"Then you think he did it?"
"Sure he did! Who else?"
"And the watch was in Ali's hand?"
"Sure! Held so tight we could hardly get it out. In fact it was so tight that he's cut his palm grabbin' hold of it. Maybe the fight was about who owned the watch, for the Dagos talked in their foreign lingo and none of the neighbors could tell what they were sayin'."
"I see. And the watch? Have you it?"
"Yes, it's here. Going yet, too. Hear it tick?" and Donovan held open the door of his closet. From the place, in which hung odd coats, caps and other garments, and from the shelf on which was a collection of gruesome weapons, came an insistent ticking.
"That's the watch," announced the headquarters detective, reaching in for it. "Going yet—see?" and he held it out to Colonel Ashley.
Somewhat to the surprise of Donovan the military detective accepted the timepiece on his open palm, and so gingerly that it caused Donovan to remark:
"You're not as squeamish as all that, are you? Just because it was in a dead man's hand—and in a woman's?"
"Oh, not at all," was the quick answer. "But, as a matter of fact these East Indians are often carriers of bubonic plague, you know, and it's very contagious. Of course neither Shere Ali nor Singa Phut may have had the germs about them, but I am a bit squeamish when it comes to contagious diseases of that nature, and I wouldn't like to scratch myself on that watch."
"Scratch yourself—on a watch?" and Donovan's voice was plainly skeptical.
"Yes. It may have some rough edges on it. And I've read enough about germs to know the danger. I'd advise you to be careful!"
"Ha!" laughed Donovan shortly. "I should worry about that! The watch don't figure in the case, except maybe they quarreled over who owned it."
Colonel Ashley said nothing. He was carefully examining the watch, which he still held in the palm of the hand—holding it as carefully as though indeed it might be laden with germs the least touch of which against a tiny scratch might produce death.
"Quite a curiosity," said the colonel at length. "If you don't mind, I should like to examine this a bit."
"You can't take it away," said Donovan. "I may need it as evidence when we get Mr. Phut, or whatever the Dago's name is."
"Oh, no, I wouldn't think of taking it away. I'll look at it here. It seems to be a very old timepiece—one of the first made smaller than the old 'Nuremberg eggs I fancy. Quite an interesting study—watches—Donovan. Ever take it up?" and as the colonel questioned he was looking at the Indian timepiece under a magnifying glass he took from his pocket.
"Who? Me study watches? I should say not! It keeps me busy enough here without that."
"Yes," went on the colonel musingly. "This is an old-timer. The first watches, you know, Donovan, were really small clocks, and some were so much like clocks that the folks who carried them had to hang them to their belts instead of carrying them in their pockets. That was away back in the fifteenth century."
"Before the Big Wind in Ireland," suggested Thong with a nod at his Irish compatriot.
"Slightly," laughed the colonel. "But, all joking aside, this is quite a wonderful piece of work. I shouldn't be surprised but what it dated back to the time of Queen Elizabeth, though it has been repaired and remodeled since then to make it more up to date. Probably new works put in. Queen Elizabeth was very fond of watches and clocks, and her friends, knowing that, used to present her with beautiful specimens. Some of the watches of her day were made in the form of crosses, purses, little books, and even skulls."
"Pity this one wasn't made that way—like a skull," mused Carroll, "seeing it's been in on two deaths here and no one knows how many somewhere else."
"That's right," agreed the colonel, as he continued to move his magnifying glass over the surface of the still ticking watch. And a close observer might have observed that he did not touch his bare fingers to the timepiece, but poked it about, and touched it here and there, with the end of a leadpencil.
"Very interesting," observed the colonel, as he passed the watch back to Donovan, still using only the flat, open palm of his hand on which to rest it. "Very interesting. And, Donovan, take a friend's advice and don't be too free with that watch."
"Too free with it?" asked the surprised detective.
"Yes. Don't scratch yourself on it, whatever you do."
"Why not? Not that I'm likely to, for I never heard of being scratched by a watch, but why not?"
"Simply because this watch—"
But at that moment the doorman of police headquarters stuck his head in "Scotland Yard," as the patrolmen designated the inner sanctum where the detectives had their rooms, and called:
"Hello," answered the sleuth.
"Some one out here to see you."
"All right—be there in a second. Excuse me," he murmured to the colonel. "Be back in a minute."
But it was in less time than that that he came returning on the run, and his face showed excitement.
"What's up?" asked Carroll.
"Singa Phut," was the panting answer. "Friend of mine just tipped me off where I can get him! See you later!" and, making sure that his blackjack and revolver were in his pockets, Donovan hurried out, followed by the colonel, whose hand had loosely closed over the ticking watch which, unseen, went out with him.
Later that night Singa Phut, a silent, shrinking and somewhat pathetic figure, slept in a cell at police headquarters. Donovan, on the information brought in by a stool-pigeon, had made the arrest and was jubilant thereat.
Colonel Ashley, with Shag at the proper distance in the background, and with Jay Kenneth as his invited guest, was sitting on the bank of a little stream, fishing; or, at any rate, he was somewhat idly using a rod and line to aid him in his thoughts.
Following his visit to police headquarters and his return to the hotel, he had called Kenneth on the telephone and arranged to spend a quiet day with him in the fields near the stream.
"I want to talk over Darcy's case with you," the colonel had said.
And the two had talked, had thought, had talked again, and now were silent for a time.
"What are the chances of getting him off legally if we go at it from a negative standpoint?" asked the colonel. "I mean, Mr. Kenneth, if we call upon the prosecution to make out their best case, which they can do only by circumstantial evidence, and then put our man on the stand, to deny everything, to have him tell about the noise in the night, about the curious sensation he experienced, about the possibility of chloroform, call witnesses as to his good character—and so on—what are the chances?"
"Rather a hypothetical question, Colonel, but I should say it might be a fifty-fifty proposition. At best he would get off with a Scotch verdict of 'not proven,' but he doesn't want that, nor do I. And you—"
"I don't want it, either. But I want to know just where we stand. Now I know. We've got to prove James Darcy innocent by establishing the fact that some one else killed his cousin."
"Exactly. And can it be done?"
"It can, and I'm going to do it. But I need to do a little more smoking-out first. Now I want to think. If you'll excuse me I'll pretend I'm fishing, and I may catch something. In fact, I have a feeling that I'll land my fish. And perhaps you have some other problems that may be clarified by a dallying along this stream. Ah, there's nothing like the philosophy of my friend Izaak Walton. I'd recommend him to you instead of Blackstone."
"Thanks!" laughed Kenneth. "I am not altogether unfamiliar with the Complete Angler. And you are right. I have a little problem on my hands."
"What is it? Perhaps I can help you. The old adage of two heads, you know—"
"Yes. It still holds good. Well, the question I am trying to solve is why did she say: 'No alimony!'"
"'No alimony'?" repeated the colonel, puzzled.
"Yes. Just that. As you may have guessed, it's a divorce case I have just finished, and so quietly that it hasn't become public property yet. When it does it will create a sensation."
"No alimony, eh? I suppose the lady—there is a lady in it, of course?" questioned the colonel.
"Of course—as is usual in a divorce case. And there's no reason you shouldn't know. It's Mrs. Larch, wife of Langford Larch, the wealthy hotel owner. She has just been granted, on my application before the vice chancellor, a separation from her husband, but she refused to accept alimony, and for the life of me, with all Larch's wealth, I can't see why. That's my problem, Colonel!"
THE ODD COIN
Colonel Ashley fished for a time in silence, broken only by the gentle snores of Shag, farther back in the field, and by the murmur of the water. The old colored man, wrapped in a warm coat, for it was not summer yet, seemed to be enjoying his siesta when, with a suddenness that was startling in that solitude, the military detective uttered a cry of:
"I've got it!"
"What?" called Kenneth. "The solution to my problem?"
"No! My fish!" chuckled the colonel, as he skilfully played the luckless trout, now struggling to get loose from the hook.
And when the fish was landed, panting on the grass, and Shag had been roused from his slumber to slip the now limp fish into the creel, Colonel Ashley gave a sigh of relief and remarked:
"I think I see it now."
"The reason she asked no alimony?" inquired Kenneth.
"No. I wasn't thinking of that. But I have been gathering up some loose ends, and I think I know where to tie them together. However, don't think I'm not interested in your case. I've fished enough for to-day. Not that, ordinarily, I'm satisfied with one, but I'm not working the rod now. I am, as Shag calls it, 'detectin',' and I just came out here to clarify my thoughts. Having done that, I'm at your service, if I can help."
"Well, I don't know that you can. As I said, the facts of the separation of the Larchs will soon be heralded all over the city, for the final papers were filed to-day, and the reporters will be sure to see them. So there is no harm in my telling you about it. It's a plain and sordid story enough, with the exception of her refusal of alimony, and that I can't understand. Do you care to hear about it?"
"Certainly, my dear Kenneth."
"It has no connection with the Darcy murder, and so I didn't mention it to you before."
"It isn't generally known," went on the lawyer, "that the hotel keeper's wife has left him. She went away a short time ago, and came to me and told me her story. It was one of what at first might be called refined cruelty on her husband's part, degenerating gradually into that of the baser sort."
"You don't mean that Larch struck her—that there was physical abuse, do you?" asked the colonel.
"That's what he did. He seems to have been decent for a while after their marriage—which marriage was a mistake from the first—I can see that now. I used to know Cynthia when she was a girl—she was the daughter of Lodan Ratchford, and her mother had peculiar and, to my mind, wrong ideas of social position and money. Well, poor Cynthia is paying the penalty now. She was really forced into this marriage which, to say the least, must have been distasteful to her. But I don't suppose more than two or three know that."
