is just above my own.”
“How long had you been up there when Dickson came?”
“Oh, quite a time. I was downstairs, dancing, when I felt a desire to go up to see Father, I knew he was getting weaker. So when the dance was over I went upstairs. I went through the men’s coat room, it’s a guest room, you know, and Alma was there, sitting at the powder table, doing things to her face! I told her where I was going and she said she’d go with me. But I said, no, for she had been up not long since, and she ought to stay by the party. I went on upstairs, there’s a little circular stair you know—”
“I know this whole place is a maze!”
Hugh smiled. “Well, I went on up, and found Father very low. He didn’t know me, and Emmy, poor girl, needed someone with her, so I stayed—until Dickson came.” He was silent a moment, and then said:
“Raynor, I’m not given to vengeance, as a rule, but I want to see that killer caught and punished! It is coming to him, and if your force can’t find him I shall get someone who can! Have you any clue? Any hint of what way to look?”
“I fear it is too soon yet, Mr. McCleod, to say yes to that. Everything is being done that can be done, and our best operatives are on the job.”
Hugh winced at the businesslike statement.
“Do you know of a new bracelet Mrs. McCleod was wearing?” Raynor asked. “Did you give it to her?”
“A bracelet? What kind?”
“Quite an elaborate affair, I believe. A circlet of diamonds. She was wearing it when she was discovered.”
“Oh, well, it was all right.”
“Did you give it to her?”
“I don’t know whether I did or not. I think it very likely I did.”
“That sounds cryptic to me. Will you explain it?”
“Yes, of course. It’s this way. I make Alma an allowance for spending money. Then I not infrequently give her a money present, because of a birthday or other holiday occasion. This money she stores away, and when she wishes she buys herself some trinket she wants and tells me it is a present from me. Which, of course, it is.
I think she would have shown it to me tonight, when I saw her in the dressing room, but just then we both heard a step in the hall, and I went my way and she continued her face painting.”
Raynor noticed that McCleod continued to speak of his wife in the present tense, but that often happened in his experience.
“You didn’t notice a new bracelet, then?”
“No, my wife wears jewelry always in the best taste, never too much and never inferior pieces. I see it as a general effect, but not as individual ornaments.”
“Your wife had many admirers.”
“And deserved them. But not one that would dare offer her a valuable piece of jewelry! The idea is absurd.”
“I’m glad of that. I begin to think we must look outside the house for the criminal. It may be, you know, that the report from the autopsy will show us another possibility.”
“I cannot think Alma had an ailment that I did not know of. But I would rather it should be that than murder. It is incredible, unbelievable that anyone would harm her. You suggest admirers, I suppose you hint lovers, but my wife is as pure as an angel. Never suggest it, if you please.”
Hugh went up to his father’s rooms, and Raynor called for Linda, the maid. He felt an interest in the bangle, which needed further inquiry.
Linda was a good-looking girl, who seemed to be of Swedish extraction, though thoroughly Americanized and of swift intelligence.
She greeted Raynor with a very respectful nod, and took her seat as directed.
“You have been with Mrs. McCleod, how long?” he asked.
“About three years, sir.”
“A good mistress, I daresay.”
“There could be no better.”
Not a babbler, this Linda. Raynor went to the point.
“You had full charge of Mrs. McCleod’s jewels?” he said.
“Put them away when she came home from a party, and all that?”
“Did she wear much jewelry at the party here last night?”
“Two clips, two rings, several bangles and a small coronet-shaped piece on her head.”
“Describe her bangles. Are they bracelets?”
“No, last night she wore only bangles, light, slender ones.”
“No, sir, bangles do not have clasps, they slip over the hand.”
“I see. And how many of these?”
“I don’t remember. Perhaps four or five.”
“And when did you put them away?”
Linda seemed a little whiter, but her voice was steady as she answered, “Before the men took her away, they removed all her jewelry and handed it to me. I told them I was responsible for it.”
“And, now listen, Linda, did you receive from those men the very same pieces of jewelry that you put on Mrs. McCleod when you dressed her?”
“Yes, sir, all that I put on her were returned to me.”
“That is not what I asked you.”
“Oh, yes, sir, you asked me if I received back the jewels I put on when I dressed her?”
“And you did?”
“And how many more pieces?”
“More pieces?” Linda looked bewildered.
“Yes. One more piece, at least. Better tell the truth, you know.”
“There—there did seem to be an extra piece, sir, Maybe she borrowed it from one of her friends?”
“Why would she do that?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“But you know she didn’t do that. Mrs. McCleod, with a safe full of jewels, need not borrow any from friends.”
“What was that extra piece, Linda? Careful now!”
“It—it was a bangle, sir.”
“Now we are getting the truth. Describe it.”
“It was quite plain, sir. Just a platinum hoop, set all round with diamonds.”
“Where is that bangle now?”
“I put it away with the rest of the pieces in the jewel safe.”
“Who has the key to that safe?”
“I have it, sir.”
“Give it to me.”
“I am glad to, sir. It is an awful responsibility!”
From a slight gold chain round her neck the girl drew up a little chamois bag, and took from it a key, which she handed to Raynor. He put it in his pocket and said:
“Was Mrs. McCleod sometimes confidential with you, Linda?”
“Sometimes a little.”
“Did she ever talk to you about money matters?”
“Not very often, sir.”
Raynor looked stern, and said, a little sharply, “Careful now. Speak the exact truth. Do you know that Mrs. McCleod had or was about to invest quite a sum of money, without her husband’s knowledge?”
“Yes,” was the reply, so low it could scarcely be heard.
“With whom was she making this investment?”
“With Mr. Murray.”
“Did she meet Mr. Murray secretly to make these arrangements?” Linda’s hesitation brought further orders.
“Unless you are frank and truthful you will find yourself under arrest. Also, what you tell me, if true, will be a kindness both to Mr. McCleod and to Mrs. McCleod’s memory.”
“Is that true, sir?”
“Then, sir, she did meet Mr. Murray secretly, and she had an engagement to meet him today.’
“At the Chandos, at two, for lunch.”
Raynor turned to Colby and said, “Go out and put a trailer on Ogden Murray. Get a good one.’”
Colby went, but very shortly returned, saying, “Murray left the house some time ago, saying you had told him he might go.”
“Oh, very well,” said Raynor, insincerely.
It was nine o’clock Thursday morning.
As near as Raynor could learn, Alma had died somewhere around four o’clock, the police had been called and had arrived promptly.
And he, himself, had been there since half past four, and had no definite knowledge as yet, of the murderer’s identity.
He had learned a lot, knowledge that must surely lead him to the truth, but he wanted to progress faster.
Thomas Raynor had gained his position as chief of the Homicide Bureau by his insistent perseverance and determination. He was physically strong, with great powers of endurance, but it was his unflagging will that most often accomplished his end.
He had just finished the last of the unlikely people he had to interview, by which term he meant the ones who could not conceivably want to bring about the death of Alma McCleod. Some of these he had turned over to Colby, but now they had all been dismissed, and he could return to his work of questioning the members of the household and the more intimate of the guests.
In the opinion of these people they should have been questioned first of all, but Raynor had his own ways and usually took them.
And now, having looked over the transcription of his talk with Linda, he called for Netta, the other maid who had waited on the ladies at the party.
She came in, not in uniform, for her engagement was temporary.
In a rather smart street costume, she looked more like a guest than a servant.
A good-looking young woman, with quickly moving black eyes, that told Raynor of her worldly wisdom and understanding.
“You were here just for the party?” he asked, in a casual way.
“Yes, and it was some party! I had the time of my life, why, several ladies gave me a dollar, and two of them—”
“Never mind that, Netta. Just answer my questions.”
“Yes, sir, sure! And my name is Miss Briggs.”
“Good! Now, tell me the last time you saw Mrs. McCleod alive. Where was she?”
“Well, now, let me see. Of course, I was only in the dressing rooms and the upstairs hall. When there was nothing to do, I looked over the railing that’s round like a circle—”
“Answer my question, please.”
“Oh, yes. Now, it seems sorta funny, but some of the ladies, they would go into the men’s coat room now and then, ’cause it had such a lovely dressing table—”
“But the ladies’ own dressing rooms had those?”
“Of course, but there was always somebody at ’em. You know those swell dames are doing their faces over all the time. Me, one fixin’ is enough for a whole evenin’.”
“And Mrs. McCleod used this cosmetic table in the men’s coat room?”
“Did she? Leastways, she was in that room a whole lot. Mostly, with some of her beaus, she’s got about a dozen!”
“Don’t tell me anything about the lady, Miss Briggs, just answer my questions.”
“That’s the answer. Last time I seen her alive, she was in the men’s coat room, with—land sakes, I don’t know who she was with, but some handsome young feller.”
“Oh, I can’t do that! I never look at the men. I leave that to Linda, it’s her chief amusement. Me, I look all the time at the ladies, their dresses and their joolry and the way they do their hair and how they make up. I learn an awful lot.”
“What were Mrs. McCleod and the young man doing?”
“Nothin’. She was kinda showin’ him her bracelets, on her arm, you know. She had on three or four beautiful ones. She was lyin’ on the couch, chaze they call it—not lyin’ out, you know, just sorta leanin’ back in the corner, in a muddle of lace pillows. My, but she looked like a picture!”
“Now, Miss Briggs, please do this for me.” Raynor could make his voice gently persuasive. “Please try, try hard to remember something about the looks of that man. I cannot tell you how important your testimony will be if you will give me just a general description of him.”
“Why, Off’cer, bless your heart, I sure wish I could! But I never so much as gave him a glance. I was just thrilled with lookin’ at Mrs. McCleod, as she lay back there, some like Cleopatra in the movies! I was lookin’ most special at the way her skirt hung. Sorta billowy, you know, and yet every seam in place; white it was, all white, with some touches of goldy stuff here and there—just here and—there.” Miss Briggs seemed to go into a dream about the gold touches, and Raynor wondered if he could get any real help from her.
“Where were you to see all this?” he asked indifferently.
“I was in the hall, sorta hangin’ around. The door to the room was about half open, so I could see them, but they couldn’t see me.”
“If you’d had a camera, you could have taken a picture of the man!” Raynor growled, out of sheer disappointment.
“Yes, sir,” and Netta’s note of sympathetic agreement irritated him still more.
“That room is a sort of thoroughfare, isn’t it?”
“It has a door at each end, hasn’t it?”
“Oh, yes. Mr. McCleod goes through it when he’s going up to see his father. It’s a short cut.”
“Well, then, Miss Briggs, you have nothing more to tell me?”
“Not about Mrs. McCleod, no. But I can tell you something about Linda, sir.”
“I’ll bet you can. You girls have it in for each other, I suppose.”
“Yes, sir. Well, what I mean is, maybe she killed Mrs. McCleod.”
“As a rule, my child, it’s better not to make suggestions of that sort, unless of course, you have some knowledge to back it.”
“If you know the motive, isn’t that good enough knowledge?”
Being a good detective, Raynor was not above catching at any straw that might show the way the wind blew.
“You mean Linda had a motive?”
“Well, rather! You see, she’s down in Mrs. McCleod’s will for ten thousand dollars.”
“Are you sure? That’s a lot of money.”
“She told me about it herself.”
“Well, I hardly think a nice girl like Linda would do murder for even a large sum of money.”
“All right, Off’cer, you don’t hafto believe it. I just thought I’d tell you, that’s all.”
“Very well. But don’t tell anyone else, Netta. You might easily get yourself in trouble if you do. Do you think you would recognise that man who was in the room with Mrs. McCleod if you saw him again?”
Netta looked doubtful. “I don’t know,” she said, “but I don’t think I would.”
“Have a try at it, anyway. And after that you can go home.”
“I don’t want to go home, I want to stay here.”
“You find our man for me, and perhaps I can arrange for you to stay here a bit longer. Now, do just as I tell you. There are several people around in the house yet. You go into the drawing room or library or what not, and see if you see anyone that you recognize as the man we’re speaking of. Don’t say anything, don’t look hard at anybody, but see if someone doesn’t strike you as the right one. Have an air as if you were on some errand. Look for a book on a library shelf, or look out of a window. I know you can do this, or I wouldn’t start you off.”
“Yes, sir, I can do it. But I doubt if I’ll know the man.”
“Go on, then. Make a stab at it. If Foo Chow orders you out, tell him you’re there by my directions.”
Miss Briggs departed and soon found that there were a few men at the bar, among whom might be her quarry.
She went to the man who was serving drinks and asked for a claret lemonade. It was not the same man who had been there the night before, and he looked at her inquiringly.
“I am one of Captain Raynor’s secretaries,” she said, and it was quite enough. No one noticed her and she was about to leave the room, when Foo Chow came in and announced that breakfast was served for all who chose to come.
Some of the men started for the breakfast room, and Netta followed them. There were small tables and she sat at one alone.
Brand Herrick was speaking, not angrily, but as if at the end of his patience.
“I think,” he said, quietly, “Raynor ought to realize that we business men are put out by this long delay. Surely he could arrange matters better. I’m going to telephone to my partner, Clarence Bliss, to come here. It is important that I see him.”
He left the room and went to a hall telephone.
“What’s in a name?” said Van Dyke Haynes, flippantly. “I didn’t know Herrick had a partner. But Clarence Bliss! Probably a thin, piping voice.”
“You can never tell,” said Henry Markell, who was looking with pleased eyes at an omelette set before him.
Markell was one of the older men, and a long time friend of the older McCleods.
“I wonder how Emmy is taking this,” he went on. “And old Angus. I want to see Hugh before I go away; perhaps I can do something for him.”
“His lawyers are Chadwick and Wade,” said Herrick, returning just then. “I think they have been notified. I’d like to help Mr. McCleod, but I feel it would be intrusive to offer.”
“If Chadwick is coming, your services won’t be needed,” Van Dyke observed, quite unnecessarily.
“True,” Brand said, looking at Haynes without a smile.
Netta Briggs, who had watched the men, finished her coffee and left the room. She went to Raynor with her report.
“It’s no good, Off’cer,” she said, with a disappointed air. “If I’d a known, I coulda found out who was the guy I saw with the lady, but when I looked at ’em, eating their breakfasts, there wasn’t one of them I’d pick, they all looked alike to me. I ain’t much good to you, am I?”
“Not very much; but it isn’t your fault. You may go now. Colby, get Brand Herrick in here, will you? I’ll do him up and then I’ll get a bit of breakfast myself.”
Herrick came at once, and sat down to be questioned.
“Don’t mind if I drop asleep,” he said. “I am told I talk in my sleep, so it may do just as well.”
Raynor smiled at the big young man.
“I daresay you’ve been up all night before.”
“Oh, yes, but not,” he looked somber, “in these circumstances.”
“No. You knew Mrs. McCleod pretty well, Mr. Herrick?”
“I belong to what she was kind enough to call ‘her crowd.’ I have been invited here often, but I am not enough of an intimate to come informally. I have met Mrs. McCleod frequently at other places.”
“At her friends’ houses?”
“Yes, and at clubs or theater parties. But I am a busy man, and I don’t always have time to frivol.”
“I see. Now, will you tell me of the last time you saw Mrs. McCleod alive?”
“I can’t tell you the hour, but it was when I had a dance with her, and afterward, we stood for a moment, and then someone claimed her for a dance.”
“And that was the last you saw of her?”
“No, I saw her again. I went up to the men’s coat room for my things and she came into the room. The ladies used that room too. She said, ‘Not going, are you?’ or something like that, and I said I had a busy day coming, and I said good night to her and left her there. That was the last time I saw her.”
“But you didn’t go home?”
“No, when I got downstairs, some of the crowd made me stay to hear some young fellow doing impersonations. I don’t know who he was. Foo Chow took my coat and hat and I went in the bar, and listened to the performance. He was very good.”
“I was there when Miss Day screamed. We heard her plainly in the bar. After that, I was not allowed to leave the house.”
“Were you annoyed?”
Brand looked at him. “Annoyed isn’t just the word. I was sorry I hadn’t already left the house, for I realized what was ahead of us, but the awful tragedy left no room for selfish thoughts. The necessary steps were taken and you know yourself the routine we went through. It was pretty ghastly, the lights and flowers and music in the face of the sudden news. The music, of course, stopped, but the people could not be quiet. There were some hysterical women and some thoughtless men, and there were some who thought the bar was the only refuge.”
“What did you do?”
“Nothing in particular. I kept an eye out to be of any service I might, and then I found a few of our crowd together and I sat down with them. We didn’t talk much, just sat there and waited. There was camera work and the fingerprint men did their stunts, but there was no panic, and on the whole they behaved pretty well. And why shouldn’t they? A lot of intelligent, well-bred people, confronted by a tragedy, they had to accept the situation.”
“Yes, of course. Now, Mr. Herrick, you are a lawyer, you have wisdom and judgment, toward whom do your suspicions lean? You were here on the spot and you have seen something.”
“No, I saw nothing that gave me any hint of which way to look. A lawyer is not a detective, and I have no talent in that line at all. I have the highest respect for Mr. McCleod, and I admired his beautiful wife, but I cannot think of anyone in our own social class who would have done it. It seems to me it must have been someone from outside, a real killer or someone who meant evil to Mrs. McCleod for reasons we know nothing of.”
“But that doesn’t necessarily imply a stranger, or even an outsider. Her assailant may have been one of her own impetuous admirers.”
“I hardly think so. She could not help having men admire her, but I am sure she was beyond all suspicion herself.”
“You don’t mention the servants.”
“I don’t know the servants, save for the Chinese butler and Mr. McCleod’s valet,” Brand told him.
“They are not likely suspects, no, no, not likely.”
Raynor looked blankly at him and then said:
“You were not in love with her yourself, Mr. Herrick?”
“Captain Raynor, at the risk of sounding brutal, I assure you that I had no affection for and only a slight interest in Mrs. McCleod. I am not what is called a society man, I am deeply interested in my work, and parties are only my occasional relaxation, not a frequent indulgence.”
“Will you tell me what you and Mrs. McCleod talked about when you saw her for the last time in the coat room?”
“I remember only that she invited me to stay longer, which of course, was the inevitable thing for a hostess to do. And I explained that it was late, and that I ought to be going.”
“You had no more personal chat than that?”
“No, we were there but a few moments. I had no reason or wish to continue the interview, nor, I am sure, did she.”
“You are losing your temper, Mr. Herrick.”
“I am not and you know I am not. Why are you acting as if you suspected me of this crime, when you are doing nothing of the sort?”
“You mean I am not suspecting you?”
“I mean exactly that. Why are you pretending that you do suspect me?”
Raynor smiled, but he said only, “Why do you think?”
It was while Herrick was still with Raynor, that Foo Chow came to the door of the breakfast room and announced, “Mr. Bliss.” Those who looked up were almost startled to see the newcomer. Bliss was tall and large and gave the impression of great strength and trained muscles. He had what is sometimes called a commanding presence, and while his quick moving black eyes seemed to take in the people he saw as a whole, he was oblivious of individuals.
“Mr. Herrick is not here?” he said to the butler, but it was Markell who answered.
“How are you, Bliss?” he said, cordially. “I’m Markell, remember?”
“Oh, yes,” and a smile replaced the inquisitive frown. “Where’s Brand?”
“He’s being interrogated by the Detective Bureau. And I hope they will finish him off soon, we’re all waiting.”
“I’ll find him,” and Bliss turned to go.
“They won’t let you in,” Haynes volunteered. “It’s a secret session.”
“Then I’ll go right in,” and Bliss nodded to Foo Chow, who made a comprehending bow and ushered him out.
“Take me to the room where Mr. Herrick is,” was the order and Foo Chow led the way.
At the closed door he paused, and looked at Bliss.
“All right,” was the response, and turning the knob the determined man opened the door and walked in.
“Hello, Clarence,” Brand said. “Captain Raynor, this is my partner, Mr. Bliss.”
“Good morning,” said Raynor, cordially, for Bliss’ manner was disarming. “I’m afraid I can’t ask you to sit down, this is a private interview.”
“That’s all right. I thought maybe I could help. If not, I’ll just ask for a minute’s talk with Herrick, and I’ll leave.”
“How about it, Captain Raynor?”
“I don’t know, Mr. Herrick; I may have to detain you for a time.”
“All right,” Bliss declared, “just tell me, Brand, where you put the leases that belong to the Harmer case.”
“They’re in the filing cabinet D. And see to it, will you, that the Connolly papers are returned today.”
“Yes, I’ll look after everything. As well as I can. I’m like a ship without a rudder when you’re not there. Let him out as soon as you can, won’t you, Captain?”
“It’s a serious case, Mr. Bliss.”
“Indeed, yes. How is Mr. McCleod taking it?”
“He’s a man of strong character. His father is very ill, too, it’s hard on him.”
“Yes. What are you holding Herrick for? Just routine questioning?”
“So far, yes. But I’m hoping he can give me some sidelights or opinions that will help. It’s a curious case, and a sad one.”
“Yes. I wonder if you’re frank with me. I can’t help an impression that you’re hoping to prove Brand the criminal.”
“I can’t discuss that with you, Mr. Bliss. And I shall have to ask you to go now.”
“I’m going. Don’t fret and fume about the office, Brand; Miss Ripley and I can run it.”
“I know you can. But better postpone that Creswell matter. I have to see to that.”
“Yes, I suppose so. Turn him loose as soon as you can, Captain Raynor,” and, his black eyes looking somber, Bliss left the room.
“Big man, your partner,” said Raynor, as Herrick seemed lost in thought.
“Yes, he is; mentally, morally and physically. Too bad I have to be away from the office just now.”
“Any other time would be just as bad, maybe.”
“Yes, it’s likely. We’re a young firm, but we’re making good. I suppose I can get out of this by afternoon?”
“I’ll do my best. I have to talk with one or two others before I can do anything definite. You may go, Mr. Herrick, but don’t leave this house, until I say so.”
Raynor had already taken up some notes to look over, and Herrick went out with a feeling of depression, all the more troublesome because he felt he hadn’t carried off the interview with the detective quite as he had meant to. He hadn’t told the truth about the time he had last seen Alma alive and he felt sure Raynor suspected that.
Though not in the habit of drinking in the morning, he went to the bar and fixed himself a pick-me-up.
