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Title: The Skeleton at the Feast Author: Carolyn Wells * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1900911h.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. - New Year’s Eve
Chapter 2. - The Skeleton at the Feast
Chapter 3. - The Tragedy Discovered
Chapter 4. - The Old Problem of the Locked Room
Chapter 5. - Somebody Telephones Kenneth Carlisle
Chapter 6. - The Door Behind the Tapestry
Chapter 7. - The Dent in the Telephone Book
Chapter 8. - Claude Comes Home
Chapter 9. - But The Clue Was Right There
Chapter 10. - Plenty of Suspects
Chapter 11. - Pretty Polly
Chapter 12. - As to Old Scotty
Chapter 13. - The Suburban Telephone Directory
Chapter 14. - Joe Gets a Chicken Dinner
Chapter 15. - The Mortlakes and Their Theory
Chapter 16. - When Polly Wept
Chapter 17. - They Don’t Like Egbert Warren
Chapter 18. - Kenneth Carlisle Explains in Full
TWELVE people sat at supper in the spacious dining room of Manning Carleton, in his Fifth Avenue home.
Not an apartment. Even the most modern apartments, with their penthouses and terraces, had no charm for a Carleton.
No, he lived in one of the few remaining mansions on the Avenue, and his corner lot, facing Central Park, was the despair of all realtors and the hope of the construction companies.
The house was a double one, with rooms each side of its central entrance hall, and it extended to a great depth along the side street.
Next to the house, on Fifth Avenue, was a smaller house, whose architectural details proved it to have been built at about the same time.
This house also was owned by Manning Carleton, and there was no slightest chance that either of the two homes should fall into the hands of a wrecking company during the owner’s lifetime.
The larger house had been the home of Manning Carleton and his forebears for three generations, and the smaller house had been in the family an equally long time.
The last Carleton to occupy the smaller house was Roger Carleton, brother of Manning. But he had died ten years ago, and since his death the house had been rented to strangers.
At present it was occupied by Jack Mortlake and his wife, most satisfactory and exemplary tenants.
The Carleton house was on a north corner, and the front corner room was a large and heavily decorated drawing room. Back of this was a charming boudoir or morning room, devoted to the exclusive use of Carleton’s wife, Pauline, or Polly, as she was called by her friends.
Back of the morning room was the dining room, a nobly proportioned apartment, with ornate frescoes and crystal chandeliers that had hung and twinkled over many a Carleton banquet.
Old-fashioned, yes. Antique, no. Yet the appointments were harmonious and beautiful, even as they had been when Manning Carleton was born in this house, sixty years ago. No modern innovations had been allowed, save in the matter of electric or other inventions that added to the comfort or convenience of the home.
And now, round the long and wide extension table, were gathered a dozen merrymakers to welcome the advent of the New Year.
In fact, they had done so. It was now ten minutes after twelve, and the greetings had been said, the toast drunk, and the songs sung that tradition decreed appropriate to the occasion.
Though rather a decorous lot, some of the party inclined to gayety, lured on, perhaps, by the excellence of the champagne or the potency of stronger libations.
Pauline, the hostess, was the second wife of Manning Carleton and thirty years his junior. This, in addition to her own charm, vivacity, and self-esteem, gave her all the latitude she wanted, and she took all there was.
Queen of her home, her husband, and her household, she never knew what it was to have a wish ungratified or a whim unhumored.
If she sometimes regretted that her life mate was not a man nearer her own age, she never let it appear by word or look to the man she had chosen.
Her attitude toward him, while not adoring, was affectionate, chummy, and ever solicitous of his comfort.
Polly was pretty—very pretty, with a tangle of golden windblown bob, big, innocent-looking pansy eyes, and a little heart-shaped face that could be wistful or merry to order. Incidentally, it could be suffused with amorous longing, but a glimpse of that radiance was seldom vouchsafed to Manning Carleton.
At the head of the long table Polly had on her right, Professor Abel Scott, old college chum of Carleton, and a correctly absent-minded, bewildered type. At least, he seemed to be, but there were times when a shrewd glance from under his bushy gray eyebrows rather belied any absentness of mind.
To offset this grave and reverend seigneur, on Pauline’s left was Donald Randall, a young man who was over head and ears in love with her.
Randall was fat and pop-eyed, yet, strange to say, even these drawbacks couldn’t prevent his being a handsome man with a splendid physique and great charm of manner.
Carleton, though most amiable and unnoticing in the matter of Polly’s court favorites, had at last begun to wonder if he oughtn’t to notice Randall, but he had, so far, postponed the matter.
Now, on the host’s own right hand was Zélie D’Orsay, a rather disturbing friend of Pauline’s, and possessed of a strong desire to disturb Manning Carleton himself.
Just why, nobody knew, not even Zélie, but the impulse was largely the result of an innate tendency to tackle the most difficult job that presented itself. And it was to the credit of Manning Carleton that he had so far resisted her wiles, for the siren was of the dusky-haired, sloe-eyed persuasion, and her tactics were perilously akin to those of Machiavelli.
It was, perhaps, the necessity of dividing his attention between Zélie and his left-hand neighbor that saved Carleton from making a fool of himself that New Year’s Eve.
The lady was his tenant from next door, from the other house, as it was usually called.
Mrs. Jack Mortlake—her husband was also present—was a good-looking woman of thirty-five, whose placid serenity of countenance was achieved by a strong and determined will power.
An opportunity having occurred to rent the Carletons’ other house, Nan Mortlake had decided that her husband should do so, because of a great hope in her soul that proximity to the Carletons themselves would help her along on her somewhat uphill climb to the social heights she longed to attain.
As a matter of fact it had, so far, done nothing of the sort, but Mrs. Mortlake had not yet lowered her banner with its strange device, and her soul still whispered, “Excelsior!”
To-night, then, she sat next her host, albeit not at his right hand, and wreathing her face with smiles she endeavored to wring from him some helpful invitations over which he had jurisdiction.
Mellowed by the occasion and the celebration thereof, Carleton was proving rather more amenable than usual, and Nan Mortlake was in ecstasies.
Well, the others at the table were Carleton’s grande dame of a sister, who, in another age and environment, might have looked like Madame de Pompadour, but who probably would have talked with Violet Carleton’s sharp and ill-natured tongue.
And his son Claude, handsome, debonair, distinguished looking, and full of the joie de vivre that belongs to New Year’s Eve and its due and proper celebration.
Jack Mortlake was simply his wife’s husband.
The two secretaries, correctly quiet and demure, were Peter Gregg, confidential secretary of the great man of affairs, and Emily Austen, social secretary to Pauline.
That, then, is the roll of guests, with one important addition.
The twelfth member of the party, sitting between Claude Carleton and Miss Austen, was Kenneth Carlisle, the well known and in some circles famous private investigator. He himself preferred the simple term detective, but his business had become so widely known and his services so greatly in demand that a more pretentious title seemed necessary.
Now Carlisle had been an investigator only a few years. Before that he had been a screen star, a movie actor of great popularity. But, fed up with the adulation of the picture-loving public, and having a decided taste for crime investigation, he had changed his career entirely and was rapidly becoming as noted in his second venture as in his first.
His Hollywood days had left their impress. He was handsome in his own right, but his studio experiences had given him a grace of bearing and a charm of manner that never forsook him.
His dark, lean face, though mobile, was entirely under his control, and his calm was immovable unless of his own volition.
His eyes, dark and deep set, were a decided asset in his present calling.
He could sit in front of a suspect and by merely looking at him from under his dark, compelling eyebrows could often bring about a confession obtainable in no other way.
For the rest Carlisle was simply a correct-mannered gentleman of a bland and entertaining demeanor.
But this astute and clever detective was not at the Carleton supper party in his rôle of sleuth—not at all.
He had been invited because he knew all about Hollywood, and he had accepted the invitation because Claude Carleton, the man who had proffered it, had been so insistent, even urgent, that Carlisle hadn’t the heart to refuse him.
The two had met the week before at some club, and learning of the detective’s previous career Claude had made up to him and had begged him for points about Hollywood and its ways and means, saying he was just going there to become a screen actor himself.
Always helpful, Kenneth gave him valuable advice and sage counsel. Also letters to managers and producers, also social introductions.
Whereupon, partly from a sense of gratitude, partly in hope of getting more advantageous assistance, Claude invited him to the party and urged him until he consented.
And now, seated at the supper table between Claude and Miss Austen, he was feeling a trifle bored.
The conversation, though light and bright, failed to interest him; the repartee, though a trifle above the average, was tame compared to the rapid-fire give-and-take of a Hollywood crowd.
Not that Carlisle was overcritical, but he seldom went where there was even a chance of his being bored, and he felt a slight chagrin that he had let himself in for it.
And then, partly because of his presence, partly because it was the trend of the times, the talk veered to detective stories.
“Is it necessary,” Don Randall was asking, “for a detective to quote philosophy or poetry all the time?”
“For a fiction detective, yes,” Carlisle answered him, “for a live one, no.”
“But why, for the story-book man?” Randall pursued.
“So the reader will know he is a detective,” Carlisle stated gravely. “Would either Sherlock Holmes or Philo Vance stick in your mind if they hadn’t aired their erudition as they did?”
“No, I guess not,” and Randall looked thoughtful. “Ninety-nine out of a hundred story-book sleuths are as smart as those two, but they don’t stick in your memory because they don’t get off highfalutin lingo.”
“Nonsense!” broke in Zélie. “Great detectives are great because of what they do, not what they say. Same as everybody else—I mean, great people in any line, in any field.”
“A great criminal, then, is great because of grande dame—”
This was Pauline’s contribution to the conversation and was promptly cut off by her husband.
“Shut up, Polly,” he exclaimed, with his customary gallantry. “I don’t like to hear you talk of criminals.”
“I will finish your sentence for you, Mrs. Carleton,” Carlisle smiled at her; “a great criminal must be a man of superior intellect, iron nerve, and a vacuum where his conscience ought to be.”
“The nerve and the lack of conscience, yes,” agreed Randall, “but not of superior intellect. That is absurd. Think of the crimes committed by the entirely uneducated, the underworld, the—”
“But I said a great criminal,” Kenneth smiled at him. “I don’t count gunmen and yeggs among our great criminals.”
“Don’t say ‘our great criminals,’” objected Manning Carleton; “it sounds as if we were proud of them as a class!”
“No I don’t mean it that way,” Carlisle went on. “But even in crime, as Pope says, ‘Some are and must be greater than the rest.’”
“Now I know you’re a real detective,” cried Polly, clapping her hands. “You’re quoting poetry!”
“I agree with Mr. Carlisle,” put in Miss Carleton, her black eyes snapping from beneath her carefully arranged transformation of waved gray hair. “Crime, like any other undertaking, is greater if committed by an intellectual mind.”
“Do you mean it is a greater crime or a greater achievement?” said Professor Scott slowly, and looking at Miss Violet, who sat next him.
“Both,” she replied. “It is a greater, a more impressive achievement, and consequently a greater, that is, a more to be deplored, crime.”
“Well meant, though not so well put,” declared her brother. “But say no more, Violet. As I told Pauline, the subject of crime is not one I care to hear discussed by my women folks.”
“And do your women folks discuss only what you say they may, Mr. Carleton?” cried Nan Mortlake. “How droll! And how it must narrow their field of conversation! Do you obey the despot, Mrs. Carleton? And Miss Carleton?”
Her rather commonplace features took on the sly look habitual with those who love to “take a rise” out of their friends.
But as neither of the women she addressed answered her, and as others quickly filled in the breach with their remarks, the rise wasn’t taken.
“Of course there are great crimes,” resumed Carlisle, less bored now than he had been. “They are on record.”
“Yes, indeed,” agreed Gregg, the secretary. “Look at all those books of Edmund Pearson’s. They describe in detail the most celebrated crimes, and explain why and how they are great. The matter is looked at scientifically—”
“As it should be,” declared Professor Scott. “Pearson is a great writer and thinker. The finest in that field. But not the only one. Many scholarly writers deal with similar subjects.”
“Let them,” cried Manning Carleton angrily. “But that’s no reason the matter should be discussed at my table! I insist on a change of subject.”
“I never read Mr. Pearson’s books,” Pauline said, paying not the slightest heed to her husband’s dictum. “But I adore Edgar Wallace’s. They say he writes one every week.”
“No Wallace for me!” put in Jack Mortlake a trifle timidly. “I like the old Sherlock Holmes formula.”
“So do I,” agreed Professor Scott. “That’s my choice, too. Murder on the first page, solution on the last. All in between, clues, evidence, deduction, and false leads.”
“That’s the S. S. Van Dine type, too,” Mortlake stated. “And the formula of all the best English writers. And, by jingo, they can deliver the goods. Their best authors do detective stories, even Milne and Phillpotts and Zangwill and that Bentley chap.”
“You’re a real connoisseur, Mr. Mortlak,” said Carlisle, looking at him in slight surprise.
“Well, I read a lot of ’em. They’re my favorite recreation.”
“I can’t go ’em,” admitted Randall. “Oh I read some books, but mostly I go in for the short stories, the detective magazines, you know.”
“Why not the murder trials as reported in the tabloid newspapers?” asked Carleton, in a tone of withering sarcasm.
“I like those too,” Randall said frankly. “Only you never get anywhere with them. They set the problem and then go off and leave it, usually forgetting to come back. Now in fiction you’re sure to get your solution.”
“I’ve heard that every human being is a potential murderer,” stated Zélie, with the air of saying something astounding. “Do you believe that, Mr. Carlisle?”
Kenneth smiled. “Like most of those shocking assumptions, it means nothing,” he returned. “If murder is merely the act of killing, then anyone who can use a gun, or a dirk, or his two fists is a potential murderer. If murder is a state of mind—or to put it in Scriptural phrase, if ‘as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he,’ then many, if not all, of the dwellers on this earth are most certainly potential murderers. The great majority of these, we doubtless all admit, are restrained by the fear of being found out. Were it not for this fear I shudder to think what might happen.”
Carlisle spoke very gravely at the last, for his work had brought home to him the conviction that what he was saying was entirely true.
And then, with his intuitive, almost clairvoyant insight, he glanced quickly from one to another, round the table.
So amazed was he at what he saw, he dropped his eyes instantly, only to raise them again, fascinated by the occasion.
For it seemed to him that everyone, or nearly everyone at the table was busy with his or her own thoughts. And it seemed to him that everyone was concentrating on murder or the possibility of murder, not in the abstract, but concretely.
Donald Randall, his prominent eyes more prominent than ever, was gazing far off, but his face bore a glare of venomous hatred, and his usually loose, slack mouth was set in a straight line.
Jack Mortlake, too, was absorbed in thought, and if his face was any indication whatever, he, too, was dreaming of killing somebody.
Miss Violet was fairly gritting her teeth in her frenzy of imagination, and her delicate old hands, with their falling lace ruffles, were clenched on the rim of the table.
The two secretaries, while not seeming to be of murderous intent at the moment, were looking at each other with meaning but shocked glances, as if well aware of the situation.
Claude Carleton was in what is popularly known as a brown study. But even as Kenneth stared at him he jerked himself together and resumed, with an effort, his gay demeanor.
“Hello, everybody,” he cried jovially, “I have to be leaving you soon. Let’s go back to the other room and have a bit of a dance before I go.”
“Going away?” asked Mortlake, also shaking himself free of his reverie. “Where?”
“Oh, didn’t you know?” Claude said in surprise. “I thought everybody knew. I’m going to Hollywood on the two o’clock train to learn to be an actor like Carlisle here. Like he used to be, I mean.”
“Good gracious, what a stunt!” Mortlake marveled. “Why, buddy, why?”
“Primarily to earn my living,” Claude laughed back, “and, too, because I feel the screen needs me. I hear it calling me. So I’ve had Carly down here to tell me things and give me pointers and so on.”
If Kenneth resented this familiarity on Claude’s part he didn’t show it at all, and he had honestly tried to do all he could for the chap. He had heard that he had tried to make good in his father’s banking office and had lamentably failed. And he thought if screen work was more in the lad’s line it was at least worth trying.
“Oh, take a later train, Claude,” Pauline begged as they all looked at him.
“Can’t, Polly. All my reservations and so forth are taken, and—”
Just then Fenn the butler came in and spoke to Mr. Carleton.
“Another present, I guess, sir,” he said, smiling. “And a big one! An enormous box—”
“Oh, what is it?” cried Polly, trying to collect the women’s eyes. “And I say, Manning, let’s have it brought out here.”
“No room for it, dearie. No, we chaps will forego our tarrying at the table, and we’ll all go in and open the box so Claude can be with us. I fancy I know what it is.”
He chuckled to himself, for an old crony had promised him a crate of pre-war fluids as a New Year’s gift, and it hadn’t yet come.
Pauline rose to all the dignity of her five feet four and shook out her flounces of golden gauze that made her look like a very animated butterfly.
“Take me, Claude,” she cried. “If you’re going away I must show you especial favor.”
Claude came toward her, none too willingly, it seemed, and escorted her to the drawing room.
The rest followed, in no strict order, Zélie, however, cuddling her arm through that of Manning Carleton, who couldn’t help himself.
At sight of the present everybody exclaimed.
For, held up at either end by a chair, was a long box that narrowly escaped looking like a coffin, but only because it was too short, too narrow, and not deep enough.
Though of smooth wood and free from splinters, it was merely a box of pine, the address splashed on with black marking paint, and the nails carelessly driven in.
“Yes,” Carleton said, grinning at it, “I know what it is. And you’ll all help me enjoy it, I hope. Old Garston sent it, I know, and it’s a fine brand, I’ll wager. Get some help, Fenn, and open it up.”
“In here, sir?”
“Oh, yes, right here. We want to see the whole performance. Sit down, all.”
Most of them seated themselves, awaiting with curiosity a sight of the contents.
“Hurry up, Fenn,” Claude shouted. “I can’t miss my train, but I must see the New Year’s present.”
Carefully Fenn and a footman drew the nails and took off the top boards. A white paper covered the contents, and on the paper lay a sealed envelope. Carleton took it from the butler and read its message aloud.
It was only a few words.
“ ‘I am sending you something supposed to be at many a feast.’ ”
“Ah, champagne, I’m thinking,” said Manning Carleton. “Go on, Fenn, remove the next paper.”
The man did so, and was barely able to repress an involuntary shriek.
For exposed to full view was a bleached and grinning skeleton, and on the bony chest was a card which read:
Long years ago you murdered me;
As I am now, you soon shall be!
MANNING CARLETON, as was well known by his doctor and the members of his household, had what is commonly described as heart trouble. While the medical man didn’t give it a more definite or specific name, he did say positively that any sudden undue exertion or any strong emotional shock would mean troublesome and perhaps disastrous consequences.
And the unexpected sight of that terrifying, grinning thing in the box was enough to startle anyone with strong nerves and a normal heart.
What, then, might it mean to a man whose nerves were jumpy and whose heart was likely to go back on him at sufficient provocation?
Most of those present sensed this, and several of them moved as with one accord.
Pauline, the wife, stepped quickly to the side of her husband, as he stood facing the gruesome sight, and she insinuated herself between the living man and the dead man so adroitly that the white and shaking Manning Carleton could not see the dread gift that had been sent him.
Claude Carleton too hastened to the side of his father and put an arm round the trembling shoulders.
Not at all a cowardly character, Carleton Senior was seldom frightened, but this fearsome sight, where he had expected to see gold-topped bottles of fine champagne, gave him a shock that left him spineless and breathless.
Claude eased him into a big chair, and Pauline ran to get some of the remedy the doctor had left to be used in case of attack.
But while they ministered to the sick man the others were unable to keep their eyes from the long box and its grisly contents.
Though apparently the skeleton of a full-grown man, it was fitted into a box much smaller than would have been needed for a dead man still clothed in his mortal flesh.
The bare skeleton was in a box merely lined with white paper, without padding or covering.
To the women it was a horrifying sight, and they turned their backs or peeped between their fingers.
But the men were frankly curious and drew nearer to examine the bones.
Professor Scott especially was interested, and he went so far as to touch the arm and hand and even tried to turn the head.
Donald Randall was more absorbed in studying the card that lay on the ghastly looking chest.
“‘Long years ago you murdered me!’” he read aloud. “Rotten sort of joke, I call this business! I like a detective story, but not such practical presentations of murder as this!”
“Oh, it doesn’t mean anything,” said Zélie, laughing rather loudly. “Just a New Year’s Eve joke. Some of his cronies wanted to rag him.”
“Pretty poor taste for a joke,” said Jack Mortlake, looking scornful. “I wonder if anybody did murder this very defunct person.”
“If so it was a long time since,” put in Scott. “That’s an old bag o’ bones, I can tell you. Out of a doctor’s laboratory, presumably. You see it’s articulated.”
“Gracious! what does that mean?” asked Mrs. Mortlake, looking puzzled.
“It means the joints are fastened with wires,” her husband told her quickly, as if anxious to display his erudition.
“Oh, really?” cried Donald. “Then we can lift him out, and he won’t fall to pieces.”
Miss Carleton had sat, a silent observer until now, but when Donald actually lifted the skeleton from the box she gave a scream and sank back in her chair with closed eyes.
Donald, however, gave her no regard, and grinned, like a child with a new toy.
He found that the skeleton did not drop apart, and being in a rollicking humor he disposed the dangling bones in an easy chair, and catching a velvet scarf from the piano he draped it about the bony shoulders. A lamp shade he commandeered to do duty for a hat, and then, sticking a lighted cigarette through a space left by a missing tooth, he surveyed the result of his handiwork.
“Stop your clowning,” Claude said in low, angry tones, but Donald answered seriously.
“Not at all,” he replied. “That’s the only way to manage the affair. See, your father is smiling in spite of himself! This horseplay will chirk him up and make a farce out of what might have been a tragedy.”
“That’s so,” agreed Pauline, who, now that her husband had revived, was interested in the others. “Good for you, Don. If we can just get Manning back to normal, he’ll get over the attack quickly.”
“I’m over it now,” Carleton declared, looking quite like himself. “Now, who cut up that asinine attempt at a joke? Let me see that card!”
He took it and read: “‘Long years ago you murdered me’—h’m, guess this was meant for somebody else. I’m not a killer. ‘As I am now, you soon shall be.’ Well, old chap, we’ll all be like you, some day, but I don’t know about the soon. I can’t think this is a joke on me by anyone. I’m sure nobody I know would cut up a fool trick like this. I think it was meant for some other victim. Let me see the address tag.”
Fenn brought the boards that had borne the address, and while it was clearly sent to Manning Carleton he declared he didn’t recognize the lettering.
“Take that fol-de-rol off him and put him back in his box,” Carleton ordered, and assisted by the servants, Randall obeyed.
But a hush had fallen on the party. Nobody seemed inclined to resume the jollity of the supper hour or the merriment of the New Year’s occasion.
Out in the street could be heard the horns and rattles of the noisy throngs that made up the usual holiday parade.
“Well, I must get along,” Claude said. “You’re all right, aren’t you, Dad? I won’t leave you if you’re not. But I have my tickets and all—”
“Yes, I know, I know,” returned the older man. “Go on, I’m all right, of course.”
“I’ve sent for Dr. Landon,” Pauline said. “I’ll feel better to have his advice.”
“Now, what did you do that for?” cried her husband testily. “I don’t want a doctor! I’m all right.”
“Maybe you are and maybe you’re not,” said his sister. “I advised Polly to call in Landon, and I’m glad she did.”
And then all was bustle and confusion, for Dr. Landon arrived and Claude departed at the same time.
Young Carleton’s farewells were for the most part conventional and perfunctory, but he kissed affectionately his old aunt, his father, and his father’s wife. Then he gave a warm handshake and hearty thanks to Kenneth Carlisle, blew a kiss from his finger tips to Zélie, and with a few more nods and smiles he was gone.
The doctor, coming in upon the strange scene, waited till Claude had gone before he blandly inquired concerning the presence of the skeleton.
“Have you never heard of the skeleton at the feast?” asked Donald, grinning.
“I thought they were kept in the cupboard,” returned the doctor, seeing the subject was to be treated lightly.
“Never mind that,” said Pauline, “I want you to give my husband the once-over and make sure his heart is all right.”
“ ‘Oh, ’is ’art was true to Poll,
’Is ’art was true to Poll,
An’ no matter what you do,
If yer ’art be true,
An’ ’is ’art was true—to Poll!’ ”
This stanza was gayly sung by Don Randall.
Having returned the skeleton to its box, he ordered the butler to stand the box up against the wall, as being less in the way.
Kenneth Carlisle was fascinated with the thing.
Though he had passed by them in medical museums, a really, truly skeleton had never before come his way. He stood in front of it, observing the bones closely.
“The chap was murdered, all right,” he said at last, still studying the exhibit.
“How do you know?” asked Dr. Landon, who, having done all he could for his patient, turned to the young detective.
“I’m not certain sure” admitted Carlisle, “but look at that rib. Isn’t it just over where his heart would have been, and isn’t it chipped—quite a bit gouged out? Well, how about a dagger or a bullet having made that break?”
“Maybe,” said Landon rather indifferently. “But it’s impossible to tell at this late date. That man has been dead a good many years, I’d say.”
“How many?” asked Carleton, suddenly alert.
“Oh, I don’t know. I’m not a detective,” the doctor said carelessly. “Of course, a skeleton isn’t the novelty to me that it probably is to the rest of you.”
“‘Rattle his bones,’” chanted Randall, “‘over the stones; He’s only a pauper whom nobody owns.’”
“But why say you murdered him, Mr. Carleton?” asked Zélie, who was sitting next her host and leaning over to look up in his face. “You never killed anybody, did you?”
The girl was beautiful, always especially so when exhilarated by excitement or enthusiasm.
Her black hair was short and curled, except where it was drawn into a soft loose knot at the back of her neck.
Her black eyes were restless and scintillant, and her lovely lips, though artificially reddened, were mischievously luring.
Yet there was an earnest note in her voice, and Carlisle turned quickly to hear Carleton’s reply.
“No, Zélie, no—I never murdered anybody,” returned Carleton slowly. “Whoever sent that thing had a distorted idea of making a joke, a holiday joke. You know New Year’s Eve is supposed to license all sorts of hoodlum performances. Pretty poor taste, I think, but, after all, there’s no real harm in it. The sender probably bought the bones from some down-and-out medico, glad to sell his equipment. It isn’t a first-class skeleton, is it, Landon?”
“No,” returned the doctor, “yet it has a certain monetary value. It was put together a long time ago. Articulation is better done nowadays.”
“What shall you do with it?” asked Nan Mortlake, looking at the uncanny thing with a shudder.
“That’s what I want to know,” echoed Miss Violet. “If it stays in this house I shan’t sleep a wink all night!”
“Oh, nonsense, Violet,” cried Polly, laughing, “he can’t hurt you. You see he’s so very, very dead!”
“That doesn’t matter,” persisted the old lady. “I won’t sleep in the house with that thing in it!”
“What will you do?” asked Pauline amusedly.
Violet’s fine old face showed determination.
“I’ll go somewhere!” she declared: “I’ll—I’ll go into the other house. Mrs. Mortlake will take me in for the night—I know she will.”
“Why, certainly,” Nan Mortlake said, but the most casual listener could have noted she did not favor the idea.
There are some women who hate to have a chance guest for overnight. It upsets their housekeeping routine, or interferes with some of their plans. Others, born hospitable, welcome any stray visitor and deem it no trouble at all to look after one.
And Miss Violet had the intuition to read Mrs. Mortlake aright, but so positive was she in her determination not to spend the night beneath the same roof as the skeleton, she merely nodded her thanks and seemed to consider the question settled.
Not so Pauline.
“Don’t be an idiot,” she exclaimed to her sister-in-law; “you are too silly. Why, we all have skeletons—you have yourself! Why object to another merely because his bones haven’t as much flesh on them as ours have?”
“Doesn’t he frighten you, Polly?” Violet asked in an awed whisper.
“Frighten me! I should say not! Why, I’m growing really fond of him.”
She stepped to the long box, and taking the jointed arm in her hands, endeavored to place it round her neck.
“Stop, Polly!” cried her husband. “That’s going too far. Violet is silly to be afraid of the thing, but you’re worse to play with it like that! I say, Landon, can’t you take it home with you? It’s right in line with your belongings, and you’re welcome to it. You can use it in your business, or you can sell it or give it away. Do relieve me of the gentleman’s unwanted presence.
But the doctor smilingly declined to burden himself with any more anatomical specimens and laughed at Miss Violet’s foolishness.
“I’d like to have it,” said Professor Scott, gazing at the yellowed bones. “If you really don’t want it, Manning, I’ll be glad to accept it—as a gift. I can’t afford to pay for it.”
“No charge,” Carleton said, looking greatly relieved. “You’re more than welcome to his lordship.”
“But you must take it to-night,” stipulated Violet. “I will not remain in the house with that thing!”
“Oh, now, I can’t take it to-night,” Scott protested. “I’ll get proper cartmen and send for it the first thing to-morrow morning.”
“That won’t do,” and Miss Carleton looked her displeasure. “Unless I go to spend the night in the other house.”
Mrs. Mortlake did not rise to this bait, and, paying no attention to it, she made some animated remark to Donald Randall which he had perforce to answer.
The doctor, too, made no helpful suggestion regarding the disposal of the unwelcome guest, and, greatly amused at the situation, Kenneth Carlisle threw himself into the breach.
“Tell you what, folks,” he said, in his good-natured way, “Brother Bones really seems to be The Unwanted. Now, if it will meet with unanimous approval, I will take the unwelcome guest home with me and keep him there until it is convenient for Professor Scott to send for him. In that way the professor can arrange for a proper reception, get a room and bath ready for him, and all that.”
“Fine!” exclaimed Randall. “You have cut the Gordian knot! But how will you manage it?”
“I think I can,” said Kenneth, “because it is New Year’s Eve. Otherwise there might be lions in the path. But on this one night of the year, the police are lenient, jovial citizens do pretty much as they like, and eccentric performances go unnoticed.”
“Of course they do,” put in Zélie. “You can get away with it.”
“Thank heaven!” ejaculated Miss Violet. “Thank you, Mr. Carlisle. I am deeply indebted to you. If you will assure me that you will do as you have suggested and will promise to remove the dreadful thing shortly, I will now ask to be excused and will retire. I am exhausted by this unfortunate episode, and I frankly admit I am in need of rest and quietude.”
“Good-night, Miss Violet,” said Dr. Landon, taking her hand. “I think you are wise to go to rest, but I can assure you and your friends you are in no way suffering from nervousness or exhaustion.”
“Good for you, Doctor!” Pauline exclaimed. “I’m glad of that assurance from you. Otherwise we would all be called up at intervals through the night to administer spirits of ammonia or aspirin or something to the victim of shattered nerves.
Polly’s tone was good-natured and her manner gay, but it was plain to be seen she meant what she said, and Carlisle, who was studying the crowd with interest, concluded the old lady was a bit of a hypochondriac.
Miss Violet said her good-nights, evidently trying to enact the rôle of one suffering from shock but only succeeding in looking like a baffled and chagrined lady of indomitable courage and great strength.
“How are you going to manage the thing?” Dr. Landon asked of Carlisle.
“There are two ways,” was the calm reply. “One is to dress him up in a full costume—woman’s dress, for choice—and then load him into a taxi with me as if he—or she—had celebrated the New Year a bit too well. The other way is to leave him in his box and boldly take it home and into the house on the chance that nobody will prove too inquisitive. Which do you advise?”
At that everybody expressed an opinion in favor of one or other of the stated plans, and also proposed other methods.
At last, however, Carlisle, who had, in fact, paid no attention to any advice but the doctor’s, decided to take the box with its contents along with him. He telephoned to his faithful valet to be on the job and await his coming.
“And I’ll be getting on,” Carlisle said, “for it’s after half-past one, and the crowds in the street are beginning to thin out. The more noise and racket there is, the better for my purpose.”
“We’ll go now, too,” said Mrs. Mortlake, rising and beginning to say her good-nights.
“You’d better stay overnight, Professor Scott,” said Pauline hospitably. “You live so far uptown, it’s a long ride, and you can fit right into Claude’s room.”
The old man gratefully accepted the invitation, and, at a nod from Pauline, Emily Austen left the room to see about household arrangements.
Though ostensibly Pauline’s social secretary, Emily was willing to assist in some of the lighter details of the domestic routine. She often arranged flowers or looked after the appointments of a guest room.
Calling a chambermaid, she went to Claude’s room and was dismayed to find them in a state of turmoil.
“Goodness!” she exclaimed. “I thought he was all packed and ready to start. He must have done a lot of packing at the last minute. Hester, you can’t do it all. Get Louis to help you, and don’t bother much with the papers and such things. Just stuff them into the desk drawers and make the rooms decent for Professor Scott.”
Louis was the valet, and a most efficient sort. With Hester to assist, the rooms were soon arranged, and Emily went back downstairs to find the long box, in the hall, closed and ready to move, and the party in the drawing room sitting around in rather quiet mood.
“Waiting for the taxi,” Peter Gregg told her, as he made room for her by his side on the sofa.
“I don’t see how you’re ever going to manage it,” Zélie said, for the dozenth time.
“It will manage itself,” Carlisle said with his kindly smile. “I don’t apprehend any trouble at all, but if any arises I’ll tackle it when it comes. Why cross your bridges before the construction company has finished with them?”
“I wish Claude were here to see you start off,” Polly said, laughing. “He would be amused!”
“He’s well on his way to Hollywood,” Kenneth said, looking a trifle envious. “It has its points—has Hollywood.”
“Whatever possessed Claude to go in for that sort of thing?” asked Professor Scott. “The last thing I’d ever dream of his taking up.”
“Look out,” Polly warned him. “Mr. Carlisle is an ex-Hollywooder.”
“Oh, no offence meant, and I don’t think Mr. Carlisle will hunt round for any. But for Claude, brought up in the lap of luxury, to go off like that—”
“Suppose the lap of luxury objected to holding him any longer,” said Pauline, with a shade of bitterness in her tone.
“Oho, is that it?” cried Mrs. Mortlake. “Well, I wondered!”
“Don’t fly off at a tangent, madam,” Manning Carleton said in his most sarcastic way. “Sometimes young birds fly the coop, disdaining the luxury provided for them.”
“He went off happily enough,” Nan Mortlake pursued, as if determined to get at the root of the matter.
But nobody enlightened her further, and Manning Carleton deliberately changed the subject.
“So you’re a private investigator, Mr. Carlisle?” he said, with deference in his tone rather than criticism.
“Yes, Mr. Carleton, though in my acquaintance with your son we harped back to my screen activities.”
“Activities is doubtless a well chosen word, I take it?”
“Well, yes, there was little tame or monotonous in the life as I knew it.”
“And what do you think of my son’s prospects of success?”
“They seem to me very good. Claude is a lovable chap, light hearted and merry minded. That sort takes well out there. Moreover, he is clever and ingenious; those, too, are assets. Altogether, if he cultivates patience and perseverance, he will come out on top.”
“I suppose you know you have mentioned the two qualities in which my boy is absolutely lacking?”
“Oh, not as bad as that. He can cultivate them a bit, but he certainly has something to start with. Well, I hear my taxi rumbling outside. Now, if your able-bodied butler and his helpful footman will give me a lift, I’ll be on my way. I feel sure that to start out openly from a place like this is to disarm undue curiosity at the fountainhead. Goodnight, Mr. Carleton.”
“Good-night, Carlisle. Come to see us soon and tell us how you got on with this proposition.”
As Kenneth had assumed, the very fact of his leaving the big house so openly, making no secret of his strange burden, went far to disarm all suspicion on the part of the taxi driver or of any passing policeman or curious wayfarer.
With the help of Fenn and Martin the box was hoisted into the cab, Carlisle tucked himself in, and they set off.
Carter, his own devoted slave, met him at his home, and though it was a large apartment house, the doings of the detective were never questioned, and the oddly shaped box was taken up in the service elevator without comment or criticism.
Down in the Fifth Avenue house Manning Carleton and his wife said good-night to the two guests from the other house, and they went down the steps of the Carlisle mansion and up the steps of their own home.
The professor and Don Randall said good-night and went to their rooms. The two secretaries effaced themselves. Pauline and Zélie, yawning, went off to bed, and, like one who treads alone the banquet hall deserted, Manning Carlisle kept solitary vigil for a time.
IN the country a house shut up for the night is a solemn proposition. Every window is examined as to its fastenings, every outside door is locked and bolted, and often various and sundry inside doors are also locked between rooms and halls.
Then, from the early closing hour until time to rise the next morning, there is no sign of life, no sound of moving humanity, nothing but black darkness and silence.
In the city it is different. There is little locking up to do. The front door is always fastened, the windows, most of them, likewise. Certain ones are used for ventilation, but the great ornate windows that disfigure the old-fashioned brownstone fronts are seldom if ever opened, and when the basement entrance and the area door are locked there is little else to do in the barricading line.
Also, the atmosphere inside the house is different. It is not unusual for people to move around the rooms, or to go up and down stairs at any hour. Whereas in the country this would bring about a frantic hopping out of bed, and opening of bedroom doors, and cries of “What’s the matter? Is anybody ill?” in the city, it is part of the natural routine, and nobody pays any attention to it.
All of which is respectfully submitted to show why no one in the Carleton house was disturbed or surprised at hearing various and sundry footsteps and voices off and on throughout the night.
It was about three o’clock when Manning Carleton was left downstairs alone save for a few of the servants.
He went at once to his library, a front room across the hall from the drawing room.
A beautiful room it was, in the fashion of an older day.
But heavy cornices and massive woodwork are not quite so anomalous in a library, where the very books themselves are oldtimers, as in a living room.
And the Carleton library was in no sense a living room. It was not used, as a library often is, as a family gathering place, for the simple reason that the family declined to gather there.
The family, outside of the master of the house, seldom read, and if they did they would never choose a tome from those old shelves.
So it had become more and more the exclusive haunt of Manning Carleton, to the satisfaction of all concerned.
Pauline had her own charming boudoir, back of the living room. Claude adopted for himself the cosy smoking room back of the library and separated from it by a cloakroom and lavatory.
Back of the smoking room was a good-sized office where Peter Gregg led his secretarial existence, and back of that again was a pleasant sunny little room devoted to the social correspondence of Mrs. Carleton as manipulated by the deft fingers of Emily Austen.
Opposite these two secretaries’ rooms and across a hall was the dining room, and, save for a pantry or two, the rest of the domestic and culinary offices were in the basement.
A big, comfortable home, worn smooth by the family life of four generations of Carletons, and standing firm on its old-fashioned foundations, though threatened now and then by fretful outbursts on the part of Pauline or Claude.
But Manning Carleton paid no attention to the advice and criticism of good-natured, easy-going Claude, and as for his wife, he knew when he married her she would behave like that, and he lent no serious ear to her pleas for a duplex apartment with penthouse and terraces.
Selfish, Manning Carleton was, in that he would have his own way. But, unless it interfered with his way, everyone else was welcome to his or her own way, and there was little if any friction in the family.
The other member, Miss Violet Carleton, was, like her brother, “set in her ways,” but her ways were usually for the interest and comfort of the household, and though what is known as strongminded, her strong mind was shrewd and well balanced.
