"I did not have motive!" Eunice flushed back. "You talk nonsense! I have had slight differences of opinion with my husband hundreds of time, but that is not a motive for murder! I have a high temper, and at times I am unable to control it. But that does not mean I am a murderess!"
"Not necessarily, but it gives a reason for suspecting you, since you are the only person who can reasonably be suspected."
"But hold on, Driscoll, don't go too fast," said Mason Elliott; "there may be other people who had motives. Remember Sanford Embury was a man of wide public interests outside of his family affairs. Suppose you turn your attention to that sort of thing."
"Gladly, Mr. Elliott; but when we've proved no outsider could get into Mr. Embury's room, why look for outside motives?"
"It seems only fair, to my mind, that such motives should be looked into. Now, for instance, Embury was candidate in a hotly contested coming election—"
"That's so," cried Hendricks; "look for your murderer in some such connection as that."
"Election to what? "growled Shane.
"President of the Metropolitan Athletic Club—a big organization—"
"H'm! Who's the opposing candidate?"
"I am," replied Hendricks, quietly.
"You! Well, Mr. Hendricks, where were you last night, when this man was killed?"
"In Boston." Hendricks did not smile, but he looked as if the question annoyed him.
"You can prove that?"
"Yes, of course. I stayed at the Touraine, was with friends till well after midnight, and took the seven o'clock train this morning for New York, in company with the same men. You can look up all that, at your leisure; but there is a point in what Mr. Elliott says. I can't think that any of the club members would be so keen over the election as to do away with one of the candidates, but there's the situation. Go to it."
"It leaves something to be looked into, at any rate," mused Shane.
"Why didn't you think of it for yourself?" said Hendricks, rather scathingly. "It seems to me a detective ought to look a little beyond his nose!"
"I can't think we've got to, in this case," Shane persisted; "but I'm willing to try. Also, Mrs, Embury, I'll ask you for the address of the lady who went with you to see that play."
"Certainly," said Eunice, in a cold voice, and gave the address desired.
"And, now, we'll move on," said Shane, rising.
"You ain't under arrest, Mrs, Embury—not yet—but I advise you not to try to leave this house without permission—"
"Indeed, I shall! Whenever and as often as I choose! The idea of your forbidding me!"
"Hush, Eunice," said Hendricks. "She will not, Mr. Shane; I'm her guaranty for that. Don't apprehend any insubordination on the part of Mrs, Embury."
"Not if she knows what's good for herself!" was Shane's parting shot, and the two detectives went away.
"Oh, yes, indeed, Mr. Shane, Mrs, Embury is a dear friend of mine —a very, very dear friend—and I'd so gladly go to see her—and comfort her—console with her—and try to cheer her up—but —well, I asked her last night, over the telephone, to let me go to see her to-day—and—she—she—"
Mrs, Desternay's pretty blue eyes filled with tears, and her pretty lips quivered, and she dabbed a sheer little handkerchief here and there on her countenance. Then she took up her babbling again.
"Oh, I don't mean she was unfriendly or—or cross, you know—but she was a little—well, curt, almost—I might say, cool. And I'm one of her dearest friends—and I can't quite understand it."
"Perhaps you must make allowances for Mrs. Embury," Shane suggested. "Remember the sudden and mysterious death of her husband must have been a fearful shock—"
"Oh, terrible! Yes, indeed, I do appreciate all that! And of course when I telephoned last evening, she had just had that long interview with you—and your other detective, Mr. What's-his-name—and—oh, yes, Mr. Elliott answered my call and he told me just how things were—but I did think dear Eunice would want to see me—but it's all right—of course, if she doesn't want my sympathy. I'm the last one to intrude on her grief! But she has no one—no one at all—except that old aunt, who's half foolish, I think—"
"What do you mean, half foolish?"
"Oh, she's hipped over those psychic studies of hers, and she's all wrapped up in Spiritualism and occult thingamajigs—I don't know what you call 'em."
"She seems to me a very sane and practical lady."
"In most ways—yes; but crazy on the subject of spooks, and mediums and things like that! Oh, Mr. Shane, who do you suppose killed Mr. Embury? How awful! To have a real murder right in one's owns circle of acquaintances—I had almost said friends —but dear Eunice doesn't seem to look on me as her friend—"
The blue eyes made a bid for sympathy, and Shane, though not always at ease in the presence of society ladies, met her half way.
"Now, that's a pity, Mrs, Desternay! I'm sure you'd be the greatest help to her in her trouble."
Fifi Desternay raised her hands and let them fall with a pretty little gesture of helplessness. She was a slip of a thing, and —it was the morning of the day after the Embury tragedy—she was garbed in a scant but becoming negligee, and had received the detective in her morning room, where she sat, tucked into the corner of a great davenport sofa, smoking cigarettes.
Her little face was delicately made up, and her soft, fair hair was in blobs over her ears. For the rest, the effect was mostly a rather low V'd neck and somewhat evident silk stockings and beribboned mules.
She continually pulled her narrow satin gown about her, and it as continually slipped away from her lace petticoat, as she crossed and recrossed her silken legs.
She was entirely unself-conscious and yet, the detective felt instinctively that she carefully measured every one of the words she so carelessly uttered.
"Well, Mr. Shane," she said, suddenly, "we're not getting anywhere. Just exactly what did you come here for? What do you want of me?"
The detective was grateful for this assistance.
"I came," he stated, without hesitation, "to ask you about the circumstances of the party which Mrs, Embury attended here night before last, the night her husband—died."
"Oh, yes; let me see—there isn't much to tell. Eunice Embury spent the evening here—we had a game of cards—and, before supper was served, Mr. Embury called for her and took her home —in their car. That's all I know about it."
"What was the card game?"
"For high stakes?"
"Oh, mercy, no! We never really gamble!" The fluttering little hands deprecated the very idea. "We have just a tiny stake—to —why, only to make us play a better game. It does, you know."
"Yes'm. And what do you call a tiny stake? Opinions differ, you know."
"And so do stakes!" The blue eyes flashed a warning. "Of course, we don't always play for the same. Indeed, the sum may differ at the various tables. Are you prying into my private affairs?"
"Only so far as I'm obliged to, ma'am. Never mind the bridge for the moment. Was Mr. Embury annoyed with his wife—for any reason—when he called to take her home?"
"Now, how should I know that?" a pretty look of perplexity came into the blue eyes. "I'm not a mind reader!"
"You're a woman! Was Mr. Embury put out?"
Fifi laughed a ringing peal. "Was he?" she cried, as if suddenly deciding to tell the truth. "I should say he was! Why, he was so mad I was positively afraid of him!"
"What did he say?"
"That's just it! He didn't say anything! Oh, he spoke to me pleasantly—he was polite, and all that, but I could see that he was simply boiling underneath!"
"You are a mind reader, then!"
"I didn't have to be, to see that!" The little figure rocked back and forth on the sofa, as, with arms clasped round one knee, Fifi gave way to a dramatic reconstruction of the scene.
"'Come, Eunice,' he said, just like that! And you bet Eunice went!"
"Was she angry, too?"
"Rather! Oh, you know her temper is something fierce! When she's roused, she's like a roaring lion and a raging bear—as it says in the Bible—or Shakespeare, or somewhere."'
"Speaking of Shakespeare, you and Mrs, Embury went to see 'Hamlet' recently, I believe."
"Oh, yes; when the Avon Players put it on. Everybody went. Didn't you? You missed it, if you didn't! Most marvelous performance. 'Macbeth,' too. That was perfectly darling! I went to that with—"
"Excuse me. As to 'Hamlet,' now. Did you notice particularly the speech about the poisoning of—"
"Of Hamlet's father! I should say I did! Why, that speech by Mr. Postlewaite—he was 'The Ghost,' you know—was stunning, as much applauded as the 'Soliloquy' itself! He fairly made you see that poisoning scene!"
"Was Mrs, Embury interested?"
"Oh, we both were! We were at school together, and we both loved Shakespeare—we took it 'Special.' And we were terribly interested in the Avon Players' 'Hamlet'—it was unlike any representation we had ever seen."
"Ah—yes; and did you—you and Mrs, Embury—discuss the poison used by the wicked uncle?"
"Not lately. But in class we discussed that—years ago—oh, that's one of the regulation Shakespearean puzzles. You can't trip us up on our Shakespeare—either of us! I doubt if you can find two frivolous society women who know it better than we do!"
"Did you know that Mr. Embury was killed in a manner identical with the Hamlet murder?"
"No! What do you mean? I've really not heard the details. As soon as I heard of his death, I called up Eunice, but, as I said, she wasn't cordial at all. Then I was busy with my own guests after that—last night and this morning—well, I'm really hardly awake yet!"
Fifi rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand—a childish gesture, and daintily smothered a slight yawn.
"But I'm awfully interested," she went on, "only—only I can't bear to hear about—a—murder! The details, I mean. I should think Eunice would go crazy! I should think she'd be glad to come here—I was going to ask her, when she called me down! But, what do you mean—killed like Hamlet's father?"
"Yes; there was poison introduced into his ear as Mr. Embury slept—"
"Really! How tragic; How terrible! Who did it?"
"That's what we're trying to discover. Could—do you think Mrs, Embury could have had sufficient motive—"
"Eunice!" Fifi screamed. "What an idea! Eunice Embury to kill her own husband! Oh, no!"