Martin Delevan was there, and had a disgruntled look on his thin sensitive face.
“Hard going?” he said to Brand.
“Unsatisfactory. You’ll get tired waiting.”
“I’m that already. Van Haynes has gone in now. You should have seen him when your man Bliss came in!”
“Why? They don’t even know one another.”
“No, but Haynes was guying the name Clarence Bliss. Then when Bliss came and turned out to be a Bombastes Furioso, Haynes wilted.”
“Oh, Clarence isn’t as fierce as all that.”
“He isn’t fierce at all, but he’s not what a Clarence Bliss ought to be. What did Raynor say to you?”
“Oh, he just talked. I think he feels pretty sure I killed Alma.”
“No, did you?”
“No. But I suppose we’d both say we didn’t even if we both killed her.”
“Opportunity creates the sinner, so some bigwig said. Maybe one of us was making up to Alma and she threatened to scream, and he grabbed up a pillow to stifle her voice, and—and he overdid it.”
“Bravo, Brand! I didn’t know you had so much detective ability. That could be the explanation.”
“No, I don’t think it could be. And I haven’t detective instinct, not in the sense of deduction and that sort of thing. Are you clever that way?”
“Oh, no. I’m too imaginative. I try to think out anything and I go off on a tangent. That’s why I don’t like detective stories. I keep thinking out the solution, and it’s never the right one, though often a better one.”
“Well, try to think out this one. There’s a solution somewhere, you, know. Here’s Mr. Markell. Have you seen Mr. McCleod, sir?”
“Yes, I have, Brand. Poor man, between his wife’s death and his father’s illness, he’s in sad trouble. He wants to drop the investigation, he can’t bear to think about it. I don’t believe he would really give up all effort to find Alma’s murderer, but I think he would like to put it off for a time. But that’s just what can’t be done. The police are quick workers. They may not always get their results immediately, but they have to strike while the irons are hot. Who’s Raynor got in the inquisition room now?”
“Haynes,” Delevan said, “unless he’s finished.”
But Haynes was not finished.
He and Raynor were in a serious discussion of the young men of Alma’s immediate circle of friends.
Raynor was not often inclined to ask advice of his suspects but when one was so full of gossipy information as Haynes the detective took advantage of the opportunity.
“You see,” Van was saying, “Alma was a born coquette and girls of today carry coquetry farther than they used to. Or so I’m told.”
“I am not interested in your love affairs, Mr. Haynes, except as they have to do with Mrs. McCleod. You were a friend of hers?”
“Very much so. She often told me I was her favorite.”
“She may have told others that, too.”
“Beyond all doubt. The young people of today, Captain Raynor, are a sad lot.”
“Do you class married ladies with young people?”
“I think they do their own classifying. Now, don’t misunderstand me. When I speak of Mrs. McCleod as a coquette, I don’t mean anything serious, only a harmless flirtation.”
“In the case of married ladies, perhaps their husbands have their own ideas as to these harmless flirtations.”
“Yes, they do. Now, where is all this getting us?”
“To this, if you please. Tell me the exact circumstances of your last time of seeing Mrs. McCleod alive.”
“Certainly. It was in the guest room, which, last night was used as a men’s coat room. We just happened to meet there, and as no one else was present, we had a little harmless flirtation.”
“You kissed her?”
“With her entire assent.”
“When you had this interview with Mrs. McCleod in the coat room, it must have been not so very long before she was murdered.”
“Now that I can’t tell you about. Some men always know the time, at least in a general way. But I don’t; I never know what time it is, and when I find out, it is always much later than I thought, or, much earlier, as the case may be. I don’t carry a watch.”
“You’re not a business man, then?”
“No, sir. I’m not.”
“Tell me this, if you please. When you saw Mrs. McCleod that last time, do you remember what jewelry she was wearing?”
“Why, no, not definitely. Alma always wore lovely things, but never conspicuous ones.”
“She had on several bangles, I believe?”
“I think likely. She often wore some four or five at a time. You’d think they’d be uncomfortable.”
“She didn’t mention them in any way?”
“Speak of them? Oh, no. Why should she?”
“She may have had a new one, and wanted to show it to you.”
“Well, she didn’t! She was not given to boasting of her wealth.”
“Why are you so emphatic about it? It is not strange for ladies to exhibit a new trinket.”
“It would be for Alma. I am not emphatic, but I am wondering if there is some special interest for you in that problematic bracelet. Why do you harp on it?”
“You’re doing the harping. How did you leave Mrs. McCleod? I mean why.”
“Why don’t you say what you mean? I left her because we both heard someone coming in. I had closed the door, and somebody rattled the latch.”
“Who was it?”
“I’ve no idea. Alma whispered, ‘Go out the other door,’ so I did.”
“The two doors are opposite one another?”
“Yes, and as I went out one of them I heard someone come in at the other. I don’t know who it was, but maybe Alma took it to be her husband. She may have known his step. We’ll never know now.”
“And you never saw her again—alive?”
“No, I never did. Now, that’s all I can tell you, and I’ll be glad to get away.”
“I can always reach you at your home?”
“If I’m there, and I frequently am. Here’s my card.”
“One moment, please. Will you tell me if you have any well-founded suspicions of anyone?”
“I have no suspicions, well-founded or not, and if I had I wouldn’t tell them!”
Haynes went off and Raynor asked for Martin Delevan, who came in looking interested.
“Here I am,” he said almost jovially. “I’m sorry for you, though; you have a grave responsibility. Or don’t you take it that way?”
“I do, Mr. Delevan, I take it very seriously, and it is a responsibility. Can you help me a little?’
“ ‘Fraid not. I am really an outsider, though I know the crowd fairly well. But these silly dances make me almost ill.”
“Yet you attend them.”
“I usually have a reason of my own, unconnected with the party.”
“Do you mind telling me what it was?”
“No, but it will seem trifling. I came solely because I wanted to find out if I cared for Mrs. McCleod enough to come again.”
“Yes, it does seem trifling. Did you find out?”
“I am sorry to say anything except praise of the dead, but I discovered that the lady was not one I’d care to cultivate.”
“You are exacting as to your acquaintances?”
“Yes, I am, but I do not care to pursue the subject.”
“Nor I. Mr. Delevan, did you notice Mrs. McCleod’s jewelry that she was wearing.”
The witness looked astonished. But he answered readily:
“Not especially, except her bangles. She wore several on one arm, and I noticed one of them. It was an antique, and it was a mistake to wear it with the modern ones.”
“Was it a valuable piece?”
“As an antique, it was worth two or three hundred dollars. Her diamonds and emeralds were worth much more. But it was a rare specimen, and I admired it.”
“Did you tell her so?”
“Yes, she seemed pleased that I liked it.”
“Even though you didn’t like her.”
“I have not said I did not like her. She was a charming lady and very beautiful. But she was exceedingly ignorant. This was not really against her, but it set her apart from the kind of people I care to know.”
There was more conversation, but it led nowhere, and Raynor dismissed the artistic gentleman, feeling sure he had no knowledge of importance.
Raynor was a conscientious worker.
In order to straighten out his facts and test his opinions he asked for a tray of luncheon to be brought to him and so save the time and trouble of going to the dining room.
Poo Chow superintended this himself, with the disastrous result that the detective took more food and time than he ought to have done.
And as he finished, Colby came to him, bringing the report of the autopsy findings.
“Smothered,” the sergeant said, abruptly. “Just plain smothered. No heart trouble to speak of, no trace of any sort or kind of poison—not even of those that ‘leave no trace.’ Nothing wrong with any of the organs, no paralysant, just plain smothered, that’s all.”
“Meaning an attacker of a desperate kind, or somebody in a furious rage.”
“Well, maybe, but do you know, Cap, I sort of favor a woman killer.”
“Don’t be silly. A woman couldn’t be strong enough and determined enough to put it over. You know the victim must have put up a fight as long as she could. Oh, well, it isn’t a woman’s style. They almost invariably give poison.”
“All right, all right. Well now, who smothered her?”
“I don’t know, Colby. I’m not one of those intellects who find a cigarette stub, and tell the murderer’s real name. I just have to grope. But I’m going to shake the truth out of this bunch of suspects, or—or not.”
Raynor’s voice ceased on a note of despair. He had already realized the difficulties of quizzing a set of half-witted dandies. They knew little and what they did know they wouldn’t tell. And what they told wasn’t always true. A bad lookout.
“I reason from facts as I see them,” Raynor spoke musingly. “But I can’t get the facts. The murder happened in a room about as mysterious as the old time castles with priest holes and secret passages—”
“There’s nothing like that in this apartment.”
“Might as well be, as to have that room, with half a dozen doors, opening into corridors and things—”
“Look at it this way. That room is a sort of thoroughfare, from one side of this big place to the other. I’ve studied it out; it isn’t a complicated plan, architecturally, but there are too many doors. You see, if you come in from the—”
“Yes, I know, I know. I’ve got past that. Here’s where I stand. The lady was in the room, and some man came in; and then that man went out and another man came. And then he went out and another man came. And then—just like sheep going over a fence. But—but, in what order did those men appear? The Murray person was one, and Mr. McCleod was one. And Herrick and Haynes, either or both, and possibly, but I think not, Delevan. Then, of course, there were Dickson and Linda and Netta, in and out, and perhaps some of the visiting ladies. Of all those I’ve mentioned, one was, obviously, the murderer. And, presumably, the last one out. You don’t think it possible, that someone came into the room, saw the lady dead, and went out again, and told nobody!”
“That wouldn’t be possible for a woman, but quite a likely dodge for a man who feared he might be suspected.”
“Possible, but unlikely. It would have to be a man with a very guilty conscience.”
“There are such men.”
“Yes. Where does the third door go to?”
“What third door?”
“In the men’s coat room.”
“One opens into the north hall, one into the south hall, and the other into a bathroom; it’s a guest room, you know. The two halls, they’re really corridors, curve around to the gallery that looks down on the rotunda.”
“I wish I had your photographic vision. Then one could go into the room by the north hall door and out by the south hall door, and not be noticed.”
“I don’t think anybody noticed anybody else much at the party. They were not playing detectives.”
“No. But the men that went through the room made a procession of possible suspects, don’t you see?”
“Yes, I see, but I don’t know who the men were.”
“I do.” Raynor looked very serious. “I do, but I don’t know in what order they went. There’s the trouble.”
“Don’t you know any of them?”
“Not for certain. Herrick said Alma asked him to leave, because someone was at the door. Now if that was Haynes, it lets Herrick out; but was it?”
“Didn’t Herrick know?”
“No. He said it might have been McCleod, but I’m sure he said that because he thought Alma wouldn’t care who came in, except her husband.”
“Yes, I see all that, but it doesn’t help any.”
“Not a bit. I’ll do up the Chink and the imperturbable Dickson, and call it a day.”
Foo Chow came in, with his usual calm demeanor.
“You like talk to me?” he asked, politely, but with an uninterested manner.
“Yes, be seated, please.”
The butler sat down, and Raynor studied him for a moment.
A small man, with black hair, one bit of which fell in his eyes now and then and he impatiently pushed it back. His eyes were small and black and very bright.
“You read and write English?” Raynor asked him, noting his intelligent face.
“Oh, yes, I have been to night school much.”
“You are a good butler?”
“The best ever.”
This was said quite impersonally, and remembering his luncheon tray, Raynor believed it.
“You like the people you work for?”
“Yes. Mr. McCleod fine man, Mis’ McCleod is flowers to see.”
“That is a phrase you picked up?”
“It is line of poetry. Chinese good poets.”
“Yes. Now, Foo Chow, what do you know about Mrs. McCleod’s sad death?”
“Not any one thing.”
“But you have heard a lot. You have waited on the guests last night and all day today. You must have heard a great deal.”
“Good butler heard no word. Good servant say nothing.”
“Well, suppose someone said to you, ‘I know who killed the lady.’
What would you say? Wouldn’t you say, ‘Who?’”
“I say, ‘Go hell, please,’ and no more.”
“You wouldn’t listen to him?”
“Most very surely not!”
“But he might tell you the truth, and then you could tell me.”
“It is not a chance to be the truth, what he tell me.”
“No, probably not. But Dickson, now. Dickson might know.”
“You bonehead! You know he might. Has he told you nothing?”
“Nothing. I would not allow.”
“Look here, my man, you are laying up trouble for yourself. Don’t you know that by holding back like this you may be arrested and made to talk?”
“When one know nothing, all talk empty sound.”
“You exasperate me!”
“New word! You tell me it means, please?”
Foo Chow beamed like a child and he awaited Raynor’s reply. “If I tell you what it means, will you tell me something about what I’ve been asking you?”
“Well, then, exasperate means to annoy, to offend, to make almost angry. Now then, what will you tell me?”
“Bad to bargain!” Foo Chow shook his head, and twisted back the refractory lock of hair. “But I promise. I tell you maybe who killed lovely lady?”
“Yes, you might tell me that.” Raynor’s hopes were dashed. The Chinaman was just a fool.
“Well, then I tell you it was the deep, the wise Linda.”
“Linda? No, no, Foo Chow, you’re off your head!”
“Another new! Off of my head? My head is on me! Tell me?”
“Oh, go along. That’s just a phrase; off your head means you are not using your brains, if any!”
“Yes, I have brains, plenty. But it has to be Linda. She, you see, would marry with Dickson, They are betrothed. They want to live rich. Now, with Mrs. McCleod dead, Linda will get an enormous sum of money, and she and her Dickson will live happy ever after.”
“Oh, nonsense! It wasn’t Linda.”
“But Dickson, he think it Linda.”
“No, he doesn’t, he can’t.”
“You ask him, Mr. Polisman! You ask him! He will not say ‘Yes, my Linda, she is murderer!’ but you will know. His eyes will droop, his lips will shudder, he will melt away. You will know then.”
“Go away, Foo Chow, you’ve said enough. Don’t you dare say this to anyone else! Understand?”
He thought over what he had heard and sent for Dickson.
“You busy, Dickson?” he asked, when the valet came in.
“I am at your service, Captain Raynor.”
“Very well. Sit there and tell me anything you may know about this tragedy that has come to Mr. McCleod.”
“I don’t know anything, sir, that you don’t know yourself.”
“Well, you ought to. You were here in the house when it happened. I didn’t arrive until some time after that. Then we’ll put it this way? Have you any, idea who killed the lady?”
“I wouldn’t want to put a mere idea into words, sir. I might be doing someone a deep injustice.”
“Let me help you. Do you, perhaps, suspect somebody, and you hate to say so because you may be wrong?”
“Yes, Captain Raynor, that’s it exactly.”
“You are afraid of incriminating somebody you care for?”
“Not care for, in the sense of affection, but somebody I respect.” This was an odd way to speak of the woman he was engaged to, and Raynor wondered if Foo Chow was off his head after all.
“You mean one of the gentlemen who was at the party?”
“Well, Dickson, having said as much as you have, you will have to tell me the man’s name.”
“Very well, sir. Then I will tell you it was Mr. Ogden Murray.”
“And what makes you think there is any reason to suspect him of wrong-doing?”
“He was trying to get money from Mrs. McCleod, sir, under false pretenses.”
“That’s a strong word. But he was trying to persuade her to buy some shares in an oil well, which I know to be a worthless proposition.”
“Are you a speculator yourself, Dickson?”
“No, sir. But this is a well known fraud—I mean, well known among some people I know who were fooled by it.”
“And Mrs. McCleod was interested?”
“Yes, sir. Mr. Murray told her about it, and she had promised to buy a lot of shares.”
“How do you know all this?”
“Because Linda is the lady’s maid, and I am engaged to Linda. But I hope, sir, Linda’s name needn’t be brought into it.”
“No, Dickson, there’s no reason why it should. This is an important matter you’re telling me about.”
Raynor did not think it advisable to tell Dickson that he had already heard all this from Linda herself, and he felt sure that Foo Chow’s suspicion of Linda as a murderess was a flight of imagination brought about by the Chinaman’s knowledge that Mrs. McCleod’s death would give Linda a big legacy, on which marital happiness might be founded.
But, as he thought it over, he wondered if Foo Chow’s suspicion of Linda was any more absurd than Dickson’s hints about Murray.
Granting the fact of Murray’s trying to get money from Alma for a fraudulent purpose would be no real reason for Murray’s killing her.
Even supposing Alma had thought it over and had told Murray she would not give him the money, supposing they had been up there in the coat room, and he had become very angry at her, he would scarcely dare murder her then and there, with a house full of people running about the rooms at will.
And to kill her would cut off all possible chance of further investments on her part. He said:
“It doesn’t seem to me, Dickson, that Murray would have a motive for killing Mrs. McCleod. Unless he had already swindled her badly, and was afraid she would expose Him.”
“Yes sir, that is true. But I suppose you will find out who it was that killed her.”
“Yes, Dickson, we will positively find out.”
Raynor looked at the man sharply, but saw no shadow of fear in his eyes.
It was the day after Alma’s funeral, and Captain Raynor went to see the bereaved husband.
Hugh received his caller in a small reception room.
The detective was shocked at the appearance of the man. He looked several years older, and he seemed to have lost his dignity and pride.
Raynor was not surprised; often he had known people who carried on through a tragedy, with a dogged determination, only to collapse afterward.
“May I inquire after your father?” he said, gently, and Hugh tried to command his wandering thoughts.
“He is no worse,” he replied; “that’s all that can be said. You know, it isn’t a question of recovery, it’s only the uncertainty whether each attack is not the last.”
“Now, Mr. McCleod, I will bother you as little as may be. You have no further information or hint of any way to look?”
“No, I’ve learned nothing.”
“Have you seen your lawyers yet?”
“No, but I’m expecting Mr. Chadwick this afternoon. He’ll be here now, any minute. Can you ask him what you want to know?”
“Why, yes. Have you learned if Mrs. McCleod left a will?”
“Yes, I think she did. But I have no idea of its contents.”
“Will your lawyer know?”
“Oh, yes. Chadwick, the senior member of the firm, is my lawyer; Wade’s, the junior, was Alma’s adviser. But Chadwick can tell you all.”
“Mrs. McCleod had her own fortune, then?”
“That’s not quite the way to put it. She liked drawing her own checks, so I let her have a bank account, and when it ran low, I added to it. But it never amounted to much. I paid all her bills. How does it interest you?”
“We are looking into matters pretty thoroughly. The Department has done a lot of investigating in the last few days. And we found one more small article, which may or may not be a clue. Will you look at it?”
Raynor took from his pocket and offered to Hugh a small coin.
As he took it, Hugh’s sad face relaxed into a tender smile.
“Where did you find this?” he asked.
“It was found on the couch, after Mrs. McCleod was taken away. It was hers, then?”
Raynor seemed a little disappointed, as Hugh went on.
“Yes, it was one of her dearly loved possessions, as it had been one of mine. It is an old Scotch coin, a plack. It is of almost no value, being worth exactly the same as a farthing. But my father gave it to me when I was a small child, and as it was the first money I ever owned, I never spent it, but saved it. I called it my lucky piece, and I invariably carried it with me, until—” Hugh’s eyes took on a faraway look, “until I married, and when I showed it to Alma, and told her its history, nothing would do but I must give it to her. I didn’t mind, of course, and she vowed she would carry it with her always. She did, to my certain knowledge. When in evening dress, she carried it in a little gold mesh bag, in which she carried her handkerchief. Tell me, did you find the little gold bag? This must have fallen out of it?”
“Yes, the bag was there, too. As you say, this had no doubt fallen out on the couch.”
“May I have it? I have had that coin ever since I was five years old.”
“You may have it, of course. But just now, I must keep it.”
“Is it a clue? I haven’t heard much about clues. I thought they were of utmost importance in an investigation.”
“Yes, they are, if they are real clues that point to the criminal. But this—plack, do you call it? is of no use that way.”
“Have you any clues that are of importance? I want you to find the man who did this thing.”
McCleod did not speak angrily, but with an air of determination. “Oh, we’ll get him,” Raynor promised. “He cannot get away from us.”—
“Why can’t he? How are you going to find him?”
“Mr. McCleod, do you think it was one of the young men belonging to what your wife called her crowd?”
“I don’t see how I can think anything else. The older people who were here were all my friends, not one of them would have the least reason or wish to kill my wife!”
“No, of course not. But there is a chance of some stranger having come into the house, secretly, and hidden himself somewhere in your apartment.”
“No. This house is too well managed for anything of that sort to happen. There is always a detective on guard—”
“I cannot think it likely, but it is possible that your wife had acquaintances that you do not know about. This may seem incredible to you, but I am an experienced detective and I know what I am talking about. Have you never thought or imagined that there might be some secret—”
The astute detective took this speech at its opposite intent, and concluded he had hit on the truth. He had heard the vaguest hints, on which he had built some surmises, that led to a belief of some dark chapter in Alma’s past, that Hugh knew about, but was unwilling to recognize.
He dropped the subject instantly, and looking at his notebook, he said:
“I should like to meet your sister, Miss McCleod. I shall not bother her in any way, but as a member of your family I want to make her acquaintance. May I go to her apartment?”
Hugh hesitated, then he said:
“Not that, I think. My father is very ill, you know. But if you want to speak to Emily, she will come down here and I will take her place at my father’s bedside.”
“Very well, Mr. McCleod, please do so. It will be but a short interview, and then you will be expecting your lawyer.”
“Yes, yes. I will ask Emmy to come down here.”
Raynor, a little surprised that he had accomplished his wish so easily, was deep in thought when he heard a loud voice say, “Good morning, Captain Raynor. I understand you want to talk to me.”
He sprang to his feet, and faced a tall and large woman, whom he mentally classed as a grenadier.
“Miss McCleod?” he said. “I am glad to see you. May I be allowed to express my sympathy in your sorrow?”
Emmy McCleod’s face would have been a handsome one, but for the expression it now wore. She looked coldly scornful, and said, in a hard voice:
“Save your sympathy for my brother. I do not need it. My brother’s wife meant little to me.”
“But you surely are grieved at her death!”
“No, except in so far as I grieve for my brother. But he will be far better off without her. He does not realize this now, of course, but he will—he must. What do you want to see me about?”
