"What is your name, please?" asked the coroner.
"Isidore Brolatsky," replied the young man.
"You are, or were, employed by Mr. Hume?"
"As a clerk, yes, sir. I've been with him for some years." Brolatsky spoke with scarcely a trace of accent. "He didn't pay much, but then there wasn't much to do, and I had plenty of time to study."
"Ah," said Stillman, encouragingly. "To study, eh?"
"Yes. I've taken up medicine. There's a college up town that has night classes. I have been attending the lectures there and reading during the day. There's a big chance for physicians who can speak Yiddish. Not only to make money, but to do good."
"I see." The coroner regarded him reflectively for a moment. "Now, Mr. Brolatsky, having worked for Hume for some years, you must have picked up some details as to his business and himself. Suppose you tell us all you know about both."
The dark face of Brolatsky became thoughtful.
"Mr. Hume was a hard man to get along with," he said. "He seemed ready to quarrel at any time with anybody. I don't recall a customer ever coming into the store that he didn't have some kind of trouble with before they went out. But he had a great knowledge of the things he dealt in. People came from far and near to get his opinion on items in their collections. His fees," with appreciation, "were large.
"But there is one thing that I noticed about him. While he knew all about objects of art, he did not seem to care for them. He had no love for his trade, no sympathy, I may say, for the collectors who came to him. I wouldn't be going far from the truth if I said that he thought them all fools for paying their money for such things. And I know that he mocked them."
"Humph!" Stillman looked at Ashton-Kirk, with surprise upon his face. "That seems odd. Men usually go into Hume's business through love of it." He turned once more to Brolatsky. "And he had no hobby of his own, no collection that he fancied more than another?"
Brolatsky nodded amusedly.
"Yes," he replied. "I was just coming to that. He did have a collection that he called his own. And he never sold an item from it as long as I was with him. Indeed, I think if anybody had offered to buy, he would have come to blows with him."
Ashton-Kirk bent forward. For the first time since entering the room, he spoke.
"And what was the nature of that collection?" he inquired eagerly.
"Portraits," answered Isidore Brolatsky. "Prints, lithographs, mezzo-tints, engravings, paintings, it made no difference. And all of the same person. He had hundreds, I guess, and every one of them was of General Wayne."
Ashton-Kirk leaned back in his chair with a faint breath of triumph.
"When a portrait of General Wayne was offered him," continued Brolatsky, "he never haggled over it. He paid the price asked and seemed quite delighted to get it. It was a standing joke in the trade that if you wanted to get even with Mr. Hume for driving a hard bargain with you, all you had to do was to offer him a portrait of General Wayne. I never saw him refuse one. Even if he had dozens of duplicates, which often happened; still he'd buy."
A look of great acuteness had settled upon the face of the young coroner.
"There is a painting at one side of the show room," said he. "It is under a large green curtain. Is that of General Wayne?"
"It is," replied the clerk. "And I believe that he valued it more than anything else that he owned."
Stillman laughed with pleasure.
"Now," said he to his visitors, "we are getting at it, indeed. Someone probably knew of the value he attached to this painting and planned to steal it, perhaps for a ransom. Hume has been suspected of doing this sort of thing himself before now. He was supposed to have engaged someone to do the actual work, I believe, as in the case of the Whistler portrait of the Duchess of Winterton. Suppose this someone," and Stillman rapped his knuckles upon the edge of the desk excitedly, "took the notion to go into the picture stealing business of his own account. Hume himself with his much prized portrait of General Wayne was ready at hand—and so," with a sweeping gesture, "what has happened, has happened."
Pendleton, much impressed, looked at Ashton-Kirk. But the latter's thoughts seemed far away; his eyes were fixed upon the wall; his expression was of delighted anticipation.
Stillman also noticed this non-attention to his reasoning, and a little wrinkle of discontent appeared between his brows. So he turned his gaze upon Brolatsky and spoke rather sharply.
"Now, as to Mr. Hume's intimates? What do you know of them?"
Isidore Brolatsky shifted in his chair; his long fingers began to drum upon his knees.
"I have known of the matter of the Whistler portrait," said he, "but I never knew anything more about it than what I read in the newspapers. It happened before my time."
"I'm not accusing you," said Stillman. "I'm asking you about Hume's friends."
The clerk considered.
"There was no one that I ever saw or heard of that you could call his friend, exactly," said he at length. "He made game of people too much to have any I guess."
"Had he no associates—no one with whom he spent his time?"
Brolatsky shook his head.
"Perhaps so; but then I was only in Christie Place during business hours. I have heard that he frequently went out at night; but where I do not know."
"Was there no one who came to visit him while you were there during the day. No one whom he spoke of in an intimate way?"
Again the clerk shook his head. Stillman began to appear nonplussed. He looked at the other, pondering and frowning through his glasses.
"Who came most frequently to the store?" he inquired finally.
"Why, I think Antonio Spatola," said Brolatsky.
"Was he a customer?"
The clerk smiled.
"Oh, no. He's a street musician. You may have seen him often about the city. He plays the violin and carries some trained cockatoos upon a perch."
"What was the nature of his business at Hume's?"
"If there was anything that Mr. Hume liked better than strong drink," said the clerk, "it was music. Antonio Spatola would come and play to him for hours at a time."
"A lover of music who could stand the playing of a street musician for hours!" cried Stillman. "That's astonishing."
"But," protested Brolatsky, "Spatola is a splendid musician. He's studied his instrument under the greatest masters in Paris, Rome and other European cities. He has played in the finest orchestras. But he never could keep a position because of his temper. He's told me himself that when aroused he doesn't know what he is doing."
"I understand," said the coroner. "What sort of relations existed between Hume and Spatola outside the music? Were they friendly?"
"No, sir. I might say just the reverse. For hours, sometimes, Mr. Hume would lie back in his chair with his eyes closed listening to the violin. Then, perhaps, he'd get up suddenly, throw Antonio a dollar or so and tell him to get out. Or maybe he'd begin to jeer at him. Antonio had an ambition to become a concert violinist. Ole Bull and Kubelik had made great successes, he said; and so, why not he?
"This was usually the point Mr. Hume would take up in mocking him. He'd call him a curbstone fiddler, and say that he ought to be playing at barn dances and Italian christenings instead of aspiring to the platform. Spatola would get frantic with rage, and fairly scream his resentment at these times.
"Often Mr. Hume would have him bring his trained cockatoos. And while he was making them go through their tricks, Mr. Hume would call him a mountebank, a side show fakir and other things, and tell him that he ought to stick to that as a business, for he could make a living at it, where he would starve as a violinist. I've often seen Antonio go out trembling and white at the lips with rage. Several times he's tried to injure Mr. Hume—once he took out a knife."
"Hah!" said the coroner.
"That was the time Mr. Hume called him 'Mad Anthony.' I also remember that Mr. Hume pulled aside the curtain and showed him the large painting of General Wayne, laughing and telling him that that was another Mad Anthony. He was so successful that day in arousing Spatola, that always after that, when he was drunk, he'd call the Italian 'Mad Anthony' and it never failed to infuriate him.
"Do you know where this man Spatola lives?"
"In Christie Place, sir; just about half a dozen doors from the store. I believe he rents a garret there, or something."
Stillman seemed struck by this.
"In view of the fact that the building was entered by way of the scuttle," said he to Ashton-Kirk, "I consider that a most interesting piece of information."
"It may indeed prove so," was the non-committal reply.
Once more the discontented crease showed itself upon the coroner's forehead; and again as he turned to Brolatsky, his voice rose sharply.
"Next to Antonio Spatola, who came most to Hume's place while you were there?"
"The next most frequent caller," returned the clerk, "was Mr. Allan Morris."
Ashton-Kirk, glancing at Pendleton, saw him start.
"And who," queried the coroner, "is Mr. Allan Morris?"
"At first I took him to be a customer," replied Brolatsky. "And perhaps he was. He talked a great deal at times about engraved gems and would look at lists and works upon the subject. But somehow I got the notion that that was not just what he came for."
"What caused you to think that?" asked the coroner.
"His manner, partly, and then the fact that there seemed something between Mr. Hume and him—something that I never understood. Mr. Morris was another one that the boss used to make game of. Not so much as he would Spatola, but still a good bit. Mr. Morris always took it with a show of good temper; but underneath I could see that he too was sometimes furious."
"About what did Hume deride him?"
"That's what I never could quite make out. It always seemed as though it was something that Mr. Morris wanted. At first I got the notion that it was something that he wanted to buy and which Mr. Hume refused to sell; but later I changed my mind. There seemed to be more to it than appeared on the top. Both were very secretive about it."
"I understand." Stillman's face wore a puzzled expression; it was as though this latter development worried him. But in a few moments he went on: "Do you know where this man Morris is to be found?"
"Oh, yes. He's quite well known. Has an office in the Blake Building, and is employed just now, so I've heard, by the Navy Department."
"You have visited Christie Place to-day?"
"Did the police have you look about?"
"Yes, sir. And so far as I can see, nothing has been taken."
"The weapon that Hume was killed with, now. Do you know anything about it—did it belong to the store?"
"The bayonet? No, sir."
"Are you sure of that?" earnestly.