With a few exceptions—one being a dread of anything gruesome or ghastly. The appearance of the skeleton had really thrown her into a nervous state of mind, which she was now trying hard to overcome as she sat in her pleasant little sitting room which adjoined her larger bedroom.
She had sat there ever since she left the drawing room, on the promise of Kenneth Carlisle to take the bony horror away from the house that night. And now her worry was a fear that he had not done so. She knew the guests had gone home or gone to bed, and she determined to go down to the drawing room and see for herself that the awful thing was not there.
But as she opened her door to the hall she saw Professor Scott going down the wide stairway. He was fully dressed, and the hall lights were still on full, so Miss Violet knew Fenn must still be about.
She concluded to wait a bit and returned to her rooms, where she took off her evening gown and donned a comfortable négligé. She had never had a personal maid and didn’t want one, though the services of Polly’s French Nadine were at her disposal when required.
Professor Scott went slowly down the stairs, not knowing he had been observed. He moved with some apparent hesitation, and reaching the lower hall, looked into the now empty drawing room. Fenn came to him.
“Can I do anything for you, sir?” he asked deferentially but with a curious glance at the old man.
“No, no—oh, no,” was the stammered reply. “You—you’re still around, are you?”
Fenn stiffened a little.
“Yes, sir. I’m cleaning up a bit.”
“Ah, yes. Do you have to do that overnight? Now, I should think that the morning—er, the morning, you know—”
Fenn began to feel sorry for him. He had always thought the old man a little dotty, and just now he looked it.
“Well, I do some things, sir. Empty the stale ash trays; take away used glasses or plates; pick up the bags and scarfs the ladies leave around. Not brushing up or dusting, you know—that lays over for to-morrow.”
“I see. I see. Well, Fenn, where is Mr. Carleton?”
“He’s in his library, sir.”
“Can I see him?”
“Well, sir, I’m afraid not. You see, it’s the rule, when Mr. Carleton locks himself in, he’s not to be interrupted or spoken to by anybody. Better wait till morning, sir. Anything urgent, may I ask?”
“Oh, yes, yes. Urgent, yes, exactly that. Now, shall I knock?”
“It’s not for me to say, sir. But I don’t think he will answer.”
A little timidly the old man tapped at the heavy closed door of the library.
There was no response, and though the professor put his ear to the panel he could hear no sound.
“Can you hear anything, Fenn?” he asked.
With an apologetic but obedient air the butler listened a moment.
“Yes, sir,” he said; “I hear his pen a-scratchin’, sir. But he won’t answer. He’s like that most nights. Writin’ or readin’ and answerin’ no knocks.”
“Nonsense!” cried Scott, annoyed now. “He must answer. Manning, Manning,” he called out, rapping a little more loudly. “It’s Scott, Let me in!”
“Not to-night, old man,” came Carleton’s voice, pleasant enough but decided. “See you to-morrow morning. Good-night.”
Professor Scott was decidedly upset. He was not accustomed to being treated like that.
He gave the unmoved door a scowl of indignation, and muttering some unintelligible but seemingly threatening words he moved off in the direction of the stairs. As he mounted the steps, his footfalls muted by the soft velvet carpet, the chimes of the hall clock rang out the quarter after three.
Violet Carleton, watching, saw the old man reach the top stair and turn in to the corridor that led to Claude’s apartments, which Scott was occupying for the night.
The second floor of the Carleton house was exceedingly attractive. It had really more floor space than there was below, for less area was devoted to the great front hall, and the various suites were spacious and beautifully appointed.
More guest rooms on the third floor gave ample accommodations for all, and as low lights burned in all the halls and corridors one could go about with ease, though, incidentally, there were shadowy nooks and partly screened alcoves where one might dodge another, if desired.
It was in one of these curtained alcoves that Violet waited for the return of Professor Scott.
Then she went downstairs.
Fenn, just about to turn out the hall lights, paused at her appearance.
“All right, Fenn,” she said, “go on to bed now. I’ll turn off the lights when I go up.”
“Very good, ma’am. Good-night, ma’am,” and the butler disappeared.
Miss Violet turned into the drawing room, and to her great relief saw no disturbing sight.
“Then Mr. Carlisle took it,” she said to herself, nodding her satisfaction.
She looked about the impressive if oppressive room and threw herself into one of the big easy chairs.
Fenn had put the smoking equipment in perfect order, so that the sight of a cigarette ready to hand impelled her to light one and take a few meditative whiffs.
Subconsciously she heard low voices in the library, but her brother’s affairs had no interest for her, and she only looked up with a mildly questioning glance when Donald Randall sauntered into the drawing room.
“Thought I smelled smoke,” he smiled, speaking low, as seemed natural in a closed house.
“And you were afraid the house was on fire and you came to help put it out?” rejoined Miss Violet, with fine sarcasm. “No, laddie, you thought—you hoped it was Polly who was having a goodnight cigarette here, and—you hoped she was alone.”
“Mind reader!” exclaimed Randall. “And pretty good at it. Where is her ladyship?”
“Gone to bed, of course. And now, I’m going. As I’ve no doubt your secondary errand down on this floor is to imbibe a cheering draught, don’t let me stand in your way.”
With a good-natured smile and a kindly pat on his broad shoulder, Miss Violet left him and started upstairs.
She reached the top, and, hearing a slight noise, stepped aside into the sheltering folds of a curtain that draped an arch in the hallway.
She saw Zélie, robed in a transparent and bewitching négligé, go slowly and gracefully down the staircase.
Miss Violet nodded her wise old head and drew down the corners of her cynical old mouth.
“Wakeful! Going down to get a book!” she chuckled. “Don’t they always do it! Zélie is running true to form. But she won’t make any headway with young Randall. He’s over head and ears in love with Polly, who doesn’t care a picayune for him. Yes, she’s heading for the boudoir. Wonder if Randall will play up.”
She hung over the banister, watching, and was rewarded by seeing Randall come from the dining room, where he had doubtless achieved his cheering draught, and paused at the door of Pauline’s boudoir.
She could see no more, but she chuckled again at the thought of the man’s disappointment at finding Zélie there instead of Polly.
Yet Zélie, in that enticing robe and in adventurous mood, could hold him for a while, the wicked old lady concluded, and seeing no further amusement toward, she went to bed, safe and content in her knowledge that no fleshless skeletons were under the Carleton roof.
“What are you doing prowling about the place?” Randall inquired as he sat down beside Zélie on the chaise longue.
“I came down for a book I left here this afternoon.”
“Yes, you did! Produce the volume!”
“I don’t see it,” and the girl looked about. “I say, Don, who sent that horrible skeleton thing?”
“Lord, I don’t know. Some crony, or more likely enemy of the old man’s. Beastly thing to do. With his dizzy heart he might have gone straight to glory.”
“That would have been nice for you and Polly.”
“Ye-ah?” Randall smoked on in silence.
After a moment he said slowly, “Just what did you mean by that?”
“Well, it wasn’t exactly cryptic,” Zélie smiled at him. “If an all-wise Providence should see fit to remove Manning Carleton to a higher sphere of usefulness, you and Polly could, perhaps, comfort and console each other in your mutual loss.”
“Why the mutual? Carleton doesn’t crowd any of my hours with glorious life.”
“No? But who’s talking? I hear voices.”
“Voices of the night? Well, if you’re really curious, I can tell you; I think. As I came out of the dining room, I heard those two precious secretaries hobnobbing in one of the rooms opposite.”
“Yes, those are the secretaries’ rooms.”
“Yes. Though Miss Austen’s is rather dressy for an office. Gregg’s is more orthodox.”
“But Miss Austen is social secretary to a very dressy lady.”
“Yes.” Zélie frankly yawned. “I see you’re in no mood for a flirtation, so I shan’t make any attempt. I wish Claude was home. Not a man in the house but two old fossils and the already bespoke secretary.”
“I thought you liked to flirt with Manning, and now you’re calling him names.”
“I do like him, but—”
“But he’s locked in his study, and—oho, that’s what you came downstairs for! All dressed up like a film queen!”
“Don’t be silly! I wish you’d keep out of things. Go back upstairs, won’t you?”
“Well, yes, after I get a nightcap. Have something?”
“No, thanks. Why don’t you ask Gregg to join you?”
“Don’t want him. Good-night, then.”
He brushed her cheek lightly with a butterfly kiss and went out of the room.
He listened a moment at the door of Miss Austen’s room and heard the low murmur of voices, then went on to the dining room.
An hour or so later, the noises in the street had become stilled; the holiday revelers, wearied by their boisterous activities, had sought their homes, or other shelter, and save for an occasional popgun or raucous rattle the celebration of the advent of the New Year was already a thing of the past.
Comparative quiet had also settled on the shadowy spaces of the Carleton mansion.
The only continuous sounds were the ticking of the great hall clock and the chiming of its quarter hours.
But any one near enough to the door of the library could have heard a repeated tapping on its sturdy old panels.
For outside that closed portal Pauline stood, her bare feet thrust into silken mules, her Oriental kimono held about her slender form, her knuckles already red and bruised as she pounded again and again on the insensate wood.
“Let me in! Manning!” she cried, and her voice rose to a higher wail. “Open the door! You must let me come in!”
But there was no response to her pleas, even though a barely perceptible crack at the sill showed a faint gleam of light beneath it.
Again she called, and, as might have been expected, her voice was heard in the upper rooms, and one after another doors were opened.
“For heaven’s sake, Pauline, what are you doing?” cried the irate tones of Miss Violet, while Don Randall’s heavy footsteps came thumping down the stairs.
“I want to get in here,” Pauline declared. “Make him let me in, Don.”
“How can I, dear? If he won’t open the door, he won’t.”
“Then he can’t,” said Pauline, her voice suddenly tragic and hollow.
“Pooh! Of course he can, but he won’t,” Violet stated. “You know how stubborn he is, and if he’s made up his mind not to speak, nobody can make him speak.”
“No,” Pauline persisted, “it isn’t that this time. He’s had a heart attack or something. Where’s Fenn? Get him, somebody.”
The butler, who had a way of turning up when wanted, came from the back of the house. He had pulled on his trousers and wore an old dressing gown, but he seemed aware of no incongruity.
“What is it, Miss Polly?” he asked. “What you want me to do?”
“Get in that room, Fenn. I don’t care how you do it, but get in!”
“Yes’m. But I’ll have to think a minute, ma’am. You see, that ain’t a room we can break in—no, not exactly.”
“Of course you can break in,” declared Randall. “Why, Fenn, you and I together can smash that door right through.”
“Yes, sir, but why do it? Why not try a window or the like of that?”
“I say so,” agreed Professor Scott, who had slowly negotiated the stairs. “You know, in detective stories they always smash in the great massive doors and never think of breaking a windowpane!”
“All right, then,” Randall assented, “make for a window. Only the two front ones, I suppose?”
“Yes, sir,” and Fenn unfastened the front door and flung it open.
The cold fresh air of the early morning was frosty and damp, and the women scurried back to warmth.
Zélie had joined them, her great dark eyes wide with wonder, but asking no questions. Zélie seldom asked questions, she gathered facts from what she saw and heard.
In a moment Randall had jumped from the stone rail of the front steps over the balustrade of the balcony that held the two library windows and tried to peer inside.
“Can’t see a thing,” he announced. “Both shades down.”
“Have to break the window,” Professor Scott said in his decided way, but another voice made itself heard, and Peter Gregg said:
“No need to break the glass. Fenn, get a strong thin-bladed knife from your pantry.”
“Yes, sir,” and Fenn disappeared.
Before he returned they heard the sound of a window above being hastily raised.
Randall, Gregg, and the Professor all turned their faces upward and saw that it was not a window in the Carleton home but in the other house.
Jack Mortlake stuck his head out and shouted:
“What’s going on down there?”
“We’re trying to get in the library,” Gregg told him. “We think Mr. Carleton may be ill or something.”
“Want any help?” asked Mortlake, without, however, much enthusiasm.
“No,” said Randall, resenting the half-hearted offer. “We have enough men here to take care of the situation. Go back to bed.”
“Guess I will,” said the disinterested one. “Good-night.”
“Well, I like that!” cried Emily Austen, who had wrapped herself in an afghan and stepped outside. “Oh here comes Fenn.”
The butler brought the knife desired, but it proved to be of no avail, for the old window frames were tight fitting, and the fastenings were a trifle rusted.
Meantime the policeman on the beat appeared and inquired the reason for the disturbance.
He listened with interest to the chorus of answers and marched inside the house.
“Better bust the door down,” he said, at last. “But ain’t there some other door, a lighter one, say?”
“Yes, of course,” Gregg told him. “I should have thought of that. There’s a door in the back of the library; it opens into a cloakroom and then on into the smoking room.”
The men filed through the front door, the secretary and the butler chagrined that they were so stupid, but the guests of the house paying little heed.
The door from the cloakroom into the library was locked on the library side, but it was a much smaller door than the hall entrance, and it soon gave way under pressure.
The policeman, whose name was Garvin, was first in the room, closely followed by Gregg and Randall.
Professor Scott, bringing up the rear, gave one glance and hastily turned away without entering.
This left room for Fenn, who stepped inside just as he would have entered had everything been normal.
“Guard the door, Fenn,” warned Gregg. “Keep the ladies out.”
For the scene was an awful one.
Manning Carleton, seated at his wide table-desk, had fallen in a limp crumpled heap, and no second glance was needed to know the man was dead.
His left arm lay stretched out on the desk, and this the policeman gingerly felt at the wrist.
“Dead,” he said succinctly. “Any of you men related to him?”
“No,” they all said, and Gregg took it upon himself to mention their names.
“Women folks?” asked Garvin, then.
“Yes, several,” Gregg told him. “His wife, his sister, and a visitor. Also a lady secretary.”
“Well, I’ll call the medical examiner and the Homicide Bureau. But, look here, you. How did the murderer get out, or is it suicide?”
THOUGH a first-class patrolman, Officer Garvin was not especially shrewd or observant. Yet he watched with scarcely concealed interest for reactions to his question.
Gregg spoke first, looking very serious.
“That’s what’s puzzling me. But if it’s suicide, where is the gun?”
“Those things are outside my work,” Garvin said abruptly. “I’ll get the Precinct Station.”
“Seems as if we ought to call Dr. Landon,” Randall said; “he’s the family physician, and he may be needed to look after the women.”
“Hysterical lot?” asked Garvin casually.
“Not especially so, but—oh, well, it seems more orthodox.”
“Call him if you like. No harm in that. I’ll get the police here. Don’t touch anything in this room.”
Then Garvin drew from his pocket a big folded handkerchief, shook it out, and in its folds gingerly picked up the French telephone by its receiver end.
He put through several swift messages and replaced the instrument.
“There’s an extension some place, I suppose?” he asked, and Fenn nodded.
“Well, call your doctor, if you wish, but don’t call anybody else just now. You, Fenn, you’re the butler?”
“Yes, I am,” Fenn replied, disinclined to show much deference to this blunt personage.
“Had Mr. Carleton a valet? Where’s he?”
“All the servants are still in their beds.”
“Better root ’em out. Get the maids up, and the housekeeper, or whoever’s in charge. The day has begun.”
Fenn went away, and Garvin’s eyes continued to rove round the room.
“Had to break in,” he murmured. “Couldn’t get in without bustin’ the door.”
“Mr. Carleton often locked himself in here alone,” offered Peter Gregg, with seeming resentment of the comment.
“Sure. But if he locked himself in here last night and shot himself, where did he hide his gun?”
“Oh, I say!” exclaimed Donald Randall, with sudden excitement, “it’s one of those cases of a murder in a sealed room.”
“Who says it’s murder?” Garvin flung at him. “How do you get that way? What do you know about it, anyhow?”
“Nothing, nothing at all,” Don said hastily. “I guess I’ll go and look after the ladies. Will they have to be interviewed?”
Garvin stared at him.
“I’ll say they will,” he declared grimly. “Yes interviewed, and then some. Yes, go and look after them. If they’re in their nighties, tell ’em to get dressed.”
Randall went off, and Peter Gregg was left with the policeman.
“You some sort of secretary?” came the question.
“Yes,” Gregg replied uninterestedly. “Private secretary to Mr. Carleton.”
“Know much about him?”
“Plenty about his business affairs; little about his personal matters.”
“Any money troubles?”
“I should say not! He had money enough for all his needs and heaps more.”
“Wife, son, and sister. I suppose they’re the principal heirs.”
“Probably. Now, look here, laddie. The inspector will be here in a jiffy, and I’ll be set aside. Tell me, is there any secret way in and out of this room?”
“No,” Peter Gregg said, but he said it after an instant’s hesitation, said it slowly, uncertainly, as if—or so it seemed to Officer Garvin—he were not telling the truth.
Just then Dr. Landon appeared at the broken and splintered door.
“What—Oh, my God!” he cried out, as he saw his old friend and patient huddled in his desk chair.
He went to the tragic figure and with a light touch that disturbed nothing satisfied himself that life was extinct and immediately deduced the cause.
“Shot through the heart,” he said, “and at very close range. Who did it? Oh, yes, of course!”
“Well, who did it, Doc?” Garvin asked eagerly, but Dr. Landon stared at him.
“All in good time,” he said. “When the inquiry begins.”
There was a pause, and then: “I can do nothing here,” Dr. Landon said, breaking the silence that had fallen on his last words. “Where is Mrs. Carleton? And Miss Carleton? I must see them.”
He went away, but Peter Gregg remained.
Like Garvin, he let his eyes roam round the room.
But as he looked there was a noise in the hall, and round through the smoking room and cloak room, into the library came the men from Headquarters.
The dapper medical examiner, Dr. Doane, and the more stalwart Inspector Gilbert came in together, and Doane went straight to the dead man and began his work without a word.
He carried a little black bag, which he now opened and placed on the desk.
There was plenty of room, for Manning Carleton’s desk was a long and wide mahogany affair with a flat, roomy top.
A plain-clothes detective, accompanying the inspector, also carried a little black bag.
But his was of the sort known as “Murder Bags,” or, more technically, “Practical Criminal Science Outfit.”
The equipment of these bags is interesting, containing, as they do, saws, scissors, rubber gloves, chisels, trouble finders, magnifying glass, tape measure, test tubes, vacuum gun, black and white powders, paper, twine, notebook, crayons, and tweezers.
They are supposed to hold everything immediately essential to the solving of a murder mystery.
But it is in cases like the death of Manning Carleton that the Murder Bag breaks down. No test tubes or tweezers could indicate any way by which a murderer could have left that room locked behind him.
Nor, in the absence of a weapon, could suicide be predicated.
“Well,” Inspector Gilbert said cheerfully, “we’ve been confronted with this problem before.”
“And you always found the explanation?” asked Gregg respectfully.
Gilbert gave him a quick glance.
“Usually,” he said, with a careless intonation that discouraged further remark on the subject.
Dr. Doane, still silent, worked at his own job, probing for the bullet, getting various data and now and then expressing astonishment by a quick intake of his breath or an instantly suppressed whistle.
Inspector Gilbert roamed about the big room.
The desk stood across the front end of the library, perhaps eight or ten feet from the front windows.
The desk chair was between the desk and the windows, so that one sitting in it faced the main part of the room and by turning on the swivel could see out into the hall if the hall door were open.
But that door was closed and locked. The front windows were still closed and locked and the dark shades drawn down.
There were several sets of curtains: net sash curtains next the panes; lace curtains down to the sills, inside the dark shades; long, elaborate lace curtains down to the floor, and over all these, heavy damask curtains, from ceiling to floor, with a massive lambrequin decoration across the tops.
The two windows were about three feet apart, and between them stood a low revolving bookcase.
Directly in front of this bookcase, then, was the desk chair where now was the body of the dead man.
“That’s all I can do here,” Dr. Doane announced at last. “I’ll send some mortuary people for the body when I learn the wishes of the family. Shall I see them now?”
“Yes,” said Gilbert. “What’s your report?”
“Nothing more definite than that he was shot by a gun held very close to his body.”
“What sort of gun?”
“Can’t say exactly. But the bullet is small, about a twenty-eight caliber.”
“How long’s he been dead?”
“Between three and four hours, I should say. But that’s problematical.”
“Killed about three or four o’clock, then.”
“Something like that. We can’t be exact, you know.”
“I know. Well, go on and see the family. I must give this place the once-over. Something tells me this case spells trouble.”
“I’ve heard detectives say that murder in a locked room is the easiest nut to crack of all.”
“Those detectives were the nuts, then. And badly cracked. No, Doane, much water will flow over the Hudson Tunnel before we find out the truth about Manning Carleton’s death. Could he have shot himself?”
“Offhand, I should say no, but until I can get him on an operating table, I can’t answer that positively. But, supposing he could and did shoot himself he couldn’t have hidden or disposed of the gun. Could it have been smuggled out of here before we came?”
“No, I think not. Garvin was here when the door was forced, and he is a watchful, reliable sort. Not brilliant, but alert and sharp eyed. I think he would have seen it if there had been any funny work. Well, I shan’t hunt now for secret doors or concealed panels. I’ll get what I can from the family first. Come on, we’ll go together.”
Leaving two detectives in charge of the library and its still tenant, they went back through the cloakroom to the hall and crossed to the drawing room.
Only the men were there, the women having gathered in Polly’s boudoir.
“Please summon whoever is in authority here,” the inspector told Fenn, who, as always, appeared automatically.
The butler hesitated and then said uncertainly, “I suppose you want Mrs. Carleton and Miss Carleton, sir.”
“You heard what I said,” was the curt reply.
Fenn went off, and beyond impersonal nods none of the men in the drawing room acknowledged the advent of the two police authorities.
Professor Scott favored them with a gaze in which were mingled curiosity and distaste, somewhat as if they were some new species of black beetle.
Donald Randall lighted a fresh cigarette and looked placidly out of the window. Peter Gregg had seemed to acquire a decided nervousness. Twice he essayed to speak and then swallowed his words.
Fenn returned with Pauline, Zélie, and Miss Austen, and stalking after them with majestic dignity marched Violet Carleton.
But, though last, she was by no means least in any way. She selected the most throne-like chair, seated herself, and from this coign of vantage she scrutinized the two strangers.
“Good-morning,” she said, not unaffably. “Can you tell me who is the murderer of my brother?”
“Not as yet, madam,” returned Inspector Gilbert, with his politest air. “But I trust after some investigation we shall be able to do so.”
He was relieved to find that the women of this household were not of a hysterical type.
Miss Carleton looked as if she might be a Tartar, but Tartars were more gladly suffered than sniveling fools.
Mrs. Carleton, the astute inspector noted, was what he sometimes called a handful. Yet handfuls could be handled more easily than Niobes.
The other two he disregarded for the moment, learning that these were his principals.
“I must ask you some questions, Mrs. Carleton,” he said, with a sympathetic glance at Pauline. “It will, doubtless, be hard for you to answer them, but it must be done.”
“Ask me all you can, Inspector,” said Violet briskly. “My sister-in-law is more upset than I am.”
Ignoring her suggestion, Gilbert addressed himself to Pauline.
“Why did you come downstairs and knock on the library door this morning?”
Pauline gave him a slow, comprehensive glance.
He read it aright and flushed deeply. Her expression told him that she thought him too blunt, even boorish; that she was willing to reply politely to courteous queries, and that if he wanted to learn anything from her he would change his attitude and improve upon his manners.
Polly had a way of telling her thoughts without uttering a word, and Inspector Gilbert was nobody’s fool.
He started afresh, in a more gentle tone.
“I am told that you did do that, Mrs. Carleton.”
“Yes, Inspector, I did. My husband frequently sat up late to read or write in his library, but I have never known him to sit up until five o’clock, or nearly five. I woke at that time this morning and found he was not in his room, which adjoins mine. Naturally, I felt alarmed, and slipping on a kimono I ran downstairs to see if anything was the matter.”
“Why should you jump to the conclusion that something was the matter?”
Nearly everyone who knew Pauline Carleton had said at one time or another that her eyes were too big for her face.
This conviction was borne in upon Inspector Gilbert now, and though he made no audible remark he secretly writhed under the direct but enigmatical gaze she turned full upon him.
“You must know,” she murmured in a low tone, “my husband is a victim of heart disease. He is—he was—liable to—to drop dead any moment, either with or without immediate cause. Therefore, when he was not in his bed, I wondered if he had—had an attack.”
“I see.” This pathetic statement did not seem to impress Gilbert too deeply, and Pauline looked at him in slight surprise. She was accustomed to have men follow her lead in moods.
“Did you hear any sound from the library, Mrs. Carleton?”
“No, not a sound. But I could see a streak of light under the door, so I knew he must be there. He always turns off the light when he leaves the room.”
“Also, of course, the locked door proved he was still there.”
As this seemed to be a statement, not a query, Pauline made no reply.
The usual question was now imminent, but the inspector chose to word it in an unusual way.
“Was your husband an enemy of anybody?” he said.
“Aren’t we all?” countered Pauline. “Isn’t everybody an enemy of someone? But I don’t think my husband had an enemy desperate enough to take his life.”
“Are you his sole heir?” asked Gilbert abruptly.
“What!” and the eyes grew too big again. “No certainly not.”
“Who are the others?”
“I am not familiar with the terms of my husband’s will, except that I know he provided bountifully for his sister, his son, and myself.”
“Where is his son?”
“His son, Mr. Claude Carleton, left last night for Hollywood, where he expects to become a screen actor.”
“At what time did Mr. Claude Carleton leave New York?”
“I think he took—what train was it, Don?”
“The two o’clock on the Pennsylvania Railroad,” answered Randall, who was moodily listening to what he considered a baiting.
Yet the inspector was doing no more than his simple duty in making his inquiries.
“Ought he not to be recalled, in the circumstances?” asked Gilbert.
“He has been recalled,” Polly told him tranquilly. “We telegraphed to him on his train.”
“Where did you reach him?
“Tell him, Don,” Polly directed.
“I looked it up in the time-table,” Randall said, “and I found he would reach Harrisburg at seven-seventeen. It was a little after six, then, so I sent a wire to Harrisburg. Of course, we haven’t heard from him yet, but I’ve no doubt we will.”
“Were young Carleton and his father good friends?” Gilbert turned back to Pauline.
“Best in the world. We were a truly happy family. I am Mr. Carleton’s second wife, and we were a devoted couple. His sister Miss Violet Carleton is the dearest and kindest sister-in-law I could wish for. Claude was an ideal son to his father and a good friend to me. I am sure my relatives and friends will corroborate these statements.”
Pauline spoke simply and without undue emphasis.
Inspector Gilbert could find no family jar, no household friction to inquire about.
“Then it would seem,” he resumed, after a moment’s thought, “that some enemy from outside must have done this dastardly crime. We are disregarding for the moment the curious conditions that make the deed such a mystery and conjecture only as to the personality of the murderer.”
“There is no doubt as to the personality of the murderer,” Pauline stated calmly.
If she expected the inspector to fall off his chair at this, she must have been disappointed.
“You have a suspicion, then?” was all he said.
“Not a suspicion: I know who did it, only I don’t know who he is.” The inspector refrained from smiling and said:
“I mean I don’t know his name. But—oh, let somebody else tell you, please!”
She leaned back in her chair, as if exhausted, and Don Randall went across the room to sit beside her.
“Let me tell it,” broke in Miss Violet, who was really aching to step into the limelight. “You mean about—about the big box, Polly?”
“Yes, Vi. You tell the inspector.”
Receiving a gracious permission, Violet launched into the story of the skeleton that had arrived the night before. She told the tale dramatically, and when she quoted the line, “‘As I am now, you soon shall be,’” she seemed like a veritable Cassandra, pronouncing a doom.
“And you think, all of you,” Gilbert asked slowly, “that the sender of that gruesome gift, the writer of those lines, in some way managed to make good his threat and brought about the death of the man he threatened?”
“Yes,” said Violet and Pauline.
Emily Austen preserved a discreet and modest silence, but Zélie D’Orsay spoke up hotly and cried, “No, nothing of the sort!”
Professor Scott nodded his fine leonine head and said, “I agree to that. Whoever sent that absurd gift did it for a joke, a holiday jest, and it meant nothing tragic or sinister. As proof of that, there was another line on the card, which Miss Carleton has evidently forgotten: I think it runs, ‘Long years ago you murdered me.’ Now we all know Manning Carleton never murdered anybody. The thing was a hoax perpetrated by some college chum or business buddy. You all noticed it brought no embarrassment to Mr. Carleton, though some of the ladies were almost frightened by it.”
“A very strange thing,” said the inspector ruminatively.
“Not strange at all,” growled Don Randall. “A silly thing, and in rotten taste, but easily understandable.”
“I can’t agree with you, sir,” the inspector said, looking as if he were getting into very deep waters. “Now, were all of you people here last evening?”
“Yes,” he was told.
“Anybody else here?”
“Yes,” said Randall, who had drifted into the rôle of spokesman. “Claude was here until shortly after one o’clock, and two people from next door were here, Mr. and Mrs. Mortlake. Oh, yes, and Kenneth Carlisle, a sort of private detective, I believe.”
“And you do well to believe it,” the inspector informed him. “That young man is looked up to by our Detective Bureau, and that is no small praise, I can tell you.”
“Yes, I know it,” said Randall, determined not to let the inspector beat him at nonchalance.
“I think,” the inspector then said in a more kindly tone, “you all would be the better for some breakfast. But first let me put one question, and then you may all go to the dining room. The medical examiner has decided that Mr. Carleton was shot between three and four o’clock this morning. Say, approximately, half-past three. Will you each be good enough to state exactly where he or she was at that time?”
Even the imperturbable inspector was startled at the varying expressions on the faces of his audience.
Violet spoke first.
“I went up to bed rather earlier than the others,” she said. “I was in my room before half-past two. Of course, we were all up late, owing to the New Year festival.”
“I went to bed about three,” Pauline stated clearly. “I did not leave my room again until I went down at five o’clock this morning.”
“I went up when Mrs. Carleton did,” Zélie declared. “It was about three, I should say.”
“And you, Miss Austen?” asked Gilbert.
The girl colored painfully, and her voice trembled as she said, “I, too, went up about that time.”
“Liar!” remarked Gilbert, but not aloud.
The men said they had all gone to bed about three o’clock. Fenn was called in to testify as to this, and he said that he turned out the lights downstairs at quarter-past three, or very near that time.
“Did you then hear any sound from the library?”
“I didn’t listen specially. I saw the light under the door, so I knew the master was in there.”
AS they all straggled out to the dining room, where a delightful breakfast awaited them, they took their seats in a general silence.
Each seemed busy with his own thoughts, and there was more an atmosphere of suppressed excitement than any exhibition of sorrow.
Pauline, as always, sat at the head of the table, and Miss Violet marched herself down to the other end and took what had been her brother’s seat.
“I belong here now,” she said a little curtly. “It is my place, not Claude’s.”
She looked around as if expecting to hear objections, but none was made.
Whereupon she relapsed into silence, for her mind was busy trying to figure out why Fenn had told more or less of a falsehood about turning off the lights. To be sure, he had turned off the larger ones at that hour, but just then he had seen Miss Carleton come downstairs and had obeyed her order to go to bed himself and she would look after the other lights.
Could he be trying to screen her from the suspicious glances of the inspector?
Miss Violet Carleton did not want to be screened, and particularly not by a servant. She bridled at the thought of it and gave Fenn a withering glance which, fortunately, he did not see.
Meantime, the inspector, in the drawing room, was breakfasting sumptuously from a tray which had been sent him.
But though the viands were delicious they might have been sawdust and chips for all they meant to him. He was so engrossed in this problem that had been flung at him that he ate unconsciously, mechanically, his mind in a whirl.
When, then, he heard someone come in at the front door and looked up to see Kenneth Carlisle smiling at him, he drew a great sigh of relief.
Now he had someone to talk to, someone to discuss theories with.
Gilbert quite appreciated this young man’s cleverness and ingenuity of ideas, but he had small opinion of his police experience and determined to use him only as a consultant.
“Well, how did you chance to blow in?” he inquired, as Carlisle sat down near him.
“Somebody telephoned me to come. I don’t know who called up, my man took the message. I supposed you gave the order.”
“No, I didn’t. But I’m glad you’re here. Know all the details?”
“Not one. Who’s dead? Old man Carleton?”
“Yes. Shot in a locked and barred room.”
“No! I’ve always wanted to horn in on a case of that kind! Forgive my seeming heartlessness, but—well, tell me the salient points.”
“That’s the salientest point. Mr. Carleton was alone in his library—well, we must assume he was alone—anyway, he shot himself or somebody shot him about three or four o’clock this morning, and every door and window of the room was fastened on the inside.”
“No. Positively not. That’s all.”
“Not observable on preliminary search. But we haven’t made a real investigation yet. I’ve two detectives guarding the place, but they’re not to make the big hunt. I think you and I’ll do that.”
“Let’s go,” said Carlisle, looking boyishly excited.
“No! now, don’t be in a hurry. Aren’t you going to see the family, express sympathy, and all that?”
“Yes, yes, of course. I must do that. Say, young Carleton has gone to California.”
“I know. They’ve wired him to come back. Wait a minute. Before you go, tell me what you think of that skeleton business last night. And I understand you took the thing home with you.”
“I did, and a darned nuisance it is. Takes up a lot of room, and it’s an unpleasant visitor besides. But I took it to oblige that nice old fossil, Professor Scott. What about it?”
“You know it had a threatening message on a card.”
“Rubbish! It was a joke—a very poor one—carried out, I’m sure, by some of Carleton’s cronies. There are a lot of old graybeards in his Pantaloon Club who would think that sort of horseplay a scream. Manning Carleton wasn’t much upset over it. Not nearly so much as his sister was. That’s why I took the thing away, she carried on so.”
“Then you don’t think the hand that wrote the message is the hand that dealt Carleton his death?”
“Why, no, not as yet. But, Lord, man, I can’t judge all of a suddint-like! Let me see him.”
“Go and see the ladies first. Observe the amenities. You were a guest here last night, you know.”
“Yes, Claude’s guest. When will he get here?”
“As soon as possible, I suppose. What’s he like?”
“Claude? Temperamental, visionary, impulsive, ambitious, and a generally all-round amiable, lovable sort. Well, I’ll clear out. Finish your breakfast, and I’ll return anon.”
Carlisle suppressed his longing to go straight to the library and went instead to the dining room, where the ever ready Fenn had a place laid for him.
Being gifted in social speech and manner, the detective said just the right things in just the right way and cautiously watched the faces of his hearers for reactions.
He learned little, not greatly to his surprise, for he knew them all for a self-controlled, self-reliant crowd.
He soon gathered, however, that the consensus of opinion was toward the guilt of the one who had written the message saying, “As I am now, you soon shall be.”
“There’s no problem,” declared Pauline, “as that silly inspector says there is. There’s no doubt the man who sent the skeleton is the man who shot my husband. Now, all you have to do is to find that man.”
“You speak as if that were no stunt at all, Polly,” said Randall, looking at her seriously.
“It ought not to be,” she flashed back, “for trained investigators. Don’t they have all sorts of ways of tracking a man down? Clues, evidence, finger prints, handwriting—oh, they must be able to find out who sent a great box like that.”
“It does seem so,” said Peter Gregg, who in the absence of his somewhat austere master was blossoming out in a breezy and loquacious manner. “I’ll bet Kenneth Carlisle could find him, blindfold and with both hands tied behind him!”
“Oh, I might find him if he was bound and blindfold,” Kenneth said, and Gregg looked annoyed.
“Of course, I meant if you were blindfold and bound, Mr. Carlisle.”
“Yes? Well, you see, I never work that way. I want full use of all my faculties.”
Gregg subsided, but a slight scowl remaining on his face told Kenneth that he need expect little help from the secretary.
“Then, I take it,” he went on calmly, “that you want me to look for the joker man first. By the way, who telephoned for me to come here?”
There was silence, and blank faces looked from one to another.
“I don’t know,” Pauline said finally. “I didn’t, did you, Violet?”
“It was a man’s voice,” Carlisle told them. “Was it you, Fenn?”
“No, sir,” came the prompt reply, as the butler hovered nearer. “No, sir. I don’t know who called you.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter.” Carlisle gazed quickly but intently at each face. “I should probably have been summoned by the police as having been here last evening. They’ll want to get us all together.”
“Good gracious!” cried Pauline. “Shall we have to have the Mortlakes in?”
“Probably. But what harm? Now, look here, Mrs. Carleton and Miss Violet. Do you want me to look into this affair or not? I can’t ask Claude until he gets here. And if I take the case definitely I want to get right at it.
“I couldn’t give you any such authority,” Pauline said a little stiffly. “Of course, now, Claude is master here. He will take his father’s position and authority and will handle all his affairs.”
“Not necessarily,” and Violet Carleton shook her handsome old head. “As my brother’s sister, I have a decided standing in this family, and until the lawyer dictates otherwise I consider myself the supreme authority.”
“Oh, very well,” and Pauline smiled, her eyes looking more than ever like great purple pansies. “We won’t quarrel about that, Violet dear. You can have all the authority you want until Claude comes, and then he and you can settle matters between you.”
“Have you no interest in your husband’s affairs, Mrs. Carleton?” asked Kenneth gently.
“Oh, yes, so far as they concern me. But his people are far more capable of looking after such things than I am. I have no business qualifications. My clever little secretary attends to all my accounts as well as my correspondence.”
Kenneth’s heart began to warm toward Pauline. He had thought her a heartless, brainless doll. Now she seemed more human and was showing decided tact in her treatment of her sister-in-law.
And Violet was accepting the situation.
“Yes, Mr. Carlisle,” she said, “I do want you to take over this case. I do want to see the mystery of my brother’s death cleared up. If he was murdered I want his slayer discovered and punished. If it should prove to be—suicide, then I want to know it. To me the thing is inexplicable. How could Manning be shot in a locked room? How could the murderer get away?”
“It is a problem, Miss Carleton,” Kenneth agreed. “The conditions are the framework of a favorite plot of the fiction writers, but it is seldom that such a curious case of the kind occurs in real life.”
“Yeah,” contributed Randall, “I’ve read yarns like it. And always a silly or impossible explanation as a wind-up.”
“There are only three solutions to the problem,” Carlisle told them. “One is—and the most obvious one—a secret entrance of some sort. Concealed door, sliding panel, hidden staircase in the wall, or some similar plan.”
“Well, there’s nothing like that in this house,” Pauline declared. “In old English castles they have those things, but not in an ordinary everyday American house.”
At this speech the watching detective caught a most peculiar expression flash across the face of Violet Carleton, and at the same time he noticed that the impeccable Fenn, who was serving him a cup of coffee, set it down with such a trembling hand that some of the fluid spilled over in the saucer.
The cup was instantly removed and a fresh one quickly substituted, but the detective had food for thought, and his thoughts ran to the pleasing conclusion that the Carleton library had or might have a secret entrance.
“Go on,” Professor Scott egged him, “you said three solutions, my boy. What are the other two?”
