This, among other things, Colonel Ashley learned when he hastened to the jewelry store from the Homestead, leaving at the latter place his trusty lieutenant, Jack Young, to look after both Larch and Harry King, neither of whom seemed likely to leave the place very soon.
"Tell me more about it," said the colonel, when he was sitting with Mr. Kettridge in the dimly-lighted jewelry shop after Sallie had been taken to the hospital. "What shocked her?"
"The same electric wires on the showcase that shocked Miss Brill the other day. The electricians had been told to remove them, but had not yet done so."
"But I thought those wires were dead—cut—after the other accident, Mr. Kettridge."
"So they were. But they can be supplied with current from another source, it seems, and I was the innocent cause of doing it."
"By throwing over a switch on the work bench where James Darcy used to busy himself!"
"An electric switch on Darcy's work bench?"
"Yes, come and see for yourself. I've sent for the electrician to come and rip out everything. I'll have the place all wired over. It was a makeshift job to begin with, and since Darcy complicated the wires with some that he hoped to run his electric lathe with, there is no telling when one may get a shock."
"How did it happen?" asked the colonel, as the jeweler led the way to that part of the store where Darcy had the repair bench, behind the watch showcase. It was now close to midnight, and the excitement over the accident to Sallie, which had occurred after the closing hour for the store, had subsided, not as much of a crowd having gathered at that time of the evening as would have done earlier.
"Well, it happened this way," explained Kettridge. "We're going to have a special sale of a medium-priced line of goods to-morrow. I was getting ready for it after the clerks had gone—setting out the display and the like—when I found I needed help.
"It wasn't much—just the little odds and ends that a woman can do better than a man when it comes to making things look fancy. I might have telephoned for Miss Brill, but I didn't like to bring her back, as she'd worked hard all day.
"Then I thought of Sallie Page. It's true she's deaf, but she has been in the family, so to speak, a long while, and she knows the shop and the goods pretty well. She's quick if she is old, so I got her down about nine o'clock and we started in."
"Then exactly how it happened I don't know. I was puttering around the work table where Darcy used to do his jewel setting and his repair work, and Sallie was over near the showcase. I wanted more light on a certain piece of jewelry I had in my hand, and I thoughtlessly threw over a switch I saw on Darcy's table. It was a switch I hadn't noticed before—in fact, I accidentally uncovered it by moving a collection of his tools I hadn't previously disturbed.
"No sooner had I closed the circuit than I heard a scream from Sallie and saw her fall backwards. I had given her a shock without knowing it."
"That was queer," murmured the colonel. "Let me have a look at that switch."
"And, while you're about it, I'll look too," said another voice in the dimly-lighted store, and, as the two turned in startled surprise, they saw Detective Carroll smiling at them.
"I heard there was another accident up here," he went on, still smiling, "so I came to have a look. The side door was open and I walked in. Guess you didn't hear me. These rubber heels don't make much noise."
"They don't, indeed, when you walk on them and not on the soles," observed the colonel grimly. "The question is, what do you want to see?"
"The electric switch on Darcy's table," was the answer. "I couldn't help hearing what you said, Mr. Kettridge," said Carroll, "and I don't know as I would have tried not to if I could. This is important. I rather guess it makes it look a bit bad for your friend, Colonel Ashley," and there was a sneer in the words.
"Well, I don't know," was the cool response. "The wires, as I understand it, are to run an electric lathe, and they might easily have become crossed."
"Oh, yes, of course!" admitted Carroll. "And then, again, they might have been crossed on purpose. It's a new stunt—electrically shocking an old lady before you bang her over the head or stab her, but it's a good one. I'll have a look at that switch. I thought maybe I might find something interesting here when I heard about the shock to the old servant, and I didn't miss my guess."
There was nothing for the colonel or Mr. Kettridge to say or do, and they remained passive while Carroll took his time looking about. Then he telephoned for Haliday of the prosecutor's office, and also for the chief electrician of the police signal system, and all three spent some time looking at the wires and testing them.
"What do you think about it?" asked Mr. Kettridge of the colonel, when the store was again dim and quiet.
"What do I think? I don't know! I'm going to have a talk with Darcy in the morning, and if I find he's been deceiving me— Well, I'll drop his case, that's all."
If Darcy simulated surprise when, the next morning at the jail, told by the colonel of what had happened to Sallie Page, the prisoner was a consummate actor, the detective thought.
"Colonel Ashley!" Darcy exclaimed. "I never knew that my lathe wires crossed or connected with any circuit that might shock a person. It is true I had the wires run in secretly, as I didn't want my cousin to know about them. She didn't favor my experiments on the electrical lathe, and I had to keep quiet about it.
"But I never strung those wires to shock her, and of course you can easily imagine I never could plan to injure Sallie Page that way, or the young lady who was knocked down the other day."
"Well, Darcy, you may be telling the truth, and, again, you may not," and the colonel's voice was as noncommittal as possible. "But I am bound to point out to you that the prosecution will make the most of this, and that—it looks bad for you."
"I know it does, Colonel. But I had no more to do with my cousin's death than Carroll or you. Nor have I the least suspicion who did kill her. My God! what object would I have?" and he turned and paced up and down.
"Well I'll do the best I can," said the colonel. "But I must say it looks black. Then you never knew your wires might, by the closing of the switch on your table, shock some one standing near the show case?"
"I never dreamed of it! The wires must have been changed since I used them."
"That will be looked into. And the stopping of the clocks? Could your apparatus have done that?"
"Never. It is true a strong electrical current might, under certain circumstances, stop clocks, as well as start them. But it would not stop all the clocks in the store—or all that were going—at different hours."
"Perhaps not. Well, I must see what I can do. Carroll and Thong, with the prosecutor's men, will use this for all it is worth. We must combat it somehow."
"Please find a way, Colonel! I was so hopeful and—now—"
The young man could not go on for a moment because of his emotion.
"Amy—Miss Mason—how does she take this?" he faltered.
"She doesn't know it yet, I believe. It didn't get in this morning's papers, but it will be in this afternoon's."
"I wish you could see her and explain. I—I can't stand it to have her lose faith in me."
"I'll see what I can do. I'll put the best face on it I can for her."
"And you yourself, Colonel! You—you don't believe me guilty because of this new development, do you?"
"If I did I wouldn't still be handling your case, Mr. Darcy," was the answer. "But I don't say that there isn't something to explain. I am, now, giving you the benefit of the doubt."
"Then maybe Amy will do the same."
It was not many hours before the colonel knew this point. The first edition afternoon papers had not long been out when the detective, who had gone to his hotel after an early morning visit to the jail, was telephoned to by Miss Mason.
"I happened to be in town, shopping," she said, and the agitation was plainly audible in her voice, "when I saw this terrible thing about Mr. Darcy's wires and poor Sallie. Is she in any danger, Colonel?"
"I believe not."
"That's good! May I come to see you? I have something important to ask you."
"Yes, or I will come to see you, Miss Mason."
"No, I had rather come to your hotel, if you will meet me in the ladies' parlor. It will be secluded enough at this time."
And a little later Amy and the colonel were talking. The girl's haggard look told plainly of her distress.
"Tell me, frankly," she begged, "doesn't this make it look a little worse for Mr. Darcy?"