"Positive. It was my duty to keep a complete list of everything we had in stock. We had other sorts of arms, but no such thing as a bayonet."
There were a few more questions, but as they drew out nothing of interest, Stillman signified to Brolatsky that the interview was at an end.
"Now, you will go with Mr. Curran to police headquarters on the next floor," said he, "and tell them what you have told me about this Antonio Spatola."
Then he opened the door and stepped out.
"Curran," they heard him say, importantly.
"I want you to—" then the door closed, cutting the sentence short.
Pendleton gazed fixedly at Ashton-Kirk.
"I say," said he, "I'm not up in this sort of thing at all. I've been putting two and two together, and it's led me into a deuce of a state."
Ashton-Kirk looked at him inquiringly; there was expectancy in the investigator's eyes, but he said nothing.
"Perhaps you'll think that I'm all kinds of a fool," continued Pendleton, "and maybe I am. But here are the things that I'm trying to marshall in order. I'll take them just as they happened." He held up one hand and with the other began to check off the counts upon his fingers. "Yesterday you have a visit—a visit of a professional nature—from Edyth Vale. Last night she strangely disappears for a time. At a most unconventional hour this morning I find you at her door. Then I learn that you are on your way to look into the details of a murder that you had just heard of—somehow. Now I hear that Allan Morris, Edyth's fiance, has been, in rather an odd way, upon familiar terms with the murdered man."
He paused as he checked this last count, still regarding his friend fixedly.
"I don't claim," he went on, after a moment, "that these things have anything to do with each other. But, somehow, they've got together in my mind, and I can't—"
Here the door re-opened and Stillman entered, followed by the big German.
"Just take a chair, Mr. Berg," said the coroner, seating himself at the desk and affixing his eyeglasses.
The German lowered his form into the chair indicated and folded his fat hands across his monstrous paunch.
"Your name in full—is what?" asked Stillman with formality.
"Franz Berg. I sell me delicatessen at 478 Christie Place. I haf been there for fifteen years."
"You were acquainted with the murdered man?"
The delicatessen dealer unfolded his hands and waved them significantly.
"I was aguainted with him—yes. But I was not friendly with him—no. He is dead, ain't it? Und it's not right to say someding about the dead. But he was no friend of mine."
"I understand. But tell me, Mr. Berg, how late do you keep your place open?"
"In the summertime—seven o'clock. But after dose theaters open, I stays me on the chob till twelve, or later somedimes. There is one—two—three what you call burlesque places, right by me; and no sooner do they close up, than right away those actor peoples come to buy. I do a goot business, so I keep open."
"Then you were there until midnight last night?"
"More later than that yet."
"Was there any movement of any sort about Hume's place? Did you see or hear anything?"
The great red face of Berg took on a solemn look.
"It is maybe not ride that I should say somedings," complained he. "But if the law will not excuse me, I will say it, if it makes some more trouble or not."
"It is vitally necessary," stated the young coroner, firmly, "that you tell me everything you know about this matter."
"Well," said the delicatessen dealer, reluctantly, "last night as I stood by my window looking oudside on the street, I see me that Italian feller go by und turn in at the side door; a second lader I hear him go up the steps to Hume's place."
"What Italian fellow do you refer to?"
"He lifs close by me, a few doors away. His name is Spatola, und he plays the violin the gurb-stones beside."
"What time was it that you saw him?"
"Maybe elefen o'clock. I am not sure. But it was just a little while before I got me the rush of customers from the theaters."
"Did you notice his manner? Was there anything unusual in his looks?"
"I had me only a glimbs of him. He looked about the same as effer. He was in a hurry, for it rained a liddle; und under his coat yet he carried his fiddle."
"If it was under his coat, how do you know it was his fiddle?"
The German scratched his head in a reflective way.
"I don't know it," said he at last. "But he somedimes takes his instrument inside there, und I just get the notion that it was so. Yes?"
"When did he come out?"
The man shook his head.
"I don'd know," he said.
"Do you mean that you saw no one come out?"
"No; I did see someone come out. But first I see me someone else go in."
"Ah! And who was that?"
"I don't know his name; but I had seen him often before. He is a kind of svell feller. He had a cane und plendy of style."
"And later you saw someone come out. Now, your use of the word 'someone' leads me to think that you do not know whether it was Spatola or the stranger."
"I don'd," said Berg. "I was busy then. I just heard me someone rush down the stairs, making plendy noise, und I heard that drunken Hume lift up a window, stick out his head and call some names after him. My customers laugh und think it's a joke; but I am ashamed such a disgracefulness to have around my business yet."
"If Hume called after the person who left," said Stillman, acutely, to Ashton-Kirk, "that eliminates one of the callers. It proves that Hume was still alive after the man had gone."
"That is undoubtedly a fact," replied the investigator.
Stillman turned upon Berg with dignity.
"Surely you must have noticed the man if all that uproar attended his exit. You must have detected enough to mark a difference between an exceptionally well-dressed man and an Italian street musician."
Berg shook his big head.
"It was aboud twelve o'clock in the night-dime, und my customers besides I had to pay some attention to," stated he.
The coroner was baffled by the man's positiveness.
"Well," said he, resignedly. "What else did you see?"
Berg shook his head once more.
"Nothing else. Putty soon I closed up and went home." Then a flash of recollection came into his dull face. "As I went down the street I saw some lights in Hume's windows. One of them windows was open—maybe the one he sticked his head out of to call the man names—und I could hear him laughing like he used to do when he was trying to make a jackass of some peoples."
The coroner pondered. At length he said:
"This object that Spatola carried under his coat, now. Could it have been a bayonet?"
"No, no," said Berg with conviction. "It vos too big. It vos bigger as a half dozen bayonets already."
This seemed the limit of Berg's knowledge of the night's happenings; a few more questions and then Stillman dismissed him. The door had hardly closed when the telephone rang. After a few words, the coroner hung up the receiver and turned to his visitors.
"I think," said he, with a smile of satisfaction, "that I've made the police department sit up a little. They talked to all three of these people before I had them, and didn't seem to get enough to make a beginning. But just now," and the smile grew wider, "I've heard that Osborne is on his way to arrest Antonio Spatola."
ASHTON-KIRK LOOKS ABOUT
Berg was standing in the corridor waiting for the elevator when Ashton-Kirk and Pendleton came out. The big German mopped his face with a handkerchief, and said apologetically:
"A man can only tell what he knows, ain't it?"
Ashton-Kirk looked at him questioningly, but said nothing.
"To begin dot guess-work business when you are talking to the law already, it is dangerous," stated Berg in an explanatory tone.
"Well," said Ashton-Kirk, "sometimes a good, pointed guess is of great service, Mr. Berg. And," with a laugh, "as I am not the law and not the least dangerous, suppose you make the one that I can see you turning over in your mind."
"Oh," said Berg, "you are not the coroner's office in?"
"No; merely interested in this case, that's all."
The delicatessen dealer looked relieved.
"I don't want to get people in trouble," said he, guardedly. "But this is what I guess. Late every night, about the time I shut up my place, there is a cab comes und by the curbstone stands across the street. I will not say what is der place it stands in front of; that is not my business."
"McCausland's gambling house, perhaps," suggested Ashton-Kirk.
The big German looked more relieved than ever.
"Ach, so you know about dot place, eh? All ride. Now I can speak out and not be afraid to do some harm to nobody." He lowered his voice still further. "Dot cab came last night as I was locking my door up, und stands the curbstone by in front of McCausland's, waiting for a chob. Maybe when I goes away home der driver he sees what happened at Hume's afterwards, eh?"
"Excellent!" said Ashton-Kirk, his eyes alight. "Thanks for the hint, Mr. Berg."
The delicatessen dealer lumbered into the elevator which had stopped; Pendleton was about to follow, but his friend detained him, and the car dropped downward without them.
"That cab," said Ashton-Kirk, "is sure to be a night-hawk; and more than likely it is put up at Partridge's. Pardon me a moment."
There was a telephone booth at one side of the corridor; the speaker went in and closed the door. After a few moments he came out.
"Just as I thought," he said, well pleased. "Partridge knew the cab in a moment. The driver's name is Sams, and he lives at the place they call the Beehive." He looked at his watch. "It wants but a few minutes of four," he added, "and a night-hawk cabby will be just about stirring. The Beehive is only three blocks away; suppose we go around and look him up."
Pendleton agreed instantly; and after a brisk walk and a breathless climb, they found themselves on the fourth floor of a huge brick building where they had been directed by a meek-looking woman in a dust-cap. A long hall with a great many doors upon each side, all looking alike, stretched away before them.
"It's very plain that the only way to find Mr. Sams is to make a noise," said Ashton-Kirk. And with that he stalked down the hall, his heels clattering on the bare boards. "Hello," he cried loudly. "Sams is wanted! Hello, Sams!"
A door opened, and a face covered with thick soap suds and surmounted by a tangle of sandy hair looked out.
"Hello," growled this person, huskily. "Who wants him?"
"Very glad to see you, Mr. Sams," said Ashton-Kirk. "We have a small matter of business with you that will require a few moments of your time. May we come in?"
"Sure," said Sams.
They entered the room, which contained a bed, a trunk, a wash-stand, and a chair.