“I wanted to know you. I felt sure a sister of Hugh McCleod would be worth knowing.”
“I don’t care for compliments,” she retorted, but her voice was a little softer, and she sat down in the chair he held for her, with a hint of a smile in her rather prominent brown eyes. “Now, tell me plainly, Captain Raynor, are you going to find the brute who killed Hugh’s wife?”
“I sincerely hope so, Miss McCleod. And I’m wondering if you could tell me a little about her past. Did you know her before her marriage to your brother?”
“No, nor I haven’t known her since. We never were friends, nor pretended to be. She married Hugh for his money, and as I saw through her, she had no use for me.
“You probably know all there is to know about them—except one thing. Did Hugh tell you, since he seems to have been confidential, of the blackmail he is paying because of her early indiscretions?”
Raynor paused for the simple reason that he could think of nothing just right to say, and at that moment, McCleod returned.
“Chadwick is here,” he said. “Emmy, do go back to Father; he is asking for you.” He looked at his sister curiously, as if surprised to see her smiling amiably.
“Good-by, Captain Raynor,” she said, “I hope to see you again, some time.”
“Mister Chadwick,” Foo Chow announced, in his sing-song way, and the lawyer came in.
After a few commonplaces, Raynor began to ask questions. He learned that although his partner had been more personally in touch with Mrs. McCleod than he had, yet Chadwick knew all about the will and all the circumstances, and as head of the firm, he would give them any information he possessed.
The will, after all, was of slight importance. Alma had left Linda ten thousand dollars, which, while it seemed enormous to the other two, did not seem too generous to Hugh.
“It was my wife’s own money,” he said. “She had a right to do as she chose with it. Alma depended on Linda for more than an ordinary maid’s services.”
The other items were trifling. A few keepsakes to friends, some living far away, and a few small charitable bequests. The residuary estate was left to Hugh, with instructions to give Emmy such pieces of jewelry as he saw fit.
Raynor was disappointed that the will gave him no new points, and he asked Chadwick if he looked after Mrs. McCleod’s investments.
“I never knew she had any,” the lawyer returned, “but it may be Wade knew of some. I doubt they were of importance.”
“I think it would be wise, Mr. Chadwick,” Raynor went on, “if you would ask Mr. Ogden Murray about some shares or stocks of an oil well in which he is interested.”
“That matter is being looked into,” Chadwick answered, “but unless Mrs. McCleod had really bought the shares, it does not affect your investigation. I think she had not done so, as there is no record of the transaction.”
“I think she had not bought them, too,” Raynor agreed with the lawyer, “as I’ve been told that she planned to do so the afternoon after her death.”
“Now who told you that?” Hugh asked, looking startled “Linda told me. She knew Mrs. McCleod had a date with Murray for luncheon that day.”
“I don’t believe it!” Hugh exclaimed, but Raynor said:
“I expect to see Mr. Murray this afternoon, and I’ll find out the truth of the story. Put it out of your mind, Mr. McCleod. Now, I must ask a direct question. Was there any episode in the life of Mrs. McCleod, before you married her, that made any trouble afterward? Serious trouble, I mean.”
Hugh McCleod gave a deep sigh, and then he turned to Chadwick, saying:—
“You tell him, will you?”
“Yes,” was the short reply. “Captain Raynor, in my opinion Mr. McCleod makes too much of an incident that, while unpleasant, is now past and forgotten. It has to do with Mrs. McCleod’s early life, when she was a very young girl. She was, because of her innocence, inveigled into a mock marriage. Details are not necessary. Mrs. McCleod’s father took up the matter, and the whole thing was hushed up. Some time later, the man came to Mr. McCleod, and bargained with him. I was consulted, and we arranged that Mr. McCleod should pay him a certain sum at certain dates, on condition of his silence. It is in a way blackmail, but we prefer it to having the man arrested and imprisoned, which would cause unpleasant publicity. Mrs. McCleod never knew of this, and so far as we know the man has kept his promise of secrecy. I should be obliged if you would tell me how you learned of it.”
“I will tell you,” Raynor said, “because I think it will be best for all concerned that I should do so. The matter was mentioned to me by Miss Emily McCleod, and after what you have told me, I think we need not refer to it again. I must, of course, learn this man’s whereabouts on the night of the tragedy. But what will be done will be done with the utmost discretion, and I have no idea that he could be responsible for the crime. As you must see clearly, he cannot now continue his claims, and what arrangement you choose to make with him is outside my jurisdiction. He threatened only publicity, I take it.”
“Yes,” Hugh said, “he declared he would stain my wife’s name by a recital of her past, in which, as I know, she was far more sinned against than sinning. If he makes any further trouble, we may ask your help. Otherwise, I trust you will forget it.”
“I am glad you have cleared it up,” Raynor told him. “Now, I do not hesitate to say, I believe the murderer to have been one of those three or four young men, who were in what they called Mrs. McCleod’s crowd. There is no other solution left to consider. But it is so indefinite. I consider the only ones we can name are young Haynes, Brand Herrick, Ogden Murray, and that Martin Delevan. You seem surprised at his name, but he is a strange being, and I always suspect a vague, uncertain personality.
“To my mind, it all hinges on the order in which those men went through the coat room. The young fellows have no idea of time, but it seems evident that all of those we’ve just mentioned were in and out of that room. And Mrs. McCleod must have been there most of the time. Whoever went through last is the one we want to consider.”
“I suppose I was the first,” Hugh said, thoughtfully. “I was on my way up to Father’s place. As I left the room, I heard someone coming in at the other door, but I’ve no idea who it was.”
“Then that’s no help,” and Raynor sighed.
You see my point,” Raynor explained himself to McCleod. “We know about what time Mrs. McCleod was in that room. We know that about the same time Haynes, Herrick, Murray and Delevan were also in the room, but we don’t know in what order they entered or left, or whether some of them were there at the same time. It is all vague and must be cleared up. Colby is seeing the men, and may find out something, but no one seems to have an idea of the time.”
“That’s not surprising, Captain Raynor. Most people have no idea of the time when they are merely amusing themselves. I don’t see how you can ever settle that question.”
“It must be settled, or we’ll never find the criminal. I believe it was one of those four men, because the circumstances point to it so definitely. The four were in the room at or near the time we are talking about—”
“What time was it?” asked Hugh.
“Between three and four, but probably about half past three. You were then up with your father?”
“Yes, Emmy will tell you that.”
“She has. Well, it was soon after that the other men came. Perhaps for their coats, perhaps to chat with Mrs. McCleod. Perhaps they saw one another there, perhaps not. They remember only in a vague way who was there and who wasn’t. But it was Mrs. McCleod’s presence that held them, we may be sure.”
“Yes, I know,” and Hugh sighed. “My wife was very charming, and the young men adored her. I never was jealous, because I loved and trusted Alma, and she wanted and needed young society. I was with her just before I went up to Father’s place, and she told me she wished the people would all go home so we could be alone. My wife loved me.”
“Yes, I’m sure of it. I wish you’d tell me more of her mock marriage.”
“Oh, that. Well, as Chadwick says, I think I let it bother me too much. You see, it amounted to nothing. There was a mischievous crowd, and they pretended that one of them was a minister and he pretended to marry Alma to this man. They drank a toast to the pair, but that was all. Alma’s maid was there, and she took Alma home, and the whole thing never would have been known except that when Alma married me the man thought he had a good chance and he tried to blackmail me. I sent him to Chadwick, and he fixed it up by advising me to pay the man a regular sum for his silence. It worked all right, he never asked me for more than the original agreement, and I hardly think he would come here and kill Alma, even if he could have done so. He had no motive, you see.”
“Who is the man?”
“His name is Philip Seymour, a quiet, well-mannered chap. I keep in touch with his movements, and I assure you it is ridiculous to think he could have come into this house.”
“I must see him anyway. You’ll give me his address?”
“Of course. And I suppose I’d better keep on paying him. Yes, you see him, and then tell me what you think. I think you’ll agree that he is not a suspect.”
“We must get the murderer! I shall do some more questioning—why are people so annoyed at being questioned? If they are innocent they ought to be glad to tell anything they could to help me.”
“Are you getting anything from fingerprints?”
“Not much. You see the surroundings make it hopeless. She was lying back in a nest of pillows, mostly of lace and embroidery, which is the most hopeless surface for prints. We’ve no prints yet that tell us anything, but we may get some. You see, the pillow that was pressed on her face was held down by strong hands, but the lace work took no register, of course.”
“Yet you say you expect to get some indicative ones yet?”
“The fingerprint men told me so, but of course it’s not certain.”
“Is it true that Alma bit at the pillow—”
“Yes, that is confirmed by a test of the lipstick and of the blood that came from her bitten lip. I wouldn’t speak of these details, but you asked me.”
“Yes, I want to know all the evidence. It may help me to find out something myself.”
“Then I will tell you anything I may learn. Now, I want to see your sister again for a moment. I want to finish something I was telling her. She is a remarkable woman. I think I am a bit afraid of her.”
“I know. I’ve always been afraid of Emmy. I’ll send her to you.” Hugh left the room and the detective awaited the reappearance of the formidable Scotch woman.
“Good morning, again,” he said, as she came in.
“Good morning, sir. You want to see me?”
“Yes, I’m just hoping that you are able to tell me about what time your brother came up to your apartment, shortly before the attack on Mrs. McCleod.”
“Like everybody else, I know the time exactly, if I have an engagement or an appointment. But when the hours just go by one after another, I doubt I can tell you exactly what you ask.”
“As nearly as possible, then. Can’t you tell me the times you had to give medicine to your patient, or something of that sort.”
“Why, perhaps I can. Yes, I gave my father his drops at three o’clock, and Hugh came up right after that. It must have been about five or ten minutes after three. Will that help you?”
“Very much—if you are sure.”
“Why, yes, I’m sure. Tell me, have you found any more clues?”
“More? We scarcely have any.”
“Well, well, how will you find out anything? And, look here, I am afraid I did my sister-in-law an injustice. I told you my brother never gave her that little old coin. I believed she stole it from him. But Hugh tells me he did give it to her, so I tell you about it now.”
“Do you know which of the young men she liked best?”
“Oh, Mr. Herrick, I think; and I’ll tell you why. Just because she couldn’t bring him to her feet! He admired her, of course, but it was in a respectful, courteous way.”
“She must have liked that.”
“Not she! She wanted him to make love to her, as the others did or tried to. Oh, you may think Sister Emmy doesn’t see things, but Sister Emmy is nobody’s fool!”
“I can well believe that, Miss McCleod. Now who do you think gave her that new bracelet she was wearing? Would it be Mr. Herrick?”
“Oh, no. He is not a rich man, and that is a really beautiful bangle. And too, Mr. Herrick has his own ideas of what is proper. I don’t believe he would give jewels to any man’s wife. Hugh gave me that bracelet. I am very glad to have it.”
“A lovely memento of Mrs. McCleod.”
“No, a memento of my brother. He is very good to me.”
“Will he stay in his present home?”
“I haven’t decided that yet. I think Father and I will go down and live with him.”
“He ought to be pleased with that arrangement.”
“Well, he isn’t! Very far from it. But he’ll have to do it. He can’t live alone, and there isn’t room for him to come up here and live with us.”—
“No, I can see that. Perhaps Mr. McCleod will make his own plans.”
“He can’t do that. I have to decide what is best for him.”
“Was Mr. McCleod up here a long time that night before Dickson came for him?”
“Oh, yes, nearly an hour I’d say. Father was very ill, you know.”
“After he’s gone, you and your brother will be all alone.”
“Yes. I doubt we’ll stay here. I suppose we must stay till October anyway.”
“On account of your lease. Miss McCleod, do you know any of these young men who made up your sister’s crowd?”
“My sister-in-law, please. Why, yes, I have met them all. I always insist on knowing all the people that come to the house. Which ones do you mean?”
“Do you know Martin Delevan?”
“He’s the bad one. I think that man is the only really bad man I have ever met.”
“You must know him well to judge him so thoroughly!”
“I do not know him well, I judge from his face. I am a reader of physiognomy: I know a bad face when I see it.”
“Do you think him capable of having killed her?”
“Capable, yes. But he had no motive. He was not in love with Alma, he rather despised her.”
“Now how do you know that?”
“I saw them together a few times. I am a seeing woman, Captain Raynor.”
“I believe you. What of the others? Are they all capable of murder? Haynes, Murray, Herrick, all of them?”
“Every human being is capable of murder, given sufficient reason and chance.”
“These young men all had the chance, but did they have a reason?”
“Passionate or violent love is motive enough for any young person.”
“Tell me whom you think most likely.”
“Not the Delevan man and not the Murray one. Though he is bad, it is in a sordid way. I believe he gets money from Alma on false promises.”
“Then Herrick and Haynes are left.”
“Yes, it was one of them. I don’t know which one.”
“Why are you so sure?”
“Elimination. And they are the ones who were most devoted to Alma.”
“I have been told that Mr. Herrick was not so devoted as the others.”
“Nadine Glenn told you that, then. She cares a lot for Brand Herrick and so does Doris Day. You must know it pleased Alma’s vanity to see how she could cut out all those girls with her superior charm.”
“You did not like her in any way?”
“I can’t say that. She made my brother very happy, and she was true to him in heart, word and deed. Alma was a coquette, but she never said a word that Hugh might not have listened to.”
“How can you know this so positively? To my mind our whole search is for her lover.”
“Then you’re on the wrong tack. Alma never had a lover. She liked the men because their flattery pleased her vanity, but in so far as she was capable of love it was all for Hugh.”
“Then, Miss McCleod, why was your sister-in-law killed?”
“She was killed by some man who was deeply in love with her, and who had no intention of such a thing, but who smothered her in a mad passion to which she could not or would not respond.” The dour face of the spinster looked sibylline. Her words had the ring of truth, and Raynor was deeply impressed with what was surely insight, if nothing more subtle.
“I think you must be right,” said Raynor, slowly. “Indeed, I think there can be no other rational conclusion. No other tenable theory. Do you suppose Mr. McCleod would agree to that?”
“I don’t advise mentioning it to him. If it is correct and you can prove it, and can find the man who did it, then it will be time enough to tell Hugh. You ought to get all your suspects together and make them tell in what order they went into that room.”
“Shall I collect the lot and bring them here for questioning?”
“Yes, do. And let me be present. I can help you and I promise I will not offend.”
“I think I’ll get them here—but I’m not sure of allowing you to be with us.”
“Of course I shall be there. Better have it in the evening. They are busy in the daytime—some of them. And I’ll make Hugh stay up with Father. He mustn’t be with us.”
“Tomorrow evening then. I’ll let you know if I can get them.”
“You must get them,” said Emmy McCleod.
Emily McCleod was enjoying herself. She had told her brother that she would look over Alma’s belongings and decide what to do with the clothing that still cluttered the boudoir and dressing room.
“You know, Hugh,” she said, “you would be perfectly helpless in this matter. I will give away the things where they will do the most good. There is practically nothing that I can use myself, and very few garments that are appropriate for Linda or Netta. The jewelry, of course, is yours. I like the bangle you gave me, but the other pieces are too elaborate for my use. You’d better sell them. You’re too old to marry again, and I hope to heaven, you won’t flirt around with loose women. I shall take care of you, and—”
“Oh, Emmy, let me alone!”—
Hugh seldom spoke sharply to his sister, but when he did, Emmy recognized the situation and accepted it.
Moreover, she took his irritation to mean that he would do as he pleased about his lady friends, and with the quick suspicion of a spinster whose ignorance made her imaginative, she visioned her brother in secret dissipations to distract his mind from his sorrow.
Hugh himself had cannily taken all the contents of Alma’s desk and any other letters or papers that either he or Linda could find, but to his great satisfaction, he found no incriminating screeds and discovered no secret interests in Alma’s life.
Hugh had loved the beautiful woman with a single-hearted devotion that was sometimes dumb before her fascinating charm.
Alma knew and understood his attitude perfectly, and though flirtations was a mild word for her affairs, she had never been moved to real love for any man, least of all her husband. Her only happiness lay in excitement, whether of an innocent sort, or something less admirable. And her natural reserve and her innate cleverness protected her from criticism.
So Hugh found few notes or other proofs of Alma’s meetings with other men, though many such had occurred.
And what Linda knew, she had no intention of telling.
Hugh had asked the maid to stay until Alma’s things had been looked after, and Linda had sense enough to manage Miss McCleod.
This resulted in what looked like enough clothing to last the girl for the rest of her natural life, besides a lot of valuable articles which the astute Linda could dispose of profitably.
Hugh, himself, could not face daily life with his sister, for though he loved her she was most trying to him. Yet he could not go away and leave her and their dying father alone.
He wanted to go and live at one of his clubs, but he dared not propose that plan to Emily.
He had insisted on knowing, so the doctor had told him that while Angus McCleod might die in his next attack, yet also he might live through several more of those trying times.
As to the inquiries still pending in regard to Alma’s murderer, Hugh had a manner that implied he didn’t care much about them. In his own mind he didn’t believe the police would ever find out any more than they knew now.
Raynor understood this and he went ahead with his plans, and, when necessary, discussing this or that with Miss Emily rather than with her brother.
Twenty-four hours sufficed the Captain for arranging what he called, to Colby, his “round-up,” and then, Hugh was informed, a session would be held in the room where the murder took place.
The two detectives would be present and the two McCleods, for Emmy insisted on her rights.
Then four men who were under suspicion would be closely questioned, and their responses, together with some facts the police had ferreted out, would, Raynor hoped, discover the murderer.
“That’s good work,” Hugh said, when Emily told him. “It’s definite, you see. Poking around couldn’t get them anywhere.”
“But they gathered up some evidence,” she said; “you’ll see.”
“Any of the servants in on this?” he asked.
“Captain Raynor said to have Dickson and Linda in readiness, and that Netta, too. I don’t like that girl.”
“She can’t know much of importance.”
“Yes, she can. She was in and out of the room all evening. And she’s a sneak anyway. But if she knew anything she would have told it before this.”
Hugh had long since found that the easiest way to answer Emmy’s insistence was to agree with her. And he hadn’t noticed the girl, Netta, if indeed he had seen her at all.
He didn’t like the idea of having the inquiry take place in the room where Alma had died, and he told Emmy so.
But she said, placably, “It will have to be so, Hugh, because Captain Raynor said so. I’m not sure, but I think he has an idea that, confronted by the scene of the crime, the murderer will confess.”
“Oh, Emmy, I don’t want to be present at a scene like that! Can’t you get me out of this?”
“Don’t be silly! Of course you must be there.”
The four men came.
Raynor told them that this was not an accusation, merely a necessary proceeding that would enable them to get a consistent account of the presence of these friends of Alma’s, at or near the time of the crime.
The room looked no different from when they had last seen it, but when Murray, Haynes, Herrick and Delevan entered it, each had a feeling not far removed from fear.
For the two policemen looked stern and almost cruel. Hugh McCleod seemed like an omnipotent judge who looked accusingly at each of them.
Miss Emily stared like an avenging sphinx, and the whole atmosphere of the once familiar room was an almost audible condemnation.
At least it seemed that way to Brand Herrick, who was sensitive to any inimical element, and the other three were not much less distraught.
Captain Raynor began to speak, and though his words were disarming, his manner was severe and voice cold.
“You gentlemen have all told me of your innocence of this crime,” he said, “and therefore you can have no objections to some probing questions. You are all friends of the late Mrs. McCleod and want to learn who is responsible for the sad fate that came to her. You may wonder why I have selected you four young men from the large number of guests at the party, and the reason is this. Outside this room the man Dickson was on duty, and the butler also was around at times. And there was a ladies’ maid in attendance. By diligent investigation, we have learned that about the time of Mrs. McCleod’s death there were several people in and out of this room, including you four and also Mr. McCleod himself. Now I desire to find out in what order you young men entered and left the room. First, were any of you here with any other person besides Mrs. McCleod? You must each speak the truth, regardless of one another. By way of beginning, if anyone was in here with any other one of you, say so now.”
No one spoke and Raynor went on.
“Then, I will begin my inquiries with Mr. McCleod. Will you tell me, sir, at what time you were in this room and talking to your wife, near to the time in question?”
“What is the time in question?” Hugh spoke clearly but in a low voice.
“It is assumed that Mrs. McCleod died between the hours of halfpast three and four o’clock in the morning.”
“Yes. I was in here and was talking with her at about three o’clock.”
“How did you happen to come in here?”
“I had just been called to go up to see my father, who had had a severe attack of his heart illness.”
“Who called you?”
“My father’s man, Dunn, came down and told me. I paused here to speak to my wife and I told her I was going up to Father’s apartment. I stayed but a moment, and went on upstairs.”
“And that, you say, was at three o’clock?”
“Yes,” Emily broke in. “When my brother came in I had just given my father his medicine, which was due at three. I am very careful about the doses. The doctor entrusts them to me. So I know it was but a few minutes after three when Hugh came upstairs.’
“Thank you, Miss McCleod. Now, gentlemen, can you tell me which of you next came into this room?’
After a moment’s pause, Ogden Murray replied:
“I think, Captain, it might have been me. It was about three when I decided to go home. I came up to this room for my hat and coat. When I came in, Mrs. McCleod was sitting on the chaise longue, leaning back on a pillow as if resting. I said, ‘Tired out?’ or something like that. And she said, ‘No, I’m waiting for somebody. You run along.’”
“Were you annoyed at her speech?”
“Oh, no, I had an engagement to see her next day. We had a business deal on.”
“Was your deal ever completed?”
“No. After she—she wasn’t here, it couldn’t be put over. Well, then I picked up my hat and coat. I went out that other door and went downstairs. As I left the room, I heard someone come in, and heard Mrs. McCleod say, ‘Hello!’ but I have no idea who it was, and I went on downstairs.”
“It was I,” said Martin Delevan, suddenly. “I went for my coat, for I was ready to go home. Mrs. McCleod greeted me cordially, and said she was resting for a minute. I was not the man she was waiting for. Not to my knowledge, anyhow. I came away. I went out by the same door where I went in. I met Van Haynes in the hall. I don’t know whether he came into this room or not. I went on downstairs. That’s all.”