"Yes, Miss Mason, it does. I had best be frank with you. The prosecutor is bound to show that the presence of the wires, controlled by a switch from Mr. Darcy's table, were so arranged that he might shock his cousin, or any one who put his hands on the showcase. And they will, undoubtedly, argue that he planned this to make her insensible for his own purposes, whether it was that he did it in a fit of passion to kill her for his fancied troubles, or to cover up a robbery. I am only making it thus bald that you may know and face the worst."
"I appreciate that, and I thank you. Then it does look bad for him?"
"And how does he bear up under it?"
"Very well. His chief anxiety is regarding you. I realize this is a test of friendship, Miss Mason. A test of both the loyalty of yourself and your father, and—"
"Oh, you needn't worry about dad! He'll stick by Jimmie through thick and thin, for he says he knows he's innocent,"
"And yourself? How does your loyalty meet the test?"
Amy Mason drew herself up, a splendid figure of beautiful womanhood. She flashed a look at the detective that made him stand to his full military height and bearing, and then she said:
"Do you think I'm going to let dad beat me? Oh, no, Colonel Ashley!"
So Amy Mason met the test.
WORD FROM SPOTTY
"Well," remarked Jack Young, as he critically observed the smoke from his cigar curling upward toward the ceiling in the colonel's hotel room, "we have our work cut out for us all right."
"I should say so!" agreed Mr. Kettridge, who sat before a little table, on top of which were strewed parts of a watch. Mr. Kettridge had a jeweler's magnifying glass stuck in one eye, and it gave him a most grotesque appearance as he glanced from the wheels, springs and levers, spread out in front of him, over to Colonel Ashley.
"There is only one thing to do, gentlemen," observed the detective, who had one finger keeping a certain place in a certain green book. "And that is—"
"Make an arrest at once!" exclaimed Young. "He may get away from us if we don't, drunk as he is."
"No, there's time enough for that," objected the colonel. "What I was going to say is that we must take one thing at a time. Otherwise we'll get into a tangle."
"I think we're in one now," said Young. "For the life of me I can't figure out who did the killing, and the only reason I said we ought to arrest Harry King is because there's some game on between him and Larch, and those diamonds King is trying to dispose of may be part of some of those Mrs. Darcy had, and about which she never said anything. If King took them, he may have killed the old lady and he ought to be locked up and take his chance with Darcy."
"If he did it—yes," admitted the colonel. "But I haven't said he did. I haven't said Larch did it. I just don't know. Certainly King and Larch have been pretty thick of late, and Larch's bailing Harry out showed there was more than mere friendliness in it. And, as you say, Jack, if King or Larch sold some loose diamonds, it looks as though there was something wrong. But we don't want to make a mistake."
"If we don't do something pretty soon they'll so fasten this crime on Jimmie Darcy that you'll never be able to get him out of the tangle," said Mr. Kettridge, as he poked a pair of pliers among the parts of the watch. "Carroll and Thong, now that they know about the electrical wires, think they have all the evidence they need, and the prosecutor agrees with them, I guess."
"Still, we may be able to combat that," observed the colonel. "Now let me understand you about this watch, Mr. Kettridge. You don't believe Darcy ever put that poison needle arrangement in it?"
"No, I don't. That mechanism was built into the watch after it was originally made, I'm sure. But even so it was done a number of years ago. I can tell that by the type of small screws used. They don't make that kind in this country. Darcy never could have got possession of any, to say nothing of some of the other parts used."
Following some days of strenuous work after Amy Mason had expressed her belief in her lover's innocence in spite of the finding of the electric wires, and had urged the detective to use every endeavor to clear Darcy, the colonel had summoned Mr. Kettridge to hold a sort of autopsy over the Indian watch which was still in possession of the old detective. With the suicide of the East Indian the case had been dropped by Donovan and the authorities, they taking it for granted that Singa Phut had killed Shere Ali and then ended his own life, by help from outside in getting poison. So if Donovan thought anything about the watch, he said nothing.
"Then you think Darcy is cleared of any connection with the poison watch?" asked the colonel.
"I think so—yes," answered the jeweler. "As a matter of fact, I don't believe Jimmie did any repair work on it at all. Singa Phut brought it in to have it fixed, it is true, but Jimmie was a great chap for promising work and then not having it ready on time. I've known him to do that more than once, and he lost Mrs. Darcy customers that way. He probably promised Singa Phut to have the watch ready for him, and then, either in working on his pet invention, the electric lathe, or because of his quarrel with his cousin, forgot about the East Indian's watch. He may, as he says, have gotten up early to redeem his promise to repair it."
"But he never did?" asked the colonel.
"It bears no evidence of it," and the jeweler focused his glass on the dismembered timepiece.
"Do you think he knew the deadly nature of the watch?" went on the detective.
"It is doubtful. This watch is of peculiar construction. As I have showed you, the poison needle could only be made to protrude when the watch reached a certain time, which time could be set in advance as an alarm clock is set. I think this is what happened, though I may be wrong.
"Singa Phut, for purposes of his own, had this poisoned watch in his possession. He, of course, knew just what it would do, and how to set it so that if a person, at a certain hour, took it into his or her hands, and exerted any pressure on the rim, the needle would shoot out and puncture the flesh. The poison on the point then caused death."
"And very speedy death," added the colonel. "Witness what happened to poor little Chet. The watch was wound up—I wound it myself as a matter of fact, though I did not dream that the time mechanism had anything to do with the poisoned needle. Then the dog, playing with it, as he would with a bone, bit on the rim, just at the time when the needle was set to operate. It shot out, punctured his lip, and Chet died."
"Did you know it was a poisoned watch?" asked Jack Young.
"I had guessed that after what happened, and that is why I warned Donovan to be careful. But, as I said, I thought it was like a sword cane or a spring dagger—that only pressure on a certain part was needed to force out the needle with its death-carrying smear of some subtle Indian poison. I never dreamed it was like an alarm clock."
"Well, it was," said Mr. Kettridge. "I can easily see all the parts, now that I have taken it apart, and the time-setting arrangement is very compact, simple and effective."
"You were careful not to scratch yourself on the needle?" asked the colonel quickly.
"Oh, yes indeed! I took that out first. But do you think, Colonel, in spite of what I have said about Jimmie not knowing how this watch operated, and, presumably, not having done any work on it—do you think he can have planned to kill Mrs. Darcy with it?"
"Hardly. And yet it is possible that Mrs. Darcy may have been killed by the watch."
"Killed by it?—how?" gasped Jack Young. "I thought she was stabbed, and her skull fractured."
"She had both those injuries, it is true. But what is to have prevented her from having been punctured by the watch just before she received those hurts?
"I mean in this way," went on the colonel. "We will assume that Singa Phut, finding some trifling thing the matter with his devilish watch, brought it to the Darcy shop, where he was fairly well known.
"Darcy promised to fix the timepiece but neglected or forgot to do it, leaving it on his table. Then, remembering it early in the morning—perhaps feeling guilty at having spent part of the night working on his electric lathe—he got up to do as he had promised, and—"
"Finds his cousin dead!" interrupted Mr. Kettridge.
"So he says!" added Jack Young significantly.
