"I think I do," Blaine responded gravely. "I did the best I could for your late master, Hicks, all that I could do which was compatible with my duty, and now my lips are sealed. I cannot betray his confidence. You intend to accompany the body to England?"
"Of course, sir," the old man said simply. "It was his last request of me, who have never refused him anything in all his life. When I have seen him laid beside the others of the House of Stafford, I will go back to the castle, to his father, and end my days there. My course is nearly run, and this great new country has no place in it for the aged. I—I will go now, sir. I have much to attend to, and my master is lying alone."
When the old servant had taken his departure, Henry Blaine picked up the envelope. It was addressed in a firm, unshaken hand, and with a last touch of the sardonic humor characteristic of the dead man, it had been stamped with the seal of the renowned and honored House of Stafford.
The detective broke the seal, and lifting the flap, drew out the folded letter page and became immediately absorbed in its contents. He read:
In view of your magnanimity to-night, I feel that this explanation—call it a confession, if you will—is your due. If you consider it your duty to give it to the world at large, you must do so, but for God's sake be as merciful as you can to those at home, who will suffer enough, in all conscience, as the affair now stands.
Your accusation was justified. I killed Pennington Lawton in the manner and for the reason which you alleged. I made an appointment by telephone just after dinner, to call upon him late that night. I tried by every means in my power to induce him to go in on a scheme to which, unknown to him, I had already committed him. He steadfastly refused. His death was the only way for me to obviate exposure and ruin, and the disgrace of a prison sentence. I anticipated his attitude and had come prepared. During a heated period of our discussion, he walked to the desk and stood for a moment with his shoulder turned to me, searching for a paper in his private drawer. I saw my chance, and seized upon it. I was standing before his chair, I may explain, watching him over its high back. I took the vial of prussic acid from my pocket, uncorked it and poured a few drops into his high-ball glass. I had recorked the vial, and was on the point of returning it to its hiding-place, when he turned to me. Had I raised my hand to my pocket he would have noticed the gesture; as it was, the back of the chair screened me, and on a sudden desperate impulse I thrust the vial deep in the leather fold between the seat and back.
Lawton drank, and died. I left the house, as I thought, unnoticed and secure from detection. On subsequent visits to the house I endeavored to regain possession of the vial, but on each occasion I failed in my purpose, and at length it fell into the hands of Anita Lawton. I have no more to say. Of earlier events at home in England, which you and I discussed to-night, it is better that I remain silent. You, of all men, will appreciate my motive.
And now, Blaine, good-night. Please accept my heartfelt thanks for the manner in which you handled a most difficult situation to-night. You have beaten me fairly at my own game. It may be that we shall meet again, somewhere, some time. In all sincerity, yours,
ARTHUR BERTRAND ROCKAMORE.
The detective folded the letter slowly and returned it to its envelope. Then he sat for long buried in thought. Rockamore had taken the solitary loophole of escape from overwhelming disgrace left to him. He had, as far as in him lay, expiated his crimes. What need, then, to blazon them forth to a gaping world? Pennington Lawton had died of heart-disease, so said the coroner. The press had echoed him, and the public accepted that fact. Only two living persons beside the coroner knew the truth, and Blaine felt sure that the gentle spirit of Anita Lawton would be merciful—her thirst for vengeance upon her father's murderer sated by his self-inflicted death—to those of his blood, who, innocent, must be dragged in the mire by the disclosure of his infamy.
When Henry Blaine presented himself an hour later at her home, he found Anita inexpressibly shocked by the tragic event of the night.
"He was guilty!" she murmured. "He took his own life to escape falling into your hands! That gunshot was no accident, Mr. Blaine. He murdered my father in cold blood, but he has paid. I abhor his memory, and yet I can find it in my heart to be sorry for him!"
In silence, the detective placed in her hands the letter of the dead man, and watched her face as she slowly read it. When she looked up, her eyes were wet, and a tiny red spot glowed in either cheek.
"Poor Father!" she moaned. "With all his leadership and knowledge of men, he was helpless and unsuspecting in the hands of that merciless fiend! And yet even he thought of his own people at the last, and wanted to spare them. Oh, how I wish we could! If we might only keep from them forever the knowledge of his wickedness, his crime!"
"We can, if you are willing."
Blaine met her look of startled inquiry, and replied to it with a brief resume of his interview of the previous evening with Rockamore. When he added his suggestion that the matter of the way in which her father came to his death be buried in oblivion, and the public left to believe the first report, she was silent for a time.
"But the coroner who performed the autopsy night before last," she remarked, at length, hesitatingly. "He will make the truth public, will he not?"
"Not necessarily. That depends upon you. If you wish it, nothing will ever be known."
"I think you are right, Mr. Blaine. Father's death has been avenged; neither you nor I can do more. The man who killed him has gone to his last account. Further notoriety and scandal cannot help Father, or bring him back to me. It would only cause needless suffering to those who are no more at fault than we ourselves. If the coroner can be silenced, we will keep our secret, you and I."
"Unless,"—Blaine's voice was very grave—"unless it becomes necessary to divulge it in order to get the rest of them within our grasp."
"The rest?" she looked up as if she had scarcely heard.
"Mallowe and Carlis and Paddington and the horde of lesser conspirators in their hire. We must recover your father's immense fortune, and find out how it was possible for them to divert it to their own channels. There is Mr. Hamilton to be thought of, too—his injury, his kidnaping! If we can succeed in unraveling this mysterious tangle of events without recourse to the fact of our knowledge of the murder, well and good. If not, we must make use of whatever has come to our hand. With the rest of the malefactors brought to justice, you can afford to be magnanimous even to the dead man who has done you the most grievous wrong of all."
"It shall be as you say—"
She broke off suddenly as her eyes, looking beyond Blaine's shoulder, fell upon a silent figure in the doorway.
"Mr. Mallowe!" she cried. "When did you come? How is it that Wilkes failed to announce you?"
"I arrived just at this moment." The smooth, unctuous tones floated out upon the strained tension of the air. "I told Wilkes I would come right up. He told me Mr. Blaine was with you, and I wish to congratulate him on his marvelous success. Surely you do not mind the liberty I took in announcing myself, my dear child?"
"Not at all," Anita responded, coldly. "To which success of Mr. Blaine's do you refer, Mr. Mallowe?"
"Why, to his discovery of Ramon, of course." Mr. Mallowe looked from one to the other of them as if nonplused by Anita's unexpected attitude. Then he continued hurriedly, with a show of enthusiasm. "It was wonderful, unprecedented! But how did Ramon come to be in Mac Alarney's retreat, and so shockingly injured?"
"The same people who ran him down the day Miss Lawton sent for him to come to her aid—the day she learned of her father's insolvency." Blaine spoke quickly, before the girl had an opportunity to reply. "The same people who on two other separate occasions attempted his life!"
"You cannot mean to tell me that there is some conspiracy on foot against Ramon Hamilton!" Mallowe's face was a picture of shocked amazement. "But why? He is the most exemplary of young men, quite a model in these days—"
"Because he is a man, and prepared to protect and defend to the last ounce of his strength the thing which he loved better than life itself—the thing which, but for him, stood helpless and alone, surrounded by enemies and hopelessly entangled in the meshes of a gigantic conspiracy!"