The colonel did not disclose the fact that it was no news to him. Aaron Grafton's statement was being unexpectedly confirmed. He remembered that Cynthia and Grafton had once been in love with each other.
"Well, when Cynthia came to me, in my capacity as lawyer as well as old friend, I could hardly believe what she told me about her husband," went on Kenneth. "She said he had struck her more than once, and she could stand it no longer.
"She wanted to apply for a divorce, but when I showed her that this would bring about much publicity, and necessitate taking testimony on both sides with possibly a long-dragged out case, she agreed merely to ask for a separation now, on the accusation of cruel and inhuman treatment. On those grounds I went before the vice chancellor, prepared to prove my case by competent witnesses. But they were not needed."
"Because Larch made no defense. He let the case go by default, for which I was glad, as it saved Cynthia from telling her story in open court. Larch, by refusing to appear, practically admitted the charges against him and did not oppose the separation.
"Then came the matter of alimony, or, rather, I should call it separate maintenance, as it is not alimony until a divorce is granted, and that has not yet been done, though we may apply for that later.
"I was prepared to ask the vice chancellor for a pretty stiff annual sum for my client, for I know Larch is rich, when, to my surprise, she would not permit it. She said if she left him it was for good and all, and that she wanted none of his bounty. She had some means of her own, she declared, and would work rather than accept a cent from him.
"So I had to let her have her way, and we did not ask the court for money, though I had no such squeamish feelings when it came to my counsel fee. I got that out of Larch rather than his wife."
"Did he pay it?"
"No; but he will, or I'll sue him and get judgment. Oh, he'll pay all right. He'll be so tickled to get out of paying his wife a monthly sum that he'll settle with me. But I can't understand her attitude any more than I can the change that came over him. For I really think he loved Cynthia once. She was a beautiful girl, and is still a handsome woman, though trouble has left its mark on her. Well, it's a queer world anyhow!"
"Isn't it?" agreed the colonel. "And it takes all sorts of persons to make it up. I'm sorry I can't offer any explanation as to why your client wouldn't accept money when she had a perfect right to it. However, as you won your case I suppose it doesn't so much matter."
"Not a great deal. Still I would like to know. There will be a sensation when this comes out."
And there was, when Daley, of the Times, scooped the other reporters and sprang his sensational story of the separation of the Larchs, the case having been heard in camera by the vice chancellor.
The murder of Mrs. Darcy had, some time ago, been shifted off the front page, though it would get back there when the young jeweler was tried. As for the killing of Shere Ali, that occasioned only passing interest, the murdered man not being well known.
But the separation of Mr. and Mrs. Larch was different. The finely appointed hotel kept by Larch, called the "Homestead," from the name of an old inn of Colonial days which it replaced, was known for miles around. It had a double reputation, so to speak. Though it had a grill, in which, nightly, there gathered such of the "sports" of Colchester as cared for that form of entertainment, the Homestead also catered to gatherings of a more refined nature. Grave, and even reverend, conventions assembled in its ballroom, and politicians of the upper, if not better, class were frequently seen in its dining-room or cafe. Being convenient to the courthouse, nearly all the judges and lawyers took lunch there. The place was also the scene of more or less important political dinners of the state, at which matters in no slight degree affecting national policies were often whipped into shape.
Larch himself was a peculiar character. In a smaller place he would have been called a saloon keeper. Going a little higher up the scale in population he might have been designated as a hotel proprietor. But in Colchester, which was rather unique among cities, he was looked up to as one of the substantial citizens of the place, for he owned the Homestead, where Washington, when it was a wayside inn, had stopped one night—at least such was the rumor—and families socially prominent, some of whose members had very strong views on prohibition, did not hesitate to attend balls given at the hotel.
And it was this man, rich, it was said, handsome certainly, that Cynthia Ratchford had married. There had been other lovers whom she might have wedded, it was rumored, and more than one had remarked:
"Why did she take him?"
To this was the answer—whispered:
And, in a way, it was true. The family of Cynthia Larch—at least her mother—was socially ambitious, and she saw that if her daughter became the wife of Langford Larch his wealth, combined with her own family connections, would give her a chance not only to shine in the way she desired, but to eclipse some satellites who had outshone her in the social firmament. She also saw an opportunity of paying old debts and reaping some revenges.
All of this she had done, in a measure. After the marriage, which was a brilliant and gay one, if not happy, the Larch hotel—it could hardly be called a home—became the scene of many festive occasions. A number of entertainments were given, remarkable for the brilliant and effective dresses of the women, the multiplicity and richness of the food, and the variety of the wines.
Langford Larch could not himself be called a drinking man. Occasionally, as almost perforce he had to, he drank a little wine. But he was never noticeably drunk. Nor was that side of his business ever accentuated.
Gradually there had come about little whispers that Cynthia Larch had made a mistake in her marriage. There was little that was tangible—mere gossip—a hint that she would have been happier with some one else, though he had not so much money as had Larch.
The rumors floated about a bit, seemed to sink, and then started off at full steam just before the news of the separation became public. Then it was said of Larch that, soon after the echoes of the wedding chimes had died away, he had begun to treat his wife with refined cruelty—that hidden away from the public, underneath his habitual manner, there was the rawness of the brute.
But, for a time, the entertainments were kept up, and Cynthia, lovelier than ever, presided at her husband's table, graced it with her presence, and laughed and smiled at the men and women who came to partake of their lavish hospitality.
But it was noticed that the older and more conservative families were less often represented, and, when they were, it was by some of the younger members, whose reputations were already smirched or who had not yet acquired any, and were willing to "take a chance."
And, also, old friends of Mrs. Larch observed that the smile did not long linger on her face. And that behind the laughter in her eyes was the shadow of a skeleton at the feast. Then came the legal separation and the parting. Mrs. Larch, resuming, her maiden name, it was announced, had gone to a quiet place to rest.
To her few intimates it was known that Cynthia had gone to the little village of Pompey, where her father owned a small summer home. As for Larch, he met the various questions fired at him by his friends and others at the Homestead, as well as he was able. It was all due to a misunderstanding, he said.
That was before the whole story of his cruel treatment of his wife became known. For the papers of her testimony had been sealed, and it was only by a sharp trick on the part of Daley that he got access to them. Incidentally the vice chancelor was furious when it became known that the documents had been inspected by a reporter, but then it was too late.
The story spread over half the front page of the Times, and it was noted that the evening the paper came out a dinner which was to have been given by the Lawyers' Club at the Homestead was unexpectedly postponed.
"It wouldn't do, you know, after that story came out, for me and the vice chancellor who sat in the case, as well as other judges and members of the bar, to be seen there," Kenneth explained to the colonel.
Slowly and gradually, but none the less surely, a change came over the Homestead. The gathering of congenial spirits, who knew they would be undisturbed by a roistering element, grew less frequent in the grill and Tudor rooms. And it was whispered about:
"Larch is lushing!"
Meanwhile Colonel Ashley was a very busy man, and to no one did he tell very much about his activities. He saw Darcy frequently at the jail, and to that young man's pleadings that something be done, always returned the answer:
"Don't worry! It will come out all right!"
"But Amy—and the disgrace?"
"She doesn't consider herself disgraced, and you shouldn't. The best of police headquarters or prosecutor's detectives make mistakes. I'm going to rectify them. But it will take time."
"Do you know who killed my cousin?"
"I think I do."
"Then for the love of—"
"I can't tell you yet, Darcy. All in good time. I've got to be sure of my ground before I make too many moves. Oh, I know it's hard for you to stay here, and hard to have the stigma attached to your name. It's hard for Miss Mason, too, although she's bearing up like a major. Gad, sir, that's what she's doing!
"You've got a friend in her of whom you may be proud. And her father, too—he's with you from the drop of the flag, he told me. Quite a racing man he is, a gentleman and a fine judge not only of whisky, which is good in its place, but of horses and men, too. Darcy, you've got good friends!"
"I know it, Colonel, and I count you among the best."
"Thanks. Then prove it by not asking me to play my hand before I have all the cards I want. All in good time. I'm working several ends, and they all must be fitted together, like the old jigsaw puzzle, before I can act. Besides, anything I could say now wouldn't set you free. You can't get out before a trial or before I can produce some one on whom I can actually fasten the murder. And I can't do that yet. You aren't the only suspect, though. There's Harry King, still locked up—"
"No, he isn't, Colonel."
"He isn't?" cried the old detective, and there was surprise in his voice.
"No. He was bailed out to-day. I thought you knew it."
"I didn't. I'm glad you told me, though. So King got bail! Who put it up? It was high!"
"The hotel keeper?"
"So I understand. They took Harry away a while ago. I wish I had been in his shoes."
"I'm glad you're not. I don't imagine, for a moment, that fool King had a hand in this affair. In fact I know he didn't. But his are pretty uncertain shoes to be in just the same. Now cheer up! This setting him free on bail has given me a new angle to work on. So cheer up, and I'll do the best I can for you. Any message you want to send to Miss Mason?"
"Only that I—" Darcy hesitated and grew red.
"I guess I understand," said the colonel with a laugh. "I'll tell her!"
The colonel spent that evening in the grill room of the Homestead. Though it was not the same as it had been, and though patronage of the better sort had fallen off considerably, it was still a jolly enough sort of place of its character to be in. A number of "men about town," as they liked to be called, were in, and Colonel Ashley was sipping his julep when there entered Mr. Kettridge, the relative of Mrs. Darcy, whose jewelry shop he was managing pending a settlement of her estate.
"Good evening, Colonel," he called genially. "Will you join me in a Welsh rabbit?"
"Thank you, no. I'm afraid my digestion isn't quite up to that, as I've had to cut out my fishing of late. But what do you say to a julep?"