"But only she and that aunt of hers had opportunity. You know how their bedrooms are?"
"Oh, yes, I know. Miss Ames is using Eunice's dressing-room—and a nuisance it is, too."
"Then you know that at night those three bedrooms are shut off from the rest of the house by strong bolts on the inside of the doors."
"Yes, I know."
"Then, don't you see, as Mr. Embury was killed—the doctors say about daybreak, or earlier—nobody could have done it except somebody who was behind those locked doors."
"Tenth story, and no balconies. And, too, they all have flower-boxes, except one, and the flowers were undisturbed. The one that hasn't a flower-box is on the side street, in Miss Ames' room. And that—I looked out myself—has no balcony, nor even abroad ledge. It couldn't be reached from the next apartment—if that's what you're thinking of."
"I'm not thinking of anything," returned Fifi. "I'm too dazed to think! Eunice Embury! Do you mean she is really suspected?"
"I mean that, very decidedly, ma'am. And I am here to ask you if you can give any additional evidence, any—"
"Any evidence! Evidence against my dear friend! Why, man, if I knew anything, I wouldn't tell it, if it would go against Eunice!"
"Oh, yes, you would; the law would force you to. But do you know anything definite?"
"No, of course, I don't! I know that Mr. and Mrs. Embury were not always cooing like turtle-doves! She had the devil's own temper—and he wasn't much better! I know he drove her frantic because he wouldn't give her some privileges she wanted—wouldn't allow her certain latitudes, and was generally pretty dictatorial. I know Eunice resented this, and I know that lots of times she was pretty nearly at the end of her rope, and she said all sorts of things—that, of course, she didn't mean—but she wouldn't kill him! Oh, I don't think she would do that!"
"H'm! So they lived like cats and dogs, did they?"
"What an awful way to put it! But, well, Sanford didn't make Eunice's life a bed of roses—nor did she go out of her way to please him!"
"Mr. Embury was often a guest here?"
"He was not! Eunice came here, against his will—against his expressed commands."
"Oho! She did! And her visit here night before last—that was an act of insubordination?"
"It was! I wouldn't tell this—but it's sure to come out. Yes, he had especially and positively forbidden her to come to that party here, and after he went to his club—Eunice ran away from home and came. Naughty girl! She told us she had played hookey, when she first came in! But, good gracious, Mr. Shane, that was no crime! In this day and generation a wife may disobey her husband—and get away with it!"
The arch little face smiled saucily, and Fifi cuddled into her corner, and again fell a-thinking.
"I can't believe you really mean you think Eunice did it!" she broke out. "Why, what are you going to do? Arrest her?"
"Not quite. Although she is under strict surveillance at present."
"What! Can't she go out, if she likes?"
"How perfectly absurd! Oh, I've a notion to telephone and ask her to go for a drive. What fun!"
Shane looked at the mischievous face in astonishment. He was experienced in human nature, but this shallow, frivolous attitude toward a tragedy was new to him.
"I thought you and Mrs, Embury were friends," he said, reprovingly.
"Oh, we are—Or rather, we were. I'm not sure I can know her —after this! But, you see, I can't take it seriously. I can't really believe you mean that you think Eunice—guilty! Why, I'd a thousand times rather suspect the old aunt person!"
"You would!" Shane spoke eagerly. "Could that be possible?"
"It could be possible this way," Fifi was serious now. "You see, Miss Ames adores Eunice. She found it hard to forgive Sanford for his tyrannical ways—and they were tyrannical. And Miss Ames might have, by way of ridding Eunice from a cruel husband—might have—oh, I can't say it—it sounds too absurd! But, after all, it's no more absurd than to suspect Eunice. Why don't you look for somebody else?"
"How could anybody get in?"
"I know," impatiently; "but I've read detective stories, and 'most always, the murder is committed in what they call 'a hermetically sealed room,' and yet somebody did get in!"
"There's no such thing as a hermetically sealed room! Don't you know what hermetically sealed means?"
"Yes, of course I do, literally. But that phrase is used—in detective stories, to mean an inaccessible room. Or a seemingly inaccessible one. But always it comes out that it could be entered."
"That's all very well in fiction, ma'am; but it won't work in this case. Why, I looked over those door locks myself. Nobody could get in."
"Well, leaving aside the way they got in, let's see whom we can suspect. There's two men that I know of who are dead in love with Mrs, Embury—and I daresay there are a lot more, who can see a silver lining in this cloud!"
"What—what do you mean?"
Shane was fascinated by the lovely personality of Mrs, Desternay, and he began to think that she might be of some real help to him. Though a skilled detective, he was of the plodding sort, and never had brilliant or even original ideas. He had had a notion it would have been better to send Driscoll on this errand he was himself attempting, but a touch of jealousy of the younger and more quick-witted man made him determine to attend to Mrs, Desternay himself.
"Well, Mr. Stupid, if you were in the presence of Mrs, Embury and Mr. Elliott and Mr. Hendricks,—as you said you were—and didn't size up how matters stand with those two men, you are a queer sort of detective!"
Her light laughter rippled pleasantly, and Shane forgave her reproof by reason of her charm.
"Both of them?" he said, helplessly.
"Yes, sir, both of them!" She mimicked his tone. "You see, Mr. Shane, it's an old romance, all 'round. When Eunice Ames was a girl, three men fought for her hand, the two we've just mentioned, and Mr. Embury, who was the successful suitor. And he succeeded only by sheer force of will. He practically stole her from the other two and married her out of hand."
"I suppose the lady agreed?"
"Of course, but it was a marriage in haste, and—I imagine that it was followed by the proverbial consequences."
"What do you mean?" asked the dull-witted Shane.
"That they repented at leisure. At least, Eunice did—I don't believe Sanford ever regretted."
"But those two men are Embury's friends."
"Sure they are! Oh, friend Shane, were you born yesterday? I thought detectives were a little more up-to-date than that! Of course, they're all friends, always have been, since they made mud-pies together in their Boston backyards."
"Did you belong to that childish group?
"Me? Lord, no! I'm Simon Pure Middle West! And I glory in it! I'd hate to be of New England descent—you have to live up to traditions and things! I'm a law unto myself, when it comes to life and living!"
"And you met Mrs, Embury?"
"At boarding-school. We spent four years together—chums, and all that. Then after we were both married, we drifted together again, here in New York—and somehow Eunice's husband didn't take to poor little Fifi one bit! I wonder why!"
Her look of injured innocence was charming, and Shane had to make an effort to keep to the subject in hand.
"So those two men admire Mrs, Embury?"
"Admire is a silly word! They adore her—they worship the ground she walks on! They are, no doubt, decently decorous at the passing of their old friend, but as soon as the funeral baked meats are cold enough, look out for a marriage table on which to serve them!"
"Did—did Mr. Embury realize that his friends so admired his wife?"
"Probably. Yes, of course, he did. But he didn't care. She was his—she gave them no encouragement—such things aren't done—" Fifi's eyes rolled upward—"and, I only tell you, to show you that there are, at least, other directions in which to look!"
"But—let me see—Mr. Hendricks was in Boston at the time of Mr. Embury's death."
"Then that lets him out. And Mr. Elliott? Where was he?"
"I haven't made definite inquiry. Probably he—"
"Probably he has an alibi! Oh, yes, of course he has! And if he killed Sanford Embury, he's more likely than ever to have a fine alibi! Look here, Mr. Shane, I believe I could give you cards and spades and beat you at your little detective games!"
"You mix me all up, with your ridiculous suggestions!" Shane tried to speak sternly, but was forced to smile at the roguish, laughing face that mocked him.
"All right, play your own game. I tried to help, by suggesting more suspects—in a multitude of suspects there is safety—for our dear Eunice! And she never did it! If you can't contrive a way for either of those two men to get through those bolted doors, then turn your eagle eyes toward Aunt Abby! She's a queer Dick—if you ask me, and Eunice Embury—well, I admit I resent her coolness last night, but I freely own up that I think her incapable of such a crime."
"But you two discussed the poisoning business in the play—" "We did. But we discussed lots of other points about that play and compared it with other presentations we have seen, and, oh, you're too absurd to hang a murder on that woman, just because she saw a murder on the stage—or rather heard the description of one!"
"But that's the coincidence! She did hear that murder described fully. She did talk it over with you. She did show a special interest in it. Then, a week or so later, her husband is killed by identically the same method. She, and she alone—except for a mild old lady—has opportunity to do the deed; the instrument of death is found in her cupboard; and she flies into a rage at the first hint of accusation, of the crime! By the way, if as you hint, one of those men did it, would they leave the medicine dropper that conveyed the poison, in Mrs, Embury's rooms. Would they want to bring suspicion against the woman they love? Answer me that?"
"There might be another solution," Fifi nodded her wise little head thoughtfully. "Perhaps whoever did it, tried to throw suspicion on Miss Ames."
"That makes him a still more despicable villain. To implicate falsely a harmless old lady—no, I can't think that."
"Yet you think Mrs, Embury did!"
"I don't know. Perhaps the two women worked in collusion. Or Miss Ames might have wakened and learned the truth, and agreed to keep the secret. In fact, Miss Ames confessed that she did the murder, but we know she was not telling the truth then. However, she knows who did do it—I've no doubt of that. Well, Mrs, Desternay, I can't subscribe to your original, if rather impossible, suggestions, but I thank you for this interview, and I may say you have helped me."
"I have? How? Not against Eunice?"