"You speak in riddles, Mr. Blaine." Mallowe's gray brows drew together.
"Riddles which will soon be answered, Mr. Mallowe. Miss Lawton's natural protector—her father—had been ruthlessly removed by—death. Only Mr. Hamilton stood between her and the machinations of those who thought they had her in their power. Therefore, Mr. Hamilton was also removed, temporarily. Do I make myself quite clear now?"
"It is impossible, incredible! What enemies could this dear child here have made, and who could wish to harm her? Besides, am I not here? Do not I and my friends stand in loco parentis to her?"
"As you doubtless are aware, one of Miss Lawton's pseudo-guardians, at least, has involuntarily resigned his wardenship," Blaine remarked.
"You refer to the sudden death last night of my associate, Mr. Rockamore?" Mallowe shook his head dolorously. "A terrible accident! The news was an inexpressible shock to me! It was to comfort Miss Lawton for the blow which the loss of this devoted friend must be to her that I came to-day."
"I fancy the loss itself will be consolation enough, Mr. Mallowe. The accident was tragic, of course. It takes courage to clean a gun, sometimes—more courage, perhaps, than to spill into a glass an ingredient not usually included in a Scotch highball, let us say."
"Mr. Blaine, if you are inclined to be facetious, sir, let me tell you this is neither the time nor place for an attempt at a jest! When Miss Lawton called you in, the other day, and engaged you to search for Mr. Hamilton—"
"Oh, she didn't call me in then, Mr. Mallowe! I've been on the case from the start, all this last month, in fact, and in close touch with Miss Lawton every day."
Mallowe started back, the light of comprehension dawning swiftly in his eyes, only instantly to be veiled with a film of craftiness.
"What case?" he asked. "Ramon Hamilton has not been missing for a month."
"The case of the death of Pennington Lawton! The case of his fraudulently alleged bankruptcy! The case of the whole damnable conspiracy to crush this girl to the earth, to impoverish her and tarnish the fair name and honored memory of her father. It's cards on the table now, Mr. Mallowe, and I'm going to win!"
"You must be mad!" exclaimed the older man. "This talk of a conspiracy is ridiculous, absurd!"
"Mr. Rockamore called me 'mad,' also, yesterday afternoon, standing just where you stand now, Mr. Mallowe." The detective met the lowering eyes squarely. "Yet he went home and—accidentally shot himself! A curiously opportune shot that! Miss Lawton's enemies depended too confidently upon her credulity in accepting without question the unsubstantiated assertion of her father's insolvency. They did not take into account the possibility that their henchman, Paddington, might fail, or turn traitor; that Mac Alarney might talk to save his own hide; that Jimmy Brunell's forgeries might be traced to their source; that the books in the office of the Recorder of Deeds might divulge interesting items to those sufficiently concerned to delve into the files of past years! You discharged your clerk on the flimsiest of excuses, Mr. Mallowe—but you did not discharge her quite soon enough. Rockamore's stenographer, and the switchboard operator in Carlis' office,—who, like your filing clerk, came from Miss Lawton's club,—were also dismissed too late. As I have said, my cards are on the table now. Are you prepared to play yours?"
For answer, Mallowe turned slowly to Anita, his face a study of pained surprise and indignation.
"My dear girl, I do not understand one word of what this person is saying, but he is either mad, or intoxicated with his success in locating Ramon, to the extent that he is endeavoring to build up a fictitious case on a maze of lies. Any notoriety will bring him welcome publicity, and that is all he is looking for. I shall take immediate steps to have his incomprehensible and dangerous allegation suppressed. Such a man is a menace to the community! In the meantime, I must beg of you to dismiss him at once. Do not listen to him, do not allow him to influence you! You are only an impulsive, credulous girl, and he is using you as a mere tool for his own ends. I cannot imagine how you happened to fall into his clutches."
Anita faced him, straight and slim and tall, and her soft eyes seemed fairly to burn into his.
"I am not so credulous as you think, Mr. Mallowe. I never for a moment believed your assertion that my father died a pauper, and I took immediate steps to disprove it. Doctor Franklin was your tool, when he came to me with your message, but not I! And I shouldn't advise you to try, at this late date, to 'suppress' Mr. Blaine. Many other malefactors have attempted it, I understand, in the past, but I never heard of any of them meeting with conspicuous success. You and my other two self-appointed guardians must have been desperate indeed to have risked trying to hoodwink me with so ridiculous and vague a story as that of the loss of my father's fortune!"
"This is too much!" Mallowe stormed. "Young woman, you forget yourself! Because of the evil suggestions, the malevolent influence of this man's plausible lies, are you such an ingrate as to turn upon your only friends, your father's intimate, life-long associates, the people who have, from disinterested motives of the purest kindness and affection, provided for you, comforted you, and shielded you from the world? Anita, I cannot believe it of you! I will leave you, now. I am positively overcome with this added shock of your ingratitude and willful deceit, coming so soon after the blow of my poor friend's death. I trust you will be in a thoroughly repentant frame of mind when next I see you.
"As for you, sir!" He turned to the immovable figure of the detective. "I will soon show you what it means to meddle with matters which do not concern you—to pit yourself arrogantly against the biggest power in this country!"
"The biggest power in this or any other country is the power of justice." Blaine's voice rang out trenchantly. "When you and your associates planned this desperate coup, it was as a last resort. You had involved yourselves too deeply; you had gone too far to retrace your steps. You were forced to go on forward—and now your path is closed with bars of iron!"
"I will not remain here any longer to be insulted! Miss Lawton, I shall never cross the threshold of this house again—this house, which only by my charity you have been suffered to remain in—until you apologize for the disgraceful scene here this morning. I can only hope that you will soon come to your senses!"
As he strode indignantly from the room, Anita turned anxiously to Henry Blaine.
"Oh, what will he do?" she whispered. "He is really a power, a money-power, you know, Mr. Blaine! Where will he go now?"
"Straight to his confrere Carlis, and tell him that the game is up." The detective spoke with brisk confidence. "He'll be tailed by my men, anyway, so we shall soon have a report. Don't see anyone, on any pretext whatsoever, and don't leave the house, Miss Lawton. I will instruct Wilkes on my way out, that you are to be at home to no one. I must be getting back to my office now. If I am not mistaken, I shall receive a visit without unnecessary delay from my old friend Timothy Carlis, and I wouldn't miss it for the world!"
Blaine's prediction proved to have been well founded. Scarcely an hour passed, and he was deep in the study of some of his earlier notes on the case, when all at once a hubbub arose in his outer office. Usually quiet and well-ordered, its customary stillness was broken by a confused, expostulatory murmur of voices, above which rose a strident, angry bellow, like that of a maddened wild beast. Then a chair was violently overturned; the sudden sharp sound of a scuffle came to the detective's listening ears; and the door was dashed open with a jar which made the massive inkstand upon the desk quiver.
Timothy Carlis stood upon the threshold—Timothy Carlis, his face empurpled, the great veins upon his low-slanting forehead standing out like whipcords, his huge, spatulate hands clenched, his narrow, slit eyes gleaming murderously.
"So you're here, after all!" he roared. "Those d—d fools out there tried to give me the wrong steer, but I was wise to 'em. You buffaloed Rockamore, and that senile old idiot, Mallowe, but you can't bluff me! I came here to see you, and I usually get what I go after!"
