"That's a shame! It'll never work that way—never! I've got to go out and see if I can't get it mended. Wonder if there's a decent sporting goods store in this part of town. I'll go out and have a look."
He made himself ready, taking the two parts of the fishing rod with him. Inquiry at the hotel desk supplied him with the information as to the location of the store, and the detective was soon out in the wet streets, breathing in deep of the damp air—for it was fresh and that was what the colonel liked.
Somehow or other the address of the jewelry store clung to his mind, and, almost unconsciously, he found himself heading in that direction.
"Well, I am a fool!" he murmured, as he passed the place, now ghostly with its one light in front of the safe. The police had taken charge, pending the arrival of a relative of Mrs. Darcy's. Inside, the cut glass and silver gleamed as of old, but on the floor, sunk deep in the grain of the wood now, was the spot of blood—fit to keep company with the red rubies in the locked safe.
"Quite a place," murmured the colonel, as he passed on toward the sporting goods store. "Quite a place! Oh, hang it! I must get it out of my mind!"
In spite of his rather exacting demands regarding a ferrule for his rod, he found what he wanted and, feeling quite satisfied now, as he noted that the weather showed some slight signs of clearing, the colonel started back for his hotel, walking slowly, for it was not yet late.
Just how it happened, not even Colonel Ashley, naturally the most interested person, could tell afterward. But as the detective was crossing a crowded street a big auto truck swung around a corner, and he found himself directly in its path as he stepped off the curb.
Active as he always kept himself, the old detective sprang back out of the way. But fate, in the person of a small boy, had just a little while before, dropped a banana skin on the streets. And the colonel stepped squarely on this peeling, as he tried to retreat.
There was a sudden sliding, an endeavor to retain his footing, and then Colonel Ashley fell prostrate, his fishing rod pieces spinning from his fingers. Down he went, and the truck thundered straight at him.
It was almost upon him, and the big, solid, front tires were about to crush him, in spite of the frantic efforts of the driver to swerve his machine to one side, when a slim figure dashed from the crowd on the sidewalk, and, with an indistinguishable cry, seized the colonel by the shoulders, fairly dragging him with a desperate burst of strength from the very path of death.
There were gasps of alarm and sighs of relief. The driver of the truck swore audibly, but it was more a prayer than an oath. The colonel, grimy and muddy, was set on his feet by his rescuer, and several men gathered about. The colonel was a bit-dazed, but not so much so that he could not hear several murmur:
"He saved his life all right!"
Recovering his breath and the control of his nerves at about the same time, the detective, his voice trembling in spite of himself, turned to the man who had dragged him from almost under the big wheels and said:
"Sir, you did save my life! You saved me from a horrible death, and saying so doesn't begin to thank you or tell you what I mean. If you'll have the goodness, sir, to call a taxi for me, and come with me to my hotel, I can then—"
The colonel came to a halting and sudden pause as he saw the face of the slim little man who had saved him—a face covered with freckles, which were splotched over the cheeks, the turned-up nose, and reaching back to the wide-set ears.
"Spotty!—Spotty Morgan!" gasped the detective, as he recognized a New York gunman, who was supposed to have more than one killing to his credit, or debit, according as you happen to reckon.
"Spotty Morgan! You—you—here!" gasped the detective.
The rescuer, who had been grinning cheerfully, went white under his copper freckles.
"My gawd! It's you! Colonel—"
Further words were stopped by the detective's hand placed softly, quickly, and so dexterously as hardly to be seen by those in the crowd, over the mouth of the speaker.
"No names—here!" whispered the colonel in the big ear of the man who had saved him from death.
The slim little man gave a wiggle like an eel, and would have darted away through the crowd, but there was a vice-like grip on his shoulder that he knew but too well.
"Spotty, my name's Brentnall for the present," said the colonel, with a grim smile. "And you'd better come with me. How about it?"
Spotty Morgan hesitated a moment, nodded silently, and then, arm in arm with the man whom he had pulled from the path of the big truck, went down the street, the mist and rain swallowing them up.
Tinkling glasses formed a friendly rampart between Colonel Ashley and Spotty Morgan. Spotty looked narrowly and shrewdly at the detective.
"I didn't expect to see you here," remarked the gunman, speaking out of the side of his mouth, with scarcely a motion of his lips—a habit acquired through long practice in preventing prison keepers from finding out that he was disobeying the rules regarding silence. "Not for a minute did I expect to run across you here, Colonel As—"
"Not that name, Spotty, if you please," and the fisherman-detective smiled in easy fashion. "You know my little habits in that regard. I'm known here as Brentnall, and, if it's all the same to you, just use that. As for you, if Spotty—"
"Oh, that suits me as well as any other. I can change whenever I like." Spotty raised a glass to his lips, and, with a murmured "here's how," let the contents slide down his always-parched throat.
"That's so, Spotty. Well, I didn't expect to see you here, I give you my word. When did you leave New York?"
"Well, I come away—"
"Hold on!" interrupted the colonel. "Don't answer. I shouldn't have asked. I forgot you saved my life just now. Gad! it isn't the first time I've nearly passed over, but—not in that way!" and he reached for his glass to conceal the shudder that passed over him as he thought of the rumbling wheels of the thundering truck.
"Well, Colonel, I—"
"Never mind, Spotty. Perhaps the less you talk the better off you'll be. Does anybody in town know you're here?"
"Well, my picture—"
"Yes, it is probably down at headquarters. But they're too busy to look for it now. But they may—later. So far you haven't been recognized then?"
"Only by you, and it'd take a pretty clever guy—"
"No compliments, Spotty. We've gotten over that. You disguised yourself very well, but the freckles show through."
"Yes, damn 'em!" heartily exploded the gunman. "I can't cover 'em up. I've tried everything, but I guess I'll have to go togged up like a colored man to fool the other bulls. As for you, Colonel—"
"There you go again! Cut it out! This is business."
"Yes, good business for you, but bad for me. I didn't think you'd get after me so soon, Colonel!"
"I'm not after you, Spotty."
The detective spoke quietly, but the effect on the man sitting across the table from him, in one of the less conspicuous cafes in Colchester, had the effect of a shout.
"Not after me? You ain't?" and Spotty drew away from the array of glasses and bottles so suddenly that he overturned a tumbler with its tinkling chunk of ice. "Not after me, Colonel?"
"No, I came here for a quiet bit of fishing, and I just stumbled on this case against my will. I'm not even working on it, and I'm not going to. Nobody knows I'm in town except my man Shag—and you. I know I can depend on Shag, and as for you—"
"I'm with you till the cows come to roost, Colonel. I'm strong fer you! I kin forget I ever saw you."
"That's good. I thought you'd be that way. So, as no one knows I'm in town (the colonel knew nothing of what Shag had said to the newsboy), I can keep under cover and have my fishing as I like it—quiet. I don't intend any one shall know I'm here, either.
"Now, Spotty, I'm a plain-spoken man when there's occasion for it, and this is one of those times, I guess. You saved my life just now, I know that. Of course I realize I might just have been badly hurt, and perhaps have lingered on in a hospital for some years—but that would be worse than death. I consider that you saved my life. I couldn't have moved out of the way of that truck any more than I could have flown. I realize it more and more. You did me the biggest service one man can do another, and I'm not going to forget it, Spotty."
"No, I guess remembering is your long suit, Colonel."
"Well, that's all in a day's work. I didn't forget you, Spotty. Now, as I said, you saved my life. I believe in turning the tables, and though I can't do for you what you did for me, maybe I can help in a way."
"You kin gamble on that, Colonel!"
"Listen to me, Spotty," and the detective leaned forward and spoke in a low, tense voice. "Just now, as I say, I'm not in this case. Not being a public official, I'm not bound to use what knowledge or suspicions I have regarding this matter, and I'm not particularly interested—as yet. So I'm going to give you a chance, just as you gave me mine now. It isn't exactly the same, for maybe you wouldn't lose your life. You've been devilishly lucky, and gotten through more narrow places than I'd ever give you credit for.
"So it may seem that I'm not quite squaring the account, but it's all I can do—now. I'm going to give you your chance. I'm not going to ask you any questions. You know what you know and I know what I know. Now, Spotty, streak it out of town as fast as a train can take you, and—don't come back!"
Spotty Morgan made little wet rings on the table with his empty glass. A waiter, hovering near by, caught the glint of his eye and brought the liquor. Then Spotty, after a libation, spoke.
"Colonel," he said slowly, "most of what you has been spielin' is like the lawyer guys git off in court. I don't quite tumble, but I take it you mean you're goin' t' let me go."
"That's it, Spotty! I'm going to let you go this time!"
"No double crossin'?"
"You know me better than that! I'll give you twenty-four hours to get out of town. After that I may happen to know more than I know now, and it would be my duty—whether I'm officially on the case or not—to arrest you.
"But now you're free. It's your life and liberty for mine—maybe not quite an even exchange, since you'd have more than even chances if it came to a trial, I suppose. But it's the best I can do. I'm giving you this chance. I'd be a dirty dog if I didn't. But remember this, Spotty! I give you only one chance, just as you gave me—just as you took one and saved me. If I see you again, and this thing hangs over you, I may have to pull you up."
"All right, Colonel. That's a square deal. But don't worry. You won't see me if I see you first. I didn't dream you'd be after me so soon for the job I only done last night. I'd oughter cleared out, but I was waitin' for a pal, an—Oh, well, it was just like you to come around early."
"Man, don't you understand? I'm not after you! I didn't for an instant think you had a hand in it until just now. And I'm not admitting, even yet, that you did have. I haven't done a tap of work on the case, and I'm not going to. My advise to you is to get out of town before I may get into this thing against my will. Skip, Spotty! It's the only way I can pay my debt to you!"
The colonel made as though to hold out his hand to the freckle-faced man opposite him, and then changed the motion of his arm and picked up his glass.