"One of you can take the chair; the other can sit on the trunk," said the hack driver, nodding toward these articles. Then he proceeded to strop a razor at one of the windows. "Excuse me if I go on with this reaping. I must go out and feed the horse, and then get breakfast."
"You breakfast rather late," commented Ashton-Kirk.
"I'm lucky to get it at any time, in this business," grumbled Sams. "Out all night, sleep all day, and get blamed little for it, at that."
He posed before a small mirror stuck up beside the window and gave the blade an experimental sweep across his face. Then he turned and asked inquiringly:
"Did youse gents want anything particular?"
"We'd like to ask a question or two regarding what happened last night in Christie Place."
The cab driver's forehead corrugated; he closed his razor, laid it down and shoved his' soapy face toward the speaker.
"Say," spoke he, roughly. "I drives people wherever they wants to go; but I don't ask no questions."
"It's all right, Mr. Sams," said Ashton-Kirk. "The affair that I'm looking up happened across the street—at Hume's—second floor of 478."
"Oh!" Sams stared for a moment, then he took up his razor, turned his back and went on with his shaving. But there was expectancy in his attitude; and Ashton-Kirk smiled confidently.
"While you were drawn up in Christie Place, waiting for a fare," he asked, "did you hear or see anything at 478?"
"I saw a light on the second floor—something I never saw before at that hour. And I saw the Dutchman that keeps the store underneath shutting up. And I heard somebody laughing upstairs," as a second thought. "I think that's what made me notice the light."
Sams shaved and considered. He wiped his razor at last, poured some water in a bowl and doused his face. Then he took up a towel and began applying it briskly.
The investigator, watching him closely, saw that he was not trying to recall anything. It was plain that the man was merely calculating the possibilities of harm to himself and patrons if he told what he knew.
"There has been a murder," said Ashton-Kirk, quietly, thinking to jog him along.
Sams threw the towel from him and sat down upon the bed.
"A murder!" said he, his eyes and mouth wide open. "Well, what do you know about that." He sat looking from one to the other of them, dazedly, for a space; then he resumed: "Say, I thought there was something queer about that stunt of hers!"
"Tell us about it," suggested Ashton-Kirk, crossing his legs and clasping one knee with his hands.
The cabby considered once more.
"There's lots of things that a guy like me sees that look off color," he said, at length; "but we can't always pass any remarks about them. It would be bad for business, you see. But this murder thing's a different proposition, and here's where I tell it all. Last night while I was waiting in front of McCausland's, I hears an automobile turn into the street. It was some time after I got there. I wouldn't have paid much attention to it, but you see there's a fellow been trying to get my work with a taxicab, and I thought it was him."
"And it wasn't?"
"No, it was a private car—a Maillard, and there was a woman driving it."
The chair upon which Pendleton sat was an infirm one; it creaked sharply as he made a sudden movement.
"She was going at a low speed," proceeded Sams, "and as she passed Hume's I noticed her look up at the windows. After she disappeared there wasn't a sound for a while. You see, nobody hardly ever passes through Christie Place after one o'clock. Then I hears her coming back. This time she stopped the car, got out and went to the door that leads into Hume's place. There she stopped a little, as though she didn't know whether to go in or not. But at last she went in."
Pendleton coughed huskily at this point; and his friend glancing at him saw that his face was white.
"And up to that time," said Ashton-Kirk, "are you sure that there was no movement—no sound—in the front room at Hume's?"
"As far as I noticed, there wasn't. But a few minutes after I heard the woman go in, I did hear some sounds."
The man stroked his shaven jaws in the deliberate manner of a person about to precipitate a crisis. Pendleton leaned toward him, anxiously.
"What sort of sounds?" he asked.
"There were two," replied the cab driver. "The first was a revolver shot; the second came right after, and was a kind of a scream—like that of a parrot."
"And what then?" asked Ashton-Kirk, easily.
"There wasn't anything for a few minutes, anyway. But the revolver shot had kind of got my attention, so I was taking notice of the windows. Then suddenly I caught sight of the woman. You see, the gas-light was near the window and she kind of leaned over and turned it out. It was only for a time as long as that," and the man snapped his fingers. "But I saw her plain. Then I heard her coming down the stairs to the street—almost at a run. She banged the street door shut after her, jumped into her car and went tearing away as if she was crazy. I stayed fifteen minutes before I got a fare; but nothing else happened."
Pendleton's hand closed hard on the edge of the chair he sat in. There was a moment's silence; then Ashton-Kirk asked:
"Just where was your cab standing at this time?"
"Right in front of McCausland's door."
"And you were on the box?"
The investigator put a piece of money in the man's hand as he and Pendleton arose and prepared to go.
"Say," said Sam curiously, "I've been in bed all day and ain't heard a word of anything. Who's been done up?"
"Hume. Stabbed in the chest."
"Shot, you mean."
"No, I mean stabbed. With a bayonet."
The man stared wonderingly.
"G'way," he said.
They bid him good-day and tramped down the three long flights to the street. Pendleton was silent, and walked with his head held down.
"We have more than an hour of good daylight left," said his friend, as they reached the street. "And as I must have a good unrestricted look at Hume's apartments before everything is hopelessly changed about, suppose we go there now. We can get a taxi in the next street."
"Just a moment," said Pendleton. "Before we take another step in the matter, Kirk, I must ask a question."
Ashton-Kirk put his hand upon his friend's shoulder.
"Don't," said he. "I know just what the question would be, and at the present time I can't answer it. At this moment, except for some few theories that I have yet to verify, I am as much puzzled as yourself."
"But," and there was a tremble in the speaker's voice, "you must answer me, old chap—and you must answer now."
The catch in his voice, the expression upon the young man's face caused Ashton-Kirk to grasp an astonishing fact. The hand that he had laid upon Pendleton's shoulder tightened as he answered:
"Yes, Edyth Vale is concerned. As a rule I do not speak of my clients to others, but in view of what you have already heard and seen, it would be a waste of words to deny it. But, see here, there are lots of things we don't know yet about this business. It may look very different in a few hours. Come."
Pendleton gazed with sober eyes into the speaker's face for a moment. Then he said:
"Let us get the cab; if you are to go over Hume's rooms before dark, you haven't any too much time."
At the next corner they signaled a taxicab, and in a short time they were set down in Christie Place. Paulson, the policeman, was standing guard.
"How are you?" he greeted them affably.
"Been here all day?" asked Ashton-Kirk.
"Oh, no. Just come on. I'm the third shift since I saw you last."
"Nobody has been permitted to go upstairs, I presume?"
"Only the coroner's man, who came for the body. And they touched nothing but the body. Our orders were strong on that."
"Has anything been heard as the result of the post-mortem?"
"It showed that Hume was in bad shape from too much drink. Then he had a hard knock on the head, and the wound in his chest."
"But there was no sign of a bullet wound?"
"No," said Paulson, surprised. "Nothing like that."
"Just a moment," said the investigator to Pendleton. He crossed the street, walked along for a few paces, then paused at the curb and looked back toward Hume's doorway. Then he returned with quick steps and an alert look in his eyes.
"Now we'll go upstairs," he said.
But before doing so he stopped and examined the lock of the street door closely; then he mounted the stairs slowly, his glances seeming to take in everything. At the top he paused, his head bent, apparently in deep thought. Then he lifted it suddenly, and laughed exultantly.
"That's it," he said, "I'm quite sure that is it."
"I wouldn't doubt your word for an instant," said Pendleton, in something like his old voice. "Whatever it is, I'm quite sure it is if you say so."
The policeman on guard in the hall examined them carefully.
"All right," said he, after they had explained and he had verified it by calling to his mate at the street door. "Go right to work, gents. I'm here to see that nobody gets in from above by way of the scuttle, and I guess I won't be in the way."
There were three gas branches at intervals along the length of the dim hall, each with a cluster of four jets. Ashton-Kirk lighted all three of these and began making a careful examination of the passage. Along toward the rear was a stairway leading to the floor above. Next this was a small room in which there was a water tap. At the extreme end of the hall was a window with a green shade drawn to the bottom.
Ashton-Kirk regarded this for a moment intently. Then he reached up and turned off the gas at the branch nearest the window. Daylight could now be seen through the blind; the investigator pointed and said:
"This shows us something. About six inches of the bottom of the blind is of a decidedly lighter color than the remainder. This is caused by exposure to the light and indicates that this blind has seldom been drawn in daylight as it is now."
He drew back the blind and looked at the side nearest the window. At the top of the faded space was a heavy dark line.
"I'll modify that last statement," said he, with satisfaction. "I'll go as far as to say, now, that the blind has never been drawn since it was put up. This thick line marks the part that lay across the top of the roller, and the dust seems never to have been disturbed."
The gas was lighted once more.
"Hume did not draw that curtain," said Ashton-Kirk, decidedly. "He was too careless a man, apparently, to think of such a thing. The intruders, whoever they were, did it; they had a light, perhaps, and did not want to be—"
He paused abruptly here, and Pendleton heard him draw his breath sharply between his teeth; his eyes were fixed upon the lowermost step of the flight that led to the floor above.