“One is a mechanical contrivance,” Kenneth stated. “I mean some piece of mechanism that fires the gun and so kills the victim. You remember, in The Greene Murder Case, one of the queue of victims gets his by means of a contraption that the brother and sister had between their two rooms.”
“Yes, I remember,” Peter Gregg cried, “and in The Gray Room, that corker by Phillpotts, the fatal bed is really a mechanical killer.”
“The Bradmoor Murder, by Melville Post, is the best of that type,” the old professor said, “and The Jigsaw is one of the finest.”
“You’re past grand master in the field of detective stories, I see,” Kenneth said, looking at the old man. “Well, then you’ll at once recognize the third solution used in the story books. That is, to have the deed accomplished after the locked door is burst open, the criminal getting away in the rush and excitement of the moment.”
“Yes, indeed,” assented Scott, “and the best example of that is of course—”
“The classic and inimitable Big Bow Mystery,” Kenneth said. “A masterpiece!”
“It sure is,” agreed Randall. “I’ve read that book over and over. Another with that solution is The Wrong Letter, but that falls down ethically, though it’s a gorgeous yarn.”
“Well, just how do these solutions fit our case?” asked Peter Gregg.
“Not at all,” Kenneth promptly replied, of no mind to give out a lead. “Mrs. Carleton assures us there is no secret entrance to the library. We have found no trace or sign of a mechanical contrivance, and we are sure that the crime was not committed after the door was broken in.
“That’s all true,” Zélie said, breaking her long silence, “and so, where does it leave us?”
“Hello, when did you wake up?” Randall chaffed her. “I thought you had lost interest in our little problem.”
Carlisle was annoyed at Randall’s light tone and his way of referring to the tragedy in the house, but as no one else seemed to take any exception to his manner he dismissed it from his mind.
“It leaves us, Miss D’Orsay,” he answered her question, “just where we started. At the same time, there must be an explanation of the strange conditions, a solution of the blank mystery, and if it is something contrived and carried out by a human mind, then a human mind can discover what it is.”
“It’s certainly the work of a human mind,” Peter Gregg announced didactically. “Nobody here believes in the occult or the supernatural. Do we?”
He looked round the table, and Carlisle was more and more surprised at his attitude. Last night at dinner he had been quiet, modest, and unassertive. Now he was outspoken, and, too, he bracketed himself with the others, as if all of one family.
No one answered him, however, regarding a belief in mysticism, and Kenneth again took up the inquiry.
“Did no one hear the shot?” he asked. “I know these old walls are thicker than those built nowadays, but with several people all over the house it would seem as if it might have been heard.”
“I didn’t hear any shot,” Randall said finally, for Kenneth was looking directly at him.
“Where were you?”
“I went up to bed about three or a little after.”
“And you were in bed at three-thirty?”
“Yep,” was the response, but the speaker did not meet Kenneth’s eyes.
Also a tiny smile curled the corners of Zélie’s mouth, and Emily Austen stared at Randall with an expression that plainly bespoke unbelief.
“Did you hear anything like a shot, Fenn?” asked Kenneth suddenly turning to the butler.
“No, sir,” came the direct reply. “That is, not to notice, sir. You see, all night the streets had been full of popping noises, cap pistols, rattles, and all those heathenish noise makers that they flourish on New Year’s Eve and Election Night. Of course, they grew less and less after midnight, but when I went upstairs some stray ones were still popping, and so I couldn’t say whether one of them was a shot in this house or not.”
“At what time did you go upstairs?”
With Carlisle’s eye upon him Fenn seemed unable to repeat what he had said before regarding this. He looked helplessly at Miss Carleton, who laughed outright at his uncertainty.
“Tell the truth, Fenn,” she said, “or, no, I’ll tell it for you. At quarter after three Fenn was turning out the hall lights when I came downstairs. He paused, and I told him to go along to bed, I would take care of the lights that were still on when I went back upstairs.”
“Yes, Miss Violet. And then you were downstairs—how long?”
“About a quarter of an hour. I smoked a cigarette in the drawing room, and I went back upstairs as the hall clock chimed half-past three.”
“Did you go downstairs for the purpose of smoking a cigarette?”
“Well, no, I didn’t. I can smoke in my own sitting room. I went down, if I must confess to my foolish fears, to see, young man—to see if you had kept your promise of taking that beastly thing home with you.”
“The skeleton!” said Kenneth, breaking into laughter.
“Exactly. The skeleton. I know how forgetful young people are, and I had to be sure. When I was satisfied the thing was gone I just sat down and smoked as a sort of expression of relief. That’s all.”
“I see. And now, Miss Carleton, think carefully. Did you hear any sound from the library while you were downstairs?”
“When I first went down and passed rather near the library door on my way to the drawing room, I think I heard low voices in the library. But if so, it made no impression on me, for so often my brother is there late at night, either alone or with someone else.”
“Who else, for example?”
“Why, his secretary, or his friends, or some business man on an errand, or some one of his many agents.”
“You didn’t listen at the door?”
“Certainly not. Not but what I would feel free to do so, if I wished, but I have no knowledge of my brother’s affairs and consequently no interest in them.”
“You have no idea who could have written the note of warning or who sent the skeleton?”
“I certainly have not. That is the first thing you must find out. It can’t be a hard task. In all probability it was some doddering old fool from that Pantaloon Club. They have a distorted sense of humor down there!”
“You saw no one else downstairs, then, Miss Carleton, except Fenn, the butler?”
“No,” she said distinctly, “no one else.”
Donald Randall squirmed in his chair. He wanted to be frank about having gone downstairs himself, but he did not want to drag Zélie into the discussion.
However, he felt he couldn’t face Miss Violet afterward if he let her statement go unchallenged, so he said:
“As this seems to be an experience meeting I’ll have to take issue with Miss Carleton. She, in an angelic endeavor to screen my wayward ways, said she saw no one downstairs. As a matter of fact, I ran over her in the drawing room as she was finishing her cigarette.”
“And you talked to her?”
“About two minutes, I should say. Then she went upstairs and I stayed down.”
“And what was your errand?”
Randall looked disappointed.
“You ought to be able to deduce that. I went down for a drink.”
“To the drawing room?”
“Oh, what a fuss you are! No, I dropped in there because I saw Miss Violet there. Then, when she deprived me of her society, I sauntered off toward the dining room, from whence all blessings flow.”
“And after that?”
“Ah, there’s the blot on my scutcheon! I fell asleep in a dining room chair—the one Polly is now sitting in, to be exact—and I woke up about—oh, I don’t know, something after four. I scrambled upstairs and into bed, and next thing I knew they were banging around and saying terrible things had happened.”
Randall’s story was a little incoherent, because he had determined not to implicate Zélie. If she wanted to tell on herself, all right, but he didn’t propose to tell on her.
To his relief Carlisle asked no more questions of him but turned to Peter Gregg next.
“You were downstairs last night?” he asked pleasantly, for he had begun to think the whole household had spent the small hours going up and down.
“Well, I was,” replied Gregg, not quite surlily, but far from blandly.
“I had some work to do, and I’d been up late with the festivities, so I concluded to look it over and plan it out and then leave it to do in the morning.”
“Ask me now, won’t you, Mr. Carlisle?” and Emily Austen gave one of her demure smiles.
“Very well, Miss Austen,” said Kenneth, gravely. “Tell me about it.”
“I will. There was nothing wrong. You see, Peter and I are engaged, but Mr. Carleton wouldn’t let us get married, because he thought it would interfere with Peter’s usefulness to him. Well, so we got very few chances to see each other alone. Well, we wanted to have a little time together yesterday, being a sort of holiday, but we couldn’t work it. We were both busy all day long. So Peter asked me to see him for a few minutes after everybody had gone, and I did. That’s all.”
“Where were you, Miss Austen?”
“In my room, my secretary’s room.”
“Until what time?”
“Until about half-past four.”
“Then you both went up to your rooms?”
“Yes, mine is on the second floor, Mr. Gregg’s on the third.”
“Then, if you went upstairs about four-thirty, did you not see Mr. Randall in the dining room?”
“Yes, we did. He was asleep. We didn’t think it was our place to waken him, so we went by on tiptoe.”
“Were the lights on then?”
“Not the main lights. There are low lights in the halls all night.”
“You corroborate all this, Mr. Gregg?”
“Absolutely, just as Miss Austen has told it. We were together something over an hour, and we felt we had a right to that much holiday.”
“You were in the drawing room when the skeleton episode took place?”
“Oh, yes, and I think I may help you to track down the sender of that infernal piece of impudence.”
“Thank you, Mr. Gregg. When we get around to that phase of the problem I may be very glad to call upon you.”
Kenneth lapsed into a sudden silence, and Pauline, feeling she could stand no more of this sort of thing, rose from her chair.
They all followed, and Fenn, at the doorway, informed them they must all gather in the drawing room.
OBEYING the summons, they found Inspector Gilbert waiting for them.
“The case is so amazing,” he said gravely, “so mysterious, even, that I am obliged to resort to unusual proceedings. I know Mr. Carlisle has asked you all as to your whereabouts last night at the time the crime was probably committed. I should have been with him and heard your replies, but I had imperative duties otherwhere. Therefore, I shall have to ask you to repeat, in general, the accounts you gave him.”
This sounded straightforward enough, but more than one of his hearers had a feeling that this was a preconceived plan, the intent being to see if the stories told varied in any important detail.
Zélie, especially, was annoyed, for she had not been quizzed before with the others, and she didn’t care to be brought into the matter at all.
There was no escape, however, and after checking up on Miss Carleton, Mrs. Carleton, and the old professor, Gilbert turned to her.
“And you, Miss D’Orsay,” he said in his suave way, “you came downstairs after you went up with Mrs. Carleton?”
The girl hesitated so long before replying that the inspector waxed impatient, even drummed on the chair arm with his finger tips.
“Why, yes,” Zélie said finally, raising her chin to a defiant angle and flashing a resentful glance at him, “yes, I went downstairs to get a book I had left down in Mrs. Carleton’s boudoir.”
“What was the name of the book?”
“Why, it was—what was that book you were reading yesterday, Polly?”
“Oh, that one?” Pauline wrinkled her lovely brows, obviously playing for time. “Oh, yes, it was that new book of Maugham’s, I forget the title.”
“Yes, that’s the one,” said Zélie calmly; “I forget the title, too.”
“I will ask one of you ladies to get the book,” Gilbert said. “It is definitely important or I wouldn’t insist.”
Zélie looked mutinous and quite evidently had no intention of going on the errand, so Pauline, who was always obliging, rose and went in search of the book.
“You had the Maugham story in the boudoir last night?” the inspector inquired, and Zélie shook her head.
“I couldn’t find it,” she said sulkily. “I don’t see what it has to do with your work in this matter.”
“Perhaps nothing at all, perhaps a great deal. Who else was downstairs last night at the time you were down?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I suppose Mr. Carleton was in his library, and I think the secretaries were in their offices, and—”
“And I was dawdling about,” interrupted Don Randall, who saw Zélie hesitated to implicate him.
“Where were you?
“I stopped in the boudoir a few moments to chat with Miss D’Orsay, and then I went to the dining room to get a bit of refreshment. I asked the lady to have something with me, but she refused. And then, I grieve to state, the subsequent proceedings interested me no more. It was very late, and I was weary, and my potation was of a soporific nature, and without in the least intending to, I fell asleep.”
The two secretaries, who spoke after Randall, told of seeing him asleep in the dining room, when they went upstairs at half-past four.
“And when did you go upstairs, Mr. Randall?” asked Gilbert, a trifle sharply.
“Heavens! I don’t know. The last thing I thought of was to look at the clock. But it must have been after four-thirty and before five. Simple arithmetic gives you that. For Gregg went up at four-thirty, and Polly came down at five, and I moseyed up somewhere in between.”
Randall had a winning way, and a seraphic smile, but the inspector was not easily cajoled.
“That time ‘in between’ is apparently of importance to our investigation. You noticed no one around as you went upstairs?”
“Inspector dear, I didn’t, but that’s not to say there mightn’t have been a whole regiment of folks all over the place. You see, I just wasn’t in a noticing mood. I had but one idea, and that was almost an obsession. I thought only of getting to the haven best described by the dear old hymn:
“ ‘Hush, my dear, lie still and slumber,
Holy angels guard thy bed.’
Needless to say, I reached it finally and sank at once into oblivion.
“Oh, no, I disrobed and donned correct and very expensive nightwear.”
Inspector Gilbert nodded his wise head and privately concluded that young Randall was not quite so far gone last night as he chose to pretend.
The inspector was worried.
Here he had the whole household gathered before him, all willing to answer his questions, all polite and courteous, and yet he felt there was much being held back.
Most of them had been up and down the stairs during the small hours, and it seemed to him that while they pretended to be entirely frank in their statements, he had no way of corroborating or checking up on them, and it gave him a feeling of helplessness that was foreign to his experience.
Kenneth Carlisle came into the room. He had been absent during the inspector’s querying, for he had gone through much the same thing in the dining room, and the two would compare notes later.
“The photographers have gone,” Kenneth said, “and the finger-print chap is through with his work. The man from the mortuary would like instructions.”
Miss Violet and Pauline rose at once and left the room.
Carlisle followed them, in case he might be of assistance, but Pauline was entirely mistress of the situation.
She told the undertaker that no arrangements could be made for the funeral until the return of Mr. Carleton’s son. She consented to the removal of the body, asking that she might see it first.
“Please don’t, Mrs. Carleton,” Kenneth advised. “Why not remember him as he was in life?”
“No,” she insisted, “I must see him.”
So she and Violet went together to take a last farewell, and Kenneth returned to the drawing room.
“Now,” he said, to Gilbert, “can’t we get at that room? I’m crazy to go over it.”
“Go ahead,” said the inspector. “I’ve got to quiz the bunch some more. I think they’re more or less trying to hoodwink me, and I won’t stand for it. You know it’s quite within the possibilities that one of these people here sent the skeleton.”
“There’s a Scripture text,” Kenneth told him, “that says, ‘And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.’ But it’s too soon for suspects.”
“Never too soon to get a start. Well, just wait till they take away the body, and then spread yourself on your investigation. Those two men of mine in there are clever detectives, though not brilliant ones. But they’ll do whatever you tell them. Go to it.”
Gilbert returned to his somewhat futile questioning. He had all the staff of servants sent for, hoping to get some side lights on the various relationships, but it was uphill work. The whole crowd seemed to be in league to baffle his attempts at getting information.
Everybody answered him calmly and with seeming sincerity, but he was far from sure of their good will.
And it bothered him.
He was used to people resenting his intrusion on their fresh grief, but these people here made little or no protestations of sorrow, although the murdered man was in close relationship with two of them and friendly with the rest.
The inspector was stubborn by nature, and this inexplicable attitude of the household puzzled him, and therefore made him the more determined to seek the reason for it.
Deep in his heart there was, as he often had known before, a vague wonder, not a suspicion, as to whether anybody in the family circle could have any guilty knowledge or secret theories about the crime.
If so, he must ferret it out, and he must work quickly, for every hour made it more easy for a wrongdoer to hide his tracks.
He wanted to talk it all over with Carlisle, in whose judgment he had great confidence, but he dared not leave a stone unturned in his present endeavor to trip up someone who was or might be screening his own or another’s guilt.
Meanwhile Kenneth Carlisle was standing, with folded arms, looking round the big library. The two detectives, Stokes and Baker, watched him idly.
They were alert to do anything required of them, but it was routine work for them, and their interest was not deep.
The problem of a locked room, so thrilling to the young investigator, was an old story to them. Had they been asked, they would probably have said “Oh there’s a hidy-hole somewhere.”
As a matter of fact, that was Carlisle’s own theory. For he knew the shot had not been fired after the room was broken into, the medical evidence proved that. And he had seen no trace of a mechanical contrivance, though such might yet come to light.
But a secret entrance was a possibility, and if one existed he certainly proposed to find it.
He began by making notes of the articles nearest the exact spot of the tragedy.
In his little book he entered a list of all the furnishings of the desk, the contents of the desk drawers, the chair, the rugs, the revolving bookcase, even the window curtains and shades.
This was not such a lengthy job as it might seem.
In shorthand, he jotted down: “Inkstand, two wells. Pen rack, fountain pen, two plain pens. Two black pencils, one blue pencil. One cube eraser. Two letter openers, one larger paper cutter. One pair long clipping shears, one desk scissors. One reading lens. Two small trays with clips, rubber bands.”
In the same rapid but thorough fashion he went through all the library appointments, noting the position of chairs, books, and papers.
The telephone stood on one end of the desk, but the telephone books, four of them, as New York City provides, were on the bookcase.
Carlisle looked over them and paused as he came to the Brooklyn volume.
But he replaced it without a word and, rising, began to search the wall and floor.
The front windows he spent much time on, but he finally concluded, to his own secret disappointment, that they could not have been opened the night before.
The housekeeping in the Carleton home was as good as most city houses can boast, but even with careful parlormaids, the dust and grime of the metropolis would sift in at the joints, and the evidence of the sills and sashes was incontrovertible. Had anyone climbed in at either of those two front windows he must have left a trace in the film of dust that he had to cross to get in.
Moreover, the fastenings on the windows were not negotiable from outside. Carlisle tried to think how he could manipulate them, if he wanted to, and he could imagine no way. The fixtures were heavy and of complicated design, and, while not exactly rusted, they were hard to turn from long disuse and lack of recent oiling.
No, he decided, however the murderer got in, it was not through the window.
Unless, followed the thought, the old man let him in. But, granting that and even ignoring the undisturbed dust, how could the intruder get out again leaving the windows locked?
Of course the doors presented the same difficulties.
If the murderer came in through the door to the hall, how could he lock it behind him after his exit?
The other door, opening into the cloakroom, fell into the same category.
And that’s all the doors and windows there were, at least, that were visible.
Hidden entrances must now be looked for.
The most likely was that some one of the heavy bookcases round the room swung out and revealed a door behind.
Kenneth called on the two aides, and together the three men searched for knobs or springs or hinges.
Their search was not haphazard, nor was it unintelligent.
The detectives were accustomed to this sort of investigation, and they knew the possibilities and probabilities of concealed entrances.
They didn’t wander aimlessly about, knocking on the wall to find a hollow-sounding panel. They scrutinized the seams and joints of the woodwork and tested the bookcases and shelves one by one.
As a final result they announced that there was positively no secret entrance concealed by the paneling or bookcases, and Kenneth entirely agreed with them.
He looked hopelessly behind pictures and large plaster casts that decorated the walls, and finally his eye fell on a long and magnificent piece of antique tapestry.
This was perhaps eight feet long by about three feet wide and hung against the wall directly opposite the door that gave into the hall.
Carlisle lifted the tapestry and to his surprise found that it concealed a door, an ordinary door, fastened with a heavy brass bolt.
“Where does that door lead to?” he asked, looking out of the front window to note the proximity of the other house.
The man didn’t know, having had no orders to look into any such matters.
“Get that butler in here—or, no. Don’t get him. Ask Miss Violet Carleton if she will be good enough to come.”
Stokes departed on the errand, and Kenneth waited.
He didn’t hope for any startling revelation, as the door was not really a secret entrance. The tapestry was doubtless hung over it in ornamentation, not as concealment.
Miss Violet came, dignified and far from urbane of demeanor.
“You sent for me?” she asked, not hiding her surprise at such a presumptuous gesture.
“Sorry, Miss Violet, but I just had to.” Kenneth smiled at her. “I want you to tell me where that door leads to?”
He indicated the tapestry that covered the door.
“Door? I see no door.”
Now he was sure he had touched on the edge of a mystery.
“No? Here it is.” He drew the heavy tapestry aside and exposed the door.
“Oh, that,” she said with a forced carelessness. “That door?”
“Yes, Miss Carleton, that door. Into what room does it open?”
“Why, that door opens into the other house.”
“I thought so. Into the Mortlake’s house, then?”
“Why, yes, of course. But it is never used. Never.”
“No, apparently not. But it could be used.”
“Oh no. There is no key, hasn’t been any for years.”
“Why not? Tell me about it.”
He drew a chair for her, and seating himself on a corner of the desk waited for her to speak.
“There’s little to tell,” she said in a tired, dull voice. “You see, years ago, Mr. Carleton’s brother—”
“Your brother, then?”
“Yes, of course, my brother, lived in the other house. Roger, his name was. He was a bachelor, and the other house was big enough for him. A nice house it is, too, though much smaller than this. Living alone, he often came in to see Manning, or Manning went in there. That door opens into the front room of the other house. Library it was when Roger had it, I don’t know what the Mortlakes use it for. That’s all there is to it. Then, when Roger died, that was ten years ago, Manning locked the door, threw away the key, and had heavy bolts put on both sides. It has never been opened since. The Mortlakes have lived there eight years now, but they have never opened that door. There’s no mystery about it—it’s only that Manning wanted to shut off all communication with the other house if strangers lived there. If any of our family had lived in it, Manning would have had the door opened again.”
“I see. Thank you, Miss Carleton. Now, I take it, you are as anxious as anyone can be to find and punish the murderer of your brother.”
“Why, yes, but I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong one.”
“No. That would be an awful thing. Now, in order to prevent anything like that, you will help in any way you can, will you not?”
“That’s a blanket order, Mr. Carlisle. I can’t promise blindly. But I’ll agree to help in any way I can provided my judgment approves.”
“I can only hope, Miss Carleton, that your judgment will approve whatever is just and right. Now, you assure me there is no key to this door in existence?”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Some things are borne in upon our knowledge by long and continued experience. I have lived in this house all my life. Until ten years ago, that door was in constant use, usually open, never locked. Then came Roger’s death, and Manning told me he had locked the door and thrown away the key. He ordered that long tapestry on purpose to hang right there, and there it has hung. When the Mortlakes took the other house, eight years ago, Manning explained it all to them, told them the key was destroyed, and asked them to hang some drapery on their side of the door to fend off curious questions. They did so, or she said they did. I’ve never been in there since their advent. I do not like them.”
Miss Carleton made her last statement calmly, as one might disclaim a liking for China tea.
“Mr. Carleton liked them?” pursued Kenneth.
“Well, enough. They were landlord and tenant, that is all. She has tried to push her way in a little, but she understood discouragement and, I think, accepted the situation.”
“They were here last night—”
“My brother always invited them to the New Year’s Eve dinner because they lived in the other house. He was very fond of the house, and it was a sort of tradition to ask them over here for New Year’s Eve.”
“I see. Now, my dear lady, we have scoured this room from floor to ceiling to find some way the criminal could have entered last night. But there is no hint of any way unless we can postulate some theory by which this door could have been made use of. Do you think that impossible?”
“I know it to be impossible.”
“Would all the rest of your people agree to that?”
“I have no people but my nephew, Claude, and he is not here. My brother’s wife I respect and admire, but she is not my blood kin. And she would know nothing about this door.”
“Would Claude know anything about it?”
“He would know of its existence, certainly. It has been here all his life. But he knows, as I do, that his father discarded the door when Roger died.”
“He would remember his uncle Roger?”
“Oh, yes, of course. Claude is thirty. Roger died ten years ago. Of course Claude remembers him well.”
“Yes, of course. Well, please say nothing about this door until Claude gets here.”
“All right, Mr. Carlisle, I won’t. But if you think you’ve found a clue or whatever you call it, you’re barking up the wrong tree.”
“Maybe, Miss Carleton, but you know we detectives have to do a lot of barking in the hope of hitting the right tree.”
“Mr. Carlisle, why are you ignoring the man who sent the skeleton? He is the man who killed my brother. He is the one to look for.”
“Granting that, Miss Carleton, we must also find out how he gained entrance. Mr. Carleton was killed right here in this room. Every evidence points to that. Now, whoever killed him had to get into this room. We are working to discover how he got in—and out.”
“Yes, but if you get the criminal you can make him tell how he got in and out. And the criminal is one of those cronies of my brother’s down at the Pantaloon Club.”
“What sort of club is that?”
“Oh, a lot of old gaffers who have nothing to do but sit around and swap stories like an old-fashioned cracker-box crowd.”
“I wonder Mr. Carleton belonged to a club like that. He wasn’t really old.”
“He was sixty, and I call that old. But there are some men in the club he liked, and there are some who just hated him.”
“Really hated him? Enough to murder him?”
“Somebody did murder him. We have no reason to suspect a gunman or a hold-up man, or whatever they are called. It might have been such a person, but I don’t think so.”
“There’s no evidence for or against, Miss Carleton. Now, I wish you’d look at this, please.”
He picked up the Brooklyn telephone book and held it quickly before her eyes.
“Can you explain that?” he said.
“Explain what?” she took the volume he held out.
“That odd-looking mark on the cover of the book.”
She studied it with interest. The gray paper cover had about the middle of it a round, rather deep depression about the size of a dime. This depression was made by something so heavy or so strong that the mark went through many pages, growing fainter on each one.
On the outside and for the first few leaves the paper was torn, and after, on successive pages merely the circular mark showed.
“No, I can’t explain it,” she said, and then they were interrupted by Pauline, who came in, waving a yellow paper.
“Claude is on his way home,” she said; “he will be here between four and five o’clock.”
“Good,” said Miss Violet; “then he can take all the responsibility.”
“Except what I take,” said Kenneth Carlisle, but prudently said it only to himself.
“ONE moment, Mrs. Carleton,” Kenneth said, as Pauline was about to leave the room, “will you look at this, please.”
He held the telephone book toward her, and she stared at it without touching it.
“What about it?” she asked pettishly. “I never touch the obnoxious things, I hate telephone books.”
“Oh all right, but just look at it. Can you imagine what would or could smash into it like that?”
Slightly interested, she came a step nearer.
“Why, no,” she said slowly, “I can’t imagine anything. Perhaps, if the book was on the floor and somebody jabbed a walking stick down on it hard and sort of screwed the stick round and round, the result would be something like that.”
“Good!” exclaimed Carlisle. “An ingenious supposition, and very likely the right one.”
“Do you suppose the murderer did it?” Pauline’s eyes grew large and dark.
“Doubtful; you see murderers seldom carry a cane.”
“It might have been an umbrella.”
“Yes. The trouble is, I doubt if this mark could have been made by either a cane or umbrella. Get me one or other, Stokes, will you?”
The detective left the room and shortly returned with both the articles in question.
“Good man!” cried Kenneth. “Now, put one of those other telephone books on the floor. Not the Manhattan one.”
Stokes laid the Suburban volume on the floor and with great care and all his strength endeavored to make a depression in it with the cane.
Result, one broken walking stick,
“Umbrella next,” Carlisle said, with a dogged look on his face.
This had no better effect, although the umbrella was not broken.
“Can’t be done,” Kenneth said decidedly. “The umbrella ferrule is too small anyway. Whatever did the damage on that Brooklyn book was a trifle larger. And see how far the marks show through. They run into the D’s.”
“I can’t see why it interests you so much,” said Miss Violet, rising to go. “But it’s clear to be seen that that mark on the book was made by somebody hammering something. If I wanted to hammer down a nail in the heel of my shoe I’d rest the shoe on a yielding surface like the telephone book. Then hammer on it. Now, this mark on the book is too small for a shoe heel, but it must have been something of the sort.”
Carlisle looked at her with admiration.
“Well thought out, Miss Violet,” he said. “I can’t see why—”
“I know,” she interrupted. “Say, my brother, or maybe his valet, wanted to hammer a nail down in a shoe. Suppose he put the shoe on an upright stick, like this;” she took up a short piece of the broken cane and rested it on the book. “And like this,” she went on, slipping off her own dainty suede pump and placing it upside down on the stick. “There, if you hammered on that hard enough you’d get a mark like the one you’re talking about.”
“Yes, if you used a sledge hammer or a steam mallet! But you’re right in theory, Miss Carleton, and I’m much obliged. I like your clear-headed arguments. Look around the room, won’t you, and see if anything strikes you as unusual or out of place.”
“Not a thing,” said the old lady after her sharp black eyes had traveled round the library. “Everything looks to me just as it always did. Though, to be sure, I seldom came in here.”
“Did you, Mrs. Carleton?”
“No, almost never. I have my little boudoir for a sitting room, and Miss Violet has a suite upstairs. When we get together, en famille, we use the drawing room. No one ever came in here to sit around or chat.”
“No, or seldom. Of course, if he and his father had any business to talk over it would be in here. But Claude isn’t much of a business man. And he monopolized the smoking room, opposite my boudoir.”
“Then this was Mr. Carleton’s own particular sanctum. It would seem, would it not, that he admitted the murderer himself?”
“He may have done so,” said Miss Violet, “but—he couldn’t have let him out.”
“I am in favor,” Kenneth said, after a pause, “of leaving further investigation until Claude arrives. He will be in authority, and I want some instructions from him before I delve too deeply into this mystery. Have you thought that it may bring to light some amazing disclosures? Some secrets, perhaps, or unexpected revelations?”
“That’s what I had in mind,” Violet said earnestly, “when I hesitated to give you carte blanche to go ahead. Do wait for Claude. He will know just what to do.”
“I will wait, Miss Carleton, as far as I am concerned. I cannot answer for Inspector Gilbert. But I think he has enough routine work to occupy him for some time. The servants’ evidence must all be taken down and the house searched.”
“The house searched!” cried Pauline. “Good heavens! What for?”
“It is customary. Don’t let it alarm you. It will be for the most part cursory. But it has to be done.”
“Will you not stay here for the whole day, Mr. Carlisle?” Pauline invited him. “Stay to-night to dinner, and that will give you time for a long talk with Claude.”
“I’d be glad to,” Kenneth said, “except that I haven’t my dinner togs here. But I can run up home and dress.”
“Oh, no. Let Louis go and get your things. Poor chap, he has nothing to do now.”
“He will have when Claude arrives. But I’ll telephone my man to bring down a suitcase, then I’ll be all right.”
“Fine. Do it right away, for there’s so much going on, it’s hard to get hold of a telephone.”
“I’ll use this one, thanks. The finger-print expert has attended to it. No results, whatever. I mean no prints on it except those of Mr. Manning Carleton.”
And then a sergeant came to summon them all to the drawing room, as the Mortlakes had arrived.
The ladies went at once, and Kenneth delayed only to telephone to his man.
He crossed over to the drawing room and found a seat placed for him near the inspector.
Mr. and Mrs. Mortlake were very evidently in a high state of indignation.
They seemed to assume that they had been called in because they were under suspicion of being implicated in the tragedy.
“I know nothing about it,” John Mortlake said over and over again. “I tell you I know nothing about it.”
“We thoroughly understand that,” said Gilbert patiently. “And now, will you please answer some questions on matters that you do know about? At what time did you leave this house last night, or, rather, this morning?”
“Well, it was something after two, I can’t say nearer than that.”
“That will do. Did you and Mrs. Mortlake retire at once?”
“We went upstairs at once. The house was cold, as it always is at that hour, but we turned on the electric heater in our upstairs sitting room and chatted for awhile.”
“Is that sitting room on the street—on the Avenue front of the house?”
“Yes, the front room on the second floor.
“Then you could hear or see if there was any disturbance in front of this house or your own?”
Mortlake had regained his poise, relieved at hearing no word of suspicion.
“Disturbance, sir, is what there wasn’t anything else but! The New Year’s revelers were straggling along home and making a lot of noise about it. Not as much noise as they made at midnight, of course, but a lot of left over noise. Yelling and hooting, they were, most of ’em drunk, I dessay. And they had horns and rattles and all that. In fact, they were so annoying, my wife and I decided to retire.”
“Your bedrooms are—where?”
“At the rear of the house. We chose to have it so because there is always more or less noise on the street until two or three o’clock.”
“Then at what time did you go to your bedrooms?”
“Well, something before three, I’d say. Wouldn’t you, Nan?”
“Yes, I guess so. I never know the time, none of our clocks go right. But it was ’long about three, I’m pretty sure.”
“Very well. Now answer this carefully, Mr. Mortlake. After you were in your bedrooms—adjoining, are they?”
“Yes. Two rooms at the back of the house.”
“Very well. Then did you hear any sound like a shot?”
“Well, we did, lots of ’em. We knew, of course, they were the hoodlums who were still straggling along home. So we paid no attention to them.”
“You didn’t hear one louder shot that could have been the shot in this house that killed Mr. Carleton?”
“No, sir, we didn’t, but I’ll tell you right here and now, if we had heard a shot that sounded as if in this house we’d have told you about it without waiting to be questioned!”
“Oh, you would? But if you’d heard a shot that you could presume to be in here, wouldn’t you have come over here to see if you could be of assistance?”
Mortlake looked at the inspector.
“No,” he said, after a pause, “no, I don’t believe I would. Not without I was summonsed. You see there were to my knowledge plenty of men in here to take care of any accident, plenty of women to do the screaming act, and plenty of servants to render all the help that could be needed. No, I shouldn’t have dreamed of intruding unless I was asked to.”
“And you heard nothing that alarmed you, Mrs. Mortlake?”
“Oh, no. I went right to bed and to sleep. In our bedrooms we can’t hear the street noises much, and I covered up my ears and went to sleep.”
“Then, Mr. Mortlake, you were awakened early this morning?”
“I was. I don’t know the time, so you needn’t ask me, but I heard a racket out in front—”
“How could you hear from your back bedroom?”
“Oh—well, by that time, you see, the hoodlums had all gone home, and the street was quiet as it always is at that hour—”
“Well, anyway, it was getting on toward morning. And I could hear voices, several voices, more or less raised, and they seemed to be right outside my front windows. Naturally, I went to look, and there was a bunch of people outside the windows of the Carleton house next door—this house. I asked them what was the matter, and as I received rather a short reply I shut the window and went back to bed. I had no reason to think there was tragedy of any sort over here.”
“No,” said Mrs. Mortlake, “he hadn’t any reason to think anything had happened to Mr. Carleton.”
“No, of course not,” said the inspector soothingly. “Now, Mr. Mortlake, how did you hear of the death of Mr. Carleton this morning?”
“Through the servants. Some of the Carleton kitchen people told our man, who was out cleaning the back steps.”
“May I ask a few questions?” interrupted Carlisle, and after a glance at him the inspector nodded permission.
“How lately have you used that door between the two houses, Mr. Mortlake?” Kenneth said, and his crisp, challenging tones were in direct contrast to Gilbert’s suavity.
“W-what! What door?”
“Pull yourself together, man!” Kenneth strongly advised, and the suggestion had only the effect of causing Mr. Mortlake to fall farther apart.
“What’s the matter with you, Jack?” asked Mrs. Mortlake, by way of a tonic, but seeing his increasing nervousness and distress she took the helm.
“What door do you mean, Mr. Carlisle?” she said, beaming at him. “I can tell you about it, perhaps.”
“Very well, Mrs. Mortlake. I mean the door that is between Mr. Carleton’s library and the corresponding room in your house.”
“Corresponding room!” she said archly. “Is that a new term for a library? Book room, we call it. Why, yes, there is a door, I believe, between the Carleton library and our own humbler book room, but it is never used. It is locked and bolted and has been so ever since we lived in the house.”
“But it could be unlocked and unbolted and used as a mode of ingress?”
“Doubtless, if one had the key.”
“Where is the key?”
“I’m sure I don’t know. I never saw it. When we took the house it was with the proviso that we would never attempt to open that door. My Lord, we had no wish to open it! Why should we? We like our own privacy as much as the high-toned Carletons like theirs!”
“And you’re welcome to it,” burst out Miss Violet, who could never control her tongue if repartee seemed called for.
“I’ve always noticed that was your kindly attitude,” retorted Nan Mortlake.
Kenneth cut off possible further amenities by interrupting with:
“Tell me more about the door, Mrs. Mortlake. Do you have a curtain over it, as there is on this side?”
“I don’t know what is on this side. I’ve never had a chance to see. On our side there hangs a curtain, yes. A simple breadth of rep, not cloth of gold, as the Carletons doubtless have.”
And then John Mortlake awoke from his lethargy. Whether spurred on by his wife’s acrid speeches, or whether he had thought the matter out himself, he rose to the occasion and, with a scowling face, thundered out:
“Well, young man, what about that door? Do you have an idea that I came through it in the night, shot my neighbor Carleton, and returned to my home, leaving the door bolted behind me?”
“How do you know the door is still bolted on this side?”
Mortlake’s jaw dropped. Though master of himself when the conversation was unimportant, he went to pieces in emergency.
“I—I don’t—know. But isn’t it? I assumed it must be, because mine is.”
“How do you know yours is? Have you looked at it this morning?”
Mortlake was in a quandary. If he said he hadn’t looked at the door, he stultified himself. If he said he had, he might start up all sorts of trouble.
He took refuge in a sulky silence, and his more plucky wife fell gracefully into the rôle of Gray Mare.
“Let him alone,” she said helpfully to Carlisle. “He’s all kerflummoxed. He couldn’t tell his own name. Ask me another.”
“Very well,” said Kenneth gravely. “Mrs. Mortlake, on your oath, has that door never, to your knowledge, been open since you lived in that house?”
“Never,” she said quietly, and her straightforward gaze and level tone carried conviction.
“You never raise your piece of drapery that hides it?”
“Only on cleaning days, Mr. Carlisle. Once a week it is raised and the door is dusted. When necessary, the drapery is taken down and shaken and put back in place. Other than that, the door is never touched.”
“I suppose that is practically the case in here, Miss Carleton?” Kenneth asked.
“Practically, yes. But our woodwork is dusted every day, and our draperies are shaken and cleaned every week.”
The righteous attitude of the perfect housekeeper could be plainly read on Violet’s aristocratic old face, and Pauline, catching the eye of Don Randall, nearly disgraced herself by laughing out loud.
“And you too are sure the door is never opened?
“Positive,” and Violet nodded her white head vigorously. “Now, young man, don’t build theories on that door. It won’t hold up under ’em. I mean the theories won’t hold up under the door. Oh, well, you know what I mean. I mean leave the door out of it.”
“It looks as if we should have to,” said Kenneth, smiling, and giving the Mortlakes back to Inspector Gilbert.
The inspector, however, felt that he was working in the dark, as he hadn’t seen this door in question, and though he had all respect for Kenneth’s wisdom and knowledge he was not the man to go far on hearsay evidence.
He dismissed the Mortlakes, warning them to hold themselves in readiness to be further questioned at some other time.
He told the rest of his audience they could leave the room, but must not leave the house until he gave permission. He explained he would have a further inquiry after Claude arrived, and when that was over, doubtless they would all be free to do what they pleased.
“Did you find that book you were looking for, Miss D’Orsay?” came the inspector’s silken tones as Zélie was about to slip from the room.
“Why—oh, no, I didn’t. I don’t know where it went to.”
“And you don’t know, Mrs. Carleton?”
“No, I don’t. But it will probably turn up soon.”
“Look here, Inspector, do you want all here for your next quiz who were here last night?”
“Yes, I do. Why?”
“Oh, because then I must arrange for Professor Scott to stay over night, if he wants to. You see, he had Claude’s room last night, but Claude will be home to-night. I’ll put him in a guest room—there are plenty.”
“Can’t he go home after dinner?”
“If he prefers, certainly. Mr. Carlisle will probably go after dinner, and he can take the old gentleman along with him. The professor doesn’t go out alone in the evening.”