"Skip, Spotty!" he murmured again.
"All right, Colonel, I will! I know when the goin's good. So long. And—thanks!"
Spotty, still talking through the corner of his mouth, gave a quick glance around the room and slid out of a side door like an eel, disappearing into the rain and mist.
For some little time the colonel sat before the glasses, in which the cracked ice was rapidly melting. He, too, made little rings of water on the table.
"I wonder—" he mused, "I wonder if I did right."
His hand sought his pocket, and came out empty.
"I guess I must have left it on the bed," he murmured. "But I can remember it."
Then, as though reading from the little green book, he recited:
"But if the old salmon gets to the sea . . . and he recovers his strength, and comes next summer to the same river, if it be possible. . ."
"Spotty is a veritable salmon," mused the colonel, "even if he is speckled like a trout. I wonder, if he gets into the sea of New York, if I'll ever be able to land him?
"Well, he gave me my life, and I just had to give him a chance for his. It was all I could do. Now to fish and forget everything!"
It was a fair morning in April, with the sun just right, with the "wind in the west when the fish bite best," and Colonel Robert Lee Ashley, with the faithful Shag to carry his rods, creel and a lunch basket, sallied forth from his hotel for a day beside a no-very-distant stream, the virtues of which he had heard were most alluring as regarded trout.
"Shag!" exclaimed the colonel, when they were tramping through a field near the river, having reached that vantage point by a most prosaic trolley car, "this is a beautiful day!"
"It suah am, sah!"
"And I'm going to catch some fine fish!"
"I suah does hope so, Colonel!"
"All right then! Now don't say another word until I speak to you. We'll be there pretty soon, and if there's one thing more than another that I hate, it's to have some one talking when I'm fishing."
"Yes, sah, Colonel!"
"Um! Well, see that you mind!"
Selecting with care a fly from his numerous collection, and hoping the appetites of the fish would incline them to consider it favorably that morning, Colonel Ashley proceeded to make his casts, standing not far from a bent, gnarled and twisted elm tree, that overhung the bank of the stream where the current had cut into the soil, making a deep eddy, in which a lazy trout might choose to lie in wait for some choice morsel.
Lightly as a falling feather, the fisherman let his fly come to rest on the sun-lit water, and, hardly had it sent the first, few faint ripples circling toward shore than there was a shrill song of the reel, and the rod became a bent bow.
"By the bones of Sir Izaak!" cried the colonel, "I've hooked one, Shag!"
"De Lord be praised! So yo' has, Colonel!" cried the negro.
"Shut up!" ordered the colonel, who was beginning to play his fish. "Did I tell you to speak?"
But Shag only laughed. He knew his master.
After ten minutes of skilful work, during which time the trout nearly got away by shooting under a submerged log like an undersea boat diving beneath a battle cruiser, the colonel landed his fish, dropping it, panting, on the green grass. Then he looked up at Shag and remarked:
"Didn't I tell you this was a perfectly beautiful day?"
"Yo' suah did, Colonel," was the chuckling answer. "Yo' suah did!"
And so much at peace with himself and all the world was Colonel Robert Lee Ashley just then that, when the crackling of the underbrush behind him, a moment later, gave notice that some one was approaching, there was even a smile on his face, though, usually, he could not bear to be intruded upon when fishing.
Rather idly the colonel, having mercifully killed his fish by a blow on top of the head and slipped it into the grass-lined creel, looked up to see approaching a young lady and a tall and somewhat lanky boy. There was some thing vaguely familiar about the boy, though the fisherman did not tax his mind with remembering, then, where or when he had seen him before.
"There he is," went the words of the boy, as he and the young woman came in sight of the colonel and Shag—but it was at the detective the lad pointed. "There he is!"
The girl rushed impulsively forward, and, as she held out her hands in a voiceless appeal, there was worry and anguish depicted on her face.
"Are you Colonel Brentnall?" she asked.
The colonel was sufficiently familiar with his alias not to betray surprise when it was used.
"I am," he said, and the peaceful, joyous look that had come into his eyes when he had landed his fish gave way to a hard and professional stare.
"Oh, Colonel Brentnall! I've come to ask you to help me—help him! You will, won't you? Don't say you won't!"
The girl's face, her blue eyes, the outstretched hands, the very poise of her lithe, young body voiced the appeal.
"My dear young lady," began the colonel. But she interrupted with:
"You're the detective, aren't you?"
"Well—er—I—Say rather a detective, for there are many, and I am only one."
"But you are the one from New York?"
"I am though I don't know how you guessed it. I am not here professionally, though—in fact, I've practically retired—and I would much prefer—"
"But you wouldn't refuse to help any one who needed it, would you? You wouldn't, I'm sure!" and the girl smiled through the tears in her blue eyes.
"Oh, of course, as a matter of humanity, I would not refuse to help any one. But, professionally—well, really, I'm not here in my detective role. I really can not consider anything at this time. I don't want to seem harsh, or impolite, but I can't—"
"Not even for double your usual fee? Listen! I am prepared to pay well for anything you can do for me—and him. My father is well off. I have money in my own right. I'd spend the last dollar of that. And dad said, when I told him where I was going—Dad said he'd do the same. We both believe Jimmie is innocent, and we want to prove it to everybody as soon as we can. That's why I came right on to see you. I couldn't wait! Oh, perhaps I did wrong, coming this way—I'm sorry if I've spoiled your fishing. But this is such—such a big thing—it means so much to him—to me! I—I—"
She faltered, looking from Shag to the colonel and then to the sympathetic colored man again, for on his face was a look of pity.
"How did you know I was here?" asked Colonel Ashley.
"I went to your hotel. The clerk told me you had come to this stream. It's the only good one for trout around here besides the one on my father's farm."
"Has your father a trout stream?" and the eyes of the colonel took on a kindly gleam.
"He has, and it's well stocked. But please, won't you help me? You are the only one who can!"
"I'm not sure of that, my dear young lady. And, really, I hardly understand what it's all about. You say the hotel clerk told you I was here. I can understand that, for I asked him the best way to reach this place. But how did you know I was a detective and stopping at the Adams House?"
"He told me!" She pointed to the lanky youth.
The colonel and Shag turned their eyes on him. Shag gave a start of surprise. The colonel began to leaf over the brain tablets of his memory system. He was beginning to place the lad.
"Mah good land of massy!" ejaculated the negro. "It's de train newsboy whut yo' give a dollar to las' night, Colonel!"
"The one who wanted to sell me a detective story?"
"I'm him, Colonel Brentnall," answered the lad, a smile of triumph lighting up his face. "Your man told me who you was, and I heard you tell the taxi man where to drive you. I didn't think anything more about it until I read about the murder."
"The murder!" exclaimed the colonel. Somehow that seemed to follow him as a Nemesis.
"Yes—old Mrs. Darcy—the jewelry store lady," went on the boy. "This young lady," and he nodded toward his companion, "when I told her—"
"Perhaps you had better let me explain, Tom," broke in the girl. "You see it's this way," she went on, addressing the colonel. "This boy is Tom Tracy. He sells papers on the express. He was once a jockey for my father, but he got hurt—stiff arm—and we had to get him something else to do. Dad always looks out for his boys, and so Tom went on the road."
"I had to do something that had motion in it," Tom explained in an aside.
"Yes, it was as near to horseback riding as he could come," said the girl, and she smiled, though the grief did not leave her blue eyes. "Well, as he has told you, he heard who you were, Colonel, from your man. Then when he read about the murder, and found how—how close home it came to me, he hurried out to our place and said I should engage you to help—"
"He's the biggest detective in New York!" broke in Tom. "And that's what we need—a big New York detective!"
"But what's it all about?" asked the colonel. "This is talking in riddles, though I begin to see a little—"
"I beg your pardon," said the girl. "I should have told you who I am. My name is Amy Mason, and—"
"Ah! You are engaged to be married to James Darcy, who is—er—detained as a—er—as a witness in the murder of his cousin?"
"I am," and she seemed to glory in it. "As soon as I heard what had happened—to him—I wanted to help. They would not let me see Jimmie at police headquarters, but I sent word that dad and I were going to work for him every minute."
"That must have cheered him."
"I hope it did. But I want to do more than that. I want to help him! I want to get the best detective in the country to work on the case and prove that Jimmie didn't do this—this terrible thing of which he is accused."
"He isn't exactly accused yet, as I understand it, Miss Mason."
"Oh, well, it's just as bad. He is suspected. Why, Jimmie wouldn't have caused Mrs. Darcy a moment of pain, to say nothing of striking her—killing her! Oh, it's horrible—horrible!" and she covered her face with her hands.
"I don't quite understand," began the colonel, "why you came to me, or how—"
"I told her it was the only thing to do," broke in the newsboy. "Soon as I read about Carroll and Thong being on the case I knew it would take a fly one to put anything over on them. I tried on the train to sell you a detective book, not knowing who you was. You treated me white, and when I heard Miss Mason was in trouble—or her friend was—I said to myself right away that you was the one to fix things. I went out to her farm last night and she was all broke up."
"It was a terrible shock to me when I heard Jimmie was under arrest," said the girl. "I didn't know what to do. Tom, here, proposed coming to see you, and when dad heard who you were, though we knew nothing of you, he said the same thing. He told me I could have all the money I wanted, and I have some of my own if his isn't enough."
"It isn't always a question of money," began the colonel, gently.
"I know!" broke in Amy. "But if I add the inducement of all the trout fishing—"
"You are strongly tempting me, my dear young lady. But finish your story."
"Well, there isn't much more to tell. Tom suggested that I come to see you and ask you to take Mr. Darcy's case—to prove that he had no hand in the murder—for I'm sure he did not.
"Tom stayed at our house at Pompey all night. I wanted to come to your hotel at once, but the storm got too bad, so I waited until this morning, and then we motored in. We found you had gone fishing, and we followed you here. It was, perhaps, not just the thing to do. But I was so anxious! I want to tell Jimmie that something is being done for him. You will help us, won't you?" and again she held out her hands appealingly.