One of the gas branches hung here; its full glare was thrown downward. Following the fixed gaze of his friend, Pendleton saw two partly burned matches, the stump of a candle, and some traces of tallow which had fallen from the latter upon the step. To Pendleton's amazement, his friend dropped to his knees before these as a heathen would before an idol. With the utmost attention he examined them and the step upon which they lay. Then he arose, enthusiasm upon his face.
"Beautiful!" he cried. "I do not recall ever having seen anything just like it!" He slapped Pendleton upon the back with a heavy, hand. "Pen, that stump of candle sheds more light than the finest arc lamp ever manufactured."
"I'm watching and I'm listening," spoke Pendleton. "Also I'm agitating my small portion of gray matter. But inspiration, it seems, is not for me. So I'll have to ask you what these things tell you."
"Well, they give me a fairly good view of the man who, while he may not actually have murdered Hume, had much to do with his taking off." He bent over the lower step once more, then looked up with a smile upon his face. "What would you say," asked he, "if I told you that I draw from these things that the gentleman was short, well-dressed, near-sighted and knew something of the modern German dramatists."
"I should say," replied Pendleton, firmly, "that you ought to have your brain looked at. It sounds wrong to me."
Ashton-Kirk laughed, and started up the stairs toward the third floor.
"I'll return in a moment," he said. "Don't trouble to come up."
He was gone but a very little while, and when he returned his face wore a satisfied look.
"The bolt of the scuttle is broken, just as Osborne said," he reported. "And anyone who could gain the roof would have little difficulty in effecting an entrance." He led the way down the hall, saying as he went: "Now we'll browse around in the rooms for a while; then we'll be off to dinner."
The storage room was entered first as upon the earlier visit, but Ashton-Kirk wasted but little time upon it. In the front room, however, he examined things with a minuteness that amazed Pendleton. And yet everything was done quickly; like a keen-nosed hound, the investigator went from one object to another; nothing seemed to escape him, nothing was too small for his attention. One of the first things that he did was to get a chair and plant it against the lettered door that led directly into the hall. At the top was a gong with a spring-hammer, one of the sort that rings its warning whenever the door is opened; and this the investigator examined with care.
He then passed into the railed space where the body had lain and where the darkened trail of blood still bore ghastly testimony to what had occurred. The man's singular eyes scanned the floor, the walls, the flat-topped desk. On this last his attention again became riveted; and once more Pendleton heard his breath drawn sharply between his teeth.
"When Hume was struck upon the head," said Ashton-Kirk, after a moment, "he was standing at this desk. He had just sprung up, probably upon hearing a sound of some kind. See where the chair is pushed back against the wall, just as he would have pushed it had he arisen hastily. When he struck he fell across the desk." He pointed to a dark trickle of blood down the back of the piece of furniture in question. "That is the result of the blow upon the head, and probably flowed from the mouth or nostrils. After the first senseless lurch the body settled back and slid to the position in which it was found. Here is a blotting pad, a small pair of shears, a box of clips and a letter scale upon the floor where the sliding body dragged them. The top of the desk is of polished wood; it is perfectly smooth; there are no crevices or anything of the sort to catch hold of anything. When the body slipped from it, it must have swept everything with it, cleanly. And yet," bending forward over the desk and picking up a minute red particle, "here, directly in the center, we find this."
"What is it?" asked Pendleton, eagerly.
Ashton-Kirk placed the red particle on his palm and held it out. It was shaped like a keystone, and had apparently been cut from something that had been printed upon.
"It is that portion of a railroad ticket which a conductor's punch bites out, and which litters the floor and the seats in trains. Have you never had one fall from your clothes after a railroad journey?"
Pendleton looked at the tiny red fragment, and then at the desk.
"If Hume fell across the desk, as you've just said," he remarked, slowly, "and pulled all these other things to the floor with him—why, Kirk, this bit of card, in the very center of the polished top,—it must have dropped there afterwards."
"Exactly," said Ashton-Kirk. "And now, if you don't mind, just step out into the hall and ask Paulson to come up."
Pendleton did so; and while he was gone, Ashton-Kirk placed the red fragment carefully in his card-case. When the other re-entered with Paulson at his heels, he asked:
"Have any of the policemen detailed here been out of town recently?"
"No," replied Paulson. "There have been five besides myself, and they have been on duty every day."
"Thank you," said the investigator. And as the policeman went out, he made his way into the kitchen. Here, however, his examination was brief, as was that of the bedroom also. At length he paused, his hands in his pockets, his head thrown back, satisfaction lighting his dark, keen face.
"That is all, I think," said he. "There have only been a few pages, but the print has been exceedingly good and the matter of much interest." He looked at a clock that ticked solemnly upon a shelf. "We have half an hour to reach my place and dress," he said. "I'm afraid that we'll be late, and that Edouard will be annoyed. His cookery is so exquisitely timed that it is scarcely the better for delay."
"Wait a minute," said Pendleton, grasping his friend's arm. "What part did Edyth—Miss Vale—play in all this? I can see you have formed in your mind some sort of completed action. Where does she come into it?"
"Completed!" Ashton-Kirk smiled into the pale, set face of his friend. "You give me too much credit, old chap. I have some undoubted scenes from the drama; but most of the remainder are merely detached lines and bits of stage business. As to Miss Vale," here the smile vanished, "I have been unable to make up my mind just how far she is concerned, if at all. However, perhaps twenty-four hours will make it all clear enough. In the meantime I will say this to you: Don't jump to harsh conclusions, Pen. You know this young lady well. How far do you suppose she would go to the perpetrating of a downright crime?"
"Not a step!" answered Pendleton, promptly.
"Then," said Ashton-Kirk, "until we know positively that she has done so, stick to that."
THE SCHWARTZ-MICHAEL BAYONET
As Ashton-Kirk and Pendleton sat in the former's library that evening after dinner, there came a knock upon the door and Fuller entered briskly. In his hand he carried a paper parcel which he laid upon a stand at the investigator's elbow.
"This is the bayonet, sir," said he. "Mr. Stillman, the coroner, objected to letting me have it at first, but changed his mind after I had talked to him for a while."
"Did you take the photograph to Berg in Christie Place?"
"Yes, sir. He recognized it at once as that of the person in question."
"And you made inquiries upon the other point?"
"I did. Neither Mr. Stillman nor any of the men who removed the body of Hume have been out of town within a week. I also questioned Mr. Osborne; his answer was the same. Brolatsky's reply was similar; and he also said that Hume had not ridden on a railroad in years."
"That will be all, Fuller; thank you."
The brisk young man had reached the door when the investigator added:
He scribbled something upon a pad, tore off the leaf and handed it to his aid.
"Look these things up at once."
Fuller took the paper, glanced at it and then replied:
"Very well, sir."
Seated in his big chair with the jar of Greek tobacco and sheaf of brown paper wrappers before him, Ashton-Kirk did not display any haste in removing the covering from the bayonet that had let the life out of the art dealer. Rather he sank deeper into the arms of the chair; the cigarette end became gray and dead between his fingers; the strangely brilliant eyes closed as though he had fallen asleep.
But Pendleton, who understood his friend's ways, knew better; the keen, swift-moving mind was but arranging the developments of the day, weighing them, giving to each its proper value. A little later and the eyes would unclose, more than likely alight with some new idea, some fresh purpose drawn from his reflections.
And as Pendleton waited he, too, fell into a musing state and also began marshaling the facts as he saw them. Ashton-Kirk, during dinner, had told him those regarding the visit of Edyth Vale the day before.
"Pen, you know I don't usually do this," the investigator had informed him. "But as you know so much already, and your feelings in the matter being what they are, I think it best that you should know more."
And now Pendleton, as he rolled and consumed cigarette after cigarette, went over the facts as they had been laid before him.
"And Morris," said he to himself, as he reached the end of his friend's recital; "now what sort of a mess has Allan Morris got himself into? And after he had got into it, why in heaven's name didn't he keep quiet about it? What good could come from Edyth's knowing it?"
Then the fact that Morris had apparently tried to keep his secret from Miss Vale presented itself. But Pendleton dismissed it with contempt.
"Tried!" he said to himself. "Of course; but how? By marching up and down the floor. By a great parade of tragic despair; by sighs and the wringing of his hands. I've always suspected Morris of being a bit theatrical—and now I am sure of it."
He roused himself for a moment, lighted a fresh cigarette and settled back once more.
"I'm not Kirk by any means," he reflected, "and this sort of thing is altogether out of my line. But it seems clear that Edyth—after leaving here yesterday—received some unexpected news. When she was here, consulting Kirk, she was, to all appearances, in a quandary—helpless. She did not know how to proceed; she understood nothing. But her darting off alone that way after midnight proves that some sort of a crisis had come up. She had heard something—more than likely through Morris. He probably," with great contempt, "became hysterical again, couldn't contain himself and blabbed everything—whatever it was."
Then he burst out aloud, angrily.
"She went to Hume's last night because she had reason to think Morris would be there. And if the truth were known, Morris was there."
"My dear fellow," said the voice of Ashton-Kirk, "the truth, upon that particular point, at least, is known. Allan Morris was at Hume's last night. He was the man whom Berg saw enter after the musician."
"How do you know?" asked Pendleton, astonished.