"Never mind, ma'am, I must get off by myself, and straighten out my notes, and see where I stand. Are you going to telephone to Mrs, Embury again?"
"No!" and the little head was tossed proudly. "If she wants me, let her call me up. I did my part, now I'll subside. And, too —if she is—is—oh, I can't say it! But I'll wait further developments before I decide just where I stand in regard to Eunice Embury!"
IN HANLON'S OFFICE
In an office building, away downtown, a little old lady stood in the lobby studying the great bulletin board of room numbers.
"Can I help you, ma'am? "asked the elevator starter, seeing her perplexity.
"I want Sykes and Barton, Scenic Sign Painters," she said, positively enough; "but there are so many S's, I can't seem to find them!"
"All right, ma'am; here they are. Sixth floor, Room 614."
"Thank you," the old lady said, and entered the elevator he indicated.
She seemed preoccupied, and made no move to leave the car, until the elevator man spoke to her twice.
"This is the floor you want, lady," he said. "Room 614. That way, just round that first corner."
Miss Ames started off in the way he pointed, and stood for a moment in front of the door numbered 614.
Then, with a determined shake of her thin shoulders, she opened the door and walked in.
"I want to see Mr. Hanlon," she said to the girl at the first desk.
"No; but say it is Miss Ames—he'll see me."
"Why, Miss Ames, how do you do?" and the man who had so interested the beholders of his feat in Newark came forward to greet her. "Come right into my office," and he led her to an inner room. "Now, what's it all about?"
The cheery reception set his visitor at ease, and she drew a long breath of relief as she settled herself in the chair he offered.
"Oh, Mr. Hanlon, I'm so frightened—or, at least, I was. It's all so noisy and confusing down here! Why, I haven't been downtown in New York for twenty years!"
"That so? Then I must take you up on our roof and show you a few of the skyscrapers—"
"No, no, I've not time for anything like that. Oh, Mr. Hanlon —you—have you read in the papers of our—our trouble?"
"Yes," and the young man spoke gravely, "I have, Miss Ames. Just a week ago to-day, wasn't it?"
"Yes; and they're no nearer a solution of the mystery than ever. And, oh, Mr. Hanlon, they're still suspecting Eunice—Mrs, Embury—and I must save her! She didn't do it—truly she didn't, and—I think I did."
"Yes, I truly think so. But I wasn't myself, you know—I was —hypnotized—"
"Hypnotized! By whom?"
"I don't know—by some awful person who wanted Sanford dead, I suppose."
"But that's ridiculous, Miss Ames—"
"No, it isn't. I'm a very easy subject—"
"Have you ever been hypnotized?"
"Not very successfully. But no real hypnotizer ever tried it. I'm sure, though, I'd be a perfect subject—I'm so—so psychic, you know—"
"Bosh and nonsense! You know, Miss Ames, what I think of that sort of thing! You know how I played on people's gullibility when I used to do that fake 'thought-transference'—"
"I know, Mr. Hanlon," and Miss Ames was very earnest, "but, and this is why I'm here—you told me that in all the foolery and hocus-pocus there was, you believed, two per cent of genuine telepathy—two per cent of genuine communication with spirits of the dead"
"But I said that merely in a general way, Miss Ames. I didn't mean to say it was a proven proposition—"
"That isn't the point—you told me there were a few—a very few real, sincere mediums—now I'm here to get the address of the best one you know of. I want to go to him—or her—and have a seance, and I want to get into communication with Sanford—with Mr. Embury's spirit, and learn from him who killed him. It's the only way we can ever find out."
Miss Ames' gray eyes took on a strange look; she seemed half hypnotized at the moment, as she looked at Hanlon. He moved uncomfortably under her gaze.
"Well," he said, at length, "I can give you the address of the best—the only real medium I know. That I will do with pleasure, but I cannot guarantee his bringing about a materialization of —of Mr. Embury."
"Never mind about materialization, if he can get in touch and get a message for me. You see—I haven't said much about this—but Mr. Embury's spirit appeared to me as—as he died."
"Yes; just at the moment his soul passed from earth, his astral body passed by me and paused at my bedside for a farewell."
"You amaze me! You are indeed psychic. Tell me about it."
"No; I won't tell you the story—I'll tell the medium. But I know I saw him—why, he was discernible to all my five senses—"
"To your senses! Then it was no spirit!"
"Oh, yes, it was. Sanford's body still lay on his own bed, but his passing spirit materialized sufficiently for me to see it—to hear it—to feel it"
"Miss Ames, you mustn't go to a medium! You are too imaginative —too easily swayed—don't go, dear lady, it can do no good."
Young Hanlon looked, as he felt, very solicitous for the aged spinster, and he cast an anxious glance at her disturbed face.
"I must," she insisted; "it is the only way. I had great trouble to find you, Mr. Hanlon. I had to communicate with Mr. Mortimer, in Newark—and at last we traced you here. Are you all through with your fake tricks?"
"Yes," Hanlon laughed. "I wore them out. I've gone into a legitimate business."
"Yes, as you see."
"But such big signs!" and the old lady's eyes wandered to photographs and sketches of enormous scenic signs, such as are painted on high buildings or built on housetops.
"That's the specialty of this firm. I'm only learning, but it strongly appeals to me. It's really more of an art than a trade. Now, as to this man you want to see, Miss Ames, I'll give you his address, but I beg of you to think it over before you visit him. Consult with some one—not Mrs, Embury—some man, of good judgment and clear mind. Who is advising you?"
"Mr. Hendricks and Mr. Elliott—you saw them both the day you were at our house—they advise my niece and myself in all matters. Shall I ask them?"
Miss Abby was pathetic in her simple inquiry, and Hanlon spoke gently as he replied.
"Yes, if you are determined to try the experiment. But I do not advise you to see Mr. Marigny, the medium I spoke of. Here is the address, but you talk it over with those two men you mentioned. I know they are both practical, logical business men, and their advice on the subject will be all right. I thank you, Miss Ames, for honoring me with a call. I hope if you do go to see Marigny, it will prove a satisfactory seance, but I also hope you will decide not to go. You are, as I said, too emotional, too easily swayed by the supernatural to go very deeply into those mysteries. Shall I take you to the elevator?"
"If you please, Mr. Hanlon," and still in that half oblivious mood, Miss Ames allowed herself to be led through the halls.
Hanlon went down with her, for he feared to leave her to her own devices. He was relieved to find she had a taxicab in waiting, and as he put her into it, he cautioned the driver to take his fare straight home.
"But I want to go to Marigny's now," objected Miss Ames, as she heard what Hanlon said.
"Oh, you can't. You must make an appointment with him—by mail or by telephone. And, too, you promised me you'd put it up to Mr. Hendricks or Mr. Elliott first."
"So I did," and the old head nodded submissively, as the taxi drove away.
When Ferdinand admitted Aunt Abby to the Embury home, she heard voices in the living-room that were unmistakably raised in anger.
"You know perfectly well, Fifi," Eunice was saying, "that your little bridge games are quite big enough to be called a violation of the law—you know that such stakes as you people play for—"
"It isn't the size of the stake that makes gambling!" Fifi Desternay cried, shrilly; "I've had the advice of a lawyer, and he says that as long as it's my own home and the players are invited guests, there's no possibility of being—"
"Raided!" said Eunice, scathingly. "Might as well call things by their real name!"
"Hush up! Some of the servants might hear you! How unkind you are to me, Eunice. You used to love your little Fifi!"
"Well, she doesn't now!" said Miss Ames, tartly, as she came in. "You see, Mrs, Desternay, you have been instrumental in bringing our dear Eunice under a dreadful, and absolutely unfounded suspicion—"
"Dreadful, but far from unfounded!" declared Mrs, Desternay, her little hands uplifted, and her pretty face showing a scornful smile. "You and I, Aunt Abby, know what our dear Eunice's temper is—"
"Don't you 'Aunt Abby' me, you good-for-nothing little piece! I am surprised Eunice allows you in this house!"
"Now, now—if Eunice doesn't want me, I'll get out—and jolly well glad to do so! How about it, Eunice? I came here to help, but if I'm not wanted—out goes little Fifi!"
She rose, shaking her fur stole into place about her dainty person, and, whipping out a tiny mirror from her vanity case, she applied a rouge stick to her already scarlet lips.
"No—no—" and Eunice wailed despairingly. "Don't go, Fifi, I —oh, I don't know how I feel toward you! You see—I will speak plainly—you see, it was my acquaintance with you that caused the trouble—mostly—between me and San."
"Thought it was money matters—his stinginess, you know."
"He wasn't stingy! He wouldn't give me an allowance, but he was generous in every other way. And that's why—"
"Why you came to my 'gambling house' to try to pick up a little ready cash! I know. But now looky here, Eunice, you've got to decide—either you're with me or agin me! I won't have any blow hot, blow cold! You're friends with Fifi Desternay—or—she's your enemy!"
"What do you mean?"
"Just what I say! You like me, you've always liked me. Now, stand by me, and I'll stand by you."
"You think I can't! Well, madame, you're greatly mistaken! That big blundering fool of a detective person has been to see me—"
"The same. And—he grilled me pretty thoroughly as to our going to see 'Hamlet' and whether we talked the poison scene over— and so forth and so on. In a word, Eunice Embury, I hold your life in my hands!"