"I don't know anything about police or detectives," she went on, "but I'm sure there must be some way of proving that my—that Jimmie had no hand in this. Some terrible thief—a burglar—must have killed Mrs. Darcy. Oh, Colonel Brentnall, you will help us—won't you?"
She stood there, a beautiful and pathetic picture. The wind sighed through the trees and the murmur of the rippling water filled the air.
"Please!" she whispered. Her hands seemed to waver. Her body swayed.
"Shag, you black rascal!" cried the colonel. "The lady's going to faint! Catch her!"
"Yes, sah, Colonel!"
"No! Stand back! I'll attend to her myself! I've given up detective work, but—"
And a moment later Amy Mason sank limply into the colonel's arms.
The funeral of Mrs. Darcy had been held, attended, as might be supposed, by a large throng of the merely curious, as well as by some of her distant kinsfolk, for she had few near ones. One of the relatives was summoned to take charge of the store and her other business affairs, for, a formal charge of murder having been made against him, James Darcy was not permitted to attend the final services, nor have anything more to do with the jewelry establishment. Harry King, now painfully sober, was likewise held in jail, bail being fixed, because of his uncertain character, at such a high figure that he could not secure it.
The police had been busy, the prosecutor's detectives also, but, so far, the arrest of Darcy and King had been the only ones made. Singa Phut, whose watch was found clasped in the dead woman's hand, had been closely questioned, but had established a perfect alibi.
And the testimony as to this came, not from persons of his own nationality, but from business men and others, whose words could not be doubted. So, in the opinion of the authorities, he was not worth considering further. He admitted having left his watch at the shop to be repaired, some days before the murder, and had not called at the store since, except on the morning of the crime, and some time after its discovery, to get his timepiece, which, of course, he was not then allowed to take.
Darcy had been formally charged with the crime of murder by the police captain in whose precinct the happening occurred, and, no bail being permissible in murder cases, he must, perforce, remain locked up until his indictment and trial. He was transferred from the witness room of police headquarters, the day of the funeral, to the less pleasant jail, and put in a cell, as were the other unfortunates of that institution.
Jay Kenneth, Darcy's lawyer, a young member of the bar, but enthusiastic and a hard worker, had made a formal entry of a plea of not guilty for his client, when the latter had been arraigned before the upper court, and had asked for a speedy trial.
And so, after the first few days of wonder and surmise and of speculation as to whether Darcy or King might have committed the crime, or perhaps some desperate burglar, the Darcy case was crowded off the front page of the newspapers to give way to items of more or less local interest in Colchester.
Up and down the narrow cell paced James Darcy. His head was bowed, but at times he raised it to look out through the barred door. All his eyes encountered, though, was the white-washed wall opposite him—a bare, white and glaring wall that made his eyes burn—a wall that seemed to shut out hope itself—as if it were not enough that it had been at the very bottom of Pandora's box.
Up and down, down and up, now pausing to take his hands from their strained position clasped behind his back that they might grasp the cold bars of his cell door—slim white hands that had set many a gleaming jewel in burnished gold or cold, glittering platinum, that it might grace the person of some sweet woman. And now those white fingers grasped cold steel, and a keeper, passing up and down on his half-hourly rounds, wondered, grimly, if they had been stained with the blood of Mrs. Darcy.
But though the wall blocked his vision, Darcy saw through and beyond it. He saw the glittering showcases in the store, with their arrays of cut glass and silver. He saw the gleaming jewels in the safe.
He saw, too, the stained and keen paper knife which the drunken King had swaggered in to claim that gray morning. He saw the red spot on the floor—the spot which, even now, in spite of many scrubbings, was visible to the men and women who, now that the store was opened for business again, walked in to select some piece of gold or silver, some jewel for their own adornment or that of another.
And the gray-haired woman, whose pride it had been to display her beautiful wares to her friends and others, was all alone in a grave far up on the hill—a hill which looked down on Colchester—which looked down on the very store itself.
All of this James Darcy saw, and more.
There was a brisker step along the flagged corridor in front of the cells of "murderers' row." Half a dozen men, and one woman, against whom such a charge had been made—Darcy among them—looked up with an interest they had not shown before. Did it mean a visitor for any of them? Did it mean their lawyer was coming to bid them cheer up, or to tell them it looked black for their chances?
The step was that of the keeper of the outer gate—the larger and more massively barred gate which gave entrance to the anteroom where, on visiting days, even those charged with the highest degree of crime were permitted to see their friends, relatives or counsel.
"Some one to see you, Darcy!" called the keeper.
There was the clang of the lock mechanism, and the door swung open. Darcy's eyes brightened, those of the others in the same tier of cells with him which, for the moment had lighted up, grew dull again.
"My lawyer?" asked Darcy.
"Yes. And there's a lady with him."
"Yes. Come on!"
Darcy caught sight of Amy before she saw him, for he approached from behind a line of other prisoners exercising in the space before their cells. She was with Kenneth.
"Amy!" exclaimed Darcy, as he was allowed to step out into the anteroom, closely followed by a keeper, while a detective from the prosecutor's office stood near. "Amy!" and his eyes flowed.
To the eternal credit of the keeper and the detective be it said that, at this moment, they found something of great interest in the calendar that hung on the opposite wall, while Kenneth talked earnestly with the warden. And the prisoners beyond the barred door were too busy with their exercise to look around.
"Amy! You—you don't—"
"Of course I don't! Didn't I tell you so in my letter?"
"Now, that isn't the way to talk, especially when I have come to bring you good news."
"Good news? You mean your father—"
"Oh, it isn't about dad! I told you he was as firm a believer in you as I am—that he said he'd 'go the limit,' if you know what that means, to get you free. Jimmie boy, when dad likes a person he likes him!"
"I hope his daughter does the same."
"Don't you know—Jimmie boy?"
The warden, the detective, the keeper and the lawyer—all now seemed interested in that prosaic calendar.
Amy had had but little chance to speak to Darcy since, his arrest. In police headquarters he was kept in seclusion except as to his lawyer, and events had followed one another so rapidly that there had been no other opportunity until now, though the girl had sent him a hasty note in which she said she knew he was innocent and that everything possible was being done for him.
"And now, Jimmie, for the good news. I have engaged the best detective in this country for you," and she beckoned to the lawyer to come forward.
"The best detective?"
"Yes. You need one as well as a lawyer. They're going to work together—aren't you, Mr. Kenneth?"
"Indeed a detective can help us best at this stage of the game, I think, Mr. Darcy," was the lawyer's answer. "I can look after the court proceedings, when it comes time for them, but what we want most is evidence tending to show that some one else, and not you, committed this crime."
"As, most assuredly was the case!" and for the first time in days Darcy's voice had its old ring and vigor in it.
"Of course, Jimmie boy," murmured Amy. "Now let me tell you all about it. They say I can't stay very long, so I'll have to talk fast, and you must listen—mostly. Now what do you say to—Colonel Ashley?" and Amy looked triumphantly at her lover.
"Yes. As the detective who is going to help prove you innocent by discovering the real—ugh! I hate to say it—murderer?"
"Why, Colonel Ashley is one of the greatest detectives in the United States—at least, he used to be. He must be pretty old now."
"I know he is—but not too old to take hold. Now when he comes—"
"But, Amy, my dear! You can't get him! Why, he's not only one of the highest-priced detectives in the country, but he's retired I've read, and I doubt if he'd take a case—"
"He's going to take your case, Jimmie boy!" and Amy smiled.
"I think we'll have to give Miss Mason credit for a whole lot in this matter," broke in Kenneth. "She surprised me when she told me. And I want to say that when the colonel gets going we'll have you out of here in short order, Mr. Darcy!"
"But I don't understand—"
"That's what I came to tell you about, Jimmie boy! Now just keep quiet and listen!"
Thereupon Amy went on to relate all that had happened when she sought out the fisherman at the trout brook—how she had been cared for by him and Shag after her faint, and how, after some persuasion, the great detective had agreed to take up the matter of seeking out the real murderer of Mrs. Darcy.
"He came here under a different name," Amy continued, "for he did not want to be bothered with work. But Tom—he's the little jockey dad got a place for as train-boy—met him on the express and learned that the colonel was the great detective. Then Tom came and told me when he read of your—of your—"
"Oh, say arrest, Amy! I'm getting hardened to it by now."
"Well, then, your—arrest. I hate the word! Tom came and told me and said we must get Colonel Brentnall at once. That was the name he used, but, now he has consented to take your case, he's Colonel Ashley again."
"And what am I to do, Amy?"
"Just what he tells you—nothing more or less. Tell him everything from the beginning to the end. All about your quarrel with Mrs. Darcy—I read in the papers you had one. Was that so?"
"Yes, and, I am sorry to say, it was partly about you."
"I don't mind, Jimmie boy. I know it couldn't have been very bad."
"It wasn't. She—well, she sneered at you for thinking of marrying me—a poor man—and—"
"As if money counted, Jimmie boy!" cried the girl fondly.
"I know. But it angered me, I admit. However, nothing more came of that. And as for her finding fault with me about my electric lathe, and about the money she owed me—well, that was a sort of periodic disagreement."
"Tell the colonel all about it."
"I will. And are you sure your father—"
"Dad's with me in this—with me and you! He'd have come to see you himself to-day, but I said I wanted to see you first. He'll be along soon. So you see, Jimmie boy, things aren't so bad as they seem, though I hate it that you should be in this horrible place."
"It is horrible, Amy. But now that I know you—you haven't given me up—"
"Don't dare say such a thing, Jimmie boy!" and the girl's eyes sparkled with a new light.
"Well, it won't be so horrible from now on. And is the colonel really going to take my case?"