Kenneth Carlisle, overhearing this conversation, stepped up and offered himself as escort for the professor whenever he elected to go home.
“Nice young fellow,” Gilbert said, as Kenneth ran after the professor and assisted him up the long stairs to his room.
Passing Fenn in the upper hall, Carlisle asked him to find out from Miss Violet what room was to be assigned to Professor Scott.
“You’re to be moved,” he said, “as Claude is coming home and will want these rooms of his. Jolly suite, isn’t it?”
Carlisle looked about, and then, in his helpful way, began gathering up the professor’s poor and plain little belongings.
“Anything of yours in the bureau drawers?” Kenneth asked, as he opened one after another.
“Mercy, no! Heavens, what whirlwinds you young people are! I’ve nothing but a few odds and ends. Stuff ’em in that old suitcase. But why do you bother? Leave it to Fenn.”
“Oh, that’s all right,” and after whisking open a few more drawers and cupboards Kenneth threw himself into an easy chair and lighted a cigarette.
“You’ve a good logical mind, Professor Scott. Who, do you think, killed your friend Carleton?”
“The chap that sent the skeleton to him,” said Scott promptly.
“Do you think Carleton ever murdered anybody?”
“Never! That was to make the thing more dramatic.”
“Yet if you omit that line you take all meaning from the thing. ‘As I am now, you soon shall be.’ Doesn’t that mean ‘murdered’? And Carleton is murdered.”
“Yes, I know. But that whole skeleton business was sent as a warning. Nobody knew it was a warning but Manning himself. The others thought it was a joke. They think so still. Violet is sure some member of the—”
“I know. Club. I know all the facts. What I want now is theories. Have you any?”
“No. I’m satisfied to have the skeleton. You have it safe for me, haven’t you?”
“Yes, indeed. I sure have. I’ll send it to you as soon as you’re home again. You’re staying the night?”
“Yes, I shall stay as long as I’m invited. That is, until the will is read.”
“Very much. Manning promised to leave me twenty-five thousand dollars for my research work.”
“Good! That’s fine.”
“I shan’t use any for myself, you see. All for my work. Oh, I do hope he left it so I can get it at once. Sometimes those things are so delayed in settlement.”
“They are. But Claude’s your friend, isn’t he? He can put it through for you.”
“I hope so. Ah, here’s Fenn. Now, you run along, Mr. Carlisle, Fenn will look after me.”
“All right, I’ll just sit here while I finish this cigarette.”
The ubiquitous butler and the elderly guest left the room, and, softly closing the door, Carlisle made a hasty search of Claude Carleton’s desk.
Rapidly his sensitive hands felt around for secret drawers and concealed pigeonholes, and in two instances his industry was rewarded.
In one cleverly concealed space he found a small photograph—a snapshot—and half a dozen tiny trinkets of the sort given away at certain candy stores.
These little toys were of varying degrees of brightness, and comprised a heart, a star, a goblet, a Cupid, a parrot, and a dove.
He studied the lot but could see no coherence or meaning in them.
Quickly he replaced them, and then stumbled on the other secret receptacle. It contained a packet of clippings all relating to the successes of moving picture stars. There were pictures of film actors and actresses, mostly cut from newspapers. There were advertisements of the larger companies producing films, and there were lists of addresses in Hollywood, of both managers and actors, and also of boarding houses and restaurants.
Riffing them over quickly but attentively, Kenneth put them back where he had found them and, closing the desk, rose leisurely, stretched himself, and went downstairs.
He met no one in the halls, not even a servant, and he went on down and found Gilbert in the study waiting for him.
IT was soon after four o’clock when Claude Carleton arrived at the house.
Pauline, in her own boudoir, had given orders he was to be brought to her there at once. Violet was with her and Zélie, but no one else.
Claude was big and not especially graceful, but his own grief and his sympathy for the others were apparent in his manner and face as he strode across the room and greeted first his aunt and then his stepmother.
He shook hands politely with Zélie, and then sat down beside Miss Violet.
“We’re the only Carletons left, Aunt Vi,” he said, with a choke in his voice. “Don’t tell me all about it, I’ll get the details from the men. But is everything being done that can be done to track down the fiend who did this thing?”
“Yes, Claude,” Violet told him, “we have the police, of course, and also your friend Mr. Carlisle is on the case.”
“Kenneth? Fine! I’m glad you got him. Is he here?”
“Yes, they’re all here. I mean the inspector and his men. Professor Scott has stayed over, too.”
“All right. And how are you, Aunt Violet? Brave as ever, I can see.”
He took her two hands in his own, and his big, comforting presence gave the little old lady a hope that now he was here things would straighten out.
He patted her shoulder and turned to Pauline.
“And you, Polly? I hope you’re not bothered to death with all these horrid people in the house?”
“Oh no, they are polite and nice enough. But they are everlastingly quizzing us, and it seems to me they go over and over the same ground.”
“I’ll get at ’em, Polly, and they shan’t be allowed to bother you any more. Of course, we have to go through a regular routine, but I’ll take the helm. I’m glad I wasn’t any farther away than I was. When—when did it happen?”
“The medical examiner said some time between three and four o’clock,” Pauline told him. “About five, I woke up, and when Manning wasn’t in his bed I came downstairs to find out if he had dropped asleep at his desk. He never did such a thing in his life—but, well, Claude, I was worried about that horrid skeleton thing. You know it was a shock to Manning, and I feared it might have weakened his heart, or something like that. So I came down and tapped at the library door, but I could get no answer. I told him it was I, and never before has he refused me admittance. So, I knew something must be the matter, and I raised an alarm.”
“Poor girl,” Claude said kindly. “Don’t talk about it now. I’ll get all the details from the inspector and Kenneth. Lucky you could get him. Who called him in?”
“That’s the queer thing,” Violet told him. “Nobody seems to know who called him. I didn’t, nor Polly, nor Fenn, nor Don—in fact, I don’t know who did.”
“It doesn’t matter. Perhaps the police people did. Shall I have my own rooms? Where will you put old Scotty?”
“He’s been moved out,” Pauline said. “Yes take your own rooms, of course. Oh, I’m glad you’re home, Claude. What did you do? Get off at Harrisburg?”
“Sure. And had to wait till eleven o’clock before I could get a train back to New York. I can tell you I fumed and fretted. It was a good train, though, in soon after half-past three, and here I am. Now, I’ll run down to the police chaps, they’ll be wanting to see me, and you girls take a rest. Don’t worry your heads about anything now. Leave it all to me.”
Claude looked very strong and capable as he swung out of the room. Thrust suddenly into the position of head of the house, he seemed determined to do his best to meet the situation. The responsibilities would be heavy, but they must be shouldered by somebody, and the task was waiting.
He made straight for the library, feeling sure that the inspector would be found there.
He was; also Carlisle, Randall, and the two sergeant detectives.
Kenneth rose and grasped the hand of the newcomer, and Don followed.
Only a few words of personal intent were spoken, and then the inspector was introduced.
“It is a sad turn of Fate that brings you back so soon after your departure,” Gilbert said, a little embarrassed, and then, with a change of manner, “but you don’t want sympathy from me. Now, Mr. Carleton, how much do you know? I mean, how much do you want to learn from us?”
“I know only what I read in the early afternoon papers. I got the telegram at Harrisburg and left the train there. Of course, there was nothing in the morning papers. I took a train at eleven, and I hit Philadelphia about one, and there I saw a short notice in some enterprising journal. And as I neared New York they brought some city papers on board. But I was so near home then, I didn’t care for reporters’ stories. Now, if somebody will give me a short, plain account of the facts, we can take up theories and evidence later.”
Carlisle was relieved at Claude’s attitude. He had rather feared the young man would be so crushed with sorrow or excited with a desire for vengeance that he might be difficult to manage.
But this self-possessed, matter-of-fact demeanor was satisfactory, and Kenneth lighted a cigarette and settled himself to listen.
But he found himself drawn into the conversation and taking part in the narrative, until in a really short time the facts, as far as known, had been marshaled for Claude’s benefit, and the son of the house knew as much as Inspector Gilbert himself knew.
Kenneth, too, stated frankly all the information at his command, save only the incident of his hasty search through the drawers of Claude’s desk.
It could not be said, at this point, that the private investigator had any suspicion of Claude’s implication in the crime, but Carlisle was an opportunity grasper, and he knew that unless he snatched his chance that morning, he might never be alone in Claude’s room again.
When the recital was finished Don Randall, who hated to be left out of things, remarked blithely:
“So you see, Claude, we have a real stock case. A murder committed in a hermetically sealed room! How did the murderer get in, how get out, and where’s the weapon?”
“I wish, Don,” Claude said, not petulantly, but in a pained voice, “that you’d be a little less blatantly unfeeling. I don’t want maudlin sympathy, but do remember that we’re speaking of my father, and you’re rather flicking on the raw.”
“Sorry, old chap,” Randall mumbled. “No offence meant.”
“All right. Now, Inspector, what about the skeleton? By the way, where is it?”
“Up at my place,” Carlisle told him. “You see, Professor Scott wanted it, and your father gave it to him. Then Miss Violet declared she couldn’t sleep with the horrid thing in the house, so I carted it home, to keep it for old man Scott till he can accommodate the fearful guest.”
“That was good of you,” Claude declared. “Can you find room for his nibs?”
“Oh, yes; Carter, my man, is valeting him.”
“Well,” Claude said thoughtfully, “how do you all feel about it? Don’t you think the man who sent that skeleton to my father is the man who killed him?”
“It would seem so, on the face of it,” Gilbert agreed. “And yet, how could an outsider get in this house?”
“Heavens!” cried Claude, “you don’t mean you’re looking for an insider. Some member of this household! Man, you’re crazy!”
“Take it slowly, Mr. Carleton,” the inspector said, speaking seriously. “We have to look at every angle of this case. And the first thing is, or ought to be, a consideration of motive. What can you suggest as a possible motive?”
“I have heard there are only three motives for murder,” Claude said, and the irrepressible Donald interrupted:
“That’s right, only three. Lust, loot, and liquor. Cut out the first—this is no crime passionel!”
“Cut out liquor, too,” said Carlisle. “Whoever engineered this murder needed all his wits and a clear head.”
“Leaving loot,” and Claude looked around. “‘Anything stolen?”
“Not that we can discover,” the inspector told him. “But loot has a wider significance. Aside from immediate thievery, loot may imply the hope for future benefit, under a will, say. Do you know the terms of your father’s will, Mr. Carleton?”
“In a general way. There is a large portion left to Pauline. A smaller but substantial bequest to Aunt Violet. A number of other bequests and remembrances, sums to charity and to the servants, and after those things I am myself the residuary legatee.”
“Your father had a large fortune?”
“He was a wealthy man, yes. But all that data will be furnished you by his lawyers and his secretary. By the way, how is Gregg carrying on?”
“I’ve seen little of him,” Gilbert replied. “He seems a quiet, even morose sort.”
“Too quiet,” Claude frowned a little. “Not morose exactly, but rather embittered. Well, we all know the reason for that?”
“I don’t. What is it?”
“Well, Inspector, I’m sure it’s no secret, so I’ll tell you that Peter Gregg is most anxious to marry Miss Austen, but my father wouldn’t allow it.”
“Could your father forbid a matter of that sort?”
“Well, he could put serious obstacles in the way. Threats of dismissal without a reference; and, too, I’ve had reason to think that Dad knew something about Peter that he held over him like a whiplash. I may be mistaken, but I think there is something in Gregg’s past not altogether praiseworthy. And I think my father knew it and used it for his own benefit.”
“You’re accusing your father a bit gravely.”
“No, I don’t mean to. Dad was selfish, his nearest friends will admit that. And any little thing he could use to improve on his own comfort or convenience he didn’t hesitate to do. But, as I say, I may be wrong. Only it would explain Gregg’s grieved outlook on life.”
“Yes, that’s true. Now, Mr. Carleton, let’s take up the subject of this locked room. As Mr. Randall, perhaps too baldly, stated, it is a problem not unknown to detectives. But in my experience there has always been a solution readily arrived at. In this case, I admit we are, so far, entirely at sea. Is there any other entrance to the room besides the obvious doors and windows? Any secret entrance or sliding panel?”
“Not those things, no. But there is another entrance, which I have no doubt you have yourselves discovered. I refer to this door.”
Claude rose and crossed to the hanging tapestry, which he drew aside, disclosing the locked and bolted door.
“It gives into the other house,” he said, “and it has never to my knowledge been opened since my uncle’s death. For further data I refer you to Aunt Violet. She knows all about it. I was a young fellow of twenty when my uncle died, and I paid little attention to household matters.”
“You remember your uncle?”
“Oh, yes; distinctly. He was fond of me, a somewhat lonely old bachelor. But I was heedless and didn’t show him as much kindly attention as I ought to have done.”
“Then you can’t subscribe to a theory of the murderer entering through this door?” and the inspector dropped the tapestry again with a decided air of disappointment.
“I certainly can’t. Nor do I see how anybody can with that strong bolt shot into place. There’s one like it on the other side.”
“Just like it?”
“Yes, I think so. I remember when my father had them put on. And he said if any Carletons ever lived in the other house again, he’d have them taken off.”
“Granting, for a moment, for argument’s sake, that the intruder did come through this door, he then had to come through the Mortlake’s house.”
“Yes, of course. Now, I don’t know how securely the Mortlakes keep their place locked up at night, but I should think it difficult for even a clever murderer to get in the other house, come through into this one, kill my father, and then make his getaway, leaving this bolt as it is now—I assume it was found like this?”
“Yes, just as you see it now.”
“Very well, then he had to go back the way he came or out of one of these doors or front windows. None of which he could leave locked behind him.”
“But he did do something of the sort.”
“Yes, so far as we can see. But, Inspector, there must be some explanation—that we know, but I can’t think it’s any of these we have mentioned. Can you? Can you, Kenneth?”
“No,” and Carlisle shook his head. “No, I can’t. But say it was someone who somehow came in through this bolted door. What price some of the people living next door?”
“Gosh, the Mortlakes!” Claude’s eyes flew open wider.
He was a handsome chap, his thick black hair wavy and a little unruly; his big dark eyes alert and piercing, except when partially veiled by his long curling lashes. His features were rounded and a trifle heavy, and Carlisle had warned him that unless he took off some weight he couldn’t play star parts in the moving picture studios.
He was vigorous, sometimes abrupt of manner, but, as a rule, his speech and action were dominated by sound, hard common sense, and this he declared he would rather put his trust in than genius or brilliant originality.
And now his common sense balked at the idea of the Mortlakes being mixed up in this murder business.
“I don’t get it,” he said. “Why under the canopy should Jack Mortlake have it in for my father? Ridiculous!”
“Perhaps the servants, or guests,” suggested Gilbert.
“Servants or guests your grandmother!” Carlisle, “you can do better than that, I hope.”
“I can’t get anywhere, Claude. I sit here and look around, and all I see is this sealed room. I know no one could get into it and get out again leaving it sealed. But somebody did do it. Which is, of course, a paradox.”
“I love that term sealed,” said Randall musingly. “It’s so much more dramatic than locked or bolted or both. It has the tang of the French Sûreté, or the Russian Constabulowski.”
“Shut up, Don,” said Claude. “To put it no more offensively, your remarks are in bad taste.”
“Oh, all right, I’m tired of this conference, anyhow,” and Randall rose and sauntered from the room.
“How long is he staying?” asked Claude when Randall had closed the door behind him. “Or”—a sudden thought struck him—“are all these people detained?”
“More or less,” Gilbert told him. “We’ve been waiting for you. Now we must have some more inquiries, and then probably most of them can go.”
“If they want to,” supplemented Claude. “I’ll bet old man Scott will hang on as long as he can. Randall won’t go until Polly unmistakably invites him to do so. Zélie will probably light out. I fancy she’s fed up with this atmosphere. What about the melancholy Gregg?”
“We must keep him on for a while,” Gilbert decreed. “We need him to tell us things about business matters and so on.”
“You skipped me,” Kenneth Carlisle said, smiling. “I swear I was asked to come here and look into this case, but I’ve no idea who asked me. Until I am officially invited, I hesitate to—”
“Hesitate no more, fair sir,” Claude smiled back at him. “I, as head of the house of Carleton, ask of you that you abide with us and use your utmost endeavors to solve this very deep mystery. Yes, I know I’m almost as frivolous as old Don, but—once in a while, a fellow has to—well, has to laugh or cry.”
And it could easily be seen that Claude’s emotions were impeding his coherent talk.
Inspector Gilbert came to the rescue in his matter-of-fact way.
“First,” he said, ignoring the tensity of the moment, “I think we must make careful search for the sender of the skeleton. I can’t help thinking he and the murderer were working together, if not the same man.”
“How are you going about it?” inquired Claude, his poise reestablished.
“Tackle the Pantaloon Club first. Can you be of help there?”
“Probably. I know several of the members. Goofy old chaps, but gentlemen of the old school, as the phrase runs. Yes, I’ll see them, and perhaps Carlisle will go along to check up on points.”
They talked on, telling Claude what was known of the events of the night.
“Seems to me the whole tribe was on the warpath,” Claude said at last, his eyes troubled and his whole attitude weary and dejected. “Wasn’t pretty much everybody trapesing up and down stairs? Not that it’s unusual. We often do prowl around and occasionally meet one another. I wish I’d been here, and yet I can’t see how it would have made things any different. Well, I’ll go back and chin the girls a bit. Ken, you’ll stay for dinner, and won’t you stay the night?
“I’ll dine with you,” Carlisle said. “I’ve sent for my duffel. But, like the chickens or curses or whatever they are, I’ll go home to roost.”
“All right. Fenn or Louis will look after you. Make yourself at home.”
Claude went off, and the inspector sat in glum silence.
“A lot of help we’ll get from him,” he said at last.
“No, Inspector,” Carlisle spoke slowly, “we won’t get help from anybody. We’ve got a hard row to hoe, but we hoe it alone—if any.”
“Hullo, you discouraged, too?”
“I’ve been discouraged from the opening chime. It’s the biggest, hardest case I ever heard of, in fact or fiction. It’s impossible anyone should get in and out of this room, and yet someone did. There’s the situation. The one glimmer of light is that someone did.”
“If you call that a glimmer of light! I call it Cimmerian darkness.”
“It’s there all the same. It’s a fact, a truth, and, by Jove, it’s the only fact or truth I can see.”
“Who’s your favorite suspect?”
“Oh I don’t know. Whoever gets the most money. Claude, I s’pose.”
“How did he get in?”
“Now, look here, Inspector, if you’re going to fire that at me every once in so often I refuse to work with you. I’ve told you I don’t know how the murderer got in, and I spoke the gospel truth. But I’m going to find out. Now, drop that argument. If you want my suspects in order, they’re Mrs. Pauline, Miss Violet, young Randall, old Scott, Miss D’Orsay, and the two secretaries, jointly or severally.”
“Not the servants?”
“I think not. It isn’t their motivation.”
“Not the Mortlakes?”
“I can’t see how or why or wherefore the Mortlakes. Still, it may have been. Then there’s the skeleton sender. How are we going to stalk him? He never saw the inside of the Pantaloon Club! Those old birds aren’t up to such tricks.”
“I think that, too. But somebody sent the bones.”
“True, O King. Now, what about the telephone book and its curiously marred cover?”
“I can’t think it has anything to do with the case, for such a clever devil never would have left it behind if it meant anything.”
“Right again. But he couldn’t carry everything, and he had his gun to tote, and he had his locking up to do.”
“What sort of gun do you deduce?”
“It isn’t deducible. The med. ex. said it was a small or medium caliber, about .28, I believe. But I don’t see what difference it makes what size or shape the weapon was. It isn’t there. Do you know, Inspector, as I sit here and gaze around this room I feel I could kick myself for utter incompetency. I’ve no doubt the truth is here, staring us in the face, only we’re too blind or too dumb to see it.”
“There’s nothing here except the things that belonged to Mr. Carleton. Everything has been listed and checked. The family and servants have sworn to all that.”
“I know it. That’s what’s driving me frantic. Do you remember The Purloined Letter?”
“Of course. Who doesn’t?”
“Well, I believe it’s just like that. That letter was sticking up there on the desk under the detective’s very nose, and yet he spent hours—days—in a futile search for it.”
“And you think the clue is plain before us now?”
“I do. Only I don’t care much for the word clue. I’m silly that way. A clue, to my mind, is a patent, obvious thing that clumsily points the way. I mean a subtle or veiled hint that is the truth but is not to be discerned save by one who is looking for it.”
“Well, gosh, Mr. Carlisle, I’m looking for it. But even so, I don’t see it.”
“Name over everything on the desk and table and bookcase, will you?”
The two sergeant detectives gave each other an expressive glance as Kenneth Carlisle lay back in his chair with eyes closed while Gilbert listed the appointments asked for.
There was no change. Even the number of pens, pencils, books, papers, and odds and ends were the same as Kenneth himself had listed them.
He sat up straight again. Then he sighed and said apologetically:
“Don’t think me utterly daft, but I’ve got to find that Purloined Letter.”
“All right, Mr. Carlisle, keep on looking. I’m going home now, and I’ll be back this evening for that further inquiry.”
He went away, and Kenneth Carlisle sat staring at the library furnishings.
NOW a Purloined Letter is not an easy thing to find.
Of course we are using “Purloined Letter” as a generic term for a thing hidden from the searchers by the simple device of placing it in the most conspicuous and easily seen position possible.
In the old game of Hide the Thimble the clever hider did not tuck the thimble under a sofa pillow or beneath the edge of a rug. He set it aloft on the chimneypiece or on the floor in a far corner of the room. In plain sight but unobservable because of more important objects near it which distracted the seeker’s attention.
The Purloined Letter that the detectives so eagerly sought was in a letter rack in full view.
And just so, in the present instance, the clue that would have disclosed everything to Kenneth Carlisle was in front of his eyes. As his glance roved despairingly round the great room, noting, he thought, every object therein, the secret of the crime was entirely visible, the evidence of the dastardly deed right under his very nose.
But he was blind to its presence, deaf to its message. His vacant stare traveled from wall to wall, from floor to ceiling, and—remained vacant.
But, if he had seen, if he had caught on to the broad hint vouchsafed him by the freakish fate that guides the destiny of an inquiring detective, then—well, then this story could not have been written.
As it was, he stared about hopelessly, aimlessly, and at last told himself it was time to dress for dinner.
Claude passed through the hall, and seeing Kenneth still there, came in and snapped on a few lights.
“Fenn, I suppose, has had orders to keep out of this room,” he said. “Or he would have put on the lights. Well, old chap, we have a hard nut to crack, haven’t we? Where do you stand?”
“About where I did at first. It’s a vicious circle. I never knew what that meant before.”
“Do you know now?”
“Probably not. But it runs round in my head like this. Nobody can get in or out of a locked room. Somebody shot Mr. Carleton. Therefore somebody did get in or out of a locked room. You’ve put it in a nutshell. Now, can you crack the nut?”
“I’m going to. Look here, Claude, and don’t answer unless you choose. Are you in love with Mrs. Carleton?”
There was a moment’s hesitation, and then the response came frankly enough.
“Yes. That’s really why I was going away. I felt I wasn’t playing the game with Dad to stay here. I don’t say that Polly cares for me other than in a friendly fashion, but I’m crazy about her. So I thought the change of scene and the diversions of Hollywood might be a good thing for me. There’s no need to broadcast this, is there? I’ve told you because you asked me, and I’d rather you understood, but—well, I suppose you can see how it would impress old Gilbert.”
“Meaning that he’d at once think I was instrumental in this murder business.”
“But you were on your way to California.”
“Sure I was. But he’d cook up a plan whereby I could employ a gunman or somebody to do my dirty work for me. Oh, I’m not a coward, but I’ve read books where the obvious suspect is framed or railroaded or whatever you call it. And I’m grieved enough at this awful tragedy without having the blame for it cast on me.”
“Why call yourself an obvious suspect? I should think you were the only one who is scot-free from suspicion.”
“That’s a thought! What about old Scott?”
“In the rôle of criminal?”
“Yes. Somebody’s got to be.”
“Let’s consider him.”
“Yes, let’s, but not now. It’s getting on for dinner time. Run away and tog. I’m going myself in a few moments. Come down a trifle early for a good old-fashioned cocktail.”
Claude seated himself at the library desk and pulled open a stationery drawer.
A backward glance showed Carlisle he was about to write a letter or note, but as he was now in every way his father’s representative he had a right to use, even monopolize, the library.
“I wish I could suspect him,” Kenneth mused as he dressed. “He’s so obvious, and nine times out of ten the obvious suspect is the right one. I don’t see how he could have managed it, but then I don’t see how anybody could have managed it. And his motive is perfect. He wanted his father’s fortune and his father’s wife. Now he can have them both. But, hang it, he played the part of a man when he vamoosed because he feared he’d trespass on his dad’s preserves. And, incidentally, I don’t see how he could shoot from a moving train, nor how his hired gunman could get into the locked room.”
But Kenneth Carlisle whistled softly as he completed his toilette.
He had a case after his own heart. Sympathetic by nature, he regretted the violent passing of Manning Carleton; but, after all, he was a detective, not a condoling friend, and what detective wouldn’t welcome the problem of a sealed room?
And a problem that had to have a solution. It couldn’t be a suicide, a possibility that often mars a sealed-room proposition.
The absence of a weapon proved a real murderer, a flesh-and-blood murderer, for there was no sign of a mechanical death-dealing instrument.
Except—well, what did that marred telephone book mean, anyway? A vague, hazy idea wandered round his brain which connected that queerly indented cover and successive pages with an explosive of some sort. Nothing else he could think of would have force enough to make that deep depression. Unless—a heavy hammer. Well it was very puzzling and very interesting.
He went downstairs to find most of the household already in the drawing room.
Cocktails were served, and the conversation, though in a subdued key, was in no way connected with the tragedy.
The dinner hour was quiet but not uncheerful. Probably everyone present thought of the night before, when almost the same group sat round the table. Except for the two Mortlakes and Manning Carleton himself, it was the same.
Claude took his father’s chair without question. Pauline, of course, retained her own at the head of the table, and Miss Violet sat at the side, as always.
Claude was a charming host. Kindly, affable, and courteous, he now and then made a little jest or smiling repartee that relieved the strain and brought about a feeling of camaraderie.
Clearly he felt it incumbent on him to fill his father’s place well and capably, and he bent his energies to that end.
Pauline, too, was sweet and gentle. She curbed her usually spontaneous outbursts of mirth and only smiled demurely upon occasion.
Violet was distinctly sad and heartbroken.
She said almost nothing and turned her sorrowful eyes on the speakers in turn, as if wondering how they could talk casually.
Professor Scott, on the other hand, was in fine spirits. Carlisle was shocked at this, wondering if the old gentleman was pleased at thought of his forthcoming bequest.
One at the table who showed a distinct change of demeanor from the night before was Peter Gregg.
From a quiet, deferential, and rather shy secretary, he had blossomed out into an assertive, almost bumptious chap, who frequently stated his views without invitation and even at times interrupted other speakers.
Claude looked at him in a sort of amused bewilderment which Kenneth noted and set down to Claude’s credit. He had feared Claude might openly resent the secretary’s forwardness.
But Peter had had an extra cocktail and now was taking a second glass of the light wine that accompanied the dinner.
It suddenly dawned on Carlisle what the occasion was. The death of Manning Carleton had automatically raised the embargo on Gregg’s engagement to Emily Austen.
For Pauline had no objections to this betrothal, and the young people were not likely to delay.
A glance at Miss Austen herself, who now sat next to Peter, confirmed this belief in Kenneth’s mind, and also the whole circumstance, again automatically, pushed Peter into the rôle of suspect!
Could he have so desired his employer’s death as to help to bring it about? It meant fortune and happiness for the young pair—but, no, the very idea was absurd!
Kenneth sighed at the hopelessness of his quest and let his glance go on round the table.
Zélie and Don Randall sat side by side, and they seemed to have excluded the rest and were devoting their attention entirely to one another.
It was plain to be seen that they were bored with the situation and took no interest in the search for the murderer.
Moreover, they were both too sophisticated and worldly wise to waste too much sympathy on the beautiful and wealthy young widow.
Pauline’s sweet sad smiles and drooping eyelashes didn’t hoodwink them, and they knew that, though she had been a devoted, faithful, and kindly wife, Manning Carleton was not a girl’s ideal of a romantic lover.
If she cared for Manning Carleton’s son she certainly had not shown it in word or in attitude. Her demeanor toward Claude was the perfection of friendliness, and now there seemed a trifle of new deference in her manner as was right and proper to be shown to the new head of the house.
Kenneth, knowing of Claude’s affection for her, looked for any meaning glance or subtle smile from the lovely face, but in vain.
Pauline, in soft, fluttering black chiffon, was very sweet and appealing. Her delicate white neck and arms seemed all the fairer for the enfolding black, and her golden daffodil of a head was upheld with a gentle dignity that she felt was due the House of Carleton.
She couldn’t be suspected, anyway, Kenneth thought, gazing at the charming picture she made; and then, quickly rising with the rest, followed her to the drawing room.
Gilbert and his aides awaited them, and Zélie sighed afresh at thought of more of the eternal quizzing.
Not so Carlisle: he was keen to listen to the definite and final answers to the inspector’s questions.
One of the first disclosures was the reading of the will.
The lawyers of the Carleton estate had sent a representative and a copy of Manning Carleton’s last will and testament.
There was nothing surprising in the document.
One third of the estate was bequeathed to Pauline and one third to Claude.
Two hundred thousand dollars was left to Miss Violet, and also the house in which they were living.
The other house was left to Claude.
Fifty thousand dollars was the sum bequeathed to Professor Abel Scott, to be used as he should see fit, for his work or his pleasure.
Ten thousand dollars went to Fenn for faithful service.
Ten thousand dollars to Peter Gregg and instruction that the best of references be given him for future use in securing a position.
Then, to his old friend and distant relative Donald Randall, Carleton left the sum of ten thousand dollars.
And to Zélie D’Orsay, beloved friend of the testator’s wife, also ten thousand dollars.
It seemed to Kenneth that there were many ten thousand-dollar bequests flying about, but he realized they were small fry compared with the main legacies. For the testator was many times a millionaire, and his wealth had to be parceled out.
Many minor gifts were listed, and at last Claude was named as residuary legatee.
Zélie was ecstatic. She vowed she had no idea that she would receive anything, and she was like a child with an unexpected gift.
Professor Scott was scarcely less jubilant. He rejoiced openly in his good fortune and speculated on how soon he could realize his capital.
The others said little or nothing about the matter.
Emily Austen, who received nothing, might be thought to look disappointed, but the girl usually looked a trifle melancholy, so one couldn’t tell.
“Now,” the inspector said at last, “I will ask your attention, please. This is not a time for amenities or compliments. We are investigating a murder, a particularly brutal murder and a mysterious one. We must leave no stone unturned, no question unasked, to find the criminal. Therefore, when I put leading queries, do not, I pray, jump to the conclusion that you are suspected of complicity or guilty knowledge. These things must be probed into, and there is no way, at the present stage, but to inquire of you here before me. And let me state that in general, it is our custom to note who may have opportunity and who may have motive. To have either or both of these by no means calls for accusation or even suspicion. But the questions must be asked.
“As to motive: It has frequently been stated that there are only a few certain motives for murder. This may or may not be true. It is aside from our present consideration. The principal motive for a premeditated murder is a desire for money. A murder inspired by love or hate, a so-called crime passionel, is more often done on the spur of the moment, seldom after long and careful planning. Now, all of you who are here before me have benefited or will benefit by the terms of Mr. Carleton’s will. This gives each of you what may be called, in criminal parlance, a motive.
“As I told you, you are not to be annoyed or offended at this statement. It is no aspersion or implication, it is a plain statement of fact. The next most important question refers to opportunity. It is this on which I will now question you. You will each be prepared to tell me exactly where you were last night after the party here was over, and especially at the hours between three and five o’clock this morning.”
The faces of those assembled showed blank looks, sour looks, puzzled looks, and haughty looks.
Fenn had been summoned, and with some of the other upper servants sat in the hall just outside the drawing-room door.
“I will call on you, first, Mr. Carleton.”
Claude gave a start, as if surprised, but quickly recovered his poise and said, easily enough:
“I was on the train. I took the two o’clock, all sleepers, on the Pennsylvania Railroad. I had made my reservations some time previously, and I had Compartment B on the car named Taormina. I retired as soon as possible, and at three o’clock, I must have been—well, nearing Trenton. I can tell you exactly by looking at a time-table.”
“Approximately will do, Mr. Carleton.”
“Well, we struck Philadelphia about five, I think, so I was along the road then. I slept pretty soundly, waking only when the train stopped.”
“You can prove this, Mr. Carleton?”
“I don’t know, Inspector. I can give you my tickets, I have them still, because I didn’t try to cash them in when I got the telegram telling me what had happened at home. I think the porter on the train would know me, also the conductor, but as I got on board at 2 A. M. and off at Harrisburg at 7 A.M. I didn’t see any of my fellow passengers, nor did I go into the dining car.”
“I understand, Mr. Carleton. Where did you receive the telegram?”
“At Harrisburg, about quarter after seven. I dressed and left the train there. I was not hurried as there is a long wait there. The porter will remember the incident, I am sure. He was a short, stubby chap, with two gold teeth, of which he seemed exceedingly proud.”
“Where did you go in Harrisburg?”
“First I went to the ticket office and learned that I couldn’t get a train back to New York until nearly eleven o’clock. So I went to a small hotel, the Aylesbury House, and took a room there. I had a bath and a shave, and then I had breakfast. It seemed long to train time, but it passed at last, and I took the train for home. I reached New York something after half-past three, jumped in a taxi, and came straight here, where I’ve been ever since.”
The inspector nodded his head and with a wave of his hand dismissed Claude.
Gilbert then took the others in succession and learned from them, in a more or less accurate account, the comings and goings of the household throughout the night, a story with which the reader is already familiar.
Kenneth Carlisle listened attentively to this, for in his opinion it was on these accounts there must hang all the law and the prophets. The prophets, of course, representing the theories and prognostications of the listening policemen.
Yet, the more the private investigator heard, the more he was bewildered, and the more he was amazed that the inspector would accept the garbled and contradictory narratives put forth, apparently in good faith, by the speakers.
Professor Scott declared he was not downstairs at all after he went up to bed about three o’clock.
Being confronted by Fenn, who timidly reminded the old man that he came down about ten past three and wanted to speak to Mr. Carleton, Scott still denied it and would not budge from his negative statement.
Pauline denied that she had been downstairs from the time she went to bed, about three, until she came down at five to look for her husband.
Miss Violet told in halting, uncertain phrases, of her starting downstairs right after Professor Scott came up. She told of Don Randall’s coming down and joining her while they smoked. She said that he heard someone in the boudoir, and thinking it Pauline, he scooted in there. But it proved to be Miss D’Orsay, and the young man was badly fooled.
Claude’s face grew more and more distressed as Miss Violet ran on in this vein.
“Aunt Vi,” he said, at last, “don’t gossip, just state plain facts.”
“The facts are plain enough,” she retorted, “plain as the nose on your face. I know what I know. You keep still, Claude. You weren’t here, and you wouldn’t have seen what I saw if you had been.”
“What did you see, Miss Carleton?” asked Gilbert suavely.
“Nothing,” she said abruptly, and then cackled, like an old woman.
Claude knew her in this mood, and knew it was hopeless to try to do anything with her.
“Lots of goings on, there were,” she said, chuckling. “A pair tucked away in the boudoir, and another pair back there in Miss Austen’s little room. Then Don, here, making for the dining room and going to sleep there. Oh, yes, people all over the house last night.”
“They do seem to have been,” and the inspector smiled indulgently at her. He understood gossipy old women, and the fact that they were wealthy and lived on Fifth Avenue made little difference, he opined.
“Now, we must get seriously to work to set the hour more accurately. Miss Carleton, you saw most of the prowlers—was your sister-in-law, Mrs. Carleton, downstairs at all?”
The old lady drew herself up stiffly.
“She says she wasn’t, and we Carletons do not lie.”
“Where were you, Miss Violet, at half-past three?”
“I was hanging over the banisters,” was the calm reply.
“And what did you see?”
“Nothing but Don Randall going into the boudoir, where Zélie was.”
“Sometime later I saw the two secretaries, Miss Austen and Mr. Gregg, coming along up.”
“It was about four,” Peter Gregg informed him a little defiantly.
This sort of uncertain fencing went on for a long time.
The inspector’s expert stenographer took it all down, with added remarks that fell in whispers from Gilbert’s lips, to be considered later on.
Finally he concluded he could learn no more from his audience.
He called on Fenn, but he was as noncommittal as some of the others. He didn’t refuse to answer, but his answers amounted to little or nothing.
Then the inspector told them that any who chose could go to their homes.
Zélie and Don Randall declared their intention of going next day, and this left only Carlisle and Professor Scott to go at once.
The professor was by no means anxious to leave such comfortable surroundings and fished for an invitation to return. But he greatly wanted to get his treasure, the skeleton, and Kenneth had promised to get it around to him that night.
The two went off in a taxicab, Carlisle having agreed to see Gilbert early next morning.
“There you are, sir,” Kenneth said, as he helped the old gentleman out. “Now, you go and get a space cleared for your visitor, and I’ll have him round inside twenty minutes.”
He went home and bade the taxi man wait for him.
He went up in the elevator to his own floor and let himself into his apartment.
The faithful Carter was in waiting, and Kenneth stared blankly at the place where he had left the skeleton.
“Where is the thing?” he cried. “What have you done with it, Carter?”
The man stared at him.
“They took it, sir,” he said. “About seven o’clock, it was.”
“Who took it? Who?”
“The men you sent for it, sir,” declared the imperturbable Carter.
“I sent no men. What did they look like? Why did you give it up?”
“One was from Headquarters, sir. In plain clothes, he was, but he had his badge and he said to hand it over. The other was a big fellow who helped move the box.”
“Why didn’t you telephone me to see if it was all right?”
“Yes, sir, I did suggest it, sir. But they said the telephones at Mr. Carleton’s house was so busy and so congested, I couldn’t get to you. And he said Headquarters ordered it, and for me to be quick about it. So I was.”
THE next day Carlisle was down at the Carleton house early. None of the family was about, he saw only one or two housemaids and Fenn, who let him in.
He went into the library and found Stokes there, who said he expected Mr. Gilbert any moment.
The inspector came, and the two investigators looked gravely at each other.
“There’s a lot to be done,” Gilbert said. “Young Carleton’s trip must be carefully checked, the Pantaloon Club must be looked into, the Mortlakes will stand further questioning, and I’m not pleased with old man Scott.”
“He’s none too well pleased himself this morning,” and Kenneth shook his head.
It was when Carlisle grew puzzled or very serious that he looked like a movie actor. Unconsciously he fell into the poses he had used in the studio, and now he sat by the desk, his head resting on one hand and the other arm stretched out toward the writing paraphernalia. He was not in the swivel desk chair—by tacit consent they avoided that—and he sat in a small chair at the end of the big desk.
With a graceful gesture he drew his arms together, folded them, and laying them on the desk, dropped his chin upon them, his eyes rolling up to the inspector’s face.