"Delighted, I'm sure," and they sat down at one of the half-enclosed tables in the grill and ordered food and drink. They had become friends since the colonel's first visit to the store, and the friendship had grown as they found they had congenial tastes.
The evening passed pleasantly for them. They talked of much, including the murder, and the colonel was more than pleased to find that the jeweler had no very strong suspicion against young Darcy.
"I've known him from a boy," said Mr. Kettridge, "and, though he has his faults, a crime such as this would be almost impossible to him, no matter what motive, such as the dispute over money or his sweetheart. He may be guilty, but I doubt it."
"My idea, exactly," returned the colonel. "Now as to certain matters in the store on the morning of the murder. The stopped clocks, for instance. Have you any theory—"
Came, at that instant, fairly bursting into the quiet grill room, some "jolly good fellows," to take them at their own valuation. There were three of them, the center figure being that of Harry King, and he was very much intoxicated.
"Hello, Harry! Where have you been?" some one called.
King regarded his questioner gravely, as though deeply pondering over the matter. It was often characteristic of him that, though he became very much intoxicated, yet, at times, under such conditions, Harry King's language approached the cultured, rather than degenerated into the common talk of the ordinary drunk. That is not always, but sometimes. It happened to be so now.
"I beg your pardon?" he said, in the cultured tones he knew so well how to use, yet of which he made so little use of late.
"I said, where have you been?" remarked the other. "We've missed you."
"I have been spending a week end in the country," King remarked, with biting sarcasm. "Found I was getting a bit stale in my golf, don't you know—" there was a momentary pause while he regained the use of his treacherous tongue, then he went on—"I caught myself foozling a few putts, and I concluded I needed to work back up to form."
There was a laugh at this, for scarcely one in the gilded grill but knew where King had been, and whither he was going. But the laugh was instantly hushed at the look that flashed from his eyes toward those who had indulged in the mirth.
King had a nasty temper that grew worse with his indulgence in drink, and it was clear that he had been indulging and intended to continue.
"I said I was—golfing," he went on, exceedingly distinctly, though with an effort. "And now, Cat," and he nodded patronizingly to the white-aproned and respectful bartender, "will you be kind enough to see what my friends will be pleased to order that they may pour out a libation to—let us say Polonius!"
"Why Polonius?" some one asked.
"Because, dear friend," replied King softly, "he somewhat resembles a certain person here, who talks too much, but who is not so wise as he thinks. And now—" he raised his glass—"to all the gods that on Olympus dwell!"
And they drank with him.
Nodding and smiling at his friends, who thronged about him, standing under the gay lights which reflected from costly oil paintings, Harry King plunged his hand into his pocket to pay the bill, a check for which the bartender had thrust toward him.
"Gad, but he's got a wad!" somebody whispered, as King pulled forth a great roll of bills, together with a number of gold and silver coins.
There was a rattle of coins on the mahogany bar as King sought to disentangle a single bill from the wadded-up currency in his pocket.
Some coins fell to the floor and rolled in the direction of the table whereat sat the colonel and Mr. Kettridge. The latter, with a pitying smile on his face, leaned over to pick them up. As he did so, and brought a piece of money up into the light, a curious look came over his face. He stared at the coin.
"What is it?" asked Colonel Ashley, noting the unusual look.
"It's—it's an odd coin—an old Roman one—that Mrs. Darcy had in her private collection, kept in the jewelry store safe," was the whispered answer. "I went over them the other day and noticed some were missing, though I saw them all when I paid a visit to her just a short time before she was killed."
"Was this odd coin in her collection?" asked the colonel, as he looked at the piece which Kettridge handed him. It was of considerable value to a collector.
"That was hers," went on the jeweler. "It must have been taken from her safe, for she had refused many offers to sell it. And now—"
"Now Harry King has it!" exclaimed Colonel Ashley. "I think this will bear looking into!"
Mr. Kettridge, his eyes big with unconcealed wonder as he looked at the odd coin, was eager to accost Harry King at once and demand to know whence the roysterer had obtained it. In, fact, the jeweler half arose from his chair, to approach the three swaggering men in the cafe section of the grill, when Colonel Ashley laid a restraining hand on the shoulder of his new friend.
"It won't do now," he said gently.
"Why not? I've got to find out how he came by that coin! It's a rare and valuable one I tell you. It's worth all of a thousand dollars to a collector. Lots of them would be glad to pay more. Its catalogue price is a thousand. And now this drunken fool has it! He must—Colonel, don't you see what this means?"
"Yes, Mr. Kettridge, I can very easily see what it might mean. But King is in no condition now to approach on such a subject. There is a saying that when the wine is in the wit is out, and it is generally held, by some detectives, that then is the proper time to approach a subject for information that would otherwise be withheld. But King is in a sarcastic mood now, and sufficiently able to take care of himself to be very suspicious if we began to question him, even under the guise of friendship."
"I suppose so," agreed the jeweler, "and yet—"
"Oh, I wish I hadn't got into this!" suddenly exclaimed Colonel Ashley, with almost a despairing gesture. "I started out for some quiet fishing, which I very much needed, for I am getting too old for this sort of thing. I ought never to have undertaken it! I'm almost resolved to give it up. I believe I will!" he said suddenly, slapping his hand on the table, at the sound of which a waiter hurried up.
"No—nothing now," went on the colonel, waving the man away. "Yes, I'll give this case up!" he went on, with a sigh. "In the morning I'll get Shag to lay out my rods and we'll go fishing. I was foolish to let myself be dragged into this. It would have been all right five years ago. But now—well, I'm through—that's all!"
Mr. Kettridge regarded his companion with amazement.
"But what can we do without you?" he asked. "Oh, I'll send you one of my best men," was the answer. "I'll wire for Kedge. You can rely on him. He's solved more cases like this than I can remember. Yes, I'll send for Kedge. This is no place for me. I'm too old."
"Too old, Colonel?"
"Yes, too old! And I've grown too fond of fishing. Yes, I'll let Kedge finish this up. And yet—"
The detective seemed to muse for a moment. Then he went on, half murmuring to himself.
"No, hang it all! Kedge has that bank case to look after. Anyhow, I don't believe he'd figure this out right. Oh, well, I suppose there's no help for it, I've got to keep on now that I've started. But it's my last case! Positively my last case!" and once more he banged his hand down on the table.
Again the waiter glided up. He looked at the colonel expectantly, and the latter stared at him uncomprehendingly for a moment.
"Oh, yes," went on the detective. "You may bring me—er—just a small glass of claret—a very small one."
Mr. Kettridge gave his order, and then looked relieved. The colonel had seemed very much in earnest.
"Do you suppose," asked the jeweler, "that Harry King could have had anything to do with this case?"
"Of course it's possible, but, even so, we can easily make sure of him and arrest him when we want him. To approach him now would only be to defeat your own plan, that is if you have one. I confess this startles me. I don't know what to make of it, and there's no use pretending that I do. After all, detective work is the outcome of common sense plus a sort of special intuition and knowledge. I have gotten to a certain point, and now some of my theories are shattered. That is they would be if I had been foolish enough to have formed arbitrary theories that could not be changed. As it is, that's just what I have not done. I am still open to argument and conviction, and this coin, which you say belonged to Mrs. Darcy a few days before her death, and which now makes its appearance in the hands of a drunken man who has been under suspicion, makes cause for question.
"But, my dear Mr. Kettridge, let us be reasonable. King will not run away, and in his present condition he is likely to pick a quarrel with you if you mention the murder to him. Consider, also, that it may be he came into possession of this coin honestly."
"He may have received it in change—here. He's spent enough money in the place I suppose."
"But if he got it here— Great Scott! you don't suppose that Larch—"
"I don't suppose anything yet, least of all regarding Larch. But consider. This is a public place. A hundred persons—yes, two or three hundred—come in here every day, spend money and receive change. Now this coin, though to you and me it shows itself at once to be of great antiquity, might easily be passed, in a hurry, or to one who had not the full possession of his senses, as a silver half dollar, which it somewhat resembles. In fact, I think I can persuade King that it was a half dollar he dropped."
And, somewhat to the surprise of Mr. Kettridge, the colonel, who had been watching King as the latter sought on the floor for his fallen coins, walked up to the wastral and handed him a fifty-cent piece.
"You dropped that, I believe," said Colonel Ashley, genially enough.
"Thanks, old top! Perhaps I did. Have a drink?"
"No, thank you!"
With a friendly wave of his hand to the colonel, King slipped the half dollar into his pocket with other loose change and turned to the glass that awaited him.
"You see," said the colonel to Mr. Kettridge. "He doesn't know he had it—he doesn't know he lost it—he doesn't know you have it. Keep it, I beg of you. We may need it."
"But suppose King goes away?"
"He won't. I'll take care of that. I'll telegraph for one of my best men. I have a little more than I can look after personally."
"What do you intend to do?"
"Have King kept in sight. There are some others in this city I need to shadow."
"You don't mean Singa Phut?"
"No, he's in custody. Besides, I've—Well, I guess I won't say what conclusion I've come to regarding him. I might have to change it. He is an interesting study. I haven't yet found a motive for his killing of his partner—if he did it."
"Who else could?"
"There might be many. Just as there might be many ways to account for King's having possession of this coin. He may have come by it in a way that is easily explained, and if we, inferentially, accused him there would be trouble."
"I suppose so. Well, Colonel Ashley, I'll leave the case in your hands. God knows, for the sake of the family name, I'd like to see Darcy cleared. I don't believe he did it. Here, you keep this coin," for the detective had offered it to his companion. "You may need it."
"Yes. I may. And so it is worth a thousand dollars," mused the colonel. "Just about the sum Darcy claimed from his cousin. I wonder—Oh, but what's the use of wondering? I must make certain," and he put the old Roman coin safely away in his wallet.