Raynor looked grave. He said, rather abruptly, “You next, Mr. Haynes.”
“I saw Delevan come out,” Van said, speaking debonairly. “I had much the same experience as those who have already told their stories. I saw first that Mrs. McCleod had thrown herself on the chaise longue for a short rest, she said. I lingered a moment. Until she said, with unmistakable meaning, ‘Good night, Van.’ Of course, I had to go then, so I went.”
“By which door?”
Haynes pointed. “By that one, opposite to the one I came in at. This room is a sort of hallway, after all. When you come in that door, it seems natural to go out the other. It’s like a wide corridor.”
“You went right downstairs?”
“Yes, and I made for the bar.”
“You didn’t go upstairs again?”
“Mr. Herrick, then you must have been the last one of these four to go into the coat room for your things.”
“I don’t think so but I am not sure of the time.”
“When did you come in here?”
“I’m pretty certain it was about half-past three.”
“How long did you stay here?”
“Not long. Mrs. McCleod heard someone coming, and she told me to go.”
“Why do you think she told you to go?”
“There was a sound at the door of the knob turning, and Mrs. McCleod said for me to leave her, so of course, I did.”
“You didn’t return to the room again?”
“No, I did not.”
“Now,” said Raynor, slowly, and he looked at Hugh and Emmy, as if making a report, “we have heard all these men tell their stories. But one of these men, though seemingly as casual in his report as the others, was alone with Mrs. McCleod for some time earlier, and was shut up with her, in the small private elevator which runs from the first floor up to her rooms. This seems to me to need some explanation. What about it, Mr. Herrick?”
Brand held himself erect, and kept his voice steady as he said. “Yes, it was I who came up with Mrs. McCleod in her automatic elevator. She asked me to see it, and after we got in, the catch jammed and we couldn’t get out.”
“How did you get out?”
Brand hesitated. He didn’t want to tell about Alma, but this was no time for evasion. So he told the truth.
“Mrs. McCleod had sprung a catch which held the door shut, for a joke on me.”
“Yes, she thought I would be alarmed.”
“Mr. Herrick,” Raynor spoke sternly, “we do not believe your story. And furthermore, our fingerprint experts have discovered on the chromium frame of the couch on which Mrs. McCleod was found lying, several very plain and distinct marks of your own fingerprints. There are no other prints on the metal, and we are convinced of your guilt. I arrest you for the murder of McCleod.”
No heed was paid to his insistent denials, and Brand Herric was taken away by two policemen.
Herrick, in his cell, was waiting for Clarence Bliss.
Brand had sent for his partner at once, and was wondering why he didn’t come.
“Had to find out a few things,” was the explanation, as Bliss came in. “Now, no matter how you got into this mess, the thing is how are we going to get you out?”
“Not easily,” Herrick said.
“Yes, I know. Who did kill her?”
“I can’t decide. It must have been Haynes, I suppose, but I’ve no way to prove it.”
“You couldn’t accuse him then and there?”
“Why, no. I was sort of dazed, Bliss, I’m not sure I told a straight story myself.”
“Oh, yes, you did. I’ve seen Colby—couldn’t get hold of Raynor yet. Now, who do we want to pull you out of this? Chadwick and Wade?”
“They’re McCleod’s lawyers.”
“Yes, that’s why. They’ll know all the people concerned, and most of the circumstances. I like Chadwick better than Wade, but they’re both all right. What’s McCleod’s attitude?”
“He’s so busy being sorry for himself, he scarcely pays any attention to what’s going on. His sister speaks for him, and she knows just what time he went upstairs—you see, the sister and father of McCleod have an apartment just above, and a little private stair up to it. The old man is dying, and so McCleod was up there with him, when his wife was killed.”
“Did he die?”
“No, he has sinking spells now and then, and any one may be the last. Hugh McCleod is devoted to his father, but his wife’s death has floored him completely.”
“How old is he?”
“Forty-five, they say. But he looks over fifty. The sister bosses him with a rod of iron.”
“Could she have killed the girl?”
“Oh, no. The two women got along all right, living in separate homes, as they did. But Alma had many admirers, and it is thought that she had boy friends that he didn’t know about.”
“Where’d you get all this inside information?”
“Scraps picked up here and there. And, well, Bliss, here’s the nuisance, Alma chose to pick me for her special favorite just now.”
“Which led to your arrest.”
“Just that. I have never made up to her, I didn’t care for her at all, she’s not my type. At the party she made a dead set for me and—oh, well, I didn’t play up, and she grew angry and so did I, and I left her—not only alive, but in a rage. I’ll tell you all the details some other time. I went out and went downstairs.”
“Who went into that room next after you?”
“The murderer, I suppose. She was a glamor girl, you know, and I think she lay on that couch, with a Cleopatra complex.”
“You don’t know who went in there after you came out?”
“I can’t help thinking it was Haynes, but he says he was before me.”
Clarence Bliss looked at him. He was about to speak sternly, then changed his mind.
“Now, give me my orders.”
“Yes, well go and get Chadwick, then. Don’t get Wade, he’s Alma’s lawyer.”
“Then Chadwick would be all for Mr. McCleod. Not so good for you, maybe.”
“Nonsense! Chadwick is nobody’s fool. If I can’t convince him of my innocence I can’t convince anybody. Tell him how things are, and tell him I want him—quick!”
In about an hour the lawyer came.
The preliminaries were short, and soon Chadwick was listening to the story told by a man who had come to realize his own danger and the necessity for action.
The chief circumstances were known to both, and Brand detailed his movements on the night of the tragedy, and also of the session with the four young men, who had unexpectedly been arraigned for questioning.
“Why they picked on me, I don’t know,” he said, at last. “I didn’t kill Mrs. McCleod—I had no reason and no wish to. I only knew her in a social way. I never went to see her alone in my life. I only met her at parties or at night clubs. I never took her anywhere.”
“I believe all you have told me, Mr. Herrick,” was the lawyer’s response. “And as I knew Mrs. McCleod rather well, I think perhaps I understand the situation better than you do. Mrs. McCleod was a spoiled belle. Her husband worshiped her, her friends adored her and she was accustomed to have every man she met fall at her feet. I take it you did not succumb at once to her lures and it displeased as well as surprised her. Would that explain her actions?”
“Why, yes, Mr. Chadwick, now that you put it so plainly. But I cannot imagine Mrs. McCleod caring for my attentions enough to make an effort to win them!”
“It may have been because you seemed unattainable. Now, tell me again, all you know of the order in which you four men were in that coat room.”
“But that’s what I can’t do. The more I think it over, the more I can’t remember clearly about seeing the men. You know yourself that you would find it hard to recall any such trifling events, not thinking, of course, that you would ever need to remember. I did see Haynes in the hall, that I am sure of; but whether before or after I was in the room myself, I don’t know. I came out of the room, angry, but more with a feeling of embarrassment than rage. I was angry at myself for getting into such a fix—”
“Such a fix as what?”
“Such a fix as having a beautiful lady beseeching me to make love to her. I was entirely conscious of the fact that I was in her home, under her husband’s roof.”
“And if I read you aright, her advances toward you made you only the less inclined to care for her.”
“Exactly that. They irritated me, and, too, they puzzled me. Tell me, Chadwick, could her affairs with other men have so enraged her husband that—”
“Heavens, no! Hugh saw no flaw in her. He was entirely ignorant of her lapses, if any; and mind, I don’t think she was anything worse than a coquette.”
“Perhaps not. But the Scotch are a bluff race. An outraged husband can lose his head utterly—”
“Not McCleod. You’re barking up the wrong tree. He might kill a lover but not his wife. A strange character you may say, but I know him. And I know her nature. She wanted admirers, adorers, worshipers—all that, but not lovers. Her one love was money, that is, the things money could buy. That’s why she was planning some investments which she hoped would bring her in more money. Now, Herrick, let’s get busy. I’m thinking you took your arrest—well, I was going to say supinely, but I can’t think that of you. Or did you?”
“I suppose I did. I was so taken aback—so bewildered, that I somehow couldn’t assert myself. I was spineless, but I was dazed—I didn’t seem to know what it was all about. What can we do about it? My partner, Clarence Bliss, is pretty sore at me. He doesn’t say so, but he thinks I lost my wits, and a lawyer ought not to do that in an emergency.”
“Bliss coming back here today?”
“He said he’d try to, but there’s the office to take care of.”
“I’ll go to see him, then. Listen, my taking this matter up depends on yourself. I don’t want you running off at a tangent—”
“I’m not likely to run off at anything!” Brand said, with a despairing look.
“No, but you’re the up and down sort, and I don’t like the unexpected.”
“I see what you mean, and I won’t make trouble for you. But aren’t you acting for Mr. McCleod in—in this case?”
“In what case? McCleod hasn’t recognized any case that I know of. A case has to have a complainant and a defendant.”
“All right, I’ll be both of those things. And you’ll see me through. Going now?”
“Yes, I’ll see Bliss—”
“And tell him to come here to see me some time tonight. Do you know how I’m going to hate this?”
The look of misery in Brand’s eyes made Chadwick uncomfortable.
He had known the younger man for many years and had always liked him and was watching his career with satisfaction.
He didn’t like Clarence Bliss so well, but he wanted to see him now and he went directly to their office.
Bliss was glad to see him, and asked if he was going to give Herrick his help.
“Of course,” Chadwick said, “if you assure me of his innocence.”
“I can’t do that as well as he can.”
“He has done it,” and Chadwick smiled. “I am convinced of it, but he has a hard row to hoe.”
“In what way?”
“He is so uncertain as to the happenings of that night. Has he told you all about it?”
“Not yet, we were hurried a little. I’ll see him tonight, and he’ll tell me all.”
“Don’t depend on his telling you all—get it all out of him. He’s willing, but he’s flighty. The thing has been a shock to him, and any doctor will tell you that shock is a thing to be reckoned with.” Chadwick didn’t smile.
“I’ll leave the treatment to you,” he said. “Look here, Bliss, Brand couldn’t have fallen for the lady’s charms, and then, if she laughed at him, he flew in a rage and lost his head, and grabbed the pillow, not knowing what he was doing and—”
“You must be crazy yourself, to—”
“But he is almost entirely unable to remember what happened.”
“Not if that’s what happened. Which it didn’t! Leave it to me. I’ll see him tonight, and when I’m through with him, I’ll know all, Then you and I will fix things. How about Mr. McCleod! Isn’t he your client?”
“Yes, a regular. But I’m not doing anything against his interests. I’m trying to find the murderer of his wife, at present. When we can prove Herrick innocent and falsely accused, we can think about taking steps.”
“All right, Mr. Chadwick. Why are you so good to him?”
“I’ve known him from his cradle—and I see a fine future for him, if we can get him freed to enjoy it.”
The lawyer went away, and the senior member of the firm of Herrick and Bliss sat pondering on the strange situation that confronted them.
When Brand Herrick found himself in prison, he was still in that strange uncertainty of mind as to the right or reason of his being there.
At times he was clear-headed and acutely conscious of the situation. Then he had lapses into that strange wondering mood and asked Bliss what it was all about, and failed utterly to understand what was meant by automatic appeal, and held for trial.
But that phase passed in a few days, and Chadwick was greatly relieved to find his young client becoming entirely rational and able to realize where he stood and what he was up against.
He said little regarding the McCleod tragedy, but was alert and alive to the details of his own business, and had long confabs with Bliss, which amazed that young man by the wisdom and perspicacity with which Herrick seemed to be newly imbued.
To his lack of comfort or convenience he appeared utterly oblivious.
Chadwick, on his first visit, noticed this, and taking his cue, made no reference to the cell’s appointments. But Brand saw him glancing about, and said:
“They’s given me a table, and I’ve my fountain pen—I can get along.”
Chadwick merely nodded, anxious not to disturb this state of mind, and later on, still feeling his way, he spoke casually of the McCleods.
“How is the old man?” Brand said, rather perfunctorily. “And Hugh?”
“Angus is about the same; Hugh is holding himself together with effort, I think. His sister nearly drives him distracted. When Alma was there Emily could not interfere much, but now she pesters the life out of her brother. I don’t go there much. Wade is there occasionally, still fussing over Alma’s will book.”
“What’s a will book?”
“It’s a notion many women have of jotting down in a little notebook various belongings of theirs, which they wish to have handed over to certain friends after their own demise. Such a book has no legal value, but a lawyer feels bound to take care of it for a departed client. As a rule such books are so filled with erasures and interlineations that they’re rather like a cross-word puzzle. But Wade and Hugh McCleod are doing their best to follow Alma’s directions, and Linda helps them a lot. I have seen many newly-made widowers, but I tell you, Herrick, I have never seen such desperate grief as McCleod is suffering. Not that he says anything, he is careful to show no emotion, but I can see him clench his fingers, and I can see his face almost livid with agony as some word of her is spoken or some of her intimate belongings appear suddenly. I advised him to go out a lot in his car and go to clubs and to see his friends often, not do the hermit act.”
“What did he say?”
“Just listened politely, and said he agreed with me and thanked me.”
“Well, you’ve done all you can, then. Who did it, does he think?”
“I don’t think he suspects you any more than the others. But he’s pretty sure it was one of Alma’s boy friends. He won’t listen to suggestions of a robber getting into the house, and I don’t think that likely. Now, Brand, I want you to take this thing more thoughtfully. I have seen your efforts to brace up to the realization of where you are, and I know how hard it is for you to do it. We are going to save you, if you will help to save yourself.”
Herrick looked at him curiously.
“Why are you so good to me?” he said.
“Perhaps I’d better tell you.” Chadwick did not smile, but he looked at Brand with a glance almost affectionate.
“There are two reasons,” he went on. “One is the simple truth, that you are a promising young lawyer, and likely to become an ornament to the profession I follow. Unless you are speedily cleared of this false accusation, it will be a bad thing for you in many ways.”
“You said, two reasons.”
“Yes, the other is the memory of your mother. We were schoolmates when we were about fifteen or sixteen years old. We were—or thought we were deeply in love. This was in Ebbitt’s Corners, Michigan—”
“Why, that’s where my uncle lives!”
“Your great uncle, yes, Jason Webb. His sister Lucy married a Brand, and their daughter Catherine was your mother—and my sweetheart. But—my people moved to New York and her people stayed out West, and Fate decreed that we should never meet again. I heard, later, that Catherine Brand had married a Herrick, and you, her son, were named Brand because it was your mother’s maiden name.”
“And so you knew my mother. She died when I was twelve, and I was sent to live with her sister in Chicago. I remember my mother as being a beautiful woman—”
“I remember her as a girl and as a child. Some day we will talk of her again. But I want to tell you frankly that it is because of her memory I am anxious to be friends with her son, and—I want to make you realize that your position at present is far from safe or secure. I can’t help feeling that you do not realize, you do not understand the danger that threatens you.”
“Yes—I think I do. But I can do nothing about it. Clarence Bliss, my partner, is ready and willing to do anything in the world he can for me.”
“Yes, yes, I know. But I want something definite done in your case. Not just advice from lawyers, but more active and expert procedure.”
“Detective work?” Brand looked up, with a sudden gleam in his eyes that implied hope.
“Yes, just that. And the best.”
“Then you mean a private investigator.”
“I certainly do. And I believe the one I have in mind would make short work of your detention here.”
“I’ve tried to think out something of that sort, but what can I do here? And I can’t call on Clarence.”
“You won’t have to. With your permission then, I will get Fleming Stone.”
Chadwick had never married; at first, because of a hope of seeing Catherine Brand again, and later, because he had formed bachelor habits.
It suited his eccentric idea of sentiment to save from a possible miscarriage of justice the son of his boyhood love.
Fleming Stone didn’t want to take over the case that the lawyer Chadwick offered him. Nor did he take it when offered, nor when it was insisted on, nor when he was begged nor bribed nor bullied.
But Stone had not forgotten that about a year ago he had had a very obscure problem to work out and Chadwick had been able to give him some information that led to the solution of the puzzle, and Chadwick had gone out of his way to do it.
But Chadwick never so much as hinted in the slightest degree that Stone was under obligation to him, and so Stone told the lawyer he would look into the matter.
Then Chadwick, who had a talent for generalship, dropped out of the picture and told Stone to go first to see Clarence Bliss, and after that to make the necessary arrangements to see Herrick.
“Of course,” Chadwick went on, “the police all believe Herrick guilty, as also do the McCleod family. Bliss doesn’t but he’s up to his neck in his double business harness, so, after all, there’s no one to tell you of Brand’s innocence but himself.”
“Yes, but I can give you only convictions, not facts. I was at the party in its earlier hours, but I went home before anything happened.”
So Stone went to see Bliss that evening.
“I wasn’t at the party,” Clarence told the detective. “I don’t know the McCleods at all. And since Herrick is—not with me, I have been so busy with our office that I’ve heard none of the evidential details and know nothing of any sidelights. I am profoundly thankful you are on the job, Mr. Stone, and I can tell you that it is actually impossible that Herrick could have done that thing.”
Next morning Fleming Stone came to Herrick’s cell.
Brand greeted him with a smile so forced that Stone disregarded it and looked into his client’s eyes. And he saw such grief and sorrow as he had seldom if ever met before.
“Sit down, man,” he said, gently, “and tell me all about it.”
“There isn’t much to tell—it’s only that somebody made a mistake,” and now Brand laughed.
“Doesn’t seem to me there was enough evidence to arrest you,” Stone said, thoughtfully.
“I had that notion, too,” Brand agreed, “but they cared so little for my opinion.”
“They would. As you detail the situation, discovery of the murderer seems to me to depend on the order in which you young men filed through that coat room.”
“Yes, the room was a general thoroughfare and meeting room. The house is just one room after another—must be a dozen, on that floor and as many more downstairs. But the family rooms were closed or empty, and people gathered in knots in the halls and dressing rooms.
“And Mrs. McCleod was in that room, while several of her friends came in, stopped, let us say, to speak to her, and then as someone else appeared, left her?”
“Yes, that was the way of it. And the four of us say we were there, yet each denies killing Alma. That’s putting it a bit crudely, but you want the truth.”
“Well, that’s it, so far as I know. Now, if we four filed through, and if one of us did the killing, it must have been the last one.”
“Why not? If anyone had followed the killer, he could have given the alarm—as Doris Day did later.”
“He might have and he might not. Suppose he was afraid to, lest he be himself suspected?”
“You mean it might not have been any of us four?”
“No, I don’t mean that, I mean it need not have been the last of you four. The last one of you may have been the one who saw her dead, and kept silent.”
Herrick thought for a time.
“I can’t get it,” he said. “All I know, I mean all I know for certain, is that Mr. McCleod was the first one, and that I was not the last, because someone came in that room at one door, just as I left at the other.”
“Why did you hurry out?”
“Because Alma told me to. She said she thought it was her husband and I’d better go. But it wasn’t her husband, he was up with his father.”
“You’re sure of that?”
“Oh, yes, Miss Emmy vouched for the time, and she is very exact about everything.”
“And Mrs. McCleod didn’t want her husband to see you with her?”
“I have to tell you, I see. I had nothing more than friendliness for Alma. I had been dancing with her, and she led me off through a side hall to a little automatic elevator that ran up to her rooms. She slipped a catch that locked us in the car, and pretended it was jammed and we couldn’t open the door. But that annoyed me and I showed it, and she was angry and opened the door herself. We were upstairs, then, and she led me to the coat room, and went in with me. And then she said, suddenly, ‘Run, Brand! I hear someone coming! Maybe it’s Hugh!’ So I jumped away from her and went out one door just as somebody came in at the other.”
“Do you know who it was?”
“Yes, I do, but I very much don’t want to tell.”
“I think you must.”
“I suppose so. Well, then, it was Van Dyke Haynes.”
“Do you think he would be capable of murder?”
“As capable as I am, no more and no less. I believe everyone is capable of murder, given sufficient motive and opportunity.”
“Now, let me get this program right. We are granting that Mr. McCleod went up to his father’s apartment as his sister says, and after that, you four young men were more or less with his wife in the coat room, and we are trying to find which of the four is responsible for the death of the lady.”
“You went with her from the elevator to the coat room, and after a short scene, she told you to run away, lest someone come in and see you two together. And she said it might be her husband. Now, where did you go?”
“Right across the hall from the coat room door, there is a little writing room. I went in there and stayed to think things over. I wanted to go home, but I didn’t think it right to go without saying good night to her, and I just sat there and smoked for a while. The door was wide open and I saw all the crowd milling about. The party was all over the house, about as many were upstairs as down. I saw all the fellows go in and out of the coat room, and a few girls, too.”
“What did you notice of the ones we are most interested in? The ones who were with you at the police inquiry, when you were arrested?”
“I can only tell you that I saw Murray and Delevan go into the coat room. I didn’t see Van go in, but I saw him in the hall once or twice. One time he nodded at me, and another time he passed right by. Well, anyhow, I decided to go in the room, say good night to Alma whether anyone was with her or not, and then go home. I went in, and she was alone, and she was lying on the chaise longue, and she put her arms round my neck and drew me down to her, and that must be when I grasped at the back of the couch—the frame is chromium, and I probably left fingerprints. And then I heard someone at the door. I’m afraid I jerked myself away from her, and said, ‘Good night, Alma,’ and fled.”
“Sort of Joseph act,” and Stone half smiled, though he looked grave, too.
“Yes, it was. But all that part of it doesn’t matter. What does matter is, that some one of her admirers, for some reason, lost his head utterly and—perhaps to prevent her screaming, he put the big pillow over her face, and held it down longer than he meant to. I don’t believe he meant to kill her—but when Alma got in a tantrum she used to scream—I’ve heard her.”
“And it may have been Haynes?”
“Yes, it may have been, but I suppose I have no real reason to say so. I seem to think it was his voice that said, ‘Are you here, Alma?’ but I am not positively sure. It was Van’s voice or one greatly like it.”
“Where did you go then?”
“I had my coat and hat and I went downstairs, intending to go right home. But there was some fun going on in the bar, and they called me to come in. The butler took my things and I went in. So I was still there when Doris Day gave the alarm.”
“Now, if that was Haynes who came into the coat room as you went out of it, by the other door, and if he did have a stormy session with Mrs. McCleod, would he have had the opportunity to kill her with the pillow, unseen? Weren’t there other people coming for their coats, or other girls coming in for a spot of flirtation?”