"Fuller, with a report which he recently made upon Morris, handed me a photograph of that gentleman. While we were at dinner, Berg identified the portrait as being that of Hume's secret visitor."
"I was right, then. Edyth did go there expecting to meet him—to protect him, perhaps. If you knew her as well as I do, Kirk, you'd realize that it's just the sort of thing she'd do. But," positively, "she did not find him there."
"What makes you think that? There was still one of Hume's visitors left, when she got there. It may have been Morris."
"It was Spatola," answered Pendleton, with conviction. "The scream of the cockatoo which came from Hume's rooms when the pistol was discharged proves it. When Spatola went in, Berg said he was carrying something under his coat. Brolatsky told the coroner this morning that the Italian sometimes brought his trained birds with him when he called at Hume's. That's what he had last night."
But Ashton-Kirk shook his head.
"At this time," he said, "it will scarcely do to be positive on some things. Indications are plenty, but they must be worked out. I have some theories of my own upon the very point that you have just covered, but I will not venture a decided statement until I have proven them to the limit. It's the only safe way."
Pendleton discontentedly hitched forward in his chair.
"I thought," said he, "that you worked entirely by putting this and that together."
"That is precisely what I do," returned Ashton-Kirk. "But I have found, through experience, that there must be no loose ends left to hang. Such things are treacherous; you never know when they'll trip you up and upset all your calculations." He paused a moment and regarded his friend steadfastly. Then he continued. "But, just now, I think we had better not trouble ourselves about Edyth Vale and Allan Morris. To be sure, the latter's connection with the affair is peculiar; Miss Vale's visit to Hume's last night, the sounds which Sams heard immediately after she had gone in—her turning out of the gas and hurried flight, are also strange and significant enough. But they are perhaps the very end of the story; and it is best never to begin at the end."
"Is there any way by which you can begin at what you think is the beginning?" asked the other.
Ashton-Kirk took up the parcel which Fuller had laid at his elbow.
"Here is one way," he answered. "Let us see where it leads us."
He stripped off the wrapper, and the bayonet which had killed the numismatist was revealed, blood-clotted and ugly. Carefully the investigator examined the broad, powerful blade and heavy bronze hilt.
"A Schwartz-Michael, just as I thought," he said.
"The maker's name is upon it then?" said Pendleton.
But the other shook his head.
"No," said he. "But it happens that I have given some attention to arms, and the bayonet, though a weapon that is passing, came in for its share."
He balanced the murderous-looking thing in his hand and proceeded.
"There are not many types of bayonets. The first was what they called a 'Plug,' because it was made to fit into the muzzle of a flint, or match-lock. Then there was the socket bayonet, the ring bayonet and an improved weapon invented by an English officer named Chillingworth which met with much favor in the armies of Europe. But the latest development is the sword bayonet, of which this is an example. Its form is a great improvement over the older makes; it is an almost perfect side arm as well, having a cutting edge, a point, and a grip exactly like that of a sword. There are a number of makes of this type; the Schwartz-Michael is one of the least known of these. Upon its being placed on the market it was adopted by three governments—Bolivia, Servia, and Turkey—and there it stopped."
He laid the weapon upon the table and settled himself back in his chair.
"It struck me when I first saw the thing," he went on, "that it was a little singular that a Schwartz-Michael should even find its way into the United States. Now, it would not surprise me to find an English revolver in Patagonia, or an American rifle in Thibet, because they are universally known and used. Any one might carry them. But a bayonet is different, of course; it is a strictly military arm, and its utility is limited. That a criminal should select one with which to commit a murder is unusual; and, further; the fact that the make is one never introduced into the United States is rather remarkable."
"It is—a little," agreed Pendleton.
"It is a small thing, but all clews are small things. Now there are many ways in which such a weapon might find its way into the country; but I took the most likely of these as a beginning. Before I dressed for dinner, I ran over a rather complete card-index system which I maintain; and within a few minutes learned that the republic of Bolivia had, within the past year, changed both the rifle and bayonet used by its army."
"Well?" asked Pendleton, with interest.
"When a nation makes such a change, the discarded arms are usually bought up by some large speculator or dealer in such things. And in the course of time they find their way to the military goods dealers who exist all over the world."
Here Fuller entered the room, and Ashton-Kirk turned to him inquiringly.
"In the morning Standard of April 9th," announced the young man, "I find an advertisement of Bernstine Brothers relative to a sale of condemned army equipment."
"Is anything specified?"
"They considered it important that high-power modern rifles were to be sold at a very small price. And they also lay some stress upon the fact that the stuff had been in use by the Bolivian army."
Pendleton saw a look of satisfaction come into his friend's eyes. But there was no other evidence of anything unusual.
"And now," said the investigator, quietly, "with regard to this other matter."
"I find that there are two schools for mutes in this section," answered Fuller. "But both are some distance out of town."
The satisfaction in Ashton-Kirk's singular eyes deepened.
"Excellent," said he.
"One is on the main line—Kittridge Station; the other is on the Hammondsville Branch at a place called Cordova."
"Thank you," said Ashton-Kirk.
And when the door had once more closed behind his aid, the investigator continued to Pendleton:
"I figured upon some of the equipment reaching here. Military goods houses, such as Bernstine's, usually advertise each lot they receive; and I considered it possible that the murderer might have been attracted by this notice and procured the weapon from them. If he did, we may get some trace of him by inquiring at Bernstine's. But," flinging his arms wide and yawning as though weary of the subject, "that is work for to-morrow. To-night we will rest and prepare for what is to come. But in the meantime," arising with enthusiasm, "let me show you a first edition of the 'Knickerbocker's History of New York' which I picked up recently."
He went to his book-shelves and took down two faded volumes. With eager hands Pendleton took them from him.
"Original covers!" cried he. "Binding unbroken; in perfect condition inside; not a spot or a stain anywhere." Then he regarded his friend with undisguised envy. "Kirk," said he, "you're a lucky dog. You can dig up more good things than anybody else that I know."
THE NEWSPAPERS BEGIN TO PLAY THEIR PART
Next morning Ashton-Kirk lounged in a comfortable window-seat, almost knee-deep in newspapers. The published accounts of the assassination were, in some instances, very sensational. Drawings, by special artists of persons concerned, were much in evidence, also half-tones of the exterior of 478 Christie Place. The names of Osborne and Stillman figured largely in the types; but what interested the investigator most was a portrait of the musician—the violinist, Antonio Spatola, and the story of his arrest.
The pictured face was that of a young man with a great head of curling hair. The features were regular, the expression eager and appealing.
"I would have pronounced him a musician, even if I had not heard that he was one," said Ashton-Kirk. "The head and face formations have all the qualities." Then he ran over the story of Spatola's arrest and the causes that led up to it. At the finish he smiled. "They have tried and convicted him on the first page. If there was any way for them to do it, they'd execute him in the evening editions and print his dying words in the sporting extra. But," and he nodded his head appreciatively, "Osborne has a good case against him, at that."
Both the clerk, Isidore Brolatsky, and Berg seemed to have talked freely to the newspapermen. The character of Hume was treated in a highly colored manner. The visits of the Italian musician to the numismatist, his ambition to shine as another Kubelik, his ungovernable temper, the high words that followed Hume's frequent sneers at his ambition and the fact that he once drew a knife upon his tormentor, were presented in full. But what appealed to the space-writers most was Brolatsky's story of how Hume had once called Spatola "Mad Anthony," and afterward showed him the portrait of General Wayne.
"This apparently drove him frantic," wrote one reporter, "and, noting this, Hume frequently applied the name to him, and more than likely displayed the portrait as well. The last time that Spatola visited Hume was upon the night of the murder. He evidently went to regale the numismatist with music; for the delicatessen dealer, Berg, saw under his coat what was evidently his violin. During the course of the concert, Hume probably resumed his sneers; unable any longer to bear it, the Italian apparently struck him down, and then in blind rage of resentment, smashed and otherwise destroyed every one of the Wayne portraits he could find."
Fuller came in with another newspaper just about this time and Ashton-Kirk showed him the story.
"The Standard, then, seems to ignore the theory held by Osborne and Stillman that the murder was done in an attempt to steal the portrait found partly cut from the frame," said the assistant after studying the account. Then, inquiringly, he added: "What do you think of it, sir?"
"As a piece of sensational writing, I have no fault to find with it," said the investigator. "But the Standard's young man is no deep thinker. The single fact that Hume was a lover of real music should have shown him that his theory was wrong."
Fuller considered a moment.
"I don't think I quite get that," said he.
"It is simple enough. Hume being sensitive to harmony, asked Spatola very frequently to play for him; and, according to Brolatsky, paid him rather well for each performance. To furnish good music, Spatola must have not only talent, but also a violin that was at least fairly good."
"Yes, sir, I see that."
"Having a violin that was at least fairly good, Spatola, being a poor man, would take care of it. He would carry it in a case—he would especially do so in wet or damp weather. And it rained on the night of the murder. If he carried his violin in a case, there was no need of his putting it under his coat. And, another thing, a violin case is of such size as to prevent its being so carried, isn't it?"
"I think that's very good," said he.