"Having seen me, Carlis, will you kindly state your business and go? This promises to be one of my busiest days. What can I do for you?" Blaine leaned back in his chair, with a bland smile of pleased expectancy.
"It ain't what you can do; it's what you're goin' to do, and no mistake about it!" the other glowered. "You're goin' to keep your mouth shut as tight as a trap, and your hands off, from now on! Oh, you know what I mean, right enough. Don't try to work the surprised gag on me!"
He added the latter with a coarse sneer which further distorted his inflamed visage. Blaine, with an expression of sharp inquiry, had whirled around in his swivel chair to face his excited visitor, and as he did so, his hand, with seeming inadvertence, had for an instant come in contact with the under ledge of his desk-top.
"I'm afraid, much as I desire not to prolong this unexpected interview, that I must ask you to explain just what it is that I must keep my hands off of, as you say. We will go into the wherefore of it later."
Carlis glanced back of him into the empty hallway, then closed the door and came forward menacingly.
"What's the good of beating about the bush?" he demanded, in a fierce undertone. "You know d—n' well what I mean: you're butting in on the Lawton affair. You've bitten off more than you can chew, and you'd better wise yourself up to that, here and now!"
"Just what is the Lawton affair?"
"Oh, stow that bluff! You know too much already, and if I followed my hunch, I'd scrag you now, to play safe. Dead men don't blab, as a rule—though one may have, last night. I came here to be generous, to give you a last chance. I've fought tooth and nail, myself, for my place at the top, and I like a game scrapper, even if he is on the wrong side. You've tried to get me for years, but as I knew you couldn't, I didn't bother with you, any more than I would with a trained flea, and I bear no malice. D—d if I don't like you, Blaine!"
"Thank you!" The detective bowed in ironic acknowledgment of the compliment. "Your friendship would be considered a valuable asset by many, I have no doubt, but—"
"Look here!" The great political boss had shed his bulldozing manner, and a shade of unmistakable earnestness, not unmixed with anxiety, had crept into his tones. "I'm talking as man to man, and I know I can trust your word of honor, even if you pretend you won't take mine. Is anyone listening? Have you got any of your infernal operatives spying about?"
Blaine leaned forward and replied with deep seriousness.
"I give you my word, Carlis, that no human ear is overhearing our conversation." Then he smiled, and added, with a touch of mockery: "But what difference can that make? I thought you came here to issue instructions. At least, you so announced yourself on your arrival!"
"Because I'm going to make a proposition to you—on my own." Even Carlis' coarse face flushed darkly at the base self-revelation. "Pennington Lawton died of heart-disease."
He paused, and after waiting a full minute, Blaine remarked, quietly, but with marked significance:
"Of course. That is self-evident, isn't it?"
"Well, then—" Carlis stepped back with a satisfied grunt. "He didn't have a soul on earth dependent on him but his daughter. His great fortune is swept away, and that daughter left penniless. But ain't there lots of girls in this world worse off than she? Ain't she got good friends that's lookin' out for her, and seein' that she don't want for a thing? Ain't she goin' to marry a young fellow that loves the ground she walks on—a rich young fellow, that'll give her everything, all her life? What more could she want? She's all right. But the big money—the money Lawton made by grinding down the masses—wouldn't you like a slice of it yourself, Blaine? A nice, fat, juicy slice?"
"How?" An interested pucker appeared suddenly between the detective's expressive brows, and Carlis laughed.
"Oh, we're all in it—you may as well be! You're on the inside, as it is! The play got too high for Rockamore, and he cashed in; you've bluffed old Mallowe till he's looking up sailing dates for Algiers, but I knew you'd be sensible, when it came to the scratch, and divide the pot, rather than blow your whistle and have the game pulled!"
"But it was old Mallowe"—Blaine's tone was puzzled—"who succeeded in transferring all that worthless land he'd acquired to Lawton, when Lawton wouldn't come in and help him on that Street-Railways grab, which would have made him practically sole owner of all the suburban real estate around Illington, wasn't it?"
"Sure it was!" laughed Carlis, ponderously. "But who made it possible for Mallowe to palm off those miles of vacant lots—as improved city property, of course—on Lawton, without his knowledge, and even have them recorded in his name, but me? What am I boss for, if I don't own a little man like the Recorder of Deeds?"
"I see!" Blaine tapped his finger-tips together and smiled slowly, in meditative appreciation. "And it was your man, also, Paddington, who found means to provide the mortgage, letter of appeal for a loan, note for the loan itself, and so forth. As for Rockamore—"
"Oh, he fixed up the dividend end, watered the stock and kept the whole thing going by phony financing while there was a chance of our hoodwinking Lawton into going into it voluntarily. He was one grand little promoter, Rockamore was; pity he got cold feet, and promoted himself into another sphere!"
"All things considered, it may not be such a pity, after all!" Blaine rose suddenly, whirling his chair about until it stood before him, and he faced his amazed visitor from across it. "Now, Carlis, suppose you promote yourself from my office!"
"Wh-what!" It was a mere toneless wheeze, but breathing deep of brute strength.
"I told you when you first came in that this promised to be one of my busiest days. You're taking up my time. To be sure, you've cleared up a few minor points for me, and testified to them, but you haven't really told me anything I didn't know. The game is up! Now—get out!"
He braced himself, as he spoke, to meet the mountain of flesh which hurled itself upon him in a blind rush of Berserk rage—braced himself, met and countered it. Never had that spacious office—the scene of so many heartrending appeals, dramatic climaxes, impassioned confessions and violent altercations—witnessed so terrific a struggle, brief as it was.
"I'll kill you!" roared the maddened brute. "You'll never leave your office, alive, to repeat what I've told! I'll kill you, with my bare hands, first, d—n you!"
But even as he spoke, his voice ended in a surprised scream of agony, which told of strained sinews and ripped tendons, and he fell in a twisted, crumpled heap of quivering, inert flesh at the detective's feet, the victim of a scientific hold and throw which had not been included in his pugilistic education.
Instantly Blaine's hand found an electric bell in the wall, and almost simultaneously the door opened and three powerful figures sprang upon the huge, recumbent form and bound him fast.
"Take him away," ordered the detective. "I'll have the warrant ready for him."
"Warrant for what?" spluttered Carlis, through bruised and bleeding lips. "I didn't do anything to you! You attacked me because I wouldn't swear to a false charge. I got a legal right to try to defend myself!"
"You've convicted yourself, out of your own mouth," retorted Blaine.
The other looked into his eyes and quailed, but blustered to the end.
"Nobody heard, but you, and my word goes, in this town! What d'you mean—convicted myself?"
For answer Blaine again touched that little spring in the protruding under-ledge of his desk, and out upon the trenchant stillness, broken only by the rapid, stertorous breathing of the manacled man, burst the strident tones of that same man's voice, just as they had sounded a few minutes before:
"'But the big money—the money Lawton made by grinding down the masses—wouldn't you like a slice of it yourself, Blaine—a nice, fat, juicy slice.... Oh, we're all in it, you may as well be!... The play got too high for Rockamore, and he cashed in; you've bluffed old Mallowe till he's looking up sailing dates for Algiers, but I knew you'd be sensible, when it came to the scratch, and divide the pot, rather than blow your whistle and have the game pulled.... Who made it possible for Mallowe to palm off those miles of vacant lots—as improved city property, of course—on Lawton without his knowledge, and even have them recorded in his name, but me? What am I boss for, if I don't own a little man like the Recorder of Deeds?'"