“I’ve thought about that, and there wouldn’t have been such a chance, except that just then that stunt was on down in the bar. It was a well-known impersonator who was doing his stuff, and he very seldom does it in a private house. He’s a night club star. So, as soon as it became known that he was down there, everybody who was upstairs went down to see him.”
“Was Mr. Haynes down there?”
“I saw him there after a while. But I don’t know how long it was after I came down, that he came down. It was fully half an hour after I came down that I saw Van Haynes.”
“Well, there’s this sure,” said Stone, after a pause. “Haynes went into the room where Alma was after you had left her there alive.”
“Yes—if that was his voice I heard. I couldn’t swear to it; but I knew it more from the way he said her name. Van says it like the first syllable of Albert, Al-ma. And whoever came in that door, pronounced her name that way.”
“Mr. Herrick, that sounds to me like proof. But I’m sorry to say, I fear the authorities will not accept it as such. Another thing that bothers me is that all your memories of people coming and going, besides being somewhat vague, have no timing by the clock. I suppose you do not know the exact or even approximate time that any of these men went in or out?”
“ ‘Fraid I can’t be very definite. I remember seeing two or three of the older men, Mr. McCleod’s friends, but they mostly stayed in the hall, looking over the balcony rail at the dancers below. And, too, I doubt if they could fix the time. But you must know yourself the difficulties of getting exact reports.”
“I do, indeed. Well, I’ll do what I can, if anything, to learn from other witnesses. The servants might help?”
“Dickson was around, off and on, he’ll probably know something. And Foo Chow was upstairs occasionally. Yes, they may be helpful. But if you get a complete timetable, how will it name the murderer for you?”
“There will have to be sidelights of evidence. And I must be going now, I want a talk with Mr. McCleod. You don’t want me to tell him how you were snared by his wife?”
“A, he wouldn’t believe it, and B, if he did he’d be after me with a shotgun. Better not allude to Alma’s overtures.”
“I’ll see you soon again; and, oh, by the way, here are a couple of letters Mr. Bliss asked me to hand you. He says he can’t see you until evening.”
“Thank you. Oh, I say! Here’s a letter from Michigan! Do wait a minute—he may be dead!”
“Why, my old uncle—and, I say! He is dead!”
“Is it going to break you all up?”
“Not emotionally, I haven’t seen him for years. And here’s a copy of his will! But—what’s it to me?”
Brand threw the legal looking paper on the floor, and looked again at the outside of the envelope it came in.
“Clarence knew!” he exclaimed. “Bliss knew by the postmark what this letter probably meant, and he gave it to you to bring up here, without a word! He must be wild to know what it’s about!”
“Remarkable man, your partner,” Stone said, already deeply engrossed in the letter.
“He’s all of that,” Brand returned. “Well, has old Uncle Jason cut me off with or without the shilling?”
“Neither. Can you stand good news?”
“Only one thing can be good news for me—my walking papers from this place!”
“And those, my boy, I hope to give you. But, for the moment, I can think of nothing but this will! I supposed these old-fashioned freak wills went out with side-whiskers, but your relative from Ebbitt’s Corners has given us a most splendid specimen!”
“He wouldn’t have left me anything if he had known where I would be when he died!”
“I prophesy you won’t be here when this will is probated. How much do you know about your great uncle’s heirs?”
“I know the family tree. My great Uncle Jason Webb made an enormous fortune in timber. His father began the business and Uncle Jason carried on. He had one sister, Lucy, who was my grandmother; she married a Brand and Lucy’s daughter, that is, my mother, married a Herrick. I am an only child. But Uncle Jason had a daughter, who is, I suppose, his heiress. Expediently speaking, I ought to have played up to the old man, but he was cross and ill-natured, and he showed no desire to be friends with me, so I left him lay. He can’t say I ever asked him for any financial help.”
“You’ll perhaps get it, though. Listen here: ‘So far as I know, Brand Herrick, my great nephew, is my only living heir. Genevieve Wiley, if living, is my daughter’s child, but my daughter, Jane, is dead, and I have no idea of the whereabouts of Genevieve, if indeed, she is alive. My daughter married John Wiley. She eloped with him, and thereby forfeited all right or title to her home and her father. I disown her, and I will never willingly see John Wiley.
“‘Now, here is my last will and testament. My nephew, Brand Herrick, lives in New York, and can be easily found. If he finds Genevieve Wiley, and marries her within three months of my death, he will inherit two million of my not-so-very-hard-earned dollars. If he cannot find the girl or her parents, he is to receive one hundred thousand dollars and the rest of the money is to be paid to the herein mentioned Board of Trustees, to be used to improve Ebbitt’s Corners, to change the name to Ebbittsville, and to erect suitable public buildings and schools. The details of this bequest will be forthcoming if, as and when it is admitted by Brand Herrick that he cannot find Genevieve Wiley.
“‘Should Brand Herrick learn positively that my granddaughter is dead, he will receive one hundred thousand dollars as aforesaid. I have no interest in the fortunes of my son-in-law, John Wiley.’” Stone spoke slowly. “I’m going now. I shall stop at your office, and tell Bliss about this. Shall I?”
“And he and I will see you here this evening. Meantime, get hold of yourself, and accept your new responsibilities.”
Clarence Bliss was in his partner’s private office. He was wondering whether he could take care of Herrick’s unfinished business without blunders.
The papers were neatly docketed and carefully arranged; Miss Ripley could tell him much about them, but there were knotty points.
So that Fleming Stone, going in at the noon hour, found Bliss in a despairing mood.
The big man rose to greet him and his scowl was so fierce and his attitude so belligerent that Stone spoke sharply to him.
“Cut out the anger,” he said. “Did you know that a letter you gave me yesterday to give to Herrick was from Michigan?”
“Yes, I notice postmarks, for some letters require immediate reading. Is his old uncle dead? There was no black edge, but the thing had a legal look.”
“It was from a lawyer, and Jason Webb is dead. There are complications.”
“There would be!” Bliss scowled again. “Complications are what I have got too many of. But sit down, Mr. Stone. How does it affect Brand?”
“You know what I mean by a freak will, Mr. Bliss?”
“Why, yes, I think so. A man who lived in a place called Ebbitt’s Corners could do ’most anything, I suppose.”
Fleming Stone read the eccentric will to an interested hearer, whose scowl returned intermittently.
“That all?” he said as Stone finished.
“Speaking offhand, I’d say that somebody has got to go to Ebbitt’s Corners in a flying machine, like Darius Green, and as Brand is not—er—footloose at present, it looks as if I should have to go.”
“And if you go to Michigan and cope from there, and I stay here, surely we must accomplish something. I told Herrick you and I would see him tonight. Then you and he can settle about closing this office. Right?”
“I know, Mr. Stone. See you tonight then.”
But left alone, Clarence Bliss sat at Herrick’s desk, and bowed his head on his arms.
He was not a weakling, but he was unaccustomed to responsibilities, and the thought of closing the office was just about all he could stand. And now, to be suddenly faced with this news about Jason Webb!
Every thought he had about it showed him that he must go to Michigan, and he was willing to go, but how could he leave Herrick and Stone and the office? He would be needed—then he thought he was rating himself pretty highly! Surely, Fleming Stone and Robert Chadwick and Herrick himself and Miss Ripley, could care for all these things. Anyway, they’d have to. It was his place to go look after Brand’s interests in that little two-by-four hamlet, and go he would.
He had a session with Miss Ripley, and was amazed anew to find how sanely and wisely she fook in the situation, and promised to do her part, which was a large one, in arranging the temporary closure of the firm of Herrick and Bliss.
Fleming Stone went to see Chadwick, and read to him the amazing and troublesome will.
“Relic of old melodrama,” he said. “How could the old man find a lawyer who would draw up such a will as that!”
“I doubt if a lawyer did draw it up,” Stone returned, “but it must be legally sound, as the city fathers of Ebbitt’s Corners are already planning to use the money. It is my aim and purpose to defeat their hopes.”
“That’s what I want you to see about. You must have some legal knowledge that can outwit them.”
“And why shouldn’t they? The improvement of a little backwoods jerkwater, is in itself a laudable ambition.”
“Said laudable ambition will be thwarted, if I can bring it about. And I feel pretty sure that you are going to help.”
“Mr. Stone, I am not as young as I once was. How did Brand take this?”
“Standing. You know, he is furious over his arrest. He is belligerent and now he is furious because he cannot start off for Michigan and see about this Jason Webb comedy act. Somebody must represent Herrick out there in the sticks, and it seems indicated that Mr. Bliss is the proper one. He’s going to close the business office, temporarily, we hope, and do what he can in his partner’s interest.”
“That’s good, that’s very good! It’s the only way. What’s all this about his marrying a girl he has never seen? Will he do that?”
“Can he, when he is in prison on a murder charge?”
“Oh, I think we could manage to get the knot tied, but would he do a thing like that? It wouldn’t be like him.”
“He may think it his duty to marry the girl, and secure the fortune to her if he leaves her his widow.”
“Perish the thought! I can’t let Catherine’s boy go to the chair for a crime he did not commit. You don’t think he killed the lady?”
“I do not. I’m going to see Mr. McCleod now. Will he see me, do you think?”
“Oh, yes. His sister is a Tartar, but probably you won’t see her.”
“And I want to see the place. Then I’m to see Herrick tonight, and Bliss too, and I’ll see you tomorrow, and we’ll get busy on the boy’s release.”
“You inspire me, but I’m not so confident. I can’t help a feeling that Murray’s a bad egg. But get hold of the McCleods, both of them, and let me know your findings.”
“Why the sister? Is she implicated?”
“No, nor Hugh either. But I want you to see her just as a unique specimen of womanhood. She has her good points, very much so. She’s devoted to her old father, and she has bossed Hugh all his life, until he married.”
Stone went away, and the lawyer sat wondering why he was going to the house.
Yet the detective had no reason for going except a desire to see the scene of the crime. He couldn’t get the hang of the arrangement of the rooms, and he liked a mental picture. But his sympathy for the husband, was increased when he learned of the dictatorial sister.
It so chanced that Mr. McCleod was undergoing some massage treatment that his sister had wished on him for the shock, which she insisted was still affecting him severely; and after many refusals, Hugh had given in to her as the easiest way out.
Learning of the detective’s arrival, Miss McCleod went down herself to see him.
She seemed a mild gentlewoman beside the mental picture Stone had of her, and she greeted him with a subdued cordiality that he thoroughly approved of.
“My brother will see you in a few moments,” she said, “and I am glad to have you to myself for a little. I want to speak to you seriously, Mr. Stone.”
“Please do, madam, I shall listen attentively.”
“That’s what I wish you to do. And this is my message, sir. If your interest in this matter of my sister-in-law’s death is to consider someone other than Mr. Herrick as the criminal, I want to ask you to give up any such idea. Brand Herrick killed Mrs. McCleod, and I know it.”
Fleming Stone looked at her directly, and the directness of his glance had often brought confusion to the object of his attention.
Emily McCleod gazed back at him without the quiver of an eyelash.
“Then, of course,” he said, suavely, “you have some very definite reason for your suspicion of Mr. Herrick. May I ask what it is?”
Emmy had every intention and indeed, every desire to give him a withering retort. But his voice was so gentle and his manner so sympathetic that she couldn’t respond angrily.
She took refuge in an exceedingly dignified attitude and cold, precise tones.
“I was present,” she said, “when Mr. Herrick was questioned as to his movements that night, and his story was all the proof that was needed to convince me that it was he who committed the dreadful deed.”
“You have it clearly in your mind, then,” Stone looked straight at her, “just the exact order in which those four young men entered and left the room where the lady was holding court. I am glad of that, and I will ask you to detail it to me, for I am in charge of this case, and it is very difficult to get a straightforward account of that episode.”
Emily McCleod was not given to fidgeting. But she made several little unnecessary motions that proved her uncertainty if not embarrassment.
“Please tell me,” Stone’s pleasant voice repeated.
“I will do nothing of the sort, Mr. Stone. Since you have chosen to intrude on this saddened household, you show yourself an unwelcome busybody. And I will ask you to put an end to your visit.”
Stone rose, and actually bowed her from the room, and as he reseated himself, she gave him what he had heard described as a venomous look and went haughtily away.
After a few moments, McCleod came in, apparently ignorant of his sister’s interview with their caller.
With his most ingratiating manner, Stone told the Scotchman of his own connection with the case, regretted disturbing him, and asked for a brief description of the questioning of the four young men suspects.
“I know, Mr. McCleod, that if, as I have reason to think, the murderer was not Mr. Herrick, but one of the other men present with him—I know, I say, that you will be, must be glad to have Mr. Herrick freed and the other man rightly arrested. You can have no reason to desire what would be a terrible miscarriage of justice. That is why I am asking you to tell me as nearly as you can, of the attitude, rather than the words of those other three men, who, with Herrick, listened to Captain Raynor’s questions.”
“I am sorry, Mr. Stone, but you are asking too much of a sick man. I am under the doctor’s care, and to detail the conversations you ask for would be a great drain on my strength and on my nerves.
You can get it all from the stenographic reports in the hands of the police, and I advise you to pursue that course.”
“Thank you, Mr. McCleod, I will do so. I will not detain you, but I am anxious to see the room where the crime took place.”
And so dominating was Fleming Stone’s personality, that the rugged Scotchman left the room, and sent Dickson down to see the urbane visitor.
“Good morning, Dickson,” Stone said affably.
“Mr. Stone?” he said, looking into the wise, kindly gray eyes. “Will you come with me?”
Stone followed him up the marble staircase, with something of the feeling he had when following guides through ancestral castles abroad.
Dickson took him to the guest room, and the two men went in.
It had, of course, been restored to its immaculate guest room order, and Stone looked with interest at the chaise longue, with its chromium frame and its chartreuse satin upholstery.
“This couch stood right here when Mrs. McCleod was found?” Stone said, and the note of sorrow in his voice was not lost upon the valet.
“And so young Herrick killed her. You wouldn’t think it to look at him. Do you know him, Dickson?”
“Yes, sir, as I know all the men who come here.”
Fleming Stone was sensitive to the faintest quiver in a voice or the slightest trembling of an eyelid, if they were caused by embarrassment or self-consciousness.
“Did you have any reason to suspect him especially, or,” he paused an instant, “especially to doubt his guilt?”
The answer came slowly.
“Mr. Stone, it is not my place to have an opinion on the matter, but I have a—well, a sort of reason to think it could not have been Mr. Herrick who killed Mrs. McCleod.”
“Yes? And you gave this reason to Captain Raynor, of course?”
“No, sir. He did not ask me.”
“I wish you would tell it to me, Dickson, and I will advise you.” Dickson looked up and saw such gentleness and friendliness in Stone’s eyes, that he could not resist longer.
“I saw Mrs. McCleod and Mr. Herrick together just before they went upstairs.”
“Where were they?”
“In a little hall, downstairs, sir. It is where the little elevator comes down. Mrs. McCleod and Mr. Herrick came from the dance room there, and I chanced to see them.”
“Did they see you?”
“She did, but he didn’t. She laughed and put her finger to her lips, for me to make no sound. Then she urged him into the elevator—”
“Yes, sir. He did not want to go, but she coaxed him. He was trying to get away from her, and she was teasing him to stay by her. They went upstairs together in her little elevator. But I tell you, and I know, he was just trying to get away from her—he was annoyed at her attentions, but not angry! He didn’t kill her, he only wanted her to leave him alone!”
Dickson suddenly stopped, resumed his servant’s air, which he had unconsciously dropped, in his earnestness.
“Well, Dickson, you see, Mr. Herrick was arrested because they thought he was in love with Mrs. McCleod, and killed her in a quarrel, or something of the sort. Now, you know, he was not deeply in love with her, or he would not have been annoyed at her attentions, So—”
Dickson’s face was pathetic.
“I didn’t know it was that bad, sir. I never heard just why they thought Mr. Herrick did it. But, don’t you see, sir—”
“Yes, Dickson, I see all you do. Now, are you willing to leave the whole matter to me. You think no more about it, and trust me to do what is right. Will you do that?”
“Indeed, yes, sir.”
“I’m going now. It may be that I shall want to see you again. Can I manage it without troubling Mr. McCleod?”
“You can send me a note in care of my brother. He works for a caterer on Madison Avenue. I will give you a card.”
Dickson took a flat wallet from an inside pocket, and produced for Stone a card of a well-known caterer’s shop.
A further careful glance round the room convinced Stone of the hopelessness of looking for clues there, and he asked but one more question.
“About that new bracelet that Mrs. McCleod received that night, do you know anything about that?”
“Not much. But Linda, Mrs. McCleod’s maid, is engaged to me and knows about it. Mr. McCleod gave it to his sister. But Linda knows that it was new to Mrs. McCleod that night. And she knows she didn’t buy it herself because if she had she would have put it on when she dressed. And if she had bought it herself, there would have been the box that it came in. Mrs. McCleod would have given it to Linda to open, or if she did it herself, the box would have been in the waste basket, or around somewhere. And here’s another thing. Linda’s a sharp one, and she found, right in this room, on the floor behind the couch, a bunch of crumpled up white tissue paper, and she says, the bracelet was brought here in that. You want to see any more rooms, sir?”
“No, I think not. Where is Mr. McCleod?”
“He’s up in his father’s apartment.”
“Mr. McCleod hasn’t any favorite among those four young men, has he? If it was proved that Mr. Herrick was innocent and one of the others guilty, Mr. McCleod wouldn’t mind, would he?”
“I don’t think he would care, sir. But the young man that did that murder was a sly one. Now, Mr. Herrick, he is anything but sly! Mr. Murray, he’s the sliest, and Mr. Haynes, too. That queer artist one, Mr. Delevan—well, he’s sly, but he didn’t have any motive at all.”
“Say nothing to anyone, Dickson, of what we have talked about. I feel sure I can trust you.”
“Yes, indeed, Mr. Stone, no one shall hear a word from me.”
Leaving the house, Stone walked along Park Avenue. For the first time in his career he was conscious of a clash of duties. He wanted to engage at once in the tracking down of Alma McCleod’s murderer.
And he wanted to put all his energies to work on a hunt for Jason Webb’s missing granddaughter.
He realized that both endeavors were to benefit Brand Herrick, and it ought to be possible to combine his efforts.
But he couldn’t see it that way. One investigation must start and probably finish in New York City. The other must start in Michigan and finish, God knew where!
There was no connection between the two, except as they both affected Herrick. The McCleod murder had nothing to do with the death of old Jason Webb.
But they were both in Stone’s hands—at least, one was, and he had decided that the other should be, as soon as he could manage to go to Michigan.
That evening he was with Herrick for some time before Bliss came, and he told his plans frankly.
“You see, Herrick,” he said, watching the face of his listener, “by the will, we have three months to hunt up the somewhat mythical young lady we want; but by police procedure, I am told we can count on about a month. The police must be attended to first, because it is much more important to keep you alive than to get you married. Now, my plan is to send Bliss, as we agreed, let him see how things stand, attend the funeral, look into the matter of the missing granddaughter, and I will lay my wires for balking the mistaken police. Then, Clarence will return, look after you and the business, and do a few bits of sleuthing for me, and I will beard the lions in the Michigan den. All right by you?”
“Yes,” Brand said, but with no brightening of his despondent face.
“I tried to see three young men this afternoon, one of which I hope to make your successor in the tenancy of this room. But of the three I found only one at home, and he is far from a hopeful suspect. It was Delevan, and somehow I can’t see him committing murder any more than I can see you. Don’t you agree? That leaves us with Haynes and Murray, and I am ready to say that they are the most likely of the lot. I’ve never seen either of them, but the little I’ve heard of them, is not entirely in their favor as good citizens.”
“Murray, maybe,” Brand said, wearily, “but not Van, I think.”
“Don’t think. Leave that to me for the present. And here comes Mr. Bliss.”
Clarence came in, full of enthusiasm.
“Going tonight?” Brand said.
“By airplane. I telephoned for reservations, and I was told I must change at Detroit and then go on to Lansing, and I asked how long to Detroit, and was told four hours! Then I said, ‘How much further on to Lansing?’ And he said, “Four minutes!’”
“Now, what do you plan to do when you get there?”
Bliss at once became serious.
“What do you think of this schedule?” he said. “I’ll leave New York at midnight, get to Detroit in the morning. Go on to Lansing when the time serves, and lift the Corners, at a civilized hour for seeing people.’
“What people?” said Stone.
“I thought first I’d go to the post office, and find out where the late Mr. Webb had lived. Also, I’d discover the hideout of his lawyer, if any. And by that time I count on having made myself so charming that I can ask anything I want to know. Like who are the nearest neighbors or friends of the deceased, and how the gentleman was held in the villagers’ esteem.”
“You’ll do, Bliss,” Stone said, approvingly.
“Brand, what shall I tell the lawyer of your attitude? Shall I say if the missing girl can be found you are willing to marry her, if she is willing?”
“Yes,” Brand spoke heavily; “yes, say that I’ve thought it over, and if they find her, I think it my duty to go through the marriage ceremony, if she wants it, and if it can be arranged for me. Then, I could make a will leaving the money to her, or—if I get out of here, free—I would let her get a divorce.”
Clarence Bliss carried out his schedule as planned, and next morning after a good breakfast at a Lansing hotel, he found a taximan to take him to Ebbitt’s Corners.
The driver expressed no unwillingness to take the fare, but he did seem amazed that anyone so smart looking as Bliss should want to go to that blot on the landscape.
“You know folks there?” he asked, in idle curiosity.
“Do you?” Bliss countered, and received the reply he had hoped for.
“Well, I did, but he’s gone now. Old Jason Webb, he was, and a good man but a poor citizen.”
“As how?” They were now on their way.
“Oh, gruff, grouchy, and grumbly. Nobody liked him, but it was his own fault. But rich! Golly, that man had the spondulics!”
“If he had no friends, what will become of his wealth?”
“I can’t say, for sure. There’s all sorts of reports about that. Some say he left it all to the place, the Corners, you know. It ain’t even a village, but if they got Webb’s money, they could have trustees and a president and be a village, and call it Ebbittsville. That’s what they’re hopin’ for.”