“The skeleton got away,” he said morosely.
“I know it was articulated,” smiled Gilbert, “but I didn’t know it was able to walk.”
“No, it was carried off.” Kenneth straightened up to tell his story. “It was at my place, and two men came and took it away. They told my man I had sent them, and one of them showed a badge and said he was from Headquarters.”
“No, plain clothes. All fake, of course, they flashed any sort of badge, but it shows we’re up against something outside these four walls.”
“Perhaps. Perhaps not. They could have been emissaries of anyone here.”
“Yes, but who here wants the skeleton? They all let it go most willingly. You don’t think Miss Violet wants it back? Well, anyway, old Scott is pretty mad about it.”
“Yes, he’s the only one, I think, who felt friendly toward the bony visitor. But does it really matter much? We have the written messages and the boards with the address on.”
“It isn’t that. I don’t want the thing, I’m glad to be rid of it. But why do they want it? Whoever sent for it, I mean. To my mind it proves that it was no joke, it has something definite to do with the murder.”
“How can that be?” Gilbert looked puzzled.
“I don’t know, but nobody is going to the trouble and danger of impersonating a policeman except for some strong reason.”
“Something in that. Did you get a description of the men who went after it?”
“As good as Carter could give it. The plainclothes man, as he calls him, was a slim, youngish chap, but of a wiry, strong build. The other was just a big husky fellow of the porter type. Carter couldn’t say much about their features or faces. He refused to let the thing go until they said it was a police order; then he caved in. He wanted to talk to me, but they said he couldn’t get me as the telephones here were over-busy and congested with waiting messages. Which was true, as you know. But how did those men know it?”
“Well, anybody trying to get this number would know it.”
“Oh, yes, but the people after the skeleton wouldn’t be calling this house. Now, why do they want the skeleton?”
“Forty-’leven reasons for that. Perhaps they merely borrowed it for their mad prank and had to return it to the doctor they borrowed it from.”
“Then they would have come here and frankly asked for it. If it wasn’t the work of those Pantaloon fellows, it was the work of some wrong uns. I mean somebody mixed up with the murder.”
“I can’t think how the murderer could be mixed up with the skeleton business.” The inspector frowned thoughtfully. “I mean I can’t make any theory fit such a proposition.”
“Nor I. Also, I can’t make any theory fit any proposition. I’m sure there never was such a baffling case. I’ve often sighed for a murder in a locked room to tackle, but I never shall again! I don’t care for ’em at all.”
“Who’s your pet suspect to-day?”
“Claude,” said Kenneth promptly. “Claude, first, last, and all the time.”
“That’ll be all from you! If you say, ‘How did he get in?’ I resign from the Force, pronto!”
“But Claude is absurd.”
“Don’t I know it?” Kenneth turned serious. “But his trip must be checked and very carefully checked. You see he had a double motive. He—you needn’t broadcast this, but he’s decently in love with Mrs. Carleton.”
“What do you mean, decently?”
“He went away because of his growing interest in her. He told me so. Rather all right of him—if he didn’t come back and bump off his old man.”
In moments of stress Carlisle abandoned his more punctilious diction for the slang he had picked up in his studio days.
“Oh, well, that’s easily settled. Stokes, take up the business. Here’s a careful list of the trains he took, the hotel at Harrisburg he stopped at, and his Pullman reservations both ways. Now you must have a photograph.”
“Did he take a compartment coming home?”
“No, he had a chair. And among his tickets and checks was a Pullman stub for the parlor-car seat.”
“Where can you get a photograph?”
“I can ask him, but there’s no use calling him in here. I think I’ll commandeer that one on the mantel.”
A good portrait of Claude was in a silver frame.
The inspector removed the card from the frame, handed it to Stokes, and told him to go to it.
“Do I go to Harrisburg?” asked the serious-looking detective.
“Up to you. If you can do the business by telegraph and by seeing the porters and conductors at this end of the line, all right. If you have to go to Harrisburg, go ahead. I give you full discretion.”
With a grave salute the officer went away.
“Splendid man,” said Gilbert. “I can trust him with any assignment. I shall miss him here, though. But I have Cooper to take his place, and he’s good too.”
“Well, that will settle Claude’s hash. Next, I’d greatly like to suspect the charming widow.”
“My hat, man! You’re aiming high!”
“Thank you for not saying, ‘How did she get in?’ But, aside from suspecting, we ought to turn our attention to that little problem of entrance. I suppose you realize that the murderer must have come in through the Mortlakes’ door.”
“Well, no, I can’t say I realize that. What about coming in at the hall door, or the door that gives into the cloakroom?”
“I’ve examined them very closely, and I’m ready to stake my reputation that neither of them was opened by any sort of wire or clever instrument made for the purpose of turning a key from the other side of the lock.”
“You’re staking a great deal. But Stokes agrees with you, and he’s an old hand at picking locks.”
“Well, it looks that way to me. But if you ask how anybody came in from the other house and went back again with those massive bolts shot, then I give it up. I’ve thought about a door, there are such, that is locked, but the whole frame swings on hinges.”
“Yes, I know. A trick door. But you see this door was used for years as an ordinary door, and then, when the brother died and strangers came, the door was simply locked and bolted. There was no occasion to have a fake door built.”
“No, and I’ve examined closely for concealed hinges on the frame. There’s nothing of the sort, I’m sure.”
“No. And isn’t it easier and simpler to think somehow these two other doors might have been manipulated, each having but one lock, than that door, with a heavy bolt on each side?”
“Yes, of course. But granting one of these doors, the murderer was one of the family. If he came in through the other house he could have been a rank outsider.”
“I can’t seem to see Mortlake in this thing. What’s his motive? And why cut up such a shindy about it? He could have got at Manning Carleton any day in the week, without troubling this bolted door.”
“So could anybody.”
“No, a stranger would have been noticed. Mortlake was in and out of here a lot. He—he had business with Carleton.”
“Aha! Holding out on me, are you, young man? Come clean, now, or I’ll run you in.”
“Well, I haven’t proved it up to the hilt, but I have reason to think Mortlake was Carleton’s bootlegger.”
“A motive could be dug out of that, maybe.”
“Yes, maybe. No evidence so far of same.”
“How’d you catch on to this missing link?”
“I noticed at supper on New Year’s Eve that when the champagne was first served Carleton tasted it critically and then nodded at Mortlake. Not a nod as of drinking his good health, or that, but a nod of approval and satisfaction. I wondered then if Mortlake hadn’t something to do with the acquisition of the wine, which was really very good. Then I found some memoranda in Carleton’s desk referring to bootleg products and initialed J. M. Also, I tackled Fenn on the subject, and more from what he didn’t say than from what he did, I am pretty well assured Mortlake is the good provider.”
“Doubtless you’re right—seems to me good evidence. But that doesn’t make Mortlake a murderer.”
“True, worse luck! He’d be an ideal murderer.”
“I don’t think so, he’s too fat.”
“There’s no prescribed weight for murderers.”
“Not officially, no. Now, let’s get around to the professorial proposition. How about Scott?”
“Inept, inapt, inopportune.”
“You’re too erudite for a detective, speak plain English.”
“That isn’t erudition. It’s characterization. Scotty is all those things. He couldn’t engineer a murder to save his life.”
“Why save his life if he’s going to get caught in a murder?”
“No murderer expects to get caught. They’re an optimistic lot.”
“Scott wanted that money terribly. He’s openly delighted at Carleton’s death. But I can’t see him going about shooting up people.”
“No. But he lied. He said he didn’t come downstairs after he went up to bed at 3 A. M. But he did. Miss Violet saw him go down very shortly after he had gone up. She told me all about it. Also, Fenn admitted that the professor came down and tried very hard to make Carleton let him in the library.”
“He talked to him, then?” Gilbert looked surprised.
“Yes. Scott begged for a few minutes’ conversation, but Carleton told him he must wait until morning. So Scott rather peevishly dragged back upstairs.”
“How do you know about the peeve?”
“Fenn said so. He was sorry for the poor old man, and yet of course he could do nothing.”
“Does Fenn think the old chap returned later on and did the shooting?”
“Fenn is the most blissfully ignorant person on the footstool. He knows nothing, thinks nothing, surmises nothing. The Japanese monkeys have nothing on Fenn.”
“’Fraid not. Fenn knows his place too well as the perfect butler, to shoot up his master.”
“But butlers always do it in the story books.”
“Not nowadays. When did you read one last? Why, the butler hasn’t been the criminal for years! Except in The Tremayne Case, and there were mitigating circumstances.”
“All right, I didn’t take much stock in Fenn, anyway. Now, how about—as you were saying—the golden and beautiful Pauline?”
“Hush, breathe it not aloud! But, though hiding it well, she is relieved that her elderly spouse is gathered to his fathers, and when a decent interval is past she will console herself.”
“If she waits that long.” Gilbert was frankly incredulous of it.
“Oh, yes, she’s a stickler for the conventions. Now, I haven’t been officially notified that she returns the regard in which Claude holds her, but I fancy she does. Claude’s a personable chap, and she’s a beauty. They each come into a large fortune by this death, and they may desire to consolidate those fortunes. On the other hand, she may have other plans for her own future. I don’t know. But I searched Claude’s desk drawers, up in his room. I had to do it hastily, very little time, but I found in a secret drawer a snapshot of Pauline. Very lovely and all that. I put it back where I found it.”
“Find anything else?”
“Only some rubbishy toys.”
“Those white metal trinkets the candy stores give away with purchases. There was a star, a goblet, a dove, a heart, a parrot, and a Cupid. Trucky lot, but, hidden there with Pauline’s picture, they seemed to be souvenirs or keepsakes of some sort.”
“Let’s ask him.”
“Not till I’ve wiped him off my list. My suspect list is a long one, and several must be scratched off, but not till they’re proved ninety-nine per cent pure.”
“All right. Is the stately though sharp-tongued Miss Violet on your list?”
“Oh, well, no. And I may have to eliminate Claude, for the same reason.”
“What do you mean?”
“Noblesse oblige, if that conveys anything to you. But Miss Violet talked to me about Claude and herself being the last of the Carletons. It seems the name is dying out. And also, she gave me to understand, and seriously, too, that a Carleton couldn’t—positively couldn’t do anything that would blot the scutcheon. She wasn’t talking through her hat, she was in dead earnest. And also some things Claude said to me, before he went away, I mean, gave me an insight into his character, which makes it seem impossible he could commit a crime—in the family circle!”
“Yet you suspect him.” Gilbert frowned uncertainly.
“No I don’t. I want to, because of his double motive, but I can’t.”
“Well, never mind him now. Stokes will see to his alibi. That will settle it. Now, Randall?”
“Hardly enough motive. To be sure, he got his bequest, but who didn’t? We can’t hang everybody who was mentioned in the will. But Randall is far from energetic, and I can’t think he trumped up this ingenious scheme.”
“But he too is in love with the yellow-haired siren, and perhaps in love with her yellow ducats.”
“Your list is getting as long as my own. Well, I’ll admit that mine takes in everybody in this house and nobody out of it.”
“Not even the Mortlakes?”
“I don’t think so. Only the immediate inmates of this house.”
“The two secretaries, then?”
“I think they will bear some investigation. They’re openly engaged now. Mrs. Carleton has sanctioned it, and they’re basking in each other’s smiles. But—did the Perfect Secretary help things along?”
“I can hardly think it, for I can’t see how he could. But he had what may be called the inside track. He knew all there was to know about Carleton, his plans, and his actions. He could have come down here that night after he went upstairs at four o’clock.”
“They say the murder occurred at three-thirty.”
“Not so close as that. They say between three and four, and there’s always room for uncertainty either way. You know that as well as I do.”
“Yes, of course. That finishes the list then, outside the minor servants, and—oh, yes, one more: Mademoiselle Zélie.”
“Cut her out. She’s a vamp, an adventuress, a hellcat, even, but she’s no murderer.”
“Because she’s too afraid of her own skin. She’s wary, and she has secrets that she must guard carefully. She’s a bit vague about her goings and comings that night, but she didn’t kill Carleton. Why, she’s a gold digger and she was prospecting in his mine. And she was making headway. Even with such a lovely and charming wife as he had, he let his gaze stray now and then to the luring Zélie.”
“You know a lot!” Gilbert looked half scornful and half admiring. But he smiled.
“Yes,” agreed Carlisle, “I do. I learned a lot at that supper New Year’s Eve. But, by golly, man, if I’d known what was due to happen later on I’d have learned a whole lot more!”
“Then we cross off Zélie?”
“As a suspect, I do, yes. But you hammer at her, if you like.”
“No, I’ve enough hammering to do. Now, let’s check up. We must grill our suspects with what tact and skill we possess—if any. Stokes is off to check up on Claude. I’ll set others on the trail of that skeleton business. Who will visit the Pantaloon Club?”
“I will, if you say so. I know some of the members.”
“You’re the one for that, then. I’ll look into Scott’s general standing, professional and social. I’ll set sleuths on the Mortlakes. Also on the two turtledove secretaries as to their outside life.”
“Good Lord, you’ll have the whole force on this case.”
“So much the better. Then, suppose you take a hand with the three Carletons. I mean, you’re by way of being friendly with the family, and if you’ve any Machiavellianism about you, you can learn a lot of things while asking about something else. See?”
“I see I’m a dub at this game! I thought I knew something, but I don’t!”
“You have originality, perception, and logic. Don’t underestimate those qualities. You’ll probably reach the solution of this thing before I do. Now, for a little more search of this baffling room, in hopes of unearthing a clue.”
“I’ve always boasted that I scorned clues,” Carlisle exclaimed, “but I’d welcome the ash of a Trichinopoly cigar, or a bit of Irish tweed torn from the murderer’s coat sleeve!”
“I’ve had my best and most expert searchers go through this desk, and there’s nothing in it to help us any. I’ve had expert carpenters and joiners and locksmiths go over the walls and floors and woodwork, but they vow there’s no chance of a hidden joint or lock or panel—in fact, nothing but what may be seen on the surface.”
“There never is, in a locked-room mystery,” said Kenneth mournfully. “I wish now it had been a plain, straight, bashed-on-the-head-with-a-blunt implement type. I thought I’d love the locked-room angle, but I don’t.”
“Oh, come, now. Think of the credit you’ll get when you find the solution.”
“Lead me to it, then. I say, what do you think of the queer smash on the telephone book?”
“I think it has nothing to do with the case.”
“But it must have. Both Fenn and Gregg say the book was in normal condition that evening, and I saw it next morning, and it was all fussed up.”
The inspector reached for the book and studied the cover.
“I can’t get it,” he said finally. “I can’t even theorize about it.”
“Nor I. But it holds the secret. If we can find out what it means, we can work out all the rest.”
“Poppycock. Easy to say—”
“Don’t call me names! It’s a clue—that’s why I spurned it at foist. But I humbly beg its pardon. It is a clue, and a good one. Now, Inspector, it mustn’t be spirited away. It will be, sure as shooting, unless we prevent it. The criminal must know he left it, he must know we will find it, and unintelligible though it looks now, I shall yet read its cryptic message.”
Carlisle’s eyes were glowing, and Gilbert saw how much in earnest he was, and forbore to chaff.
“Very well he said quietly, “I will give orders that the guard in here shall watch it specially. It can’t get away then.”
“All right. Now for a squint at the bolt of that pesky door.”
They went together and stood staring at the heavy but simply made brass bolt. It was a trifle ornate, having an embossed edge and knob. But it worked in ordinary fashion. The long end of the slot was on the door, the short end on the jamb. The bar slid easily enough, though not loosely.
It showed no trace of scratches or marring of any sort. There was no trace or smell of oil nor any sign that it had been used recently.
Yet, of course, there was no sign that it hadn’t.
Carlisle knelt down on the floor and tried to look under the door. There was the merest crack of space between the door and the sill, but the soft pile of the carpet choked it, and anyway there was not room enough to slip a key under, or anything of that sort.
Kenneth got a thin-bladed paper cutter from the desk and found that it would slip under an inch or so, and then the nap of the carpet choked it and stopped further progress.
He rose disgustedly, brushed off his knees, and declared he was going to indulge in a fit of sulks.
He prepared for his indulgence by selecting a comfortable armchair, providing himself with a roomy ash tray and plenty of matches, and went into the silences.
NEW YEAR’S EVE had been on Tuesday.
It was now Saturday morning, and though the police detectives and our own private investigator had worked faithfully and continuously, they had little if anything to show for it.
To be sure, they had eliminated some suspects and had solved some minor problems, but the great questions were still unanswered and the real criminal as yet unknown.
They had been somewhat hampered in their work in the house by reason of the preparations and ceremonies of the funeral. A man of Manning Carleton’s standing could not be unceremoniously bundled back into the bosom of Mother Earth, he had to be accorded the pomp and circumstance that was his due.
And so on Friday, the day of the funeral, the great drawing room was filled with flowers, crowded with chairs, melodious with sweet music, and solemn with the intoned service.
But by Saturday the house was normal again, all traces of the elaborate function had disappeared, and Claude Carleton, with an air of quiet dignity, came to the library where those in charge of the case awaited him.
“A report is due you, Mr. Carleton,” the inspector said slowly, “and then we must have a conference.”
“That suits me, Inspector. I want to get the matter along now, as expeditiously as possible. What are your latest developments?”
“Well, to begin with, Mr. Carleton, we have checked up on your own movements while you were out of town.”
“Yes?” and Claude gave a good-natured smile. “And does my alibi hold water?”
“Yes, indeed. Not a leak in it. You took that 2 A. M. train as you stated, and the gateman here in New York remembered you, as did also the porter who carried your bags.”
“How do you mean, remembered me? Excuse my curiosity, but I’m interested to know how you work this game.”
“Oh, we had a photograph of you, a good one, see.”
“Where did you get it?”
“Out of that silver frame,” and Gilbert coolly pointed to the empty frame.
“Well, I’ll be blowed! But it’s all right. May we have the picture back? I don’t think there’s another one left.”
“Oh, yes, you can have it back. Well, then, the Pullman porter on the train remembered you distinctly. I fancy you gave him a generous New Year’s tip.”
“Oh, I daresay I did. Don’t remember exactly, but I’m not a niggardly traveler. Any more guarantees of my identity?”
“Yes, sir, the conductor who has, of course, a record of your tickets recognized the photograph at once.”
“Well, that wasn’t the result of a bribe!”
“Hardly. Then the porter told how he brought you a telegram at Harrisburg and had to knock loud to waken you. He helped you a little with your dressing and put you off the train. Also, he advised you to go to the Aylesbury House for breakfast. And you did, and you stayed there until time to get your train for New York.”
“You couldn’t tell a straighter story if you had been along with me. All that is just what I did do. Now, you hit those trainmen, I suppose, when they were in the station here. But how’d you check up on the hotel and all that?”
“Telegraph and telephone, sir. The hotel clerk gave an accurate description of your appearance and also of your signature on the register.”
“And he said, too,” put in Kenneth, “that you met a man you knew in the lobby and chatted a little with him.”
“All to the good. Did he tell you what I ate for breakfast?”
“He did,” returned the inspector, “bacon and eggs.”
“My heavens! I never heard of such meticulous attention to details!”
“You may well be glad of it, Mr. Carleton: it gives you a clean bill and removes any chance of suspicion of you.”
“Thank you, Inspector.” Claude looked grave. “It is hard for me to realize that there ever was any chance of suspicion of me, but I suppose you except nobody.”
“Nobody at all, sir. Everyone must be put under severest scrutiny. Now you are freed we must take up the next in turn.”
“Am I entirely freed, Inspector? I mean is there any lingering doubt in your mind about me? I’m queer that way. I have to have a thing completely finished, signed and sealed, as you may say, before I’m satisfied to leave it. If you say so, I’ll go back myself over my tracks and check up personally.”
“No, Mr. Carleton, no, sir. We’re convinced that you were on that train, and therefore could by no possibility have been in this house during the night.”
“Then where does that land us?”
“With the rest of the crowd as suspects,” Carlisle said quickly. “You see, old man, every inmate of this house that night had equal opportunity. They all had motive—”
“What do you mean, motive?”
“Everyone was a beneficiary under your father’s will. Some more, some less, but all, except some of the minor servants, had substantial bequests.”
“But you don’t think that for a few paltry thousands anyone here that night would commit murder!”
“Someone did. It may have been someone from outside—that we have to find out. But the murderer is yet at large. Do you want to help us to track him down—or would you rather not?”
Claude looked at him for a moment in silence. Then he said:
“I’m in a hard position. But here’s how I feel about it: You say all in this house are suspect. Now, as to the ones who are nearest and dearest both to me and to my late father I most certainly do not want to be a partner to your ‘tracking down.’ But if it comes to a question of casual friends, or neighbors, or servants, then I say, yes, I want the murderer found.”
“Are you willing to be more definite as to the nearest and dearest?”
“I am. I refer to my aunt, Miss Carleton, and to my father’s wife. As bearers of the Carleton name they are both above suspicion, but since you have raised the question it must be met. Do you propose to look upon them as suspects?”
“Yes, sir, with the rest. And I must remind you that it was Mrs. Carleton who was the first to raise the alarm and—”
“Wait a moment, Inspector. Are you telling me seriously that because Mrs. Carleton became anxious about her husband’s absence from his room and came downstairs to see about it—are you seriously implying that that is a point against her?”
“Well—it is customary to question pretty closely the one who first shows interest in the crime.”
“A stupid custom! But I cannot expect to deter you from your routine. Are you paying no attention to the real problem, the locked room? Are you ignoring the wretch who sent that gruesome skeleton to my father, knowing, doubtless, that he had a weak heart and the shock might kill him? Are you forgetting the people next door, who have been jealous and envious of us for years?”
“That’s why I want you to come in with us, Claude,” Carlisle exclaimed. “You know a lot that we don’t know. Now, see here. I don’t for a minute believe they’ll bother Miss Violet and Mrs. Carleton much. It will be routine work, just a few further inquiries. Then, when they’re wiped off the slate, will you join in with us and help us ferret out the secret of the locked room?”
“Yes, I’ll be glad to, only, as I said about myself, I want a clean slate for those two women. No harking back, no nagging at them afterward.”
“Unless there is new evidence,” prudently suggested Gilbert.
“There won’t be,” and Claude shook his head sternly.
“Now, as to the skeleton,” Carlisle said, “I went myself to the Pantaloon Club. I know two or three of the members, nice old boys, too. I told them the story frankly, no reason why I shouldn’t, and they were sure none of the crowd did it. However, they engaged to find out, and yesterday they put the whole membership—it isn’t very large—through a grilling. Of course, they may be mistaken, but they are ready to swear that none of the Pantalooners cut up that trick. And I think they’re right.”
“I think so too,” the inspector agreed. “For one thing, they’re too old. That was a prank of the younger generation. I don’t mean flappers, but men of fewer years than the old chaps we’re talking about. Do you think, Mr. Carleton, that the incident of the skeleton and the crime itself are in any way connected?”
“I can’t form any opinion as to that. I can’t see any connection between the two, but there may be. By the way, I hear the skeleton disappeared.”
“It did,” Kenneth admitted. “I suppose it was my fault, but how could I foresee such a thing?”
“You couldn’t,” Gilbert told him. “However, we may get it back yet.”
“How?” asked Claude curiously. “Do you know who took it?”
“Not quite that, but we’re on a trail.”
“Look here, I want to make a stipulation. If I come into this close corporation and join forces with you two, I must insist on being told things. I’m not going to be put off with stray bits of information and half truths.”
“Nothing like that, sir,” the inspector smiled. “But you’re not in with us yet.”
“No, and I shan’t be. Not until you’re all through badgering those two ladies, who, as you perfectly well know, had no more to do with my father’s death than you had!”
“I don’t believe they had,” Gilbert said slowly. “But you must realize that there were eight people, at least, who spent that night under this roof. Each of these had ample opportunity and a definite motive. Now, you must see that my duty forces me to investigate every one of these possibilities, however improbable.”
“Yes, I do see that, Inspector, and I don’t mean to put a straw in your way. But I must reserve my own efforts, which may not be of any use after all, until you have convinced yourself of the innocence of my two kinswomen. They and I are the only remaining Carletons, and I must have the name cleared beyond all shadow of a doubt.”
Gilbert sighed. “Even then we’d have six left,” he said dejectedly. “And no way to look for clues or evidence.”
“Kenneth here doesn’t care for clues,” and Claude smiled. “He says they’re rubbish.”
“But I want evidence,” Carlisle cried. “Or something to work on, if it’s only gossip.”
“Well, I can’t give you that. I will not listen to discussion of the murder. When the talk gets around to that I leave the room.”
“Why?” asked Gilbert.
“Because,” Claude told him seriously, “they don’t talk logically or thoughtfully. They just mull over the mystery of it and the horror of it and give no heed to the solution of the problem.”
“Could it be expected of women?”
“Perhaps not. But I don’t have to listen to their meaningless babble.”
There was a light tap at the door from the hall. Then the door was pushed slowly open, and Pauline’s golden head appeared.
“Is Claude here?” she said, coming in herself. “May I come in?”
“You are in,” said Claude, smiling at her.
“Why, so I am!” and without further invitation she took a chair.
Very lovely she looked, and almost childlike in a little white house frock of soft material, black stockings, and black suede pumps.
Her yellow mop of hair was a bit tousled and her lovely face a trifle pale.
“Now that I’m here, Mr. Inspector, couldn’t you ask me those questions you’ve saved up for me?”
“Yes. The ones Claude wants you to get off your chest.”
“What makes you think there are any such, Mrs. Carleton?” Gilbert tried his best to frown at her but found himself smiling instead.
“I heard all about it.”
“Just now. I was listening outside the door.”
“Do you think that is an honorable thing to do?”
“Don’t be silly! Get along with your quiz. But we’ve been all over it before, you know.”
“Meaning you have nothing to add to your other statements?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that. What do you want to know?”
“First, whether you are sincere. Whether you want to help us or hinder us. I think you are quite capable of either.”
Pauline threw back her pretty head and laughed aloud.
“You’re right, old top! I can do either. Take your choice.”
“Then I choose your help.” The inspector well knew he ought to frown harshly and put this impudent baggage out of the room.
But few ever wanted to put Polly Carleton out of a room. She was enchanting to look at, bewitching to listen to, and just about the farthest removed from looking like a murderer that anyone could be.
“Yes,” the yellow head nodded sagely. “I thought you would. But I won’t give you my valuable assistance until you assure me that you don’t think I shot my husband.”
“I can’t think you did, Mrs. Carleton, but I’d be glad of any proof you may have of your innocence.”
“Now, that’s just the devil of it!” she screwed up her red lips. “How can I prove it?”
“Well, can you prove that you were in your own room from three o’clock, when you went upstairs, till five in the morning, when you came down again?”
“Why, no, because I wasn’t.”
“In my room all that time.”
“Where were you?”
“Hanging over the banisters.” Pauline gave her little rippling laugh. “I was eaten alive with curiosity about something, and I was trying to find out.”
The inspector was getting interested.
Claude Carleton was getting worried.
Kenneth Carlisle was getting information.
“And what were you so curious about?” Gilbert said suavely.
“About the carryings on of those two precious secretaries.”
“Mr. Gregg and Miss Austen?”
“Those are the very two!” Polly smiled as blandly as if there were dozens of secretaries all over the house.
“And why were you so interested in them?”
“Because—” Polly shook a dainty pink forefinger at him—“because the she-secretary, Miss Austen, was getting—was getting too gay with my husband.”
Claude looked incredulous, but Polly went on:
“Yes, sir, they were sweeties, and—well, to tell you the truth, I wouldn’t have minded much, only it seemed hard on old Peter—Peter Gregg, you know. He’s too nice a chap to be treated like that. So I was snooping around to see what I could see.”
“At what time was this?”
“I don’t know. I never heed the time. Maybe between three and four.”
“Have you any proof, anybody who saw you in the upper hall. I suppose you mean you were in the upper hall?”
“Exactly there, my bucko! But while there was a first-class A number-one witness right at my elbow I don’t think she noticed me at all.”
“And who was that?”
“My sister-in-law, Miss Carleton.”
“What was she doing?”
“Hanging over the other side of the banister.”
“Well, she was curious in another direction.”
“And who was she spying on?”
“On my dear friend Miss D’Orsay and her dear friend Mr. Randall.”
“The upper hall was a general coign of vantage, then? Did you both have your curiosity gratified?”
“More or less, but if you make fun of me I shan’t tell you things.”
Polly’s pout was even more provocative than her smile, and the three men present were reduced to a state of abject imbecility, though bravely struggling to look judicially severe.
“I’ll not make fun of you,” said Gilbert, “but I want to ask you to be careful to tell the exact truth. It is so easy to exaggerate and so hard to stick to facts. Now, it may be that you and Miss Carleton can be witnesses for each other and so clear you both from suspicion.”
“Yes, if she saw me.” Polly look distressed and the pansy eyes were dark and troubled.
“Why shouldn’t she see you?”
“Well, of course, I kept dodging behind the curtain because I didn’t want to be seen. I didn’t know I was going to be a clue.”
“Did Miss Carleton dodge, too?”
“Yes, but of course I saw her.”
“Well, never mind her. What did you see going on downstairs?”
“Well, upon my word, it was a continuous performance! As soon as one person or one pair of persons would flit through the hall, another would follow!”
“Then everybody was downstairs that night, some time between three and four?”
“Just about everybody, except me.”
“You didn’t go down at all?”
“Not until five o’clock.”
“You weren’t dodging behind the curtains for two hours, were you?”
“Oh, my Lord, no! I was back and forth to my rooms, you know, and out again.”
“Did you see Professor Scott in the hall?” asked Kenneth.
“Yes, about the first one, he was. He went down and begged Manning to let him in the library.”
“What do you suppose he wanted?”
“I don’t suppose, I know.”
“Money. He was always trying to borrow money from Manning. He has tried to borrow from me, but I never have any to spare.”
“Your husband was a generous man?” asked the inspector.
“Oh, Lord, yes. But I like to spend it, I don’t want to lend it to people.”
“Then Professor Scott didn’t get an audience with your husband?”
“Not then. But I daresay he went down later and tried again.”
“You don’t know this?”
“No, sir. Don’t glare at me so, Inspector! You scare the wits out of me!”
“I don’t mean to,” and Gilbert smiled again.
“That’s right, you’re almost handsome when you smile. Well, when old Scotty came up I heard him grumbling and mumbling and saying, ‘I’ll get him yet!’”
“You don’t think he meant he’d kill him?”
“Mercy, no! He meant he’d get an audience with him. You see, if he once got hold of Manning he could wheedle something out of him. He was soft-hearted, my husband was, and that’s why I think old Scotty tried it again.”
“Can you imagine Professor Scott killing Mr. Carleton?” This from Kenneth.
“Why, yes, I can imagine it, of course. I can imagine ’most anything. I can imagine you killing him, or the inspector. If I shut my eyes I can imagine anything at all.”
“Well, tell about the others.”
“Lemmesee. Zélie trailed herself down in her best Paris négligé. She pretended she went for a book—”
“And you backed her up,” said Gilbert quickly.
“Yes, I did,” Pauline giggled. “I wanted to help her out. You see she doesn’t know the name of one book from another. You never nailed that Maugham book, did you?”
“No. Was there any?”
“Not to my knowledge. Well, anyway, Zélie trailed down and parked herself in my boudoir, and along came Don Randall.”
“He’d been in the drawing room, I believe, smoking a cigarette with Violet. They’re rather cronies, those two. Then Violet ambled upstairs again, and Don rolled through the hall and was caught in Zélie’s net. But he made an escape later and went out to the dining room and imbibed a few.”
“I don’t think so. He’s always pretending he’s a roustabout, but he isn’t really. However, he went to sleep in the dining room, or says he did. And at that time the two secretaries that I was hunting for were cosy and comfy in Miss Austen’s room. They came up about four-thirty, I believe, and after fond good-nights went decorously to their rooms. So I went to bed, too, and went to sleep for a short nap, but at five I was wide awake again. I toddled into Manning’s room, and he wasn’t there. What do you think I thought? I thought he was somewhere with that slyboots Emily, and I raced downstairs to see if they were in her office. But they weren’t, so I decided they were locked in the library. I banged and banged on the door, but nobody answered. That made me mad, for that was Manning’s way. He would just refuse to speak or open the door.”
“You didn’t make sure of Miss Austen’s whereabouts?”
“Well, I couldn’t go bumping into her bedroom, and I had looked in her office. Anyway, I got madder and madder because Manning wouldn’t speak to me. Well, then Violet came down, and Don butted in, and all of a sudden I came to my senses. I realized Manning would never sit still like that after the people had begun to flock about, so I knew something had happened to him. And it had. I guess I’ll go away now.”
No one essayed to stop her, so she quietly slipped through the hall door, and the three men were left alone.
“Is her slate clean?” demanded Claude.
“Yes,” answered Gilbert and Kenneth in unison.
“I TRUST,” Claude said, after Pauline had left them, “you will not find it necessary to badger that poor girl any more.”
“I must object to the use of that word badger,” Inspector Gilbert said sternly. “As you know, Mr. Carleton, I have my duty to do, and it must be done even at the expense of annoying the family. I am ready to state that there is now no reason to suspect or to question further yourself or your aunt or Mrs. Carleton. But other lines must be taken up. Other sources of information must be found and investigated. This may necessitate further questioning of the Carleton ladies. If so, it must be accepted as a necessary burden. I am assuming you want the mystery of the death of your father cleared up.”
“I do,” Claude’s handsome face looked irresolute, “and yet, I am willing to let the matter drop. Since you have ceased to suspect me and my family of guilty knowledge I am not so keen to keep up the man hunt. Where would your suspicions turn next?”
“I have reason,” Gilbert spoke slowly, “to think they would turn toward Professor Scott.”
“Old Scotty!” Claude seemed surprised. “Why, how in the world would that old chap engineer such a clever and complicated crime as this one?”
“Clever, yes. Complicated, no.” The inspector’s face was glum, and his manner was that of a man at the last stage of exasperation. “Once find the means the murderer used to get in, and the rest is an easy problem.”
“You mean to get out,” Claude said quietly. “My father could have let him in.”
“Yes, and if it was Scott, your father did let him in. Mrs. Carleton said she thought it likely the professor came down again and begged for admission.”
“Then, supposing he did,” Claude said slowly, “just supposing Professor Scott begged my father to let him into the library, until Dad consented and opened the door. Then supposing the old man shot my father—that would mean that he had to have a gun with him. Improbable on the face of it.”
“Whoever shot Mr. Carleton had to take his gun with him. We have heard nothing of a gun already on the premises. Was there any such?”
“Not to my knowledge,” said Claude promptly. “And I’m sure I should have known of it had there been. I’ve always had free run of the library, and I’ve often rummaged around in the desk drawers for one thing or another. I never saw or heard of a weapon of any sort belonging to my father, nor, indeed, any in the house at all.”
“Speaking of rummaging,” Carlisle said, smiling, “you will not be surprised to learn that your own room was searched, though not really thoroughly. However, we’re going to ask you to explain a few foolish little toys in a drawer of your desk.”
“Toys?” Claude looked at him blankly.
“Yes. Those little souvenirs that come with candy purchases at some shops.”
“Souvenirs?” Still Claude seemed not to understand.
“Tiny silver-looking things, a bird, a heart, a dove—”
“Oh, yes!” and Claude smiled broadly, at the same time looking a little sheepish. “Yes—yes, they are souvenirs. Just what they are. Do you want them for clues or anything?”
“Oh, no, only an explanation. Why did you save them—in a secret drawer?”
Claude looked serious again. “Because I have a foolish fondness for them. You see, long ago Polly used to scatter the little trinkets round the table, appropriate designs for different guests. Well, when she was kind enough to give me one remindful of her own dear personality, I saved it. The Cupid, the heart, the star, all mean Polly to me. The dove, too, and the parrot—a polly, you know. The little goblet was one we drank a toast from one night. I had no right to keep souvenirs of my father’s wife, but they were innocent little jokes, and—well, I make no secret of my admiration for the lady. After a decent interval I shall ask her to marry me, though I have no reason to hope for a favorable reply. Never by word or deed has Mrs. Carleton shown more than a mere friendly interest in me, and I am telling you men all this frankly but in confidence. I am well aware that it might seem to turn suspicion in my direction, yet I can’t believe you can really think me guilty of the crime of parricide!”
“We do not,” said the inspector heartily, “and I am glad you have been so outspoken about the matter. It was not difficult to read your feelings toward Mrs. Carleton, but I can also state I have never seen any hint of her response to them. You may rest assured we will not betray your confidence. But we do want your help. Now, as to the old professor. I agree that it seems unlikely he went seeking audience with your father, in his library, armed with a gun, but whatever the truth of the matter is, it will be something unlikely.”
“Have your experts discovered what sort of gun was used?” Claude asked, his heavy black eyebrows beetling over his deep-set eyes.
“No. That is, their opinions are at variance. One stands out for an ordinary revolver, the other insists on an air gun.”
“Air gun!” Claude looked amazed, “I hadn’t heard that before. Why air gun?”
“Because, though it seems the shot was fired at close range, there were no powder marks or burns. None at all.”
“Then, how do they know the shot was fired at close range?”
“That is where the controversy comes in. You see, we deduce from the position of the chairs when found, that Mr. Carleton, sitting in his desk chair, was turned toward the murderer, who sat close by and facing him. The shot went through the body horizontally, indicating that the assailant was sitting down.”
“Where was the bullet found?” Claude asked. “I haven’t heard these details, Inspector, I—I didn’t want to—but perhaps I ought to.”
“Yes, I think you should know. Well, the bullet was smallish, a twenty-eight, and it was found in the woodwork of that bookcase behind you. It was so out of shape it was of little use as evidence. However, it was the death missile, and there is no question as to the manner or means of death. Except that the type of firearm used is not agreed upon.”
“I suppose it makes little difference,” said Claude musingly. “I’m wondering whether old man Scott could have got hold of an air gun more easily than a regular pistol. But that I don’t know. If he came here to this room with the intent of killing my father, then we can understand the gun. But I can’t think it. Why, the old chap didn’t expect to stay the night when he came.”
“We don’t know that,” Kenneth Carlisle’s calm voice broke in, “if he planned this thing, and it surely must have been planned, he would come all prepared.”
“Then cut out Scotty,” cried Claude. “It couldn’t have been his work. What about your skeleton man? Have you found him?”
“What about Professor Scott being the skeleton sender himself?” Gilbert spoke moodily.
“Oh now you’re romancing.” Claude smiled a little. “Why, I heard he wanted the skeleton given to him.”
“Of course, so he could return it to its owner from whom he borrowed or abstracted it.”
“My heavens! What an idea! And why the skeleton, anyway, if he was even then planning to shoot my father? I don’t follow.”
“This is my theory, Mr. Carleton. And it may be right or not. I think Professor Scott sent the skeleton thinking it might bring on a sudden heart attack and thereby cause your father’s sudden death. As I understand it, your father was shocked and somewhat overcome, but quickly rallied. This frustrated the plan, and the indomitable professor was forced to a more definite method of achieving his criminal intent.”