"Well, we won't go into that," observed the colonel. "I was going to make another point. Leaving Darcy out of it, and assuming that he had left the watch on his table intending to get up in the morning and fix it, what is to have prevented Mrs. Darcy from coming down to her store—say, before midnight, after Darcy left her.
"She saw the watch on the table, and, picking it up, may have wound it. This set in motion the death-dealing mechanism, and her hand may have been punctured with the poison."
"But, even then," put in Young, as he puffed out another cloud of smoke, "if the poison from the watch killed her, why would any one strike her on the head and stab her?"
"That may have occurred just after her hand was punctured by the needle of the watch," said the detective, "and before the poison had time to work. It is not instantaneous."
"But who would have struck or stabbed her after that?" asked Mr. Kettridge. "I mean, of course, leaving Jimmie out, for I don't believe he did it."
"Could not Singa Phut have done it?" asked Colonel Ashley quietly.
"Singa Phut!" cried both his auditors.
"Yes. Suppose, after he had left the watch to be repaired with young Darcy, the East Indian happened to think that he had not warned against winding it up, which a jeweler would be most apt to do after making repairs. Singa Phut had no reason for wishing harm to Darcy. He may have come to the store late at night intending to warn him to be careful."
"Well, assuming that, what next?" asked Jack Young.
"Well, Singa, coming say at eleven o'clock to the jewelry store, finds Mrs. Darcy there. She has picked up the watch—she must have done that, for it was in her hand. Singa sees it and fearful of what might happen he rushes in and tries to take it away from her. She, thinking him a thief, resists and he, fearful that he will be caught and arrested as a robber, struggles to get the watch and to make his escape.
"Now remember that he is of excitable nature, that he is a foreigner, fearful of our laws, and that he knows the deadly nature of the poison in the watch. Could not he have both struck Mrs. Darcy with the hunter statue and stabbed her in trying to get away from her? That would account for the killing."
"But there would have been an alarm—the struggle would have made a noise," objected Jack Young.
"Yes, but there are not many people passing the store around midnight. Every one in the place had gone to bed—the sleeping rooms are quite a distance from the shop. Then, too, very little noise may have been made. I remember in the Peal case two strong and vigorous men battled at midnight, one killing the other, in a store on a main street in a big city. But trolley cars and autos going past drowned all sounds of the fight. It may have been so in this case."
"Are you going to offer that to the jury to clear Darcy?" asked Mr. Kettridge.
"I may have to," was the colonel's answer. "How does it sound to you, gentlemen?"
"Very plausible," admitted Jack Young. "But what about the electric wires on Darcy's table?"
"They are a problem, I admit. However, though Carroll thinks he can prove they were arranged deliberately to shock any one who, at the proper moment, might touch the showcase, yet I think we can prove that an accidental crossing of perfectly harmless wires to Darcy's lathe with the city's electric light circuit may have caused the two accidents. That is a point I have yet to consider. But we have settled something regarding the watch, anyhow. Now, Jack, I want to talk to you about Harry King."
"He needs to be talked about," was the response. "I don't say he had anything to do with the murder—especially not after what you have said about Singa Phut. But Harry King needs watching."
"I agree with you. You say he and Larch have been looking at a packet of diamonds?"
"Yes; diamonds wrapped in those little squares of white paper that jewelers use. Looks like they'd been robbing a gem store."
"You don't know of any diamonds missing from Mrs. Darcy's stock, do you?" asked the colonel of Mr. Kettridge. "Mr. Young and I talked of this before but didn't settle it."
"No. But then she may have had a private stock of which Darcy nor I knew nothing. It is a point worth looking into."
"I agree with you. So stick to Harry, Jack, my boy."
"He won't require much sticking to at present. He and Larch are both so well pickled that they'll easily keep until morning."
"Well, watch them after that. Maybe you'd better put up at the Homestead."
"I will, though I guess it won't be the Homestead long."
"Well, Larch is going to lose it, I hear. It's mortgaged up to the roof and he can't meet his payments. The old place has gone to the bow-wows since he started drinking, gambling, speculating and since his wife left him. All the decent crowd stopped coming."
"Yes, I suppose so," agreed the colonel. "Well, keep watch of Harry King. He may provide us with a clew that will make it possible to prove Darcy innocent more directly than by the inference of Singa Phut."
"And do you think Singa Phut killed his partner with the watch also, Colonel?" asked Jack.
"No. I imagine they quarreled over the possession of the watch, and Shere Ali, perhaps forgetting the deadly nature of it, or knowing the time mechanism was set not to go off for some hours, grabbed it away from Singa. Then came a quarrel and the killing with the candlestick. However I don't want to speculate too far afield. We have certain matters settled at any rate."
"Yes, and I'll get back to the Homestead and watch King," observed Jack Young with a laugh.
"And I must get back to the shop," said Mr. Kettridge. "I have some work to do. Shall I leave the watch apart this way, Colonel?"
"Yes, I may need it to show to the jury. Leave it as it is, but put it under glass, and the needle away carefully. We may have to kill a rat in court as we did in Singa Phut's cell."
"I think we are coming on," mused Colonel Ashley, when his two visitors had gone. "I am entitled to a bit of recreation," and, opening his book, he read:
"Thus you having found and fitted for the place and depth thereof, then go home and prepare your ground-bait, which is, next to the fruit of your labors, to be regarded."
"I wonder," mused the colonel, "If my ground bait is all prepared? Am I right or wrong? If I could see the diamond cross that Grafton says Larch sent back to his wife—if I knew where he got it—"
The telephone rang.
"Yes, what is it?"
"A telegram for you, Colonel."
"Send it up!"
Tearing open the envelope Colonel Ashley read:
"Spotty Morgan has confessed everything and agrees to extradition. Shall we send him on?"
"Send him on? I should say so!" cried the colonel to himself, as he made a grab for the telephone to dictate a message telling the police of Sango, the Western city, to hold Spotty Morgan until he could come for him. "And so Spotty has confessed? Well, that let's me out, even if he did save my, life! But it was a close call!"
IN THE SHADOWS
Colonel Ashley, after a night's sleep, was about to prepare for the trip, when he thought of Darcy in jail.
"I've got to send him word," he reasoned. "No, I'll let his sweetheart take it to him. It will be all the sweeter. Here, Shag!" he called.
"Yes, sah, Colonel! Whut is it?"
"Get me an auto, Shag—any kind of car will do. I want to take a run out to Pompey where Miss Mason lives. I won't trust the telephone, and I'll have time enough before I leave for the West. Get an auto."
"Yes, sah, Colonel!" and Shag hurried down to the hotel office.
It was while getting into the machine that a message was handed the colonel. Hastily he tore the note open. It was from James Darcy and read:
"Have just been informed they are going to put me on trial to-morrow for the murder of Mrs. Darcy. I don't know what this unexpected move on the part of the prosecutor means, but I would like to see you."
"Whew!" whistled the colonel. "I never counted on this. Maybe the prosecution has something up their sleeve they're waiting to spring. They're trying to get ahead of me. Well, by gad, sir, they shan't! I'll beat 'em yet. This trip West will have to wait. Shag, you keep this auto here. I'm going into the hotel to telephone."
"Yes, sah, Colonel!"