“And what’s against it?”
“I don’t rightly know. But there’s some heirs they can’t find, or somethin’ of that sort. You goin’ to look it over?”
“Maybe,” Bliss said; “drive on.”
Reaching the hamlet, he asked to be put out at the post office, and was landed in front of a small grocery shop.
Then he went into the little place and in the rear he found a tiny but authoritative post office. It was in charge of a brisk-looking middle-aged woman, who told him she was Mrs. Binney, postmistress.
Bliss told her he was a stranger who wanted a little information about the town.
Noticing her visitor’s intense interest, she took alarm, and said, suddenly, “Who are you, and what are you after, Mister?”
“My name is Bliss, and I have come from New York to attend the funeral of Mr. Webb.”
“For the land sake! You a relation of his?”
“I represent a relative of the Webb family. Now, Mrs. Binney, if you will please tell me where the Webb house is, and also who is Mr. Webb’s lawyer, and where he lives, I won’t trouble you any further.”
But Mrs. Binney’s attitude had changed.
“You don’t mean it!” she exclaimed. “Say, what do you know about that will of his? They say it’s unlegal!”
“Now, why would a smart man like Mr. Webb leave a will that was not perfectly all right? I expect there’s a lot of gossip around here.”
“There is that! Say, won’t you tell me about it? Comin’ from New York—how did you hear of it ’way off there?”
“There was a letter from here—you must have seen it—being in charge here, you know—”
He saw the red come to her cheeks, and he knew he had hit on the truth.
“I’ve been postmistress here for ten years,” she said, “and nobody can rightly give me a word of blame. Yes, I know a letter that went to New York City, and I knew it was in Lawyer Vail’s writing, but that’s all I know about it, and I never mentioned it to anybody. I’m responsible to the United States Gover’ment, I am, and I do my duty conscientiously, I do.”
“Good Heavens, Mrs. Binney! I didn’t mean to accuse you of anything—”
“Well, you come mighty near it! Now, young man, you can make up by telling me why you’re here, and what you want of Lawyer Vail. He’s the Webb lawyer and he lives right across the street.”
“Mrs. Binney, I will tell you that I want to see someone in authority concerning the Webb estate. And I would rather go to the house before I see the lawyer. Who is in charge there? Some relatives?”
“No, sir. Jason Webb had no relatives that he recognized. At his house, you’ll find Sarah Holden in charge. She’s been in charge some twenty years or more, and what’ll happen to her now, I don’t know. But she’ll land on her feet, we all know that.”
“She took good care of Mr. Webb, then?”
“Yes, her and her daughter too, and her granddaughter.”
“Are they all at the Webb house?”
“That they are, and likely to stay there. For I’ve heard that the house and grounds is all left to Sarah.”
“I think I’ll go see Mrs. Sarah. What’s her other name?”
“Holden, Sarah Holden. And her daughter is Sarah too, she married a Bostwick.”
“Is he there, too?”
“Yes, he is. And their daughter, Ethel, she’s housemaid and waitress. They all have their jobs, ’ceptin’ Jim Bostwick, he just loafs around and pretends he’s workin’.”
“Then Mr. Webb took care of all these people—”
“He did, and he was mighty glad to, for they were all good to him, and if they’d left him, he couldn’t have found anybody else to put up with his cantankerousness.”
The postmistress gave him directions, and Clarence Bliss went off, feeling he had already a fund of useful information.
The Webb house, he saw, as he approached it, had been built in the cupola and bay window era.
Bliss rang the old-fashioned bell-pull.
The door was opened by a bored and disinterested looking man, who, Bliss decided must be Jim Bostwick.
“I want to see Mrs. Holden,” the visitor said, and stepped into the hall.
Bostwick turned his head and screamed “Sarah!” and then closed the front door and disappeared.
A decent looking woman, dressed in black, came into the hall.
“You want to see me, sir?” she said, in a calm courteous voice.
“Yes, if you please. I want a few minutes talk about Mr. Webb. I am from New York; I am Brand Herrick’s partner in business.”
Sarah was already leading the way to what was evidently the parlor.
The furnishings were of the plush and chromo period, but all was well cared for, and the room bright and cheery.
They sat down and the housekeeper looked at him inquiringly, though with entire self-possession.
“I came,” Clarence began, “to learn something of the circumstances of Mr. Webb’s death.”
“They ain’t much to tell,” she answered, seeming to think his explanation sufficient. “Mr. Webb, he was along in years, just turned eighty, and he caught a terrible cold, and it took him bad and went off into pneumonia, and he just couldn’t pull through. Well, we all got to die when our time comes.”
“Yes, that is so. When will the funeral be held, Mrs. Holden?”
“I don’t know, sir. Will you be stayin’ for it?”
“Yes. Is there a hotel—”
“No, sir, there ain’t, and if there was, it wouldn’t be fitten for you to go to it. Anyone befriendin’ young Brand Herrick is welcome to his old uncle’s home. Your place is here so long’s you choose to stay in it. Now, sir, why are you here instid of Brand himself?’
Bliss took a sudden decision.
“Brand Herrick is in prison for a crime he did not commit.”
“Bless his heart, of course he didn’t! The Webbs couldn’t commit crime, if indeed, they so much as knew what it was! You goin’ to get him out, I s’pose.”
“Yes. But I’ll stay for the funeral.”
“What ever you say. Look here, Mr. Bliss, I’m Mr. Webb’s housekeeper and I had a feelin’ that some of the family from somewhere would turn up to take charge. But nobody’s came, ’ceptin’ you. So as Brand Herrick’s reppasentative, won’t you just lend a hand?”
“What do you mean for me to do?”
“Why decide things. Give orders. Make everything go off right. Be boss of everything. Me and my children will do just what you tell us.”
Bliss was silent a minute, and then he realized that here was a chance for him to do something worthwhile for Brand, and he must not refuse.
“Mrs. Holden,” he said, “as there is nobody else to do it, I will take charge in full, as you ask. But if any near relative turns up, I shall step down and out.”
Sarah looked troubled. After a moment, she said:
“All right, sir. If that doesn’t include Mr. Wiley—he is the son-in-law of Mr. Webb.”
“They were not friends!”
“When Mr. Webb’s daughter Jane eloped with John Wiley, Mr. Webb disowned his daughter and said he would never see her again, and he never did.”
“Did she ever come here?”
“Once. I saw her, and her baby, but Mr. Webb would not see her, and she went away, weeping. Mr. Wiley never came here, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he turned up now, trying to get some of the money.”
“The daughter is dead, I believe.”
“Yes, sir. Jane died about ten years ago.”
“Now I am going to see Lawyer Vail. Tonight, Sarah, you will tell me some more about the family matters.”
Richard Vail was an honest lawyer, and a fairly well read one. He had little inventive genius, but his practice in Ebbitt’s Corners had not called for much imaginative work.
Jason Webb had been his only very rich client and there had not been much work to do for him. But he had been generous with his fees, and now that he was dead, Vail expected some sort of bequest, and he was not disappointed.
He received Clarence Bliss a bit coolly at first, until Bliss told him that Brand Herrick was ill and confined to the house, and so unable to attend his uncle’s funeral.
“Since the old man really had the good of this place at heart,” Clarence said, after they had discussed preliminaries, “why didn’t he do something for it while he was alive?”
“No one can offer a reason for anything Jason Webb did or did not do. He was a law unto himself and a contradictory law at that. I gave up trying to advise him, and merely obeyed his orders about his own affairs.”
“What do you think about that question of Brand Herrick’s finding the Wiley girl?”
“I think there’s no chance in a thousand for his success. I think she is dead.”
“Why do you think that?”
“I think that if she had lived she would have been at her grandfather for money before this time.”
“Maybe and maybe not. Suppose she learns of the will, and just comes here and claims her rights.”
“What are her rights?”
“A clever lawyer could put it over, that she had a right to present herself to Brand Herrick, and thereby help him to gain the fortune. Also, I rather think you want the money to go to the town here, and build it up to—” Bliss hesitated.
“No, you misjudge me. He wanted, I know, to keep his money in the Webb family, and that girl and Brand Herrick represent the Webb family now. But we have three months to await developments. Lots can happen in three months. It’s late March now, it’ll be late June when—perhaps—the wedding bells may ring.
Bliss smiled involuntarily.
“Perhaps the lady won’t look on Herrick with kindliness. Maybe she has a sweetheart.”
“Not one with two million dollars, I’m thinking.”
“No, probably not. Now, Mr. Vail, what about this? Sarah Holden, you know her?”
“Yes. Keep her on your side, if possible.”
“She’s so much on my side, I don’t know what to do. I’m staying there and she wants me to take full charge as long as I will stay. She wants me to set the day for the funeral.”
“Well, set it.”
“Tomorrow, I’d say. There’s a mortician here, we’re not entirely in the back woods. He’ll get it all ready. Tell Sarah, and she’ll do the rest. I’ll see to the bills.”
“Very well. I start back to New York as soon as the funeral is over.”
“Yes, I think you would be wise to do so.”
“Just what do you mean by that? Is the other faction—”
“Yes, that’s it. We can’t say another faction, but the point is, the Village Improvement Society is pretty eager to get the fortune, and if you are here working aganst them they can’t feel very kindly toward you. And as there is nothing you can do in the matter, it would really be better for you to go back to New York.”
Bliss looked at him.
Was the man sincere or was he himself in sympathy with the village people? He felt it was not a question for him to decide, he would put it up to Fleming Stone.
He left Vail’s office, went to the mortician’s place, and made arrangements for the funeral, all subject to Mrs. Holden’s approval. Then he went back to the Webb house.
“Sarah,” he said, when they were alone in the plushy parlor, “I told Mr. Vail that Brand Herrick was not here because he was ill. I thought it better not to have it told around the Corners that he is in prison and anyway, he’ll doubtless be out in a few days.”
“I’m glad you see it that way, Mr. Bliss. I thought of asking you to do it. Now, no one will know it no one will ever know it. We don’t have the New York papers here or any city papers. Now what do you want us to do? Can we stay here?”
“Yes, Sarah. It is your house, Mr. Vail will tell you so. And you and yours belong here, and can stay here forever.”
To an interested audience of two, Clarence Bliss told the story of his flying trip to Michigan.
Fleming Stone listened with close attention and a critical mind.
Herrick listened in a dazed bewilderment. Was this his home town Bliss was talking about? It sounded crude enough, but it was citified compared to the memories of Brand’s early years. There was no such thing as a funeral parlor there the last time he saw it.
But that last time was a painful remembrance, for Uncle Jason had not welcomed him and did not invite him to come again. Why, then, why, was he leaving him the Webb fortune?
And now Bliss was describing the house, and also, Sarah.
“Sarah Holden is a remarkable woman,” Clarence was saying. “She took care of old man Webb, and he so appreciated her good sense and good nature that he left her the house and grounds, and money to keep it going.”
“Herrick didn’t receive a complete copy of the will, then?” Stone asked.
“No, Vail told me there were several codicils but they are of minor importance. The Holdens are well liked, and Vail said that everybody was glad of Sarah’s good fortune. Now as to Webb’s daughter, Sarah told me all about her. She was Webb’s only child, born in 1890. Sarah, then about twenty was parlor maid in the Webb house, and was later, nurse to little Jane. Well, from what I gathered, Jane had inherited her father’s disposition and had few friends and no sweethearts. Then, when she was twenty-seven years old, she eloped with John Wiley. He was the only man who had ever asked her, Sarah said, and old Jason refused his consent, Wiley not being much of a man. So, when Jane went off with him, and wrote back to her father for forgiveness, he sent her a furious letter, disowning her and forbidding her in the house.
“Well, Jane Wiley came back once more, to plead for mercy and for help, but her father wouldn’t even see her. She brought her baby daughter with her, but even that didn’t soften the curmudgeon’s heart. The infant was Genevieve Wiley. Jane hated her own name and called her child Genevieve as a variant, but the little one went by the name of Jenny. So there’s the girl we have to look for.”
“The mother is dead?” Stone asked.
“Yes, and it is rumored that Wiley married again but that is not positively known. And here is Wiley’s story. He married Jane because he thought old Jason wouldn’t live forever, and his money would come to his only child. But Jane died and Jason kept on living. And nobody knows where Wiley lives, or whether he is alive at all. And the same of Genevieve Wiley. Can you find her, Mr. Stone?”
“Can do,” said Stone, absentmindedly.
After a few minutes talk between the partners on their business matters Bliss went to the office.
“Bliss sees clearly enough,” Stone said, thoughtfully, “but he doesn’t see deeply enough. He says there is nothing to be done at the Corners, and I quite agree. But this, then, is the situation. The population of the village, to a man, and also to a woman, are all on one side. They are all eager for the Webb money. Which is natural. And they have no active opponent. If any one of them knew where the girl is, I am not sure he’d tell. They are hellbent to get the funds for their fair city of the future. Now there must be an opponent, and a strong one. We are the opponent, we represent the other side of Webb’s will, indeed, the first, the most important side.”
“That’s the talk! But where is the first ditch?”
“The first one is to find Sweet Genevieve. Or to find that she is not alive, if that is how it is. It will, I think, be wise to try for the girl, through the father. Do you know where he’d be likely to hang out?”
“For a guess, I’d say Chicago. The village people look up to Lansing and they look further up to Detroit, but Chicago is their mecca.”
“A harder place to find people in than New York, I understand.” Stone went away and straight to his own apartment where he was quickly joined by a young man named Peter Cobb. He was a protégé of Stone’s and had already proved himself a good worker.
“Are you game for a dangerous sortie into the wilds of Chicago?” the detective asked his henchman.
“The wilder the better.”
“Then listen. You know of the Webb affair? The missing heiress and all that?”
“Yes, but it’s rather shut off, isn’t it?”
“You mean the news about it?”
“I hadn’t noticed that. Done on purpose, I think. You don’t find a missing person by publicity.”
“You want me to find one? And in Chicago?”
“Or points more or less adjacent. It’s the father of the missing girl that you’re after.”
“A missing father of a missing girl! What does she look like?”
“Seems to me Bliss said he had a picture of her. Why didn’t he give it to me? You telephone his office, Cobb, and ask him if he has one. Tell him I’ll send a messenger for it. You do that while I look over these letters.”
After a few moments, Cobb said that Bliss would send the picture right over, but it wasn’t much good as it was a baby picture.
“No, that can’t help us. I think you’d better work something like this. All we really know is, that the Webb girl eloped with the Wiley man in 1917. She was then twenty-seven years old. They went to Chicago to live. Now, suppose you start out by getting hold of old Chicago telephone books for 1911 and on, and see if you can dig up John Wiley. If you can’t, then go to the post office or the City Hall or Information Bureaus, if any—or see what you can think up yourself, in the way of finding him.”
Then a messenger brought the picture from Bliss.
It was an old photograph, but not much faded, and it showed a mother and daughter, the little one about two years old.
Fleming Stone caught a hint.
“Look, Peter, it isn’t much, but don’t forget it. See, they are both laughing, and they both show the same peculiarity.”
“What is it?”
“Look at them. Both have front teeth, slightly separated. It happens once in a while and it is, I’ve been told, hereditary.”
“I thought I was to look for a man. What are his teeth like?”
“I don’t know. You are looking for John Wiley, but as a lead to his daughter. I shan’t be at all surprised if you can’t find him, but I do hope you can!”
Peter Cobb ran along, and Stone flashed his quick mind to Herrick’s affairs which involved a visit to the McCleod apartment.
He learned that Hugh was not home, so he asked Foo Chow to send Dickson to him.
“Is Linda here?” Stone asked, when the valet appeared.
“Yes, sir, she is still attending to Mrs. McCleod’s wardrobe.”
“And she has the jewels in her keeping?”
“Well, Dickson, I want that bangle that Mrs. McCleod was wearing the night she died.”
“You want to take it away, Mr. Stone?”
“Yes, Dickson. I will bring it back—no, I’ll leave it for you at your brother’s shop. You know Mr. McCleod will not be looking for it in the safe today. But if he should ask for it, tell him I took it.”
“Very well, Mr. Stone, I’ll get it.”
Dickson went away, and returned with the bangle, wrapped in a piece of white tissue paper.
“It will be at your brother’s place for you this afternoon, by or before three,” Stone promised.
Then the detective called at two of the largest jewelry shops in the city, but both were certain it had been bought elsewhere.
This was what Stone had feared, and he was prepared to call at some of the diamond brokers who obligingly bought pieces of jewelry from individual owners who wished to part with their treasures.
It was after three unsuccessful attempts that Fleming Stone found a broker who recognized the trinket.
“Yes, I sold that bangle,” he said, “about a week or so ago. A pretty thing and made up of fine stones.”
“Will you tell me who bought it from you?” Stone asked.
It took a little more conversation to bring the desired assent, but Stone learned that Van Dyke Haynes had bought it and paid for it. “That is all,” said the detective.
Then Stone stopped in a friend’s office, called a messenger and dispatched to Dickson’s brother the bangle that Van Haynes had given to Alma.
It was an elated young man who boarded an airplane for Chicago on an errand for Fleming Stone.
He established himself in a big hotel, telephoned to Stone’s home and left a message with Kent as to his plans.
As a start he made a grab for the telephone book in his hotel room.
But as he had feared, no John Wiley appeared on its page.
He went to the post office, but was unable to learn anything there. A few other places of possible information proved equally hopeless, and he went to telephone headquarters in an effort to get access to a file of back number telephone directories.
It brought results, far from definite, but having possibilities.
The years of the early married life of John Wiley, showed telephone numbers, but they changed often. There was no telephone number at all listed in Wiley’s name for the last few years, and Cobb concluded the man had moved away from Chicago, or his fortunes had fallen so low that he had no business address.
Patiently, Peter Cobb called at the numbers he had found, but excepting for-scattering and contradictory bits of information, he learned nothing of Wiley’s present residence.
But at last he learned that Wiley’s wife, Helen Wiley, conducted a smart dress shop in a fashionable street.
So he concluded, Wiley had married again, and was, if still alive, being supported by his wife.
He went to the dress shop. John Wiley, Cobb had ascertained, would now be about fifty, and Mrs. Helen Wiley was apparently in her middle thirties.
Though polite, she seemed to resent his questions.
“I am anxious to see your husband,” he said. “Will you tell me where I can find him?”
“Why do you want to see him?”
“Because of his connection with the family of Jason Webb,” said Cobb, a little sharply. “His first wife, I am told, was Webb’s daughter.”
“Yes, she was. But I am his wife now, and anything you have to say about the Webb affairs you can say to me.”
“Very well,” Cobb spoke more genially; “then we will have a little talk now. Tell me, does Mr. Wiley’s daughter live with you?”
The lady looked at him warily. She seemed uncertain as to what to say.
“She doesn’t live with us now,” she said, “I think she lives—I don’t know where she lives.”
Cobb didn’t believe this, so he said:
“You know, if there is any chance of Mr. Wiley getting any of the Webb money, it would be through his daughter. You do not know the terms of his will?”
“He left no will.”
“How do you know that?”
“My husband told me so.”
“He is interested in the matter then?”
“How can he be, when there is no will, and when he is forbidden to go to the Webb house?”
“Why is that? He was the husband of Webb’s daughter.”
“Well, he isn’t now. And I want him to keep away from the whole business. He’ll only get into trouble.”
“Perhaps you are wise. Now, Mrs. Wiley, I want you to tell me where John Wiley is, or tell why you are unwilling to let me know that.”
But Helen Wiley lost her temper, stamped her foot and ordered the investigator out of her shop.
Scenting some deeper trouble than her indignation at being questioned by a stranger, Cobb went away thoughtfully. He telephoned at once to Stone, and found him available.
Stone told him to go next to the Police Headquarters and get their assistance.
Peter Cobb obeyed, but his success was not immediate. He had to wait for inquiries to be made in various departments, and though John Wiley had more than once had his name on their jail list, it did not seem to be there now. However, they would continue their investigation, and would let Cobb know results.
Baffled but hopeful, the young man tried again to get some facts about the daughter, Jenny Wiley. The lady of the dress shop gave him another interview, but the only bit of knowledge he gleaned was that Jenny Wiley had left the paternal roof when she was about fourteen.
“Were you then married to Wiley?”
“Yes, his first wife died a year before we were married. But—”
Peter Cobb had a sudden inspiration. After several broad hints from the owner of the dress shop he realized she might be amenable to financial argument.
This sort of talk Helen Wiley understood, and though Cobb admitted that he could make no definite promises, he was sure there would be reward forthcoming for definite information about Genevieve.
“All I can tell you is’,” Helen began, “that the girl and I couldn’t get along together. I told Wiley that she must leave the house or I must. I was supporting him, so he put the girl out to board with a woman he knew, here in Chicago. That’s all I wanted, and I suppose he paid for her board, for I know I didn’t. I never heard of the girl again, and I don’t think he ever did. But I’m pretty sure she landed on her feet somehow, for she was smart.”
“Could she support herself?”
“Not at fourteen. But she had a knack of painting little doodads and she sold them to the specialty shops. But that’s all I know about her.”
“I doubt if you’d be paid much for that,” Cobb smiled at her. “Can’t you dig up some more about her? What was the name of the woman she boarded with?”
“Oh, that was Mrs. Terrill. But I did hear that somebody took a shine to her, some rich woman, and I was told that she took Jenny to live with her. It may be true, for I know Wiley couldn’t keep on paying her board.”
Cobb sighed. It all looked so hazy.
“Well,” he said, “tell me where to look for Mrs. Terrill. You know you haven’t told me anything worthwhile. Now, tell me where Wiley is.”
“Well,” she said, with an air of surrender, “if I must tell you, he’s in jail.”
“Are you sure of that? I’ve already asked the police, and they have no record of it.”
Mrs. Wiley smiled.
“My dear boy,” she said, “you don’t know all the tricks of the trade. John Wiley has a real talent for getting into jail, but he seldom goes there over his own name.”
“Oh, then you mean he is now locked up, but not as John Wiley?”
“That’s exactly what I mean, but I can’t oblige you with his assumed name because I don’t know it. He doesn’t use the same one twice.”