Fifi held out her pretty little hands, dramatically. She still stood, her white fur scarf hanging from one shoulder, her small turban of red breast feathers cocked at a jaunty angle above her straight brows, and one tiny slippered foot tapping decidedly on the floor.
"Yes, ma'am, in my two hands,—me—Fifi! If I tell all we said about that poisoning of the old 'Hamlet' gentleman, through his ear—you know what we said, Eunice Embury—you know how we discussed the impossibility of such a murder ever being discovered—you know if I should give Shane a full account of that talk of ours—the life of Madame Embury wouldn't be worth that!"
A snap of a dainty thumb and finger gave a sharp click that went straight through Eunice's brain, and made her gasp out a frightened "Oh!"
"Yes, ma'am, oh! all you like to—you can't deny it! Shane came to see me three times. I almost told him all the last time, for you steadily refused to see me—until to-day. And now, to-day, I put it to you, Eunice Embury, do you want me for friend—or foe?"
Fifi's blue eyes glittered, her red lips closed in a tight line, and her little pointed face was as the face of a wicked sprite. Eunice stood, surveying her. Tall, stately, beautiful, she towered above her guest, and looked down on her with a fine disdain.
Eunice's eyes were stormy, not glittering—desperate rather than defiant—she seemed almost like a fierce, powerful tiger appraising a small but very wily ferret.
"Is this a bargain?" she cried scathingly. "Are you offering to buy my friendship? I know you, Fifi Desternay! You are—a snake in the grass!"
Fifi clenched her little fists, drew her lips between her teeth, and fairly hissed, "Serpent, yourself! Murderess! I know all —and I shall tell all! You'll regret the day you scorned the friendship—the help of Fifi Desternay!"
"I don't want your help, at the price of friendship with you! I know you for what you are! My husband told me—others have told me! I did go to your house for the sake of winning money—yes, and I am ashamed of it! And I am ready to face any accusation, brave any suspicion, rather than be shielded from it, or helped out of it by you!"
"Fine words! but they mean nothing! You know you're justly accused! You know you're rightly suspected! But you are clever —you also know that no jury, in this enlightened age, will ever convict a woman! Especially a beautiful woman! You know you are safe from even the lightest sentence—and that though you are guilty—yes, guilty of the murder of your husband, you will get off scot free, because"—Fifi paused to give her last shot telling effect—"because your counsel, Alvord Hendricks, is in love with you! He will manage it, and what he can't accomplish, Mason Elliott can! With those two influential men, both in love with you, you can't be convicted—and probably you won't even be arrested!"
"Go!" said Eunice, and she folded her arms as she gazed at her angry antagonist. "Go! I scorn to refute or even answer your words."
"Because they're true! Because there is no answer!" Fifi fairly screamed. "You think you're a power! Because you're tall and statuesque and stunning! You know if those men can't keep you out of the court-room at least you are safe in the hands of any judge or jury, because they are men! You know if you smile at them—pathetically—if you cast those wonderful eyes of yours at them, they'll grovel at your feet! I know you, Eunice Embury! You're banking on your femininity to save you from your just fate."
"You judge me by yourself, Fifi. You are a power among men, most women are, but I do not bank on that—"
"Not alone! You bank on the fact that either Hendricks or Elliott would go through hell for you, and count it an easy journey. You rest easy in the knowledge that those two men can do just about anything they set their minds to—"
"Will you go?"
"Yes, I will go. And when Mr. Shane comes to see me again, I will tell him the truth—all the truth about the' Hamlet' play —and—it will be enough!"
"Tell him!" Eunice's eyes blazed now. "Tell him the truth—and add to it whatever lies your clever brain can invent! Do your worst Fifi Desternay; I am not afraid of you!"
"I am going, Eunice." Fifi moved slowly toward the door. "I shall tell the truth, but I shall add no lies—that will not be necessary!"
She disappeared, and Eunice stood, panting with excitement and indignation.
Aunt Abby came toward her. The old lady had been a witness of the whole scene—had, indeed, tried several times to utter a word of pacification, but neither of the women had so much as noticed her.
"Go away, Auntie, please," said Eunice. "I can't talk to you. I'm expecting Mason at any time now, and I want to get calmed down a little."
Miss Ames went to her room, and Eunice sat down on the davenport.
She sat upright, tensely quiet, and thought over all Fifi had said—all she had threatened.
"It would have been far better," Eunice told herself, "for my cause if I had held her friendship. And I could have done it, easily—but—Fifi's friendship would be worse than her enmity!"
When Mason Elliott came, Detective Driscoll was with him.
The net of the detectives was closing in around Eunice, and though both Elliott and Hendricks—as Fifi had truly surmised —were doing all in their power, the denouement was not far off —Eunice was in imminent danger of arrest at any moment.
"We've been talking about the will—Sanford's will," Elliott said, in a dreary tone, after the callers were seated, "and, Eunice, Mr. Driscoll chooses to think that the fact that San left practically everything to you, without any restraint in the way of trustees, or restriction of any sort, is another count against you."
Eunice smiled bravely. "But that isn't news," she said; "we all knew that my husband made me his sole—or rather principal —beneficiary. I know the consensus of opinion is that I murdered my husband that I might have his money—and full control of it. This is no new element."
"No;" said Driscoll, moved by the sight of the now patient, gentle face; "no; but we've added a few more facts—and look here, Mrs, Embury, it's this way. I've doped it out that there are five persons who could possibly have committed this—this crime. I'll speak plainly, for you have continually permitted me—even urged me to do so. Well, let us say Sanford Embury could have been killed by anyone of a certain five. And they size up like this: Mr. Elliott, here, and Mr. Alvord Hendricks may be said to have had motive but no opportunity."
"Motive?" said Eunice, in a tone of deepest possible scorn.
"Yes, ma'am. Mr. Elliott, now, is an admirer of yours—don't look offended, please; I'm speaking very seriously. It is among the possibilities that he wanted your husband out of his way."
Mason Elliott listened to this without any expression of annoyance. Indeed, he had heard this argument of Driscoll's before, and it affected him not at all.
"But, Mrs, Embury, Mr. Elliott had no opportunity. We have learned beyond all doubt that he was at his club or at his home all that night. Next, Mr. Hendricks had a motive. The rival candidates were both eager for election, and we must call that a motive for Mr. Hendricks to be willing to remove his opponent. But again, Mr. Hendricks had no opportunity. He was in Boston from the afternoon of the day before Mr. Embury's death until noon of the next day. That lets him out positively. Therefore, there are two with motives but no opportunity. Next, we must admit there were two who had opportunity, but no motive. I refer to Ferdinand, your butler, and Miss Ames, your aunt. These two could have managed to commit the deed, had they chosen, but we can find no motive to attribute to either of them. It has been suggested that Miss Ames might have had such a desire to rid you, Mrs. Embury, of a tyrannical husband, that she was guilty. But it is so highly improbable as to be almost unbelievable.
"Therefore, as I sum it up, the two who had motive without opportunity, and the two who had opportunity without motive, must all be disregarded, because of the one who had motive and opportunity both. Yourself, Mrs. Embury."
The arraignment was complete. Driscoll's quiet, even tones carried a sort of calm conviction.
"And so, Eunice," Mason Elliott spoke up, "I'm going to try one more chance. I've persuaded Mr. Driscoll to wait a day or two before progressing any further, and let me get Fleming Stone on this case."
"Very well," said Eunice, listlessly. "Who is he?"
"A celebrated detective. Mr. Driscoll makes no objection—which goes to prove what a good detective he is himself. His partner, Mr. Shane, is not so willing, but has grudgingly consented. In fact, they couldn't help themselves, for they are not quite sure that they have enough evidence to arrest you. Shane thinks that Stone will find out more, and so strengthen the case against you but Driscoll, bless him! thinks maybe Stone can find another suspect."
"I didn't exactly say I thought that, Mr. Elliott," said Driscoll. "I said I hoped it."
"We all hope it," returned Elliott.
"Hope while you may," and Driscoll sighed. "Fleming Stone has never failed to find the criminal yet. And if his findings verify mine, I shall be glad to put the responsibility on his shoulders."
One of the handsomest types of American manhood is that rather frequently seen combination of iron-gray hair and dark, deep-set eyes that look out from under heavy brows with a keen, comprehensive glance.
This type of man is always a thinker, usually a professional man, and almost invariably a man of able brain. He is nearly always well-formed, physically, and of good carriage and demeanor.
At any rate, Fleming Stone was all of these things, and when he came into the Embury living-room his appearance was in such contrast to that of the other two detectives that Eunice greeted him with a pleased smile.
Neither Shane nor Driscoll was present, and Mason Elliott introduced Stone to the two ladies, with a deep and fervent hope that the great detective could free Eunice from the cloud of danger and disgrace that hovered above her head.
His magnetic smile was so attractive that Aunt Abby nodded her head in complete approval of the newcomer.
"And now tell me all about everything," Stone said, as they seated themselves in a cozy group. "I know the newspaper facts, but that's all. I must do my work quite apart from the beaten track, and I want any sidelights or bits of information that your local detectives may have overlooked and which may help us."
"You don't think Eunice did it, do you, Mr. Stone?" Aunt Abby broke out, impulsively, quite forgetting the man was a comparative stranger.
"I am going to work on the theory that she did not," he declared. "Then we will see what we can scare up in the way of evidence against some one else. First, give me a good look at those doors that shut off the bedrooms."