"It would have been a very easy thing for the Standard's man to have made a few inquiries as to whether Spatola used a violin case or no. If he had done so, I am inclined to think that the answers would have been in the affirmative. But there is another and more vital point upon which I would base an objection to the reporter's theory. He says that, goaded into a rage, Spatola struck his tormentor down. But he forgets that If the murderer did not visit Hume's with the intention of doing murder, it was rather a freakish thing for him to provide himself with a bayonet. However, that is a point that I discussed with Mr. Stillman yesterday; at first he was inclined to assume a somewhat similar position."
"But the broken and cut portraits?" questioned Fuller.
Ashton-Kirk smiled a little.
"Probably I shall be able to properly account for them when I return from a little trip that I am about to take to-day," said he. "That is," as a sort of afterthought, "if some things turn out as I think they will."
Fuller unfolded the newspaper that he had brought in.
"It is a late edition of the Star," he said. "The paper seems to have scored a beat, for it has some developments that may put a different face upon everything."
Ashton-Kirk took the sheet, and as he glanced at the flaring headlines, he whistled softly. The lines read:
"MYSTERIOUS WOMAN IN A MOTOR CAR!
"She Visits 478 Christie Place on the Night of Murder!
"DID A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN'S HAND DEAL THE DEADLY BLOW?
"A New Element Added to the Hume Sensation!"
"The Star man seems to have struck up an acquaintance with Sams," said Ashton-Kirk, with interest. He thought for a moment, and then added to Fuller:
"Tell Stumph when Miss Edyth Vale arrives to show her here at once."
"Oh, you have been expecting her then?"
"No: I have not. But I am now."
After Fuller left the room, the investigator turned eagerly to the Star's leaded narrative. This laid great stress upon the evident wealth and dazzling beauty of the mysterious midnight visitor in Christie Place; and second only to her did they feature the well-dressed stranger whom Berg had seen enter at Hume's door before he had closed his own place for the night. The revolver shot that had followed the woman's entrance and the parrot-like scream which had, in turn, followed that, lost nothing in the telling.
"Who was the woman? That is the mystery," the newspaper said in conclusion. "The hack driver caught but a glimpse of her, and in the excitement of the moment failed to take the number of the car. But that the latter was a Maillard he is positive. There are several headquarter's men following up the clew as this goes to press; and startling developments are expected at any moment.
"As to the second man whom the fancy grocer, Berg, saw go into Hume's, there is a well-founded belief that he is very well known in select circles and had called at Hume's frequently upon a matter concerning which both he and Hume were always very secretive. The Star called up both his apartments and his office, but he had not been seen at either place on the day after the murder. The clubs of which he is a member were resorted to, but with no more success. As this gentleman is known to be engaged to the beautiful heiress of a huge fortune, the Star's well-known special writer, Nancy Prindeville, was detailed to get her statement. But a man servant stated that his mistress had given positive orders that she could not be seen."
The investigator threw down the paper.
"Well," said he to himself with a shrug, "that makes it a little annoying for the young lady. The fact that they refer to Morris when they speak of a young man 'well known in select circles' will be plain to everyone, for the facts of Morris' visits have been rather well exploited in all the other papers. And as newspaper men are not without daring in their conjectures, I wonder how long it will be before one of them openly associates the 'beautiful unknown' with Allan Morris' betrothed. I would, I think, offer even money that the thing is hinted at before night."
He sat for some time in the midst of the scattered sheets thinking deeply; then he pressed the bell call, and Fuller presented himself.
"I want you to take up the investigation of Hume and Allan Morris where you left off the other day. Put Burgess, O'Neill and any others that you desire on the matter. I want complete information, and I want it quickly."
"Yes, sir," answered Fuller.
"Follow up anything that promises results concerning Morris' father. Especially find out if he ever knew Hume. Get every fact that can be gathered about the latter. You, or rather Burgess, hinted in the preliminary report that it was thought that he had at one time lived abroad. If it is possible, establish that fact. In any event, go into his history as deeply as you can."
"Very well," said Fuller, with the easy manner of a person accustomed to carrying out difficult orders.
As the young man went out at one door, Stumph knocked upon another; then Miss Edyth Vale, very pale, but entirely composed, was shown into the room.
MISS VALE TELLS WHAT SHE KNOWS
Ashton-Kirk arose, kicked aside the litter of newspapers, and placed a chair for his visitor.
"Your man told me that I was expected," she said. "How did you know that I would come this morning?"
"I knew that you'd be sure to read the newspapers," said he. "And I was pretty confident as to the effect the Star's account would have."
She sat down quietly and for a few moments did not speak. A slight trembling of the lower lip was the only indication of the strain under which she was laboring. Finally she said:
"I am very sorry that I deceived you yesterday morning."
He waved his hand lightly.
"I was not deceived; so there was no harm done," he explained.
She began tugging nervously at her gloves, much as she had done a few mornings before. Her face was still composed; but deep in her beautiful eyes was an expression of fear.
"I might have known that I could not do it," she said. "But the impulse came to me to deny everything as the easiest and safest way out of it all; and I obeyed it. I was not calm enough to consider the possible harm that it might do. However," and her firm voice broke a little, "I suppose the newspapers would have ferreted out the facts in any event."
"They are very keen in the pursuit of anything that promises a good story," agreed the investigator. "But if you had given me the facts as you intended doing when you called me on the 'phone yesterday morning, I'd have had twenty-four hours start of them, at least."
She leaned toward him earnestly.
"I am going to be frank with you now," she said. "And perhaps it is not yet too late. I did intend telling you everything when I telephoned you, but, as I have said, the impulse came to hide it, instead!"
"It was fear," said Ashton-Kirk, "and was, perhaps, perfectly natural under the circumstances."
"When I left you two mornings ago," said Miss Vale, "I felt easier in my mind than I had in months before. From what I had heard of you, I felt sure that the little problem which I had set you would prove absurdly simple. This feeling clung to me all day; I was light and happy, and astonished my aunt, Mrs. Page, by consenting to go with her to Mrs. Barron's that night, a thing that I had been refusing to do for a long time.
"Late in the afternoon, Allan—Mr. Morris—came. As soon as I saw him I knew that something had happened or was about to happen. There was no color in his face; his eyes had a feverish glitter, his voice was high pitched and excited. But I did not let him see that I noticed this. I talked to him quietly about a score of things; and by a most circuitous route approached the matter that interested me most—our marriage.
"To my surprise he plunged into the subject with the greatest eagerness. Before that, as I have told you, he always did his best to avoid it; the least mention of it seemed to sadden him, to cause him pain. But now he discussed it excitedly; apparently it was no longer a dim, far-off thing, but one which he saw very clearly. As you may imagine, I was both astonished and delighted. But this was only at first. In a little while I noticed something in his tone, in his manner, in his feverish eyes that I did not like."
She paused for a moment; Ashton-Kirk clasped his knee with both hands and regarded her with interest.
"It was a sort of subdued fierceness," continued Miss Vale—"as though he were setting his face against some invisible force and defying it. When he mentioned our happiness that was to be, I could see his hands close tightly, I could read menace in the set of his jaw. As he was going, he said to me:
"'There has been something—a something that you've never been able to understand—keeping us apart. But it is about at an end. Human nature endures a great deal, sometimes, but it's endurance does not last forever. To-night, my dear, puts an end to my endurance. I am going to show what I should have shown long ago—that I'm a man.'
"Then he went away, and I was frightened. All sorts of possibilities presented themselves to me—vague, indefinite, formless terrors. I tried to shake them off, but could not. It became firmly fixed in my mind that something was going to happen—that Allan was about to—to—" here the steady voice faltered once more, "to take a step that would bring danger upon him.
"And that night I went to Mrs. Barron's as I had promised. I talked to people—I laughed—I even danced. But never for a moment did the fear cease gripping at my heart. At last I could stand it no longer. I felt that I must go to where this danger was confronting Allan; and as the house in Christie Place was the first that arose in my mind, I went there.
"I saw the cab upon the opposite side of the street; and the driver of it looked at me so hard that I drove on without stopping, as the newspaper states. But my courage came back in a few moments; I returned and went in."
"You halted on the stairs," said Ashton-Kirk. "Why?"
"Because I saw a light moving about in the hallway above," answered Miss Vale. Then she added: "But how did you know that I stopped upon the stairs?"
"I did not know it," replied Ashton-Kirk. "In his story the cab driver says you entered at Hume's door and went upstairs. I have found that the position which his cab occupied at the time was fully fifteen feet west of Hume's doorway, making it impossible for him to see whether you went up at once, or not. In the face of what immediately followed your entrance, or rather, what is said to have followed it, I thought it reasonable to suppose that you had stopped!"
"Thank you," said Miss Vale.
"You say there was a light moving about; but what else did you see?"
"But you heard something?"
"Yes; the revolver shot, and then the dreadful cry that followed it."
Ashton-Kirk unclasped his hands from about his knee, placed them upon the arms of his chair and leaned forward.
"But between the two—after the shot, and before the cry, you heard a door close," he said.
She gave a little gasp of surprise.
"I did," she said. "I remember it distinctly now that you mention it. It closed sharply, but not very loudly."
The investigator leaned back and began drumming upon the arm of his chair with his long supple fingers.