“Why did you marry him? A smart woman like you!”
“Oh, it was nine years ago. He was good looking then, and he had fascinating ways. I’ve left him two or three times, but he drags me back. He is—”
“Where is he in jail? How can I find out what name he is using? It will be really worth your while to let me at him!”
“But I don’t know. There’s only one person who might know. And that’s Ben Monk. He’s John’s pal, and I think they keep in pretty close touch.”
“All right, Mrs. Wiley. Now you tell me where I can find Mr. Monk and also what you know about the Mrs. Terrill who took the little girl to board, and I’ll prove my gratitude in the way you want it proved.”
“Will you promise never to tell that I helped you in these things?”
“I’ll promise to keep your name out of it, but if they suspect it, I can’t help that.”
“No, well, Mrs. Terrill, at that time, lived on Baker Street near Courtney Avenue, but I don’t know as she’s still there. And Ben Monk, you can find somewhere in Coulter’s Alley, it’s a small place.”
Peter Cobb made tracks for Coulter’s Alley, and found it a more decent locality than he had expected. But Ben Monk was out of town, a neighbor told him, and wouldn’t be back until the next day.
As this was only the second day of Cobb’s Chicago search, he was not disheartened, but went to Mrs. Terrill.
That lady he found in her Baker Street home, and she was still taking boarders, although, as she told him, it was many years since she had had Jenny Wiley among her guests.
She was voluble, she interrupted Cobb whenever he spoke, but she seemed sure of her facts and ready to tell all she knew. She denounced John Wiley in strong terms. She had never known the first Mrs. Wiley, but the second one was oh lawks!
“She came to see the little girl?”
“Only a few times. Jenny ran away to hide when she knew her stepmother was coming.”
“What became of Jenny?”
“Why, it was like a fairy-tale. You see, John Wiley paid the child’s board all right at first, then he was always behind with his payments and then he didn’t pay at all. But by that time, Jenny was going to art school and she was making good, and a lady helped her a lot. Then the lady, Mrs. Stanton her name was, died, and she left Jenny some money, not a fortune, but enough so Jenny could go to New York to study art. Jenny went away and never came back. She told me she was going to change her name because she was ashamed of her father. She wouldn’t tell me what name she meant to take and she just flouted herself off, and I’ve never heard a word from her. Sort of mean, I think, after all I did for her!”
“What did you do for her?”
“Why, I kept her here long after her father didn’t pay her board! I guess that’s something!”
“Yes, it is. If you could help me find her in New York, it would be worth your while.”
“Is that so? Really? Well, it mightn’t help much, but I could give you one steer.”
“Better give it, and if it amounts to anything, I’ll see that you get some reward for it.”
“Well, it’s the names of the art schools she went to here. Three of ’em she attended, and I’ll bet the teachers in some of ’em could tell you where Jenny fetched up in New York.”
Peter Cobb spent that afternoon visiting the art schools, but as the events he was interested in took place some seven or eight years ago, it was difficult to trace them. Art schools seemed fond of changing their teachers and few remembered the young art student who was a protégée of the patroness, Mrs. Stanton.
Next morning, he started again for Coulter’s Alley and the redoubtable Ben Monk. Cobb had a notion that he was on the right track.
But Ben Monk didn’t think that at all. He growled out of one corner of a slack, loose-hung mouth. “You gettahell outa here!” But Cobb had learned a few ropes.
“Say,” he said, confidentially, “you tell me something I want to know, and I’ll make it worth your while.”
But it seemed that no outside matters were worth the very valuable while of Ben Monk.
“Whazzat!” he said, belligerently, “you a tryin’ to compound a fellerny! You better stop it!”
“Not at all!” Cobb almost laughed. “It’s all in the interest of justice. I just want to know a little something about John Wiley.”
“Yer do, hey! And what’s John Wiley ever done to you that you’ve got it in for him?”
“I want to know what name Wiley is in jail under, that’s all.”
Ben Monk’s jaw dropped, and he looked as if he had been hit by a falling meteorite.
“Hey, Cully,” he said, with a bit more courtesy in his tones, “now, what little bird flew down out of the blue and told you that John Wiley was in jail by any name?”
“That’s a secret between me and the little bird. But it doesn’t matter. And why are you so wrought up over Wiley’s being in jail?”
“I didn’t mean no harm. Who are you, anyway?”
“Just a guardian of the peace. But I think you won’t make me any more trouble. I must go now, I have a date with Wiley.”
Monk stood as if petrified, and with mouth and eyes open he stared after this strange young man.
Back in his hotel room, Cobb called Stone and told him the whole story. They had a partial code for proper names and some oft-used words, so Stone had the gist of the matter in a short time.
“All right, Cobb,” the detective said, “you go to Headquarters, find the Chief and tell him the whole story. Ask him if he can’t find Wiley, who is in jail, but under an assumed name. Then ask him not to do or say anything to Wiley, after he discovers him, but to keep him there in jail until I can get there. On no account to let him get loose.”
Fleming Stone decided he must make a few calls in New York.
Having found out who bought the diamond bangle, Stone wanted to interview Van Dyke Haynes on the subject. Also, Miss Emily McCleod had asked him to come to see her on a matter she wished to consult him about. Though pressed for time, Stone thought it might be worth his while to have a confab with the sharp sighted Scotch woman, and he went there first.
Foo Chow admitted him, and when he asked for Miss McCleod, the butler said:
“Mr. McAllowed says tell you he like see you first.”
Hugh soon appeared, and was courteous though somewhat perturbed.
“How d’do, Stone? Sit down, sit down, give me a few minutes before you see Emmy, won’t you?”
Stone looked at the man and realized that he was in a nervous state. He had wanted to lead the conversation around to the death of Alma, but he concluded this was not a favorable time for that.
“I am not sure I know what Miss McCleod wants,” he said, “but I think it has to do with her financial affairs.”
“Yes,” and Hugh looked annoyed, “yes, that is it. A fine thing to be asking a great detective to look after business! But you’ll have to see her, Mr. Stone, since you have agreed to do so. Now, please do this. Tell her you are a busy man and you can’t take up matters outside your own line of work.”
“But I may be able to give her some good advice.”
“So can any lawyer, so can any bank clerk. Why ask for your valuable time! But never mind that; since you are going to see her, just advise her—she’ll listen to you—not to have any dealings with Ogden Murray.”
“I can hardly say anything so definite as that, I scarcely know Mr. Murray.”
“You know what I tell you, and I think you know this, anyway. He was trying to sell my wife some worthless stocks or shares in a faked oil well. Now, he is trying to dispose of those same shares to my sister. I am asking you to dissuade her from buying them, that’s all.”
“Why don’t you want her to buy them?”
McCleod looked at him, almost scornfully. “Because it is simply throwing money away. I am a rich man, but that is no reason a large amount of my money should be presented to Mr. Murray for no value received. That’s all I ask of you, Mr. Stone. I will send Emmy to you here.”
“How is your father, sir? Improving, I trust.”
“No, Mr. Stone, he is no better. Oh, that’s another thing. My sister, now, that I am alone, wants to give up their apartment and live down here with me. To live with her would drive me distracted in no time at all! My sister is tyrannical and dictatorial. Won’t you say something to her to make her see that the arrangement of our living in one apartment cannot be brought about at present, though it may come in the future.”
“I will, I assure you,” and Stone, who lived alone from choice, felt a sincere sympathy for anyone who must live with uncongenial housemates.
Then Hugh went away and Emmy came.
She stalked into the room, looking like a Boadicea, Stone thought, and she sat down in a straight stiff chair and said, “When I ask you to come to see me, Mr. Stone, I don’t mean for you to spend the afternoon with my brother.”
“No?” said Stone, without any special emphasis. He almost showed indifference.
“I should have preferred seeing you in my own apartment, but as we are coming down to live in this one, it is as well to get used to it.”
“You are moving down?”
“Yes, immediately. Hugh insists upon it, he is so lonely in this big place, without Alma.”
“No, Miss McCleod, Mr. McCleod is not lonely for you and your father to live with him, he does not want you to do so.”
“He told you that, did he? Bless his heart, he is so kind-hearted. He knows I make a great sacrifice in giving up my home and coming down to his so he pretends he does not want me to do it.”
“You think that?” and Stone’s eyes showed plainly his disbelief. “Now, Miss Emily, the thing your brother needs is a trip somewhere, a long trip, perhaps by water.”
“Oh, I can’t let Hugh go away from me,” she said positively, “he needs me with him. And we can’t both leave Father. No, Mr. Stone, this is out of the question.”
Stone was unwilling to pursue the subject further, and he asked what he could do for her about her affairs.
He then listened to her glowing account of the wonderful project that Mr. Murray had offered her and stated her intention of accepting the offer without the unnecessary expense of a lawyer’s assistance, or the advice of a banker.
Stone told her in a polite but decided way that she made a great mistake to pursue such a plan, and she would soon discover that for herself if she persisted in it. He said for her to lay the matter before her brother, who knew all about such things and whose advice would be the best obtainable.
Whereupon Emmy showed signs of temper and Stone took his leave.
He went next to see Van Haynes.
Haynes was glad to see him, if only from curiosity. He was in his own home, and he greeted Stone cordially.
“Mighty glad to see you,” he said. “Any news about Alma?”
Stone noticed the way he pronounced the name, and he had no further doubt that this was the man who had come into the coat room next after Brand Herrick.”
“Nothing direct, no. I want to tell you frankly, though, that I have learned that you are the man who purchased that diamond bangle.”
Haynes looked at him.
“Mr. Stone,” he said, “does that make you suspect me of the murder?”
“Not that alone, no. Mr. Haynes, the murderer was the man who entered the room last, that night. I mean last of you four men, whom Raynor questioned. You say that Herrick came in just after you were there.”
“Mr. Stone, if I should tell you that I did go into the room by one door, as Brand was going out at the other, would you conclude that I was the murderer?”
“It would be, to a degree, evidence of your guilt.”
“Why? Why do you and Raynor decide that only we four are to be suspected? There were others at the party. Other men went in and out.”
“I wasn’t there, Mr. Haynes, but I have been informed that the last of you four who entered committed the crime. It was discovered immediately after.”
“They haven’t the time pinned down as closely as that. Mr. Stone, I did not kill that girl, I did not kill Mrs. McCleod. I took her the bangle, and I gave it to her. She said, ‘I shall tell Hugh that I bought this myself, with my own money!’ I agreed, as I would have agreed to anything she said. I was in love with her, Mr. Stone.”
“Did she love you in return?”
“She just laughed if anyone became serious and told him to clear out. And if he cleared out it was only to drift back again.”
“On whom does your suspicion fall?”
“I don’t know but I’ll say anyone but Brand Herrick! He didn’t fall for Alma as the rest of us did, and that only made her try harder to make him.”
Again Stone noticed the odd way Haynes pronounced the name, and he felt certain that he had come into the room after Brand, but he had not killed Mrs. McCleod.
There was something about Haynes’ voice and his manner of speaking that commanded Stone’s confidence.
He took a shot in the dark.
“Did you ever see a girl,” he said, “whose front teeth were separated—just a trifle?”
Van stared at him.
“Why,” he began, “I’ve seen two or three in my life, I suppose, but not lately—hold on, though, I have seen one lately, too! Not long ago, but I can’t place her.”
“In New York?”
“Yes, and on Park Avenue. Why, at the McCleod party.”
“Don’t make things up!” Stone smiled.
“I’m not! She was there. But I don’t know who she was. If you’ll sit there till Christmas, I’ll think of her name.”
“Too long to wait. If the name comes to you, let me know. Didn’t you dance with her?”
“No. But I’ll tell you who did. Murray. He was with her for some time, and then she disappeared. A Cinderella act, sort of.”
“All right, if you see her again, ask her what her name is.”
Stone left young Haynes without telling him that he was going to see Ogden Murray.—
When he introduced himself, Murray failed to show the pleased smile that usually greeted Stone’s disclosure of his identity, and he said, almost gruffly, “What can I do for you?”
“Just answer a few questions,” Stone said, amiably, and he took a seat without being asked.
“I’m exceedingly busy,” Murray told him, with a slight show of irritation.
“It has to do with the McCleod party.”
“You mean Alma’s death? I know nothing about that.”
“It is not her death that I want to speak about, Mr. Murray. It is a different matter. It has to do with a young lady who was at the party, but who did not belong to what Mrs. McCleod called her crowd. This young lady had a sweet smile, which showed her front teeth slightly separated. Now, do you know her?”
“I know the girl you mean. I never saw her before that night or since. Don’t tell me she’s mixed up in the murder!”
“No, indeed. It’s another affair. What was this girl’s name?”
“I don’t remember. She was with Miss Malcolm. Wait a minute, her name will come to me. I’ve got it! It is Una Deane. And that’s all I know about her.”
“I’m glad to get that much information. Now the lady she went home with, who was she?”
“Miss Malcolm, the artist. She’s a landscape painter, and stands pretty high, I believe.”
“Do you know where I can find her?”
“I don’t know where she lives, but I know she is one of the patronesses of that big School of Design on Madison Avenue. I guess the Deane girl studies there.”
So eager was Fleming Stone to carry on a hunt for this art student with separated teeth, and so disinclined was he to say anything to Ogden Murray about his oil stock, that he left the office without mentioning oil or Emily. Miss Emily’s brother could take care of his sister’s investments, and if he couldn’t it wasn’t up to Fleming Stone to butt in.
He went straight home, and sat down in his own study to think things out. He hadn’t much hope of the Una Deane matter, but it would be exciting to follow up the hint Murray had given him.
The telephone bell rang.
And its message wiped Stone’s mind clear of all the things he had just been preparing to think out.
For it was Dickson’s voice, and it said that Miss Emily McCleod was dead, and that she had been murdered.
Fleming Stone tautened to attention commanded his voice and asked Dickson if he had better come over. And Dickson replied that he didn’t know, to wait a minute and he would ask Mr. McCleod. And in a minute he reported that Mr. McCleod said yes, for Mr. Stone to come right over as soon as he could.
Before Stone started on his new errand, he called Kent in.
“Now Miss McCleod is murdered,” he told his man. “I haven’t time to consider what this is going to mean, I have many things to attend to. I don’t know when I shall be back here, but if Cobb calls me from Chicago, tell him Miss McCleod is dead, but for him not to tell anyone. And tell him I will call him at his hotel at seven in the morning, if not before that. He must be there when I call, make him understand that.”
“Yes, Mr. Stone. And—” Kent coughed a little—“you’ve forgottea to remember it’s almost dinner time.
“If its a good dinner, eat it yourself, Kent.
And with that Fleming Stone was off for the McCleod home.
He went to Hugh’s apartment, and Foo Chow let him in.
“Mr. McCleod expects me, he said.
And in a moment more, Stone was in the presence of Hugh and Detective Captain Raynor and Colby.
Stone turned to the policemen. “I felt I must look in,” he said. “Tell me the details, will you, Raynor?”
“I’ll tell you,” and Hugh spoke in a constrained voice. “I know what happened as well as if I had seen it done! Ogden Murray killed my sister, and no police investigation and no detective work can change that fact.”
“But we have to make a search for proofs,” Raynor said. “It seems to me, Stone, that this death and Mrs. McCleod’s were by the same hand.”
“Then Ogden Murray killed Alma, too.” Hugh did not sound excited, his voice was low and intense. “I have suspected it. Prove it, Stone, and free Herrick. I never really thought he was the one.”
Stone looked at the speaker, curiously. He had taken it for granted that McCleod believed in Herrick’s guilt.
“What we think or what we suspect doesn’t matter much,” Raynor said; “it is proof we want. You say Mr. Murray was here this afternoon, Mr. McCleod?’
“Yes, he was.” The words seemed to be addressed to Stone. “You left here between three and four, Mr. Stone. Murray came about four, and was with Emmy in her sitting-room for a half hour or so. Dunn let Murray in, and let him out. Dunn is not sure to a minute, but he knows Murray was there from four to half past.”
“And who discovered Miss Emmy—?”
“Dunn did,” Hugh went on. “As I’ve already told Captain Raynor, Dunn expected Emmy would summon him after Murray left, but Emmy didn’t ring and he knocked at her door. There was no answer, and he ventured to open the door and look in. He found poor Emmy—”
“You say she was smothered?” Stone was sorry to be so direct, in the presence of the dead woman’s brother, but he had to learn the details from a responsible person.
“I can’t say exactly until I learn the autopsy report,” answered Raynor, “but there was no shot, nor was there any visible wound.”
“You are going to interview Mr. Murray?” Stone asked.
“At once,” but Raynor looked none too well pleased at the prospect.
“I saw him this afternoon,” Stone told them. “At about five o’clock or shortly after. He did not look like a man who had just committed murder.”
McCleod looked at him.
“I should think,” he said slowly, “both you men must have had experiences that prove if a man can commit a ghastly murder, he must have enough will power to carry it off afterward.”
“Not always,” Raynor put in. “A murderer is keyed up with his motive, whatever it may be, and afterward, reaction sets in, and he is often lacking in will power and even self-control. I have seen them.”
“Then who could have killed Emmy?” Hugh’s voice was almost a wail.
“I must go now,” Stone said, rising. “I have to be in Chicago tomorrow morning. I hope to be back some time tomorrow, and I will see you again, Mr. McCleod.”
Once in the street, Stone walked a few blocks, while he made his plans; then he beckoned a taxi and gave Miss Martha Malcolm’s address. This he had easily found from the telephone book, and he went there without waiting to ask if she would see him.
He gave his name to the maid who opened the door to him, and in a few minutes Martha Malcolm was with him.
“I am trying to trace a young woman by the name of Una Deane,” he said. “Can you tell me where to look for her?”
“I wish you could tell me,” Miss Malcolm said,” sadly. “I, too, am trying to find her.”
“She is really missing, then?”
“Yes, Mr. Stone, and though I can tell you the circumstances of her disappearance, I fear that is of small use in finding her.”
“Tell me, please.”
“This is the story.” Miss Malcolm’s voice quivered as she began, but she controlled herself bravely, and as she talked, she grew calmer.
“Una Deane is in our school,” she said, “and is one of our most promising pupils. She is ambitious and longs to become a real artist. Of her private life I know little; she boarded with a Mrs. Coleman on Lexington Avenue. Three days ago, this is what happened. There came to the school, during work hours, a taxi driver, who said that he had been hailed by a gentleman, who had asked him to drive to the school, ask for Miss Deane, give her a note, which he handed to the driver, and then, he said, Miss Deane would go with him to the address the note indicated.
The note, evidently written by a man, purported to be from my brother, and it said that I was very ill, having had a stroke, and that I was most anxious to see Miss Deane at once, and for her please to come with the taximan. The note was given to Miss Deane, who insisted on starting right off with the driver, and did so. One of the maids, who went to the door with Miss Deane, said the taxi driver seemed a decent sort. That was the last we ever saw or heard of Miss Deane. Oh, please try to find her, Mr. Stone.”
“Can anyone describe the man who came for her?”
“No more definitely than I have told you. We have no doubt he was a regular driver, and had no purpose but to obey the person who had sent him upon the errand.”
“He did not bring Miss Deane to this house?”
“No, that’s why we are so worried. Where did he take her? Who is he working for? She had few friends and none of them was objectionable in any way. But somebody’s made up that story about my being ill, and so lured her away from the school.”
“You know Ogden Murray?”
“Oh, yes, he took quite a little notice of Una at a party I took her to, at the McCleods.”
“You and she left the party before the tragedy occurred?”
“Yes, I am thankful to say, we did.”
“You have communicated with Miss Deane’s boarding house?”
“Yes, it is kept by Mrs. Coleman. She is very worried about Una, but she can give us no help.”
“What is her address, please? And have you told me everything you know about it all?”
“Was your brother with you at the time?”
“No, he was out of town. That’s what first made me think it was queer.”
“Tell me, Miss Deane had front teeth that were a little apart from one another?”
“Yes, she thought it a disfigurement. She told me her mother’s teeth were the same.”
Next, Stone went to see Clarence Bliss.
He told him of Emily’s death, and they discussed the question of telling Brand Herrick.
“In my opinion he should be told,” Stone said, with decision. “It is his trouble, and if there is a gleam of hope he ought to know it, even if it is temporary.”
It was then almost midnight, and Stone went home, where he took up his telephone, after instructing Kent to give him some food and pack a very small bag for an immediate fly to Chicago.
Then a few more instructions and errands and Stone was off.
He had telephoned Cobb to expect him, and that brisk young assistant met him on his arrival with a smiling face.
In Cobb’s hotel room they had a talk, free from fears of being overheard.
“I know where Wiley is,” Cobb announced, triumphantly, and Stone expressed due surprise and pleasure.
“I did just what you told me,” the youth went on. “I got hold of the Chief and said I was workin’ for you, and did he fall! Wiley, over the name of Abe Connors, is in this here jail—I wrote it all down for you. His time won’t be up for a month, but he can see some few people and I coulda seen him, if I’d said so. But you didn’t tell me to do that, so I just marked time till you got here. I found out a little about him but not much.”
Then Cobb recounted his sessions with Wiley’s wife and with the terrible Monk. He talked carefully, watching Stone’s face, and if he saw a slightest expression of boredom or of unbelief he changed his style.
“Tell me more of Ben Monk,” Stone said, and Cobb described the man’s manner and appearance.
“I’ve made friends with a guy that lives near Ben Monk. Now, I know this. Monk is away for two or three days and he was a sort of stand-in, who keeps his place goin’. I don’t know what their game is, but I think they’re up to something shady. The substitute guy, Colly, they call him, sometimes drops in at the jail to see Wiley in visitin’ hours. There’s some double crossing going on. I don’t get it, but it’s something serious. All I know is that Monk did something for Wiley, in New York, and it had to do with some girl, something like kidnaping or that.”
“How do you know this much?”
“I was told by this feller that tells me things and I pay him. Lott, his name is. And he says that Monk is up to something that is driving Wiley frantic, but he can’t do nothing, being in jail. Lott says Colly is tryin’ to get the girl’s address out of Wiley, but he can’t ’cause the guards listen in all the time, and Wiley won’t tell it if they are there.”