Getting Kenneth on the wire, the detective ascertained that the message from Darcy was correct—the trial was to go on unexpectedly.
"I may be able to get a postponement," said the lawyer, "but it would not be safe to count on it. We had better prepare our defense. Are you all ready, Colonel?"
"Not quite. I've got to get a certain man back here from the West, but I can send for him. I'll not go myself, it's too risky. See what you can do about getting a postponement. It will be so much better if we can. I was going to tell Miss Mason to go and give some good news to Darcy, but maybe I'd better wait now."
"Can you produce the real murderer, Colonel Ashley?"
"I can, Mr. Kenneth. Don't let that worry you. When I want him I can lay my hands on the real murderer! He can't get away! We'll have our little surprise, too!"
"Good! That will make Darcy feel better. I think I'll go to see him!"
"All right. And if you want to arrange for Miss Mason to visit him I think it would be a good thing. He may never go to trial, and then again he might, and, as you never can count on legal tangles, all the sentiment you can work up in his favor will be so much gained. You might let a discreet reporter know about Miss Mason's going to the jail."
"I will, Colonel, and thanks for the tip!"
But James Darcy did not go to trial the next day. Up to the last minute it looked as though he would, and he was even brought down from jail to the courtroom where a great crowd had assembled in anticipation of the opening of the now celebrated case.
But, when the judge took his place on the bench, and the criers had proclaimed silence, there was a whispered conference among the prosecutor and his detectives, in which Carroll and Thong took part. Then the judge was consulted and Darcy's lawyer was called to the bench. He was observed to be protesting against something, and finally the prosecutor went back to his seat at the table opposite the one where Darcy sat with his counsel.
"Have you any cases to move this morning, Mr. Prosecutor?" asked the court in formal tones.
"May it please your Honor," began Mr. Bardon, "I had hoped to move the case of the State against James Darcy, indicted for murder, but, at the last minute, I find that one of my important witnesses is unable to be in attendance and, under those circumstances, I am compelled to ask for an adjournment of two weeks.
"I regret, as regards the counsel on the other side, having to do this, as he assures me he is ready and anxious to go to trial, but it is unavoidable, and I promise this, that if the witness referred to is not here two weeks from to-day, I will go on with the case anyhow."
"Have you anything to say, Mr. Kenneth?" asked the judge of Darcy's lawyer.
"Only that I regret the delay as much as does the prosecutor, and that we will be ready any time. I should prefer to go on with the trial now, but I realize that the matter is out my hands."
"The case then stands adjourned for two weeks," announced the court, and the officer, arising, announced:
"The case of the State against James Darcy postponed for two weeks, and all witnesses for the prosecution and for the defence will then appear without further notice."
There was a hum of disappointment, and most of the crowd filed out when the prosecutor moved a case of assault and battery. Darcy, with a look at Amy Mason, which she returned with one of assurance and confidence, was taken back to jail.
Colonel Ashley read:
"Let your bait be as big a red worm as you can find."
"Spotty is certainly red," mused the fisherman. He was sitting, after the adjournment, in his hotel room. "Red and freckled. As for bait—"
Musingly he closed the little green book and watched the smoke curl lazily from his cigar.
Several days went by. The colonel was seated in his hotel room, his finger between the leaves of a little green book, smoking and reading. The telephone rang sharply.
"Hello. Oh, it's you, is it, Basset. So you got back with Spotty, did you? Good! No trouble on the trip? Fine! All right, I'll wait here for you. No, the trial went off for two weeks. You're in plenty of time. I'll expect you soon. Good-bye."
An hour later the man he had sent West to bring on Spotty Morgan entered his room. This man, a detective from the colonel's office, had been instructed by wire to go to a certain city and there, without the formality of requisition papers, which Spotty more or less generously waived, bring on the prisoner.
"Well, what does he say, Basset?" asked the colonel, when he had provided his man with a cigar. "What does he say?" and the voice was eager.
"Oh, he says he did it all right. And there's the cross," and Basset tossed on the table beside the colonel a battered cross of gold in which sparkled many stones with the limpid fire of hidden rainbows.
"Did he give any particulars?"
"Oh, yes, he come across with the whole story."
"What made him hold back on me then? He might have known I'd find out. Why didn't he confess to me, Basset?"
"Well, I guess it's just as he says—he didn't want to split on a pal. But when his pal went back on him—"
"What do you mean—his pal went back on him?" asked the colonel, and there was uneasiness in his voice. "And, while you're about it, Basset, don't handle that cross so carelessly. It's worth several thousand dollars—a small fortune maybe—and some of the stones may be loose. They might fall out."
"That wouldn't hurt, Colonel. I reckon maybe I did lose one or two on the way back, careless like."
"You lost some of those diamonds?" The colonel's voice was sharp.
"Diamonds? Diamonds nothin'! Them's paste, Colonel. That's what made Spotty sore. His pal done him dirt, and that's why he split. The whole cross is made of phoney diamonds—paste!"
"Paste diamonds! Spotty's pal fooled him! What do you mean?" gasped the colonel, his apprehension growing. "Isn't this the diamond cross that Mrs. Larch owned? And yet, if this is here, how could her husband send it to her? And Spotty! Basset, what does it all mean?"
"Well, Colonel, I don't know whose cross this is, but whoever lost it didn't lose much. It's worth about ten dollars, I guess, and say, if ever there was a sore crook it's Spotty! He says when he and Blue Ike planned to rob Grafton's store they thought there was some real jewelry there."
"Rob Grafton's store!" cried the colonel. "Didn't Spotty confess to stealing this diamond cross from Mrs. Darcy, and killing her because she wouldn't let him get away with it?"
"Colonel this is the first I've come on the case, and all I know is I was sent on to bring Spotty back. I wasn't told he was charged with murder."
"He wasn't exactly charged with it, but— Well, go on, what did he confess to?"
"Just robbery, that's all, and he didn't get much. He and Blue Ike cracked a crib here one night. From what Spotty says they got in Aaron Grafton's department store, opened the safe the way Ike always does, by listening to the tumblers in the lock, and took out some jewelry. There wasn't much—they picked the wrong safe I guess, but anyhow they took this cross. Had a fight over it, too, and it got stepped on, or banged up in some way, Spotty says. Then they heard a noise and skipped. Spotty kept the cross, and thought he'd have enough salted down, when he sold it, to live easy for a while.
"He and Ike met out West and tried to sell the diamond cross to a fence and got pinched as suspicious characters by the bulls who were making their regular round of the pawnshops. Ike squealed on Spotty for another job after they give him the third degree, and when Spotty heard of that it made him sore, as it would anybody. Then when the two bulls who pinched Spotty and Ike tested the diamonds in the cross and found they was phoney—as they might have guessed coming from a department store—Spotty was fit to be tied, he was so wild! So he up and confessed. Said he knew you wanted him for the job and was sorry he made so much trouble. To send word to you that he'd come on and stand trial."
"But, stars and stripes! I didn't want him for this little robbery job!" cried the colonel, "I didn't even know he did it! I was after him for the murder of Mrs. Darcy, where I thought he got the diamond cross. And to think the jewels are paste!" and the colonel looked at them sparkling in the electric light as bravely as though they were worth a fortune instead of being what a poor shop girl might wear to a bricklayer's ball.