"What is it?" gasped the wretched Carlis, in a fearful whisper, when the voice had ceased. "What is that—infernal thing?"
"A detectaphone," returned Blaine laconically. "You've heard of them, haven't you, Carlis? When you asked me if we were alone, if any of my operatives were spying about, I told you that no human ear overheard our conversation. But this little concealed instrument—this unseen listener—recorded and bore witness to your confession; and this is a Recorder you do not own, and cannot buy!"
"But I don't understand"—Guy Morrow's voice was plaintive, and he eyed his chief reproachfully, as he stood before Blaine's desk, twisting his hat nervously—"why you didn't nail him! You've got the goods on him, all right; and now, just because you only had him arrested on a charge of assault with intent to kill, he's gone and used his influence, and got himself released under heavy bail. Oh, why won't you go heeled or guarded? We can't afford to lose you, sir, any of us, and now he'll do for you, as sure as shooting!"
"Who—Carlis?" Blaine spoke almost absently, as if the portentous scene of two hours before had already almost slipped from his memory. "Oh, he won't get away, and I'm not afraid of him! I let him go for the same reason that I didn't have Mallowe arrested this morning—for the same reason why I haven't stopped Paddington's philandering with the French girl, Fifine: because a link is still missing in the chain; the shell, the exterior of the whole conspiracy is in the hollow of my hand, but I can't find the chink, the crevice into which to insert my lever and split it apart, lay the whole dastardly scheme irrefutably open to the light of day. I want to complete my case: in other words, Guy—I want to win!"
"And you will, sir; you've never failed yet! Only I—I don't have any luck!" The young man's haggard face grew wistful. "I want Emily Brunell; I need her—and I seem farther from finding her than ever!"
"I didn't know that was your job!" the detective objected, with a brusqueness which was not unkind. "I told you I'd take care of that, in my own way. I thought I assigned you to the task of finding out who fired at you, from the darkened window of your own room, when you were in Brunell's house across the street; also I wanted a line on those two mysterious boarders of Mrs. Quinlan's."
"Nothing doing on either count, sir," Morrow returned, ruefully. "I can't get a glimpse of them, or a line on either of them; and as for who tried to plug me—well, there isn't an iota of evidence, that I can discover, beyond the bare fact. I didn't come to report, for there's nothing to say, except that I'm sticking at it, and if I don't get a sight of those two before long I'm going to burn a red sulphur light some fine night, and yell 'fire!' I bet that'll bring the old codger out, for all his rheumatism!"
"Not a bad idea," Blaine commented, adding dryly: "What did you come for, then, Guy?"
"To find out if you had any news you were willing to tell me yet, sir—of Emily?"
"Yes." The detective's slow smile was quizzical. "The most significant news in the world."
"You've discovered their destination—hers and her father's?" the young operative cried eagerly. "You traced their taxi, of course!"
"Then what is it?"
"Just that, Guy—that I haven't been able to trace the taxicab in which they left their house. Think it over. Report to me when you've got anything definite to tell me."
With a curt nod Blaine dismissed him, but he glanced after the dejected, retreating figure with a very kindly, affectionate light in his fatherly eyes. It was dusk when he was aroused from a deep study of his carefully annotated resume of the case by the excited jangle of the telephone bell, to hear Guy Morrow's no less excited but joyous voice at the other end of the wire.
"I've found her! I've found Emily! She loves me! She does! I made her listen, and she understands everything! She don't mind a bit about my hounding her father down, because she sees how it all had to be, and the old man's a regular brick about it!"
"It was the kitten did it—that blessed Caliban! And think of it, sir; I've always hated cats, ever since I was a kid! Emily says—"
"Maybe if the hall had been lighted—but Mrs. Quinlan's got that parsimony peculiar to all landladies—and I trod on its tail, and it was all up!"
"Morrow, are you a driveling idiot, or an operative? Are you reporting, or exploding? If you called me up to tell me that you trod on the tail of your landlady's parsimony, you don't need a job in a detective bureau; you need a lunacy commission!" Blaine's voice was vexed, but little smiling lines crinkled at the corners of his eyes.
"I beg your pardon, sir; I am almost crazy, I think—with happiness. I've found Mr. Jimmy Brunell and his daughter. They are the two mysterious boarders whom Mrs. Quinlan has been shielding all this time, and I never even suspected it! It was Jimmy Brunell who fired at me that night of the day they disappeared. He didn't recognize me, and thought I was one of his enemies—one of Paddington's men, like young Charley Pennold.
"You remember, I told you I found the kitten in the deserted house and brought it home for Mrs. Quinlan to take care of? Well, she never lights the gas until the very last minute, and late this afternoon, about half an hour ago, I was stumbling along the second-floor hallway to my room in the dark, when I stepped on the kitten. It yelled like mad, and Emily heard it from her room above. Forgetting caution and everything else, she opened the door and called it!
"Of course, when I heard her voice, I was upstairs two steps at a time, with the cat under my arm clawing like a vixen. She was perfectly freezing at first—not the cat; it's a he; I mean Emily. But after I explained that when I'd gotten to care for her I only tried to help her, she—oh, well, I'm going to let her tell you herself, if you're willing, sir! I'll bring them both down to you now, if you say so, she and her father. Jimmy Brunell's more than anxious to see you; he wants to make a clean breast of the whole affair—tell all he knows about the case; and I think what he's got to say will astonish you and finish the whole thing—crack that nut you were talking to me about this afternoon, provide the link in the chain, the crevice in the crime cube! May I bring them?"
Blaine acquiesced, and after issuing his orders to the subordinates about him, waited in a fever of impatience which he could scarcely control, and which, had he stopped to think of it, would have astonished him beyond measure. That he—who had daily, almost hourly, awaited unmoved the appearance of men famous and infamous, illustrious and obscure, should so agitatedly view the coming of this old offender, was incomprehensible.
Yet although he had really learned little that was conclusive from Guy's somewhat incoherent account, he felt, in common with his young operative, that the crux of the matter lay here, to his hand, that from the lips of this old ex-convict would fall the magic word which would open to him the inner door of this mystery of mysteries—which would prove, as the golden key of truth, absolute and unassailable.
After what seemed an incredibly long period of suspense, the door opened and Marsh ushered them in—Morrow, his face wreathed in triumph and smiles; a brown-haired, serene-eyed girl whom Blaine remembered from his memorable interview with her at the Anita Lawton Club; and a tall, grizzled, smooth-shaven man, who held himself proudly erect, as if the weight of years had fallen from his shoulders.
"Yes, sir, I'm Brunell," the latter announced, when the incidental salutations were over, "—Jimmy Brunell, the forger. I've lived straight, and tried to keep the truth from my little girl, for her own sake, but perhaps it is better as it is. She knows everything now, and has forgiven much, because she's a woman like her mother, God bless her! I've come of my own free will, to tell you all you want to know, and prove it, too!"
"Sit down, all of you. Brunell, you forged the signature to the mortgage on Pennington Lawton's home, at Paddington's instigation?"