"Experience never quite takes away that comfortable feeling of satisfaction that the proving of a theory gives one," said he. "I suppose it is a sort of reward that Nature reserves for effort."
And he smiled at his beautiful visitor's puzzled look, and went on:
"The cab driver says that the cry resembled that of a parrot or cockatoo. What do you think?"
"It was not unlike their scream," said Miss Vale. "But I was too much startled to think of comparing it to anything at the time!"
"What happened after you heard this cry?"
"I waited for some little time, part way up the stairs. Then the light which I had seen glancing over the walls and across the ceiling, seemed to halt and die down. After this there was a pause, a stoppage of everything, and fear took possession of me. Suppose Allan had really intended visiting the place—suppose he had preceded me—suppose something dreadful had just happened—something in which he had had a part!
"Filled with thoughts like these, I ascended the remaining stairs. There was a light shining through the lettered glass of the door at the front; but the hall was deserted; the far end was thick with shadows. I tried the door where the light was, but it was fast; the door nearest the stairs was open; I entered by that, and passed into the front room through a communicating doorway. Then I saw the—the body, turned out the light, ran stumbling through the rooms and down the stairs."
"Why did you turn out the light?" asked the investigator.
"I don't know. Partly, I suppose, to shut the awful thing upon the floor from my sight—and partly—"
She stopped, but Ashton-Kirk completed the sentence for her.
"And partly with the confused idea that you might hide the deed from public gaze and in that way save Allan Morris from the consequences of his crime," said he.
At this she sprang up, her hands outstretched appealingly; the fear now plain in her face.
"No, no!" she cried. "He is not guilty! He did not do it!"
"My dear young lady," said Ashton-Kirk, soothingly, "control yourself. Don't forget that before this thing is ended you will probably need all the self-command you can summon." Then as she resumed her seat, he added: "I did not say that he was guilty. I was merely telling you of the formless thought that you had in mind when you turned out the light."
She sat staring at him, the horror of it all still in her eyes. Then she nodded her head slowly, and said in a husky voice.
"Yes; that is what I thought, and that is why I called you on the telephone. I thought you would pity me and show me some way of covering it all up. But after I had your promise to come, I was seized with the fear that you might—that you might betray him. That is, I suppose, the real reason why I tried to deceive you. In my terror I myself thought Allan guilty. But, of course, now that I have had time to calmly think it over, I know he was not—that he couldn't be! No one who knows him will believe he did it."
"What reason had you for thinking that he might be guilty?"
"His manner during the afternoon before the murder. He seemed so fiercely resolved, so different from his usual self."
"I understand. And what makes you think now that he is innocent?"
"I believe it because I understand his nature," said Miss Vale, earnestly. "He might be finally aroused—under provocation he might even be violent. But he could never do a thing like this—it is too utterly horrible."
"You have judged that it was probably he who was seen to go into Hume's before the murder?"
"Hume was alive when Berg closed up his shop; he was dead when you entered his showroom a half hour or so later. Therefore he must have met his death while the cab driver Sams sat on his box across the street. Now, while Morris was seen to go in, it is not at all positive that he was the man who came out. We are not sure that he was not present when the crime was committed."
Miss Vale reared her head proudly.
"Is it possible," she said, "that you are trying to fix this deed upon Allan Morris?"
"I am trying to find the real truth," answered Ashton-Kirk, gravely.
"The police," said Miss Vale, "according to the newspapers, thought that the criminal gained admission by way of the roof. This may or may not be so; but I think it is pretty evident that he made his way out in that manner. I was on the stairs while he was in the hall. He fled, but as he did not pass me, he must have gone upwards. If Allan Morris had done this murder he would not have thought of this; not knowing the section, he would have been ignorant as to where the roof would lead. But if Spatola were the man who remained, it would have been different. Do the papers not say that he lives in a garret, or loft, in the same block? How easy it would have been for him to pass out upon the roof of 478 after the crime and then over the housetops of the block until he came to a scuttle which perhaps led into his very attic?"
"That," said Ashton-Kirk, "is very well conceived. But it has one weakness. You are not sure that the murderer did ascend to the roof after the crime. He may have been lurking in the shadows which you say were lying so thickly at the end of the hall. He may have been watching you as you discovered the body, while you ran down the hall once more and down the stairs. To be sure, you slammed the door behind you; and so locked it. But like all spring or latch locks, it could be readily opened from the inside. No one else came out while the cab driver waited; but that was only for another fifteen minutes, according to his own statement. The murderer could easily have waited until he had gone and then slipped out, also locking the door after him."
Miss Vale sat staring at the speaker dumbly for a space; then she asked in a dry, expressionless way:
"And do you really think this is what happened?"
Ashton-Kirk shook his head.
"No," said he. "I merely mentioned it to show you that it is difficult to be sure of anything in a matter like this until," with a smile, "you are sure. It is one of the things that may have happened; but it is also open to question. A criminal whose crime has been discovered does not ordinarily linger upon the scene. You had just fled with the terror of the thing fresh upon you. How did he know but that you might scream it out to everyone you met."
Again she looked at him mutely. Then she said:
"What, then, is your theory of the crime?"
"I have a number of possibilities at this moment," he said. "Of course, there is one to which I give the preference; but until a thing is proven beyond question, it is my rule never to outline my theories."
Before Miss Vale left she had implored him to do all he could to clear the matter up, for her sake and for Morris's. "Of course," she said in conclusion, "I now understand that the entire matter will get into the papers. It is too late to prevent that. But it is not too late for you to fix the guilt where it belongs. And I have every confidence that you will do it. If I had not," and her voice quavered pitifully, "I don't know what I should do."
"I will do what I can. Success sometimes comes easily—sometimes one is forced to fight hard for it. But rest assured that I will do what I can."
She was going; he held the library door open for her while the grave-faced Stumph waited in the hall.
"It will, perhaps, be necessary for me to see Mr. Morris sometime during the course of the day," said Ashton-Kirk, as an afterthought. "Would it be convenient for you to let him know that I can be seen at six?"
The fear that his soothing words had driven from her eyes, swept back into them; he saw her tremble and steady herself against the door-frame.
"I cannot let him know," she said. "I have not seen him since—since the time I have mentioned. I have waited, telephoned, sent messages, even gone in person. But I could not find him. No one seems to know anything of his whereabouts."
ASHTON-KIRK ASKS QUESTIONS
For some time after Miss Vale had gone, Ashton-Kirk stood at one of the windows and looked down at the sordid, surging, dirty crowd in the street. The worn horses went dispiritedly up and down; the throaty-voiced men clamored strangely through their beards; children played in the black ooze of the gutters; women bundled in immense knitted garments and with their heads wrapped in shawls, haggled over scatterings of faded, weak looking vegetables. The vendors grew frantic and eloquent in their combats with these experienced purchasers; their gestures were high, sharp and loaded with protest.
Then Pendleton came. He was burdened with newspapers and wore an excited look.
"I brought these, thinking that perhaps you had not seen them," he exclaimed, throwing the dailies among the others upon the floor. "But I note that your morning's reading has been very complete. Now tell me, Kirk, what the mischief do you think of all this?"
"I suppose, you refer to the published reports of the Hume case?"
"Of course! As far as I am concerned, there is not, just now, any other thing of consequence on earth." Then he struck the table with his fist. "And it's all the fault of that cur—Allan Morris! Every bit of it! There is not a space writer or amateur detective on a single paper in the city that hasn't his nose to the ground at this minute, hunting the trail. They are all at it. I stopped at the Vale's on my way here, but they told me she was not at home. From the top step to the curb, on my way out, I was stopped four times by stony-faced young men all anxious to make good with their city editors. 'Was I a friend of the family? Did Miss Vale seem at all upset by the matter? Where was Allan Morris? What brought him so frequently, as Brolatsky said, to see Hume?' I believe they'd have come over the back of my car even after I started, if I had given but an encouraging look."
"The evening papers will be a trial to Miss Vale for the next few days."
"Well, don't neglect the morning issues, if you are going to mention any. In to-morrow's Star there will be a portrait of Edyth four columns wide and eight inches high. I'll expect such expressions as 'beautiful society girl,' 'a recent debutante,' 'heiress to the vast fortune of the late structural steel king,' 'charming manner and brilliant mind.' And at those odd times when they are not praising her gowns, her wealth or her good looks, they'll be rather worse than insinuating that she knows all about the crime—if she didn't commit it herself!"
He paced up and down the floor, his huge motoring coat flapping distressfully about his legs. His face was flushed.
"If I had Morris here," he threatened, "I'd show him a few things, the pup!" Then suddenly he stopped his tramping and faced his friend. "But now that it is as it is," he demanded, "what are we going to do about it?"
"There are quite a number of very sensible things for us to do," replied Ashton-Kirk, good-humoredly. "And the first of them is to keep our tempers—the second to keep cool."
"All right," sulked Pendleton. "I know well enough that I need to do both. But what next?"
"Is your car still outside?"
"Good. We'll have a little use for it to-day, if you're not otherwise engaged."
"Kirk," said Pendleton, earnestly, "until this matter is settled, don't hesitate to command me. I know that I'm not generally credited with much serious purpose; but even the lightweight feels things—sometimes."
