"Jones has an island in the South Seas, a locality where most of the world's famous pearls have been found."
"It is not on any map. This man, Le Drieux, positively stated that there is no such island, did he not?"
Uncle John rubbed his chin, a gesture that showed he was disturbed.
"He was not positive. He said he thought there was no such island."
"If Jones could lie about his island, he would be capable of the theft of those pearls," admitted Mr. Merrick reluctantly.
"That is conclusive, sir."
"But he isn't capable of the theft. Le Drieux states that Jack Andrews is a society swell, an all-around confidence man, and a gambler. Jones is a diffident and retiring, but a very manly young fellow, who loves quiet and seems to have no bad habits. You can't connect the two in any possible way."
Again Arthur took time to consider.
"I have no desire to suspect Jones unjustly," he said. "In fact, I have been inclined to like the fellow. And yet—his quaint stories and his foolish expenditures have made me suspicious from the first. You have scarcely done justice to his character in your description, sir. To us he appears diffident, retiring, and rather weak, in a way, while in his intercourse with Goldstein he shows a mailed fist. He can be hard as nails, on occasion, as we know, and at times he displays a surprising knowledge of the world and its ways—for one who has been brought up on an out-of-the-way island. What do we know about him, anyway? He tells a tale no one can disprove, for the South Seas are full of small islands, some of which are probably unrecorded on the charts. All this might possibly be explained by remembering that a man like Jack Andrews is undoubtedly a clever actor."
"Exactly!" said a jubilant voice behind them, and Mr. Isidore Le Drieux stepped forward and calmly drew up a chair, in which he seated himself. "You will pardon me, gentlemen, for eavesdropping, but I was curious to know what you thought of this remarkable young man who calls himself 'A. Jones.'"
Arthur faced the intruder with a frown. He objected to being startled in this manner. "You are a detective?" he asked.
"Oh, scarcely that, sir," Le Drieux replied in a deprecating way. "My printed card indicates that I am a merchant, but in truth I am a special agent, employed by the largest pearl and gem dealers in the world, a firm with branches in every large European and American city. My name is Le Drieux, sir, at your service," and with a flourish he presented his card.
The young rancher preferred to study the man's face.
"I am a sort of messenger," he continued, placidly. "When valuable consignments of jewels are to be delivered, I am the carrier instead of the express companies. The method is safer. In twenty-six years of this work I have never lost a single jewel."
"One firm employs you exclusively, then?"
"One firm. But it has many branches."
"It is a trust?"
"Oh, no; we have many competitors; but none very important. Our closest rival, for instance, has headquarters on this very coast—in San Francisco—but spreads, as we do, over the civilized world. Yet Jephson's—that's the firm—do not claim to equal our business. They deal mostly in pearls."
"Pearls, eh?" said Arthur, musingly. "Then it was your firm that lost the valuable collection of pearls you mentioned to Mr. Merrick?"
"No. They were the property of Countess Ahmberg, of Vienna. But we had sold many of the finest specimens to the countess and have records of their weight, size, shape and color. The one you are now wearing, sir," pointing to Uncle John's scarf pin, "is one of the best black pearls ever discovered. It was found at Tremloe in 1883 and was originally purchased by our firm. In 1887 I took it to Tiffany, who sold it to Prince Godesky, of Warsaw. I carried it to him, with other valuable purchases, and after his death it was again resold to our firm. It was in October, 1904, that I again became the bearer of the pearl, delivering it safely to Countess Ahmberg at her villa. It was stolen from her, together with 188 other rare pearls, valued at a half million dollars, a little over a year ago."
"This pearl, sir," said Uncle John stiffly, "is not the one you refer to. It was found on the shores of the island of Sangoa, and you have never seen it before."
Le Drieux smiled sweetly as he brushed the ashes from his cigar.
"I am seldom mistaken in a pearl, especially one that I have handled," said he. "Moreover, a good pearl becomes historic, and it is my business to know the history of each and every one in existence."
"Even those owned by Jephson's?" asked Arthur.
"Yes; unless they were acquired lately. I have spoken in this manner in order that you may understand the statements I am about to make, and I beg you to listen carefully: Three daring pearl robberies have taken place within the past two years. The first was a collection scarcely inferior to that of the Countess Ahmberg. A bank messenger was carrying it through the streets of London one evening, to be delivered to Lady Grandison, when he was stabbed to the heart and the gems stolen. Singularly enough, Jack Andrews was passing by and found the dying messenger. He called for the police, but when they arrived the messenger had expired. The fate of the pearls has always remained a mystery, although a large reward has been offered for their recovery."
"Oh; a reward."
"Naturally, sir. Four months later Princess Lemoine lost her wonderful pearl necklace while sitting in a box at the Grand Opera in Paris. This was one of the cleverest thefts that ever baffled the police, for the necklace was never recovered. We know, however, that Jack Andrews occupied the box next to that of the princess. A coincidence—perhaps. We now come to the robbery of the Countess Ahmberg, the third on the list. Jack Andrews was a guest at her house, as I have explained to you. No blame has ever attached to this youthful adventurer, yet my firm, always interested in the pearls they have sold, advised me to keep an eye on him when he returned to America. I did so.
"Now, Mr. Merrick, I will add to the tale I told you the other night. Andrews behaved very well for a few weeks after he landed at New York; then he disposed of seven fine pearls and—disappeared. They were not notable pearls, especially, but two of them I was able to trace to the necklace of Princess Lemoine. I cabled my firm. They called attention to the various rewards offered and urged me to follow Andrews. That was impossible; he had left no clue. But chance favored me. Coming here to Los Angeles on business, I suddenly ran across my quarry: Jack Andrews. He has changed a bit. The mustache is gone, he is in poor health, and I am told he was nearly drowned in the ocean the other day. So at first I was not sure of my man. I registered at this hotel and watched him carefully. Sometimes I became positive he was Andrews; at other times I doubted. But when he began distributing pearls to you, his new friends, all doubt vanished. There, gentlemen, is my story in a nutshell. What do you think of it?"
Both Mr. Merrick and young Weldon had listened with rapt interest, but their interpretation of the tale, which amounted to a positive accusation of A. Jones, showed the difference in the two men's natures.
"I think you are on the wrong trail, sir," answered Mr. Merrick. "Doubtless you have been misled by a casual resemblance, coupled with the fact that Andrews is suspected of stealing pearls and Jones is known to possess pearls—the pearls being of rare worth in both cases. Still, you are wrong. For instance, if you have the weight and measurement of the Tremloe black pearl, you will find they do not fit the pearl I am now wearing."
Le Drieux smiled genially.
"It is unnecessary to make the test, sir," he replied. "The pearl Andrews gave to Miss Doyle is as unmistakable as your own. But I am curious to hear your opinion, Mr. Weldon."
"I have been suspicious of young Jones from the first," said Arthur; "but I have been studying this boy's character, and he is positively incapable of the crimes you accuse him of, such as robbery and murder. In other words, whatever Jones may be, he is not Andrews; or, if by chance he proves to be Andrews, then Andrews is innocent of crime. All your theories are based upon a desire to secure rewards, backed by a chain of circumstantial evidence."
"A chain," said Le Drieux, grimly, "that will hold Jack Andrews fast in its coils, clever though he is."
"Circumstantial evidence," retorted Mr. Merrick, "doesn't amount to shucks! It is constantly getting good people into trouble and allowing rascals to escape. Nothing but direct evidence will ever convince me that a man is guilty."
Le Drieux shrugged his shoulders.
"The pearls are evidence enough," said he.
"To be sure. Evidence enough to free the poor boy of suspicion. You may be a better messenger than you are a detective, Mr. Le Drieux, but that doesn't convince me you are a judge of pearls."
The agent rose with a frown of annoyance.
"I am going to have Jack Andrews arrested in the morning," he remarked. "If you warn him, in the meantime, I shall charge you with complicity."
Uncle John nearly choked with anger, but he maintained his dignity.
"I have no knowledge of your Jack Andrews," he replied, and turned his back.
Uncle John and Arthur decided not to mention to the girls this astounding charge of Isidore Le Drieux, fearing the news would make them nervous and disturb their rest, so when the men joined the merry party in the alcove they did not refer to their late interview.
Afterward, however, when all but Arthur Weldon had gone to bed and he was sitting in Uncle John's room, the two discussed the matter together with much seriousness.
"We ought to do something, sir," said Arthur. "This Jones is a mere boy, and in poor health at that. He has no friends, so far as we know, other than ourselves. Therefore it is our duty to see him through this trouble."
Mr. Merrick nodded assent.
"We cannot prevent the arrest," he replied, "for Le Drieux will not listen to reason. If we aided Jones to run away he would soon be caught. Absurd as the charge is, the youngster must face it and prove his innocence."
Arthur paced the floor in a way that indicated he was disturbed by this verdict.