"Really and truly! I told him he had to if he wanted to fish in dad's trout stream," and she laughed—a strange sound in that gloomy place.
Then they talked about many things. James Darcy had read much of Colonel Ashley's achievements in detective work, and the very magic of the name was enough to give a prisoner courage.
Soon it was time to leave, after Kenneth had conferred briefly with his client. The prisoner went back to his little cell with a happier look on his face than when he had left it.
As for Colonel Ashley, after he had revived Amy from her faint at the stream, he had told Shag to take apart the fishing rod.
"For, Shag, I guess I won't be needing it for a week or so," said the old detective, and there was a mingling of two emotions in his voice.
"Uh, ah!" murmured Shag, as, carefully, he put away the delicate rod and reel. "It's either fishin' or detectin' wif de colonel, dat's whut it suah am! Fishin' or detectin'! De colonel ain't one dat kin carry watermelons on bof shoulders!"
Returning from his fishing trip with the one, lone specimen, Colonel Ashley, having escorted Amy Mason to her automobile, went back to the hotel with Shag.
"I might have known how it would be, Shag," he remarked, almost mournfully. "I might have known I'd run into something when I came here for rest."
"Dat's right, Colonel. Yo' suah might! But who does yo' s'pect did dish yeah killin'?"
"It's too early yet to tell, Shag, and you know I don't make any predictions. I want to get a few more facts."
This the colonel proceeded to do. First having had himself accredited as working in Darcy's behalf by being introduced by the accused man's lawyer, the detective paid a visit to the jewelry store. The place was in charge of Thomas Kettridge, a half uncle to Mrs. Darcy.
The place had been opened for business again after the funeral, and customers came in, carefully avoiding the place where a dark stain could be seen in the floor—a stain made all the more conspicuous because of the light-colored boards about it.
The colonel made a careful examination of the premises, and had described to him the exact position of the body, being told all that went on that tragic morning.
It was after this, and following some busy hours spent in various parts of the city, that the defective sent to one of his trusted men in New York this telegram:
"Spotty Morgan's vacation is over. Have him spend a few days with you until I can invite him to my country place."
"I hate to do it, after what he did for me," mused the colonel with a sigh. "But business is business from now on. I'm officially in the case, and I wasn't before."
Having sent the somewhat cryptic message, the old detective sat in his room and took from his pocket a little green book.
"Well, old friend, I guess I'm not going to have much use for you from now on," he remarked dolefully. He glanced to where his rods and flies were gathering dust. "Nor you, either," he went on. "Now for a last glimpse—"
He opened the book and read:
"And now I shall tell you that the fishing with a natural fly is excellent and affords much pleasure."
"It won't do!" ejaculated the colonel as he closed the book and threw it aside.
One matter puzzled the colonel as well as the other detectives. There was no sign of the jewelry store having been entered from the outside, so that if a stranger had come in he must have done so when the doors were unlocked or made a false key, or else he had forced a passage so skilfully as to leave not a sign.
Of course this was possible, and it added to the inference of some that a burglar, used to such work, had entered the place, and, being detected at work by Mrs. Darcy, had killed her.
However, there was not so much as a cuff button missing, as far as could be learned after the contents of the store had been checked up, though of course an intruder might have been frightened off before he had taken anything.
Many of Darcy's friends could not help but admit that appearances were against him. He and his cousin had quarreled, somewhat bitterly, over money, and about his refusal to give up work on his electric lathe. There was also King's testimony about words over Amy, though Darcy contended that this talk was nothing more than his relative had indulged in before regarding the unsuitableness of the match. Darcy admitted resenting his cousin's imputation.
All this Colonel Ashley had taken into consideration before he sent the telegram. And, having done that, and having had a talk with Darcy at the jail, as well as a consultation with the lawyer, having visited Harry King and seen Singa Phut, the detective paid another visit to the jewelry shop.
"And what can I do for you to-day, Colonel?" asked Mr. Kettridge, who, by this time, had the business running smoothly again. "Have you gotten any further into the mystery?"
"Not as far as I would like to get. I'm going to browse about here a bit, if you have no objection."
"Not at all. Make yourself at home."
"I will. First, I'd like to see that statue—the one of the hunter, with which it is supposed Mrs. Darcy was struck."
"Oh, that is at the prosecutor's office—that and Harry King's unfortunate paper knife."
"So they are. I had forgotten. Well, I'll look about a bit then. Don't pay any attention to me. I'll go and come as I please."
And so he went, seemingly rather idly about the jewelry store, looking and listening.
It was not until the third day of his surveillance, during which passage of time he had waited anxiously for a message from New York without getting it, that the colonel felt his patience was about to be rewarded. The detective was a fisherman in more ways than one.
Trade had been rather brisk in the shop—possibly because of gruesome curiosity—when, one afternoon, a man entered who seemed to know several in the place. Yet he did not talk with them, beyond a mere passing of the time of day, but went about nervously from showcase to counter and repeated the journey. When Mr. Kettridge asked him at what he desired to look he replied there was nothing in particular—that he had in mind a gift, but, as yet, had decided on nothing.
"Look about as you please," was the courteous invitation he received, and the man availed himself of it.
Of medium build, yet with the appearance of having lived more in the open than does the average man, his face had, yet, a strange pallor not in keeping with his robust frame. And his manner was certainly nervous.
"Now what," mused the colonel to himself, "is he fishing for?"
That day there was more than the usual number of people in the store—many of them undoubtedly curiosity seekers, who came into price certain articles ostensibly, but who, really, wanted to stare at the place where the bloodstains had been scrubbed away.
And at this spot the robust man stared longer than did some of the others, the colonel thought. Did he hope that some spirit of the poor, murdered woman might still be lingering there, to whisper to him what he sought to learn?
"Who is that man?" asked Colonel Ashley of Mr. Kettridge, who had often come to the shop during the holiday seasons to help Mrs. Darcy.
"Oh, that's Mr. Grafton."
"Mr. Grafton? Who is he?"
"Aaron Grafton, one of Colchester's best and wealthiest citizens. He owns the Emporium."
"That big department store?"
"Yes. He has built it up from a small establishment. I have known him a number of years, and he knew Mrs. Darcy quite well. He often has purchased diamonds here, though he is not married, and I don't know that he is engaged—rather late in life, too, for him to be considering that."
"Oh, well, you never can tell," and the colonel smiled.
"So that is Aaron Grafton!" he mused. "Well, Mr. Grafton, in spite of the well known reputation you bear, I think you will stand a little watching. I must not neglect the smallest clew in a case like this. Yes, decidedly, I think you will bear watching!"
For at that moment the merchant, after another round of the store, seeking for something it seemed he could not find, turned and hurried out, a much-troubled look on his face. Colonel Ashley followed.
THE COLONEL IS SURPRISED
"This," said Colonel Ashley to himself, as he glided rapidly along the street, "is very much like old times—very much! I never expected to do any shadowing again. What's that Walton says about man proposing and Providence disposing? Or was it Walton? I must look it up. Meanwhile—"
Continuing his musing, and with a satisfied smile on his face, a smile that might indicate that the colonel was not so very much averse to giving over his fishing for the time being to take up his profession once more, he followed Aaron Grafton as the merchant left the jewelry store.
"I wonder," mused the colonel, "what his object was in coming to the Darcy place, and nosing around as he did? There must have been some object. A man such as he is doesn't do things like that for fun. And it wasn't mere curiosity, either. If it was, he'd have been at the place before, when the evidences of the crime were there to be stared at by those who care for such things.
"And that Aaron Grafton hasn't been there since I was forced into this thing, I'm positive. For I was forced into it," grumbled the old detective. "I just couldn't resist the pleading of her eyes. It isn't the first time a man has made a fool of himself over a woman, and it won't be the last. But maybe I'll make fools of some of these folks, instead of being made a fool of myself. Fooled out of my fishing though. By gad! that's what I have been!
"But no matter. I must see what friend Aaron is up to and what his little game is. Of course, he may have been at the store the day of the murder—before I arrived. I must ask Darcy about that. Poor lad, he's in tough luck—just when he ought to be thinking of getting married. Well, I'll do what I can."
There were few tricks known to modern detectives of which Colonel Ashley was not master, among them being the ability to disguise himself—not by clumsy beards and false moustaches, though he used them at times—but by a few simple alterations to his face and carriage.
Of course costume played its part when needed, but the time had not yet come for that. He was now following Grafton without the latter being aware of it—no very difficult matter in a city the size of Colchester, and on one of its main streets.
"I think I want to know a little more about him," mused the colonel. "I'd like to have a talk with him, and see how he acts. But I won't chance that yet. I'll play 'possum for a while."
Having followed his man to the latter's store, and even inside it, where he made a trifling purchase, and having seen Mr. Grafton enter his private office, the detective paid a visit to Darcy in the jail.
"How is she, Colonel?" were the first words of the prisoner, when they were in the warden's office with a detective from the prosecutor's office seated a few chairs away. It was only under such arrangements that visitors were allowed to see the jewelry worker. "How is Amy?"
"Why, she's very well, the last I saw of her. But I came to talk about something else."
"I suppose so. This horrible affair. But she still believes in me, doesn't she?" he asked eagerly.
"As much so as I do, my boy!"
"Thank God for that! I don't know what I'd do if she went back on me! I wouldn't want to live!"
"Tush! Nonsense! Don't get sentimental!"
"I can't help it, Colonel. But as long as Amy thinks I didn't do this horrible thing—and God knows I didn't—and as long as you believe in me—why I can stand it. Maybe it won't be for long."
"Well, there's no use buoying you up with false hopes, Darcy. You'll probably be here all summer."
"I shan't mind if I'm proved innocent at last."
"I hope we can manage that all right."
"Then you do believe in me, Colonel?"
"Of course I do! Otherwise, I wouldn't take up your case. Now don't talk too much. I want to ask you a few questions. Answer them, and as briefly as possible. I'll get you out of here as soon as I can. If I hadn't been as slow as a carp I might have the right man here now in your place."