The colonel and his friend finished their modest meal, and their more modest potations, of no very strong liquids, and went out, leaving Harry King and his companions to "make a night of it."
Larch, whose face was unusually flushed, was endeavoring to bring the young men to a less boisterous state, for he realized that his better class of patrons did not like this sort of thing.
But King was in jubilant mood. He had been released, under heavy bail, it is true, when the hotel keeper gave a pledge for the appearance of the young man when he was wanted. Harry was only held as a witness, so far, but an important one, and because of his known characteristic of suddenly disappearing at times a heavy bond had been required.
Why Larch had gone on this bond did not make itself clear to Colonel Ashley, and he set that down in his little red note book as one of the matters needing to be cleared up.
And so, wondering much, the colonel and Mr. Kettridge, the former with the rare coin, went out into the cool and star-lit night, leaving behind them the sounds of good-fellowship, of that particular brand, in the Homestead.
One of the first places the colonel visited the next day was the jewelry shop. Matters there had nearly assumed their normal aspect. Trade was about the same, under the skilful management of Mr. Kettridge, and the cut glass and silver gleamed and glistened in the showcases as though the former owner of it all had not been cruelly slain.
"Show you her collection of coins? Certainly," agreed Mr. Kettridge, when the colonel told what he wanted. "As I said, I saw them, and particularly the one we picked up last night, in her safe a week or so before she was killed. I was on for a visit. And I know that a week previous to that she had refused a thousand dollars for this particular one. These coins were one of her hobbies," and he brought from the safe the collection, which was of considerable value to a numismatist.
"There seem to be others besides the Roman coin gone," said the jeweler, "for I now miss many I used to see in her case. But, of course, she may have sold them. I do remember the one King had, though, and I'm sure she never sold that. It was taken close to the time she was killed."
Colonel Ashley, taking advantage of the time when the store was closed for the night, minutely examined the safe, but could find no evidence of its having been tampered with.
"For what started out to be a simple murder case," mused the old detective, as he went back to his hotel that night, "this one bids fair to become quite complicated."
An impulse—it was hardly more than that, and yet it had to do with the matter in hand—sent the detective to police headquarters.
"I think I'll ask Donovan what Singa Phut said when he was arrested and charged with murdering his partner," said the colonel to himself. "There's an end I haven't developed very much. And I would like to ask that East Indian something about that queer watch."
Donovan was at headquarters, it being his night "on," and he welcomed the detective as some one with whom he might hold converse.
"Have a talk with Singa Phut? Why sure, if it will do you any good," said the headquarters man when the colonel had made known his desire. "I was going to the jail on another matter, anyhow, and I might as well kill two birds as one. They'll let you see him if I'm with you. Otherwise you'd have to get an order from the prosecutor's office. Come along."
It was raining when they reached the jail, and the colonel, as he heard the patter of drops, thought of the night he had first come to Colchester.
"There ought to be good fishing after this rain," said the colonel, with a regretful sigh as he thought of his rods and flies.
"Fishin'!" exclaimed Donovan. "Say, that's something I haven't done since I was a kid! I used to like it, though. Well, here we are! Looks like a party. What d'you s'pose the warden's all lit up for?"
Certainly the gloomy jail was more brightly lighted than usual at night, for the prisoners were locked in their cells and all illumination, save the keepers' lights, put out at nine o'clock.
"We want to see that Dago, you know—Singa Phut," said Donovan, as he nodded to the deputy warden who answered their ring at the steel side door.
"Humph! Little too late," was the answer.
"Too late! What d'you mean? He's gone?"
"On bail? No, it couldn't be with a murder charge!" expostulated Donovan. "He can't be out! You're kiddin'!"
"He's croaked!" answered the deputy warden. "We found him dead in his cell half an hour ago."
THE HIDDEN WIRES
Donovan looked at the deputy as if about to dispute the statement. The detective even opened his lips to speak, but no sound came through them. Donovan sat down in a chair.
"Do you mean—" he asked, passing his hand over his face, as though to brush away unseen cobwebs. "Do you mean that he's dead?"
"Sure," was the answer. "Croaked, I told you. Deader 'n a burned out cigarette."
"Well," observed Donovan dispassionately, "that's the limit!"
"I agree with you," said the colonel, and there was a curious look on his face. "Though if you mean it's the end I beg to differ. It's only the beginning."
"How'd it happen?" asked Donovan sharply.
"We don't know," was the answer. "The Dago was all right to-day, except he seemed a little glummer than usual. He didn't eat any supper though but that's nothing. Lots of times the birds in here get off their feed," and the deputy warden made a comprehensive gesture.
"He was locked up with the rest to-night and we got sort of quiet and comfortable here and I was having a game of pinochle with Tom Doyle when one of our boarders in murderers' row lets out a howl. Course I went to see what it was, and there was the Dago—croaked!"
"What did it?" asked Donovan.
"We don't know. Doc Warren's in now giving him the once-over."
"Did he have any visitors to-day?" asked the colonel.
"Yes, a fellow like himself—Indian I reckon. But we didn't let him further than the corridor. It wasn't visiting day for the fellows in his row, so the Dago left a package and went away."
"What was in the package?" the colonel questioned further.
"Oh, just some cigarettes. Singa Phut didn't like the kind we keep, and he had to have his own fancy kind. He's had 'em before, so we knew they was all right."
"Was that all?"
"Every blessed thing that was in the package. So we let him have the cigarettes. That was about four o'clock. He was dead at eight. Here comes the doctor now. Maybe he can tell you something."
Doctor Warren, rubbing his hands to get rid of the lint from the warden's towel, came along settling himself into his coat which he had removed the better to examine the body of the East Indian.
"Well, Donovan," said the county physician, "your friend saved you the trouble of convicting him."
"Yep. But I'd a had him all right. I'd a sent him to the chair without any trouble. But what ailed him, Doc?"
"I can't say yet. Looks like a case of heart disease. I'll hold an autopsy in the morning. He's dead all right."
"I thought maybe some of the other prisoners might have got in and croaked him," commented the headquarters detective. "Riley was saying some one let out a yell."
"That was Schmidt—fellow that killed his wife," interposed the deputy warden. "He's in the cell next to where the Dago was. Schmidt said he heard the foreigner breathing awful funny. It was his last breath all right. He was dead when I got in, Doc."
"Yes, they go quick that way."
"Are you sure it was heart disease, Dr. Warren?" asked the colonel.
"No, not at all. I just mentioned that as most probable. He didn't look strong. I can't tell for a certainty until to-morrow."
"Pardon me, Dr. Warren, for presuming on what is particularly your own ground, but did you look to see if any of the cigarettes were left in his cell?"
"I didn't notice. If you want to take a look come on back. And I don't in the least mind any suggestions from you, Colonel. I'm too much interested in your work. In fact, I'd be glad to have you help in this investigation if you think there's anything crooked."
"Oh, not at all. Suicide is, of course, the most natural suspicion in a case like this, and it isn't hard to conceal enough opium in a cigarette to kill a dozen men."
"Blazes! I never thought of that!" ejaculated the deputy. "Come on!" and he led the way back to the cell.
Singa Phut's body had been removed to another part of the jail. But the cell was as it had been when the final summons came to the East Indian.
There were the few poor possessions he had been allowed to have with him—simple and apparently safe enough. And, scattered on the floor, were some of the cigarettes, made from strong Latakia tobacco, the peculiar odor of which was, even yet, noticeable in the corners of the cell.
"He smoked some of 'em all right," observed the deputy.
"Let's have a look," suggested the colonel. "If we had a better light in here it might help."
"I'll bring one of the two-hundred watt bulbs we use down in the office," said the warden, who had joined the little group. There was an electric light socket in each cell—recently installed as the result of the agitation of a prison reform committee. The low-powered bulb was taken out and the glaring nitrogen gas one substituted. It made the cell very bright, and by the glare the colonel gathered up a number of the cigarettes. Some had been smoked down to a mere stub; others had not been lighted, and two or three were broken in half, neither end showing signs of either having been scorched by a match or wet by the lips of Singa Phut.
"Queer he'd waste 'em that way," observed Donovan. "Usually they can't get enough to smoke."
"He didn't exactly waste them," said the colonel grimly, as he looked at the divided but otherwise perfect cigarettes in his hand.
"What do you call it then?" demanded the headquarters detective.
"Well, I think he was looking for something in the cigarettes—and—he found it."
"What do you mean?" asked Dr. Warren.
"Wait. Maybe I can show you."
Colonel Ashley carefully gathered up all the cigarettes in the cell, a number of them being perfect. With them, and the black butts, as well as the broken paper tubes, he moved over to the small table in the cell, and spread them out.
Donovan reached under the colonel's arm and broke open one of the whole cigarettes. "I don't see—" he began. "For the love of Mike look at this!" he suddenly exclaimed. "There's a needle in this dope stick!"
"And, if you value your life don't touch it!" cried the colonel. "That's what I was looking for! Don't so much as scratch yourself the hundredth part of an inch or— Well, you saw Singa Phut," he ended grimly.
"Poisoned needle, Colonel?" asked Dr. Warren, as he shoved the cigarette Donovan had broken toward the middle of the table.
"That's what I suspect. If we had a cat now or a rat—"
"Easy enough to get a rat," interposed the warden. "There's always some of the beasts in the traps we set about. We catch 'em alive. I don't like poison. Here, Riley, go and see if you can find a rat in one of the traps. What you going to do, Colonel? Try it on him?"
"If you have one, yes. You get my idea, I guess. Some one of Singa Phut's Indian friends, knowing he would rather go out this way than pay the penalty of his crime, brought in a package of his favorite cigarettes.