"He ought to have no difficulty in proving he is not Jack Andrews," he remarked, reflectively; "and yet—those pearls are difficult to explain. Their similarity to the ones stolen in Europe fooled the expert, Le Drieux, and they are likely to fool a judge or jury. I hope Jones has some means of proving that he brought the pearls from Sangoa. That would settle the matter at once."
"As soon as he is arrested we will get him a lawyer—the best in this country," said Mr. Merrick. "More than that we cannot do, but a good lawyer will know the proper method of freeing his client."
The next morning they were up early, awaiting developments; but Le Drieux seemed in no hurry to move. He had breakfast at about nine o'clock, read his newspaper for a half hour or so, and then deliberately left the hotel. All of Mr. Merrick's party had breakfasted before this and soon after Le Drieux had gone away young Jones appeared in the lobby. He was just in time to see the Stanton girls drive away in their automobile, accompanied by their Aunt Jane.
"The motion picture stars must be late to-day," said the boy, looking after them.
"They are," answered Patsy, standing beside him at the window; "but Maud says this happens to be one of their days of leisure. No picture is to be taken and they have only to rehearse a new play. But it's a busy life, seems to me, and it would really prove hard work if the girls didn't enjoy it so much."
"Yes," said he, "it's a fascinating profession. I understand, and nothing can be called work that is interesting. When we are obliged to do something that we do not like to do, it becomes 'work.' Otherwise, what is usually called 'work' is mere play, for it furnishes its quota of amusement."
He was quite unconscious of any impending misfortune and when Beth and Louise joined Patsy in thanking him for his pretty gifts of the pearls he flushed with pleasure. Evidently their expressions of delight were very grateful to his ears.
Said Uncle John, in a casual way: "Those are remarkably fine pearls, to have come from such an island as Sangoa."
"But we find much better ones there, I assure you," replied the boy. "I have many in my room of much greater value, but did not dare ask you to accept them as gifts."
"Do many pearls come from Sangoa, then?" asked Arthur.
"That is our one industry," answered the young man. "Many years ago my father discovered the pearl fisheries. It was after he had purchased the island, but he recognized the value of the pearls and brought a colony of people from America to settle at Sangoa and devote their time to pearl fishing. Once or twice every year we send a ship to market with a consignment of pearls to our agent, and—to be quite frank with you—that is why I am now able to build the picture theatres I have contracted for, as well as the film factory."
"I see," said Uncle John. "But tell me this, please: Why is Sangoa so little known, or rather, so quite unknown?"
"My father," Jones returned, "loved quiet and seclusion. He was willing to develop the pearl fisheries, but objected to the flock of adventurers sure to descend upon his island if its wealth of pearls became generally known. His colony he selected with great care and with few exceptions they are a sturdy, wholesome lot, enjoying the peaceful life of Sangoa and thoroughly satisfied with their condition there. It is only within the last two years that our American agents knew where our pearls came from, yet they could not locate the island if they tried. I do not feel the same desire my father did to keep the secret, although I would dislike to see Sangoa overrun with tourists or traders."
He spoke so quietly and at the same time so convincingly that both Arthur and Uncle John accepted his explanation unquestioningly. Nevertheless, in the embarrassing dilemma in which Jones would presently be involved, the story would be sure to bear the stamp of unreality to any uninterested hearer.
The girls had now begun to chatter over the theatre plans, and their "financial backer"—as Patsy Doyle called him—joined them with eager interest. Arthur sat at a near-by desk writing a letter; Uncle John glanced over the morning paper; Inez, the Mexican nurse, brought baby to Louise for a kiss before it went for a ride in its perambulator.
An hour had passed when Le Drieux entered the lobby in company with a thin-faced, sharp-eyed man in plain clothes. They walked directly toward the group that was seated by the open alcove window, and Arthur Weldon, observing them and knowing what was about to happen, rose from the writing-desk and drew himself tensely together as he followed them. Uncle John lowered his paper, frowned at Le Drieux and then turned his eyes upon the face of young Jones.
It was the thin-featured man who advanced and lightly touched the boy's arm.
"Beg pardon, sir," said he, in even, unemotional tones. "You are Mr. Andrews, I believe—Mr. Jack Andrews?"
The youth turned his head to look at his questioner.
"No, sir," he answered with a smile. "A case of mistaken identity. My name is Jones." Then, continuing his speech to Patsy Doyle, he said: "There is no need to consider the acoustic properties of our theatres, for the architect—"
"Pardon me again," interrupted the man, more sternly. "I am positive this is not a case of mistaken identity. We have ample proof that Jack Andrews is parading here, under the alias of 'A. Jones.'"
The boy regarded him with a puzzled expression.
"What insolence!" muttered Beth in an under-tone but audible enough to be distinctly heard.
The man flushed slightly and glanced at Le Drieux, who nodded his head. Then he continued firmly:
"In any event, sir, I have a warrant for your arrest, and I hope you will come with me quietly and so avoid a scene."
The boy grew pale and then red. His eyes narrowed as he stared fixedly at the officer. But he did not change his position, nor did he betray either fear or agitation. In a voice quite unmoved he asked:
"On what charge do you arrest me?"
"You are charged with stealing a valuable collection of pearls from the Countess Ahmberg, at Vienna, about a year ago."
"But I have never been in Vienna."
"You will have an opportunity to prove that."
"And my name is not Andrews."
"You must prove that, also."
The boy thought for a moment. Then he asked:
"Who accuses me?"
"This gentleman; Mr. Le Drieux. He is an expert in pearls, knows intimately all those in the collection of the countess and has recognized several which you have recently presented to your friends, as among those you brought from Austria."
Again Jones smiled.
"This is absurd, sir," he remarked.
The officer returned the smile, but rather grimly.
"It is the usual protest, Mr. Andrews. I don't blame you for the denial, but the evidence against you is very strong. Will you come? And quietly?"
"I am unable to offer physical resistance," replied the young fellow, as he slowly rose from his chair and displayed his thin figure. "Moreover," he added, with a touch of humor, "I believe there's a fine for resisting an officer. I suppose you have a legal warrant. May I be permitted to see it?"
The officer produced the warrant. Jones perused it slowly and then handed it to Mr. Merrick, who read it and passed it back to the officer.
"What shall I do, sir?" asked the boy.
"Obey the law," answered Uncle John. "This officer is only the law's instrument and it is useless to argue with him. But I will go with you to the police station and furnish bail."
Le Drieux shook his head.
"Quite impossible, Mr. Merrick," he said. "This is not a bailable offense."
"Are you sure?"
"I am positive. This is an extradition case, of international importance. Andrews, after an examination, will be taken to New York and from there to Vienna, where his crime was committed."
"But he has committed no crime!"
Le Drieux shrugged his shoulders.
"He is accused, and he must prove his innocence," said he.
"But that is nonsense!" interposed Arthur warmly. "There is no justice in such an assertion. If I know anything of the purpose of the law, and I think I do, you must first prove this man's guilt before you carry him to Austria to be tried by a foreign court."
"I don't care a snap for the purpose of the law," retorted Le Drieux. "Our treaty with Austria provides for extradition, and that settles it. This man is already under arrest. The judge who issued the warrant believes that Jones is Jack Andrews and that Jack Andrews stole the pearls from the Countess Ahmberg. Of course, the prisoner will have a formal examination, when he may defend himself as best he can, but we haven't made this move without being sure of our case, and it will be rather difficult for him to escape the penalty of his crimes, clever as he is."
"Clever?" It was Jones himself who asked this, wonderingly.
Le Drieux bowed to him with exaggerated politeness.
"I consider you the cleverest rogue in existence," said he. "But even the cleverest may be trapped, in time, and your big mistake was in disposing of those pearls so openly. See here," he added, taking from his pocket a small packet. "Here are the famous Taprobane pearls—six of them—which were found in your room a half hour ago. They, also, were a part of the countess' collection."
"Oh, you have been to my room?"
"Under the authority of the law."
"And you have seen those pearls before?"
"Several times. I am an expert in pearls and can recognize their value at a glance," said Le Drieux with much dignity.
Jones gave a little chuckle and then turned deprecatingly to Mr. Merrick.
"You need not come with me to the station, sir," said he; "but, if you wish to assist me, please send me a lawyer and then go to the Continental and tell Mr. Goldstein of my predicament."
"I will do that," promptly replied Uncle John.
Jones turned to bow to the girls.
"I hope you young ladies can forgive this disgraceful scene," he remarked in a tone of regret rather then humiliation. "I do not see how any effort of mine could have avoided it. It seems to be one of the privileges of the people's guardians, in your free country, to arrest and imprison anyone on a mere suspicion of crime. Here is a case in which someone has sadly blundered, and I imagine it is the pompous gentleman who claims to know pearls and does not," with a nod toward Le Drieux, who scowled indignantly.
"It is an outrage!" cried Beth.
"It's worse than that," said Patsy; "but of course you can easily prove your innocence."
"If I have the chance," the boy agreed. "But at present I am a prisoner and must follow my captor."
He turned to the officer and bowed to indicate that he was ready to go. Arthur shook the young fellow's hand and promised to watch his interests in every possible way.