"Well, that's all I know about it," said Basset. "Spotty wanted me to tell you he'd confessed, and he's dead sore on Blue Ike."
For several seconds the colonel said nothing, and then he shook his head as a dog might on emerging from deep water, and remarked:
"Well, I've got to take another tack, I guess. Tell Spotty I'll arrange to have him bailed. It'll be easy on a mere theft charge. But how in thunder am I going to get Darcy off if I haven't any one to offer—"
The tinkle of the telephone bell interrupted the colonel's half-aloud musing.
"Hello," he said into the transmitter. "Oh, that you, Jack? Well, what's up now?"
For a moment the colonel listened intently, many emotions flashing across his face. Basset toyed idly with the jeweled cross, which sparkled as bravely as the real stones might have done.
"Yes—yes," said the colonel impatiently. "Go on, Jack!"
And in a few more seconds the colonel added:
"All right! I'll get right after him! Out toward Pompey you say? All right, I'll shadow him! By the way, Basset is here. He brought on Spotty Morgan. Come on over to my room and have a talk with him. He'll tell you the yarn—It'll surprise you—I haven't time. I'm going to get right out!" and the receiver went on the hook with a bang.
"Anything I can do, Colonel?" asked Basset. "I'm sorry to have to disappoint you about this cross, but—"
"Oh, that was my own fault, for taking too much for granted. I should have asked Grafton more questions, and gotten a description of Mrs. Larch's ornament. He never said anything to me about being robbed."
"Maybe he didn't count this, it not being worth much," and Basset flipped the sparkling cross half way across the table.
"Maybe not, and yet—"
But if the colonel had any thoughts regarding Aaron Grafton he kept them to himself as he made ready to go out.
"Know when you'll be back?" asked Basset.
"No, I can't say. Make yourself at home here. I'll tell 'em at the desk. Shag will be over presently. One of you stay here so I can telephone in if I have to. You'd better plan to stay all night if I don't get back."
"Want to say where you're going?"
"I suppose I'd better. I'm going to Pompey."
"Out where you said Mrs. Larch is staying?"
"Yes, only she doesn't call herself that now."
"She's taken her maiden name again since the separation. Yes, I'm going to Pompey, and it may be night when I get there. I'll have to do any shadowing among the shadows I guess, as I've often cast for trout. But, dark or light, I think I'll bring home the right fish this time."
And so, as the early shadows of the late afternoon were slanting over Colchester the old detective boarded a train, keeping in view a well-dressed, freshly-shaven individual, who, for all his slickness and sleekness, seemed to have about him the air of a tiger. His hands, in new gloves, slowly clasped and unclasped, as though he would have liked to twine the fingers about the soft throat of a victim.
"Yes," murmured the colonel, as he sank into his seat, "I think I'll bring home the big fish this time."
At the little station of Pompey the colonel saw his man leave the train. For the wily fisherman to slip from the car on the other side of the track and get behind a tool shanty, was the work of but a moment, and as the train pulled out, and puffed on its way, the detective, peering around the corner of the shed, which housed a handcar and other tools of the section hands, had a glimpse of his "fish," as he facetiously termed him, standing rather irresolutely on the station platform.
"Now for the next move," murmured the colonel.
It was not long in being played.
The man went inside the station, but the detective did not come from his post of observation. The depot was so small that any one leaving it, even on the side away from the tracks, would be seen as soon as he had passed beyond the shadows. But the man evidently had no intention of going away. He came out again on the front platform, accompanied by a boy—one, seemingly, who ran errands and delivered telegrams when any came to disturb the peaceful solitude of Pompey.
"I must see that note!" murmured Colonel Ashley, as he saw one handed to the boy. "If he goes in the direction I think he will, I'll get it too! I think I know the lady to whom it is addressed."
The boy talked with the man a little, nodded his head as if understanding, and then started off up the tracks, toward a path that led across a field and toward a cluster of village houses.
"Just as I thought," the colonel whispered to himself.
Keeping the tool-house between himself and the man now nervously pacing the platform, the colonel walked rapidly away from the station, in the direction taken by the boy.
The boy's legs were short and vigorous, the colonel's long and no less muscular, and, thanks to his devotion to Walton, which had taken him tramping many miles over hilly trails, as well as across level meadows, the old detective was soon able to overtake the lad, and at a point impossible of observation from the station.
"I say!" called the colonel.
The boy stopped, and looked back questioningly.
"Did you tell him where the best fishing was?" asked the colonel.
"The gentleman who gave you that note. Is it possible he didn't mention fishing?"
"Naw! He didn't say nothin' about it. He just give me this letter, and—"
"Very likely he forgot about the fishing part," and the detective smiled grimly. "Let me see it just a moment."
Without hesitation the boy handed it over. Thought was hardly more rapid than the colonel's perusal of the missive, and, as he gave it back to the boy, he remarked:
"It's all right. I didn't make any mistake. Now hurry, and you needn't come back to the station right away."
"But he told me to bring him an answer."
"Oh, did he? Well, then I'll wait for you in the village and you can let me see it first. Then I'll know all about the fishing and I can be on hand with my friend. Trot along, Sonny. I'll meet you in the village when you get the answer to the note. Then I'll know just where to go fishing. How is it around here? Are there any good streams?"
"Are there? Say, I've caught some of the biggest chubb—"
"Ah, I thought I wasn't mistaken in thinking you a pupil in the school of Izaak Walton."
"Isaac Walton? Huh! That ain't our teacher's name!"
"No, I suppose not," and the colonel smiled. "Well, hurry along Sonny, and here's an extra quarter for you, I'll follow you and you can let me see the answer before you go back to my friend. It would be too bad if he and I went fishing in separate places. I want to be with him."
"Where's your hooks and line?" asked the boy.
"Oh, I have them in my pocket—the hooks and line," and the colonel grimly tapped a pocket wherein something clicked metallicly.
"You can cut a pole in the woods," said the boy. "I've done it lots of times."
"Of course," agreed the colonel, smiling. The boy sped away over the fields. The detective followed more slowly until he reached the collection of houses, and there he strolled along, inspecting the different dwellings as though attracted by the quaint old village street.
It was not long before the boy returned, an envelope held conspicuously in his hand. He smiled as he caught sight of the colonel.
The shadows were lengthening.
"It's too late for fishing now," observed the boy as, unwittingly, he handed over the missive. "That is, unless you're going to set night lines."
"I may have to do that," the detective agreed. "But it won't be quite dark yet for some time."
He glanced quickly at the envelope. It bore no address on its plain, white surface, and under pretence of turning, so as to take advantage of the last golden glow in the west, the colonel quickly read the letter. As he did so a look, almost of fright, came over his face.
"I wonder if she'll keep her word," he murmured. "I wonder—"
He slipped the letter quickly into another plain envelope, one of a miscellaneous collection of papers in his pocket, and returned it to the boy, retaining the covering he had been obliged to tear open, for it had been sealed.
"There you are," he said. "And you needn't say anything to my friend about the fishing. I want to surprise him. Just don't say anything about me.
"And here's half a dollar, Sonny. Could I hire you to take me to that brook you spoke of, where you say there are such big fish?"