“Why did he want to kill my father?” Claude looked perplexed.
“To get his inheritance. I think he meant to urge Mr. Carleton to advance a goodly share of the money without waiting until his death. When your father refused to agree to this, might not the professor have taken the matter into his own hands and forced the issue?”
“But Scotty! That blundering old fossil—”
“Not a blunderer,” Carlisle told him. “And old fossil only in the eyes of young people. Professor Abel Scott is one of the most brilliant thinkers of his generation. I’m not ready to say I suspect him of this crime, but I will say that I believe he could have planned it and carried it through, if he desired to do so.”
“Well, Kenneth, if you feel that way about it, and since the Inspector agrees, I must be influenced by your statements. Now, where does that lead us? I mean can we explain away all the contradictory circumstances?”
“Such as what?”
“First of all, where is the gun?”
“We searched the professor’s belongings thoroughly and found nothing of the sort. That is the weakest point in our case. Still, a man of his ingenuity could manage to hide the gun successfully.”
“Then how did he get out of the room, leaving it locked and bolted?”
“That, too, must have been some piece of legerdemain which we haven’t discovered as yet.”
“Bah! You could say all that of anybody. So far you’ve not pinned anything definite on the old man. You could say of anyone, ‘he hid the gun’, and ‘he got out of the room in some ingenious but unknown fashion.’ Rubbish!”
“I know that, Claude,” Carlisle said slowly, “but who else had opportunity and motive both? There is always the chance that an outsider came in, some intruder we know nothing of. But in ignorance of that, whom can we suspect as logically as Scott?”
“Lots of people. There’s Mortlake, for one. He could get in and out through this door between, you know.”
“Leaving it bolted after him?”
“Oh, I don’t pretend to explain that. And maybe he didn’t leave by that communicating door. But the murderer had to get out some way. He wasn’t here when you broke in, was he? Oh, I say, now! There’s a thought! Suppose the murderer was here when they crashed in the cloakroom door! Suppose he was in hiding, and when the crowd rushed in he made his unnoticed escape or—”
“Or, just mingled with the crowd—being one of the members of the household.”
“We’ve considered that theory. Mr. Carleton,” the inspector said. “Now, I’m sorry you don’t see things as we do, but I know how hard it must be for you to turn your suspicions toward one whom you’ve thought of only as an old friend of your father’s. But, there are so many bits of evidence against him, each small in itself, but cumulative as a whole.”
“His great desire for a large sum of money immediately. His marvelous ingenuity for ballistics—”
“Hold on there. I haven’t your unlimited vocabulary. What was that word you used?”
“Yeah. What does it mean?”
“The science of firearms.”
“I didn’t know there was such a science. And Scotty is up on it?”
“Yes. Perhaps science is not quite the word. Let us say the study of the principles of projectiles and firearms in general.”
“All right. You’re sure meticulous. Then, if he was so up in shooting irons, would the professor choose an air gun for his weapon?”
“We are not sure an air gun was used.”
“My mistake. Thought you said so. Well, go on with the counts against Scott.”
“He had motive. Being here in the house, he had opportunity. He went downstairs as soon as he could and tried to get in the library. He was greatly angered at Mr. Carleton’s refusal to let him in. He could easily have slipped downstairs and gained admission to the library within the hour assumed to cover the time of the crime. That is, from three to four o’clock. As to his getting out of the library, that is the problem that must confront any and every theory that can be advanced. But the professor’s cleverness and skill give him a chance of escape that ordinary minds would know nothing about.”
“Have you broached the subject to him?”
“I did, Claude,” Carlisle said. “I didn’t want to startle or frighten him, and so I started in by asking him to help us. To my surprise he flatly refused to do so.”
“What reason did he give for his refusal?”
“He said he was afraid to. Said he felt sure that the criminal was somebody in this house or the other house—that’s just the way he put it.”
“The other house! That could mean only the Mortlakes.”
“Well, I don’t think he meant Mortlake. He didn’t seem to.”
“I don’t know. Is there any old servant in there who could be suspected?”
“I’ve no idea, but Aunt Violet could tell you that. No, I can’t suspect a servant. It’s ridiculous.”
“It does seem so, when there are so many around who are not servants. What about Gregg? Is he the faithful, efficient super-secretary that he seems?”
“You’ve described him to a T! Yes, for aught I know Peter is all to the good. Yet within the last day or two I’ve noticed he is acting queer.”
“Jumpy. Springs up if you come upon him suddenly, and cringes a little, begging to know if there’s anything he can do for you.”
“Are you going to keep him on?”
“I can’t decide. I don’t want to, because I don’t like him. Yet it seems unjust to turn him away. He was with Dad five years or so, and he knows all the ropes. He’d be invaluable to me that way, but—oh, well, I guess I’d better let him stay.”
“That’s the point. If Polly keeps her on, I’d have to keep Gregg. Can’t separate those two turtledoves.”
“Do you know what I think?” Carlisle smiled as he looked at Claude. “I think those two are married already.”
“I do, and what’s more, Mrs. Polly knows it and helped matters along, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Miss Violet was in the secret too.”
“Well, what’s going on in my house without my knowledge!”
“Now, does this give you any reason to suspect Mr. Gregg of—”
“Of killing Dad? No! And yet—hold on. Suppose Dad was sweet on the demure Emily, as Polly suspects. Might old Gregg, in a moment of fury, shoot his employer, thereby freeing the girl from his attentions and incidentally securing his legacy without further waiting? There’s food for thought.”
“Claude,” Carlisle spoke sadly, “there is almost nobody in this house who hasn’t that motive of wanting to realize at once the legacy that he might expect in the future. It is a powerful motive, and yet, is it strong enough in every case to induce suspicion?”
“It isn’t in my case,” Claude returned. “Dad gave me a rattling good allowance and let me do exactly as I pleased in every particular. I know he hated to have me go off to Hollywood, but he was a regular brick about it. Said I’d better go and get it out of my system. He thought I’d soon come trapesing back. Like as not, I should have, too. Well, then, of course, your motive doesn’t hold for Polly or Aunt Violet. They had all the money they wanted. Dad was a most generous man with his family, and usually with his friends. I don’t know why he persisted in his refusal to finance Scott’s projects.”
“What are his projects?” asked Kenneth.
“I don’t know exactly. But some sort of scientific research that takes lots of initial outlay for paraphernalia. Dad has advanced large sums several times, and I suppose he grew tired of it.”
“Doubtless. Now, granting that as a scientist Professor Scott has not only knowledge but personal skill and cleverness regarding gadgets and contrivances of various sorts, may we not assume that he could invent a way in and out of a locked room, and also, knowing his proficiency in ballistics, that he could invent a gun of some unusual or unknown type that would shoot at close range without leaving powder stains?”
“Good enough in theory,” the inspector said slowly, “but I’ve seen no evidence of such as facts.”
“Then we must turn up some evidence,” said Kenneth shortly. “I’m tired of mulling these things over. I want action of some sort. Here are three of us, with unusually clever minds and ingenious brains. Let us put our attention on this locked-room business and see if we can’t at least be as ingenious as an elderly professor.”
“I’m with you,” Claude exclaimed. “I wish Scotty were here now, we’d have him in to work with us. But he’s gone home—at least, he’s gone from here.”
“Yes, he’s at his home,” said Gilbert. “We’re keeping him shadowed, but so far he’s done nothing suspicious.”
“Probably knows he’s shadowed,” said Kenneth.
“Probably. Now, my young friends, how are you going about this rather Herculean task of finding out the puzzle of the locked room?”
“It isn’t the matter of locks that troubles me,” Kenneth said, “it’s the bolts. Locks, you know, can be manipulated by certain instruments that the enterprising burglar has invented. But bolts—now, they’re something else again.”
The three men stood before the closed door and regarded the bolt in question.
“Remember the bolted door in Big Bow Mystery?” asked Kenneth, looking from one to the other of his companions.
But neither of them did.
“The plot hinged on that bolt,” he told them. “So everybody tried to think how a bolt could be shot from the other side of a door. One of the most ingenious suggestions, I remember, was to use an enormous magnet and, holding it the other side of the door, make it draw the bolt pin along.”
“Great!” cried Claude. “Was that the way it was done?”
“No. You see the strongest magnet they could get wouldn’t work at all.”
“But,” Claude said, “that wouldn’t argue that the professor couldn’t get a magnet that would work.”
“I doubt it,” Kenneth said, shaking his head. “Anyway, that’s one way we can theorize, whether it’s true or not. Now think of another, somebody.”
“My theory,” Claude said, “is that he didn’t come in by this door into the Mortlakes’ at all. I mean, he didn’t go out that way. We must concede that in any case the murderer may have been let in by my father. What we are puzzling over is how he got out.”
They agreed to this, and Claude went on:
“Well, then, suppose the killer to have been here and accomplished his dreadful errand. Then he listens for absolute quiet in the hall outside. You know all those people who were stampeding up and down stairs all night were not at all careful to make no noise. Of course, the rugs are thick and soft, but there are many good-sized stretches of bare polished floor. Our criminal in here could hear a step on the wood floor and in some cases steps on the rugs. Anyway, I think he could pretty fairly judge when he had a clear field and could slip out. Say, then, that he had a contraption such as you’ve mentioned, a jigger that unlocks or locks doors from the other side, with the key still in the keyhole. Well, say he unlocks the door into the cloakroom and slips into the cloakroom. If there were any coats hanging there he could hide behind them. Also, there is a small closet for towels and brushes. He could have crept into that. Really, I don’t think you people half exhausted the possibilities. Well, say he stayed there until such time as he could slip out and use his clever dodge for locking the library door from that side. Then he goes out at the front door and makes his getaway.”
“Oh, you’re assuming an intruder from outside!” exclaimed Gilbert.
“Yes, or next door. If our man was staying in this house, so much the easier for him. He had only to walk upstairs openly, as Gregg did, or Randall, or—unseen—Scott. Or, of course, Fenn, though I don’t suspect Fenn for a minute.”
“We must suspect everybody available,” the inspector declared. “Fenn had the same motive as the others. His legacy, to him, was as great as the professor’s was to him. We must take that into account.”
“All right, but I don’t and can’t suspect him. You may, if you like, but I don t.”
They continued their search until luncheon was announced. Claude invited them both to stay, but neither Kenneth nor the inspector was free to accept the invitation.
“But I’m going up to see the professor this afternoon,” Gilbert said, “and I’d like one of you chaps to go with me.” The result of this was that all three decided to go and see what they could learn from Scott without letting him suspect he was being grilled.
They agreed to meet at Kenneth’s apartment at four o’clock and go on together.
Claude said he would telephone the professor that he was coming up, so that the old man would be at home.
“I’m taking Polly out for a little drive this afternoon,” Claude added. “Poor child, it’s dull for her. But I’ll be back in time to meet you fellows at four.”
He was, and the three met, as appointed, at Kenneth’s rooms. The efficient Carter looked after them, and at his master’s request, rehearsed for Claude’s benefit the story of the men who came to take away the skeleton.
“Listen, Claude,” Kenneth said, “for we may want to refer to this at the Scott session.”
“All right,” and Claude listened attentively to the tale of the fake detective and his companion.
“A big, husky feller, one of ’em was,” Carter informed, “but the other was a wimpsey little runt.”
“And supposed to be a detective?” queried Claude.
“Yes, sir,” asseverated Carter, “but all he had like a detective was his badge.”
Carter was loquacious, but Kenneth cut him off, and the trio started.
They reached the professor’s apartment and went up in the elevator.
Repeated rings at the bell brought no response, and Gilbert tried the door knob. It turned easily and, opening the door, they went in.
Leaning back in a big easy chair was the dead body of Professor Scott, shot through the heart.
“ANOTHER!” the inspector cried, in a tone more of utter exasperation than of horror at the deed.
“Poor old Scotty,” Claude murmured, going a step nearer to the still figure of the old man.
The apartment was but meagerly furnished, the room they were in being a combination of living room and bedroom. It opened into a much larger room which was a laboratory, well fitted with the apparatus and paraphernalia of a scientist. Here things were neat and tidy, but in the first room everything was in a general state of disorder.
But after a quick look into the laboratory Gilbert turned back to the death chamber.
“Shot through the heart,” he said gravely. “Much the same way Mr. Carleton was. A connection between the two crimes seems to be indicated, but we cannot be sure of that.”
“Why,” said Claude wonderingly, “why would anyone want to shoot old Scotty? A most inoffensive chap. Maybe he did bother Dad for funds now and then, but who would murder him?”
“With a scientist, you never can tell,” the inspector told him. “Maybe he had secrets the scientific world yearned for. Some invention or formula that they feared might die with him—”
“Looks as if it had,” put in Carlisle, who thought the inspector was a little rambling. “But I see what you mean. Say thieves came for the precious formula, or whatever it was, and Scott put up a fight, and this is the result.”
“Something like that,” Gilbert agreed. “But that’s not my business. I must call Headquarters and get the medical examiner and some more help.”
“Well, we sure have a clear field this time,” Kenneth said, almost happily. “Nothing, apparently, has been touched. How long’s he been dead, Inspector?”
“I can’t tell that sort of thing. Maybe a few hours, maybe less.”
Kenneth was darting about the room, touching nothing but scanning everything.
One thing caught his eye that the others seemed not to see. This was a telephone book marred in precisely the same way as the one in the Carleton library.
It was the Suburban volume, in this case, a thick, heavy book, and showing on its back cover the same small round depression and the same scratched and torn leaves.
Kenneth hesitated. Should he call their attention to it, or keep it to himself for the moment. It was as visible to them as to him. The incoming detectives would, of course, find it. But somehow he didn’t want to exploit it.
He had no desire, no need to touch it. He saw plainly that whatever had made that deep mark, those torn fragments, was without doubt the same agency that had made similar effects on the other book.
Could it be the death-dealing instrument? Some sort of ingenious contraption invented by the scientist? Yet there seemed no rational way of linking up those scarred telephone books with a death-dealing shot. Why look for anything more or different than a simple pistol, revolver or automatic? There was nothing unusual or peculiar about the wound, so far as he could see.
The professor was fully dressed, though in old and worn garments. His working clothes, of course.
A hole could be seen in his loose, baggy vest, and though there was some but not much blood, there was no sign of powder marks.
Hit at very close range, Gilbert said, with seemingly no thought of any unusual weapon. “Let him alone till Doane gets here.”
“Can’t we find out a little something?” begged Kenneth. “Get the elevator boy up, won’t you?”
The elevator boy was summoned, and his black face seemed to pale as he stared at the still figure in the chair.
“A deader?” he whispered. “Lawzy me, a deader! And ole Scott! Yessir, ole Scott! Who done it?”
“That’s what we want to know,” Gilbert said sternly.
But the lad was in no way intimidated and said cheerfully:
“W’y, de feller w’at come up wid de load of stuff.”
“When was this?” went on the inspector casually.
“’Bout three o’clock, I sh’d say, suh. A wu’kman, sorta. Anyway, he wo’e a rummicky ole suit.”
“What did he look like?”
“Mejum sized, black hair, sorta bushy like, an’ dat’s ’bout all I noticed onto him. He said he had a lot o’ stuff for de perfessor, and I telled him to hike along wid it.”
“What sort of stuff? What did he carry?”
“He had some Ginger Ale and some W’ite Rock. De ole man liked dose beverridges. Nen he had a lot o’ stuff like delikertessen or groceries. I saw some boloneys and some cheese. Looked mighty good, too!”
“Well, I can’t think a delivery boy would shoot the old man.”
“Looky here, mister, dat wasn’t no ornery deliv’ry boy.”
“How do you know?”
“He—he jes’ didn’ seem lak one.”
“Make believe, eh?”
“Yassah! Dat’s it. Make belief. He was de mudderer! He sho’ was. He had mudderer’s eyes!”
The speaker’s own eyes rolled so far around that they were ghastly in their gleaming whiteness, and he shook with the intensity of his convictions.
“What’s your name, Sambo?” asked the inspector good-naturedly.
“Nossah, ’tain’t Sambo a-tall. My name’s Hopper—Mistah Joe Hopper.”
“All right, Joe. Now, did you see this makebelieve grocer boy go down again?”
“No, dat I didn’. An’ I don’ jes know how de debbil he got down nohow. Seems lak he musta walked down de stairs.”
“What floor is this?”
“Fo’th flo’ suh. Yassah, dat chap, he done walked down. Ef he’d a gone in de elevator I’d ’a’ seed him.”
“And nobody else has been up here—for how long?”
“Well, de perfessor, he went out to his lunch ’long about twelve. Den I went out myselluf ’bout ha’-past twelve. I got back fust, and soon ’long came de perfessor, smilin’ lak he was mighty pleased ’bout somepin. He gimme a quartah, w’ich is onusual fer him. Well, he come along up, and dat musta been ’bout two o’clock, mebbe. An’ I don’t think dere’s been anybuddy else up to dis flo’ de hull endurin’ aft’noon, ’ceptin’ dat makebelief deliv’ry boy.”
“Are you sure, Joe?”
“Yessah. De mo’ I ponders it ober, de mo’ shuah I am.”
Further questioning failed to bring out any more definite information, and after cautioning the boy to keep his mouth shut Gilbert let him go.
The inspector threw himself on a chair with a look of utter despondency.
“I had all I could do with that other case,” he growled, “and now this!”
Kenneth went into the laboratory and from there on into the little pantry. He was looking for the supplies the delivery boy had brought.
He found them, too. Half a dozen each of White Rock and Ginger Ale. A paper parcel of Bologna sausage, another of cheese, some rolls, and a small pat of butter. But there was no bill or statement, no name of the grocer or delicatessen store who had supplied these things.
To be sure, the professor probably had a charge account, but even so it was customary to put in a slip memorandum of the goods sent.
Kenneth scrutinized all the appointments and furnishings of the little pantry but could see no evidence of anything wrong or peculiar.
He went back to the laboratory. The big room was full of queer-looking apparatus, most of which he could imagine no use for. He scurried about, peering under tables and benches, hoping to find some bit of evidence before the police came and gave him their unspoken but quite visible disapproval.
But he found nothing. So far as he could see, there was everything for the professor’s working experiments, and that was all. No litter, no rubbish—all was clean and orderly, in total contradiction to the untidy living room.
When he was again back in the living room, he found the police were already there.
The medical examiner made short work of his job, pronounced the cause of death a shot through the heart, fired at close range, from a pistol or gun of some sort. Impossible to be more definite until more complete examination could be made at the mortuary.
He called an ambulance and prepared to take the body away.
The detectives and finger-print men and photographers were busy at their appointed tasks, and Kenneth saw at once that, while not actively antagonistic, the police would willingly see him depart.
Of course, in the Carleton case, being invited and engaged, he had his rights, but here he was a mere intruder, without leave or license.
He whispered to Claude that he was going home, and Claude said he would go too.
They said good-bye to the inspector and left without further remark to the men from Headquarters. Of course, Gilbert would vouch for their arrival with him and would detail the conversation with the elevator boy.
They went down in Joe’s car, and as they reached the ground floor Claude exclaimed impatiently:
“Hang it, I’ve left my overcoat—”
“Well, did you think it was summer time?” jeered Kenneth. “Here, you, Joe, run up and get the gentleman’s coat.”
“No, I’ll go myself. Run me up, Joe. Come along, Kenneth, or wait for me here?”
“I’ll wait here,” Carlisle replied, not caring especially for the close atmosphere of the small and old car.
In a few moments Claude returned, his overcoat on his arm.
“It’s so warmish to-day, I don’t need it,” he said, “that’s how I came to forget it. Now, old chap, I want a talk with you. Will you come on down to the house for dinner?”
“Why, yes, unless you’ll come to dinner with me. I have a good cook—”
“No, you come to us this time, and next time it’ll be on you. I say—I forgot my coat on purpose, you see.”
“I thought you did.” They were in Kenneth’s car now, going down the Avenue.
“Yes, I wanted to see—oh, well, here’s your place in a minute. I’ll tell you to-night. Shan’t I get out here and taxi on home?”
“Oh, no, Henry will take you down. So long. I’ll blow in about seven.”
“Do. We’ll have our talk after dinner.”
Kenneth went up to his apartment in a troubled mood.
He told himself he was neither fish, flesh, nor good red herring, meaning that he was persona non grata to the police, yet he had no way of getting at the cases he wanted to look into, save through the police.
To be sure, the inspector was his friend, and he had an idea that clever chap Stokes rather liked him. But he couldn’t go ahead and work with them, for they didn’t want him and they thought they didn’t need him.
As a matter of fact, Kenneth told himself, they did need him, only they didn’t know it.
Not one of them—he had watched—had noticed that scarred telephone book, and yet, on that he was sure the whole mystery hinged. Those two books, similarly dented and torn, proved the two murders were by the same hand.
Or, there was another theory. Supposing the queer gun that did the killing, whatever that gun might be, was some heathenish invention of Professor Scott’s ingenious brain. Then, suppose someone else, knowing about it, had turned the killing instrument on its own inventor.
Without quite knowing why, Kenneth imagined an infernal machine of some sort.
To be sure, an ordinary shooting iron of any sort would answer the same purpose, it being quite possible to avoid powder burns by shooting at close range.
And, try as he would, he could think of no possible way to tie those marred books to any manner or means of shooting—from a popgun to a catapult.
No, he was too visionary to work with the police. They could see not an inch beyond their noses, but they didn’t need to, because what they looked for was always close at hand. They weren’t looking for a weird, diabolical contraption to kill people with.
The Devil’s Gun, he called it to himself.
It was this weapon that bothered him even more than the problem of the locked room. Once he understood what weapon did for Mr. Carleton, then he could take up the other mystery and make short work of it.
At least, that’s the way it seemed to him.
Also, it seemed to him that he wasn’t making much headway in the whole matter. And yet, he had an idea, a mere sprout of an idea, but sound at the root. If he could get a little more data, unknown to anyone else, he might get the thing started, and once started, he was sure—well, he was sure it was worth trying, anyhow.
He began to think that Claude Carleton was going to be of real help to him. He had taken a liking to the Carletons, Miss Violet and that flower-faced Pauline—well, he was rather pleased to dine with them.
It was a family dinner, simple from the Carleton point of view, rather elaborate from Kenneth’s.
Zélie and Don Randall were still at the house, though they had declared their intention of leaving. The two secretaries were still there, too, and, watching them closely, Kenneth came again to the conclusion that the pair were married.
He couldn’t have said why he thought this, it was not at all that they were over-affectionate or demonstrative. On the contrary, they were rather formal with each other and said little to anyone. But this, Kenneth argued, meant that they looked forward to hours alone together, and they could afford to be silent now.
It was a queer state of things. If they were married, why keep it secret? Kenneth determined to find out.
He had never entirely eliminated the possibility of Peter Gregg as the murderer, unlikely though he admitted it to be.
Deep in his thoughts, he was suddenly roused by Polly’s voice.
“Wake up, Mr. Carlisle,” she said, “I want to talk to you, and I know after dinner you’ll hide away with Claude and we shan’t see you at all.”
“Then let’s make the most of the present moment,” he said, rallying quickly. “I’m glad you want to talk to me.”
“Tell me what you think about poor old Scotty’s death. Who could have wanted to kill him?”
“A scientist, Mrs. Carleton, has many enemies, or rather, perhaps, jealous and envious colleagues or rivals. It scarcely seems possible these people would go so far as to kill him for his formulas or scientific secrets, but—he has been killed, and, so far as I know, he has no personal or social enemies. Though, of course, he may have.”
“Poor old man,” said Miss Violet, “we mustn’t speak ill of the dead, but do you know, Mr. Carlisle, I always thought he killed my brother.”
“Why?” said Kenneth. “I mean why should you think that?”
“Because he was the only one who could get into a locked room,” Violet declared, her handsome old head nodding her emphasis.
“And how could he do so?”
“Ah, that I can’t say. But he was a scientist, and he made all sorts of amazing contraptions. I’ve been to his laboratory, and he has shown off some things you couldn’t believe possible. Queer things, you know, that blew up or gyrated around or parachuted across the room and exploded.”
“Yes, and annihilated themselves. Oh, there was the devil to pay up in his workroom.”
“And you think he could have invented a way to get in and out of a locked room?”
“I’m sure he could, at least, he’s the only one who could. No one without his powers of invention could do it.”
“But, Aunt Vi,” Claude said, “it’s too bad to accuse poor old Scotty of Dad’s death when he isn’t here to defend himself.”
“Now, Claude, you know yourself he’s the only reasonable suspect. He wanted his money. He knew Manning was leaving him a big legacy, and he wanted it for his work. He begged and begged for it in advance, but Manning wouldn’t give it to him. I didn’t blame my brother, for he had already given the old man a lot of money at different times. And we know how the professor acted that night. Pounding on the library door and begging to be let in, and going off in a huff when Manning told him no. Then, what more likely than for him to go down again, much later, after everybody else had settled down quietly, and once again beg Manning to let him come in. Perhaps by that time Manning was through with what he was doing and ready to talk to the old man. Perhaps he let him come in, and then, when Scott made exorbitant demands, and Manning refused, perhaps Scott shot him and managed by his own hocus-pocus to get out of the library and leave it locked and bolted.”
“Good for you, Aunt Violet,” Claude said, “you’re a born detective. Now, no more of this sort of talk at table. I forbid it. Other subjects, if you please!”
Claude was obeyed this time, and the chat was on pleasanter matters for the rest of the dinner hour.
But directly afterward Kenneth and his host went in the library and shut the doors.
“Are your two secretaries married?” Carlisle asked casually.
“Yes. Why did you think so?”
“They act that way. Are you keeping them both on?”
“Both or neither. I don’t care much about having Gregg, but Polly wants Emily, so there you are.”
“Why don’t they announce the marriage?”
“Sheer funk, I guess. They seem to think if they tell they will at once be accused of having put Dad out of the way so they could be married. You see, it meant money for Peter and freedom to marry for both. Father was dead set against their marriage because he felt Peter would be no good as secretary if a married man. Foolish, of course, but Dad often had foolish whims. Now, I don’t suspect Gregg at all. And of course I don’t suspect Emily. That would be absurd.”
“And you do suspect…?”
“Old Scott. As a matter of fact Aunt Violet pretty much voiced my views at the dinner table. And here’s another thing. Has it ever struck you that the gun that shot Dad was some peculiar sort of weapon?”
“I don’t know. Only I don’t believe Scott came here to the New Year’s party with a revolver in his pocket. I believe he had some little gadget that he could use that was deadly and yet small enough to be inconspicuous.”
“Well, go on.”
“That’s about all. But if he did have such a thing, and if he could invent a way to leave the room locked after him, and if Dad did let him in later, after he had refused him before, why, then, we have Scott with motive, means, and opportunity.”
“That’s all so,” Kenneth agreed, speaking slowly. “But, somehow, it doesn’t ring true. What did you go back upstairs for at the apartment, this afternoon?”
“Just that very thing. I imagined Gilbert had the gun contraption or whatever the shooting was done with and was holding out on us. I thought he would exhibit it as soon as we were out of sight and hearing. So I left my coat purposely and went back for it softly, hoping to catch them out.”
“And did you?”
“No.” Claude looked disappointed. “They were all in the laboratory poking about among the half-finished models and inventions. I think it’s a shame to allow it. They might easily spoil a whole important model, or interfere with an unfinished experiment. Gilbert ought not to let them do it. But I didn’t say anything. I picked up my coat, threw it over my arm, and stalked out. It’s strange how the police resent the presence of laymen, even though they might be helpful.”
“They not only resent it, in many places it is forbidden. And to be sure, lots of times the outsiders make more trouble than their suggestions are worth. Very few civilians are as clever as we are, my boy.”
Carlisle’s eyes twinkled, and if Claude suspected a bit of irony he gave no sign.
“Has the old man any people?” Kenneth asked. “Who will get his inheritance?”
“I’ve no idea, I think he has some relatives down East or somewhere. If not, I hope the money will go to further his scientific research work in some way. That’s what he would have wanted. Likely he left a will. Now, there’s no use, as I can see, in our broadcasting any suspicion of Professor Scott as a murderer. We’ve no proof, and besides, the man is dead. Neither justice nor vengeance could overtake him now, and it seems useless to raise the question.”
“I agree to that, unless the police raise it themselves.”
“That’s why I went back. I wanted to see by their attitudes if they had discovered anything definite or anything pointing to Scott’s guilt or guilty knowledge.”
“And you saw nothing?”
“Nothing at all. You can tell, you know, by the attitude of the men, whether they are interested or whether they are just blankly searching for something to turn up.”
“Yes, I think you can. Well, then, what’s your idea of our next proceeding?”
“Nothing, just nothing at all. If Scott killed my father, I am willing to let his death wipe out the crime. If he didn’t, we surely don’t want to drag his name in the dirt. My one desire now is to drop the search, hush up the whole matter, call off the police, and try to forget it all.”
“Will the police consent to that?”
“They’ll have to, if we drop it all. They may stick to it for a time, but it will soon be relegated to the limbo of unsolved mysteries.”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
LIKE many men who are energetic and efficient when working, Carlisle was given to indulgence and luxury when idle.
The next day being Sunday, he concluded to devote his day of rest to a comfortable résumé of the Carleton-Scott case or cases, as they might prove to be.
His bright and cheerful living room, with large windows on two sides, a cozy wood fire burning, and various easy chairs with attendant tables or smoke stands, was an ideal place to loaf about and ruminate.
Carter brought a breakfast tray and the Sunday papers, but these were rapidly though thoroughly dealt with, and Kenneth settled down to smoke and think.
Naturally, his thoughts centered round Professor Scott. To go back to New Year’s Eve, there was a possibility that the professor had sent the skeleton. His motive was doubtless one of two. Either it was merely a silly prank, the playful gesture of a doddering old man, or it was a deep-laid and wicked plot to give Manning Carleton such a shock that it would affect his weak heart and bring about a stroke or a sudden heart failure that would be fatal.
Carlisle didn’t just think of these things and then forget them, he studied their possibilities and probabilities, and he finally decided that it was a plausible theory that Scott was implicated in the skeleton matter.
The fact that the old professor asked for the skeleton seemed to prove that he was nervously anxious to get it, and that seemed more like the anxiety of an evildoer than the desire of a poverty-stricken scientist to get a skeleton to experiment with.
Besides, Scott had no line of research work, so far as Carlisle knew, that called for anatomical investigation. His line was scientific invention and research, and especially in that field Gilbert had mentioned. What was it, now? Ballistics. It had to do with firearms and projectiles. A strange science that! Why did it make him think of popguns and catapults?
His old college tasks flitted through his mind.
Yes, he remembered. A ballista was a catapult. To be sure, a catapult was a far cry from a popgun, but they had their propulsiveness in common.
Still he was haunted by the two scarred telephone books.
Try as he would, he couldn’t make his cogitations run along prescribed paths. He gave up trying and let his fancies have free range.
And as he thought and imagined, he seemed to see a diabolical contraption or device that had shot Manning Carleton and that had also shot the old professor, and that in each case, for some reason, had torn the cover of the telephone book.
That argued, then, that the device, whatever it was, stood on the thick book when it was used.
Now, Carlisle was seized with a wild desire to possess one or both of those torn books. Surely they held the secret. Surely he could wrest that secret from the torn pages if he had them at his home, alone, to think over slowly.
He called up the old apartment house where the professor had lived.
He asked for the elevator boy, Joe Hopper.
At last he heard a very faint and somewhat frightened voice saying:
“Yassuh—yassuh—here I is!”
“All right, Joe, don’t be scared. You remember me yesterday? I was with the inspector when he first came.”
“Oh, shuah! Cert’nly. Was you de man whut lef’ his obercoat or de odder one?”
“I’m the other one. My name’s Carlisle. Now, you listen. Can you get into Professor Scott’s apartment?”
“Don’ spec’ so. De perlice locked it all up.”
“Yes, but how about a pass key, or a back way, or a pantry window?”
“Golly! You wants me do dat?”
“I sure do. I’ll see you through. I’m a detective myself, you know. I want you to help me. When are you off?”
“In ’bout halluf a nour now.”
“All right. As soon’s you’re off, you get into that apartment somehow, no matter how, and get the Suburban telephone book. See?”
“De big fat one?”
“Yes, I guess it is the fattest one nowadays. Anyhow, I want the Suburban, no other. And I want that one from the professor’s room. Don’t bring me one from any other place. No matter if it is torn. And don’t tear it any more. Handle it carefully.”
“You wants me to tote it down to your place?”
“Lordy! How’ll I get my dinnah? I only has a nour.”
“You get the book and hike yourself down here, and I’ll give you a chicken dinner—a good one. Here’s my address, got a pencil?”
“Yessah. Did you say chicken dinnah, sah?”
“I did. But you be careful of that book. Wrap it in a newspaper.”
“Yessah. Be dar d’reckly, sah. Reck’n I c’n get off little ahead er time, sah.”
Kenneth laughed as he heard the eagerness in the boy’s voice, and calling Carter he bade him tell the cook to hustle a perfectly good chicken dinner in short order.
And then he set his thoughts in order, even making a list of points he wanted to ask Joe about.
About noon the boy came, carrying a large parcel, obediently wrapped in newspaper.
“Hello, Joe,” said Kenneth cordially. “Come along in. I see you have the book I wanted.”
“Well, yessah, I hab. But lemme tell yo’, it wasn’t in de perfessor’s room a-tall. Dat it wasn’t!”
“But I wanted the one that was in the professor’s room. I don’t want any other.”
“An’ yo’ don’ get no odder. Lissen here. In Perfessor Scott’s room, his settin’ room, you know, dere was all de odder tellyfone books, but not de Subbubban. I knows ’em all. Course I do. De Manhattan and de Bronnix and de Brooklyn and de Red Book, dey was all dere, but not de Subbubban. Nossir! Well, what to do?”
“When did you look?”
“Right after you tole me to. Dis mawnin’. I tell you trufe, it jes’ wasn’t dar. Well, I s’picioned sumbuddy had frowed it away, ’cos you said it was tore like. So I hops outside, an’ in de rubbish can I done found it.”
By this time Kenneth had the newspaper cover off and saw at once it was the book he wanted. At least, it was a Suburban book with the indentation and marring he had seen on the book in the professor’s room.
“Where was the rubbish can?” he said slowly.
“In de janitor’s cubbid. Dere’s one on each flo’ where anybody kin frow trash. Dere wasn’t much in it to-day, but dat book was right on top. Whut time does you have dinnah, suh?”
Kenneth smiled and summoned Carter.
“This chap’s chicken ready?” he asked.
“Yes, sir, just about. Mortimer says he can come along.”
“Go to it, Joe,” said Kenneth. “Eat all you can, and then come back here prepared to answer a lot of questions.”
“Yessah, okay, sah,” and the boy went jubiliantly away.
“Dirty work at the crossroads,” murmured Carlisle, as he stared at the book. “I left it there, with its good side up, when I came away. Now, either those fool policemen saw it and thinking it was in disreputable shape threw it in the trash barrel, or, sometime last night, the murderer went there and disposed of it himself.
“I’m convinced these two torn telephone books have something to do with the two murders. I’m sure the two crimes are connected. But I can’t puzzle out how or why. I believe I’ve a helper in Joe. I’ll give him a chicken dinner as often as he’ll give me as good a return for it as he has to-day.
“Yet, after all, this may mean nothing. Gilbert may have chucked it out, thinking it an old one. Yet he saw the marred book at the Carleton house, can’t he put two and two together? Stokes wouldn’t pitch it out, he’s too clever. Must have been one of those dumb policemen who only serve by standing round and waiting. Well, I have it, anyway. And I observe it is precisely the same banged-up, scratched-up, torn-up affair as the other one. Why? And what a narrow squeak that I did get it! I suppose only because it’s Sunday and the trash wasn’t emptied to-day.”
He was still pondering over his puzzle when Joe returned.
“Lawzee, Mr. Callile, dat was shuah one bang-up dinnah! I’m mighty obligated to yo’, I shuah am!”
“All right, Joe. Now, sit down there and talk. Was there anything else in that trash barrel from the professor’s rooms?”
“Guess not. ’Cos de book laid right on top of a lot of rags of ribbin an’ lace dat musta come from some lady’s was’e basket. See?”
“I see. Are you sure?”
“Yessah, I am. ’Cos de book was flopped right into de lot of rags.”
“Who do you think put it there?”
“W’y, anybuddy mought ’a’ done dat. I s’pose de perlice, mebbe.”
“Perhaps. Now, tell me more about the chap who brought up the White Rock and stuff. Describe him again. Was he about my build?”
“Nossah.” Joe eyed Carlisle. “Not so tall, I’d say, an’ mo’ weightier. Sumpin’ like the heft ob dat man w’at I took up wid you later. De one w’at went back fo’ his obercoat.”
“Yes? That’s Mr. Carleton. Was your chap as good-looking as Carleton?”
“Well, nossah. He was po’ly dressed—no, mo’ to say, ca’lessly dressed. He looked like he didn’ care whut he wore a-tall. His collah wasn’t so awful fash’nable, an’ his tie wasn’t tied ve’y proper. But his eyes dey kep’ dah’tin roun’, and he saw ebberyting dey was to see. Yessah, he didn’ miss nuffin’!”
“And you don’t think he was a regular delivery boy?”
“Nossah, I don’t. An’ he wasn’t no boy, he was a man. Growed.”
“I dunno. Say, ’bout thutty.”
“Sorta. ’Cept his eyes. Dey was sorta glassy like, de way mudderer’s eyes is.”
“You never saw a murderer.”
“Well, de way mudderer’s eyes oughta be, den. An’ I’ve seed ’em in de movies. An’ dis guy was jes’ lak ’em.”
“Do you really think he killed Professor Scott?”
“Co’se I do, fer sartin. Kem up p’tendin’ to be a deliv’ry fella, and den, once he was inside, he kilt de ole man.”
“You didn’t think he had any evil intent when you took him up?”
“Co’se not. How could I? But w’en I heard de ole man was dead, den I knowed. Yassah, I knowed!”
“You couldn’t know, Joe. You mean you imagined or surmised—”
“Dunno ’bout dose highfalutin’ wo’ds, but I knowed. De Spi’ts tole me.”
The boy looked very solemn, almost weird, as his great eyes rolled around and his voice fell to a low whisper. He had the look most of his race put on when they refer to death in any form or in any connection.
“Don’t get off any foolishness about spirits with me.”
“’Tain’t foolishness, Mistah Callile, hones’ it ain’t. But w’en I seed dat glassy-eyed fellah I jes’ knowed—”
“Look here, Joe, did you ever see anybody who took drugs—dope, you know.”
“Yassah, I hab.”
“Did this chap look like that?”
“Well, sah, he mought. But mo’ lak a beginnah, sah, not w’at dey calls a addick.”
“I see. Not an addict, that is, not far gone in the vice.”
“Dat’s it. He didn’ seem lak he was a drinkin’ fella, yet he was sumpin’ funny. I guess you hit it wid de dope racket.”
“Tell me more about him. What did he say to you?”
“Nufin’. Nuffin’ a-tall. Jes’ asked whut number was de perfessor’s place.”