"Go with him now, Arthur," proposed Louise. "It's a hard thing to be taken to jail and I'm sure he needs a friend at his side at this time."
"Good advice," agreed Uncle John. "Of course they'll give him a preliminary hearing before locking him up, and if you'll stick to him I'll send on a lawyer in double-quick time."
"Thank you," said the boy. "The lawyer first, Mr. Merrick, and then Goldstein."
UNCLE JOHN IS PUZZLED
Uncle John was off on his errands even before Jones and Arthur Weldon had driven away from the hotel with the officer and Le Drieux. There had been no "scene" and none of the guests of the hotel had any inkling of the arrest.
Uncle John had always detested lawyers and so he realized that he was sure to be a poor judge of the merits of any legal gentleman he might secure to defend Jones.
"I may as well leave it to chance," he grumbled, as he drove down the main boulevard. "The rascals are all alike!"
Glancing to this side and that, he encountered a sign on a building: "Fred A. Colby, Lawyer."
"All right; I mustn't waste time," he said, and stopping his driver he ascended a stairway to a gloomy upper hall. Here the doors, all in a row, were alike forbidding, but one of them bore the lawyer's name, so Mr. Merrick turned the handle and abruptly entered.
A sallow-faced young man, in his shirt-sleeves, was seated at a table littered with newspapers and magazines, engaged in the task of putting new strings on a battered guitar. As his visitor entered he looked up in surprise and laid down the instrument.
"I want to see Colby, the lawyer," began Uncle John, regarding the disordered room with strong disapproval.
"You are seeing him," retorted the young man, with a fleeting smile, "and I'll bet you two to one that if you came here on business you will presently go away and find another lawyer."
"Why?" questioned Mr. Merrick, eyeing him more closely.
"I don't impress people," explained Colby, picking up the guitar again. "I don't inspire confidence. As for the law, I know it as well as anyone—which is begging the question—but when I'm interviewed I have to admit I've had no experience."
"Just a few collections, that's all I sleep on that sofa yonder, eat at a cafeteria, and so manage to keep body and soul together. Once in a while a stranger sees my sign and needs a lawyer, so he climbs the stairs. But when he meets me face to face he beats a hasty retreat."
As he spoke, Colby tightened a string and began strumming it to get it tuned. Uncle John sat down on the one other chair in the room and thought a moment.
"You've been admitted to the bar?" he asked.
"Yes, sir. Graduate of the Penn Law School."
"Then you know enough to defend an innocent man from an unjust accusation?"
Colby laid down the guitar.
"Ah!" said he, "this grows interesting. I really believe you have half a mind to give me your case. Sir, I know enough, I hope, to defend an innocent man; but I can't promise, offhand, to save him, even from an unjust accusation."
"Why not? Doesn't law stand for justice?"
"Perhaps; in the abstract. Anyhow, there's a pretty fable to that effect. But law in the abstract, and law as it is interpreted and applied, are not even second cousins. To be quite frank, I'd rather defend a guilty person than an innocent one. The chances are I'd win more easily. Are you sure your man is innocent?"
Uncle John scowled.
"Perhaps I'd better find another lawyer who is more optimistic," he said.
"Oh, I'm full of optimism, sir. My fault is that I'm not well known in the courts and have no arrangement to divide my fees with the powers that be. But I've been observing and I know the tricks of the trade as well as any lawyer in California. My chief recommendation, however, is that I'm eager to get a case, for my rent is sadly overdue. Why not try me, just to see what I'm able to do? I'd like to find that out myself."
"This is a very important matter," asserted Mr. Merrick.
"Very. If I'm evicted for lack of rent-money my career is crippled."
"I mean the case is a serious one."
"Are you willing to pay for success?"
"Then I'll win it for you. Don't judge my ability by my present condition, sir. Tell me your story and I'll get to work at once."
Uncle John rose with sudden decision.
"Put on your coat," he said, and while Colby obeyed with alacrity he gave him a brief outline of the accusation brought against Jones. "I want you to take my car," he added, "and hasten to the police station, that you may be present at the preliminary examination. There will be plenty of time to talk afterward."
Colby nodded. His coat and hat made the young lawyer quite presentable and without another word he followed Mr. Merrick down the stairs and took his seat in the motorcar. Next moment he was whirling down the street and Uncle John looked after him with a half puzzled expression, as if he wondered whether or not he had blundered in his choice of a lawyer.
A little later he secured a taxicab and drove to the office of the Continental Film Manufacturing Company. Mr. Goldstein was in his office but sent word that he was too busy to see visitors. Nevertheless, when Mr. Merrick declared he had been sent by A. Jones, he was promptly admitted to the manager's sanctum.
"Our friend, young Jones," he began, "has just been arrested by a detective."
Goldstein's nervous jump fairly raised him off his chair; but in an instant he settled back and shot an eager, interested look at his visitor.
"What for, Mr. Merrick?" he demanded.
"For stealing valuable pearls from some foreign woman. A trumped-up charge, of course."
Goldstein rubbed the palms of his hands softly together. His face wore a look of supreme content.
"Arrested! Ah, that is bad, Mr. Merrick. It is very bad indeed. And it involves us—the Continental, you know—in an embarrassing manner."
"Why so?" asked Uncle John.
"Can't you see, sir?" asked the manager, trying hard to restrain a smile. "If the papers get hold of this affair, and state that our president—our biggest owner—the man who controls the Continental stock—is a common thief, the story will—eh—eh—put a bad crimp in our business, so to speak."
Uncle John looked at the man thoughtfully.
"So Jones controls the Continental, eh?" he said. "How long since, Mr. Goldstein?"
"Why, since the January meeting, a year and more ago. It was an astonishing thing, and dramatic—believe me! At the annual meeting of stockholders in walks this stripling—a mere kid—proves that he holds the majority of stock, elects himself president and installs a new board of directors, turning the tired and true builders of the business out in the cold. Then, without apology, promise or argument, President Jones walks out again! In an hour he upset the old conditions, turned our business topsy-turvy and disappeared with as little regard for the Continental as if it had been a turnip. That stock must have cost him millions, and how he ever got hold of it is a mystery that has kept us all guessing ever since. The only redeeming feature of the affair was that the new board of directors proved decent and Jones kept away from us all and let us alone. I'd never seen him until he came here a few days ago and began to order me around. So, there, Mr. Merrick, you know as much about Jones as I do."
Mr. Merrick was perplexed. The more he heard of young Jones the more amazing; the boy seemed to be.
"Has the Continental lost money since Jones took possession?" he inquired.
"I think not," replied Goldstein, cautiously. "You're a business man, Mr. Merrick, and can understand that our machinery—our business system—is so perfect that it runs smoothly, regardless of who grabs the dividends. What I object to is this young fellow's impertinence in interfering with my work here. He walks in, reverses my instructions to my people, orders me to do unbusinesslike things and raises hob with the whole organization."
"Well, it belongs to him, Goldstein," said Uncle John, in defense of the boy. "He is your employer and has the right to dictate. But just at present he needs your help. He asked me to come here and tell you of his arrest."
Goldstein shrugged his shoulders.
"His arrest is none of my business," was his reply. "If Jones stole the money to buy Continental stock he must suffer the consequences. I'm working for the stock, not for the individual."
"But surely you will go to the station and see what can be done for him?" protested Uncle John.
"Surely I will not," retorted the manager. "What's the use? There isn't even a foot of good picture film in so common a thing as the arrest of a thief—and the censors would forbid it if there were. Let Jones fight his own battles."
"It occurs to me," suggested Mr. Merrick, who was growing indignant, "that Mr. Jones will be able to satisfy the court that he is not a thief, and so secure his freedom without your assistance. What will happen then, Mr. Goldstein?"
"Then? Why, it is still none of my business. I'm the manager of a motion picture concern—one of the biggest concerns in the world—and I've nothing to do with the troubles of my stockholders."
He turned to his desk and Mr. Merrick was obliged to go away without farther parley. On his way out he caught a glimpse of Maud Stanton passing through the building. She was dressed in the costume of an Indian princess and looked radiantly beautiful. Uncle John received a nod and a smile and then she was gone, without as yet a hint of the misfortune that had overtaken A. Jones of Sangoa.
Returning to the hotel, rather worried and flustered by the morning's events, he found the girls quietly seated in the lobby, busy over their embroidery.
"Well, Uncle," said Patsy, cheerfully, "is Ajo still in limbo?"
"I suppose so," he rejoined, sinking into an easy chair beside her. "Is Arthur back yet?"
"No," said Louise, answering for her husband, "he is probably staying to do all he can for the poor boy."
"Did you get a lawyer?" inquired Beth.
"I got a fellow who claims to be a lawyer; but I'm not sure he will be of any use."
Then he related his interview with Colby, to the amusement of his nieces, all three of whom approved the course he had taken and were already prepared to vouch for the briefless barrister's ability, on the grounds that eccentricity meant talent.