"Sure you could," the boy answered eagerly, as he pocketed the money. "I know a lot about fishing."
"All right. I may call on you. Trot along now, and remember—don't say anything. This is to be a surprise!"
"Sure, I know," and with a precocious wink the lad passed on into the ever lengthening shadows.
"I think," observed the colonel to himself, as he watched the boy making his way back toward the station, "that I'll make a little change in the old saying, and follow the woman instead of looking for her, since I know where she is already."
Back then to the peaceful little village went the fisherman, and, reaching the house where the boy had left the note, taking therefrom its answer, Colonel Ashley waited with all the patience that might characterize a waiting beside some fishing stream.
But his patience was not tried long, for presently a veiled woman emerged from the house. She walked away rapidly the detective following unseen.
"She is going to meet him, just as she promised in the note, though it must be galling to her pride," murmured the old detective. "I wonder if she really believes he'll keep his word—or can keep it? Well, I'll be there at the finish, and I think this will be the finish," he went on grimly, as he thrust his hand into his side pocket, where the "hooks" jingled with grim music.
As the woman walked on, she turned now and then and looked back along the fast-darkening streets.
For a moment the colonel was suspicious.
"I wonder if she has seen me?" he murmured.
He gave a quick, backward glance, and started as he saw another figure not far behind him.
"Can it be?" exclaimed the colonel. "No, it's Aaron Grafton," he proceeded with an air of relief. "He must have been at her house, and she has asked him to follow her, to make sure no harm is done. A bit foolish of him, under the circumstances. But when a man's in love—"
The colonel shrugged his shoulders and chuckled grimly.
"However, I must take care that he does not see me."
Slipping behind a tree, the colonel effected a change in hats, for he always wore a soft one and carried several collapsible ones. Then, buttoning his coat rather askew about him, to give a careless air to his attire (the colonel, normally was one of the neatest men living) he crossed to the other side of the street and then became the shadower of two instead of one, for Aaron Grafton had passed on without, apparently, noticing him.
The woman was still in sight, and before she reached the station the man who had sent the note came out and met her on the driveway. The colonel looked back and saw Mr. Grafton dodging behind a tree.
"He doesn't want to be seen, either," he mused.
Relying on his simple but effective disguise, the colonel made bold to walk within hearing distance of the man and woman, the latter having come to a stiff halt when she saw the man advancing to meet her.
"We can't talk here," said the dispatcher of the note. "Will you walk a little way with me?"
His tones had the cutting coldness of steel, and there was a sort of restrained cruelty in his every action.
"I suppose it would not be wise to be seen talking to you here," was the woman's low reply. "And, believe me, I have no desire to be seen with you again, ever. It was only your promise in the note that brought me here. Are you prepared to keep it if I walk a way with you?"
"I am! This is no more pleasant for me than for you, but it must be done. Come!"
He did not offer to touch her, nor did he turn his head more than half way in speaking to her. He seemed to be controlling himself by an effort, and she seemed to shrink away. Again she looked back, down the fast-darkening street, as though to make sure there was a way of escape—some one near on whom she could rely.
"Don't worry. I'll be there when you have your little talk," whispered the colonel to himself.
"Suppose we walk up on The Heights," suggested the man. "We will not be disturbed, and—"
"Up there?" she gasped.
"Why not?" he asked, as they walked on, and the colonel, affecting a slowness in gait, heard the words. "Just because you used to walk there in your—in other days," he substituted quickly, "is no reason why you shouldn't now, is it?"
"Only—memories!" Her voice was very low.
"Memories? Bah!" The words were as though he spewed them from his mouth like a bitter taste. "Come on!" and his tones were rough.
The woman looked at him a moment with eyes that seemed to burn through her veil, and then followed. The colonel passed on ahead, slouched across the street once more, and lagged behind, so that he might follow.
The couple turned toward the outskirts of the village, where, on a hill, known locally as "The Heights" there was a grove of trees. Below the hill, at one place cutting deep into it and making a precipitous cliff, was a little river. At the point where the stream had bitten into the hill it had washed for itself a defile, the bottom rock-covered, so that the waters swirled over it in foam.
The Heights was the favorite trysting place of lovers, and many were the pleasant spots there. With evening coming on, it was almost sure to be deserted, though later, if there was a moon, murmuring voices would mingle with the eclipse of the swirling waters in the gully below.
"Yes, it's a quiet place for a talk," mused the colonel.
The man and woman passed on. Behind them came the shadower, and behind him Aaron Grafton.
Up The Heights walked the leading pair, seemingly unaware of the presence of any one but themselves. Into the shadows they strolled, still stiff and uncompromising, both of them. At last the woman, halting near the edge of the cliff, beyond which the woods were thicker, faced the man.
"This is far enough," she said, and she turned so that the fast-fading light of the west was on her veiled face. She did not raise the mesh.
"Yes, this is far enough, I suppose," said the man, and there was a sneer in his tones. "Too far, perhaps. But—"
"I did not come here to discuss anything with you but the matter you spoke of in your note," cut in the woman. "Did you bring my diamonds as you promised?"
"Yes, I have them."
His voice was as cold as hers.
"Then give them to me and let me go. I don't know why I consented to meet you, except that you said you would give them only to me, personally. And I don't, even for that, know why I came here. I—"
"Possibly in memory of other days?" the man sneered.
"Never!" she answered bitterly. "Oh, never that!"
"Well, as you choose," he went on, with a slight shrug of the shoulders. "But I have a few things I want to say to you, and I didn't want the whole village babbling about it. Too many know me here, so I kept out of sight as much as I could."
"Say what you have to say, and quickly. Give me my diamonds, to which I have a right, and let me go. That is all I ask of you."
"I'm afraid it can't be done so quickly as all that," and the man laughed cuttingly. "In the first place, I want you to sign a paper. I have it with me, also a fountain pen. I've a flashlight to let you read what you sign, in case it gets too dark."
"Do you mean a receipt for the diamonds?"
"Not exactly, Cynthia, I—"
"Miss Ratchford, if you please!" she exclaimed. "Miss Ratchford to you, always, after this!"
"Oh, very well! Now look here! I'm done with soft words and foolishness!"
He took a sudden step nearer her, and she shrank back. Colonel Ashley, who had worked himself to a position, where, hidden behind a screen of bushes, he could see and hear, watched closely.
"Foolishness?" the woman questioned.
"Yes, foolishness! You know the trouble I'm in. I've got to have money! You can get it for me!"
"Yes. And, by the eternal, you've got to! Do you think I'm going to ruin just because you couldn't stand a little rough treatment now and then? Why, better women than you would be glad to come back to me. I'll take you back!"
"Take me back! Oh, my God!"
"Cut out that hysterical stuff!" he ordered. "I'm desperate! I've got to have money. I can raise it on a note if you'll sign it and put up those bonds for security, and by—"
He caught her wrist in a grip that made her wince with pain as he swung her around to face him.
"I've got to have your signature and the bonds!" he exclaimed in voice tense with suppressed passion.
"The bonds!" she exclaimed. "You know what almost became of them. I let you raise money on them once, and almost lost them. Now you dare ask me for them again?"