"In two, three, or in perhaps more of the 'dope sticks,' as my friend Donovan calls them, he shoved a fine needle, the tip of which was dipped in some swift, subtle Indian poison, the secret of which these two alone, perhaps, knew.
"With the cigarettes in his possession it was easy enough for Singa Phut to smoke some and extract a needle from another. It was probably marked in some secret way. More than one needle was sent to guard against failure. But the first one must have worked. I'd like to find it."
"I'll have the cell swept for you," promised the warden as his deputy went off to look for a rat. A keeper was summoned with a broom, and brushed out the cell. It did not take long, for it was very clean. Most of the debris was cigarette ash and scraps of paper and tobacco. And it was in this debris, carefully poked over with a lead pencil, that a needle was found.
Colonel Ashley, using extreme care, laid the two together, after an examination of the other unbroken cigarettes had disclosed the fact that none of them concealed anything.
"I got one, Warden! A beaut!" came Riley's voice from down the corridor, and he came in with a wire cage containing a large rat which cowered in one corner of his cell, even as Singa Phut had shrunk into his when the end came.
"How you going to get at him, Colonel?" asked the warden. "They're nasty to handle. One of 'em nipped my dog fierce when I gave him a chance at killing it a day or so ago."
"I'm not going to let it out. If I had a stick, or something that I could fasten the needle on, I could work a sort of javelin," remarked the colonel.
"I'll get you one," offered Riley, much interested in the coming experiment. Donovan, too, looked on in startled wonder.
A long, slender stick was brought and, using great care, with his rubber gloves on that he used in autopsies, Doctor Warren fastened the needle to the wand. Then Colonel Ashley thrust the improvised spear through the wires of the cage and lightly punctured the rat, which gave a protesting squeak.
"It didn't hurt him much," observed the colonel, "and, if I have guessed right, his death will be painless."
"How soon?" asked Donovan.
"I can't say, but it ought not be very long. The kind of poison they use is calculated to work swiftly."
In the glaring light from the nitrogen bulb they stood in the cell of the dead man, gathered about the cage of the rat—a prison within a prison. After the first start caused by the needle prick, the rodent again shrank back into its corner. For perhaps ten minutes it remained thus, and then it began to exhibit signs of uneasiness. It stood up on its haunches and began to bite at the wires of the cage. It squeaked, more as though uneasy than in pain,
In another minute it began to run around the tin floor of its prison, and then it suddenly stopped in its tracks, fell over in a lump and was still.
"Well, I'll be—" began Donovan, and then, with a look at the colonel, he substituted: "This gets me! It sure does!"
"It evidently went right to the heart, just as in Singa Phut's case," observed the colonel grimly.
"You were right," said Doctor Warren, "it was poison. He probably jabbed himself with the point of the needle, and whatever was smeared on it did the rest. I shall be interested in making the autopsy."
"You will probably find very little trace of the poison," said the colonel. "The kind they use is designed to disappear almost as soon as it becomes effective. Still you may discover something."
But Doctor Warren did not. Aside from a little scratch near the prisoner's heart, where he had evidently dug the needle deep into his skin, there was no sign that death was other than by natural causes. The poison had gone directly into the blood, as does the venom of a snake, and had brought death in the same way. In fact, it was the opinion of Colonel Ashley that some form of snake poison was used, though what it was, no one could say.
And so passed out and beyond Singa Phut, and the charge of murder, having been quashed by a higher tribunal than that of the county court, the matter was soon forgotten.
The colonel's theory, that some fellow countryman had supplied the East Indian means of escaping the electric chair, was generally accepted. And that Singa Phut was guilty of having killed his partner in a sudden fit of passion following one of their frequent quarrels was also believed by those who cared to exercise any thought in the matter.
"But what gets me, though," said the colonel, "is where does Singa Phut fit in with the watch in Mrs. Darcy's hand. That watch! Ah, there's a link I haven't had time to examine as I'd like to. I must see to it."
The colonel fell into a reverie. His eyes went to the closet where he had put away his fishing rods.
"Oh, friend Izaak!" he murmured, "How basely I have deserted you! But I'm coming back. Yes, I'll stop this detective work. I'll wire for Kedge to-night to come on and take up the case. He can do it as well as I. I'll get Kedge!"
He started for the telephone to dictate a telegram. And then, as he chanced to look out of the window, a different expression came into his face.
Down on the sidewalk he saw Amy Mason walking slowly along. The girl's pretty face was drawn and careworn. Evidently the anxiety over Darcy was beginning to tell on her.
The old detective shook his head slowly.
"Oh, I suppose I can't back out now," he sighed. "I've gone too far. It would look like quitting, and I never was a quitter!"
He straightened up to his soldierly height.
"Besides," he went on, "Kedge would only mix matters up now. He wouldn't know what to do, even if I told him. Kedge is all right for some things, but— Oh, well, I'll keep on with the case!"
This was the day following the discovery of the suicide of the East Indian in his cell, and any intentions Colonel Ashley may have had of subjecting to a close examination the queer watch had to be postponed.
He had ventured to keep it after Donovan had shown it to him, ready to make some plausible excuse if it was called for, but the arrest of the East Indian, and the preparation of the case for trial, in connection with the prosecutor's office, evidently made Donovan forget, for the time being, that the watch was not among other criminal relics in his closet.
As a matter of fact, Colonel Ashley had had it in his possession since that night Donovan went out with his friend, the stool pigeon. And now, carrying out a plan he had made, the colonel, one bright May morning, put the odd timepiece in his pocket and started for the Darcy jewelry store, intending to have Kettridge look at the mechanism and other parts of the watch.
But when the detective reached the establishment he saw, to his surprise, a great crowd gathered out in front—a crowd that needed the services of several policemen to keep it from stopping traffic in the roadway.
"Hello! More trouble at the place," mused the colonel, quickening his steps. "I wonder what's up this time?"
He inquired casually from those on the outskirts of the throng, and received enough information to justify the getting out of several extra newspapers.
"Burglar tried to blow up the safe and got blowed up himself."
"Hold-up man shot three of the girls behind the diamond counter and then killed himself."
"Naw! Somebody tried to set fire to the place!"
"Aw, only one of the girls fainted; that's all."
These opinions came mostly from boys or young men. No one seemed to know exactly what had happened. The colonel spied Mulligan, the officer who had been the first official on the scene at the murder of Mrs. Darcy, and nodded in friendly fashion. The bluecoat escorted the colonel through the crowd into the store.
"I guess you'll be interested," said Mulligan.
"Yes, thank you. What is it?"
"I didn't hear all the particulars. But Miss Brill, the young lady clerk, received an electrical shock from some wires hidden under the metal edge of one of the showcases, so Mr. Kettridge says, and she was knocked down."
"No, but her head struck on the edge of a case and she's badly cut. I sent for the ambulance. It happened when the store was crowded and made a bit of excitement."
"I should think it would! Hidden electric wires!" and the colonel thought of a certain discovery he had made.
With the help of the police, and when the stricken, though not dangerously injured, girl had been taken away in the ambulance, the crowd was dispersed. It was then Colonel Ashley had a chance to speak to Mr. Kettridge.
"What's all this I hear?" asked the detective.
"I don't know," and the manager smiled wearily. "If you heard all of the rumors I did they would include everything from an I.W.W. plot to a combined attack by New York gunmen."
"But what was it?"
"Well, one of our clerks, Miss Brill, was waiting on a customer at one of the silver showcases. They are arranged with electric lights inside that may be switched on when needed.
"She turned on the current to illuminate the inside of the case, so that her customer might make a selection to have spread out on top, when, in some manner, Miss Brill received a severe electrical shock. She was thrown backward to the floor, and her head struck a projecting corner of one of the rear showcases. She was badly cut, but the hospital doctor said there was no fracture."
"Did she get shocked from the wires that run into the interior of the case?" asked the detective.
"No, and that's the queer part of it," said the manager. "She was shocked while leaning against the silvered, metal edge of the glass case, and, on examination, I find some hidden electrical wires there—wires that must, in some way, have become crossed on the lighting circuit. I didn't know the wires were there."
"I did," said the colonel, quietly.
"Yes, when I tested them with an instrument I secured from an electrician here in town the wires were dead. There was not the slightest current in them. Either they have been changed lately, or some sudden jar or misplacement brought them in contact with a live circuit."
"What were the wires for?" asked Mr. Kettridge.
"That's what I've been wanting to find out. Originally I think they were for some system of burglar alarm installed by Mrs. Darcy. But now those wires run to the work bench that was used by James Darcy."
"To his work bench?" The manager was obviously startled.
"Yes. But don't jump at conclusions. You know he was working on an electric lathe he hoped to patent. Those wires may be merely part of his equipment,"
"Yes, and they may—wait a minute!" suddenly exclaimed the manager. "I wonder—"
From his private office, into which he had ushered the colonel, he looked down the store. It was almost deserted now, save for a few customers and the clerks.
"It's the same place!" murmured the manager,
"What is?" asked the detective.
"Miss Brill was shocked, and fell at the very spot where the dead body of Mrs. Darcy was found!" said Mr. Kettridge in a low, intense voice. "Except for the fact that she fell behind the showcase and Mrs. Darcy in front of it, the place is the same!"
With a muttered exclamation the colonel got to his feet and also looked out from the private office.
"You're right," he admitted. "I wonder if that is a coincidence or—something else. I must go to see Darcy."
The prisoner was measurably startled when the detective told him the latest development at the jewelry store.
"Those were never my wires in the showcase!" cried the young man. "I knew some were there, for we did have an antiquated burglar alarm system when I first came to work for my cousin. I had another one put in, and I supposed they had ripped out the old wires. But the wires I used for my lathe experiments had no connection with those, I'm sure. What is your theory?"