"You see," explained Miss Patsy, "he has nothing else to do but jump heart and soul into this case, so Ajo will be able to command his exclusive services, which with some big, bustling lawyer would be impossible."
Luncheon was over before Arthur finally appeared, looking somewhat grave and perturbed.
"They won't accept bail," he reported. "Jones must stay in jail until his formal examination, and if they then decide that he is really Jack Andrews he will remain in jail until his extradition papers arrive."
"When will he be examined?" asked Louise.
"Whenever the judge feels in the humor, it seems. Our lawyer demanded Jones' release at once, on the ground that a mistake of identity had been made; but the stupid judge is of the opinion that the charge against our friend is valid. At any rate he refused to let him go. He wouldn't even argue the case at present. He issues a warrant on a charge of larceny, claps a man in jail whether innocent or not, and refuses to let him explain anything or prove his innocence until a formal examination is held."
"There is some justice in that," remarked Uncle John. "Suppose Jones is guilty; it would be a mistake to let him go free until a thorough examination had been made."
"And if he is innocent, he will have spent several days in jail, been worried and disgraced, and there is no redress for the false imprisonment. The judge won't even apologize to him!"
"It's all in the interests of law and order, I suppose," said Patsy; "but the law seems dreadfully inadequate to protect the innocent. I suppose it's because the courts are run by cheap and incompetent people who couldn't earn a salary in any other way."
"Someone must run them, and it isn't an ambitious man's job," replied Uncle John. "What do you think of the lawyer I sent you, Arthur?"
The young ranchman smiled.
"He's a wonder, Uncle. He seemed to know more about the case than Jones or I did, and more about the law than the judge did. He's an irrepressible fellow, and told that rascal Le Drieux a lot about pearls that the expert never had heard before. Where did you find him, sir?"
Uncle John explained.
"Well," said Arthur, "I think Jones is in good hands. Colby has secured him a private room at the jail, with a bath and all the comforts of home. Meals are to be sent in from a restaurant and when I left the place the jailer had gone out to buy Jones a stock of books to while away his leisure hours—which are bound to be numerous. I'd no idea a prisoner could live in such luxury."
"Money did it, I suppose," Patsy shrewdly suggested.
"Yes. Jones wrote a lot of checks. Colby got a couple of hundred for a retaining fee and gleefully informed us it was more money than he had ever owned at one time in all his previous career. I think he will earn it, however."
"Where is he now?" asked Uncle John.
"Visiting all the newspaper offices, to 'buy white space,' as he put it. In other words, Colby will bribe the press to silence, at least until the case develops."
"I'm glad of that," exclaimed Beth. "What do you think of this queer business, Arthur?"
"Why, I've no doubt of the boy's innocence, if that is what you mean. I've watched him closely and am positive he is no more Jack Andrews than I am. But I fear he will have a hard task to satisfy the judge that he is falsely accused. It would be an admission of error, you see, and so the judge will prefer to find him guilty. It is this same judge—Wilton, I think his name is—who will conduct the formal examination, and to-day he openly sneered at the mention of Sangoa. On the other hand, he evidently believed every statement made by Le Drieux about the identity of the pearls found in Jones' possession. Le Drieux has a printed list of the Ahmberg pearls, and was able to check the Jones' pearls off this list with a fair degree of accuracy. It astonished even me, and I could see that Jones was equally amazed."
"Wouldn't it be queer if they convicted him!" exclaimed Beth.
"It would be dreadful, since he is innocent," said Patsy.
"There is no need to worry about that just at present," Arthur assured them. "I am placing a great deal of confidence in the ability of Lawyer Colby."
DOUBTS AND DIFFICULTIES
The Stanton girls and Mrs. Montrose came in early that afternoon. They had heard rumors of the arrest of Jones and were eager to learn what had occurred. Patsy and Beth followed them to their rooms to give them every known detail and canvass the situation in all its phases.
"Goldstein has been an angel all afternoon," said Flo. "He grinned and capered about like a schoolboy and some of us guessed he'd been left a fortune."
"He ought to be ashamed of himself." Patsy indignantly asserted. "The man admitted to Uncle John that Ajo is the biggest stockholder in the Continental, the president, to boot; yet Goldstein wouldn't lift a finger to help him and positively refused to obey his request to go to him after he was arrested."
"I know about that," said Aunt Jane, quietly. "Goldstein talked to me about the affair this afternoon and declared his conviction that young Jones is really a pearl thief. He has taken a violent dislike to the boy and is delighted to think his stock will be taken away from him."
Maud had silently listened to this dialogue as she dressed for dinner. But now she impetuously broke into the conversation, saying:
"Something definite ought to be done for the boy. He needs intelligent assistance. I'm afraid his situation is serious."
"That is what Arthur thinks," said Beth. "He says that unless he can furnish proof that he is not Jack Andrews, and that he came by those pearls honestly, he will be shipped to Austria for trial. No one knows what those foreigners will do to him, but he would probably fare badly in their hands."
"Such being the logical conclusion," said Maud, "we must make our fight now, at the examination."
"Uncle John has engaged a lawyer," announced Patsy, "and if he proves bright and intelligent he ought to be able to free Ajo."
"I'd like to see that lawyer, and take his measure," answered Maud, musingly, and her wish was granted soon after they had finished dinner. Colby entered the hotel, jaunty as ever, and Arthur met him and introduced him to the girls.
"You must forgive me for coming on a disagreeable mission," began the young attorney, "but I have promised the judge that I would produce all the pearls Mr. Jones gave you, not later than to-morrow morning. He wants them as evidence, and to compare privately with Le Drieux's list, although he will likely have the expert at his elbow. So I can't promise that you will ever get your jewels back again."
"Oh. You think, then, that Mr. Jones is guilty?" said Maud coldly.
"No, indeed; I believe he is innocent. A lawyer should never suspect his client, you know. But to win I must prove my case, and opposed to me is that terrible Le Drieux, who insists he is never mistaken."
"Arthur—Mr. Weldon—says you understand pearls as well as Mr. Le Drieux does," suggested Patsy.
"I thank him; but he is in error. I chattered to the judge about pearls, it is true, because I found he couldn't tell a pearl from a glass bead; and I believe I even perplexed Le Drieux by hinting at a broad knowledge on the subject which I do not possess. It was all a bit of bluff on my part. But by to-morrow morning this knowledge will be a fact, for I've bought a lot of books on pearls and intend to sit up all night reading them."
"That was a clever idea," said Uncle John, nodding approval.
"So my mission here this evening is to get the pearls, that I may study them as I read," continued Colby. "Heretofore I've only seen the things through a plate glass window, or a show case. The success of our defense depends upon our refuting Le Drieux's assertion that the pearls found in Jones' possession are a part of the Countess Ahmberg's collection. He has a full description of the stolen gems and I must be prepared to show that none of the Jones' pearls is on the list."
"Can you do that?" asked Maud.
She was gazing seriously into the young man's eyes and this caused him to blush and stammer a little as he replied:
"I—I hope to, Miss Stanton."
"And are you following no other line of defense?" she inquired.
He sat back and regarded the girl curiously for a moment.
"I would like you to suggest some other line of defense," he replied. "I've tried to find one—and failed."
"Can't you prove he is not Jack Andrews?"
"Not if the identity of the pearls is established," said the lawyer. "If the pearls were stolen, and if Jones cannot explain how he obtained possession of them, the evidence is prima facia that he is Jack Andrews, or at least his accomplice. Moreover, his likeness to the photograph is somewhat bewildering, you must admit."
This gloomy view made them all silent for a time, each thoughtfully considering the matter. Then Maud asked:
"Do you know the cash value of Mr. Jones' stock in the Continental Film Company?"
Colby shook his head, but Uncle John replied:
"Goldstein told me it is worth millions."
"Ah!" exclaimed the girl. "There, then, is our proof."
The lawyer reflected, with knitted brows.
"I confess I don't quite see your point," said he.
"How much were those stolen pearls worth?" asked the girl.
"I don't know."
"You know they were not worth millions. Jack Andrews was an adventurer, by Le Drieux's showing; he was a fellow who lived by his wits and generally earned his livelihood by gambling with the scions of wealthy families. Even had he stolen the Countess' pearls and disposed of the collection at enormous prices—which a thief is usually unable to do—he would still have been utterly unable to purchase a controlling interest in the Continental stock."
She spoke with quiet assurance, but her statement roused the group to sudden excitement.
"Hooray!" cried Patsy. "There's your proof, Mr. Colby."
"The logic of genius," commented Uncle John.
"Why, it's proof positive!" said Beth.
"It is certainly a strong argument in favor of the boy's innocence," asserted Arthur Weldon.
"Maud's a wonder when she wakes up. She ought to have been a 'lady detective,'" remarked Flo, regarding her sister admiringly.
Colby, at first startled, was now also regarding Maud Stanton with open admiration; but there was an odd smile on his lips, a smile of indulgent toleration.