"What do you mean, Colonel?"
"Eh? What's that? Did I say anything?" and the detective seemed roused from a reverie, for he had spoken his last remarks in a low voice.
"You spoke about a carp—the right man—"
"Oh, I—I was just thinking of something in Walton. Never mind me. It's a bad habit I've been acquiring lately of thinking aloud. Now to business!" and the colonel drew some papers from his pocket.
Darcy looked at his new friend in some surprise. Certainly the colonel had spoken as though he might, at one time, have had a chance to get the "right man." Did that mean the real murderer?
Darcy shook his head. His nerves were beginning to go back on him he feared.
"Do you know Aaron Grafton?" asked the colonel.
"Oh, yes," replied Darcy. "Every one in town knows him as one of the prominent merchants."
"Was he at the store the day of the—the day Mrs. Darcy was killed?"
"I don't remember. So many things happened—there were so many in the place. As I think back, though, I don't remember seeing him."
"Very good. Did he ever do any business with you—I mean buy anything in the store?"
"Why yes, I think very possibly he might. Most every one of prominence in Colchester, at one time or another, has made purchases in our store—some more, some less. No particular purchase made by Grafton stands out in my mind, however."
"How about having his watch repaired?"
"I'd remember, I think, if I had fixed his watch. I'm sure I didn't. He has a fine one, for I've seen him stop in front of our window and compare his time with our chronometer."
"I see. Now another matter. Can you, in any way, account for the fact that so many of the clocks in the store—clocks that, as I understand it, ordinarily go for many days—stopped at different hours the night of the killing? Can you explain that?"
Somewhat to the surprise of the colonel Darcy was silent for a moment. Then the young man slowly answered:
"No. No, I can't explain it. I don't know what did it."
"Well, then I'll have to fish on that alone, I guess. I thought you, knowing a lot about clock-works, might have some explanation. You know most of the timepieces were stopped—all of them, in fact, except the watch in your cousin's hand?"
"Yes, I remarked that at the time. That watch was going."
"Yes, so you told me—you thought it was her heart beating."
"I wish, oh, how I wish, it had been!" exclaimed Darcy in tones of despair. "If it had been I wouldn't be here. But it's too late to think of that now."
"Do you happen to know what became of that watch—the one in her hand? It belonged to an East Indian, you said."
"Yes, to Singa Phut. I was to make one little adjustment in it for him, and he was to come in early to get it. It wasn't much. The hair spring, I think, had become caught up and it ran very fast. I planned to do it the night before, but the light was too poor. So I made up my mind to get up early and attend to it. But I never got the chance. No, I don't recall what happened to that watch. I suppose the detectives have it."
"The prosecutor did take it, but Singa Phut has it now."
"He has!" cried Darcy.
"Yes, he called at the court house and begged that it be given to him. Said it was an ancient timepiece, which he had owned for many years, and as it could have no connection with the crime they let him take it."
"Oh, well, I suppose that was all right. No, Singa Phut didn't have a thing to do with the killing, I'm positive of that."
"And his alibi is perfect," said the colonel. "Well, I guess you've told me all I want to know. You haven't any reason to suspect any one, have you, Darcy?"
"Not a soul! God knows I wouldn't want to name any one, either, much as I'd like to get out Of here myself."
"Mrs. Darcy had no enemies?"
"Not a one in the world that I know of. She was a friendly woman. Of course, that was good business policy. No, she had no enemies. Most people liked her."
"So I've heard. Well, we'll get at the truth somehow. Now brace up."
"I'm trying to, Colonel."
"Well, try harder. When I go to see Miss Mason—"
"You are going to see Amy?" cried the prisoner eagerly.
"Yes. But if I have to tell her you looked as though you had lost every last friend you had in the world—"
"It's all right, Colonel. Tell her you saw me—laughing!" and Darcy did manage to utter what might pass for a laugh. It was a good attempt.
"Good! That's better, though there's room for improvement," said the detective. "Now, I'll leave you. I have lots to do."
"I'm sorry. Colonel, to put you to all this trouble—"
"Pooh! Now I'm in it there's no trouble that's too much. I'll get about the same fun out of this as I would if I fished—and I'll fish with greater enjoyment later on—when I've cleared you."
"I hope you do, Colonel. And if there's anything I can do—"
"Thanks, but Miss Mason has already arranged to have me whip her father's trout stream when this case is over, and that's reward enough for me. Now, sir, one last word to you!" and the colonel assumed the military appearance that so well befitted him. "Stop worrying!"
"I'll try, Colonel!"
"Don't try—do it."
"Well, one only. What is it?
"Do you think Mr. Grafton—"
The detective smiled and shook his finger at Darcy.
"You just let me do the thinking!" he advised as he turned to go out.
Colonel Ashley spent two busy days, most of his time being given over to investigating Aaron Grafton. And the more he saw of that gentleman the more the detective became convinced that the merchant knew something of the crime.
"I wouldn't admit, even to myself," mused the colonel, "that he had a hand in it, or that he was an accessory before or after. But he certainly knows something about it, and enough to make him worry. That's what Aaron Grafton is doing—worrying. And he's worrying about something that ought to be in the jewelry shop and isn't. Now, what is it?"
This, very evidently, was something for Colonel Ashley to discover, and with all his skill he set himself to this task. For the time being he dropped several other ends—tangled ends of the skein he hoped to unravel—and devoted his time to Grafton. And, at the end of two days the detective learned that the merchant was going to make a hurried trip to New York—a trip not directly connected with his store, for those trips were made at other times of the year.
"Well, if he goes to New York I go too!" said the colonel grimly.
And he went, on the same train with Aaron Grafton, though unknown to the latter.
It was a skilful bit of shadowing the detective did on the journey to the metropolis, so skilful that, though the merchant plainly showed by his nervousness that he thought he might have been followed, he did not, seemingly, suspect the quiet man seated not far from him, reading a little green book. The colonel had adopted a simple but effective disguise.
In New York, which was reached early in the morning, after a night journey, the colonel again took up the trail, keeping near his man.
"Follow that taxi," the colonel ordered the driver of his machine as it rolled out of the Pennsylvania station, just a few lengths behind the one in which Grafton rode.
The following was well done, and, a little later the two machines drew up in front of the big office building in which Colonel Ashley had his headquarters.
"Whew!" whispered the follower of Izaak Walton, "I wonder if he came here to consult my agency?"
All doubts were dissolved a moment later when, keeping somewhat in the background, the detective heard the merchant ask the elevator starter on which floor were the offices of Colonel Ashley's detective agency.
"He does want to see me!" excitedly thought the colonel. "What in the world for? This is getting interesting! I've got to do a little fine work now. He must never suspect, at least for a while, that I have been in Colchester."
Next to the elevator in which Aaron Grafton rode up was another.
"Tom, you're an express for the time being!" whispered the colonel to the operator. "There's a man headed for my offices, and I must get in ahead of him. Here's a dollar!"
"I get you, Colonel! Shoot!"
And the car shot up with speed enough to cause the colonel to gasp, used as he was to rapid motion.
He had just time to slide into his quarters by a rear and private door, to make certain changes in his appearance and be calmly sitting at his desk smoking a cigar when his clerk brought in the card of Aaron Grafton.
"Tell him to come in," said the colonel, more and more surprised at the turn affairs were taking. "I'll see this man myself," he continued, speaking to the man into whose hands he had put the general direction of the agency. "Say to Mr. Grafton," he said, turning to the clerk, "that Colonel Ashley will see him in a moment."
THE DIAMOND CROSS
"Colonel Ashley?" There was a formal, questioning note in the merchant's voice.
"That is my name, yes, sir. Er—Mr. Grafton," and, as though to refresh his memory, the colonel glanced at the card on his desk.
"You are a private detective?"
Mr. Grafton was evidently sparring for time. He seemed uneasy—he looked uneasy, and it required no very astute mind to know that he was uneasy—out of his element.
"For all the world like a gasping fish on the bank," was the simile the colonel used.
"I have a case I wish you would take up for me," went on the merchant. "It is somewhat peculiar."
"Most cases that come to us are," and the colonel smiled.
"And it is delicate."
"I could say that of nearly every one, also."
"So that I may rely on your silence and—er—discretion?"
The colonel fairly bristled.
"I beg your pardon! I should not have asked that. But I am all upset over this matter."
"Then, sir, let me ease your mind by stating that whatever you tell me will be in strict confidence, as far as lies in my power to so observe it. I can not compound a felony, so if you have in mind the disclosure of anything that would incriminate you—"
"Yes, or involve you in any way. If you have anything like that in mind please don't tell me about it. I should feel obliged to make use of my knowledge. But if it is a matter in which you wish my advice, then—"
"I certainly do need advice, Colonel. I have often heard you spoken of, and I have read of more than one of your cases. So when I got in this—well, I may as well call it trouble—I at once thought of you. I am fortunate, I believe, in seeing Colonel Ashley, himself, who, I understood, had retired, or perhaps is about to retire. I came here prepared to pay any reasonable amount," and the merchant drew out his wallet.
The colonel held up a protesting hand.
"Please don't—not yet," he said. "I can not accept a retaining fee until I have heard more of your case. It may be that I can not serve you. Give me some inkling of what you want. I hope you are not in serious trouble."
"It is serious—for me."
"Then I hope I can help you. Please be as frank as you think best. The franker you are, the fewer questions I shall have to ask. Go on."
"Well then, I want to find a certain valuable diamond cross."
"A diamond cross?"
"Yes. I don't know just what it is worth, but I believe a small fortune."
"And was it stolen from you?"
"No. Though I do own a store where jewelry is sold, we don't carry an expensive line. This cross belonged to a friend of mine. She had it on when we were out walking together, and—well, it became damaged and I asked her to let me take it to have it repaired."