When Fleming Stone was ushered into the cell of Abe Connors, and found there with him a young man, he concluded Wiley’s visitor was Colly.
The two men were talking rapidly as Stone entered. He judged they were arguing but not quarreling.
The guard who had brought him, remained in the cell, which made the place a bit crowded.
Stone said directly to the prisoner, “Mr. Wiley, I want to ask you a few questions.”
“You can ask but I don’t have to answer.”
The man seemed more disheartened than angry.
“You seem to know a lot! Who are you anyhow?”
“I am a detective from New York, and I am trying to find your daughter, for her own good and yours.”
“Nothing good will ever come my way.” The man looked despairing, and then, with a sudden change of manner, said:
“I have nothing to tell you.”
“Well, perhaps not. Why are you holding on to that pack of cards so tightly? I am not going to take them from you.” Wiley looked a little embarrassed.
“I play Solitaire,” he said, “it makes the time pass a bit.”
“Yes, it does. Well, Wiley, if you won’t tell me where Genevieve is, I must find out for myself. You know Jason Webb is dead?”
“What’s it to me?”—
“It might be something to your daughter. You’re not very wise to trust her to Ben Monk.”
Stone was a little surprised to see Wiley look up quickly at this. But he only said, casually, “I know a new Solitaire game, want me to show you?”
“No, I don’t,” Wiley snapped. “Colly, I wish you’d bring me some new cards. I want two packs—alike, you know. I want to play the Eight Kings game.”
“Gimme your old ones.”
Colly held out his hands for the cards Wiley was holding, but Fleming Stone neatly lifted them from Wiley’s hand himself, and put them in his pocket.
“Gimme them cards, Mr. Stone.” It was Colly who spoke, but he looked terrified for some reason.
Stone laughed. “I’ll give you a dollar instead. That’ll buy some new cards for Wiley. Well, I must move on,” and he turned to the waiting guard. “Sorry you don’t like me, Wiley. I could have helped you—”
“Yes, you could!” Wiley sneered. “Helped me into a worse spot than I’m in now. Get outa here!”
Stone left the jail, hopped a taxi and was soon back in Cobb’s room at the hotel with a small table in front of him on which he was eagerly laying out the soiled cards he had taken from Colly’s soiled hand.
“It must be,” he was murmuring to himself. “Wiley couldn’t have said Eight Kings, unless he meant it!”
Wiley was a card sharp, the guard at the jail had told Stone that, he was accustomed to sleight of hand. In fact, Cobb had discovered that he was rather expert at magic tricks, and had given exhibitions.
Stone, himself, could do card tricks, and he knew all the famous and popular ones. One of them, a classic, depended on the performer knowing by rote the couplet:
Eight Kings threatened to save
Nine fine ladies for one sick knave.
This patter represented the sequence of cards, in a trick well known to magicians, and Fleming Stone suspected that if he could solve it, it would give him some important information. He reasoned that Wiley was trying to tell Colly where Genevieve Wiley was, without letting the guard or Stone know.
If a message was concealed in the arrangement of the cards by Wiley, it was necessary for him to give Colly the key. This, Stone assumed, he had done, when he mentioned Eight Kings. For the couplet represented, in a sort of phonetic way, the thirteen playing cards, which ran in this order.
Eight, King, three, ten, two, seven, nine, five, Queen, four, Ace, six, Jack.
Stone arranged the cards in suits and in this order. Then he placed the suits in order of their value, though of course another arrangement might be necessary. But he was experimenting.
And he was rewarded. The trick was not invented by Wiley, indeed, it is one of the oldest on record. The principle being that if a pack of cards were arranged in a given order, known to both parties, a secret message could be given.
Since Fleming Stone knew the right order, because of Wiley’s mentioning Eight Kings, he found the words he was looking for, clearly printed on the sides of the pack.
On one side he read the name Una Deane and on the other side, a street number that he knew to be very far uptown on the extreme west side of Manhattan.
The guard at the jail had told him that one day he caught Abe Connors and his visitor talking on their fingers, like deaf mutes, and he had been told never to leave the prisoner alone with a visitor.
After his first thrill of excitement, Stone called New York and tried to get Raynor. He succeeded rather sooner than he had dared hope, and he told him the name and address that he had discovered. He advised him to go there at once, taking one or two policemen with him, to get Una Deane, and to take her to Miss Malcolm’s home, and that lady would take care of the girl until Stone could get back to New York and interview her himself.
Then he took an airplane back to New York, and went first of all to tell Brand Herrick what had happened.
Herrick was amazed at all that Stone had accomplished, but was most impressed by his finding Jason Webb’s granddaughter.
“Well,” Stone smiled, “are you ready to marry the lady, if we have really found her?”
“Seems to me there are some conditions to be worked off. Are citizens under arrest for murder privileged to marry if they choose? Would an orthodox minister perform such a service?”
“Look at it this way, Herrick,” Stone said, quietly. “There is a great fortune at stake. Do you want all that money to slip through your fingers, to say nothing of the lady’s wishes?”
“But I don’t know what she’s like! I don’t—”
“Do you remember her, Brand? You met her, I am told, at the McCleod party.”
“Yes, Bliss says that’s so. I remember meeting a Miss Deane, but my mental picture of her is a shy, demure little thing, who didn’t quite know where she was. But never mind all that. Tell her I will marry her if she wants me to, that I will make my will, leaving her the greater part of the money I receive from the estate. And that I will present no obstacle to a divorce from me at her own convenience.”
Stone went directly to Miss Malcolm’s house, wondering what lay ahead of him now.
Miss Malcolm greeted him and held out both hands to him.
She exclaimed, “You are a wonder! To think of your finding Una!”
“Is she safe and well?”
“Oh, yes—yes, indeed. But she is—a little—”
“Suffering from shock?”
“Yes, that, and there is something more. It’s about that will. I don’t know all the particulars, but perhaps you do.”
“Tell me, first, how they found Miss Deane. Did Raynor put it over all right?”
“Why, I suppose so. I only know what she has told me herself. And she is still nervous and bewildered.”
“I don’t wonder! Where has she been? With whom?”
“Oh, with a very strange set of people. They tried to make her sign papers, and—well, I wouldn’t let her tell me, she grew so excited over it. I said she must wait for you.”
“She was in charge of some woman?”
“Yes, a woman who was common and illiterate, but who was careful of the girl, too. She told Una she was Monk’s sister, but that meant nothing to either of us.”
When Una entered the room, Stone was surprised at her entire self-control.
“Tell me, please,” Stone said, judging direct and short speech would be best, “how many people were in the house where you were held.”
“They were coming and going,” Una told him. “I seldom saw them, except Mr. Monk. He told me that matters which I could not understand had made it necessary for me to stay there with his sister for a while. He said if I would sign a paper I could leave there much sooner. He said all he wanted was for my father’s benefit and if I refused I was an unnatural daughter.
“I refused to sign anything at all, unless I had someone I knew personally, to be with me when I signed. It seemed to me things were not progressing as they had hoped, for some reason, and then they began to appear frightened about something. Mr. Monk became a little less polite to me, tried to be more dictatorial. I was afraid of him, but I did not show it, or at least I tried not to, but he is a shrewd man, and I can tell you I was glad to see a policeman! Captain Raynor sent me right straight up to this house. And that’s about all I think.”
“It’s all I shall bother you about now, Miss Deane, except one other matter. You are the granddaughter of Jason Webb?”
“I am, yes, but he disinherited my mother when she eloped with my father.”
“Still, you are his granddaughter. Do you know the contents of his will?”
Una Deane looked vaguely troubled.
“Not exactly,” she said. “I have heard different stories, and the ones told me by Mr. Monk, I am sure were not true. Will you tell me?”
He told the girl the provisions Webb had made.
She listened thoughtfully.
“There’s one thing sure, then!” she exclaimed, with a sudden burst of indignation, “no matter if the fortune is a hundred million dollars, I would not marry a murderer to obtain it! Please tell Mr. Brand Herrick that I resign all claim I may have to my grandfather’s money, if it can be acquired only by my marriage to a murderer!”
Fleming Stone looked at Una Deane with an expression of grave reproof.
“You are unjust,” he said coldly. “Mr. Herrick has not been proved a murderer, and you have no right to call him one. I bring you the message he asked me to deliver for him.”
“What is it?” asked Una Deane, her face exhibiting only scorn.
Stone told her what Brand had asked him to tell her.
She listened closely, and when he had done she said, in a cutting voice:
“Please present my compliments to Mr. Brand Herrick, and tell him I decline his suit. I do not marry a man I do not know, for the purpose of acquiring a fortune, especially when that man is—may be—a murderer.”
“You have seen Mr. Herrick,” Stone said, marveling at this display of temper.
“I have seen him!” Una stormed on. “But he scarcely spoke to me! He paid me no more attention than if I were a black beetle! Mr. Murray was pleasant, Mr. Haynes was at least polite, but Mr. Herrick is outside the pale!”
Una Deane ran out of the room, already in tears.
“You are a marvel, Mr. Stone,” Raynor said, and after he had listened to the details of the detective’s finding Una Deane.
“It was a streak of luck on my part, and, too, much credit belongs to Peter Cobb.”
“We’ll look after him later. Just now, I’m busy with what we are calling our second McCleod case. I insisted on having one of our men at the autopsy, though Doctor Larkin conducted it.”
“And what caused Miss Emily’s death? Was she smothered, as Mrs. McCleod was?”
“Not quite the same. Miss McCleod died from asphyxia caused by strangulation. She was murdered by a pair of strong and determined hands, and as she had a weak heart, her death was easily accomplished. It occurred between four and five o’clock, and Ogden Murray is known to have been there during that time.”
“He had been trying to sell the lady some worthless stock. There is the possibility that there was a quarrel, and in such case, Miss McCleod would hold her own, and if it came to blows, he would, of course, conquer by superior strength.”
“No further evidence, I suppose? And no clues?”
“We haven’t found any yet. Do look into this matter, won’t you, Mr. Stone?”
“Yes, I mean to. Have you any reason to think that the murderer of Miss Emily is the same one who killed Mrs. McCleod?”
“No special reason, no. You see, we think Brand Herrick is guilty of—”
“Well, he isn’t!” Stone interrupted, “and I expect to prove it. Now, if you think the two McCleod murders were done by the same person, that lets Herrick out.”
“Yes, of course, but we haven’t said the same hand struck twice.”
“Give me twenty-four hours. I’m working for Herrick, you know, and the Una Deane complication is getting troublesome.”
“All right, then, I’ll hold Murray till tomorrow.”
“If I find out what I hope and expect to find out, I will do just that; and I’ll guarantee it will be a surprise.”
From Raynor’s office, Stone went to the McCleod house.
He was shocked when he saw Hugh’s appearance. Stone had never seen him before without the superior air that made him, at times, insufferable.
Today he was pathetic. He greeted Stone perfunctorily.
“Glad to see you, sir,” he said. “You’ve seen Captain Raynor?”
“Yes, Mr. McCleod, he has told me all the details. Tell me, can I help you?”
“I’d be glad if you could, But all I can think of to do is to prove that Mr. Murray killed my sister. There can be no doubt about it, Mr. Stone. Ogden Murray was here in the house, he was angry with Emmy, and disappointed at her refusal to buy his stock. Now, my sister was a high-tempered woman, and I have no doubt she said harsh things to the young man. She could be very scathing with her tongue. She very likely roused his anger to such an extent that he saw red and acted on impulse, not meaning to do more than frighten her. But Emmy’s heart was weak, and his actions proved fatal. Was it then not natural that he should go away quietly, and by a brisk walk to his office be calm and cool when you saw him there?”
“All you say may be true, Mr. McCleod, but we have no proof that it is. Dunn, your sister’s butler, can tell nothing helpful?”
“No, you see, he is butler and also a sort of nurse to my father. Though confined to his bed, my father needs no trained attendant, and he refuses to have one. But Dunn is exceedingly competent and willing, so he doubles as butler and nurse.”
“Your sister was coming down here to live with you?”
“Not so long as Father lived, we had decided.”
“Is your father conscious?”
“Part of the time, and then only partly conscious. His mind is never entirely clear, always vague, hazy. But, Mr. Stone, I have no right to inflict on you the tale of my private troubles. Tell me, it is not necessary, is it, that I take any active part in the search for Emmy’s murderer? I was down here in my apartment, I had no guests, but Dickson was in and out, and I just sat in my smoking room, thinking what I had better do about Father. I mean, whether to have him brought down here—but there I go again!”
“Don’t apologize, Mr. McCleod, I wish I could advise you. It would seem you must get some woman in your father’s apartment—”
“Yes, I know; that must be done.”
Then Hugh seemed to fall into a dull, half-asleep mood, and Stone decided it was a good time to leave.
He went next to the caterer’s shop on Madison Avenue where Dickson’s brother was employed, and from there he telephoned to Dickson himself. This resulted in the appearance of Hugh McCleod’s valet, and a secret session between him and Fleming Stone.
They were alone in a small back room, and Stone looked his man straight in the eye, and said, slowly, but with emphasis:
“The time has come, Dickson, when you must give up.”
“Yes, sir,” came the response, but the tone was neither negative nor affirmative. It was just the voice of a man raked with grief.
Dickson sat up straight, and though he looked utterly miserable, it was easy to see he understood the situation.
“Mr. Stone, you have found out something. I see that. Now, isn’t that enough for you? Can’t you work out your findings in your own clever way, and get what you want? Must I be dragged into it?”
“Now, see here, Dickson,” Stone spoke kindly, “how is this for a plan? You go back to the McCleod house, say nothing of having seen me, and say nothing to anyone of this conversation. Until—after Miss Emmy’s funeral. That is tomorrow, I believe.”
“Yes, sir; tomorrow afternoon.”
“Very well, Mr. McCleod will need you then. Go to him just as usual, and I trust you to answer when I call you, after that.”
And again Stone saw that pathetic and pitiful look in the man’s eyes.
A little abruptly, Stone left Dickson, and went at once to see Brand Herrick.
“Well, I’ve played Dan Cupid for you,” he began, as Brand looked his questions. “Did you say Miss Deane was a shy, timid violet ’neath a mossy stone type?”
“That’s all I remember of her; but we didn’t have any really confidential talk. What did she say?”
“She said—brace yourself, now—she said she would let the Webb money go to improve Ebbitt’s Corners before she would marry a man who might be a murderer.”
“Then it looks as if Ebbitt’s Corners is to be the beneficiary after all.”
“That’s as may be. Now, look here, Brand, I’ve a hope of finding out who killed the two McCleod ladies. But I’m not telling you any more about it until after tomorrow.”
Stone went away, conscious of a slight qualm lest he had unduly raised Brand’s hopes, but he thought a little hopefulness would be good for him, even if it never materialized.
He went to see Chadwick and told him all there was to tell. Chadwick listened gravely, congratulated him warmly, and declared Herrick was as good as freed already.
Then Stone, partly out of curiosity and partly for more important reasons, went to see Mr and Miss Monk, who were in jail. He felt that he was getting quite familiar with the stone walls.
The visit netted him little, for Ben Monk was unwilling to talk, and his sister, if that was her relationship, openly resented questions.
But there was a little discussion of John Wiley, and Stone learned that Una’s father was suffering from an internal growth, that left him no hope of a long life, or indeed, of more than a very short span.
Then the detective made a short call on Van Dyke Haynes, and after that went to the McCleod house.
But he went to Angus’ apartment, not Hugh’s, and he found Dunn in attendance on the old man.
The funeral services were not yet over, and Stone took the opportunity to have a talk with the butler. He admitted Miss Emmy had a terrible temper, as also had her brother Hugh. He volunteered the information that Hugh was inimical to all animal pets in the house. And that once he had wrung the neck of Miss Emmy’s canary bird, because its singing annoyed him.
“And a kitten, too,” added Dunn, reminiscently, “a tiny little kitten that Miss Emmy loved.”
It was after dinner that night that Stone telephoned to Captain Raynor, and told him that he felt sure of the identity of the McCleod murderer, but that his decision could be proved only by the confession of the criminal.
“Come on, then,” was the response to that, “let’s go and get the confession.
And so they went to the McCleod apartment, where, Stone said, they ought to get some first-hand information.
Hugh greeted them in a dully unresponsive manner, and invited them to be seated.
“It would seem,” he said, wearily, “that I might have been left alone this evening.”
“It would seem so,” Stone agreed, “but we have some business that must be attended to. I will ask Dickson to remain in the room, please.”
Dickson had been hovering round, taking the men’s hats and placing chairs for them.
“I have to put a few questions to you, Mr. McCleod,” Raynor began. “I believe you were the one to find your sister after her tragic death.”
“Yes, it so happened that I was. I went into that room within a very short time of the murderer’s leaving it.”
“You know the criminal, then?”
“Of course I do, Captain Raynor, and so do you! It was Mr. Murray, and we all know it.”
“I don’t think it was he,” Stone said, quietly. “I have seen him and while he was here and talking with your sister, he had left before you went up there, and he left Miss Emily alive and well.”
“Of course he would tell you that, Mr. Stone, but why should you believe him? He wanted my sister to buy some worthless shares in some faked mining operations, and because she would not, he lost his temper and struck her, probably with no intent of hurting her severely, but merely to frighten her or else, because he was mad with fury.”
“You can understand a nature of that sort, Mr. McCleod,” said Stone, very gravely. “I think you are high-tempered yourself.”
This was said with no hint of censure and Hugh answered in the same vein.
“I used to be, Mr. Stone, but by diligent effort I curbed my passions and I am thankful to say, I am now of an equable nature.”
Without heeding this statement, Stone went on:
“As you know, Mr. McCleod, Brand Herrick is under arrest for the murder of your wife. I have examined the records of the evidence and I find that the assumption of his guilt is founded on the account of the order in which four men entered the room where she was at the time of her death. I want you to help me get justice done, by telling me your recollection of the occasion.”
“I fear I cannot do that, Mr. Stone. You forget that I have just attended the burial of my sister, who so quickly followed my beloved wife to her grave.”
“But I must ask you to tell this anyway. I saw Mr. Haynes today, and this is what he said to me: ‘Mr. Stone, you are thinking I killed Mrs. McCleod; but I didn’t and Brand Herrick didn’t either.’”
“I am not surprised, Mr. Stone, Haynes is, no doubt, right. It is my firm belief that the two crimes were committed by Ogden Murray.”
“But why would he kill your wife?” Raynor claimed.
“Whoever killed my wife did it because of love for her, unreturned and unwanted love. We know it was one of her young men friends, and the motive would be the same with all of them.”
“Not with Herrick,” Fleming Stone said, emphatically. “Have you any proof against Murray?”
“Only my innate conviction, which in this case is borne out by the circumstances.”
“No, it is not. The young men who were so closely questioned by Captain Raynor as to the order of entering the room that night, did not all tell the truth. When you went in, Mr. McCleod, and found your wife there alone, some man just went out at the other door. And when you asked her who the man was she said it was Brand Herrick. And it was that lie that put Herrick where he is now.”
“How dare you say such a thing? You—”
“Hush! It was Van Haynes who came in; he brought her the diamond bangle, and she told him she heard your step and he fled, just as you entered.”
“All that is absurd, Mr. Stone. Had it been so, I would have been questioned, perhaps suspected of my wife’s death.”
“You were given an alibi by your sister. Although she knew the time when you went up to her apartment just then, she falsified it, and said you came up there a half hour or more before you did.”
“You insult my wife’s memory and now my dead sister! Then it was Ogden Murray, in both cases!”
“No, sir, it was not!”
“Then who was it?”
“You!” said Fleming Stone.
“And you need not deny it!” cried Raynor; “we want confession not denial. It is useless for you to try to get out of it, we have too much on you. That old coin, plack, is it? found on the couch under your wife’s dead body, where it had dropped from your waistcoat pocket. You pretended that you had given it to her, but your own man assures me that it never left your own possession.”
“Dickson!” Hugh almost screamed, as he looked at the accusing face of his servant.
“Didn’t you mind these young men who were always hovering about your wife?” Stone asked of the stricken man.
“Did I mind them?” he shouted, with a sneering grimace. “I wanted to throttle every one of them! But Alma had made me promise never to interfere in her flirtations, as they meant nothing, she loved only me.”
“Mr. McCleod,” said Fleming Stone, “I accuse you of the murder of your wife, and also of your sister. We now know that you became enraged at Miss Emily McCleod because she insisted on coming with your father to live in your apartment, and threatened to tell the police that you had lied about the time you came upstairs to see your father the night you murdered Alma. After Ogden Murray had left her, you went upstairs and, in a rage, strangled her. Then you tried to place the blame on Murray. Have you anything to say about that?”
McCleod tried to control himself, but he fell into a spasm of volcanic rage, and would have toppled off his chair but that Dickson went to him quickly, and taking a little box from his pocket gave his master a bromidic pellet that the doctor had given him to have by him for this very purpose.
“It’s all right,” Dickson said, offering Hugh a glass of water, “Doctor Larkin told me never to be without them.”
But Raynor was devoid of sympathy.
He said, “Hugh McCleod, I arrest you for the murder of your wife and your sister.” He went on with the routine words of arrest, but they were lost in the excitement of the entrance of several men, some in uniform and some in plain clothes, who had been waiting in the next room, well within hearing distance, and McCleod was taken away.
Stone had his car with him, and he lit out for the prison, with a well-founded hope that it would be his last visit there to Brand Herrick.
Brand listened, only for a moment incredulous, unable to believe it.
“Come on,” Stone urged, “smash what you want into a little suitcase, and you can send up for the rest of your stuff. Come on, you’ve got to tell Bliss tonight.”
“Hi!” exclaimed the freed captive, “how about my wife?”
“Oh, come along! She’ll keep. What makes you think she wants to tie up with you?”
The next day Herrick did see Una Deane, and Miss Malcolm.
When he appeared, he took the two ladies by storm.
Miss Malcolm was heartily glad at his good news, and told him so.
Then he turned to the girl, and made her a proposal of marriage. “And,” he added, “rest assured I will put no obstacle in the way of your getting a divorce.”
Una, who had been falling in love with him more deeply every minute, said, “Would you put an obstacle in the way of my not getting a divorce?”
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