"Le Drieux's statement connects Andrews with two other pearl robberies," he reminded her. "The necklace of the Princess Lemoine is said to be priceless, and the Grandison collection stolen in London was scarcely less valuable than that of Countess Ahmberg."
"Allowing all that," said Mr. Merrick, "two or three hundred thousand dollars would doubtless cover the value of the entire lot. I am quite certain, Mr. Colby, that Miss Stanton's suggestion will afford you an excellent line of defense."
"I shall not neglect it, you may be sure," replied the lawyer. "Tonight I'll try to figure out, as nearly as possible, the total cash value of all the stolen pearls, and of course Jones will tell us what he paid for his stock, or how much it is worth. But I am not sure this argument will have as much weight as Miss Stanton suggests it may. A bold gambler, such as Andrews, might have obtained a huge sum at Baden Baden or Monte Carlo; and, were he indeed so clever a thief as his record indicates, he may have robbed a bank, or stolen in some way an immense sum of money. Logically, the question has weight and I shall present it as effectively as I can; but, as I said, I rely more on my ability to disprove the identity of the pearls, on which the expert Le Drieux lays so much stress. Jones will have a thorough and formal examination within a few days—perhaps to-morrow—and if the judge considers that Andrews the pearl thief has been captured, he will be held here pending the arrival from Washington of the extradition papers—say two or three weeks longer."
"Then we shall have all that time to prove his innocence?" inquired Maud.
"Unfortunately, no. There will be no further trial of the prisoner until he gets to Vienna and is delivered to the authorities there. All our work must be done previous to the formal examination."
"You do not seem very hopeful," observed Maud, a hint of reproach in her tone.
"Then appearances are against me, Miss Stanton," replied the lawyer with a smile. "This is my first important case, and if I win it my future is assured; so I mean to win. But in order to do that I must consider the charge of the prosecution, the effect of its arguments upon the judge, and then find the right means to combat them. When I am with you, the friends of the accused, I may consider the seamy side of the fabric; but the presiding judge will find me so sure of my position that he will instinctively agree with me."
They brought him the pearls Jones had presented to them and then the lawyer bade them good night and went to his office to master the history of pearls in general and those famous ones stolen from Countess Ahmberg in particular.
When he had gone Uncle John remarked:
"Well, what do you think of him?"
They seemed in doubt.
"I think he will do all he can," said Patsy.
"And he appears quite a clever young man," added Beth, as if to encourage them.
"Allowing all that," said Maud, gravely, "he has warned us of the possibility of failure. I cannot understand how the coils of evidence have wrapped themselves so tightly around poor Ajo."
"That," asserted Flo, "is because you cannot understand Ajo himself. Nor can I; nor can any of us!"
MAUD MAKES A MEMORANDUM
My mother used to say to me: "Never expect to find brains in a pretty girl." Perhaps she said it because I was not a pretty girl and she wished to encourage me. In any event, that absurd notion of the ancients that when the fairies bestow the gift of beauty on a baby they withhold all other qualities has so often been disproved that we may well disregard it.
Maud Stanton was a pretty girl—indeed, a beautiful girl—but she possessed brains as well as beauty and used her intellect to advantage more often than her quiet demeanor would indicate to others than her most intimate associates. From the first she had been impressed by the notion that there was something mysterious about A. Jones and that his romantic explanation of his former life and present position was intended to hide a truth that would embarrass him, were it fully known. Therefore she had secretly observed the young man, at such times as they were together, and had treasured every careless remark he had made—every admission or assertion—and made a note of it. The boy's arrest had startled her because it was so unexpected, and her first impulse was to doubt his innocence. Later, however, she had thoroughly reviewed the notes she had made and decided he was innocent.
In the quiet of her own room, when she was supposed to be asleep, Maud got out her notebook and read therein again the review of all she had learned concerning A. Jones of Sangoa.
"For a boy, he has a good knowledge of business; for a foreigner, he has an excellent conception of modern American methods," she murmured thoughtfully. "He is simple in little things; shrewd, if not wise, in important matters. He proved this by purchasing the control of the Continental, for its shares pay enormous dividends.
"Had he stolen those pearls, I am sure he would have been too shrewd to have given a portion of them to us, knowing we would display them openly and so attract attention to them. A thief so ingenious as Andrews, for instance, would never have done so foolish a thing as that, I am positive. Therefore, Jones is not Andrews.
"Now, to account for the likeness between Andrews, an American adventurer, and Jones, reared and educated in the mysterious island of Sangoa. Ajo's father must have left some near relatives in this country when he became a recluse in his far-away island. Why did he become a recluse? That's a subject I must consider carefully, for he was a man of money, a man of science, a man of affairs. Jones has told us he has no relatives here. He may have spoken honestly, if his father kept him in ignorance of the family history. I'm not going to jump at the conclusion that the man who calls himself Jack Andrews is a near relative of our Ajo—a cousin, perhaps—but I'll not forget that that might explain the likeness between them.
"Ajo's father must have amassed a great fortune, during many years, from his pearl fisheries. That would explain why the boy has so much money at his disposal. He didn't get it from the sale of stolen pearls, that is certain. In addition to the money he invested in the Continental, he has enough in reserve to expend another million or so in Patsy Doyle's motion picture scheme, and he says he can spare it easily and have plenty left! This, in my opinion, is a stronger proof of Jones' innocence than Lawyer Colby seems to consider it. To me, it is conclusive.
"Now, then, where is Sangoa? How can one get to the island? And, finally, how did Jones get here from Sangoa and how is he to return, if he ever wants to go back to his valuable pearl fisheries, his people and his home?"
She strove earnestly to answer these questions, but could not with her present knowledge. So she tucked the notebook into a drawer of her desk, put out her light and got into bed.
But sleep would not come to her. The interest she took in the fate of young Jones was quite impersonal. She liked the boy in the same way she had liked dozens of boys. The fact that she had been of material assistance in saving his life aroused no especial tenderness in her. On his own account, however, Jones was interesting to her because he was so unusual. The complications that now beset him added to this interest because they were so curious and difficult to explain. Maud had the feeling that she had encountered a puzzle to tax her best talents, and so she wanted to solve it.
Suddenly she bounded out of bed and turned on the electric light. The notebook was again brought into requisition and she penciled on its pages the following words:
"What was the exact date that Jack Andrews landed in America? What was the exact date that Ajo landed from Sangoa? The first question may be easily answered, for doubtless the police have the record. But—the other?"
Then she replaced the book, put out the light and went to sleep very easily.
That last thought, now jotted down in black and white, had effectually cleared her mind of its cobwebs.
A GIRLISH NOTION
Colby came around next morning just as Mr. Merrick was entering the breakfast room, and the little man took the lawyer in to have a cup of coffee. The young attorney still maintained his jaunty air, although red-eyed from his night's vigil, and when he saw the Stanton girls and their Aunt Jane having breakfast by an open window he eagerly begged permission to join them, somewhat to Uncle John's amusement.
"Well?" demanded Maud, reading Colby's face with her clear eyes.
"I made a night of it, as I promised," said he. "This morning I know so much about pearls that I'm tempted to go into the business."
"As Jack Andrews did?" inquired Flo.
"Not exactly," he answered with a smile. "But it's an interesting subject—so interesting that I only abandoned my reading when I found I was burning my electric lamp by daylight. Listen: A pearl is nothing more or less than nacre, a fluid secretion of a certain variety of oyster—not the eatable kind. A grain of sand gets between the folds of the oyster and its shell and irritates the beast. In self-defense the oyster covers the sand with a fluid which hardens and forms a pearl."
"I've always known that," said Flo, with a toss of her head.
"Yes; but I want you all to bear it in mind, for it will explain a discovery I have made. Before I get to that, however, I want to say that at one time the island of Ceylon supplied the world with its most famous pearls. The early Egyptians discovered them there, as well as on the Persian and Indian coasts. The pearl which Cleopatra is said to have dissolved in wine and swallowed was worth about four hundred thousand dollars in our money; but of course pearls were scarce in her day. A single pearl was cut in two and used for earrings for the statue of Venus in the Pantheon at Rome, and the sum paid for it was equal to about a quarter of a million dollars. Sir Thomas Gresham, in the days of Queen Elizabeth, had a pearl valued at about seventy-five thousand dollars which he treated in the same manner Cleopatra did, dissolving it in wine and boasting he had given the most expensive dinner ever known."
"All of which—" began Maud, impatiently.
"All of which, Miss Stanton, goes to show that pearls have been of great price since the beginning of history. Nowadays we get just as valuable pearls from the South Seas, and even from Panama, St. Margarita and the Caromandel Coast, as ever came from Ceylon. But only those of rare size, shape or color are now valued at high prices. For instance, a string of matched pearls such as that owned by Princess Lemoine is estimated as worth only eighty thousand dollars, because it could be quite easily duplicated. The collection of Countess Ahmberg was noted for its variety of shapes and colors more than for its large or costly pearls; and that leads to my great discovery."
"Thank heaven," said Flo, with a sigh.