"Nothing very complicated or troublesome in that. I suppose the cross was stolen from you while it was temporarily in your possession, and you don't like to let your friend know, for fear she may suspect you. Such things have happened. Did you ever read de Maupassant's 'Diamond Necklace?'"
"I never did."
"I'd advise you to. Also Walton."
"Is he a jeweler?"
"Lord, no! But I beg your pardon. Let us keep to the subject. So you don't dare tell your friend the diamond cross is gone?"
"Oh, yes, she knows it."
"Then why the worry, except about getting it back?"
"Well, there are complications. You see her husband—"
There was a world of meaning in that exclamation. Aaron Grafton turned a deep red and bit his lips. Colonel Ashley saw his annoyance.
"Look here!" exclaimed the old detective. "I really shouldn't have said that. But we detectives are used to all sorts of complications, and, more than once, they have to do with women. Often enough there is nothing more serious than a little indiscretion, but I can see where outsiders might make trouble—particularly husbands. I take it then that you and the lady were out together without her husband knowing it."
"I hope he doesn't know of it, for though, on my honor, there was nothing wrong in our being together, it might be hard to make him believe that."
"I quite agree with you—particularly if he were jealous, as many husbands are. So you want me to try to get this diamond cross, belonging to the married lady, back for you without her husband knowing anything about it?"
"Where were you when you were robbed of it?"
"I wasn't robbed of it. I never said I was."
"Oh, I beg your pardon, I must have inferred that. Please go on, and, if you don't mind my asking you, kindly get to the point."
"I beg your pardon. Perhaps I am beating about the bush. Well, I'll be as frank as I can. Do you want me to give names?"
"It would be better, since I already know yours. I shall keep them in strict confidence, however, now that I am fairly well assured there is no ulterior motive in your visit to me. Proceed."
"Well, then, the diamond cross, which is worth I don't know how many thousand dollars, belongs to Mrs. Cynthia Larch, the wife of Langford Larch, who keeps a large hotel in—"
"Colchester! I know the place. Go on!" interrupted Colonel Ashley. "I have stopped there on fishing trips," he added, as his caller looked a bit surprised.
"Oh, I didn't know that. Well, this was Mrs. Larch's cross. It is a family heirloom I believe, though many suppose her husband gave it to her for a wedding present. That is not so, however. I know Cynthia had the cross before she was married."
"You call her Cynthia?"
"I have known her since we were both children."
"I see. Pray go on."
"In fact we were sweethearts," continued Grafton, "and were engaged. But the match was broken off by her father. I was only a struggling clerk then, and never dreamed I would get on as I have. Nor did she, I fancy, though she was willing to take me as I was. But her folks made trouble. They brought such pressure to bear on her that she gave in and married Larch, who was and is wealthy, but whose social position was beneath hers.
"Don't think I am telling you this out of mere jealousy," Aaron Grafton went on, and his manner was earnest. "I loved her deeply and sincerely. I do yet, but in a way that is perfectly right. I have not told her so—but—" He was silent a moment.
"I went away after she threw me over," he resumed. "I couldn't stand it to be near her and see her going out—with him. But I came back. Though the old wound still hurt, I tried not to let her see. We became friends again—in fact we had never ceased to be friends.
"Perhaps I have acted foolishly, but, of late, I have seen her quite often. I began to feel that her married life was not happy. I took pains to enquire, and learned that it was not. I tried to make her a little happier by talking to her. Once or twice she met me and we walked together in the woods."
The colonel looked sharply at his caller.
"Oh, for God's sake don't put any wrong construction on it! I'd give my very life to make her happy, and do you think I'd—"
"I don't doubt you for a moment, sir!"
"Thank you," said Mr. Grafton. "It is good to know that there is still some truth and honor in the world and that a man and woman can be friends though the circumstances seem peculiar."
He paused a moment to overcome his emotion and resumed:
"Well, Cynthia and I are friends—good friends. It was to talk over what course was best for her to pursue under certain circumstances that she and I walked out together. We went in secret, for there are gossiping and wagging tongues in Colchester as elsewhere, and if I, the leading merchant in the town, was seen to be alone with pretty Cynthia Larch, whose husband was a friend of judges and politicians who frequent his hotel, there would be talk little short of scandal."
"I quite agree with you. So you walked in secret?"
"Yes. And it was while we were out together that the cross she was wearing became unfastened and fell. I most clumsily, stepped on it, greatly marring the setting.
"She was distressed, of course, but I said I would take it to a jeweler's and have it repaired without any one being the wiser. She agreed that was best. So I took it—"
"To Mrs. Darcy's place, and she was found murdered!" broke in the old detective quickly.
Aaron Grafton started from his chair.
"How in the name of Heaven did you know that?" he cried. "I thought that not a soul but I knew it. I did not even tell Cynthia!"
"The explanation is simple," said the colonel. "I will be almost as frank with you as you have been with me. I know more about you than you think. Wait a moment."
The colonel stepped into a closet. He made a few rapid changes in his clothing and took off a tiny bit of eyebrow, which had been added to his own a short time before. Then he confronted the merchant.
"The man I saw in the jewelry store!" gasped Grafton. "I remember, now, seeing you there the day I went to look for the diamond cross."
"And didn't find it," said the detective. "I wondered what so perturbed you, but now I know. At first I did think you might know something of the murder—"
"God forbid!" said the merchant earnestly and reverently.
"Amen!" echoed the colonel. "You have told such a straightforward story that I can not doubt you. That is why I revealed myself to you. But you must keep my secret if I am to help you. I am known in Colchester as Colonel Brentnall, having registered at the hotel under that name. I will keep that name for the present. I followed you here—in fact, I only entered this office a minute or two ahead of you. So it was to find the diamond cross you visited the store of the murdered woman?"
"Yes. When I had damaged the cross by stepping on it, I thought my old friend, Mrs. Darcy, would be the best one to keep my secret. I took the cross to her the night before she was killed, and she promised to have her cousin fix it without telling him whose it was and get it back to me, secretly, in a day or so.
"I thought Cynthia could then wear it again without her husband knowing it had ever been out of her possession. But the murder changed all my plans. As soon as I could, I went to the shop to look for the cross. I thought perhaps it might have been put in one of the showcases, or laid on the shelf, perhaps forgotten. Really I was so distressed, I didn't know what to think. I did not want to tell any one what I was looking for, so I went about quietly. But I could not find it. Then I was obliged to ask Darcy about it, secretly, of course, and without hinting as to the ownership.
"But he had never seen it. He said Mrs. Darcy had not given it to him, nor asked him to repair it. Nor was it in the shop, as far as he knew, and he went over all the stock to furnish a list to the police, so they could tell whether or not there had been a robbery."
"And there was none?"
"None, unless you call the taking of the diamond cross a theft. For that alone is missing. And I'd give half my fortune to get it back. Cynthia's husband may ask about it at any moment, and what excuse can she give?"
"It is rather a ticklish matter," agreed the detective. "Well, I'll see what I can do. First I thought you wanted me to work on the murder case. But as I am already engaged on that, to try to clear Darcy, I can as well include the diamond cross mystery also. I wonder if they have any connection."
"I don't see how they can have. Mrs. Darcy may merely have put the cross away secretly, and it may take a careful search of the place to find it."
"Maybe so. I'll have to nose around a bit."
There came a knock on the office door.
"Come!" called out the colonel.
His clerk handed him a telegram. Tearing it open the detective read a message from one of his agents in a distant western city: It said:
"Spotty Morgan arrested here to-day. Big diamond cross found on him. Do you want him?"
"Do I want him?" fairly yelled the colonel. "I should say I did! Here, get me Blake on the long distance. This is no time for a wire. I've got to telephone!" And he hurried to a private booth in a back office, leaving Grafton to himself.
After he had telephoned. Colonel Ashley sat in silence in the booth, musing.
"Now I wonder," he said to himself, "if Grafton is telling me the truth. Almost any one would believe his story—it sounds straight enough—and yet I can't take any chances. I guess I mustn't lose sight of you, Aaron Grafton.
"And perhaps Larch isn't so bad a chap as you'd have me believe. Trust a disgruntled lover for saying the worst about the other chap. Yes, I can't afford to take any chances. You may know a bit more about this murder than you're telling me, even considering the latest from my friend Spotty. Yes, you may be playing a double game, Mr. Aaron Grafton."
"Well, Spotty, I've got to hand it to you! Certainly you did put one over on me!"
"Not intentional, Colonel. So help me—not intentional!"
"Well, maybe not, but I've got to hand it to you. If I didn't know that slip of mine in front of the truck was pure accident, I'd say you staged it just to make a good get-away."
"I couldn't do that, Colonel."
"I don't know, Spotty. You're a clever kid."
"But I couldn't do that. I was on the level in saving you. You've got to give me credit for that," pleaded the gunman.
"I know you were, Spotty. And that's why I gave you a chance to get away. But I never thought it was for a job like this—murder."
"And it wasn't, Colonel—it wasn't! So help me, I never laid eyes on the old lady—dead or alive! Murder? I should say not!"
"Then how did you get that diamond cross? Answer me!"
Colonel Ashley, with a dramatic gesture, pointed to the glittering ornament that lay on the table between him and the New York crook. The stones glittered in the electric lights of police headquarters, for it was there, in the distant city, that this talk took place.
Confirming over the long distance telephone the news given in his agent's telegram, Colonel Ashley, without having revealed to Grafton what new development had occurred, had made a quick trip to Lango, where Spotty, in response to a quiet but general alarm sent out, had been arrested.
A diamond cross had been found in his possession, and was bent and flattened—crushed by some heavy foot—though all the stones were intact.
Spotty admitted that the ornament might be the very one wanted, but he absolutely refused to tell how he had come by it. He was most emphatic, however, in denying that he had taken it from Mrs. Darcy, or that he had even seen her or been to her store.