With a grave face, Fleming Stone studied the doors, which, as he saw, when bolted on the inside left no means of access to the three rooms in which the family had slept.
"Except the windows," Stone mused, and went to look at them. As they all had window boxes, save one in Aunt Abby's room, and as that was about a hundred feet from the ground, he dismissed the possibility of an intruder.
"Nobody could climb over the plants without breaking them," said Eunice, with a sigh at the inevitable deduction.
Stone looked closely at the plants, kept in perfect order by Aunt Abby, who loved the work, and who tended them every day. Not a leaf was crushed, not a stem broken, and the scarlet geranium blossoms stood straight up like so many mute witnesses against any burglarious entrance.
Stone returned to Aunt Abby's side window, and leaning over the sill looked out and down to the street below.
"Couldn't be reached even by firemen's ladders," he said, "and, anyway, the police would have spotted any ladder work."
"I tried to think some one came in at that window," said Elliott, "but even so, nobody could go through Miss Ames' room, and then Mrs, Embury's room, and so on to Mr. Embury's room—do his deadly work—and return again, without waking the ladies—"
"Not only that, but how could he get in the window?" said Eunice. "There's no possible way of climbing across from the next apartment—oh, I'm honest with myself," she added, as Stone looked at her curiously. "I don't deceive myself by thinking impossibilities could happen. But somebody killed my husband, and—according to the detectives—I am the only one who had both motive and opportunity!"
"Had you a motive, Mrs Embury?" Stone asked, quietly.
Eunice stared at him. "They say so," she replied. "They say I was unhappy with him."
"And were you?" The very directness of Stone's pertinent questions seemed to compel Eunice's truthful answers, and she said:
"Of course I was! But that—"
"Eunice, hush!" broke in Elliott, with a pained look. "Don't say such things, dear, it can do no good, and may injure your case."
"Not with me," Stone declared. "My work has led me rather intimately into people's lives, and I am willing to go on record as saying that fifty per cent of marriages are unhappy—more or less. Whether that is a motive for murder depends entirely on the temper and temperament of the married ones themselves. But —it is very rarely that a wife kills her husband."
"Why, there are lots of cases in the papers," said Miss Ames. "And never are the women convicted, either!"
"Oh, not lots of cases," objected Stone, "but the few that do occur are usually tragic and dramatic and fill a front page for a few days. Now, let's sift down this remarkably definite statement of 'motives and opportunities' that your eminent detectives have catalogued. I'm told that they've two people with motive and no opportunity; two more with opportunity and no motive; and one—Mrs, Embury—who fulfills both requirements! Quite an elaborate schedule, to be sure!"
Eunice looked at him with a glimmer of hope. Surely a man who talked like that didn't place implicit reliance on the schedule in question.
"And yet," Stone went on, "it is certainly true. A motive is a queer thing—an elusive, uncertain thing. They say—I have this from the detectives themselves-that Mr. Hendricks and Mr. Elliott both had the motive of deep affection for Mrs, Embury. Please don't be offended, I am speaking quite impersonally, now. Mr. Hendricks, I am advised, also had a strong motive in a desire to remove a rival candidate for an important election. But—neither of these gentlemen had opportunity, as each has proven a perfect and indubitable alibi. I admit the alibis—I've looked into them, and they are unimpeachable—but I don't admit the motives. Granting a man's affection for a married woman, it is not at all a likely thing for him to kill her husband."
"Right, Mr. Stone!" and Mason Elliott's voice rang out in honest appreciation.
"Again, it is absurd to suspect one election candidate of killing another. It isn't done—and one very good reason is, that if the criminal should be discovered, he has small chance for the election he coveted. And there is always a chance—and a strong one—that 'murder will out! So, personally, I admit I don't subscribe entirely to the cut-and-dried program of my esteemed colleagues. Now, as to these two people with opportunity but no motive. They are, I'm told, Miss Ames and the butler. Very well, I grant their opportunity—but since they are alleged to have no motive, why consider them at all? This brings us to Mrs, Embury."
Eunice was watching the speaker, fascinated. She had never met a man like this before. Though Stone's manner was by no means flippant, he seemed to take a light view of some aspects of the case. But now, he looked at Eunice very earnestly.
"I am informed," he went on, slowly, "that you have an ungovernable temper, Mrs, Embury."
"Nothing of the sort!" Eunice cried, tossing her head defiantly and turning angry eyes on the bland detective. "I am supposed to be unable to control myself, but it is not true! As a child I gave way to fits of temper, I acknowledge, but I have overcome that tendency, and I am no more hot-tempered now than other people!"
As always, when roused, Eunice looked strikingly beautiful, her eyes shone and her cheeks showed a crimson flush. She drew herself up haughtily, and clenching her hands on the back of a chair, as she stood facing Stone, she said, "If you have come here to browbeat me—to discuss my personal characteristics, you may go! I've no intention of being brought to book by a detective!"
"Why, Eunice, don't talk that way," begged Aunt Abby. "I'm sure Mr. Stone is trying to get you freed from the awful thing that is hanging over you!"
"There's no awful thing hanging over me! I don't know what you mean, Aunt Abby! There can't be anything worse than to have a stranger come in here and remark on my unfortunate weakness in sometimes giving way to my sense of righteous indignation! I resent it! I won't have it! Mason, you brought Mr. Stone here —now take him away!"
"There, there, Eunice, you are not quite yourself, and I don't wonder. This scene is too much for you. I'm sure you will make allowance, Mr. Stone, for Mrs, Embury's overwrought nerves—"
"Of course," and Fleming Stone spoke coldly, without sympathy or even apparent interest. "Let Mrs, Embury retire to her room, if she wishes."
They had all returned to the big living-room, and Stone stood near a front window, now and then glancing out to the trees in Park Avenue below.
"I don't want to retire to my room!" Eunice cried. "I don't want to be set aside as if I were a child! I did want Mr. Stone to investigate this whole matter, but I don't now—I've changed my mind! Mason, tell him to go away!"
"No, dear," and Elliott looked at her kindly, "you can't change your mind like that. Mr. Stone has the case, and he will go on with it and when you come to yourself again, you will be glad, for he will free you from suspicion by finding the real criminal."
"I don't want him to! I don't want the criminal found! I want it to be an unsolved mystery, always and forever!"
"No;" Elliott spoke more firmly. "No, Eunice, that is not what you want."
"Stop! I know what I want—without your telling me! You overstep your privileges, Mason! I'm not an imbecile, to be ignored, set aside, overruled! I won't stand it! Mr. Stone, you are discharged!"
She stood, pointing to the door with a gesture that would have been melodramatic, had she not been so desperately in earnest. The soft black sleeve fell away from her soft white arm, and her out-stretched hand was steady and unwavering as she stood silent, but quivering with suppressed rage.
"Eunice," and going to her, Elliott took the cold white hand in his own. "Eunice," he said, and no more, but his eyes looked deeply into hers.
She gazed steadily for a moment, and then her face softened, and she turned aside, and sank wearily into a chair.
"Do as you like," she said, in a low murmur. "I'll leave it to you, Mason. Let Mr. Stone go ahead."
"Yes, go ahead, Mr. Stone," said Aunt Abby, eagerly. "I'll show you anywhere you want to go—anything you want to see I'll tell you all about it."
"Why, do you know anything I haven't been told, Miss Ames? I thought we had pretty well sized up the situation."
"Yes, but I can tell you something that nobody else will listen to, and I think you will."
Eunice started up again. "Aunt Abby," she said, "if you begin that pack of fool nonsense about a vision, I'll leave the room—I vow I will!"
"Leave, then!" retorted Aunt Abby, whose patience was also under a strain.
But Stone said, "Wait, please, I want a few more matters mentioned, and then, Miss Ames, I will listen to your 'fool nonsense!' First, what is this talk about money troubles between Mr. and Mrs, Embury?"
"That," Eunice seemed interested, "is utter folly. My husband objected to giving me a definite allowance, but he gave me twice the sum I would have asked for, and more, too, by letting me have charge accounts everywhere I chose."
"Then you didn't kill him for that reason?" and the dark eyes of the detective rested on Eunice kindly.
"No; I did not!" she said, curtly, and Stone returned,
"I believe you, Mrs, Embury; if you were the criminal, that was not the motive. Next," he went on, "what about this quarrel you and Mr. Embury had the night before his death?"
"That was because I had disobeyed his express orders," Eunice said, frankly and bravely, "and I went to a bridge game at a house to which he had forbidden me to go. I am sorry—and I wish I could tell him so."
Fleming Stone looked at her closely. Was she sincere or was she merely a clever actress?
"A game for high stakes, I assume," he said quietly.
"Very high. Mr. Embury objected strongly to my playing there, but I went, hoping to win some money that I wanted."
"That you wanted? For some particular purpose?"
"No; only that I might have a few dollars in my purse, as other women do. It all comes back to the same old quarrel, Mr. Stone. You don't know! can't make you understand—how humiliating, how galling it is for a woman to have no money of her own! Nobody understands—but I have been subjected to shame and embarrassment hundreds of times for the want of a bit of ready money!"
"I think I do understand, Mrs, Embury. I know how hard it must have been for a proud woman to have that annoyance. Did Mr, Embury object to the lady who was your hostess that evening?"
"Yes, he did. Mrs, Desternay is an old school friend of mine, but Mr. Embury never liked her, and he objected more strenuously because she had the bridge games."