"I have discovered that our famous expert. Le Drieux, is an arrant humbug."
"We had suspected that," remarked Maud.
"Now we know it," declared Colby. "Pearls, I have learned, change their color, their degree of luster, even their weight, according to atmospheric conditions and location. A ten-penny-weight pearl in Vienna might weigh eight or nine pennyweights here in California, or it is more likely to weigh twelve. The things absorb certain moistures and chemicals from the air and sun, and shed those absorptions when kept in darkness or from the fresh air. Pearls die, so to speak; but are often restored to life by immersions in sea-water, their native element. As for color: the pink and blue pearls often grow white, at times, especially if kept long in darkness, but sun-baths restore their former tints. In the same way a white pearl, if placed near the fumes of ammonia, changes to a pinkish hue, while certain combinations of chemicals render them black, or 'smoked.' A clever man could steal a pink pearl, bleach it white, and sell it to its former owner without its being recognized. Therefore, when our expert, Le Drieux, attempts to show that the pearls found in Jones' possession are identical with those stolen from the Austrian lady, he fails to allow for climatic or other changes and cannot be accurate enough to convince anyone who knows the versatile characteristics of these gems."
"Ah, but does the judge know that, Mr. Colby?" asked Maud.
"I shall post him. After that, the conviction of the prisoner will be impossible."
"Do you think the examination will be held to-day?" inquired Mr. Merrick.
"I cannot tell that. It will depend upon the mood of Judge Wilton. If he feels grouchy or disagreeable, he is liable to postpone the case. If he is in good spirits and wants to clear his docket he may begin the examination at ten o'clock, to-day, which is the hour set for it."
"Is your evidence ready, Mr. Colby?"
"Such as I can command, Miss Stanton," he replied. "Last evening I wired New York for information as to the exact amount of stock Jones owns in the Continental, and I got a curious reply. The stock is valued at nineteen hundred thousand dollars, but no one believes that Jones owns it personally. It is generally thought that for politic reasons the young man was made the holder of stock for several different parties, who still own it, although it is in Jones' name. The control of stock without ownership is not unusual. It gives the real owners an opportunity to hide behind their catspaw, who simply obeys their instructions."
"I do not believe that Jones is connected with anyone in that manner," said Mr. Merrick.
"Nor do I," asserted Aunt Jane. "His interference with Goldstein's plans proves he is under no obligations to others, for he has acted arbitrarily, in accordance with his personal desires and against the financial interests of the concern."
"Why didn't you ask him about this, instead of wiring to New York?" demanded Maud.
"He might not give us exact information, under the circumstances," said Colby.
The girl frowned.
"Jones is not an ordinary client," continued the lawyer, coolly. "He won't tell me anything about himself, or give me what is known as 'inside information.' On the contrary, he contents himself with saying he is innocent and I must prove it. I'm going to save the young man, but I'm not looking to him for much assistance."
Maud still frowned. Presently she said:
"I want to see Mr. Jones. Can you arrange an interview for me, sir?"
"Of course. You'd better go into town with me this morning. If the examination is held, you will see Jones then. If it's postponed, you may visit him in the jail."
Maud reflected a moment.
"Very well," said she, "I'll go with you." Then, turning to her aunt, she continued: "You must make my excuses to Mr. Goldstein, Aunt Jane."
Mrs. Montrose eyed her niece critically.
"Who will accompany you, Maud?" she asked.
"Why, I'll go," said Patsy Doyle; and so it was settled, Uncle John agreeing to escort the young ladies and see them safely home again.
THE YACHT "ARABELLA"
As the party drove into town Colby said:
"It wouldn't be a bad idea for Jones to bribe that fellow Le Drieux. If Le Drieux, who holds a warrant for the arrest of Jack Andrews, issued by the Austrian government and vised in Washington, could be won to our side, the whole charge against our friend might be speedily dissolved."
"Disgraceful!" snapped Maud indignantly. "I am positive Mr. Jones would not consider such a proposition."
"Diplomatic, not disgraceful," commented the lawyer, smiling at her. "Why should Jones refuse to consider bribery?"
"To use money to defeat justice would be a crime as despicable as stealing pearls," she said.
"Dear me!" muttered Colby, with a puzzled frown. "What a queer way to look at it. Le Drieux has already been bribed, by a liberal reward, to run down a supposed criminal. If we bribe him with a larger sum to give up the pursuit of Jones, whom we believe innocent, we are merely defending ourselves from a possible injustice which may be brought about by an error of judgment."
"Isn't this judge both able and honest?" asked Uncle John.
"Wilton? Well, possibly. His ability consists in his knowledge of law, rather than of men and affairs. He believes himself honest, I suppose, but I'll venture to predict he will act upon prejudice and an assumption of personal dignity, rather than attempt to discover if his personal impressions correspond with justice. A judge, Mr. Merrick, is a mere man, with all the average man's failings; so we must expect him to be quite human."
"Never mind," said Patsy resignedly. "Perhaps we shall find him a better judge than you are lawyer."
"He has had more experience, anyhow," said Colby, much amused at the shot.
They found, on arriving at court, that the case had already been postponed. They drove to the jail and obtained permission to see the prisoner, who was incarcerated under the name of "Jack Andrews, alias A. Jones." Maud would have liked a private audience, but the lawyer was present as well as Patsy and Mr. Merrick, and she did not like to ask them to go away.
The boy greeted them with his old frank smile and did not seem in the least oppressed by the fact that he was a prisoner accused of an ugly crime. The interview was held in a parlor of the jail, a guard standing by the door but discreetly keeping out of earshot.
Colby first informed the boy of the postponement of his formal examination and then submitted to his client an outline of the defense he had planned. Jones listened quietly and shook his head.
"Is that the best you can do for me?"
"With my present knowledge, yes," returned the lawyer.
"And will it clear me from this suspicion?" was the next question.
"I hope so."
"You are not sure?"
"This is an extraordinary case, Mr. Jones. Your friends all believe you innocent, but the judge wants facts—cold, hard facts—and only these will influence him. Mr. Le Drieux, commissioned by the Austrian government, states that you are Jack Andrews, and have escaped to America after having stolen the pearls of a noble Viennese lady. He will offer, as evidence to prove his assertion, the photograph and the pearls. You must refute this charge with counter-evidence, in order to escape extradition and a journey to the country where the crime was committed. There you will be granted a regular trial, to be sure, but even if you then secure an acquittal you will have suffered many indignities and your good name will be permanently tarnished."
"I shall work unceasingly to secure your release at the examination. But I wish I had some stronger evidence to offer in rebuttal."
"Go ahead and do your best," said the boy, nonchalantly. "I will abide by the result, whatever it may be."
"May I ask a few questions?" Maud timidly inquired.
He turned to her with an air of relief.
"Most certainly you may, Miss Stanton."
"And you will answer them?"
"I pledge myself to do so, if I am able."
"Thank you," she said. "I am not going to interfere with Mr. Colby's plans, but I'd like to help you on my own account, if I may."
He gave her a quick look, at once grateful, suspicious and amused. Then he said:
"Clear out, Colby. I'm sure you have a hundred things to attend to, and when you're gone I'll have a little talk with Miss Stanton."
The lawyer hesitated.
"If this conversation is likely to affect your case," he began, "then—"
"Then Miss Stanton will give you any information she may acquire," interrupted Jones, and that left Colby no alternative but to go away.
"Now, then, Miss Stanton, out with it!" said the boy.
"There are a lot of things we don't know, but ought to know, in order to defend you properly," she observed, looking at him earnestly.
"Question me, then."
"I want to know the exact date when you landed in this country from Sangoa."
"Let me see. It was the twelfth day of October, of last year."
"Oh! so long ago as that? It is fifteen months. Once you told us that you had been here about a year."
"I didn't stop to count the months, you see. The twelfth of October is correct."
"Where did you land?"
"At San Francisco."
"Direct from Sangoa?"
"Direct from Sangoa."
"And what brought you from Sangoa to San Francisco?"
"No, a large yacht. Two thousand tons burden."
"Whose yacht was it?"
"Then where is it now?"
He reflected a moment.
"I think Captain Carg must be anchored at San Pedro, by now. Or perhaps he is at Long Beach, or Santa Monica," he said quietly.
"On this coast!" exclaimed Maud.
Patsy was all excitement by now and could no longer hold her tongue.
"Is the yacht Arabella yours?" she demanded.
"It is, Miss Patsy."
"Then it is lying off Santa Monica Bay. I've seen it!" she cried.
"It was named for my mother," said the boy, his voice softening, "and built by my father. In the Arabella I made my first voyage; so you will realize I am very fond of the little craft."
Maud was busily thinking.
"Is Captain Carg a Sangoan?" she asked.
"Of course. The entire crew are Sangoans."
"Then where has the yacht been since it landed you here fifteen months ago?"
"It returned at once to the island, and at my request has now made another voyage to America."
"It has been here several days."
"Has it brought more pearls from Sangoa?"
"Perhaps. I do not know, for I have not yet asked for the captain's report."