"I do, and I'm going to enforce my demands! I've got to have money. I darn't sell your diamonds—at least I don't want to. I'd rather you'd have them," and he seemed to weaken as if with romance when it came to this sentiment. "As for the bonds—"
"You'll never touch them!" she cried, bitterly. "Isn't it enough that you have ruined my life? Now you must—"
"Oh, stop the theatrical business!" he sneered. "Pity you didn't go on the stage. Now look here. This is your last chance. I'll give you your diamonds if you'll sign this paper so I can get out of the tangle I'm in. You've got to sign! It's your last chance. If you don't, by all the—"
She tore herself away from him, and turned to flee, but he was too quick for her, and was about to encircle her in his arms when she shrank back and gave a despairing cry.
"Don't—don't touch me!"
This seemed to madden the man, for he sprang toward her, fury and threat in every gesture.
"Aaron! Aaron! He's going to kill me!" screamed Cynthia.
Thought was not quicker than the leaping forward of Colonel Ashley. Out from the shadows he sprang, to whirl back the man who, with blazing eyes and murderous hate written on his face, confronted Cynthia Ratchford.
"What—what's this?" snarled the man, struggling to retain his balance. "What's this? Who the devil are you, to come between me and my—"
"Don't dare profane that name!" warned the woman. "I—I— Oh, Aaron! where are you?"
It was very dark now, under the trees.
"Ha! So that's who he is! Your old lover, Grafton! Well, I'll soon finish him! I'll make him wish he hadn't come between us with his protecting ways, and his diamond cross that he goes so secretly to have mended. Bah! A pretty lover! Take that, you sneaking fool!"
There was a sliver of flame in the darkness, and mingled with the report came a cry of anguish and a woman's scream, as a heavy stick in the hands of Colonel Ashley broke the hand that held the revolver.
A little thud among the bushes told where the weapon had fallen, its bullet cutting the tree branches overhead.
"Oh—who—who are you?" gasped the woman, as the colonel stepped between her and the man he had maimed. "I thought Mr. Grafton was—"
"I think that is he coming now," said the old detective quietly, as the sound of some one running up the path was borne to their strained senses.
"Look here!" snarled the man with the broken wrist, as he clasped it with his other hand, "aren't you—" he started back as a last flicker of the waning light fell across the colonel's face. "Who in the name of all the devils in hades are you?" he cried. "What right have you—"
"The right of the law," was the quiet answer. The colonel's hand slipped into his pocket, where something metallic clicked. "The right of the law. Langford Larch, I arrest you for the murder of Mrs. Amelia Darcy!"
It was so still for a moment that the rustle of a bird's wings in the tree overhead sounded like the rushing of wind. Colonel Ashley, drawing something from his pocket, took a step nearer the maimed man. As he did so Larch laughed wildly.
"Ah, so that's the game, is it?" he cried. "You have betrayed me, Cynthia, you she-devil! You put up this little game with your lover Grafton, did you? Well you—"
"Langford, I never—!"
"Bah! Well, I'll fool you all! Arrest me for murdering the old woman, will you? Like hell you will!"
He stepped back a pace, Colonel Ashley following.
"Keep back!" cried Larch. "If you touch me—! I'm not afraid of you. Yes, I did kill her! I didn't mean to, but I did. The game's up! I can see that. But you'll never get me to the chair. I'll fool you all! I'm not afraid to die!"
Before the colonel or Aaron Grafton, who just then burst through the bushes fringing the path, could make a move to prevent him, Langford Larch, with a cry like that of a stricken beast, threw himself over the edge of the rocky precipice, and his body went crashing down a hundred feet into the swirling waters below.
HIS LAST CASE
Slowly the bruised and cut lips moved. Faintly came from the maimed throat a hoarse whisper.
"I—did—it! I know this is the end. I'll confess everything!"
Before his death, which followed soon after he had been taken from the swirling waters, Langford Larch made a complete confession, telling how he had killed Mrs. Darcy.
Swiftly went the news to the jail, and later to the courthouse, whence, after a conference between the grave judge and a somewhat disappointed, though perhaps gladly so, prosecutor of the pleas, James Darcy walked forth a free man, honorably discharged from the custody of the court, the indictment against him for murder quashed.
Amy Mason was the first to greet her lover when he stepped away from the bench of the judge, before which he stood to hear himself cleared of the charge.
"Oh, Jimmie boy! I'm so glad!" and her eyes beamed.
"And so am I, Amy. If you knew what I have gone through—"
"As if I didn't know, Jimmie boy! The colonel told me some of it."'
"Did he? Isn't he a trump? Where is he now?"
"Oh, dad carried him off for some long-delayed fishing," answered Amy, as she and James Darcy left the courtroom before a throng, that could not be restrained from cheering, despite the cries of "Silence!" on the part of the constable.
"But how did he know that Larch killed her?" asked Darcy, as he and Amy rode away in her car, amid the cheers of the throng outside the county building.
"By the process of elimination, so he told dad. He never for an instant really believed you guilty, Jimmie boy, even after the discovery of the electric wires, though he let those two detectives think he did."
"And what about Singa Phut and Harry King?"
"Oh, they were only incidents, so Colonel Ashley says," went on the happy girl, as the automobile rolled along. "Even that funny Spotty was 'eliminated', as our dear old fisherman calls it, when he explained about the diamond cross. And as for Mr. Grafton, though he was mixed up in the jewel part of the mystery, he was only acting to help Miss Ratchford, as she wants to be called. Poor girl, she's had a hard time, too! I hope she finds as much happiness as—"
"As who?" asked Darcy, as Amy hesitated.
"As I have," came the gentle answer, as Amy gazed with shining eyes at the man beside her.
Langford Larch told everything in the brief time left him between his fatal leap and the passing of his soul to a higher judgment than that of the county courts. Some time before the events leading to the separation, a meeting between his wife and Grafton had been witnessed by one of Larch's hotel employees, who told of it, magnifying its importance. Larch's jealous disposition was inflamed, and there was a stormy scene between him and his wife. He knocked her down, and that was the end, as far as she was concerned. She told him she would leave him. She admitted that she still cared for Grafton, but denied any intimacy with him. Then came the legal separation.
Before this, however, Larch had missed his wife's diamond cross, and charged her with having disposed of it. During their final interview she told the truth, of how it had been stepped on, and that Grafton had taken it to be repaired. It was then that Larch saw his opportunity for getting possession of the valuable stones, for his debts were pressing, and, though it was suspected by few, he needed a large sum in cash.
One night, partly intoxicated, which was unusual for him, and perhaps on this occasion done in desperation, Larch called at the jewelry store. Mrs. Darcy happened to come downstairs as he arrived, and, knowing him well, admitted him, though the store had long been closed. In one hand she held the Indian watch, perhaps picked up idly from the repair table. In the other hand was the diamond cross.
This ornament Larch instantly demanded, but Mrs. Darcy refused to give it up, not only on account of his condition, but because she did not consider that he had any claim to it, knowing that it had been his wife's before their marriage.
Larch was insistent in his demands, and tried to take the diamond cross from Mrs. Darcy. She resisted him in the dimly-lighted and deserted store, and he caught up the paper-cutter dagger and threatened her.
She backed away from him, toward the open safe, intending, it would seem, to put the valuable ornament in there and lock it up, when Larch struck at her. As he did so, he knocked down the heavy statue of the hunter. It struck her on the head, inflicting what would have proved a mortal blow, even without the knife thrust.