"Yes, sir. And the signature on the note given for the loan from Moore, and the whole letter supposed to be from Mr. Lawton to Mallowe, asking him to procure that loan for him, and all the other crooked business which helped sweep Mr. Lawton's fortune away. But I didn't understand how big the job was, nor just what they were trying to put over, or I wouldn't have done it. I wish to heaven I hadn't, now, but it's too late for that; I can only do what's left me to help repair the damage. I wish I'd taken the consequences Paddington threatened me with, through Charley Pennold—curse them both!
"For it wasn't because of the money I did it, sir, although what they offered me was a small fortune, and would have been a mighty hard temptation in the old days. It was because if I refused they were going to strike at me through my little girl, the one thing on earth I've got left to love! They were going to have me sent up on an old score which no one else even had suspected I'd been mixed up in. I didn't know—until just now when this young friend here, Mr. Morrow, told me—that it had been outlawed long years ago, and I can see that they counted on my not knowing. How they found out about it, anyway, is a mystery to me, but that Paddington is the devil himself! However, if I didn't do the trick for them, they'd have me convicted, and once out of the way, my little girl would be helpless in their hands. They talked of sweatshops, and worse—"
The old man broke down, and shuddering, covered his face with his thin fingers. But in a moment, before the pitying, outstretched hand of his daughter could reach his shoulder, he had regained control of himself, and resumed:
"I did what they asked of me—all they asked. But I was suspicious, not only because they didn't take me fully into their confidence, but because I knew Paddington and his breed; and also, Miss Lawton had been kind to my little girl. If they meant any harm to Pennington Lawton's daughter, or if their scheme, whatever kind of a hold-up it was, failed to pan out as they expected, and they tried to make me the scape-goat—well, I meant to protect myself and Lawton. My word would have to be proof against theirs that they forced me into what I did, but I could fix it so that I could prove to anybody, without any doubt, that Lawton never wrote that note to Mallowe from Long Bay about that loan two years ago, and that would sort of substantiate my word that the signatures weren't his, either."
"How could you prove such a thing?" Blaine leaned forward tensely.
"Young Morrow, here, tells me that you've got that note—the note asking Mallowe to arrange the loan for Lawton. Will you get it, please, sir? I don't want to see it; I want you to read it to me, and then I'll tell you something about it. They thought they were clever, the rascals, but I fooled them at their own game! I cut out the words from a bundle of Lawton's old letters which they gave me, and I manufactured the note, all right. I did it, word for word, just like they wanted me to—but I put my own private mark on it, that they couldn't discover, so that I could prove anywhere, any time, that it was a forgery!"
In a concealed fever of excitement, the detective produced the fateful note from his private file.
"That looks like it!" chuckled old Jimmy. "It's dated August sixteenth, nineteen hundred and twelve, isn't it? Now, sir, will you read it out loud, please?"
Blaine unfolded the single sheet of hotel note-paper, and looked once more at the following message:
My Dear Mallowe:
Kindly regard this letter as strictly confidential. I desire to negotiate a private loan immediately, for a considerable amount,—three hundred and fifty thousand dollars, in fact,—but for obvious reasons, which you, as a man of discretion and financial astuteness second to none in this country, will readily understand, a public assumption of it by me would be disastrous to a degree, under the prevailing conditions. Ask Moore if he can arrange the matter for me, but feel him out tentatively first. If he does not see his way clear to it, let me know without delay, and I will come to Illington and confer with you.
I am prepared, of course, to give him my personal note for same, but do not desire any direct dealings with him. In fact, it would be exceedingly dangerous to my interests if he ever mentioned it to me personally, even when he fancied himself alone with me. Impress this upon him. I will pay far above the legal rate of interest, of course. You can arrange this with him.
I will go into the whole matter of this contingency confidentially with you when I see you. In the meantime, I know that I can rely upon you.
Awaiting the earliest possible reply, and thanking you for the interest I know you will take in this affair,
Sincerely, your friend,
After glancing at it a moment Blaine read the letter aloud in a calm, unemotional voice which gave no hint of the tumult within him. He had scarcely finished when Jimmy Brunell, greatly excited, interrupted triumphantly:
"That's it! That's the note! Don't see anything phony about it, do you, sir? Neither did they! Now, leave out the 'My dear Mallowe,' and beginning with the next as the first line, count down five lines. The last letter of the last word on that line is f, isn't it? Omit a line and take the last letter of the next, and so on for four letters—that is, the last words of the four alternate lines beginning with the fifth from the top are: of, a, ask, and see, and the last letters of those four spell a word. That word is fake, and so is the note, and the whole infernal business! Fake, from beginning to end! I put my mark on it, sir, so it could be known for what it is, in case of need. Now the need has come."
"By Jove, so it is!" Guy Morrow cried, unable to restrain himself longer. "You're a wonder, Mr. Brunell!"
"You have rendered us a greater service than you know," supplemented Blaine, the while his pulses throbbed in time to his leaping heart. The crevice! The rift in the criminal's almost perfected scheme, into which he had succeeded in inserting the little silver probe of his specialized knowledge, and disclosed to a gaping world the truth! He had found it at last, and his work was all but done.
"But what's to happen to me now?" The exultation had died out of his voice, and Jimmy Brunell looked suddenly pinched and gray and tired, and very, very old. "I don't care much what happens to me, but my daughter—Emily—"
"I'll take care of her, whatever happens!" Guy's heart was in his buoyant voice. "But you'll be all right. Don't you worry! Haven't you got Mr. Blaine on your side?"
"I'll try to see that you don't suffer for your enforced share in the Lawton conspiracy, Brunell. It seems to me that you've already gone through trouble enough on that score, great as was the damage you half-unwittingly wrought," Blaine remarked, reassuringly—adding: "But why didn't you come forward before, and give your testimony?"
"There wasn't any court action," the old man returned, hesitatingly. "And besides, I was afraid to come forward and tell what I knew, because of Emily. I would have done it, though, as soon as I learned they had robbed Miss Lawton of everything. I wasn't sure of that, you see."
"One thing more!" Blaine pressed the bell which would summon his secretary. "Why, if you had reformed, did you keep in your possession all these years your forging apparatus?"
"I had it taken care of for me while I served my term, meaning to use it again when I came out. I was bitter and revengeful, and I meant to do everybody up brown that I could. But when I was free and found my—my wife had gone and left me Emily, it seemed like a hostage from her gentle spirit given to the world, that I wouldn't do any more wrong. I kept the plant because I didn't know how to dispose of it so no one else could use it, and as the years went by, I got more and more scared at the thought of it.
"I was afraid both ways—afraid it would be discovered, but more afraid I'd be found out if I tried to get rid of it. So I buried it in the cellar of my little shop and did my level best to forget it. I'd almost succeeded when, God knows how, Paddington found me. You know the rest."
"You rang, sir?" Marsh, the secretary, had entered noiselessly.
"Yes. Have these two people—this young lady and her father—conducted in my own limousine to my house, and made comfortable there until I give you further directions as to what I wish done concerning them."
Blaine cut short the old forger's broken words of gratitude in his brusquely kind fashion, but his heart imaged always the light in the girl's soft eyes as she bent a parting glance upon him, like a benediction, before the door closed.
"What are you going to do with them, sir?" young Morrow asked anxiously when they were alone.