“Had no peculiarity, no tricky little habit?”
“Not dat I noticed. ’Cept, well, yessah, he did snap his fingers de hull endurin’ time.”
“Snap his fingers?”
“Yessah. In a cu’ous way. I’se been tryin’ to do it ebber since. Dis way, see?”
Joe snapped all four of his finger tips against his palm, but in succession, not simultaneously. It was a crude gesture, but Kenneth could see that done by an expert it would be an intriguing little trick.
He tried it himself, but quickly decided it would need practice.
“That’s the sort of thing I mean, Joe,” he said. “Now, do you think of anything else?”
But Joe’s memory had run its course, and he could only repeat what he had already told.
“His voice, Joe, what was his voice like?”
“I on’y heard it de once w’en he asked fo’ de apahtment numbah, so I dunno much ’bout it. But it was high up like, sorta squeeky.”
“Not a deep chest voice, then?”
“Oh, nossah. Not dat.”
Concluding he could learn no more from the lad, Carlisle gave him a douceur that sent him on his way rejoicing.
After Joe’s departure Kenneth stalked up and down the room, lost in thought. He took slight interest in luncheon and finally decided he must learn more about ballistics or his education was far from complete.
He telephoned Inspector Gilbert and inquired as to Professor Scott’s friends or relatives.
There were no relatives, it seemed, in New York City, and the only friends known about were two or three elderly professors, probably dry-as-dust, like Scotty himself.
Carlisle took a couple of their addresses and went to see them.
He was fortunate in finding the first one in, a wizened old man with bright eyes and an alert air.
He seemed pleased to see Kenneth, doubtless being ill equipped in the matter of friends.
After some discussion of Professor Scott’s prowess in his chosen lines, Kenneth introduced the subject of ballistics.
To his satisfaction he found this a favorite topic of the old man, whose name, Hemmingway, was well known among his confreres, if not to the world at large.
He explained, without too much technicality, the general principles of firearms and projectiles.
When Kenneth described to him the peculiar marring of the telephone books at the scene of both murders, Hemmingway grew deeply interested.
“No powder marks,” he repeated, “of course not. It was probably an air gun.
Kenneth smiled. “I had popgun in my head all along.”
“I didn’t say popgun, although that is, of course, a simple type of air gun. But, you see, a real air gun has a terrible back kick. Your murderer would want something to absorb and protect him from that, and what better than a thick, soft telephone book? And the resultant condition of that book would be just what you describe.”
“And the air-gun shot would be fatal?”
“Assuredly. It is a weapon not often used nowadays, but deadly in its work. Moreover, it may be tiny. They are made not much bigger than a lead pencil. Well, yes, larger than that, say the size of a carpenter’s lead pencil.”
“And if one did not use the telephone book or something equally resilient and receptive?”
“Then one would be severely wounded. There must be a shock absorber.”
“And you can think of no other way to shoot at close range, without leaving powder burns?”
“There is no other way.”
“And where would one get this air-gun arrangement?”
“That would be the difficulty. I can think of no way to get one but to make it yourself.”
“And what knowledge must I possess to make it myself?”
“Full and complete knowledge of firearms and projectiles, working experience in the manufacture of the same, and a well equipped laboratory with capable assistants.”
“Not so easy to come by,” commented Carlisle. “Could Professor Scott have made one of these infernal machines?”
“Oh, yes, easily. And they are not infernal machines. That phrase connotes gunpowder or some other explosive. An airgun needs only an air cap and there you are.”
“And a bullet.”
“Of course. Or a lead slug. Or a dart.”
“No, a dart wasn’t used. Well, Professor Hemmingway, you’ve been very kind, and I’m grateful for your courtesy.”
“Not at all, young man. Come in again, if I can help you further.”
Leaving there, Kenneth went down to the Carleton house.
He was always sure of a welcome there. Even if Claude should be out, Miss Violet or the fair Pauline invariably received him kindly and had time to devote to his entertainment.
Sunday afternoon meant the probability of other guests, but Kenneth chanced it and walked all the way down from the high-numbered streets where professors have their haunts.
There were some other callers there, and Miss Violet was entertaining them in the drawing room, so Kenneth sauntered on through the hall to Polly’s pretty boudoir.
“Come in,” she called, “come in, Mr. Carlisle. I’d like you to meet my brother.”
This was the first Kenneth had heard that Polly had a brother, which, however, was not surprising, as heretofore the private investigator had called only in a business way.
Egbert Warren, Polly introduced him, and her manner betokened a pride as well as a deep affection in this relative of hers. The affection Kenneth could understand, as most sisters are fond of their brothers, but the pride was not so easily explained.
For Egbert was far from impressive in looks or manner.
Pale brown hair, a thin, smooth-shaven face, hazel eyes with little animation in them, and a limp, lackadaisical handshake summed up the physical effects of Egbert Warren.
But, noting Polly’s admiration of him in her eyes, Kenneth bestirred himself to take the cue.
“I’ve been hobnobbing with the wise and learned,” he began, by way of opening a conversation. “An old professor must have a thin time of it, don’t you think?”
“Professor Scott did,” and Polly suddenly looked saddened. “Think of that poor man dying there alone, and so far as I know he’s alone yet. I mean they can’t find any relatives or people.”
“Don’t talk about death all the time, Poll,” said her brother pettishly. “I wouldn’t have come here, and you know it, except you promised not to harp on the murder. And here you go on another one.”
“That’s so, Eg, I did promise that. Mr. Carlisle, tell us something not in any way connected with tragedy.”
“Comedy, then?” he said lightly. “Well, I’ll tell you about Joe. Black Joe.”
“Old Black Joe?” asked Polly.
“No, about seventeen, I should say. I had him to dinner to-day, and though I didn’t sit with him at table I’m told he ate a whole chicken of goodly size.”
“With trimmings?” inquired Polly.
“Oh, yes. And mince pie and nuts and raisins and cider.”
“Sounds good,” commented Egbert. “Wish I’d been there myself.”
“My cook is a marvel at cooking chicken,” Kenneth told him. “Come round some day and try for yourself. You live in town?”
“Egbert doesn’t go about much,” his sister said quickly.
“But I can,” he retorted. “You let me alone, Sis. If Mr. Carlisle is asking me in earnest, I’m going. I love chicken.”
“Stay here to dinner to-night, and we’ll have it,” Polly said placatingly. “So Black Joe had the time of his life?”
“Yes,” Kenneth went on. “I rather think he doesn’t have a groaning board to sit at every day.”
“Who is he? A protégé of yours?”
“Oh, no. He’s an elevator boy in the house where Professor Scott lived.”
Carlisle had no more than uttered the words when he remembered that any mention of death or murder was taboo in the presence of brother Egbert.
Hastily he changed the subject and apropos of nothing said:
“Is Miss D’Orsay here still, or has she gone home?”
“She’s still here.” Polly seemed to welcome the change. “She’s gone for a drive with Don. You see, I’m a born matchmaker, and I’m trying to bring about a romance there.”
“And you find obstacles in your path?” Kenneth smiled at her, for Randall’s worship of the lovely Pauline was an open secret.
“Oh, no.” She blushed a little.
“You know he adores you, Poll,” said her brother. “Why don’t you take him, now you’re free?”
“Hush, Egbert, don’t talk like that. Be good, now, or I’ll send you home.”
“No, you won’t send me home. I won’t go. You can’t boss me round like you used to. You know that as well as I do.”
He snapped his fingers at her, and Pauline playfully caught his hand in both her own roseleaf palms.
“GO into the drawing room, Mr. Carlisle,” Pauline said, “and Violet will give you tea, or whatever you want. I’m coming in directly.”
The merest shadow of a nod of dismissal made Kenneth obey immediately, and he went out into the hall.
But instead of the drawing room he drifted into the smoking room, where Claude sat, talking with the two secretaries.
“Hello,” said Claude cordially. “Sit chap. Glad to see you. I’m having a gabfest with our two turtledoves.”
“The secret’s out, then?” and Kenneth smiled as he shook hands with the newly-weds.
“It seems so,” and Emily made a little grimace. “And I suppose it doesn’t matter.”
“No,” said Peter, “it wasn’t really half the world shaker we anticipated. I find very few people care whether we’re married or not.”
“Very few people care about anything that doesn’t immediately concern themselves,” Kenneth said. “Have you planned your future?”
“We’re just talking it over,” Claude told him. “You see, I don’t really need a secretary. Gregg is ideal, but I couldn’t keep him busy. Dad had outside lines. I haven’t. There’s nothing to do but draw checks to pay the bills I run up.”
“But Mrs. Carleton wants her efficient helper?”
“Well, you see, Polly won’t be entertaining or going out much just now. We’re thinking of going round the world, with Violet along as chaperon.”
“If you’re going away, then, I must see to some matters in this house that I’ve left unattended to.”
“Good heavens, man, we’re not starting right off now!” cried Claude, but Kenneth had already gone through the little cloakroom to the library.
Claude followed him, and the two Greggs came also.
They found Carlisle seated in Manning Carleton’s desk chair, idly swiveling back and forth and then sideways.
He was looking very thoughtful and gazed up at the intruders with a slight frown.
“Doing the super-sleuth act?” said Claude, with the first trace of ill-natured sarcasm he had ever flung at the detective.
“Just that,” returned Kenneth gravely. “You see, sitting here in your father’s chair, I may get—”
“I didn’t know you believed in the supernatural,” Claude jeered. “Aura is the word you want, I think.”
“Not quite,” Kenneth smiled. “I’m not cultivating the spooks. No, I mean that I may see something that I’ve missed before.”
“Then let me help,” said Claude, evidently entirely over his burst of ill temper. “But surely you’ve looked over everything on the desk a hundred times.”
“I know it, but there’s always the hundred and first.”
As he spoke Carlisle was writing on a paper pad with a pencil he had taken from the pen rack before him.
Replacing it, he took another pencil and wrote a few words with it. Then the third, the blue pencil, and after that he took up a pen.
Dipping it in the inkwell, he wrote again, and then used a fountain pen that lay there.
“You skipped that other pen,” said Claude, seeming amused at the performance.
“So I did,” and Kenneth took up the pen in question, inked it, and wrote once more on his page.
“It’s a joy to write in here,” he said casually. “The ink is always fresh, the pens clean, the blotter new, and the pencils sharp.”
“Mr. Carleton was meticulous about such things,” Peter Gregg said. “I always looked the desk over before he came in of a morning, but I never found a thing to criticize. Fenn has the under people trained to perfection.”
“You were married before Mr. Carleton died?” Carlisle asked suddenly, looking at Gregg.
“Yes, and if he hadn’t—er—departed this life, I don’t know what we were going to do.”
“You’d have had to depart from here yourselves,” Claude told him. “Dad would never have forgiven you.”
“No, I suppose not. And he would have cut me out of his will. But as it is, the outlook is rosy. Even if we don’t stay on here, I can get a job, I’m sure. You’d give me a reference, I suppose?”
He looked at Claude with a gay impudence, and Kenneth marveled at his lack of tact and taste.
“Aren’t you afraid you’ll be a suspect if you’re so openly pleased at the death of your benefactor?” he said seriously.
“No,” Gregg replied airily. “You see, I’m innocent, and they don’t suspect innocent men. Also, he wasn’t my benefactor.”
“What, after leaving you that generous bequest?”
“That wasn’t a generous bequest, it was hush money. I knew something Mr. Carleton didn’t want told, and he paid for my secrecy.”
“Can you tell it now?”
“I can, but I don’t propose to.”
“Has it any bearing on the tragedy?”
“Not so far as I know. Now, if you’re through asking me questions, Mr. Carlisle, I think we’ll go out for a walk. How about it, Emily?”
“Yes, I’d like to go.”
The pair departed, and Kenneth and Claude looked at each other.
“A queer Dick,” Claude said. “I think he has a kink in his mind. Also a superiority complex.”
“But he’s not the criminal,” Kenneth responded.
“Why are you so sure?”
“He’s too bold and daring. Even his superiority complex couldn’t carry him through like that. What is his secret? Do you know?”
“I don’t believe he has any. Or if he has, it’s some foolish, insignificant thing. And that speech about hush money is absurd. My father wouldn’t stoop to anything of that sort. What have you written with all the pens and pencils? You know what people scribble thoughtlessly is an index to their characters.”
“My character is very unoriginal, then,” and Kenneth laughed as he showed the scribbled page.
Every entry was the same, merely the present date. Sunday afternoon, and the month and year.
“Unoriginal intentionally?” Claude smiled as he scanned the page. “But it tells something. You’re not conceited, or you would have written your own name, with flourishes beneath. You don’t suspect anyone who was here when you wrote, or you would have written their names. You weren’t absorbed in some outside matter, or you would have written some reference to it. Your mind was an utter blank, and so you wrote the first thing you saw, which was the date on that calendar in front of you.”
A good bit surprised, Kenneth looked at the calendar and saw that the date was there, arranged precisely as he had written it.
“But,” went on Claude, “I think you emptied your mind on purpose. Left it blank for any passing impression to register. You knew we’d look at what you wrote.”
“I say,” Kenneth cried, “you’re clever enough to have committed this murder yourself!”
“Of course I am—so are you. But here’s what bothers me. Even if I am clever enough to have done this thing, I’m not clever enough to ferret out who really did do it. For I didn’t—truly, old man, I didn’t. We Carletons are not murderers, and—well, I can’t conceive of the villain who could kill his own father! I assure you I did not!”
Kenneth Carlisle’s experience had taught him much as to recognizing the truth when it was handed to him, and he knew that Claude spoke absolute truth. The ring of his voice and the straight, boring glance of his eye carried entire conviction to the detective, and Kenneth’s answering nod was one of complete agreement and belief.
“And so,” Claude went on, “I really think we’d better give up the search. I fear that Scott’s death has complicated matters.”
“Well, I think maybe there were episodes in my father’s past life that Scott knew about. Things I, of course, knew nothing of, but things not entirely creditable to my father. This would explain Scott’s sending that skeleton with its implication of—of wrongdoing on Dad’s part, long ago.”
“You needn’t put it so bluntly.”
“Sorry, old man. But I’m in dead earnest now.”
“You’re no more in dead earnest than I am. And, by the way, Carlisle, I didn’t engage you on this case, you know.”
“No, and I’ve always wondered who did. Somebody telephoned me to come right down here. My man took the message—”
“Yes, I know all that. And you don’t know who telephoned?”
“No, do you?”
“Of course I do. I asked a few questions when I got home the next day.”
“I asked questions too, but I got no satisfactory answers.”
“No, you see, everybody was afraid to speak out. Well, the man who asked you to come down here was Professor Scott.”
“You’re sure of this?”
“Certain. Fenn knew it, but he’s a most secretive chap. However, old Scotty himself told Aunt Violet that he sent for you because he wanted your talent on the case.”
“Well, he got it”—Kenneth looked chagrined—“and much good it has done him or anybody else.”
“All of that and then some! Discouraged, disheartened, disgruntled, disconcerted—discombobulated generally!”
“Poor boy! But it’s not surprising. It’s an insoluble case, I’ll say. Though I’ve heard that the harder a case seems, the more easily it is solved.”
“I don’t think that’s always true. Anyway, who could imagine how the murderer got out of this room?”
“Look here, Carlisle. Take that thing practically. Don’t look for concealed exits or supernatural causes, but try it like this. Suppose, just for sake of argument, it was old Scotty, after all. Suppose he came down here and persuaded Father to let him in. Suppose he meant to beg for the money he wanted and if he didn’t get it he meant to do him in and get the legacy.”
“Now, wait a minute, hear me through. Suppose, then, that Dad was obdurate and wouldn’t give in an inch. Then Scott, who is an inventive genius in the matter of firearms, outs with a gun of some sort, most likely an ordinary pistol, and shoots Father through the heart. Then, of course, comes the getting-out stunt. Well, he doesn’t get out until the crowd breaks in. He knows this is bound to happen sooner or later, and he just waits. When he hears the noise out in the hall and hears them get a policeman and all that, he is on the alert and follows all their movements. He knows when they try to get in at the window, when they find they can’t and when they decide to break in the rear door. Then he gets behind that door, you see there’s room enough, and when they do break in, they’re all so intent on looking at Father, who is in the bright lights, of course, that they pay no attention to anything else, and old Scotty slips out unnoticed. Then he can hide behind the coats hanging in the cloakroom, or go at once up to his own room, or mingle with the others as they come downstairs—he has everything his own way.”
Kenneth, who had listened attentively, nodded his head, was silent for a minute, and then said slowly:
“Well, then who killed Scott and why?”
“I think that was a different matter altogether. I don’t believe the two crimes were in any way connected. But I do believe Professor Scott was the one and the only one implicated in the death of my father, and now that he is dead I can’t see any purpose in going any farther into the matter.”
“You may be right,” Kenneth said after a pause. “I don’t say you’re not. But I do ask permission to pursue the matter a little farther. I won’t consider myself engaged, as you call it, I won’t bother anybody, but I do want to satisfy myself on a few points. To change the subject, I was surprised to learn that Mrs. Carleton had a brother.”
“Why? Brothers are not unusual phenomena.”
“No, but I’d never heard of him before.”
“Not a great deprivation. Egbert is a good enough chap, but—well, nutty. Of course, I don’t mean really lacking, but just—odd, queer, anything you choose to call it.”
“You’re taking him round the world with you?”
“Heavens, no! Why would I do that?”
“He seems so devoted to his sister and so dependent upon her.”
“Well—as I have hinted to you before, I’m hoping that when we come back from our trip Mrs. Carleton will be dependent on me, and Brother Egbert will take a back seat.”
“I hope so, I’m sure. Mrs. Carleton is charming and lovely, a decided contrast to her less attractive brother.”
“Yes, indeed. Now, Carlisle, old man, I don’t want to be insistent, but you understand, don’t you, that I’d rather you’d lay off this matter?”
“Yes, I do. And I’ve promised not to bother or annoy you. By the way, Inspector Gilbert is on a new trail. He’s thinking of Mortlake.”
“I don’t think he’s right, but he may be. Mortlake had a lot against Dad. I don’t want to go into it, but you and Gilbert can do so if you like. I just want to get away from it all. Pauline and Aunt Violet feel the same way—that’s why we’re going on our trip.”
“And this house will be shut up while you are gone?”
“Well, yes, naturally.”
“Oh, of course. I don’t care, only, as I said, I’ll make my little investigations, and they are little, before you go.”
“All right, go to it. Report any developments to me, will you—if any?”
“Yes, I will. I promise you.”
Claude left the room on that, and Kenneth sat there alone, gazing about him. He took a fresh sheet of paper and again scribbled some dates, but this time he used no pencils, only the various pens.
He folded the paper and was about to put it in his pocket when he paused and changed his mind. Rising and going to the bookcase, he took down an old French dictionary. He laid the paper carefully in this and returned the volume to its place on the shelf, taking care to preserve the previous alignment of the books.
Then, after a little more silent thought, he opened the door and went out.
He went out through the cloakroom, and noted that what Claude had said was perfectly true. Scott, or anyone else, could have hidden behind the door in the library until the door was broken in, then could have slipped out and hidden in the cloakroom.
It looked easy, but—was it? Was it likely that the eager investigators, the burly policeman, Fenn himself, would let anybody slip through?
Moreover, he was under the impression that Scott had been with the investigating party. Claude might easily have misunderstood this, for he had only a hearsay account of the whole affair.
So Kenneth went in search of Fenn and found his recollection was right. The professor had been with the group outside the front windows and with them when they broke in the door. Fenn was positive on these points and referred Kenneth to the patrolman Garvin.
Still, the detective ruminated, Claude’s theory was sound enough, only it must be tied up to some other suspect than Professor Scott.
This made him think of Mortlake, and he concluded to go to see that somewhat retiring individual.
As there was no one in the drawing room he bade Fenn make his adieux to the ladies and went to call at the other house.
Even as he went, he felt surprise at himself that he had not been there before.
Though no believer in the supernatural, he sometimes felt premonitions, and occasionally they turned out to be true ones.
Now, he had an inexplicable conviction that he was about to learn something, and, as he told himself emphatically, he could do with that!
The two Mortlakes received him coolly but not in a really unfriendly manner. It would be hard for anyone to be unfriendly with a chap so genial as Kenneth Carlisle normally was.
They sat in the front room of the house, a living room which lived up to its name, showing, as it did, the work basket of Mrs. Mortlake and the smoking stand of Mr. Mortlake on either side of the fireplace.
Both his hosts were calm and composed, and Carlisle saw at once it was not going to be an easy matter to bring up the subject of the murder casually.
So he plunged into it without waiting for opportunity.
“I called,” he said quietly, “to ask your opinion regarding the death of Professor Scott and how it affects your opinion regarding the death of Mr. Carleton.”
“Do you know our opinion regarding the death of Mr. Carleton?” asked Jack Mortlake, speaking for himself and his wife, since the question had been addressed to both.
“No,” returned Kenneth. “Do you care to tell it to me?”
“Well, it’s only theory,” Mortlake began, but as he seemed quite ready to go on, Kenneth merely nodded and waited.
It had been said of Carlisle that his nod was enough to make the deepest-dyed criminal unburden himself freely. It was a nod that conveyed sympathy, understanding, and encouragement, and finding it useful, Kenneth frequently employed it.
“We think Fenn was the criminal,” Mortlake proceeded in a narrative way. “You know, the butler.”
“Yes,” Kenneth agreed, “I know him. I’ve wondered why nobody ever suspected him.”
“Well, we do. You see, he’s the only one, outside the Carletons themselves, who would know all about the communicating door. Of course, he would.”
“Yes, of course.”
“Well, we cut the three Carletons out of it. We don’t think Miss Violet or Claude would commit murder, being Carletons, and having great pride of family and all that.”
Mrs. Mortlake sniffed, as one having had experience with the “pride of family” her husband mentioned.
“And of course,” Mortlake went on, “those guests knew nothing about the door. But Fenn did.”
“Oh, he wanted his legacy. He is getting old and he wants his little place in the country while he can enjoy it. And he and old man Carleton had been rather at odds of late.”
“You know this?”
“Oh, yes. Servants’ gossip—than which there is no more reliable evidence.”
Kenneth gasped at this: he had been wont to believe of all things servants’ gossip was the least dependable.
But Mrs. Mortlake’s vigorous nods of acquiescence made him think perhaps they knew better than he did.
“Well, say Fenn planned to do this thing. He could easily manage to get into this house while we were asleep and unfasten the door on our side. Then, having unfastened the Carleton side before he came here, he could merely walk in, kill the old gentleman, and come back into this house. He could do it so quietly we wouldn’t hear him, in our rear bedrooms. Then, he locks the door on this side again and bolts it, and goes back home, and awaits developments.”
“But the door on the Carleton side is now unlocked and unbolted both.”
“What of it? The curtain hangs over it, and when they break in and find the dead body, they are so interested and excited, they pay no attention to the door between. Indeed, I heard it was not mentioned till some time later, when, of course, Fenn could have locked and bolted it again.”
Carlisle pondered on this, looking Mortlake straight in the face as he did so.
“As a theory,” he said, “it certainly holds water. You can’t get away from that.”
“No, you can’t get away from that. And, as you know, I told you at first it was merely a theory.”
“And now,” Kenneth followed up, “as I asked you at first, how does the death of Professor Scott verify or alter this theory of yours?”
Mortlake took occasion to ponder over this question, and Mrs. Mortlake threw herself into the breach.
“There are two answers to that,” she said, speaking slowly and very precisely; “either Scott knew of Fenn’s guilt, and Fenn killed Scott to save himself, or else—”
“Or else?” prompted Kenneth.
“Or else the two murders are not connected at all.”
“Logical, Mrs. Mortlake, entirely logical. And which theory do you favor?”
“I think Fenn discovered that Scott knew his guilty secret, and he killed him or had him killed.”
“But this too is all theory?”
“Yes,” Jack Mortlake waked up again, “yes, theory, but sound good sense. I can’t think some outsider came in and did for Carleton, or for Scott either. Now, Fenn, a man of deep passions, as we have reason to know,” he glanced at his wife, “is quite capable of crime.”
“You ought to explain that, Jack,” Mrs. Mortlake said. “You see, Fenn was in love with a housekeeper of ours, years ago. And he almost killed her. So we know he is of the killer type.”
Long after Kenneth Carlisle reached his home and sat thinking in his own rooms, he mulled over that speech, “of the killer type.”
For it seemed to him that all the Mortlakes had said, except that, referred just as definitely to Jack Mortlake as to the butler Fenn.
NEXT morning Kenneth Carlisle found his subconscious brain still obsessed by those words, “the killer type.”
Now Carlisle was one of those practical individuals who didn’t believe in types to any great extent.
He held that one recognized a clergyman by his garb and not by his cast of countenance or manner of moving about. A restaurant waiter could be dressed to look like an artist or a musical composer made up to represent a gunman.
It was, of course, Carlisle’s Hollywood experiences that had given him these convictions, and he had learned that, actors or not, some men had an innate talent for putting themselves into other people’s skins.
He was clever at it himself, but not nearly so much as others he knew.
Yet, in this Carleton case he could see no reason or occasion for impersonation or imposture, and so he was thinking about this killer type.
He realized that when Mrs. Mortlake had used the phrase she had not meant that Fenn’s looks betokened a murderous nature, but that their personal knowledge of him justified the accusation. Idly he wondered just what the killer type did look like.
The first idea would be a bludgeon-bearing caveman. But that was absurd for a present-day murderer.
No, to-day one must look for a clever, sleek, and capable sort.
He could not deny Fenn was all of that. But there was almost no evidence against Fenn. He ran over all the people he knew of in any way connected with the tragedy. Not one of them answered to his notion of what a murderer ought to look like, and Fenn least of all. Surely that correct, efficient, and important personage never dared step so far out of his routine and environment as to become a killer!
He had had motive and opportunity—yes, but who hadn’t?
Everyone in that house that night had had motives and opportunity. That is, everyone was a beneficiary under the victim’s will, and everyone seemed to be more or less on the rampage around the house during the important hours.
No use in running over the list again, he’d been over it so many times.
Violet and Pauline were too absurd. Claude wasn’t there. Scott was still wavering in the balance. Zélie and Don Randall, not at all probable. The two secretaries didn’t fill the bill.
Remained the two Mortlakes and Fenn.
Well, the Mortlakes said they suspected Fenn. That was a score against the Mortlakes. When one is guilty he always accuses another.
And the Mortlakes had it all their own way. They could open the door in the exact manner they had described Fenn doing. They had all the opportunity in the world, and they had motive, according to somebody. Who was it said Mortlake was Carleton’s bootlegger and all that?
Queer, as a whole, the theory didn’t appeal to Kenneth at all. He couldn’t suspect Jack Mortlake; why, he—he wasn’t the killer type!
Smiling to himself, again he tried to conjure up in his mind the killer type. It was easier to say what it shouldn’t be than what it should.
For instance, it ought to mean a furtive eye, not a clear, straightforward look like Fenn showed or Claude.
Scott, now, he had been a little shifty as to eyes.
And that brother of Pauline’s. Ah, there was a killer type. Egbert what was his name?—Warren—surely was the very one to pick for a murderer.
Wherefore the picker might be certain he wasn’t the one!
What was that the colored boy had said? Murderer’s eyes. Could a killer have murderer’s eyes, really? If so, Warren’s would fill the bill. But it was sheer stark idiocy to suspect him. He had no motive, he wasn’t remembered in the will. He had had no opportunity, how could he get into the house at all?
To be sure, he was dependent on Pauline, but, Lord, she had plenty of money to support a wastrel brother. He didn’t look as if he required much. Pale, listless, he looked a little like a drug addict—“addick” as Joe called it.
Would Joe say Egbert had murderer’s eyes?
But a chap can’t murder with his eyes, and there was no way any other part of Mr. Warren’s anatomy could have been introduced into the Carleton house that night.
Unless—Pauline let him in!
Heavens, his imagination was going bad. Time he gave up guessing about people and came down to solid facts.
He’d better look up those dates he wrote down yesterday.
He called Carter and asked him to get some slips of paper from the waistcoat pocket of the suit he had worn the day before.
But the man soon returned from his quest with the announcement that there were no papers in the pocket in question, nor in any other pocket of the suit.
Carlisle sat up in surprise.
Had they been abstracted?
No, that was nonsense. He had lost them, probably dragged them out himself when he pulled out his watch.
But the uncertainty persisted. He wasn’t the kind of man who pulls out papers unconsciously. Kenneth Carlisle always knew what he was doing.
Yet the other alternative was too ridiculous. Who could want to steal that paper? Who knew he had it? No one but Claude, and perhaps Fenn, who was in and out of the room all the time.
Fenn! Why did the butler persist in cropping up? Well, he had provided for this emergency, anyhow.
He must, then, have expected it!
No, not that, but he did make a second lot of scribblings with the pens on Manning Carleton’s desk, and he did hide them where they would doubtless be safe.
Fenn! Oh, pshaw, Fenn wouldn’t snake that paper from his pocket—and yet, when he held his overcoat, when he buttoned it, when he pulled him straight and proper, he could have deftly possessed himself of that paper—but why?
There was the important point.
Why would Fenn or anybody else want that paper Carlisle had scribbled?
Well, the next thing to do was to get the duplicate paper. If of such value to someone else, it was of value to him.
As Kenneth dressed for the street, his doorbell sounded, and then Carter announced two ladies to see him.
They were Violet and Pauline Carleton!
To say that Carlisle was surprised would be putting it very mildly. He assumed at once that something had happened. Perhaps another murder!
He went into the living room and found his two visitors idly standing about, looking at the pictures and books.
“Do sit down,” he said. “How do you do? I’m greatly honored. Do sit here, Miss Carleton.”
They were both in a state of nervous embarrassment, but they showed it differently.
Pauline was flutteringly beautiful, her little hands clasped and unclasped her bag; she took out her handkerchief and put it back again; she took out a tiny compact and put it back without using it.
Then she snapped her bag shut, dropped into a chair, and burst into tears.
Kenneth Carlisle was neither alarmed nor dismayed at this show of emotion.
Since there was another woman present, he felt no responsibility beyond that of host.
“What shall I get her?” he said to Miss Violet. “A glass of water or—”
“Nothing, said the elder woman grimly. “She’ll stop when she finds it isn’t making a hit.”
“Crown salts?” pursued Carlisle, his hand hovering over the bell.
“No,” said Pauline herself, meeting the situation. “I’m all right, I was just a little—”
“Yes, we know,” Violet said soothingly. “Mr. Carlisle, my niece and myself are both nervous and distraught. It makes her emotional, it makes me calm. We are unlike in temperament, you see. But we have common cause. We are here to ask you to drop your investigation of our recent tragedy. We urge you, we beseech of you not to carry on your search for the criminal.”
“And just why?” asked Kenneth, not coldly, but in a voice replete with interest.
Miss Violet came to a full stop, leaving her sentence provokingly unfinished.
“You’ll have to tell him why,” broke in Pauline, who seemed to have quite recovered her poise. “No I’ll tell him. It is because, Mr. Carlisle, we all feel sure that it was Professor Scott who shot my husband, and we feel that further mulling over the case can do no good.”
“But who killed the professor?” Kenneth asked in his quiet way that always seemed to demand an answer.
“That we don’t know and don’t want to know. Moreover, as the professor had no near relatives, no one who wants to pursue the investigation, we want you to desist from your connection with the matter.”
“But, Mrs. Carleton, even if I should do this, the police will carry on, and the case will be kept open.”
“Oh never mind that!” Miss Violet broke in. “They won’t find out anything in a thousand years! It’s your activities we want to stop. Please promise us to drop the case. We will—we will pay—”
“More than if I kept on?”
“Yes, yes. Much more. Oh, do say you’ll consent to quit.”
“Do you two ladies realize that you’re putting yourselves in a most dangerous, even hazardous, position?”
“Not unless you betray us,” said Pauline, with one of her enchanting smiles. “And you won’t do that, will you?”
“But you are showing me that there is someone you yourselves suspect! Someone you want to shield. You are compounding a felony.”
“Don’t be silly!” and Pauline shook a rosy forefinger at him. “You can’t talk that highfalutin’ stuff to us and get away with it! Well, supposing—just make-believe supposing—that there was somebody I wanted to shield, would you then feel more inclined to do as we ask?”
“I should feel inclined,” said Kenneth, truthfully enough, “but I wouldn’t do it. You must know, you must realize that a man in my position can’t do whatever his inclinations dictate—he must listen to the voice of duty.”
“Oh, if there’s a word I hate, it’s duty!” and Pauline frowned pettishly.
“Duty is often hateful,” Kenneth agreed, “but it is there, and it must be obeyed.”
“Even if I beg you, Pauline coaxed prettily, “even if Miss Violet begs you—”
“Suppose you tell me whom you are shielding or trying to shield,” Kenneth suggested.
“Oh it’s nobody you know,” and Pauline smiled carelessly.
“I don’t admit we are trying to shield anybody,” said Violet sternly. “I only ask you to let up on this persecution of quiet, peaceful people. You are in and out of our house all the time, digging around here and there for clues or evidence. Quizzing the servants, poking about the library, we never have a moment to ourselves.”
“Oh, come now, Miss Carleton, surely you’re exaggerating.”
“Well, what if I am! I don’t want you there at all—as a detective. If you’ll drop that horrid business I’ll always be glad to see you as a friend.”
“l thought you were all going away.” Kenneth suddenly changed the subject.
“You won’t let us go!” cried Pauline. “Now, see what a horrid man you are! We want to go, but we can’t go while there is any cloud hanging over our house or our home.”
“But there isn’t,” said Kenneth. “You Carletons are not under any suspicion. Look here, Mrs. Carleton, you’re not worried about your brother, are you?”
The sudden panic in her eyes told him he had hit on the truth, but as her long lashes quickly fell she exclaimed:
“Egbert? Oh, mercy, no! What an idea! He—he scarcely knew Mr. Carleton.”
“Why not? Your own brother?”
“Well, Manning was a little peculiar. He took violent likes or dislikes. And—he didn’t care for Egbert.”
“Oh, I see. Well, we all have favorites among our friends. Now, I don’t want to be ugly and hateful and horrid, but I simply can’t abandon this case as it stands. I have pledged my assistance to some members of the police force, not exactly officially, but in a friendly way, which is more exacting than a business bargain. I have to carry on, but of course I will not come again to your house or in any way intrude upon your home life.”
“That isn’t enough!” Pauline wrung her hands and let two big tears roll down her cheeks.
She couldn’t believe that any man could be utterly impervious to tears, but she forgot that Carlisle’s experiences with the glycerine kind made him less susceptible to the genuine article.
The detective was never impressed by mock sentiment and very seldom by the real thing.
Not that he disbelieved in Pauline’s sincerity. She certainly was in earnest when she begged him to give up the chase. But her excessive emotion, her stifled sobs and picturesque tears, he sized up as definite attempts to work on his sympathy—and, it didn’t work.
There was more conversation of the same or similar sort, but they got nowhere.
Finally Carlisle told them that unless they were inclined to make a clean breast of their fears he could do nothing for them.
Whereupon they flounced out of his apartment in a state of mind which can only be expressed by the term “high dudgeon.”
Then Kenneth sat down and thought.
And his thoughts were of the revelation in Polly’s eyes when he suggested that she might be shielding her brother.
Of course she was, whether she had any reason to or not.
For it didn’t seem to Carlisle that the lackadaisical Egbert could have engineered such a clever and complicated murder as Manning Carleton’s.
Yet, after all, was it clever or complicated if there was a friend at court?
If Polly had left doors unlocked or had given Egbert keys and had acted as spy and watchman, mightn’t the pliable young man have been an ideal tool?
He adored his sister and would obey her lightest word. He craved money and mayhap had already drained his indulgent benefactor dry. It could be plainly seen that Pauline worshipped him, loving him far better than she had her husband.
Just how Miss Violet came into this Kenneth couldn’t quite see. It must be that she was fonder of her sister-in-law than he had thought. For surely Miss Violet couldn’t have any great interest in Egbert save that he was Polly’s brother.
He thought over the Egbert person.
He remembered his eyes. They could be called what Joe described as “mudderer’s eyes.”
Perhaps they were.
He rose suddenly and made for the telephone stand.
He riffled the pages of the Manhattan book until he found his quarry.
Yes, there it was. Egbert Warren, and an address far over on the West Side. Surely, where else would one expect to find him?
Then he called up the number of the apartment house where Professor Scott had lived and went into conference with the manager.
The result of this was that a blissfully happy colored boy scurried down to the home of the donor of a certain chicken “dinnah.”
On arrival Joe was ushered to the kitchen and pleasantly fed, then taken into the presence of the private investigator.
And it seemed he was wanted to do a little private investigating.
“Joe,” Kenneth began, “you remember the chap who brought the White Rock?”
“I do, sah,” but he wondered if the man before him had gone a bit nutty on that White Rock question.
“Have you seen him since?”
“Would you know him if you did see him?”
“Oh, yessah, shuah!”
“All right. Here’s where you’re to go. Just get in this locality, do you see? and stick there until you see a man go in or out that seems to you to be that same man. The White Rock man. But on no account let him spot you. He’d remember your taking him up in the elevator, perhaps. And I may be mistaken. He may not live here after all. Anyhow, will you go and watch? All day, if necessary, but make sure. Don’t make yourself conspicuous, keep out of sight, yet don’t appear to do so. Go round the block or up and down the street. If a policeman bothers you, tell him you’re working for me. But don’t let the man we’re after get onto you. Can you do that?”
“You betcha, boss. I kin do it.”
“Well, go to it. And as soon as you see him, at a window or going in or out, make sure there’s no mistake, and then come back here to—a chicken dinner.”
“Lawzee! Hones’, Mistah Callile? well, I’ll be jiggahed!”
“On your way, then. Mind now, I’m trusting you to make a good job of it.”
“An’ yo’ couldn’t put a bettah man on de job, sah.”
With a bob of his kinky head he was gone.
Carlisle gave orders to have a savory chicken fricassee on tap all day and told Carter to hold the boy if he returned before he himself did.
Then he went out and went straight to the inspector’s office.
Gilbert looked harassed but spoke alertly enough.
“Well, the net is closing in, old chap.”
“Around whom?” asked Kenneth, a bit startled.
“Mortlake, of course. Open-and-shut case now.”
“Oh, Lord, and I was just beginning to like him. But, say, what about Fenn?”
“Fenn! Nobody suspects him.”
“Another nail in Mortlake’s coffin, then. I suppose he’d catch at a straw.”
“Who wouldn’t, suspected of murder?”
“Well, anyhow, we find Mortlake is in it up to his neck. He rowed with Carleton and even threatened to kill him.”
“Who says so?”
“A reliable witness. And, too, Mortlake was deeply interested in those projects of Scott’s, and he knew they never could be perfected without a lot of money. And he knew that the death of Carleton would mean a lot of money for Scott right away. So there you are.”
“And Mortlake had all the opportunity in the world.”
“You’re just right he did! Why, he could leave that door into his house unbolted on the Carleton side when he went home that night. Then, when he got ready, he could unlock his side and come through, kill his man, lock up properly, and go out through the Carleton kitchens into his own house.”