"And the lady's attitude toward you?"
"Fifi? Oh, I don't know. We've always been friends, generally speaking, but we've had quarrels now and then—sometimes we'd be really intimate, and then again, we wouldn't speak for six weeks at a time. Just petty tiffs, you know, but they seemed serious at the time."
"I see. Hello, here's McGuire!"
Ferdinand, with a half-apologetic look, ushered in a boy, with red hair, and a very red face. He was a freckled youth, and his bright eyes showed quick perception as they darted round the room, and came to rest on Miss Ames, on whom he smiled broadly. "This is my assistant," Stone said, casually; "his name is Terence McGuire, and he is an invaluable help. Anything doing, son?"
"Not partickler. Kin I sit and listen?"
Clearly the lad was embarrassed, probably at the unaccustomed luxury of his surroundings and the presence of so many high-bred strangers. For Terence, or Fibsy, as he was nicknamed, was a child of the streets, and though a clever assistant to Fleming Stone in his career, the boy seldom accompanied his employer to the homes of the aristocracy. When he did do so, he was seized with a shyness that was by no means evident when he was in his more congenial surroundings.
He glanced bashfully at Eunice, attracted by her beauty, but afraid to look at her attentively. He gazed at Mason Elliott with a more frank curiosity; and then he cast a furtive look at Aunt Abby, who was herself smiling at him.
It was a genial, whole-souled smile, for the old lady had a soft spot in her heart for boys, and was already longing to give him some fruit and nuts from the sideboard.
Fibsy seemed to divine her attitude, and he grinned affably, and was more at his ease.
But he sat quietly while the others went on discussing the details of the case.
Eunice was amazed at such a strange partner for the great man, but she quickly thought that a street urchin like that could go to places and learn of side issues in ways which the older man could not compass so conveniently.
Presently Fibsy slipped from his seat, and quietly went into the bedrooms.
Eunice raise her eyebrows slightly, but Fleming Stone, observing, said, "Don't mind, Mrs, Embury. The lad is all right. I'll vouch for him."
"A queer helper," remarked Elliott.
"Yes; but very worth-while. I rely on him in many ways, and he almost never fails to help me. He's now looking over the bedrooms, just as I did, and he'll disturb nothing."
"Mercy me!" exclaimed Aunt Abby; "maybe he won't—but I don't like boys prowling among my things!" and she scurried after him.
She found him in her room, and rather gruffly said, "What are you up to, boy?"
"Snuff, ma'am," he replied, with a comical wink, which ought to have shocked the old lady, but which, somehow, had a contrary effect.
"Do you like candy?" she asked—unnecessarily, she knew—and offered him a box from a drawer.
Fibsy felt that a verbal answer was not called for, and, helping himself, proceeded to munch the sweets, contentedly and continuously.
"Say," he burst out, after a thoughtful study of the room, "where was that there dropper thing found, anyhow?"
"In this medicine chest—"
"Naw; I mean where'd the girl find it?—the housework girl."
"You seem to know a lot about the matter!"
"Sure I do. Where'd you say?"
"Right here," and Aunt Abby pointed to a place on the rug near the head of her bed. It was a narrow bed, which had been brought there for her during her stay.
"Huh! Now you could'a dropped it there?"
"I know," and Aunt Abby whispered, "Nobody'll believe me, but I know!"
"You do! Say, you're some wiz! Spill it to me, there's a dear!"
Fibsy was, in his way, a psychologist, and he knew by instinct that this old lady would like him better if he retained his ignorant, untutored ways, than if he used the more polished speech, which he had painstakingly acquired for other kinds of occasions.
"I wonder if you'd understand. For a boy, you're a bright one—"
"Oh, yes, ma'am. I am! They don't make 'em no brighter 'n me! Try me, do, Miss Ames! I'm right there with the goods."
"Well, child, it's this: I saw a—a vision—"
"Yes'm, I know—I mean I know what visions are, they're fine, too!" He fairly smacked his lips in gusto, and it encouraged Aunt Abby to proceed.
"Yes, and it was the ghost of—who do you suppose it was?"
"Your grandmother, ma'am?" The boy's attitude was eagerly attentive and his freckled little face was drawn in a desperate interest.
"No!" Aunt Abby drew closer and just breathed the words, "Mr. Embury!"
"Oh!" Fibsy was really startled, and his eyes opened wide, as he urged, "Go on, ma'am!"
"Yes. Well, it was just at the moment that Mr. Embury was—that he died—you know."
"Yes'm, they always comes then, ma'am!"
"I know it, and oh, child, this is a true story!"
"Oh, yes, ma'am—I know it is!"
Indeed one could scarcely doubt it, for Aunt Abby, having found an interested listener at last, poured forth her account of her strange experience, not caring for comment or explanation, since she had found some one who believed!
"Yes, it was just at that time—I know, because it was almost daylight—just before dawn—and I was asleep, but not entirely asleep—"
"Sort'a half dozing—"
"Yes; and Sanford—Mr, Embury, you know, came gliding through my room, and he stopped at my bedside to say good-by—"
"Was he alive?" asked Fibsy, awe-struck at her hushed tones and bright, glittering eyes.
"Oh, no, it was his spirit, you see—his disembodied spirit"
"How could you see it, then?"
"When spirits appear like that, they are visible."
"Oh, ma'am—I didn't know."
"Yes, and I not only saw him but he was evident to all my five senses!"
"What, ma'am? What do you mean?"
Fibsy drew back, a little scared, as Aunt Abby clutched his sleeve in her excitement. He felt uneasy, for it was growing dusk, and the old lady was in such a state of nervous exhilaration that he shrank a little from her proximity.
But Fibsy was game. "Go on, ma'am," he whispered.
"Yes," Aunt Abby declared, with an eerie smile of triumph, "I saw him—I heard him—I felt him—I smelled him—and, I tasted him!"
Fibsy nearly shrieked, for at each enumeration of her marvelous experiences, Miss Ames grasped his arm tighter and emphasized her statements by pounding on his shoulder.
She seemed unaware of his personal presence—she talked more as if recounting the matter to herself, but she used him as a general audience and the boy had to make a desperate effort to preserve his poise.
And then it struck him that the old lady was crazy, or else she really had an important story to tell. In either case, it was his duty to let Fleming Stone hear it, at first hand, if possible. But he felt sure that to call in the rest of the household, or to take the narrator out to them would—as he expressed it to himself "upset her applecart and spill the beans!"
THE FIVE SENSES
However he decided quickly, it must be done, so he said, diplomatically, "This is awful int'restin', Miss Ames, and I'm just dead sure and certain Mr. Stone'd think so, too. Let's go out and get it off where he c'n hear it. What say?"
The boy had risen and was edging toward the door. Rather than lose her audience, Aunt Abby followed, and in a moment the pair appeared in the living-room, where Fleming Stone was still talking to Eunice and Mr. Elliott.
"Miss Ames, now, she's got somethin' worth tellin'," Fibsy announced. "This yarn of hers is pure gold and a yard wide, Mr. Stone, and you oughter hear it, sir."
"Gladly," and Stone gave Aunt Abby a welcoming smile.
Nothing loath to achieve the center of the stage, the old lady seated herself in her favorite arm-chair, and began:
"It was almost morning," she said, "a faint dawn began to make objects about the room visible, when I opened my eyes and saw a dim, gliding figure—"
Eunice gave an angry exclamation, and rising quickly from her chair, walked into her own room, and closed the door with a slam that left no doubt as to her state of mind.
"Let her alone," advised Elliott; "she's better off in there. What is this story, Aunt Abby? I've never heard it in full."
"No; Eunice never would let me tell it. But it will solve all mystery of Sanford's death."
"Then it is indeed important," and Stone looked at the speaker intently.
"Yes, Mr. Stone, it will prove beyond all doubt that Mr. Embury was a suicide."
"Go on, then," said Elliott, briefly.
"I will. In the half light, I saw this figure I just mentioned. It wasn't discernible clearly—it was merely a moving shadow—a vague shape. It came toward me—"
"From which direction? "asked Stone, with decided interest.
"From Eunice's room—that is, it had, of course, come from Mr. Embury's room, through Eunice's room, and so on into my room. For it was Sanford Embury's spirit—get that firmly in your minds!"
The old lady spoke with asperity, for she was afraid of contradiction, and resented their quite apparent scepticism.
"Go on, please," urged Stone.
"Well, the spirit came nearer my bed, and paused and looked down on me where I lay."
"Did you see his face?" asked Elliott.
"Dimly. I can't seem to make you understand how vague the whole thing was—and yet it was there! As he leaned over me, I saw him—saw the indistinct shape—and I heard the sound of a watch ticking. It was not my watch, it was a very faint ticking one, but all else was so still, that I positively heard it."
"Gee!" said Fibsy, in an explosive whisper.
"Then he seemed about to move away. Impulsively, I made a movement to detain him. Almost without volition—acting on instinct—I put out my hand and clutched his arm. I felt his sleeve—it wasn't a coat sleeve—nor a pajama sleeve—it seemed to have on his gymnasium suit—the sleeve was like woolen jersey—"
"And you felt this?"
"Yes, Mr. Stone, I felt it distinctly—and not only with my hand as I grasped at his arm but" Aunt Abby hesitated an instant, then went on, "But I bit at him! Yes, I did! I don't know why, only I was possessed with an impulse to hold him—and he was slipping away. I didn't realize at the time—who—what it was, and I sort of thought it was a burglar. But, anyway, I bit at him, and so I bit at the woolen sleeve—it was unmistakable—and on it I tasted raspberry jam."