Both Uncle John and Patsy were amazed at the rapidity with which Maud was acquiring information of a really important character. Indeed, she was herself surprised and the boy's answers were already clearing away some of the mists. She stared at him thoughtfully as she considered her next question, and Jones seemed to grow thoughtful, too.
"I have no desire to worry my friends over my peculiar difficulties," he presently said. "Frankly, I am not in the least worried myself. The charge against me is so preposterous that I am sure to be released after the judge has examined me; and, even at the worst—if I were sent to Vienna for trial—the Austrians would know very well that I am not the man they seek."
"That trip would cause you great inconvenience, however," suggested Mr. Merrick.
"I am told a prisoner is treated very well, if he is willing to pay for such consideration," said Jones.
"And your good name?" asked Maud, with a touch of impatience.
"My good name is precious only to me, and I know it is still untarnished. For your sake, my newly found friends, I would like the world to believe in me, but there is none save you to suffer through my disgrace, and you may easily ignore my acquaintance."
"What nonsense!" cried Patsy, scornfully. "Tell me, sir, what's to become of our grand motion picture enterprise, if you allow yourself to be shipped to Vienna as a captured thief?"
He winced a trifle at the blunt epithet but quickly recovered and smiled at her.
"I'm sorry, Miss Patsy," said he. "I know you will be disappointed if our enterprise is abandoned. So will I. Since this latest complication arose I fear I have not given our project the consideration it deserves."
The boy passed his hand wearily across his forehead and, rising from his seat, took a few nervous steps up and down the room. Then, pausing, he asked abruptly:
"Are you still inclined to be my champion, Miss Stanton?"
"If I can be of any help," she replied, simply.
"Then I wish you would visit the yacht, make the acquaintance of Captain Carg and tell him of the trouble I am in. Will you?"
"With pleasure. That is—I'll be glad to do your errand."
"I'll give you a letter to him," he continued, and turning to the attendant he asked for writing material, which was promptly furnished him. At the table he wrote a brief note and enclosed it in an envelope which he handed to Maud.
"You will find the captain a splendid old fellow," said he.
"Will he answer any questions I may ask him?" she demanded.
"That will depend upon your questions," he answered evasively. "Carg is considered a bit taciturn, I believe, but he has my best interests at heart and you will find him ready to serve me in any possible way."
"Is there any objection to my going with Maud?" asked Patsy. "I'd like to visit that yacht; it looks so beautiful from a distance."
"You may all go, if you wish," said he. "It might be well for Mr. Merrick to meet Captain Carg, who would prefer, I am sure, to discuss so delicate a matter as my arrest with a man. Not that he is ungallant, but with a man such as Mr. Merrick he would be more at his ease. Carg is a sailor, rather blunt and rugged, both in speech and demeanor, but wholly devoted to me because I am at present the Jones of Sangoa."
"I'll accompany the girls, of course," said Uncle John; "and I think we ought not to delay in seeing your man. Colby says you may be called for examination at any time."
"There is one more question I want to ask," announced Maud as they rose to go. "On what date did you reach New York, after landing at San Francisco?"
"Why, it must have been some time in last January. I know it was soon after Christmas, which I passed in Chicago."
"Is that as near as you can recollect the date?"
"Yes, at short notice."
"Then perhaps you can tell me the date you took possession of the Continental Film Company by entering the stockholders' meeting and ejecting yourself president?"
He seemed surprised at her information and the question drew from him an odd laugh.
"How did you learn about that incident?" he asked.
"Goldstein told Mr. Merrick. He said it was a coup d'etat."
The boy laughed again.
"It was really funny," said he. "Old Bingley, the last president, had no inkling that I controlled the stock. He was so sure of being reelected that he had a camera-man on hand to make a motion picture of the scene where all would hail him as the chief. The picture was taken, but it didn't interest Bingley any, for it showed the consternation on his face, and the faces of his favored coterie, when I rose and calmly voted him out of office with the majority of the stock."
"Oh!" exclaimed Maud. "There was a picture made of that scene, then?"
"To be sure. It was never shown but once to an audience of one. I sat and chuckled to myself while the film was being run."
"Was it kept, or destroyed?" asked the girl, breathlessly.
"I ordered it preserved amongst our archives. Probably Goldstein now has the negative out here, stored in our Hollywood vaults."
"And the date—when was it?" she demanded.
"Why, the annual meeting is always the last Thursday in January. Figure it out—it must have been the twenty-sixth. But is the exact date important, Miss Stanton?"
"Very," she announced. "I don't know yet the exact date that Andrews landed in New York on his return from Vienna, but if it happened to be later than the twenty-sixth of January—"
"I see. In that case the picture will clear me of suspicion."
"Precisely. I shall now go and wire New York for the information I need."
"Can't you get it of Le Drieux?" asked the young man.
"Perhaps so; I'll try. But it will be better to get the date from the steamship agent direct."
With this they shook the boy's hand, assuring him of their sympathy and their keen desire to aid him, and then hurried away from the jail.
MASCULINE AND FEMININE
Uncle John and the girls, after consulting together, decided to stop at the Hollywood studio and pick up Flo and Mrs. Montrose.
"It would be a shame to visit that lovely yacht without them," said Patsy; "and we were all invited, you know."
"Yes, invited by a host who is unavoidably detained elsewhere," added Uncle John.
"Still, that yacht is very exclusive," his niece stated, "and I'm sure we are the first Americans to step foot on its decks."
They were all in a brighter mood since the interview at the jail, and after a hurried lunch at the hotel, during which Maud related to the others the morning's occurrences, they boarded the big Merrick seven-passenger automobile and drove to Santa Monica Bay. Louise couldn't leave the baby, who was cutting teeth, but Arthur and Beth joined the party and on arrival at the beach Uncle John had no difficulty in securing a launch to take them out to the Arabella.
"They won't let you aboard, though," declared the boatman. "A good many have tried it, an' come back disjointed. There's something queer about that craft; but the gov'ment don't seem worried, so I guess it ain't a pirate."
The beauty of the yacht grew on them as they approached it. It was painted a pure white in every part and on the stern was the one word: Arabella, but no name of the port from which she hailed. The ladder was hoisted and fastened to an upper rail, but as they drew up to the smooth sides a close-cropped bullet-head projected from the bulwarks and a gruff voice demanded:
"Well, what's wanted?"
"We want to see Captain Carg," called Arthur, in reply.
The head wagged sidewise.
"No one allowed aboard," said the man.
"Here's a letter to the captain, from Mr. Jones," said Maud, exhibiting it.
The word seemed magical. Immediately the head disappeared and an instant later the boarding ladder began to descend. But the man, a sub-officer dressed in a neat uniform of white and gold, came quickly down the steps and held out his hand for the letter.
"Beg pardon," said he, touching his cap to the ladies, "but the rules are very strict aboard the Arabella. Will you please wait until I've taken this to the captain? Thank you!"
Then he ran lightly up the steps and they remained seated in the launch until he returned.
"The captain begs you to come aboard," he then said, speaking very respectfully but with a face that betrayed his wonder at the order of his superior. Then he escorted them up the side to the deck, which was marvelously neat and attractive. Some half a dozen sailors lounged here and there and these stared as wonderingly at the invasion of strangers as the subaltern had done. But their guide did not pause longer than to see that they had all reached the deck safely, when he led them into a spacious cabin.
Here they faced Captain Carg, whom Patsy afterward declared was the tallest, thinnest, chilliest man she had ever encountered. His hair was grizzled and hung low on his neck; his chin was very long and ended in a point; his nose was broad, with sensitive nostrils that marked every breath he drew. As for his eyes, which instantly attracted attention, they were brown and gentle as a girl's but had that retrospective expression that suggests far-away thoughts or an utter lack of interest in one's surroundings. They never looked at but through one. The effect of Carg's eyes was distinctly disconcerting.
The commander of the Arabella bowed with much dignity as his guests entered and with a sweep of his long arm he muttered in distant tones: "Pray be seated." They obeyed. The cabin was luxuriously furnished and there was no lack of comfortable chairs.
Somehow, despite the courteous words and attitude of Captain Carg, there was something about him that repelled confidence. Already Maud and Patsy were wondering if such a man could be loyal and true.
"My young master," he was saying, as he glanced at the letter he still held in his hand, "tells me that any questions you may ask I may answer as freely as I am permitted to."
"What does that mean, sir?" Maud inquired, for the speech was quite ambiguous.
"That I await your queries, Miss," with another perfunctory bow in her direction.
She hesitated, puzzled how to proceed.
"Mr. Jones is in a little trouble," she finally began. "He has been mistaken for some other man and—they have put him in jail until he can be examined by the federal judge of this district."
The captain's face exhibited no expression whatever. Even the eyes failed to express surprise at her startling news. He faced his visitors without emotion.
"At the examination," Maud went on, "it will be necessary for him to prove he is from Sangoa."
No reply. The captain sat like a statue.
"He must also prove that certain pearls found in his possession came from Sangoa."