“Just how did he lock the library door after him? I mean the door he went out of?”
“Oh, how did anybody do that? It was done, wasn’t it? Or else the murderer stayed in and busted out when the crowd entered. But, you see, Mortlake had exceptional facilities.”
“Yes, I suppose he did. Then, later, he killed Scott? How come?”
“I don’t know about that. He wouldn’t kill the goose that was going to lay the golden eggs unless somehow Scott had the goods on him and threatened to peach.”
“It’s a bit hazy, to my mind. I’m not a Mortlake fancier. I mean I don’t fancy Mortlake as a murderer. I like him better as a detective.”
“Lost your mind?”
“Not more’n usual. Here’s another thing. Miss Carleton and Mrs. Carleton have been to see me, to ask me to drop the case.”
“H’m, then they can’t suspect Mortlake, they’d have no reason to shield him.”
“No, of course not. I say, wait a minute, I want to telephone up home. You go on with your work. Give me five minutes.”
“All right, there’s a booth, you know.”
Carlisle went to the booth and shut the door and soon got his own number.
“That you, Carter? Has my young guest returned?”
Carter was used to blind talk on the telephone and replied:
“Yes, sir, he arrived a few minutes ago.”
“Put him on the wire, will you?—but first warn him to say mostly yes and no.”
“Very good, sir.”
“This you, Sambo?”
“Did you see the exhibit?”
Carlisle decided that Joe was a chap after his own heart and ventured a bit deeper.
“Have you ever seen that specimen before?”
“Behind the Rock?”
“Dat’s de ve’y place, sah.”
“You’re sure, Sambo? Positive?”
“Yessah,” and there was as much assurance in that last word as Kenneth had ever received from an affidavit.
“All right, Sambo. Go to the powers that be and claim your barbecue. Then ask Mr. Carter, and he will give you your honorarium. Are you on?”
“Then get off.”
“Yessah, thank you, sah.”
Laughing, Kenneth returned to the inspector.
“WHAT’S the joke?” asked Gilbert. “I’d like a good laugh.”
“Serious matters first,” Kenneth said. “What do you know about Egbert Warren?”
“Never heard of him.”
“Never mind, Oscar, you will. Well, he’s the unbeautiful brother of the beautiful Pauline.”
“Oh, yes. I’ve heard she had a brother.”
“Yes, so did the blind beggar. But that brother died.”
“Don’t be too funny. I don’t want to laugh all the morning.”
“All right. This Egbert Warren, to make a long story short, went to Scott’s apartment in the guise of a delivery boy the day the professor was shot.”
“Did the Warren shoot him?”
“To my thinking, yes. Now, I have business out of town. Can you take care of Warren?”
“Oh, certainly. You’re telling us where to find him?”
“Of course. Here’s his street address and his telephone number. But watch your step, he’s a shy bird to lay hands on.”
“What are you talking about, anyway? Spill it, will you?”
“Of course I will.”
And then Kenneth Carlisle told the inspector all he knew about Egbert as Pauline’s brother, about Egbert as pseudo delivery boy, about Egbert as a resident of the given address, and declared that to be the extent of his data concerning Egbert.
The two men talked it over and concluded an interview with Egbert was desirable.
“You take it in charge, will you?” Kenneth asked. “I’ve got to go out of town, and I won’t be back till evening. I’ll see you first thing in the morning. Oh, and see here. Will you do an errand at the Carleton house for me? I’m persona non grata there just now, and I can’t cut up this trick. It’s only to go into the library alone and get a paper you will find tucked into a French dictionary on the third shelf from the top, near the door that goes into the other house.”
“Keep it dark?”
“Better so. But if you can’t get in there alone, say you must hunt up a French word, nonchalantly take down the dictionary, palm the paper, and let your quick wit take care of the rest.”
“Consider it done.”
“And don’t arrest Mortlake before I see you again. If all goes as I hope, things will be popping to-morrow, and the end will be in sight.”
“Leave Fenn lay, too?”
“Leave everybody lay. Believe me, Inspector, this is no idle boast! I had a streak of good luck, and I’m playing it for all it’s worth. Now, you hang on to Warren. But don’t arrest him. Interview him as if you wanted his help or advice. He’s Mrs. Carleton’s brother, you see, and you can trump up a yarn that will flatter him and keep him safe in the fold. How late will you be here tonight?”
“Till you come, if you’ll come.”
“I hope to hit New York at eleven o’clock. If so, I’ll telephone you.”
“No, I’ll be here at eleven. You come right along, and if you can’t make it, I’ll wait till eleven-thirty and then give you up.”
“All right. I’m pretty sure to be here. Get the paper from the library.”
“I will. So long.”
Carlisle left the building and hurried a taxicab to the railroad station in time to take the one o’clock train.
Inspector Gilbert finished up his desk business, called his trusty man Stokes, and the two set out for the Warren inquiry.
They didn’t telephone, lest they should frighten their quarry away.
Egbert Warren was at home, and though his face blanched when he opened the door to his visitors, he soon recovered his poise and invited them in.
“Sit down,” he said politely, offering chairs. “Now, what can I do for you?”
Gilbert was a little taken aback, for he had expected a frightened bunny of a man.
But he had much yet to learn about Egbert Warren.
“We are hoping,” the inspector began, “that you can be of some help to us in our investigation of the shooting of Professor Scott.”
If this roused any guilty feeling in his hearer’s mind, there was no sign of it on his face.
“Yes?” he said, with an air of general interest, “and how can I help?”
“We have been told,” Gilbert went on, “that you were in the building, indeed, on the professor’s floor, at the time of the shooting. So we’re wondering if you heard the noise of the shot.”
“No, I didn’t,” was the calm reply. “You say it happened while I was there?”
“We have reason to think so. Just what was your errand there?”
Warren hesitated an instant and then said:
“I will tell you. I am not in robust health, but the doctor says I need outdoor exercise. So, for a few hours a day, I deliver groceries for dealers. This gives me the exercise I need and, incidentally, adds to my income, which is not large.”
He glanced round the poorly furnished room and shrugged his shoulders.
“And that’s what you were doing for Professor Scott? Taking him his groceries?”
“What was the order that day?”
“Let me see. I know there was a half dozen of White Rock, because it was heavier than I thought it would be. Also some cheese and crackers or bread. I forget exactly.”
“Yes, that’s near enough. Now, when you went in to leave the things, where was the professor?”
“In his living room. He opened the door for me.”
“And you went in?”
“Went right through to the kitchen. Left the stuff on the table and went back the same way and out the front door.”
“Is there no rear entrance?”
“Yes, there is. But I’m not an ordinary delivery boy, and I use front doors.”
“Except where they forbid it; then I have to go to the back. I don’t really mind, I’m a philosopher, you see.”
“Incidentally, you’re the brother of the wealthy Mrs. Carleton?”
“Yes, I have that honor.”
“Doesn’t she make you sufficient allowance so that you needn’t work so hard?”
Warren looked at him steadily.
“I told you I wanted the exercise. I told you I wanted the extra cash. The matter of my allowance is in no way your business.”
“That’s true, Warren. Now I’ll come to what is my business. Do you know Jack Mortlake?”
“No. Is he the man who lives next door to my sister?”
“Then I do know him slightly. I have met him once or twice at the Carleton house.”
“You visit there?”
“I don’t know what you mean by visit. I am there now and then to luncheon or dinner, or perhaps to tea with my sister.”
The inspector marveled at the man’s lightning changes of manner. Now he would be a man of blunt, almost uncouth ways, and suddenly he would drop into the air and tone of a member of society.
Gilbert could only think he was a gentleman who had come down in the world but occasionally lapsed back into his former atmosphere of culture.
“And you know Mortlake only slightly?”
“Scarcely that. I’ve met him perhaps three times.”
“You knew Professor Scott?”
One of the lightning changes passed over Warren’s face at this question. He paled, and then a sudden air of bravado seemed to permeate his whole being.
“I am proud to say I did. Though to him only a delivery boy, he was kind and gracious to me and sometimes let me have a peep into his laboratory.”
“Then you saw his queer inventions?”
“As a whole, yes. He never showed me one or explained any.”
“Can you shoot a gun?”
“I? Oh, no, they make me nervous, I hate noise!”
“But can’t you shoot an air gun?”
“What is an air gun?”
“Warren, you’re overdoing it. You’re a good actor, but ‘What is an air gun?’ is ’most too much! I’ll put it to you straight. We accuse you of being the one who shot Professor Scott with one of his own air guns.”
“Oh, you do? Well, you’re all wet! I’ve never shot a gun in my life, air gun or any other kind.”
“We don’t believe you.”
“Oh, you don’t? And what are you going to do about it?”
“We’re going to arrest you.”
“Don’t make me laugh. You haven’t a shred of evidence, and you know it. Also, what is your suggestion as to motive?”
“Robbery. There was money taken from the professor’s bureau.”
“Well, I didn’t take it.”
“No? Well, we think you did. And, here’s another thing. What did you do with the skeleton?”
This shot told.
Egbert Warren, with another of his quick changes, became like a paralyzed man.
His clenched hands, on either knee, were a pasty white, and his drawn face was pallid to the very lips, which trembled in a vain endeavor to speak.
“W-what skel-skeleton? I don’t know what you mean.”
“The skeleton you took by fraud.”
But the redoubtable Warren had come into his own once again.
He rose, entirely his own man.
“You will go away now,” he said, with the air of a courtier dismissing his lackeys. “I know nothing of any skeleton. I lost my nerve when you said the word, because a skeleton is the one thing I am afraid of. Foolish, I know, but some people are afraid of a cat or a snake. Mine is a skeleton. The mere word gives me a cold chill. Go now, and don’t come again without more right or reason than you had this time.”
They went, for, in a way, Warren was right. They had no real accusation but they intended to find one!
“He knows something about the skeleton,” said Stokes, as they walked along.
“Yes. And he’s a suspect of Carlisle’s. So we must keep him covered.”
“I wish we could trace that skeleton. I believe it would be a help. And there’s another thing. That fellow is somehow mixed up with the Carleton murder.”
“He’s the brother of Mrs. Carleton—”
“I don’t mean that. He’s mixed up in my mind with it in some queer way.”
“As a rule, Stokes, I like your queer hunches, but you’ll have to be a bit more definite, you know.”
“And I can’t. There’s just a glimmer, a haunting memory—”
“Oh, well, wait till it comes out in the open. Now, look here, you go down there and get those papers Carlisle wants, won’t you? I’ve a lot to do this afternoon, and you can attend to it as well as I.”
“Just how’ll I work it?”
“Go in with a businesslike air, if you can compass such, and say that you have to get into the library to take some measurements. Then measure a wall space or floor space, or any space you see. Then, if you can’t manage any other way, and there are eagle eyes upon you, take down several books, including the French dictionary—you heard where it is?”
“Well, take down that and two or three next it. Then, as you return them to the shelves, manage to extract the paper and stuff it in your pocket.”
“Guess I can manage that.”
“All right. Here’s another errand for you. After you’ve fixed up the paper business, go and get Sam Mullins—here’s his address—and take him with you around to Mortlake’s, next door to Carleton’s, you know. Come from the other end of the block, don’t pass the Carleton house. Mullins is to make a key for that communicating door. He can do it without opening the door. Tell him it must be ready for us by six or seven o’clock to-night. He’ll do it, if you make it imperative enough.”
“Will Mortlake raise any objections?”
“I don’t think so, but go ahead, anyway.”
“Where’s Carlisle gone?”
“I don’t know. He said something about a sick uncle in Buffalo, but I don’t believe that’s it. I think he’s on the trail of something connected with the Carleton matter.”
“All right. No further remarks?”
“No. So long.”
Stokes went off well pleased with his orders. The chief was giving him more and more important errands, and he was duly grateful.
He went into the Carleton house, wearing his best superiority complex, and Fenn received him obsequiously.
A few brief words brought about his admission to the library, and he produced a folding yardstick and a notebook.
Meticulously he measured the shelf that held the French dictionary, quite awake to the fact that Fenn was closely watching the performance. Nor was Fenn the only watcher.
Claude Carleton had come into the library and stood looking on.
“Good-morning, Sergeant,” he said civilly. “What’s doing?”
“I’ve orders to measure the shelves in this section, sir.”
“I don’t know, but I assume it’s in connection with the search for a secret entrance to this room. Most interesting work.”
“Is it? I suppose you’re one of those detective story hounds—”
“I don’t have to be. Get all I want of it in the day’s work.”
“You don’t often get a sealed-room mystery like this, I’ll bet.”
“Well, no. That we don’t. Now, if I can prove there is a shorter shelf somewhere—”
Stokes gazed at the shelves in deep contemplation.
Then he took down a handful of books and peered at the space behind where they were. He laid them on the table and took down a few more.
“Not going to take all the books off the shelves, are you?”
“Oh, no, no, sir. But I want to—Well, there’s certainly no discrepancy here.”
Stokes picked up the books from the table to restore them to the shelf. Picked up too many and dropped with a bang one of the most ornately bound volumes.
With an exclamation of dismay Claude stooped to pick up the book and Stokes took the occasion to secure the paper from the dictionary and put it among the leaves of his notebook.
Claude upbraided him for his clumsiness, but the sergeant took it calmly, remarking that the book wasn’t really harmed.
He studied the shelf closely, whistled to himself a little, and then, snapping an elastic band round his notebook, he prepared to depart.
Claude stopped him with an upraised finger.
“I say,” he drawled, “why the camouflage? What were you after? Did you get it?”
Stokes was angry, not at the question, but at himself for not doing better acting.
“I always get what I go for,” he answered shortly. “I was after measurements. You saw me get them.”
“Measurements my eye! You were on a still hunt for something.”
“I’m always on a still hunt for something. That’s my business. And a hard life it is. At first, you know, I went on a still hunt for you. Didn’t I trail you to Harrisburg and back, only to find you had done exactly what you said you did and went just where you said you went?”
“That was a wild-goose chase, wasn’t it?”
“Not quite that. It proved your alibi. By the way, will you answer one question regarding it?”
“Sure. Fire away.”
“Who was the man you met in the lobby?”
“The hotel lobby. At the Aylesford, where you had breakfast in Harrisburg.”
“Oh, yes. That was Jim Patton. I hadn’t seen him for years, but I couldn’t talk to him then. The inspector said I chatted with him, but that was exaggeration. I felt little like chatting just then, I can tell you.”
“Of course. And Mr. Patton. Where does he live?”
“I don’t know where he lives now. He used to live in New York, then he went West, and I lost track of him. Under different circumstances I’d have been glad to talk with him. Why this sudden interest in him?”
“Well, Mr. Carleton, it’s this way! If we don’t get a steer in the right direction very soon we’re going to shelve the Carleton case. Especially as you have expressed a desire that we should. But, if so, I want my part of the work cleared up. I had charge of that check-up on your alibi, and it was so unimpeachable that I wanted to find out the one name missing. Patton, thank you.”
“If you want his verification, I daresay I can get his address for you. But it might take some time.”
“I don’t think it will be necessary. Since you didn’t talk with him, he couldn’t be anything of a witness.”
“No, surely not. Well, come in when you feel like measuring shelves.”
The twinkle in Claude’s eye was not a merry one, but it gave no reason for offence, and Stokes went away, satisfied that though Claude might suspect a secret errand he did not know what it was.
The sergeant went round several blocks before he approached the Mortlake house from the other direction.
He found the Mortlakes ready to receive him and the locksmith already there.
It was easy to inform the Mortlakes that steps were being taken to solve the mystery of the bolted door, and the first step, naturally, was to get the door open.
The entire Carleton household had denied all knowledge of a key, and the Mortlakes likewise.
The skilled craftsman, Mullins, undertook to make a key, not only without opening the door, but without making any sound at his work.
Of course, there was the heavy tapestry on the Carleton side, which was helpful in deadening the sound, but the work was so cleverly done that it seemed to the eager watchers like magic.
“You haven’t made a key to this door for anyone else lately, have you?” Mortlake asked the locksmith.
“No I hain’t. How could I git in to do it?”
“Could you make a key from a wax impression of the keyhole?”
“Not fer this here lock. It’s too deep in. There now. There’s yer key. Shall I turn it?”
“Will it make any noise?” asked Stokes.
“Are you sure it will turn all right?”
“Yes, sir, it sure will!”
“Then don’t try it. I’ll take the key to the inspector, and he’ll do the rest. Mind you don’t mention it.”
“Not me. I wasn’t born yestiddy.”
The ingenious mechanician departed, and Stokes sat a moment talking with the Mortlakes.
“Do tell us, has something turned up?” asked Mrs. Mortlake.
“Not that I know of. In fact, I’m told the affair is to be turned down,” Stokes informed her.
“Then why this fuss about the key?”
“Dying gasp, I suppose. But what will it prove if they do get the door open? You don’t think the murderer came through this house, do you?”
“No,” said Jack Mortlake, “I’m afraid they’ll think the murderer came from this house. They’ve had it in for me from the start.”
“But their sending Mullins here on that key business is pretty good proof you’re not a suspect,” Stokes said decidedly.
“You can’t tell by that,” Mortlake gloomed. “And I’m not taking much stock in what you say, either. No offence meant, but you’re of the police, and you have to stand by them.”
“Of course, and you’re a citizen and have to take what’s handed you. But could anybody get into this house and not waken you at night?”
“Indeed they could,” exclaimed Mrs. Mortlake. “We sleep in the back rooms, we have our doors closed, and we both sleep very soundly. We feel safe because we’re really well locked up, but now that I’ve seen how expert locksmiths do things I don’t take much stock in ordinary keys and bolts.”
“And anyhow,” Mortlake declared, “key or no key, the bolts on that door between the houses would baffle even Mullins. A lock is easy, if you have a key. But a bolt is another story.”
KENNETH CARLISLE returned to New York City at eleven o’clock that evening as he had hoped to do.
From the railroad station he went directly to the inspector’s office.
Stokes was there, and he handed Kenneth the key made by Mullins with the ceremonial air of one bestowing the freedom of the city.
“Good work,” was Carlisle’s comment as he slipped the key in his pocket. “Now, did you get the paper?”
“I did,” and Stokes proudly produced the paper he had retrieved from the French dictionary.
“Can you compare inks, Stokes?” Kenneth asked, knowing the sergeant had ability in some unexpected lines.
“Yes, sir, if not too nearly alike.”
“All right. Take the sheet and see if the dates are all written with the same ink. Look sharp, now.”
“All over but the finish,” Carlisle said, turning to Gilbert. “But my story will keep. Tell me about Egbert, the brother,” and he listened to Gilbert’s report.
“Fine! Splendid! We’re in deep, but we’re riding on the crest of the wave. Give me the telephone, will you?”
Late as it was, he called the number of Egbert Warren’s rooms.
A sleepy voice responded at last, and Carlisle said, in a disguised, scarcely audible tone, “Egbert? Hush. Don’t speak. Come out at once and meet me.”
“Who are you? Is this you, Claude?”
“Hush! Use no names. Are you in bed?”
“Of course; let me alone.”
“No. Danger. Keep still. Dress and come quickly.”
“The usual place?”
“Yes, of course. Hurry. How long?”
“Say twenty minutes.”
“Not a minute longer, then. Come right along.”
Kenneth put the instrument back in its cradle and looked at his watch.
“We must be at Brother Egbert’s in twenty minutes, but not sooner. We’ve a bit of burgling to do. But we’ve a few moments before we start.”
Carlisle utilized the few moments in giving the inspector a brief and sketchy account of his afternoon trip.
“And so you see,” he wound up, “we’ve no time to lose. We must rush everything. Come on, now.”
They hurried out, caught a taxi, and alighted a block away from Warren’s place.
The house was dark, and after a moment’s reconnoitring they rang the bell.
A head poked itself out of an upper window and was bidden to appear downstairs in haste.
Objections were overruled, and the head next appeared in the doorway.
Brief explanations made it possible for the two visitors to go quietly upstairs and into Warren’s rooms, opened with a pass key by the frightened cicerone.
“Stay in the hall,” ordered Carlisle. “We won’t be long.”
They weren’t. Kenneth rummaged only in the desk and bureau, and when he had collected two checks for luggage left in the check room of a railway station and a fountain pen which was carefully hidden beneath a pile of underclothing, he announced himself ready to go.
He had looked into several boxes and cupboards, but he took nothing else away with him.
Enjoining the scared caretaker not to tell of their visit, they left as silently as they had come.
Then the two parted company until the next morning, but Kenneth had yet one more errand to attend to.
He went over toward the Carleton house and strolled about until he found the policeman on the beat.
“Garvin?” he said.
“Yes, sir,” and the officer saluted.
“One question. You remember New Year’s Eve?”
“I do that, sir.”
“How late were you around here?”
“Till after the inspector and the medical examiner and all that bunch arrived. Then I was excused.”
“I see. Now cast your memory back to the hours before you heard the alarm or saw any commotion around the Carleton house.”
“Did you—think carefully now—did you see anybody go in or out of the Carleton house or the house next to it?”
“The Carleton house, no, sir; the house next to it, yes.”
“Who was it, do you know?”
“I didn’t recognize him, sir. It was a man, a gentleman, in a dark overcoat and a black soft hat, with a widish brim. That’s all I noticed.”
“About what time was this?”
“’Long about quarter or, say, twenty minutes to four.”
“How do you know so surely?”
“It’s my business to know. But there was nothing unusual or suspicious about him, sir. A quiet-behaving gentleman. I’d no reason to notice him at all.”
“No, of course not. Yet I think he was the murderer of Manning Carleton.
“The saints preserve us! What was he doing in the Mortlake house, then?”
“You’re sure he didn’t come out of the Carleton house?”
“Sure and certain. I thought he was a New Year’s guest like, going home, and as he was sober and proper acting, I didn’t pay any more attention.”
“You can’t describe him any more fully? Was he tall?”
“Average or a bit more. Mejum build. No cane or stick, as I noticed, nothing out of the ordinary to make me give him a second look.”
“But you’re sure he came out of the Mortlake house?”
“And it wasn’t Mr. Mortlake?”
“Oh, no, I know him. It wasn’t Mr. Mortlake.”
“All right, Garvin. Remember it all, just as you’ve told it to me. Good-night.”
And then Kenneth Carlisle called it a day and gladly sought his own pleasant home and the comforting administrations of Carter.
It was the next day, and it was eleven o’clock.
Kenneth Carlisle had had a busy morning already, but he showed no trace of it as he walked calmly into the Carleton house and found a number of people gathered in the library.
They were all there on the urgent invitation of the police, and as their hearts were filled with varying emotions, so their faces showed varied expressions.
There were several outsiders, besides the inmates of the Carleton household.
Of these, a casual observer could have stated that the most miserable one was Egbert Warren and the most ecstatically pleased one was Mister Joe Hopper.
Joe was all unaccustomed to these halls of the rich and great, but he was undaunted by their splendor and deeply interested in the place and the proceedings.
Warren, on the contrary, seemed possessed of but one idea, that of escape. He looked furtively about with glances that seemed to implore the walls to open and let him through and reclose immediately.
No such miracle happened, however, and if it had, there were stalwart policemen who would have thwarted the design.
Pauline, chalky white save where spots of rouge glowed, sat between Claude and Violet, all three seeming to be in a state of blank bewilderment and wonder.
The Mortlakes, though quiet and composed, were quite evidently unhappy, and indeed, nobody present looked really cheerful except Joe.
Kenneth Carlisle, without introduction or preamble, took charge of the assembly and addressed them in his cultured, well trained voice. He had left Hollywood just before the wave of talkies swept the land, and so still had his natural and pleasing tones.
“I am a detective,” he said, “and as such I am entitled to your attention to my report on the Carleton case. I have been asked to resign from the matter and to sever all connection with the investigation of the tragedy. This I agree to do after the present conference is concluded.
“As a detective, I am supposed to base my deductions on evidence, clues and the statements of reliable witnesses. This I have done to the best of my ability. But there is one method, usually adopted by detectives, that I have not yet tried. So I propose to do so now, in your presence.
“I refer to the use of the lens. As you doubtless know, the great detectives of fiction are represented as being really dependent on the magnifying glass. So, having provided myself with a new one, I shall now, for the first time, put it to use.”
From his pocket Carlisle brought out a medium-sized glass with a narrow silver rim and laid it on the table.
“As you all know,” he went on, and as he proceeded his voice took on a graver tone, one less like a lecturer and more like an accusing judge, “Mr. Carleton was killed in this room. When his dead body was found here, it was necessary to break in, as all entrances were locked. This made the crime what is spoken of as a murder in a hermetically sealed room. The phrase ‘hermetically sealed’ is, of course, figurative, for it means airtight, which no normal room is. However, we know that every egress or ingress of this room was locked or bolted or both.
“The first task, then, was to find out how the murderer got out of the room. As to getting in, it was perfectly possible that Mr. Carleton himself admitted the criminal. But he could not let him out, and that problem had to be solved. We shall now try to solve it by means of our lens. Or, rather, prove our solution by the lens.”
At this point Carlisle nodded to Stokes, who stood by the door into the other house, and that functionary slowly drew back the tapestry that covered the communicating door.
“As there is no one here unfamiliar with all points of the investigation,” Carlisle resumed, “it is unnecessary to do more than indicate our procedure. In thinking it over, it seemed to me that the murderer must have come in through that door. To do so, he must have had a key. To get a key made would be a difficult but not impossible task. Granting the key, then, he still had the bolts to negotiate, a much harder problem. But let us use our lens. First, we unlock the door with the key.” Coolly taking a key from his pocket, Carlisle unlocked the door. He then drew the bolt, and the door easily swung open into the library. Down on his knees went Kenneth Carlisle, and peering through the lens at the thick soft pile of the carpet he nodded and murmured, “Just as I thought.”
It was not a rug, but a velvet carpet that went to the very door itself. And on the other side the Mortlakes’ carpet also came to the sill.
“I will ask Inspector Gilbert to look through the glass, and also Sergeant Stokes. No one else at present. What these men see is two parallel impressions in the nap of the carpet perhaps a quarter of an inch apart. That is all. One impression is a little deeper and more distinct than the other. I have not seen these before, myself, but I knew they must be there. Left by the murderer after he went.
“Now, as you have seen, it was easy enough for the murderer to lock the door after him, but what about the bolts? They were attended to by a clever dodge. Not entirely original, as it has been told of in crime stories, both true and fictitious. I will show you how it was done. First, we will use our lens once more.”
Leaning over the bolt of the door on the library side, having pushed the door nearly shut for the purpose, Carlisle gave his satisfied nod again and handed the glass to the inspector.
“What do you see right there?” he asked, as Gilbert leaned over to look at the bolt.
“I see a small bit of red fluff—silky-looking fluff,” was the reply.
“Right,” Carlisle said, “that’s just what it is. It came from a piece cut off this ball.”
Opening one of the desk drawers he brought out a ball of red silk cord, a pretty material, used for tying up Christmas gifts.
“A strong cord, you see,” Carlisle proceeded, “but a fine one. Not like fishline, hard and firm, but pliable, yet very strong. A piece of this cord was used, as I shall show you by experiment. Remember, however, I have not before tampered with this bolt. The fluff there now, is the fluff left by the murderer. Perhaps you’d better take it, Stokes.”
The sergeant did so, and Kenneth went on.
“What I am about to show you is not difficult, but it must be done carefully. I take a longish piece of cord and double it in the middle, looping it over the knob of the bolt itself. Then the double string is carried along the bolt and hangs loosely to the floor. The bolt is large and loose, not a tight-fitting shaft. Now, one may tuck both ends of string beneath the door, go through himself, and, holding the strings carefully, pull the door shut. Then—but we’ll try it. Joe!”
The colored boy, not grinning, but solemn-faced with the gravity of the occasion, came forward.
At Kenneth’s command he stepped through the door, gathered the ends of string carefully, and slowly closed the door after him. Then the watchers could see the cord drawn slowly taut, then a harder pull brought the bolt sliding along into place, and the cord hung from the handle of the bolt and disappeared under the door.
Then one side of the cord was slowly pulled on and was eventually pulled all the way through, dragging after it the other side of the cord until all had disappeared.
The deed was done. The door was bolted on the library side, but the bolting had been done from the Mortlake side.
Kenneth reopened the door, Joe slid quietly back to his seat, and winding up the cord, Kenneth laid it on the desk.
“The mystery of the sealed room is now explained,” he said. “It remains to learn who did this thing. There can be no doubt that the door was shut and bolted in the way I have shown, for the red silk fluff is proof positive, and the tiny parallel grooves in the thick carpet show where the cord was dragged through. Those we saw before my experiment began.
“But as to the identity of the murderer, I wish to say one thing before I begin to talk on that subject. Please do not jump at conclusions. I have no desire to make this report unnecessarily long, but there are some problems that must be stated in their entirety and their solutions in proper sequence. I will ask you to believe that Mr. Carleton was not murdered by his son, or by his sister, or by his wife. He was not killed by any guest visiting in his home or by any guest invited here for the New Year’s Eve celebration. He was not killed by any servant in his employ. Nor by any relative of his wife or his wife’s family.
“Further than that I will not at this moment declare. Now, as to the weapon. This is a strange and very interesting puzzle. When I noticed a peculiar mark on the cover of one of the telephone books, I felt certain it was in some way connected with the weapon of death. It was. The weapon was a clever and strange one. It was nothing more or less, in appearance, at least, than a fountain pen. This instrument had been made by a diabolical genius and is one of the deadliest short-range weapons ever devised. I will show it to you.
He took from his pocket and laid on the desk what seemed to be an ordinary fountain pen, albeit a large one. Yet only a trifle larger than many now in common use.
“It is fired by an air cap, and its bullet has tremendous power and force. Indeed, so dangerous is its back kick that the cautious murderer used this telephone book as a buffer to save his own skin.
“Then, having shot Mr. Carleton, he had the coolness and nerve to lay the pen on the pen rack of the desk and leave it there. I stared at it with unseeing eyes, little dreaming I had the weapon of death before me. It was a similar case to The Purloined Letter, where the object sought for was in plain view all the time! But after a day or two the murderer realized this danger and exchanged the gun pen for one of the usual sort.
“That, then, explains the method of exit from the locked room, and the weapon used.
“Before going on, I will pause to state that the diabolical mind of the criminal had another scheme at first. He tried, by sending a frightening gift to Mr. Carleton, to throw the poor man into a state of nervousness that would affect his weak heart and cause sudden death. Had that plan succeeded, this other wickedness would not have been carried out.
“But Mr. Carleton, though shaken by the ghastly surprise, did not collapse, and the plan of the more violent death was carried out.
“Now we come to the identity of the murderer. As you may remember, Mr. Claude Carleton left the party before it broke up, to go to Hollywood. He took the two o’clock train, for which he had his tickets and reservations previously bought. Now, as a matter of fact, Mr. Claude Carleton did not go on his trip that night. I do not say what he did, but he did not go to Harrisburg, as was thought. What he did do was to take the train in the Pennsylvania Station and leave it at Market Street Station, Newark, N. J., at 2:53. Here he exchanged identities with a friend who was waiting for him. This other man looked enough like Claude to put it over. Claude handed him his tickets, suitcase, changed hats with him, and attended to all necessary details of the changed identity.
“This pseudo Claude Carleton went on to Harrisburg, received the telegram sent to Claude, went to the Aylesbury House, took the train back for New York, and this time changed with Claude Carleton once more at Philadelphia. They again exchanged tickets, the impersonator gave Claude the telegram and a memorandum of the details of the trip. I will state right here that the item about meeting an old friend in the hotel lobby was a fabrication of my own. It was a trap, and Mr. Claude fell into it, even telling me the name of the imaginary friend.
“However, it was Claude himself who came home from Philadelphia in his own likeness, and came here to his home, where he has been ever since. This exchange of identities was not a difficult matter at all. Claude took his place in the Pullman compartment reserved for him in the night train, and the colored porter made his acquaintance.
“A discreet demeanor and generous pourboire will make a Pullman porter think as he is desired to think. Then when the false Claude came along, it was late at night; bedtime, the aftermath of a gay holiday, and all tended to help along the scheme. Coming home next day from Philadelphia, the real Claude had a chair in the parlor car. Of this he kept the number stub, a detail that first drew my attention to the peculiarities of the trip. One doesn’t ordinarily preserve the stub of a chair in a parlor car.
“The next step was to learn who had impersonated Claude Carleton and why. An odd bit of evidence told me who it was. In fact, it was this same bit of evidence that told me several things. Mr. Egbert Warren has a peculiar and fascinating way of snapping his fingers. Anyone can snap one finger or two, but Mr. Warren snaps all four in such rapid succession that they make a strange, even weird sound.
“Most men or boys who hear it take notice at once. I did myself, while young Joe Hopper is almost fanatical about it. Now it seems that the man who was in the Pullman compartment when the train in question reached Harrisburg that morning did this finger-snapping stunt. The man in the Aylesbury House did too, and thus we are forced to tie the identity of the false Claude Carleton to the person of Egbert Warren.
“This takes us over into another chapter, which we may not delve into at present. But I will say that the man who shot Professor Scott, who used the same diabolical engine of death, the fountain pen, and left behind him in the professor’s room a telephone book marred just as this one is, is the same man who brought some groceries up to the professor’s room, and—snapped his fingers as he came up in Joe Hopper’s car. Have you the suitcases, Stokes?”
“Yes, Mr. Carlisle.”
“Bring them in.”
As the sergeant went outside and returned with two suitcases, Egbert Warren gave a shriek, covered his face with his hands, and collapsed.
Dr. Landon, who had come in unobserved, assisted by Stokes, took the stricken man away, and Kenneth went on.
“In these suitcases are the bones of the skeleton that was sent here to Mr. Carleton on New Year’s Eve. As you all know, it is articulated and so goes easily into these receptacles. I will merely open them to show you that it is so, and close them again to spare the feelings of the ladies.
“Egbert Warren, in the guise of a plain-clothes policeman, went to my rooms and got the skeleton from my man by fraud. But Egbert Warren was not acting for himself; he was a tool of another.
“Going back for a moment to the fountain pen, because I am reminded of it by seeing one before me, I would say that Mr. Carleton never used a fountain pen. So, when my suspicions were aroused, and this was after the gun pen had been removed from this desk and the present pen you see there was substituted, I tried the fountain pen and the ordinary pens, intending to carry away the paper for analysis. But en route the paper was stolen from me, giving me another reason to suspect chicanery. However, I had a second paper hidden in a book on the shelf, and this, analyzed, proved that the fountain pen was not filled with the same ink used in the inkwell. A suggestion, if not a proof, that the fountain pen had never belonged to Mr. Manning Carleton and was fraudulent.
“Touching on the death of Professor Scott, I am in a position to prove that he knew the truth about Manning Carleton’s death and was intending to denounce the murderer. Whereupon the murderer added a second crime to his list, and using Egbert Warren as his tool, he had the old professor put to death.
“That is all of my report. If I have left any small points unexplained it is because of their relative insignificance or because I have long enough imposed upon your patience. There is the story. The murderer sits among you. Will he confess, or must I denounce him by name?”
Carlisle looked at no one in particular, and a silence fell on the room.
Stokes and his aides were alertly on guard. Carlisle looked white and stern as he frowned into space. The women were in tears, and the men all deeply moved.
After a moment Carlisle said:
“Do you mean to confess your crime, or shall I say that Manning Carleton was murdered by—”
There was a spring like that of a wild animal, and Claude Carleton landed beside the desk. He snatched the fiendish weapon, turned it on himself, and fired.
The backfire was fearful, and the resultant death a terrible spectacle quickly removed by the gathering group of police.
“But,” said Pauline, rushing on Kenneth like a mad woman, “you said at the outset that Claude didn’t do it.”
“No, Mrs. Carleton,” and Kenneth held her by the arm and tried to soothe her, “no I didn’t say that.”
“You said Manning Carleton wasn’t killed by his son.”
“And he wasn’t. Claude was no relation to him. He was adopted in infancy from an asylum. He only learned that fact of late, and he acted so unfilially that Mr. Carleton decided to cut him practically out of his will. Claude learned of this and planned his diabolical schemes. The gun, I am told, he obtained from some of the Chinese bandits who are also responsible for the drug habits of Egbert Warren.”
Kenneth knew this would bring even more sorrow to the stricken Pauline, but he thought it better to let her know the worst. Warren was sure to be tried for the murder of the professor, and it must be faced.
Violet came forward and, putting her arm round the girl’s quivering form, led her from the room.
“You see,” Kenneth added to his report, “Claude planned a very clever alibi. He was seen by trainmen to take that two o’clock train. But, of course, when he stepped out on the platform as the train stopped in Newark, neither porter nor conductor paid any attention to him.
“Then, to all appearance, he returned to his compartment before the train went on, and though it was really Warren who did this, the resemblance had been looked to, and it was assumed to be the same man. Both Warren and Claude were adept in the arts of making up, and it was an easy disguise. Everybody was unobserved too, because late New Year’s Eve is not a time for careful consideration, nor was there any known reason for it.
“The checking up of Claude’s trip was careful enough in a general way, but when I went myself to Harrisburg yesterday, I soon learned the truth. The photograph I carried of Claude was one in which he was wearing a hat and overcoat—by the way, it was the only one available, doubtless on purpose. The trainmen and even the hotel men were ready to say it was the man whom they had seen. Which proves how unobservant the average looker-on can be. I went to Harrisburg yesterday on the one o’clock train. I reached there at quarter to five and managed to catch the six-twenty-three back to New York, getting here at eleven last night—with the knowledge of Claude Carleton’s crime in full! You see, when he got off at Newark he hired a car and drove to New York, parking near this house. These points have all been checked up. He walked along, watching his chance to elude Garvin, and going into the Mortlake house with a night key which he had stolen or had made, he went through the door into the Carleton library. He had left the bolts on the Carleton side off before he started. The tapestry hid the fact, and no one thought of investigating them. But what actually occurred between him and Manning Carleton, we can never know. We do know that the murder was done with the fountain-pen gun, and that Claude went away leaving the pen on the pen rack. I suppose he thought that was safer for him than trying to dispose of the weapon. He left this room in the way I showed you, bolting the door after him, going through the Mortlake house and back to his parked car. Garvin saw him leave the other house. Then he went back to Newark, and the next morning went to Philadelphia, where he met Warren, rechanged identities with him, and came on home, sitting in the same Pullman chair Warren had bought. Incidentally, he preserved the number stub, which was a strong factor in helping my search.
“Of course, when Claude fixed up the skeleton matter he drew on his imagination for the accusation of murder against Manning Carleton. There was never any such thing happened. Claude hoped that the shock would cause death by heart disease, but it didn’t.
“Egbert Warren was merely a tool in Claude’s hands. By promises of providing the drug he craved, Claude could make him do anything. He will, of course, be tried for Professor Scott’s murder, but it must be remembered he was but a tool.”
His recital finished, Kenneth Carlisle sighed wearily. At the moment he was quite ready to give up the new profession he had chosen for himself. He looked about him for some face not drawn with sorrow or horror.
He could find only that of Mistah Joe Hoppah, so, beckoning to him, the detective went out for a walk in the cold winter sunshine.
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