"What!" cried her hearers almost in concert.
"Yes—you needn't laugh—I guess I know the taste of raspberry jam, and it was on that sleeve, as sure as I'm sitting here!"
"Gee!" repeated Fibsy, his fists clenched on his knees and his bright eyes fairly boring into the old lady's countenance. "Gee whiz!"
"Go on," said Stone, quietly.
"And—I smelt gasoline," concluded Miss Ames defiantly. "Now, sir, there's the story. Make what you will out of it, it's every word true. I've thought it over and over, since I realized what it all meant, and had I known at the time it was Sanford's spirit, I should have spoken to him. But as it was, I was too stunned to speak, and when I tried to hold him, he slipped away, and disappeared. But it was positively a materialization of Sanford Embury's flitting spirit—and nothing else."
"The vision may argue a passing soul," Stone said kindly, as if humoring her, "but the effect on your other senses, seems to me to indicate a living person."
"No," and Aunt Abby spoke with deep solemnity, "a materialized spirit is evident to our senses—one or another of them. In this case I discerned it by all five senses, which is unusual —possibly unique; but I am very psychic—very sensitive to spiritual manifestations."
"You have seen ghosts before, then?"
"Oh, yes. I have visions often. But never such a strange one."
"And where did this spirit disappear to?"
"It just faded. It seemed to waft on across the room. I closed my eyes involuntarily, and when I opened them again it was gone."
"Leaving no trace behind?"
"The faint odor of gasoline—and the taste of raspberry jam on my tongue."
Fibsy snickered, but suppressed it at once, and said, "And he left the little dropper-thing beside your bed?"
"Yes, boy! You seem clairvoyant yourself! He did. It was Sanford, of course; he had killed himself with the poison, and he tried to tell me so—but he couldn't make any communication—they rarely can—so he left the tiny implement, that we might know and understand."
"H'm, yes;" and Stone sat thinking. "Now, Miss Ames, you must not be offended at what I'm about to say. I don't disbelieve your story at all. You tell it too honestly for that. I fully believe you saw what you call a 'vision.' But you have thought over it and brooded over it, until you think you saw more than you did—or less! But, leaving that aside for the moment, I want you to realize that your theory of suicide, based on the 'vision' is not logical. Supposing your niece were guilty—as the detectives think—might not Mr. Embury's spirit have pursued the same course?"
Aunt Abby pondered. Then, her eyes flashing, she cried, "Do you mean he put the dropper in my room to throw suspicion on me, instead of on his wife?"
"There is a chance for such a theory."
"Sanford wouldn't do such a thing! He was truly fond of me!"
"But to save his wife?"
"I never thought of all that. Maybe he did—or, maybe he dropped the thing accidentally—"
"Maybe." Stone spoke preoccupiedly.
Mason Elliott, too, sat in deep thought. At last he said:
"Aunt Abby, if I were you, I wouldn't tell that yarn to anybody else. Let's all forget it, and call it merely a dream."
"What do you mean, Mason? "The old lady bridled, having no wish to hear her marvelous experience belittled. "It wasn't a dream —not an ordinary dream—it was a true appearance of Sanford, after his death. You know such things do happen—look at that son of Sir Oliver Lodge. You don't doubt that, do you?"
"Never mind those things. But I earnestly beg of you, Aunt Abby, to forget the episode—or, at least, to promise me you'll not repeat it to any one else."
"I think it wiser for all concerned—for all concerned—that the tale shall not become public property."
"Oh, my land!" burst out Fibsy; "don't you see? The ghost was Mrs, Embury!"
The boy had put into words what was in the thoughts of both Stone and Elliott. They realized that, while Aunt Abby's experience might have been entirely a dream, it was so circumstantial as to indicate a real occurrence, and in that case, what solution so plausible as that Eunice, after committing the crime, wandered into her aunt's room, and whether purposely or accidentally, dropped the implement of death?
Stone, bent on investigation, plied Miss Ames with questions.
Elliott, sorely afraid for Eunice, begged the old lady not to answer.
"You are inventing!" he cried. "You are drawing on your imagination! Don't believe all that, Mr. Stone. It isn't fair to—to Mrs, Embury!"
"Then you see it as I do, Mr. Elliott?" and Stone turned to him quickly. "But, even so, we must look into this story. Suppose, as an experiment, we build up a case against Mrs, Embury, for the purpose of knocking it down again. A man of straw—you know."
"Don't," pleaded Elliott. "Just forget the rigmarole of the nocturnal vision—and devote your energies to finding the real murderer. I have a theory—"
"Wait, Mr. Elliott, I fear you are an interested investigator. Don't forget that you have been mentioned as one of those with 'motive but no opportunity.' "
"Since you have raised that issue, Mr. Stone, let me say right here that my regard for Mrs, Embury is very great. It is also honorable and lifelong. I make no secret of it, but I declare to you that its very purity and intensity puts it far above and beyond any suspicion of being 'motive' for the murder of Mrs, Embury's huband."
Mason Elliott looked Fleming Stone straight in the eye and the speaker's tone and expression carried a strong conviction of sincerity.
Fibsy, too, scrutinized Elliott.
"Good egg!" he observed to himself; "trouble is—he'd give us that same song and dance if he'd croaked the guy his own self!"
"Furthermore," Stone went on, "Mrs, Embury shows a peculiarly strong repugnance to hearing this story of Miss Ames' experience. That looks—"
"Oh, fiddlesticks!" cried Miss Ames, who had been listening in amazement; "it wasn't Eunice! Why would she rig up in Sanford's gym jersey?"
"Why wouldn't she?" countered Stone. "As I said, we're building up a supposititious case. Assume that it was Mrs, Embury, not at all enacting a ghost, but merely wandering around after her impulsive deed—for if she is the guilty party it must have been an impulsive deed. You know her uncontrollable temper—her sudden spasms of rage—"
"Mr. Stone, a 'man of straw,' as you call it, is much more easily built up than knocked down." Elliott spoke sternly. "I hold you have no right to assume Mrs, Embury's identity in this story Miss Ames tells."
"Is there anything that points to her in your discernment by your five senses, Miss Ames?" Stone asked, very gravely. "Has Mrs, Embury a faintly ticking watch?"
"Yes, her wrist-watch," Aunt Abby answered, though speaking evidently against her will.
"And it is possible that she slipped on her husband's jersey; and it is possible there was raspberry jam on the sleeve of it. You see, I am not doubting the evidence of your senses. Now, as to the gasoline. Had Mrs, Embury, or her maid, by any chance, been cleaning any laces or finery with gasoline?"
"I won't tell you!" and Aunt Abby shook her head so obstinately that it was quite equivalent to an affirmative answer!
"Now, you see, Aunt Abby," protested Elliott, in an agonized voice, "why I want you to shut up about that confounded 'vision'! You are responsible for this case Mr. Stone is so ingeniously building up against Eunice! You are getting her into a desperate coil, from which it will be difficult to extricate her! If Shane got hold of this absurd yarn—"
"It's not entirely absurd," broke in Stone, "but I agree with you, Mr. Elliott; if Shane learns of it—he won't investigate any further!"
"He shan't know of it," was the angry retort. "I got you here, Mr. Stone—"
"To discover the truth, or to free Mrs, Embury?"
There was a pause, and the two men looked at each other. Then Mason Elliott said, in a low voice, "To free Mrs, Embury."
"I can't take the case that way," Stone replied. "I will abandon the whole affair, or—I will find out the truth."
"Abandon it!" cried a ringing voice, and the door of her bedroom was flung open as Eunice again appeared.
She was in a towering fury, her face was white and her lips compressed to a straight scarlet line.
"Give up the case! I will take my chances with any judge or jury rather than with you!" She faced Stone like the "Tiger" her husband had nicknamed her. "I have heard every word—Aunt Abby's story—and your conclusions! Your despicable 'deductions,' as I suppose you call them! I've had enough of the 'celebrated detective'! Quite enough of Fleming Stone—and his work!"
She stepped back and gazed at him with utter scorn beautiful as a sculptured Medea, haughty as a tragedy queen.
"Independent as a pig on ice!" Fibsy communicated with himself, and he stared at her with undisguised admiration.
"Eunice," and the pain in Mason Elliott's voice was noticeable; "Eunice, dear, don't do yourself such injustice."
"Why not? When everybody is unjust to me! You, Mason, you and this—this infallible detective sit here and deliberately build up what you call a 'case' against me—me, Eunice Embury! Oh—I hate you all!"
A veritable figure of hate incarnate, she stood, her white hands clasping each other tightly, as they hung against her black gown. Her head held high, her whole attitude fiercely defiant, she flung out her words with a bitterness that betokened the end of her endurance—the limit of her patience.
Then her hands fell apart, her whole body drooped, and sinking down on the wide sofa, she sat, hopelessly facing them, but with head erect and the air of one vanquished but very much unsubdued.
"Take that back, Eunice," Elliott spoke passionately, and quite as if there were no others present; "you do not hate me—I am here to help you!"
"You can't, Mason; no one can help me. No one can protect me from Fleming Stone!"
The name was uttered with such scorn as to seem an invective of itself!