Within half an hour, Ashton-Kirk, in a perfectly fitting, carefully pressed suit of gray, tan shoes and a light colored knock-about cap, led the way down to the car. As they got in, he said:
"We'd better go to Bernstine's first. It's the nearest and on our way to the station."
A twenty minute's run through a baffling maze of vehicles brought them to the curb before a store with a very conspicuous modern front of plate glass and metal. Inside they inquired for one of the Messrs. Bernstine; and upon one of the gentlemen presenting himself, Ashton-Kirk handed him his card. Mr. Bernstine was stout, bald and affable.
"I have heard of you, sir," said he, "and I am delighted to be of service!"
"Within the last few weeks," said Ashton-Kirk, "you have had a sale of rifles and other things condemned by the military authorities of Bolivia."
Mr. Bernstine wrinkled his smooth forehead in reflection.
"Bolivia?" said he. "Now let me see." He pondered heavily for a few moments and then sighed. "You see," he explained, "we sell so many lots, from so many different places, that we can hardly keep the run of them. But our books will show," proudly; "everything we do is in our books."
He looked down the long, table-crowded store and called loudly:
Sime instantly put in an appearance. He was small, sandy-haired and freckled; he wore an alert expression and carried a marking pencil behind his ear.
"This is our shipping and receiving clerk," said Mr. Bernstine. "He's up to everything around the place." Then he lowered his voice and jerked his fat thumb toward the newcomer secretly, addressing Pendleton: "Clever! Just full of it."
Sime listened to Ashton-Kirk's question attentively.
"Yes," he said, in answer, "we had some of that stuff lately. Sold well, too, considering the time of the year." He pulled open a drawer and took out a fat, canvas-covered book. "Two gross rifles; one hundred gross cartridges." He closed the book, tossed it into the drawer and then slid the drawer shut. "There were a few bayonets, too. About half a dozen."
With his round, fat countenance shining with admiration, Mr. Bernstine once more caught Pendleton's eye.
"Just full of it," he murmured, sotto voce. "As full as he can be."
"The bayonets," said Ashton-Kirk, "are what we are after. They were all sold, I suppose?"
"Yes," replied Sime. "I remember, when the last one went, saying to one of our men that we were lucky. You see, bayonets don't sell very well except to military companies; and they are not organizing every day."
"Do you know who bought them?"
Sime took the marking pencil from behind his ear and proceeded to scratch his head with its point. Mr. Bernstine watched him anxiously. But when the shipping clerk pulled open the drawer once more, the employer's face lighted up.
"Ah!" said he to Pendleton. "The books! Now we'll have it."
"They were all taken away by the people who bought them," announced Sime, after a great flipping of ink spattered pages, "All except one."
"And that one—"
"It went by our boy. It was sold to Mr. Cartwright the artist, and was sent to his studio up here in Fifth St. But there was another—the last one that we had," suddenly, "and now that I get thinking of it, I remember we had some trouble about it. The man that bought it was a Dago."
Pendleton darted a swift look at Ashton-Kirk, but the investigator's expression never changed. He looked steadily at the clock.
"When he asked for the bayonet," proceeded Sime, "I knew we had one left, but I could not just lay my hands on it. He paid for it and I said we'd send it to him. He started to give me his address, and then changed his mind and said he'd come back again."
"And he did?"
"Yes; the same afternoon. I had found the thing by that time and he took it with him."
"You don't recall the address?"
To his employer's evident mortification, Sime shook his head.
"Look in the books," suggested Mr. Bernstine with confidence. "Look in the books."
"It ain't there," answered Sime. "He said he'd come back, so I didn't put it down."
"Was it Christie Place?"
Sime pointed at Ashton-Kirk with his pencil.
"You've got it," said he. "That was it, sure enough."
"And you think the man was an Italian?"
"Well, he talked and looked like one. Rather well educated too, I think."
Ashton-Kirk thanked the clerk, and the now beaming Mr. Bernstine, and with Pendleton left the place.
"Well," said Pendleton, as they climbed into the car, "this about fixes the thing, doesn't it? The musician, Antonio Spatola, is the guilty man, beyond a doubt."
The investigator settled back after giving the chauffeur his next stop.
"Beyond a doubt," said he, "is rather an extreme expression. The fact that the bayonet was purchased by an Italian who gave his address as Christie Place is not enough to convict Spatola. All sorts of people live in that street, and there are perhaps other Italians among them."
Pendleton called out to the chauffeur to stop.
"We'll settle that at once," said he. "Spatola's picture is in the papers. We'll ask the clerk if it is that of the man to whom he sold the weapon."
But Ashton-Kirk restrained him.
"I thought of the published portraits while Sime was speaking," said he. "And I also thought that it was very fortunate that neither he nor his employer were readers of the newspapers."
"How do you know that they are not?"
"If they had read to-day's issues they would have at once connected the Italian who purchased the bayonet with the one who is said to have used it—wouldn't they; especially as both Italians lived on the same street? Bernstine and Sime said nothing because they suspect nothing. And, as I have said, this is fortunate, because, suspecting nothing, they will continue," with a smile, "to say nothing. If the police or reporters got this, they'd swoop down on the trail and perhaps spoil everything!"
"But Bernstine or his clerk will hear of the matter sooner or later," complained Pendleton. "And the police and reporters will then get in on the thing anyhow."
"But there will be a delay," said his friend. "And that may be what we need just now. Perhaps a few hours will mean success. You can never tell. The best that we could get by explaining matters to Sime would be a positive identification of Spatola, or the reverse. And we can get that from him at any time. So you see, we lose nothing by waiting."
"I guess that's so," Pendleton acknowledged, and again the car started forward. At the huge entrance to a railroad station they drew up once more.
Within, Ashton-Kirk inquired for the General Passenger Agent and was directed to the ninth floor. The agent was a slim little man with huge whiskers of snowy whiteness, and a most dignified manner.
"Oh, yes," he said, after glancing at the investigator's card. "I have heard of you, of course. Who," with a little bow, "has not? Indeed, if I remember aright, this road had the honor to employ you a few years ago in a matter necessitating some little delicacy of handling. Am I not right?"
"And I think it was you," said Ashton-Kirk, smoothly, "who provided me with some very clearly cut facts which were of considerable service."
The little General Passenger Agent looked pleased and smoothed his beautiful whiskers softly.
"I was most happy," said he.
"Just now," said Ashton-Kirk, "I am engaged in a matter of some consequence, and once more you can be of assistance to me."
"Sit down," invited the other, readily. "Sit down, and command me."
Both Pendleton and the investigator sat down. The latter said to the passenger agent:
"I understand that every railroad has a system by which it can tell which conductor has punched a ticket."
"Oh, yes. A very simple one. You see the hole left by each punch is different. One will cut a perfectly round hole, another will be square, still another will be a triangle, and so on, indefinitely."
From his card case, Ashton-Kirk produced the small red particle which he had found upon the desk of the murdered man.
"Here is a fragment cut from a ticket," he said. "It is shaped like a keystone. I should like to know, if you can tell me, what train is taken out by the conductor who uses the keystone punch."
The agent touched a signal and picked up the end of a tube.
"The head ticket counter," said he. "At once." Then he laid down the tube and continued to his visitors. "He is the man who can supply that sort of information instantly."
The ticket counter was a heavy-set young man, in spectacles and with his hair much rumpled. He peered curiously at the strangers.
"Does any conductor on our lines use a punch which cuts out a keystone?" inquired the General Passenger Agent.
"Yes, Purvis," replied the heavy young man. "Runs the Hammondsville local."
"I am obliged to you both," said Ashton-Kirk. "This little hint may be immensely valuable to me. And now," to the agent, "if I could have a moment with Conductor Purvis, I would be more grateful to you than ever."
"His train is out in the shed now," said the ticket counter, looking at his watch. "Leaves in eight minutes."
"I'm sorry that I can't have him up here for you," said the passenger agent. "Just now that is impossible. But," inquiringly, "couldn't you speak to him down on the platform?"
"Of course," replied Ashton-Kirk.
He and Pendleton arose; the little man with the large white whiskers was thanked once more, as was the heavy young man with the rumpled hair.
"You'll find the Hammondsville train at Gate E," the latter informed them.
Then the two shot down to the platform level and made their way toward Gate E.
PENDLETON IS VASTLY ENLIGHTENED
The Hammondsville local was taking on its passengers. It was a sooty train, made up of three coaches and a combination baggage and smoking car. The gateman pointed out its conductor, inside, and the two approached him.
He was a spare, elderly man with a wrinkled, shrewd face, and a short, pointed manner of speech.
"Oh, the General Passenger Agent sent you?" said he, examining them. "All right. What's wanted?"
"Your train stops at a station called Cordova, does it not?"
"It stops at every station on the run. Cordova's one of them."
"There is an institution at Cordova, I believe?"
"For deaf and dumb kids—yes."
"Of course some of the people from there ride in and out with you at times."
"I don't get many of the youngsters. But the folks that run the place often come to the city."
"You are acquainted with them, of course. I mean in the way that local conductors come to be acquainted with their regular riders."
"Say," said he. "It's hard to get acquainted with some of them asylum people. There's only a couple of them that can talk!"