"I'm a bad man, Colonel, you know that, and maybe if I was to go to the chair—or the rope, according, to where I was caught—I wouldn't be getting any more than was comin' to me. But, so help me, I never croaked that old lady!"
"Then how did you get that cross?"
"I won't tell you!"
"I'll make you, Spotty!" and there was a dangerous glint in the eyes of the colonel.
"You can't!" defied the crook. "There ain't a man livin' that can! Go on with your third degree if you want to!" he sneered. "But for every blow you strike—for every hour you keep me awake when I'm dead for sleep—you'll be sorry, Colonel! You'll be sorry when you think of what might have happened back there in Colchester!"
"Spotty, you're right!" faltered the colonel. "I almost wish you hadn't saved me. I've got to do my duty! I've got to break you if need be, Spotty, to get at the truth. I want to know who killed Mrs. Darcy and where you got that cross! I want to know, and, by gad! I'm going to know!"
"Not from me, Colonel! I never saw the old lady, dead or alive, and I never knew until just now when you told me, that she'd ever had this cross."
"Who gave it to you?"
"Colonel, did you ever know me to split on a pal unless he split first?"
"No, Spotty. I never did."
"Well, then, you stand a fine chance in getting me to do it now. Go to it if you like. I'm through spielin'!" and the crook turned away with an air of indifference.
The colonel knew that Spotty never would tell, until he wanted to, but it did not deter him. He "went at" Spotty. What happened in the quiet room, near the police headquarter cells, need not form part of this record. Enough to say that when they let Spotty go staggering back to his dungeon, a wreck of a man physically and mentally for the time being, he had not told.
And the glittering stones in the crushed cross were not more silent than he in his misery—deserved perhaps, but none the less misery.
And when the colonel, rather upset himself by what he had been forced to go through, started back for Colchester, he took with him the memory of Spotty's rather sneering face and the echo of his words:
"Well, Colonel, I didn't tell!"
And he had not. The diamond cross still kept its mystery.
Colonel Ashley fumed, fretted, and fidgeted until he was on the verge of a sleepless night on his way back in the train. Then he bethought himself of his little green book, and he read:
"You are to know, then, that there is a night as well as a day fishing for a trout, and that in the night the best trout come out of their holes."
"Ah, ha," mused the colonel. "I think I shall have to do a little night fishing."
So saying, having read a little farther in his Izaak Walton, he went peacefully to his berth and awoke calmer and himself again.
But if the colonel felt refreshed on reaching Colchester, it was not because he felt that he was in a fair way to solve the problem—or, rather, the many problems connected with the Darcy murder.
"It's worse tangled than before," mused the old detective. "I wonder if Grafton— No, it couldn't be. But I must have a talk with his friend Cynthia. Ticklish business when a man goes out walking with a married woman and steps on her cross. There are complications and complications. I wonder when I'll begin to unravel some of them?"
For reasons of his own, the colonel said nothing to the police or county authorities in Colchester about the arrest of Spotty, nor did he mention that, nor the finding of the diamond cross, to Darcy or Grafton. He wanted to be sure of his ground before he told of this end of the affair.
"I wish I knew what to make of Grafton," mused the colonel, "His share in it—if share he had—is getting more complicated. Can he and Spotty be up to some trick between them and did the gunman get away with the cross? It wouldn't be the first time Spotty had hired out his services to a man who wanted something desperate done! Now in this case, Grafton may have wanted something from Mrs. Darcy she wasn't willing to do. In that case—"
The colonel shook his head.
"I guess," he half-whispered, "that Shag was right. This is going to be a mighty complicated case. Talk about a diamond cross, there may be a double-cross in it on the part of Grafton. I must watch you a bit closer, my friend."
The colonel considered that he was working to clear Darcy, and he wanted to do it in his own way. He was willing—perforce—that, for the time, the young man be considered guilty. He could not help the young man by making these few disclosures now. The prisoner would not be released because Spotty or any one else was suspected, nor would he be admitted to bail. In any case he must remain in jail.
The Grand Jury was setting considering the evidence against the prisoner, and against others accused of various crimes.
"And I suppose they'll indite Darcy," mused the colonel. "It means only another step, however, a step I have already counted on. It won't help or hinder the solving of the mystery. Hang Spotty, anyhow! Why couldn't he keep out of this? He surely has tangled it worse than ever. I wonder if he's telling the truth when he says he didn't go near the place? It was Spotty, or one of his kind, who got in and out without leaving a trace. It took Spotty's skill. But—I don't know. I must have another look around the jewelry store."
A day or so after his return from the West, the colonel made a close examination of the shop. Just what he was looking for he hardly knew, but he was quite surprised when he discovered, connected with the main lighting wires of the store, other wires which ran to various places in the shelves and the show windows, where many of the clocks stood.
"I wonder if that's a new kind of burglar alarm," thought the colonel. "If it is, it's the first time I've ever seen one hooked up to the electric light circuit. A bad thing in case of a short circuit. A person might get a shock that would knock him down and—"
Something seemed to give the colonel a new idea. He made a hurried examination of the wires and then left the store, to be seen a little later at the establishment of an electrician, where he stayed some time.
It was late that afternoon, when the papers, in extra editions, announced the indictment of James Darcy for the murder of his cousin.
When Colonel Ashley returned to his hotel from the electrician's, he found Amy Mason waiting for him.
"Oh, Colonel! isn't this dreadful?" she exclaimed, holding out a paper. "It's so—so—"
"Tut, tut! my dear young lady, this is nothing! It is only a little shoot on the main stem. Don't let it distress you. It was to be expected."
"I know! But it sounds so dreadful! Before, he was only suspected, even though formally charged. Now it seems as if he were found guilty!"
"Far from it. The only evidence against him, just as it has been all along, is circumstantial. They have yet to prove anything, and I don't believe they can. Cheer up! I'll get him off yet!"
"Are you sure, Colonel?" and her eyes were bright with unshed tears.
"Sure? Why, of course I am!"
And yet the colonel had to force himself a bit to make that sound natural. Perhaps it was because he had said it so often and was tired.
Or did it have anything to do with the strange wires that led to the work table of James Darcy?
THE DEATH WATCH
Doctor Warren, the county physician, stopping in at police headquarters, as he often did on returning from his round of private visits, to see if there were any official calls for him, encountered Detective Carroll.
"Hello, Doc!" was the genial greeting, for Doctor Warren was more than a physician. He was a politician, and politics and the police were no more divorced in Colchester than elsewhere. "Seen that colonel guy to-day?" asked Carroll.
"The colonel guy?" The doctor's voice showed his puzzlement.
"Yes, the chap that's working with Kenneth on the Darcy case."
"Seen him? No, I haven't."
"He was here looking for you a little while ago. Seemed quite anxious about meeting you. Here he is now. Say, if he lets out anything we can use against Darcy—you know, legitimate stuff—pass it on to me and Thong, will you? You know we've got to go on the stand, and, between you and me, our case ain't any too strong."
"That's right. I'll let you know what I hear," and the two ended their half-whispered talk as Colonel Ashley entered police headquarters.
It was his third visit to headquarters that day in search of Doctor Warren, and he would state the object of his seeking to none other. Now he smiled at the man he had been looking for. They had met previously.
"Ah, good afternoon, Doctor Warren. I've been looking for you," was the colonel's greeting. "If you're not busy, sir, I'd like just a few minutes of your time—officially, of course."
"Always ready for duty, Colonel. I guess you military men know that we doctors are in a sort of class with yourselves when it comes to that."
"You're right. Now I won't be much more than a minute, and what I want to ask you, I can propound right here as well as anywhere. You know I'm working to save Darcy?"
"So I've heard."
"Well, you examined Mrs. Darcy soon after she was found dead. You may, or you may not, have formed an opinion as to who killed her, but I judge you are positive as to how she was killed—I mean the nature of the wound."
"There were two wounds you know—a fracture of the skull just back of the right ear, and a stab wound in the left side which punctured the heart. Either would have caused death."
"Can you tell which killed her?"
"I should say the stab wound, but I can not be positive. You understand, Colonel, that I am to go on the stand for the prosecution and tell all I know about this case."
"Oh, yes, I realize that, of course. You are practically a witness against Darcy. And I don't, for one moment, wish you to think that I am trying to get advance information to use in his favor. This is simply in the matter of justice, the ends of which I know you wish to serve, as I do myself. So if I ask anything improper please stop me. But since you will testify about these wounds, and since you have already pretty well described them to the newspaper reporters, it can do no harm to repeat the details to me."
"None in the least, Colonel."
"Then you feel sure the stab wound killed her?"
"Reasonably so. Of course, as I said, either blow could have caused death, but blows on the head, even when the skull is badly fractured, as in this case, do not invariably cause death instantly. In fact the victim usually lingers for several hours in an unconscious state. Not so, however, in the case of a stab wound in or near the heart. That is almost always fatal within a short space of time—a minute or two. So, while it is possible that Mrs. Darcy was first stunned by a blow on the head, which eventually would have killed her, I think death almost at once followed the stab wound."
"Could both have been delivered by the same person?"
"Of course. First the blow on the head, followed by the stab wound."
"And there were no other injuries on the body?"
"None, except minor bruises caused by the fall to the floor. But they were superficial."
"No—um let me see—no, I think not."
"Are you sure, Dr. Warren?"
The colonel's voice had a strange ring in it.
"Why, yes, I am sure. I was about to say that there was a slight abrasion in the palm of the left hand, a sort of scratch or puncture, as though from a pin, but as she was in the jewelry business and, as I understand it, often made slight repairs herself to brooches and pins brought in, this could easily be accounted for."
"A slight abrasion in the left hand you say?"
"Yes. But I don't attach any importance to that. It was so slight that I and my assistant only gave it a passing glance. It hardly penetrated the skin."
"I see. In the left hand. This is the hand in which the ticking watch was found, was it not?"