Stone betrayed no annoyance at her attitude toward him, but rather seemed impressed with her personality. He gave her a glance that was not untinged with admiration, but he made no defence.
"I can," cried Fibsy, who was utterly routed by Eunice's imperious beauty. "You go ahead with Mr. F. Stone, ma'am, and I'll see to it that they ain't no injustice done to you!"
Stone looked at his excited young assistant with surprise, and then good-naturedly contented himself with a shake of his head, and a
"Yes, sir—but, oh, Mr. Stone—" and then, at a gesture from the great detective the boy paused, abashed, and remained silent.
"Now, Miss Ames," Stone began, "in Mrs, Embury's presence, I'll ask you—"
"You won't ask me anything, sir," she returned crisply. "I'm going out. I've a very important errand to do."
"Oh, I don't know about that," Elliott said; "it's almost six o'clock, Aunt Abby. Where are you going?"
"I've got an errand—a very important errand—an appointment, in fact. I must go—don't you dare oppose me, Mason. You'll be sorry if you do!"
Even as she spoke, the old lady was scurrying to her room, from which she returned shortly, garbed for the street.
"All right," Stone said, in reply to a whisper from Fibsy, and the boy offered, respectfully:
"Let me go with you, Miss Ames. It ain't fittin' you should go alone. It's 'most dark."
"Come on, boy," Aunt Abby regarded him kindly; "I'd be glad of your company."
At the street door, the old lady asked for a taxicab, and the strangely assorted pair were soon on their way.
"You're a bright lad, Fibsy," she said; "by the way, what's your real name—I forget."
"Terence, ma'am; Terence McGuire. I wish't I was old enough to be called McGuire! I'd like that."
"I'll call you that, if you wish. You're old for your age, I'm sure. How old are you?"
"Goin' on about fifteen or sixteen—I think. I sort'a forget."
"Nonsense! You can't forget your age! Why do they call you Fibsy?"
"'Cause I'm a born liar—'scuse me—a congenital prevaricator, I meant to say. You see, ma'am, it's necessary in my business not always to employ the plain unvarnished. But don't be alarmed, ma'am; when I take a fancy to anybuddy, as I have to you, ma'am, I don't never lie to 'em. Not that I s'pose you'd care, eh, ma'am?"
Aunt Abby laughed. "You are a queer lad! Why, I'm not sure I'd care, if it didn't affect me in any way. I'm not responsible for your truthfulness—though I don't mind advising you that you ought to be a truthful boy."
"Land, ma'am! Don't you s'pose I know that? But, honest now, are you always just exactly, abserlutely truthful, yourself?"
"Certainly I am! What do you mean by speaking to me like that?"
"Well, don't you ever touch up a yarn a little jest sort'a to make it more interestin' like? Most ladies do—that is, most ladies of intelligence and brains—which you sure have got in plenty!"
"There, there, boy; I'm afraid I've humored you too much you're presuming."
"I presume I am. But one question more, while we're on this absorbin' subject. Didn't you, now, just add a jot or a tittle to that ghost story you put over? Was it every bit on the dead level?"
"Yes, child," Aunt Abby took his question seriously; "it was every word true. I didn't make up the least word of it!"
"I believe you, ma'am, and I congratulate you on your clarviant powers. Now, about that raspberry jam, ma'am. That's a mighty unmistakable taste—ain't it, now."
"It is, McGuire. It certainly is. And I tasted it, just as surely as I'm here telling you about it."
"Have you had it for supper lately, ma'am?"
"No; Eunice hasn't had it on her table since I've been visiting her."
"Is that so, ma'am?"
MARIGNY THE MEDIUM
The journey ended at the rooms of Marigny, the psychic recommended by Willy Hanlon.
As Fibsy, his bright eyes wide with wonder, found himself in the unmistakable surroundings of dingy draperies, a curtained cabinet and an odor of burning incense, he exclaimed to himself, "Gee! a clairviant! Now for some fun!"
Aunt Abby, apparently aware of the proprieties of the occasion, seated herself, and waited patiently.
At a gesture from her, Fibsy obediently took a seat near her, and waited quietly, too.
Soon the psychic entered. He was robed in a long, black garment, and wore a heavy, white turban, swathed in folds. His face was olive-colored—what was visible of it for his beard was white and flowing, and a heavy drooping moustache fell over his lips. Locks of white hair showed from the turban's edge, and a pair of big, rubber-rimmed glasses of an amber tint partially hid his eyes.
The whole make-up was false, it was clear to be seen, but a psychic has a right to disguise himself, if he choose.
Fibsy gave Marigny one quick glance and then the boy assumed an expression of face quite different from his usual one. He managed to look positively vacant-minded. His eyes became lack-luster, his mouth, slightly open, looked almost imbecile, and his roving glance betokened no interest whatever in the proceedings.
"Mr. Marigny?" said Miss Ames, eagerly anxious for the seance to begin.
"Yes, madam. You are three minutes late!"
"I couldn't help it—the traffic is very heavy at this hour."
"And you should have come alone. I cannot concentrate with an alien influence in the room."
"Oh, the boy isn't an alien influence. He's a little friend of mine—he'll do no harm."
"I'll go out, if you say, mister," Fibsy turned his indifferent gaze on the clairvoyant.
"You'll do nothing of the sort," spoke up Miss Ames. "I'm accustomed to seances, Mr. Marigny, and if you're all right—as I was told you were—a child's presence won't interfere."
Evidently the psychic saw he had no novice to deal with, and he accepted the situation.
"What do you want to know? "he asked his client.
"Who killed Sanford Embury—or, did he kill himself." I want you to get into communication with his spirit and find out from him. But I don't want any make-believe. If you can't succeed, that's all right—I'll pay your fee just the same. But no poppycock."
"That's the way to look at it, madam. I will go into the silence, and I will give you only such information as I get myself."
The man leaned back in his chair, and gradually seemed to enter a hypnotic state. His muscles relaxed, his face became still and set, and his breathing was slow and a little labored.
Fibsy retained his vacuous look he even fidgeted a little, in a bored way—and rarely glanced toward the man of "clear sight."
Miss Ames, though anxious for results, was alert and quite on her guard against fraud. Experienced in fake mediums, she believed Willy Hanlon's assertion that this man was one of the few genuine mystics, but she proposed to judge for herself.
At last Marigny spoke. His voice was low, his tones monotonous and uninflected.
"Aunt Abby—Aunt Westminster Abbey" the words came slowly.
Miss Ames gave a startled jump. Her face blanched and she trembled as she clutched Fibsy's arm.
"That's what Sanford used to call me!" she whispered. "Can it really be his spirit talking to me through the medium!"
"Don't worry," the voice went on, "don't grieve for me—it's all right—let it go that I took my own life—"
"But did you, Sanford—did you? "Miss Ames implored.
"It would be better you should never know."
"I must know. I've got to know! Tell me, Sanford. It wasn't Eunice?
"No—it wasn't Eunice."
"Was it—oh, San—was it—I?"
"Yes, Aunt Abby—it was. But you were entirely irresponsible —you were asleep—hypnotized, perhaps—perhaps merely asleep."
"Where did I get the stuff?"
"I think somebody hypnotized you and gave it to you—"
"I don't know—it is vague—uncertain—But you put it in my ear —remember, Aunt Abby, I don't blame you at all. And you must not tell this. You must let it go as suicide. That is the only way to save yourself—"
"But they suspect Eunice—"
"They'll never convict her—nor would they convict you. Tell them you got into communication with my spirit and I said it was suicide."
"Ask him about the raspberry jam," put in Fibsy, in a stage whisper.
"What!" the medium came out of his trance suddenly and glared at the boy.
"I told you I could do nothing if the child stayed here," Marigny cried, evidently in a towering passion. "Put him out. Who is he? What is he talking about?"
"Nothing of importance. Keep still, McGuire. Can you get Mr. Embury's spirit back, sir?"
"No, the communion is too greatly disturbed. Boy, what do you mean by raspberry jam?"
"Oh, nothin'," and Fibsy wriggled bashfully. "You tell him, Miss Ames."
It needed little encouragement to launch Aunt Abby on the story of her "vision" and she told it in full detail.
Marigny seemed interested, though a little impatient, and tried to hurry the recital.
"It was, without doubt, Embury's spirit," he said, as Aunt Abby finished; "but your imagination has exaggerated and elaborated the facts. For instance, I think the jam and the gasoline are added by your fancy, in order to fill out the full tale of your five senses."
"That's what I thought," and Fibsy nodded his head. "Raspberry jam! Oh, gee!" he exploded in a burst of silly laughter.
Marigny looked at him with a new interest. The amber-colored glasses, turned toward the boy seemed to frighten him, and he began to whimper.
"I didn't mean any harm," he said, "but raspberry jam was so funny for a ghost to have on him!"
"It would have been," assented Marigny, "but that, I feel sure, existed only in Miss Ames' fancy. Her mind, upset by the vision, had strange hallucinations, and the jam was one—you know we often have grotesque dreams."
"So we do," agreed Fibsy; "why once I drempt that—"
"Excuse me, young sir, but I've no time to listen to your dreams. The seance is at an end, madam. Your companion probably cut it off prematurely—but perhaps not. Perhaps the communication was about over, anyway. Are you satisfied, Miss Ames?"
"Yes, Mr. Marigny. I know the appearance of Mr. Embury was a genuine visitation, for he called me by a peculiar name which no one else ever used, and which you could not possibly know about."