"I have so many I don't know at which one to begin," admitted Colonel Ashley. "But I was wondering if it was possible that the showcase wires, which when I tested them were dead, could have, in some manner, become charged, and have given Mrs. Darcy a shock that might have sent her reeling to the floor, toppling the heavy statue over on her head, and so killing her."
"By accident do you mean?" asked Darcy, his face lighting up with hope.
"Yes. This young lady received a severe blow on her head by her fall, and your cousin—"
"You forget the stab wound, Colonel."
"No, I didn't exactly forget it. I was wondering how we could account for that if we accepted the shock theory. I guess we can't. I'm still up against it. I've struck a snag—maybe a stone wall, Darcy!"
"Do you—do you think you can get over it, Colonel?"
"By gad, sir! I will! That's all there is to it! I will!"
The silence of the colonel's room was broken by a peculiar scratching at the door, interrupting his perusal of this passage:
"I told you angling is an art, either by practice or long observation or both. But take this for a rule—"
"Come in!" invited the colonel, thinking it might be Shag, who sometimes, for the lesser disturbance of his master's thoughts or reading, thus announced himself.
But there entered no black and smiling Shag, nor one of the hotel employees, but a little dog which wagged its tail both in greeting to the colonel, seated before a gas log in his room, and also as a sort of applause for the dog itself, because it had succeeded in pushing open the door which was left ajar, but which, nevertheless, was rather stiff on the hinges. And Chet, the dog in question, was rather proud of his achievement. Thus his wagged tail had a double meaning, so to speak.
"Ah, Chet, you've come in for another talk, have you?" asked the colonel as he leaned over to pat the dog's head.
More wagging of the tail to indicate pleasure, satisfaction, and whatever else dogs thus express.
"Glad to see you," went on the colonel, as though talking to a human, and, with more gyrations of the tail, which constituted Chet's side of the talk with the colonel, the little creature sought a warm spot near the gas log, stretched out and sighed long in contentment.
Chet was the pet of a man—a permanent resident of the hotel—who had the suite next Colonel Ashley's, and, early in his stay at the hostelry, the detective had made friends with the little animal, which, when Mr. Bland, its own master, was out, often came in to visit the fisherman, just as he had done now.
The colonel was thoroughly enjoying himself, for he had put aside, in the perusal of Walton, all thoughts of the murder and its many complications, when there came another interruption. This time it was a ring of his room telephone.
"There's a gentleman downstairs asking for you," came the word in response to his answer to the summons.
"Who is it?
"Says I'm to tell you he's Mr. Young."
"Oh, yes, Jack Young—send him up." The colonel closed the book with a sigh of regret.
"No use trying to read Izaak now," he murmured. "It would be a sacrilege. I'll have to wait a bit. Wonder what Jack wants. Ah, come in!" he called, as a discreet knock sounded on the half-opened door. "Trouble?"
"Not yet, Colonel, though there may be. Do you want me to follow King out of town?"
"Of course. Wherever he goes. Stick to him like a leech," and the detective indicated a chair to his visitor. Jack Young was one of the Ashley Agency's most trusted lieutenants.
"I sent for you to have you shadow King," said the detective in a low voice, seeing to it that the door was closed, "because I think we can get something out of him."
"Not a confession, surely!" exclaimed Young.
"Well, if he gets drunk enough, yes. But not the kind of confession that would be any use to us. What a man babbles when the wine is in and the wit is out, wouldn't be much use in a court of law. But if you can get him to tell anything about where he got that queer coin—the one that used to be in Mrs. Darcy's collection—so much to the good. But be foxy about it, Jack."
"I will! What I came to see about is whether you want me to follow him out of town. He's been cutting a pretty wide swath since he got out on bail, and he's been having some pretty sporty times."
"And you've been with him; is that it?"
"To the best of my ability, yes," admitted Jack, as he patted Chet, when the dog, that evidently had met him before, slid over to have his ears pulled.
"I have great faith in your ability, Jack. The point is to stick to King. You managed to make friends with him?"
"That wasn't hard. But I'll need a little money if I'm to keep up his pace. That's why I came to you."
"Perfectly right, Jack. Mason so thoroughly believes in the innocence of Darcy, and he sticks by his daughter's engagement so well, that he'd supply twice as much cash as was necessary to sift this to the bottom. So here's some to enable you to keep up to King's pace."
"Of course it's none of my business, Colonel, but I'd like to know a little bit about how the wind blows. Do you really suspect him of the murder?"
"Jack, I don't know!" was the frank answer, as Chet went back to his place by the gas log. "His having that odd coin was what put me on his trail again, and I sent for you to shadow him, as I had too many other irons in the fire. And you've done well. I guess there isn't much that Harry has done since that night about a week ago, when I saw him in the Homestead, that you don't know about."
"I guess not, Colonel."
"But, with it all, I'm not much nearer than I was at first."
"How about Spotty?"
"He won't say a word."
"You tried the third degree on him, of course?"
"I—er—I did and I didn't," the colonel answered, lamely. "You see, you can't go too far with a man when he has saved your life."
"But he may know all about it."
"How about young Darcy?"
The colonel did not answer at once. It was not until he had gone to a closet and taken from it a package which he placed on a tabarette, on which, near him, rested a box of cigars, that he spoke. Then he said:
"If I could find out why Singa Phut used this watch I'd be in a better position to answer," and from the package the detective took the timepiece which he had kept after Donovan had given it to him to examine.
"You mean you're not sure about Darcy?"
"Well, I thought I was. At first I had my doubts. Then, when I had looked over the ground and talked with Miss Mason and him, I was willing to take up his case just because I believed he had nothing to do with the murder."
The colonel, who had taken the watch from some tissue paper in which it was wrapped, laid it down on the low stool, and turned his attention to his visitor. Chet with a whine and stretch, indicating that he was warmed and rested, and would not object to a little play, walked slowly over toward the colonel.
"But," went on the detective, "since the finding of the electric wires running to Darcy's desk—Jack, I tell you what it is. You helped me out wonderfully on that robbery of the Chatham bank, when the cashier ran some wires to the time lock and had it open five hours ahead of time, I wish you'd come and have a look at those wires with me. Maybe you could give me a hint that would clear up some of the doubt I have regarding Darcy."
"All right, Colonel, I'll come. But I think I'd better follow King now. He's got a date with Larch, the hotel keeper, and there may be something in it."
"Oh, go by all means! The wires will keep. Here, I'll give you an idea about how they run," and the colonel drew a sort of diagram of the jewelry store, indicating the showcase where the hidden wires had been found, explaining to his man the effect on the young woman clerk who had been shocked.
Jack Young studied the diagram carefully and shook his head. The colonel, meanwhile, sat back and waited. Chet was worrying the tissue paper in which the Indian's watch was wrapped.
"Well, Colonel, I'll tell you what it is," said Jack, after a series of questions, "I'd have to see the place to get at any right idea of it. Not to cast any aspersions on your ability as an artist, I can't just make out how the wires run, from this sketch," and he smiled, after having studied the drawings for perhaps ten minutes.
"Don't blame you a bit!" laughed the colonel. "I never was much on pencil work. But now you follow Harry King. If you need more money, come to me," he added as he handed over a roll of bills. "And then we'll have to go at those wires. I'm not so sure—"
The colonel's remarks were interrupted by peculiar actions on the part of Chet. The little animal appeared to have gotten something into his mouth which bothered him. He was whining and pawing at his jaws.
"Look at the dog, Colonel!" exclaimed Jack. "Look!"
"Gad! he's got hold of the Indian's watch!" cried the detective. "He's been worrying it as he would a bone, and he's got it in his mouth and can't get it out! Easy there! don't touch it!" came the sharp command, as Jack Young took a step forward, evidently with the intention of helping the distressed animal.
"What's the matter, Colonel?" asked Jack. "You don't want to see the dog suffer, do you?"
"No, but—there, he's got it out himself!"
With an effort the dog had pawed from his mouth the watch, which, being rather large and of peculiar shape, had for some time, been stuck in his jaws. It rolled out on the floor, and the colonel stooped to pick it up. But Jack noticed that his chief used a wad of the tissue paper with which to handle the timepiece, which was no longer ticking.
"What's the matter—'fraid of soiling your hands?" asked Jack with a laugh.
"Well, yes, in a way—"
"Look at the dog's mouth! It's bleeding!" cried Jack, pointing.
"I was afraid it would be," said the colonel, quietly. "Don't go near him, Jack, for, unless I'm much mistaken—"
The two men gazed at the dog. The little animal suddenly looked up at them in a peculiar manner. It whined and its body was shaken as with a cold shiver. A little blood was running down the lips which were now foam-flecked.
"The dog's going mad!" cried Jack. "Look out, Colonel, or—"
"You needn't be afraid," was the calm answer, as the other turned toward the door. "He'll never hurt any one. Ah, I thought so!"
And, as the colonel spoke, Chet gave a shudder, fell over on his side and, with a long sigh, lay very still.
THE COLONEL WONDERS
"What did that, Colonel? What devilish thing did that?" and with a trembling finger Jack Young pointed to the body of the dead dog on the floor of the detective's room. "What killed the poor brute?"
"Unless I'm very much mistaken this did," was the answer in a low voice, and the colonel, with the watch still wrapped carefully in the wad of tissue paper, placed it on the table.
"That ticker killed the dog? Nonsense! He didn't swallow it! He had it in his mouth, but he got it out! That couldn't have killed him!"
"I think it did though, Jack, just as it killed Shere Ali and just as—"
"Do you mean—that's what killed Mrs. Darcy—that watch?"
"I don't know yet, Jack."
"But how could it? How could—"
The visitor ceased his questions to watch the colonel, who had gone to a closet and taken out a pair of rubber gloves. Putting them on, he took the watch from its tissue paper wrappings, and then, holding it under the gleaming light on his table, he gave a twist to the case, pressed on a certain point in the rim with the end of his lead pencil and a tiny needle shot out into view.