Henry Blaine paused a moment before replying.
"I might let him take his chance before the court, on the strength of his years, and his having turned State's evidence voluntarily, Guy, but he's an old offender, and Carlis' faction is strong. My racing car will make ninety miles an hour, easily, and it can do it unmolested, with my private sign on the hood. It can meet the Canadian express at Branchtown at dawn. I've a little farm in a nice community in Canada, not too isolated, and I'm going to make it over to you as part of your reward for your work on the Lawton case....
"No, don't thank me! I'm sworn on the side of law and order, but Justice is stern and sometimes blind because she will not see. Remember, the Greatest Jurist Himself recommended mercy!"
Soon afterward, as they sat discussing the wind-up of the case, the subject of the second set of cryptograms was broached, and Blaine smiled at Morrow's utter bewilderment concerning them.
"Still puzzling about those, Guy? They weren't as simple as the first one was, that of the system of odd-shaped characters and dots. The later ones were the more difficult because they were of no set system at all—I mean no one system, but a primitive conglomeration, probably evolved by Paddington himself, based on script music and also the old childish trick of writing letters shaped like figures, which can be read by reversing the paper, and holding it up to the light.
"Just a minute, and we'll look at the two notes, the one you found in Brunell's room in the deserted cottage, and the other which came to me in the cigarette box meant for Paddington, from Mac Alarney. Then we'll be able to see how they were worked out. And you'll see that though they look extremely meaningless and confusing, they are in reality extremely simple."
As he spoke, Blaine produced them from his desk drawer, and spread them out before him.
"Before you examine them," he went on, "let me explain the musical script idea on which they are fundamentally based, in case you are unfamiliar with it. The sign '&' before a bar of music means that music is written in the treble clef—that is, all the notes following it are above the central C on the piano keyboard. Thus"—here he drew rapidly on a scrap of paper and passed a scrawled scale over to the interested operative.
"The dot on the line below the five lines which are joined together by the sign of the treble clef is C. The dot on the space between that and the first of the five lines is D. The dot on the first line is E; on the next space is F, and so forth, in their alphabetical order on the alternating lines and spaces. Do you see how easily, they could be used as the letters of words in a cryptogram, by any one of an ingenious turn of mind? Of course, each bar—that is, each section enclosed by lines running straight up and down—represents a word. Now for the rest of it:
"Leaving the script music idea aside, and taking the characters not so represented in the cryptogram, we find that '3' when viewed from the under side of the paper will look very much like an English E; 7 like T; 9 like P; 2 like S, and so forth.
"Try it. Here is the first note, the one you found. Puzzle out the musical notes by their alphabetical nomenclature from the key I just gave you on the scrap of paper there; then hold the note up to the light, and read the other letters from the under side. Try it with both notes, and tell me what you find."
Guy took the papers, and wonderingly spelled out the letters represented by the musical notes, from the scale Blaine had given him. Then turning the pages over, he held them up to the light, an exclamation of absorbed interest escaping from him.
The great detective watched him in silence, until at last, with a glowing sense of achievement, Guy read:
"'Beat it at once. You are suspected. Detective on trail. Rite old address. I am sending funds as usual. If caught you get life sentence. Pad.'"
"Now, the other."
"'Patient still unconscious. Consultation necessary at once to save life. Should he die advise Reddy what disposition to make of body. Mac.'"
The last cryptogram proved the more easily decipherable, and when the young operative had read it aloud, he looked up with a glowing face.
"By George, it's a world-beater! What put you on the right track?"
"The last one. I realized then that they were afraid the kidnaped man, Ramon Hamilton, who had been grievously wounded, would die on their hands, and that rather than face the results of such a contingency they would attempt to obtain some obscure but experienced medical aid, and in a way which would give the physician no inkling of his patient's identity or whereabouts. I therefore sent out that circular letter to every doctor in Illington, warning each one to come to me in the event of his having received a mysterious summons. It worked, as you know, and Doctor Alwyn responded."
"Well, if you hadn't been able to read the cryptogram, sir, the Lord knows what would have happened!"
"And if you hadn't trodden on the cat's tail—" Blaine suggested dryly.
Guy glanced at him in sudden, swift comprehension.
"Why, look here, sir, I believe you knew that Emily and her father were the two mysterious boarders at Mrs. Quinlan's, all the time! You said it was significant that you hadn't been able to trace the number of the taxicab in which they had run away from the neighborhood! There never was a taxicab in all Illington which couldn't be traced by its number! You knew, of course, that that story of Mrs. Quinlan's was a fake, and then when I told you of the two concealed people there, you had it all doped out! Oh, why didn't you tell me?"
"Because I didn't want you to precipitate matters just then, Guy," the detective responded, kindly. "The house was watched—they couldn't get away."
"That's a good one!" Young Morrow looked his self-disgust. "Hire operatives on your staff, sir, and then have to set others to tail them, and see that they don't get into trouble! Heavens, what an idiot I am! I've found out one thing, though, from those cryptograms"—he pointed to the cipher notes on the desk. "Music's a cinch! I can read it already, and I'm going to start in and learn how to play on something or other, the first chance I get! There's a fellow next door to Mrs. Quinlan's with a clarinet—" He paused, and his face sobered as he added: "But I forgot! I sha'n't be there any more."
Before Blaine could speak, there was a knock upon the door, and Marsh entered with hurried circumspection. There was a look of latent, shocked importance upon his usually impassive face, and he carried in his hand a newspaper which was still damp from the press.
"I beg your pardon, sir, but I thought you would want to know at once. There's been a murder! Paddington, the private detective, was found in the Rhododendron Alley, just off the Mall in the park, stabbed to the heart!"
Henry Blaine took the paper and spread it out upon the desk before him, as Guy Morrow, with a soft, low whistle, turned away. The "extra" imparted little more than the secretary's announcement had done. There was no known motive for the crime, no clue to the murderer. When found, the man had been dead for some hours.
"Well, sir," observed Guy at last, when the secretary had withdrawn, "one by one they're getting away from us—and by the same route. First Rockamore, now Paddington!"
Blaine looked up with a grim smile.
"Putting a woman wise to anything is like lighting a faulty time-fuse: you never can tell when you're going to get your own fingers blown off! But tell me something, Guy. What was that tune you whistled a moment ago, when Marsh came in with the news? It had a vaguely familiar ring."
"Oh, that?" asked the operative, with a sheepishly guileless air. "It was just a bit from an English musical comedy of two or three years back, I think. It's got a silly-sounding name—something like 'There's a Boat Sails on Saturday—'"
Blaine's wry smile broadened to a grin of genuine appreciation, and rising, he clapped the young man heartily on the shoulder.
"Right you are, Guy! And it won't be our job to search the sailing lists. You may not always be able to see what lies under your nose, but your perspective is not bad. Hell has only one fury worse than a woman scorned, that I know of, and that is a woman fooled! We'll let it go at that!"
The evening had already grown late, but that eventful day was not to end without one more brief scene of vital import. Marsh presently reappeared, this time bearing a card.
"'Mr. Mallowe,'" read Blaine, with a half-smile. "Show him in, Marsh, and have your men ready. You know what to do. No, Guy, you needn't go. This interview will not be a private one."