Still no reply. Maud began to falter and fidget. Beth was amused. Patsy was fast growing indignant. Flo had a queer expression on her pretty face that denoted mischief to such an extent that it alarmed her Aunt Jane.
"I'm afraid," said Maud, "that unless you come to your master's assistance, Captain Carg, he will be sent to Austria, a prisoner charged with a serious crime."
She meant this assertion to be very impressive, but it did not seem to affect the man in the least. She sighed, and Flo, with a giggle, broke an awkward pause.
"Well, why don't you get busy. Maud?" she asked.
"I—in what way, Flo?" asked her sister, catching at the suggestion implied.
"Captain Carg would make a splendid motion picture actor," declared the younger Miss Stanton, audaciously. "He sticks close to his cues, you see, and won't move till he gets one. He will answer your questions; yes, he has said he would; but you may prattle until doomsday without effect, so far as he is concerned, unless you finish your speech with an interrogation point."
Mrs. Montrose gave a gasp of dismay, while Maud flushed painfully. The captain, however, allowed a gleam of admiration to soften his grim features as he stared fixedly at saucy Flo. Patsy marked this fleeting change of expression at once and said hastily:
"I think. Maud, dear, the captain is waiting to be questioned."
At this he cast a grateful look in Miss Doyle's direction and bowed to her. Maud began to appreciate the peculiar situation and marshalled her questions in orderly array.
"Tell me, please, where is Sangoa?" she began.
"In the South Seas, Miss."
"Will you give me the latitude and longitude?"
"Oh, you mean that you will not?"
"I have been commanded to forget the latitude and longitude of Sangoa."
"But this is folly!" she exclaimed, much annoyed. "Such absurd reticence may be fatal to Mr. Jones' interests."
He made no reply to this and after reflection she tried again.
"What is the nearest land to Sangoa?"
"Toerdal," said he.
"What is that, an island?"
"Is it on the maps? Is it charted?"
She silenced Flo's aggravating giggle with a frown.
"Tell me, sir," she continued, "what is the nearest land to Sangoa that is known to the world?"
He smiled faintly as he replied: "I cannot tell."
Uncle John had grown very uneasy by this time and he decided he ought to attempt to assist Maud. So, addressing Captain Carg, he said in a positive tone:
"We quite understand, sir, that it has been the policy of the owners of Sangoa to guard all knowledge of the island's whereabouts from the outside world, as well as the fact that its pearl fisheries are very rich. We understand that an influx of treasure-seekers would embarrass the Sangoans. But we are close friends of young Mr. Jones and have no desire to usurp his island kingdom or seize his pearls. Our only anxiety is to free him from an unjust suspicion. A foolish man named Le Drieux accuses Jones of stealing a choice collection of pearls from a lady in Austria and fleeing with them to America. He has a photograph of the real criminal, taken abroad, which curiously resembles your young master."
Here the captain turned a quick look upon the speaker and for the first time his eyes lost their dull expression. But he made no remark and Uncle John continued:
"This man Le Drieux found several choice pearls in the possession of Mr. Jones, which he claims are a part of the stolen collection. Hence he obtained your master's arrest. Jones says he brought the pearls from Sangoa, his home, where they were found. No one here knows anything of Sangoa, so they regard his story with suspicion. Now, sir, we believe that through you we can prove he has told the truth, and so secure his release. Here is the important question: Will you help us?"
"Willingly, sir," replied the captain.
"Are you forbidden to tell us where Sangoa is, or anything about the island?"
"Yes, sir; I am forbidden to do that, under any circumstances," was the ready answer.
"Have you been to Sangoa since you landed Mr. Jones in San Francisco, some fifteen months ago?"
"And did you bring back with you, on this trip, any pearls?"
"Have you already disposed of them?"
"I am awaiting orders from my master."
"Has he been aboard since you anchored here?"
"What were your instructions?"
"To anchor on this coast and await his coming."
"Well," said Mr. Merrick, reflectively, "I believe you can prove our case without telling the location of Sangoa. An exhibition of the pearls you have brought ought to convince any reasonable judge. Are there many of them in this lot?"
"Not so many as usual, sir."
"Are they very choice ones?"
"Not so choice as usual, sir."
Uncle John was greatly disappointed, but Maud exclaimed eagerly:
"Let us see them, please!"
That was not a question, but the captain rose at once, bowed and left the cabin. It was some ten minutes before he returned, followed by two men who bore between them a heavy bronze chest which they placed upon the cabin floor. Then they left the room and the captain took a key from his pocket and unlocked a secret panel in the wainscoting of the cabin. A small compartment was disclosed, in which hung another key on an iron hook. He removed this and with it unlocked the chest, drawing-from its recesses several trays which he deposited upon the table. These trays were lined and padded with white velvet and when the covers were removed, the girls, who had crowded around the table, uttered cries of astonishment and delight.
"They may not be as numerous or as choice 'as usual,'" murmured Mrs. Montrose, "but they are the most amazing lot of pearls I have ever beheld."
"And did all these come from Sangoa?" Maud asked the captain.
"They represent two months' fishing on the coast of our island," he replied; "but not the best two months of the year. The weather was bad; there were many storms."
"Why, the pearls that Ajo gave us were insignificant when compared with these!" cried Beth. "This collection must be worth an enormous sum. Uncle John."
Uncle John merely nodded. He had been thinking, as he studied the pearls, and now turned to Captain Carg.
"Will you come ashore and testify before the judge in behalf of your master?"
"Yes, if he asks me to do so."
"And will you bring these pearls with you?"
"If my master orders it."
"Very good. We will have him send you instructions."
The captain bowed, after which he turned to the table and began replacing the trays in the chest. Then he locked it, again hung the key in the secret aperture and closed the panel. A whistle summoned the two seamen, who bore away the chest, accompanied by the captain in person.
When they were left alone, Maud said anxiously:
"Is there anything more we can do here?"
"I think not," replied Mr. Merrick.
"Then let us get back. I want to complete my evidence at once, for no one knows when the judge will summon Ajo for examination."
They thanked the captain when he rejoined them, but he remained as silent and undemonstrative as ever, so they took their departure without further ceremony and returned to the shore.
THE ADVANTAGE OF A DAY
That evening Le Drieux appeared in the lobby of the hotel and sat himself comfortably down, as if his sole desire in life was to read the evening paper and smoke his after-dinner cigar. He cast a self-satisfied and rather supercilious glance in the direction of the Merrick party, which on this occasion included the Stantons and their aunt, but he made no attempt to approach the corner where they were seated.
Maud, however, as soon as she saw Le Drieux, asked Arthur Weldon to interview the man and endeavor to obtain from him the exact date when Jack Andrews landed in New York. Uncle John had already wired to Major Doyle, Patsy's father, to get the steamship lists and find which boat Andrews had come on and the date of its arrival, but no answer had as yet been received.
Arthur made a pretext of buying a cigar at the counter and then strolled aimlessly about until he came, as if by chance, near to where Le Drieux was sitting. Making a pretense of suddenly observing the man, he remarked casually:
"Ah, good evening."
"Good evening, Mr. Weldon," replied Le Drieux, a note of ill-suppressed triumph in his voice.
"I suppose you are now content to rest on your laurels, pending the formal examination?" said Arthur.
"I am, sir. But the examination is a mere form, you know. I have already cabled the commissioner of police at Vienna and received a reply stating that the Austrian ambassador would make a prompt demand for extradition and the papers would be forwarded from Washington to the Austrian consul located in this city. The consul has also been instructed to render me aid in transporting the prisoner to Vienna. All this will require several days' time, so you see we are in no hurry to conclude the examination."
"I see." said Arthur. "Is it, then, your intention to accompany the prisoner to Vienna?"
"Of course. I have not mentioned the fact to you before, but I hold a commission from the Chief of Police of Vienna authorizing me to arrest Jack Andrews wherever I may find him, and deliver him up for trial. My firm procured for me this commission, as they are very anxious to recover the lost pearls."
"Well, to be frank, sir, the countess still owes our firm a large sum for purchases. She had almost her entire fortune tied up in that collection, and unless it is recovered—."
"I can well appreciate the anxiety of your firm. But aside from that, Mr. Le Drieux, I suppose a big reward has been offered?"
"Not big; just a fair amount. It will repay me, quite handsomely, for my trouble in this affair; but, of course, my firm gets half of the reward."
"They are not too generous. You deserve it all."
"Thank you. It has been an interesting episode, Mr. Weldon."
"It has been more than that. I consider this escapade of Andrews quite a romance; or is it more of a tragedy, in your opinion?"
"It will be a tragedy for Andrews, before he's through with it," replied Le Drieux grimly. "They're pretty severe on the long-fingered gentry, over there in Europe, and you must remember that if the fellow lives through the sentence they will undoubtedly impose upon him in Vienna, he has still to answer for the Paris robbery and the London murder. It's all up with Andrews, I guess; and it's a good thing, too, for he is too clever to remain at large."