"Look!" said the colonel to Jack Young.
"Good Lord! An infernal machine in a watch!"
"Not exactly an infernal machine, but a poisoned needle which only required pressure on the rim of the case to shoot it out into the hand, or whatever part of a person or animal was near it. Poor Chet, gnawing the watch which he was playing with—worrying it as he would a bone—must have bitten on the right place. The needle shot out, pierced his tongue or lips and—the deadly poison did the rest!"
"But, Colonel—this—this is the watch Mrs. Darcy had in her hand when she was found dead!"
"Yes," was the cool response.
"And its the same one Shere Ali had in his hand when he was found dead!"
"But both of them had their heads smashed in!"
"But, Great Scott, Colonel! the watch can't do that as well as poison to death! It's out of the question!"
"Of course it is. I didn't claim the watch did anything like that. I don't even claim the poison-needle watch killed Mrs. Darcy or Shere Ali. But that it did kill Chet I'm certain."
"I believe you're right there, Colonel Ashley. Poor little dog!" and Jack, who loved animals, looked at the limp body.
"I know I'm right, Jack. If I had seen, in time, that he had the watch I'd have tried to get it away from him. But maybe it will turn out for the best. In the interests of justice—"
"Do you think this will help in solving the mystery?"
"But I thought you said the poison-needle watch might not have killed Mrs. Darcy?"
"I'm not saying anything, Jack. It might, and might not."
"But the blow on her head—the stab wound in her side—?"
"Both could have been inflicted after the poison watch killed her—if it did. Mind you, Jack, I'm making no statements. I am only suggesting possibilities."
"But— Great Scott, Colonel—Shere Ali was killed in the same way! He had the ticking watch in his hand, and his head was smashed in!"
"And of course he may have been struck on his head after he died from the poisoned watch?"
"And this watch Darcy had in his possession to repair just before Mrs. Darcy was found dead, and she had it in her hand and—say, Colonel, where are we at?" and Jack Young looked hopelessly at his chief.
"I don't know," was the measured answer. "I wish I did. There is only one thing we can be sure of, and that is, no matter what part Darcy had in the murder—if he had any—by means of this watch in the case of Mrs. Darcy, he had none in Shere Ali's case, for Darcy was locked up when that tragedy occurred."
"That's so, Colonel. And yet— Oh, well, what's the use of speculating? What are you going to do next?"
"I don't know. I wish—"
There came another knock on the door and a voice asked:
"Is Chet in here, Colonel? I generally find him with you when he isn't in my room and—"
Mr. Bland entered through the opened door, and from the figures of the detective and his helper the eyes of Chet's owner went to that of the motionless dog. Chet's master sensed something wrong, for with a cry of his pet's name he hurried toward the stretched-out animal.
"Don't!" exclaimed the colonel, reaching out a restraining hand. "The dog has been poisoned, and with a poison so deadly that even some of the foam from his lips, in a tiny scratch, might cause your death. Don't touch him with bare hands."
"Poisoned, Colonel! Chet poisoned?"
Sorrowfully enough Colonel Ashley told how it had happened, showing the poisoned watch, but not disclosing the fact that it was the one which had figured in the deaths of Mrs. Darcy and Shere Ali. And as nothing had yet been made public to the effect that the watch, which had had a part in both cases, was more than an ordinary timepiece Mr. Bland did not connect it with these two deaths. Colonel Ashley let it be understood that the watch was a curiosity having to do with some case he was investigating.
"And if I had even dreamed that your dog would take it off the stool to worry it, as he might a bone, I'd never have let him in here," said the detective. "I can't tell you how sorry I am, Mr. Bland, for I loved Chet almost as much as you did."
"I know—I know! And he liked you. Poor little dog! Poor little dog!"
Tenderly they bore him out, the colonel insisting that no one touch him with ungloved hands, and a little later Chet was quietly buried.
"But what are you going to do about that watch—and all that it means?" asked Jack Young, later, when he was about to depart to take up the shadowing of Harry King.
"I'm going to see how it's made and try to learn whether or not Darcy was aware of its deadly nature. If he was—"
The colonel did not finish.
"Well, I'll get on my way," said Jack, after a pause. "I'll keep in touch with you, in case you need me."
"And don't lose sight of Harry King," was the parting admonition. "Something just as unexpected as this may turn up in his case," and the colonel motioned to the watch.
Left to himself, the detective looked at the timepiece on his table, now silent in its tissue wrapping. The needle, which under the magnifying glass was shown to be hollow, probably drawing the poison from some receptacle inside the case, had slipped back out of sight when the pressure was removed from the rim.
"The watch of death!" mused the colonel. "I must see how you are made inside, and I think I'd better have a professional perform an autopsy on you. I'll send for Kettridge. He knows all about watches, though I question if he ever saw one like this."
The colonel was about to use his telephone when it rang and, answering it, he was told that another visitor wished to see him.
"Who is it?" he asked the clerk downstairs.
"Mr. Aaron Grafton."
"Send him up."
Grafton was plainly nervous as he entered the room; and the colonel, had he not been a man of experience, might have allowed this nervousness to influence his judgment, and bring into too much prominence the first suspicions the detective had felt regarding this man.
"Ah, Mr. Grafton, you wish to see me?"
"Only for a moment, Colonel Ashley. I don't like to call on you thus openly, for it might give rise to all sorts of questions, but—"
"Oh, don't let that worry you. I'm a detective, and known as such now. And you, as the owner of a large department store, where shop-lifting and other crimes may be committed any day, are often in need of the services of detectives, I should say."
"I am, but—"
"Well, don't worry. If any one knows of your coming to me they will imagine you wish to consult me about something connected with your store. So don't let that influence you. But has anything else happened?"
"Yes," answered Mr. Grafton, "there has."
"What?" asked the colonel.
"Well, I've come to say that I don't think I'll need your services any more."
"Not need them?"
"No. And I wish to pay you and thank you. I'm ever so much obliged to you for what you have done—"
"But I haven't done anything yet. I haven't—Oh, I see. You are not satisfied with my work on your behalf. Well, I can't say I blame you, for really I haven't had time to give it as much consideration as I'd like. Still that couldn't be helped and—"
"Oh, don't misunderstand me, Colonel Ashley. I am not at all dissatisfied," and Mr. Grafton held up a protesting hand. "The truth is, I'll not need your services in helping me to recover the diamond cross for Mrs. Larch—or Miss Ratchford, as she calls herself since the separation. You can drop that case, Colonel."
"Yes, the diamond cross has been recovered. I just had a letter from Cyn—from Miss Ratchford, saying she has the cross."
"She has the missing diamond cross?" fairly cried the detective.
"Where did she get it. Could Spotty—" The colonel whispered the last name to himself and then stopped short.
"I don't know. I just had a telegram from her, and I am going to see her now to learn the particulars," went on Aaron Grafton. "She is in Pompey, you know—where she used to live as a girl, and where I— Well, I'm going to see her. I came to tell you the diamond cross mystery is solved and if you will let me know what I owe you I'll send you a check."
"Oh, that part will be all right, Mr. Grafton. But I don't understand."
"Nor do I," flung back Aaron Grafton over his shoulder, as he left the colonel's room, rather hastily. "I'll tell you as soon as I've seen Miss Ratchford. Good-bye!" and he was gone.
For a moment the colonel remained motionless in the middle of the room. Then a queer look came over his face as he murmured:
"Now I wonder whether he's telling the truth—or lying! Is the diamond cross in her possession, or did Grafton say that so I'd drop the case and—leave him out of it? I wonder. And, by the same token of wondering I think I'd better not let you get too far away from me, Mr. Grafton. You will bear a little closer watching."
"A JOLLY GOOD FELLOW"
"Well," remarked Colonel Ashley briskly to himself, "there are two or three things I've got to do, and do them right away. Which shall I tackle first? I wonder if it won't be best to have Kettridge come here and perform the autopsy on that watch," and he looked toward the closet where he had placed the one that had belonged to Singa Phut. "If I can look inside that, and see whether or not the mechanism is so obvious that Darcy must have stumbled on it when he started to repair it—if he did—then, well, that complicates matters. Yes, I think I must see Kettridge."
Once more the colonel started toward his room telephone, intending to summon the jeweler, who was living over the store in Mrs. Darcy's rooms.
The colonel paused at the instrument, recalling that, as he had been about to use it before there had come in a call for him—the call announcing the department-store keeper.
But this time the instrument was mute, and the colonel had soon asked central for the telephone in the apartments now occupied by Mr. Kettridge. There was a period of waiting.
"I am ringing Marcy 5426," announced the pleasant voice of the girl in the central office.
"Thank you," responded the detective.
Another period of waiting, and again the announcement of the girl, though the colonel had not manifested any impatience.
"Very well," he responded. "There may be no one at home."
It was evident, a little later, that at least no one intended to answer the telephone, and the colonel hung up he receiver.
"Well, Kettridge can wait," he murmured, as he carefully put away the watch, thinking, with a sigh of regret, of poor little Chet. The dog was a friendly animal and had made many friends in the hotel.
"And so Miss Ratchford—to use her maiden name—has the diamond cross back again," mused the colonel. "But how in the world could she get it, when Spotty had it, and the police that are holding him have that, and he's resisting extradition? Say, I wish I could go fishing!" and the colonel shook his head in dogged impatience at the tangle into which the affair had snarled itself.
"Spotty must have robbed the jewelry store in spite of what he says about it," mused the Colonel. "But if he did, and got the cross, even if he didn't kill Mrs. Darcy, how in the world could he get the cross back to her when the police took it away from him and when the last I saw of it it was in the police headquarters safe?