"I believe so. The watch belonging to an Indian named Singa Phut. By the way what became of him?" the doctor asked of Detective Carroll, who had strolled out of the detectives' private room and was listening to the conversation.
"Oh, that gink? He made a big howl about getting back his watch, and as he had a perfectly good alibi, and we could fasten nothing on him, we give it back to him and told him to beat it. He did, I guess."
"No, he is still in town," said Colonel Ashley. "I passed his place a while ago. He has a pair of beautiful Benares candlesticks, in the form of hooded cobra snakes, that I want to get. Singa Phut is still in town."
"Does that answer all your questions, Colonel?" inquired Dr. Warren. "I'll tell you all I can, in reason, but if—"
"Thank you! You've told me all I cared to know. I have some theories I want to work on, and I'm not sure how they'll turn out."
"I s'pose you think Darcy didn't do this job," cut in Carroll, rather sneeringly.
"I'm positive he didn't, sir!" and the colonel drew himself up and looked uncompromisingly at the headquarters detective. "If I thought he had done it, I would not be associated with his case."
"You're going to have a sweet job proving he didn't do it," laughed the officer.
"Maybe," assented the colonel unruffled.
"Who else could have croaked her?" pursued Carroll. "Here he goes and has a quarrel with the old lady just before he goes to bed. He's sore at her because he thinks she's keeping back part of his coin. Then he's sore because she made some cracks about his girl—that's enough to get any man riled. I don't blame Darcy for going off his nut. But he shouldn't have croaked the old lady. He done it all right, and we got the goods on him! You'll see!"
"Well, it's your business, of course—yours and that of the prosecutor—to prove him guilty," said the colonel. "And you can't quarrel with me if I try to prove him innocent."
"Sure not, Colonel. Every man's got to earn his bread and butter somehow. Only I hate to see you kid yourself along believing this guy didn't do the job. He done it, I tell you!"
"Maybe," half assented the colonel. "Thank you, Dr. Warren. We shall meet again," and, with a military salute, the colonel went out of police headquarters. As he descended the steps he silently mused:
"I wonder what Carroll and Thong would say if they knew about the diamond cross, and heard that Spotty Morgan had it? I guess they would change some of their theories then. Which reminds me that I have more irons in the fire than I suspected. I must not lose sight of Cynthia. She will be getting anxious about her diamonds, and I would like to see what she says when she hears the truth."
Though Colonel Ashley had given up all hopes of having a use for his beloved fishing rods and flies, at least on this trip to Colchester, he did not give up his perusal of Walton's book.
It was one evening while sitting in his room at the hotel, idly turning over the pages, hardly able to concentrate his mind on what he read for much thinking of the diamond cross mystery, that his eye chanced on page 170, where he saw the passage:
"There be also three or four other little fish that I had almost forgot, that are all without scales—"
The book dropped from the detective's hand.
"Gad!" he exclaimed. "That's what I've been forgetting—the little fish. I must get after some of them. They may turn the scale in our favor. Little fish! That's it. Small fry, when you can't get big ones! I wonder—"
There was a knock at the door and Shag entered, bowing and saluting military style at the same time.
"Scuse me, Colonel, sah," he began, "but does yo' want t' heah any news?"
"Any news, Shag? What sort? Come, speak up, you rascal!"
"Well, sah, Colonel, yo' done tell me, when we come heah, not t' trouble yo' wif any detective news, but—"
"Oh, that was before I got mixed up in this Darcy case, Shag. The prohibition is off, so to speak. If you have any news—"
"No, sah, Colonel, 'tisn't 'bout po' ole Miss Darcy—leastways not much about her. But dere's been annudder murder in town."
"Yes, Colonel. Boys on de streets yellin' extry papers now, all 'bout de murder."
"Who is it? Where? When did it happen?"
"Jest 'bout a hour ago. It's a man—a Indian man whut kept a curiosity shop—de same place where yo' an' me was lookin' at dem funny snake candlesticks las' week."
"Singa Phut's place? Great Scott, Shag! You don't mean to tell me, he's killed, do you?"
"No, sah, Colonel! Dat Mr. Phut ain't killed. It's his partner. He's got a funny name, too. Heah, I done brought yo' a paper," and Shag pulled out an extra from under his vest, where he had carefully kept it concealed until he had made sure of his master's frame of mind.
The colonel scanned the front page with its black type eagerly. Surely enough, there had been a murder. Shere Ali, Singa Phut's partner, had been found lying on the floor of the little curiosity shop with his head crushed in.
"And in the dead man's hand was a ticking watch," read the colonel.
For a moment he stared at the words. Then a light seemed to come over his face. He crushed the paper in his hand, and then spread it out to read again the startling news, while he murmured:
"The watch of death!"
"Shag!" exclaimed the colonel.
"We're going fishing tomorrow!"
"Is we, Colonel? Den I s'pects yo'll want t' git—"
"Get everything ready, yes. We'll go again to that place where Miss Mason found me. There's as good fish in that stream as any I didn't catch, and I want to try my luck."
"Yes, sah, Colonel. But, scuse me, didn't yo, figger on doin' some detectin' an' give up fishin'?" and Shag, with the freedom of an old servant, stood looking at his master as if not quite understanding the new twist the affairs had taken.
"That's all right, Shag. You do as I tell you. I'm going off fishing. I may not catch anything—I may not want to after I get there. But for a quiet place to think, give me a fishing excursion every time! And I've got to do some tall thinking now. Get ready, Shag!"
"Yes, sah, Colonel!"
And, having put himself in a fair way, as he hoped, to solve some of the problems connected with the Darcy case, Colonel Ashley went down to police headquarters to learn more facts in connection with the murder of the East Indian.
Carroll and Thong were there, and if they did not exactly welcome the colonel as a kindred spirit they at least accorded him the respect due a fellow craftsman in the peculiar line where talent may be found most unexpectedly. And Carroll and Thong who, with other headquarters men, now knew the colonel's identity, were not above learning a trick or two, even if they had to take them from the book of their rival. For they recognized that the colonel would be against them and the prosecutor's detectives when it came to the trial of James Darcy.
"Well, boys, what's this I hear about another murder?" asked Colonel Ashley when he had passed over some of his cigars, the flavor of which the two headquarters men had been longing to taste again.
"Some Dago had his head busted in," remarked Thong. "It isn't our case, so we don't know much about it."
"No? Who has it?"
"Pinkus and Donovan; haven't they, Carroll?"
"Yep." Carroll was too much engaged in watching the blue smoke curl lazily upward from his cigar just then to say more.
"Like to talk with 'em about it?" went on Thong, in friendlier tones.
"If they're here, yes."
"I think they just came in," said Thong, bringing his feet down with a bang from the table on which he had had them elevated. "Are you going to work on that case, Colonel?"
"Oh, no. I was just interested, as Singa Phut was one concerned in Mrs. Darcy's murder."
"But he hadn't any more to do with it, Colonel, than that cat!" and Carroll pointed to the headquarters cat which was sleeping near a radiator, for the day had turned cold and steam was on in the place.
"Perhaps not," admitted Colonel Ashley. "But there are some peculiar coincidences and, if you don't mind, I'd like to see what I can find out about them."
"Go as far as you like, Colonel," returned Thong, needlessly generous. "We've got our man, and that's all we want. The other isn't our case. Oh, Donovan!" he called, as he saw a fellow sleuth passing through an outer room. "Here's some one to see you," and the presentation was quickly and informally made. The two men had seen each other before, but had not spoken.
"Glad to know you, Colonel Ashley," said Donovan. "I've read a lot about you. You're on the Darcy case, they tell me."
"In a way, yes. I'm working in the interests of the young man. But I hear you have another murder."
"Yes, but it's so plain there's no interest in it for you. All we want to do—Pinkus and me—is to lay our hands on the Dago that done it and got away. We'll get him, too, before many days. He's the kind of a feller that can't hide very well, unless he goes and kills himself, and he may do that."
"How did it happen? And is there any truth in the newspaper story about the same watch that was found in Mrs. Darcy's hand being found in the hand of the dead man?"
"Yes, that part's true enough, but that's all there is to it. It's just one of them coincidences like. Singa Phut got back his watch after the prosecutor decided he didn't need it for evidence. There wasn't nothing that Singa had to do with the Darcy case anyhow, and he seemed awful anxious to get back that watch. So it was turned over to him."
"But did he really kill his partner?"
"Surest thing you know. Busted his head in with a heavy candlestick—one of a pair. I've got 'em here, look," and, opening a closet where he temporarily kept his collection of evidence, Donovan took out a pair of heavy bronze candlesticks, in the form of hooded cobras.
"That's the one that did the business," said the headquarters detective, showing one candlestick with something dark and unpleasant on the heavier end.
"Gad!" exclaimed the colonel. "The very pair I was going to buy!"
"What! You buy?" cried Donovan. "Look here, Colonel! do you know anything about this?" and the detective's professional instincts got the upper hand of his friendliness.
"Not the least in the world—not as much as you do," was the cool answer. "I happened to see those candlesticks in the window of Singa Phut's shop the other day, and I made up my mind to buy them when I had a chance. Now, I'm afraid I won't. But how did it happen?"
"Oh, well, there isn't much of a story to it," and Donovan's voice showed his disappointment. "Phut—I don't know whether that's his first or his last name—anyhow, he had a partner named Shere Ali. No one knows much about Ali, for he came here just recently. Anyhow, he and Phut didn't get along very well it seems.
"Neighbors often heard 'em scrappin' a lot, and this afternoon they went at it again hot and heavy. Then things quieted down, and nobody heard anything more. Toward dark a man went in to buy a lamp. He found the place without a light in it, stumbled over something on the floor, and there was Ali's body, with the head busted in and this heavy candlestick near it.
"He raised the howl right off, and Pinkus and I got there as soon as we could. Of course Phut was gone. But we'll get him!"