"Mr. Blaine!" Mallowe entered pompously and then paused, glancing rather uncertainly from the detective to Morrow. It needed no keen observer to note the change in the man since the scene of that morning, at Miss Lawton's. He had become a mere shell of his former self. The smug unctuousness was gone; the jaunty side-whiskers drooped; his chalk-like skin fell in flabby folds, and his crafty eyes shifted like a hunted animal's.
"Mr. Blaine, I had hoped for a strictly confidential conference with you, but I presume this person to be one of your trusted assistants, and it is immaterial now—the matter upon which I have come is too pressing! Scandal, notoriety must be averted at all costs! I find that a frightful, a hideous mistake has been made, and I am actually upon the point of being involved in a conspiracy as terrible as that of which my poor friend Pennington Lawton was the victim! And I am as innocent as he! I swear it!"
"You may as well conserve your strength and your strategic ingenuity for the immediate future, Mr. Mallowe. You'll need both," Blaine returned, coolly. "If you've come here to make any appeal—"
"I've come to assert my innocence!" the broken man cried with a flash of his old proud dignity. "I only learned this evening of the truth, and that those scoundrels Carlis and Rockamore had implicated me! How a man of your discernment and experience could believe for a moment that I was a party to any fraudulent—"
Blaine pressed the bell.
"There is no use in prolonging this interview, Mr. Mallowe!" he said, curtly. "All the evidence is in my hands."
"But allow me to explain!" The flabby face grew more deathlike, until the burning eyes seemed peering from the face of a corpse.
Two men entered, and at sight of them, the former pompous president of the Street Railways of Illington plumped to his fat, quaking knees.
"For God's sake, listen! You must listen, Blaine!" he shrieked. "I am one of the prominent men of this country! I have three married daughters, two of them with small children! The disgrace, the infamy of this, will kill them! I will make restitution; I will—"
"Pennington Lawton had one daughter, unmarried, unprovided for! Did you think of her?" asked Blaine, grimly. "I'm sorry for the innocent who must suffer with you, Mr. Mallowe, but in this instance the law must take its course. Lead him away."
When the wailing, quavering voice had subsided behind the closing door, Henry Blaine turned to young Morrow with a weary look of pain, age-old, in his eyes.
"Unpleasant, wasn't it?" he asked grimly. "I try to school myself against it, but with all my experience, a scene like this makes me sick at heart. I know the wretch deserves what is coming to him, just as Rockamore knew when he unfalteringly sped that bullet—just as Carlis knew when he heard his own voice repeated by the dictagraph. And yet I, who make my living, and shall continue to make it, by unearthing malefactors; I, who have built my career, made my reputation, proved myself to be what I am by the detection and punishment of wrong-doing—I wish with all my heart and soul, before God, that there was no such thing as crime in all this fair green world!"
Just as in autumn, the period of Indian summer brings a reminiscent warmth and sunshine, so sometimes in late winter a day will come now and then which is a harbinger of the not far-distant springtide, like a promise, during present storm and stress, of better things to come.
Such a day, balmy and gloriously bright, found four people seated together in the spacious, sunny morning-room of a great house on Belleair Avenue. A young man, pale and wan as from a long illness, but with a new steadiness and clarity born of suffering in his eyes; a girl, slender and black-robed, her delicate face flushing with an exquisite, spring-like color, her eyes soft and misty and spring-like, too, in their starry fulfillment of love that has been tried and found all-sufficing; another sable-clad figure, but clerically frocked and portly; and the last, a keen-faced, kindly-eyed man approaching middle-age—a man with sandy hair and a mustache just slightly tinged with gray. He might, from his appearance and bearing, have been a great teacher, a great philanthropist, a great statesman. But he was none of these—or rather, let us say, he was all, and more. He was the greatest factor for good which the age had produced, because he was the greatest instrument of justice, the crime-detector of the century.
The pale young man moved a little in his chair, and the girl laid her hand caressingly upon his blue-veined one. She was seated close to him—in fact, Anita was never willing, in these later days, to be so far from Ramon that she could not reach out and touch him, as if to assure herself that he was there, that he was safe from the enemies who had encompassed them both, and that her ministering care might shield him.
Doctor Franklin noted the movement, slight as it was, and cleared his throat, importantly.
"Of course, my dear children," he began, impressively, "if it is your earnest desire, I will perform the marriage ceremony for you here in this room at noon to-morrow. But I trust you have both given the matter careful thought—not, of course, as to the suitability of your union, but the—I may say, the manner of it! A ceremony without a social function, without the customary observances which, although worldly and filled with pomp and vanity, nevertheless are befitted by usage, in these mundane days, to those of your station in life, seems slightly unconventional, almost—er—unseemly."
"But we don't care for the pomp and vanity, and the social observances, and all the rest of it, do we, Ramon?" the girl asked.
Ramon Hamilton smiled, and his eyes met and held hers.
"We only want each other," he said quietly.
"But it seems so very precipitate!" the clergyman urged, turning as if for moral support to the impassive figure of Henry Blaine. "So soon after the shadow of tragedy has crossed this threshold! What will people say?"
A little vagrant breeze, like a lost, unseasonable butterfly, came in at the open window and stirred the filmy curtain, bearing on its soft breath the odor of narcissus from the bloom-laden window-box.
"Oh, Doctor Franklin!" cried the girl, impulsively. "Don't talk of tragedy just now! Spring is so near, and we love each other so! If he—my dear, dead father—can hear, he will understand, and wish it to be so!"
"As you will." The minister rose. "I gave you your name, Anita. I consecrated your father's soul to Heaven, and his body to the dust, and I will give his daughter in marriage to the man he chose for her protector, whenever it is your will. But, Mr. Blaine, what do you say? You seem to have more influence over Miss Lawton than I, although I can scarcely understand it. Don't you agree with me that the world will talk?"
"I do!" responded Henry Blaine fervently. "And I say—let it! It can say of these two children only what I do—bless you, both! Sorrow and suffering and tragedy have taken their quota of these young lives—now let a little happiness and joy and sunshine and love in upon the circumspect gloom you would still cast about them! You ministers are steeped in the spiritual misery of the world, the doctors in the physical; but we crime-specialists are forced to drink of it to its dregs, physical, mental, moral, spiritual! And there is so much in this tainted, sin-ridden world of ours that is beautiful and pure and happy and holy, if we will but give it a chance!"
Doctor Franklin coughed, in a severely condemnatory fashion.
"Now that I have learned your opinion, in a broad, general way, Mr. Blaine, I can understand your point of view in regard to that young criminal, Charles Pennold, when at the time of the trial you used your influence to have him paroled in your custody, instead of being sent to prison, where he belonged."
"Exactly." Blaine's tone was dry. "I firmly believe that there are many more young boys and men in our prisons, who should in reality be in hospitals, or in sheltering, uplifting, sympathetic hands, than there are criminals unpunished. And you, with your broadly, professionally charitable point of view, Doctor," he added with keen enjoyment, "will, I am convinced, be delighted to know that Charley Pennold is doing splendidly. He will develop in time into one of my most trusted, capable operatives, I have no doubt. He has the instinct, the real nose, for crime, but circumstances from his birth and even before that, forced him on the wrong side of the fence. He was, if you will pardon the vernacular, on the outside, looking in. Now he's on the inside, looking out!"