As the statue fell Larch leaned forward to grasp it, he said, but he slipped and the knife in his hand entered her side, and she fell on it, driving it deeper in. Larch declared he never meant to kill, or even seriously hurt, Mrs. Darcy. But he did kill her.
Seeing her lying, as he then thought, only perhaps seriously wounded, Larch, taking the diamond cross, staggered around the jewelry shop, and then fled panic-stricken, went to the Homestead, and drank himself into a stupor.
Incidentally Larch's confession cleared up other matters, and shifted certain responsibilities from various persons. The Indian watch, though impregnated with poison, had nothing to do with the death of Mrs. Darcy, though she might have been slightly scratched by the hidden needle. And the money Harry King went out and got the night of the murder was given him, as he boasted at the time, by a woman. He refused to name her, but she was named later, when King's wife filed a petition for a divorce—not her first by the way.
"Well, Colonel," remarked Mr. Mason, as together they strolled toward a trout stream, several days after the clearing up of the diamond cross mystery, "I'm glad to know you had the same faith in young Darcy that I had."
"Oh, yes, there couldn't be any other way out. Jimmie boy, as your Amy calls him—bless her heart—was a bit careless, but that was all. Some of his wires that he rigged up for his electric lathe, secretly, did get tangled with the heavily-charged conductors of the lighting system, though he didn't know that. It may be they were responsible for the shocks given. I didn't go into that deeply. And Darcy didn't repair Singa Phut's watch when he said he would. It was in getting up early to do this and have the timepiece ready when promised, that he discovered his relative's dead body."
"Where did Harry King get that odd coin which made it look bad in his case for a while?" asked Mr. Mason.
"Larch gave it to him, unsuspectingly enough, it seems. When Larch went into Mrs. Darcy's store she had the tray of rare coins out of the safe. She may have been going to put them away with the Indian watch and the diamond cross, but she had no chance. And after Larch had killed her, seeing the money, he picked up a handful, as he needed some change. In a way the discovery of the odd coin helped in solving the mystery, for I kept my helper, Jack Young, at the Homestead after that, and it was hearing King and Larch talking about the diamond cross that gave me just the clew I wanted.
"Larch had taken out the valuable diamonds from the ornament, and had disposed of them, in spite of what he said to his wife just before his death, to get some much-needed money. He really did send her the crushed gold setting, promising, in the letter he dispatched to her by the boy I intercepted, to restore the diamonds to her if she would meet him.
"This she consented to do. As it happened, Aaron Grafton was calling on her at the time, trying to find some means of helping her, for there is the old-time love between them. And it was at her suggestion that he followed her when I was shadowing Larch. Evidently Grafton didn't, at that time, know it was only the crushed and diamondless cross that Larch had sent back. And after he died and confessed, we found a paper of imitation diamonds in his pocket that Larch had ready to use in deceiving his wife if she had agreed to sign the papers he wanted her to, so he could bolster up his failing business."
"Well, he's out of the way now, and I hear the hotel has been sold."
"Yes, Mr. Mason. And it will be, so I hear, once more the oldtime and respectable resort it once was. As for Miss Ratchford, she has gone to friends in California, and there, I understand, Mr. Grafton will shortly follow. They are to be married in about a year. Mr. Grafton is going to sell out his business. He told me he would not press the charge against Spotty for stealing the imitation diamond cross. So Spotty will soon be at liberty again."
"I'm glad of that. He's a sport—in his own way."
"Yes," agreed the colonel,
"One point puzzles me," went on Mr. Mason, "and that is, why Cynthia—I call her that for I've known her for years—why she didn't make Larch support her after the separation. She could have had a regular divorce and big alimony—that is if he could have paid."
"Maybe that's it—he couldn't. Anyhow, she seems not to have wanted to accept any of his money after he had spoiled her life. It was a foolish marriage, though at the time it may have seemed advantageous to her—or her mother. After the murder, or let us call it killing, for Larch with his last breath protested he never meant it—after that, which Cynthia seems to have guessed—she was even more strong in her determination not to take any of his money. She was prepared, too, in case Jimmie had been found guilty, to make a statement implicating her husband, though, under the law she could not be compelled to testify against him in a murder trial."
"Well, I'm glad it's all over, Colonel," said Mr. Mason, with a sigh of relief. "There are two happy ones, if ever there were any," and he motioned to Amy and Darcy, walking slowly across the meadow in the golden glow of the setting sun.
"Yes, I'm glad I had a hand in helping them."
The young people, turning, saw the two men, and Amy waved her hand. Slowly she and her lover approached.
"What luck, Colonel?" she asked gaily.
"The very best! You didn't exaggerate when you spoke of your trout stream."
"I'm glad you like it. Jimmie and I were just talking about you."
"I wondered why my ears burned," and the old detective laughed.
"Colonel Ashley," put in Darcy, "there's just one thing I can't seem to clear up in all this business."
"Well, what made all the clocks stop at different times? I thought I knew something of the jewelry business, but this puzzles me."
"Just because it's so simple," laughed the detective. "Larch stopped those of the clocks that didn't run down and stop themselves. He figured out, crazily enough in his fear and drunken frenzy, that if no clocks or watches were going no one would know exactly what time the killing took place. So, after Mrs. Darcy was dead, he hurried about the store, with no one in the wet and deserted street to watch him, and, stopping the timepieces, moved the hands of many of them to suit his fancy. But he forgot the ticking watch."
"It was simple," murmured Darcy. "No wonder I didn't think of it. Have you so simple a theory regarding the queer state I was in that night—I mean awakening and going to sleep again after feeling something brush my face?"
"Not unless Larch tried to chloroform you after he had killed Mrs. Darcy, and was afraid you might come down and discover what had happened," answered the detective. "That will remain a mystery, but its solution is not important."
"Not as long as you have cleared Jimmie boy!" laughed Amy, and yet there was a look of sadness on her face, for it had been an ordeal for all of them.
"Oh, well, he'd have been cleared anyhow, if the worst had come to the worst," said the colonel. "However, now that it's all over, I can give proper attention to my fishing."
"And I," murmured James Darcy, "can—"
But a soft hand over his lips prevented further utterance.
Lightly as a feather the colonel flicked a fly over the quiet pool where the waters swirled in a lazy eddy. There was a splash in the sun, a shrill song of the reel, and a fish leaped high in the air, trying to shake the barb from its mouth.
"No, you don't!" laughed the old detective. "I've hooked you this time!"
"As you hooked Langford Larch," murmured Jack Young, who sat on the bank in the shade, while the colonel fished and Shag was setting out lunch under the trees.
"This is my last case!" exclaimed the detective as he slipped his prize into the grass-lined creel. "Positively my last! I never would have gone on with this, even after I started, except for the pleading of Miss Mason. But I'm through! No more detective cases for me! I've retired!"
Jack looked at the trim and upright figure and keen, handsome face, neither of which showed the old colonel's age. Then the younger detective glanced at Shag, winked an eye, and murmured:
"Through until the next time; eh Shag?"
"Yo' done said it!" exclaimed the colored man with a grin. "Now, sah, Colonel, lunch am served!"