"This certainly gets me! Oh Shag! is that you?" called the colonel as he heard some one moving out in the hall near his door.
"Yes, sah, Colonel!"
"You stay here until I come back. I'm going out, and I don't know what time I'll be in. Be careful to get straight any messages that come in over the wire, and if Jack Young calls up get the 'phone number of the place where he is so I can call him."
"Yes, sah, Colonel."
"Yes, sah, Colonel!"
"Hand me that little green book. I may have to be up all night, and I want something to read that will keep me awake," and the colonel slipped into his coat pocket the green volume. He was taking his fishing by a sort of "correspondence school method" it will be observed.
The detective busied himself about his apartment getting ready to go out, and from a suitcase which was closed with a complicated lock he took a number of articles which he stowed away in various pockets of his garments.
"Is yo' gwine be out all night, Colonel?" asked Shag.
"I can't say. I'm going to do a bit of shadow work and it may take me until sunrise. But you stay right here."
"Yes, sah, Colonel. I will."
"And now we'll see, Mr. Aaron Grafton," said the detective to himself, as he prepared to leave, "whether you're telling the truth or not. I think my one best bet is to follow you when you go to see Miss Cynthia!"
But before the colonel could leave the room there sounded the insistent ringing of his telephone bell.
"I wonder if that can be Kettridge," he mused. "And yet he wouldn't know that I had called him. Answer it, Shag," he directed. "It may be some one I don't care to talk to now. Don't say I'm here until you find out who it is."
"Yes, sah, Colonel!"
The colored servant unhooked the receiver and listened a moment. Then, carefully covering the mouthpiece with his hand, he announced:
"It's Mr. Young, Colonel!"
"Is it! Good! Hold him! I'll talk with him!"
Quickly crossing the room the detective spoke rapidly into the instrument.
"Hello, Jack! This is the colonel. Yes—what is it? He is? That's unusual—for him. Guess he's going down and out by the wrong route! Yes, I'll come right away! You follow King and I'll take the trail after Larch. So he's boasting that— Well, all sorts of things may happen now. Yes, I'm on my way now. You follow King!"
The detective remained motionless for a few seconds after he had slipped the receiver into its hook. Then he said to Shag:
"Do you know where I ought to be now?"
The colored man paused a moment before replying. Then he played a safety shot by answering:
"No, sah, Colonel, I jest doesn't—zactly."
"Well, I ought to be getting ready to go fishing. I'm sick of this whole business. I'm going to quit! I never ought to have gone into it. I'm too old. I told 'em that, but they wouldn't believe me."
"Too old to go fishin', sah, Colonel? No sah! You'll never be dat! Never!"
"Oh, I don't mean fishing, Shag! I mean I never ought to have been mixed up with this affair—this detective business. I'm going to quit now, Shag!"
"Yes, sah, Colonel!"
"Get me Kedge on the long distance."
"Mr. Kedge, in N' York, sah?"
"Yes. I'm going to turn this over to him. It's getting on my nerves. I want to go fishing. I'll let him work out the rest of the problems. Get Kedge on the wire."
"Yes, sah, Colonel."
The colored man went to the instrument, but before he had engaged the attention of central his master called:
"Yes, sah, Colonel."
"Wait a minute. I suppose Kedge is very busy now?"
"Well, yes, sah, I s'pects so. He had dat ar' animal case."
"Oh, you mean Mr. Campbell's?"
"Yes, sah! Dat's it. I knowed it was a camel or a elephant."
"Yes, I suppose he's busy on that. So don't bother him. Anyhow, it would take him as long to get here, pick up the loose ends, and start out right, as it would take me to finish."
"Mo' so, Colonel," voiced Shag. "A whole lot mo'."
"Oh, well, hang it all! That's the way it is. I never can get a little vacation. But now I'm in this game I suppose I might as well stick! Never mind that call, Shag! I'll finish this."
"Yes, sah, Colonel."
A fact which the wise Shag had known all along.
"For it's always good weather, When good fellows get together!"
Over and over again the not unmusical strains welled out from one of the private rooms, opening off the grill of the Homestead. At times Larch stopped at the entrance, smiling good-naturedly, but with rather a cynical look on his clean-chiseled but cruel face. More than once his eyes sought those of Harry King, and the latter nodded and smiled. He was spending money freely, but was keeping himself well in hand, though a waiter was at his side more often than at the side of any of the others.
"How long has this been going on, Jack?" asked the colonel, who reached the hotel soon after his talk with Shag.
"All the afternoon, I guess, and it looks as if it would be all night."
"So it does! I wish I'd never gotten into this mess, but I can't get out now. Kedge would be sure to spoil it after I've started things moving. What especially did you want to tell me?"
"Well, King is in there, in his usual state—dignified, of course, but how long he'll stay that way I can't tell. It's Larch that puzzles me."
"Yes, it isn't usual for him to make such a congenial companion of himself with his customers. But he's very different since his wife separated from him. He doesn't hold himself so highly."
"And it's telling on his business."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that a number of his best friends are leaving him. The way it used to be was that the Homestead was patronized by a good class of people and organizations, some that even were opposed to the liquor trade. They knew they could have it or not have it as they pleased. But now Larch is catering more and more to parties that wouldn't come here if there wasn't something strong to drink, and that's driving the other sort away."
"Yes, I've noticed that of late."
"And that isn't all," went on Young. "Larch is going to come a cropper, if I'm any judge."
"What do you mean?" Again the Colonel seemed puzzled.
"I mean he's going to smash financially. He's been making some poor investments of late, as well as gambling heavily, and his money can't last forever. He had a lot, but most of it is gone."
"I hadn't heard that."
"Well, it's true. He was well off when he married. That's the reason he got such a pretty wife, I hear. Her folks were ambitious for her. Well, she did shine for a while, for the Homestead was not an ordinary hotel. It was more of a Colchester institution. But it's fast becoming something else now.
"Larch is being pressed for cash, and that may be one reason why he's so thick with Harry King. King's got cash, if it can only be gotten at. I overheard Larch sounding him as to the chances of raising a big sum."
"And what did King say?"
"He agreed to try to get it for Larch. That's all I gathered then. But I heard them talking of something else."
"Larch dropped a hint that he and his wife might be reconciled."
"The deuce you say!"
"That's right, Colonel. I heard him telling King about it. Larch is going to pay his wife a visit—going to call on her at her father's place in Pompey. And he's going to take her out a present. I believe that's the usual thing after a quarrel."
"Possibly," admitted the colonel. "Oh, I wish I'd never mixed up in this! I'm sorry for young Darcy, and I believe— Oh, well, what's the use of talking now! I'm in it and I must see it through. So Larch is going to visit his wife?"
"Yes. He's either sent her a present or is going to. I couldn't quite catch which."
"What sort of present, Jack?"
"A diamond cross."
"What?" and the colonel had suddenly to modulate his voice or he would have attracted more attention that he cared to. "A diamond cross? Are you sure about that, Young?"
"Sure! Why not? I don't see anything queer there. He might buy her a diamond cross as a sort of forgiveness gift. Same idea Harry King had you know, but a little higher class, that's all.
"You know, Colonel, these things are about alike. The man on Water Street gets drunk and brings his wife home a quart of oysters as a peace offering. The man on the boulevard does the same thing and patches up the break with a pearl pendant. It's all the same, only different."
"Yes, I suppose so. I didn't know you were a philosopher, Jack."
"I'm not. It's just common sense."
"But a diamond cross! And if Larch is losing money—"
"Oh, well, he may have held out some, or maybe the diamond cross isn't so elaborate. You know they take a lot of little diamonds now, set 'em in a cluster and make 'em look as good as a solitaire. Anyhow Larch has been boasting to King that there's to be a diamond cross present. And there's another angle to it."
"What's that, Jack?"
"Well, there's been some talk between Larch and King about some big diamonds that have been sold of late. I couldn't catch whether King had sold them or Larch. Anyhow they brought quite a sum of money. Maybe they were stolen from the jewelry stock."
"Not unless Mrs. Darcy had some of which James Darcy knew nothing."
"Well, I saw Larch at one time, and Harry King at another, have one of those white tissue paper packages that jewelers keep diamonds in. I didn't get a glimpse at the stones themselves. I had to be a bit cautious you know, and, even now, I think they're suspicious of me here. If it wasn't that King drinks so much, though he manages to walk and talk straight. I believe he'd try to pump me. Anyhow, I thought I'd better let you know what I'd heard."
"Jack, I'm glad you did. So Larch has sent, or is going to send, his wife a diamond cross! Well, then, Grafton might be right about that after all. Gad! this thing is getting mixed up! Now, Jack—"
A waiter who knew the colonel, from the fact that the latter was a striking figure and had been in the Homestead more than once, approached the private room occupied by the detective and Jack Young and announced:
"Excuse me, Colonel, but you are wanted at the telephone."
"All right. Where is it?"
"You can come right in here and have the call transferred from our central," and the man opened the door of a small booth. The Homestead was honeycombed with private rooms, booths and telephones.
"Yes, this is Colonel Ashley," announced the detective into the instrument, when his identity had been questioned. "Who are you? Oh, Shag! Yes, Shag, what is it? What's that—at the jewelry store you say? Well, will this never end? Yes, I'll go there at once!"
"What is it?" asked Jack, as the colonel hung up the receiver.
"Why, Kettridge telephoned to my room, and Shag took the message and repeated it to me. Sallie Page, the old servant of Mrs. Darcy has just been killed by an electric shock in the jewelry store!"
However it was not quite as bad as that, though Sallie Page had received a severe shock, and had been near to death. Prompt action on the part of the physician on the hospital ambulance had started her feeble heart, which had been affected by the current of electricity, to beating.