"I sincerely trust so!" the minister responded frigidly and turned to the others. "I will leave you now. If it is your irrevocable desire to have the ceremony at noon to-morrow, I will make all the necessary arrangements. In fact, I will telephone you later, when everything is settled."
"Oh, thank you, Dr. Franklin! I knew you wouldn't fail us!" Anita murmured. "Don't forget to tell Mrs. Franklin that she will hear from me. She must surely come, you know!"
When the door had closed on the minister's broad, retreating back, Ramon Hamilton turned with a suspicion of a flush in his wan cheeks, to the detective.
"If I'd gone to any Sunday school he presided over, when I was a kiddie, I'd have been a train-robber now!" he observed darkly. "I'm glad you lit into him about young Pennold, Mr. Blaine. He started it!"
"But think of the others!" Anita Lawton turned her face for a moment to the spring-like day outside. "Mr. Mallowe dead in his cell from apoplexy, Mr. Carlis imprisoned for life, Mac Alarney and all the rest facing long years behind gray walls and iron bars—oh, I know it is just; I remember what they did to my father and to me; and yet somehow in this glorious sunshine and with all the ages and ages just as bright, spreading before me, I can find charity and mercy in my heart for all the world!"
"Charity and mercy," repeated Ramon soberly. "Yes, dearest. But not liberty to continue their crimes—to do to others what they did to us!"
A spasm of pain crossed his face, and she bent over him solicitously.
"Oh, what is it, Ramon? Speak to me!"
"Nothing, dear, it's all right now. Just a twinge of the old pain."
"Those murdering fiends, who made you suffer so!" she cried, and added with feminine illogicality: "I'm not sorry, after all, that they're in prison! I'm glad they've got their just deserts. Oh, Ramon, I've been afraid to distress you by asking you, but did you tell the truth at the trial—all the truth, I mean? Was that really all you remember?"
"Yes, dear," he replied a trifle wearily. "When I left Mr. Blaine's office that day, I was hurrying along Dalrymple Street, when just outside the Colossus Building, a boy about fifteen—that one who is in the reformatory now—collided with me. Then he looked up into my face, and grasped my arm.
"'You're Mr. Hamilton, aren't you?' he gasped. 'Oh, come quick, sir! Mr. Ferrand's had a stroke or something, and I was just running to get help. You don't remember me, I guess. I'm Mr. Ferrand's new office-boy, Frankie Allen. You was in to see him about ten days ago, don't you remember?'
"Well, as I told you, 'Nita dearest, old Mr. Ferrand was one of my father's best friends. His offices were in the Colossus Building, and I had been in to see him about ten days before—so in spite of Mr. Blaine's warning, I was perfectly unsuspecting. Of course, I didn't remember his office-boy from Adam, but that fact never occurred to me, then. I went right along with the boy, and he talked so volubly that I didn't notice we had gotten into the wrong elevator—the express—until its first stop, seven floors above Mr. Ferrand's. They must have staged the whole thing pretty well—Carlis and Paddington and their crew—for when I stepped out of the express elevator, there was no one in sight that I remember but the boy who was with me. I pressed the button of the local, which was just beside the express—there was a buzz and whirring hum as if the elevator had ascended, and the door opened. As I stepped over its threshold, I felt a violent blow and terrific pain on the back of my head, and seemed to fall into limitless space. That was all I knew until I woke up in the hospital where Mr. Blaine had taken me after discovering and rescuing me, to see your dear face bending over mine!"
"One of Paddington's men was waiting, and hit you on the head with a window-pole, as you stepped into the open elevator shaft," Blaine supplemented. "It was all a plant, of course. You only fell to the roof of the elevator, which was on a level with the floor below. There they carried you into the office of a fake company, kept you until closing time, and got you out of the building as a drunkard, conveying you to Mac Alarney's retreat in his own machine. Nobody employed in the building was in their pay but the elevator man, and he's got his, along with the rest! Paddington's scheme wasn't bad; if he'd only been on the square, he might have made a very brilliant detective!"
"How terrible his death was!" Anita shuddered. "And how unexplainable! No one ever found out who stabbed him, there in the park, did they?"
Blaine did not reply. He knew that on the day following the discovery of the murdered man, one Franchette Durand, otherwise Fifine Dechaussee, had sailed for Havre on the ill-fated La Tourette, which had gone to the bottom in mid-ocean, with all on board. He knew also that an hour before the French girl's last tragic interview with Paddington, she had discovered the existence of his wife, for he himself had seen to it that the knowledge was imparted to her. Further than that, he preferred not to conjecture. The Madonna-faced girl had taken her secret with her to her swiftly retributive grave in the deep.
Blaine rose, somewhat reluctantly. Work called him, and yet he loved to be near them in the rose-tinted high noon of their happiness.
"I'll be on hand to-morrow, indeed I will!" he promised heartily, in response to their eager request.
"To-morrow! Just think!" Anita buried her glowing face in her lover's shoulder for an instant, and then looked up with misty eyes. "Just think, if it hadn't been for you, Mr. Blaine, there wouldn't be any to-morrow! I don't mean about your getting my father's money all back for me—I'm grateful, of course, but it doesn't count beside the greater thing you have given us! But for you, there would never have been any—to-morrow."
"That's true!" The young man's arm encircled the girl's slender waist as they stood together in the glowing sunlight, but his other hand gripped the detective's. "We owe life, our happiness, the future, everything to you!"
And so Henry Blaine left them.
At the door he turned and glanced back, and the sight his eyes beheld was a goodly one for him to carry away with him into the world—a sight as old as the ages, as new as the hour, as prescient as the hours and ages to come. Just a man and a maid, sunshine and happiness, youth and love!—that, and the light of undying gratitude in the eyes they bent upon him.
* * * * * *
Archaic and variable spelling, as well as inconsistency in hyphenation, has been preserved as printed in the original book except as indicated in the list below.
Missing and extra quote marks, along with minor punctuation irregularities, were silently corrected. However, punctuation has not been changed to comply with modern conventions.
A List of Illustrations was added and illustrations have been moved, when necessary, so that they are not in the middle of a paragraph.
The following changes were made to the text:
Page 33: Was "insignficant" in the original text (keep me informed of everything that occurs, no matter how insignificant or irrelevant it may seem to you to be.)
Page 48: Was "rococco" in the original text (where the mushroom growth of the new city sprang up in rows of rococo brick and stone houses)
Page 96: Was "Dechausee" in the original text (When the young stenographer had departed, Fifine Dechaussee appeared.)
Page 96: Was "Dechausee" in the original text (If he makes any further attempt to talk with you, Mademoiselle Dechaussee, encourage him, draw him out.)
Page 171: Was "d' you" in the original text (What d'you s'pose brought him back?)
Page 205: Was "Lawnot" in the original text (he took the telephone receiver from its hook and called up Anita Lawton at her home)
Page 233: Was "offce" in the original text (three men came back to the house with me, and entered my office, where the burly one turned over to me ten five-hundred-dollar bills.)
Page 261: Was "busines" in the original text (There is no blackmail about this—it is an ordinary business proposition.)
Page 279: Was "in loco parentis" in the original text (Do not I and my friends stand in loco parentis to her?)
Page 314: Was "MacAlarney's" in the original text (and got you out of the building as a drunkard, conveying you to Mac Alarney's retreat in his own machine.)