"This picture was made by Gibson, on Fifth Avenue," she said, referring to the photograph in the book. Both Baker and Duvall saw at once that on the retouched picture, the name of the photographer had been scratched off.
"How many of them were made, and what became of them?" Duvall asked quickly.
"Ordinarily I could not answer such a question," Mrs. Morton replied, "for Ruth has had many photographs taken, and we have not of course kept a record of them, or what has become of them, but in this particular case I happen to remember that she did not like the pose particularly, and ordered but half a dozen. I do not think that she gave any of them away. If I am right in my supposition, there should be five more here in the apartment." Closing the book, Mrs. Morton went to the cabinet again, and took out a portfolio containing numberless photographs of her daughter in all sorts of poses.
After some searching, she produced a brown-paper envelope, containing a number of pictures, all taken by the same photographer, at the same time. There were in the envelope four copies of the photograph, the fifth of which was contained in the album.
"Evidently one has been given away," Duvall exclaimed. "Now if we can only find out to whom, our search for the writer of these letters may be very quickly ended."
Mr. Baker regarded them both with a puzzled look.
"I have seen that picture before," he said, "and of course I could not have done so, had I not seen the one that is missing." He sat for a while in silence, searching his recollection for a solution of the problem. Suddenly he spoke. "There was a picture like that in my office, at one time," he exclaimed. "Miss Morton sent a number down, for advertising purposes, and I am positive that this one was among them. I remember distinctly the pose of the head, the unusual arrangement of the hair. That photograph should be in our files. The fact that it has been taken out shows that the person who has been writing these letters is a member of our own staff, or at least has access to our files."
"That does not necessarily follow," observed Duvall.
"Because the picture might have been obtained from the photographer."
"But they are not allowed to dispose of the portraits of others, without the sitter's permission."
"I know that, but they sometimes do so, especially in the case of anyone so well known as Miss Morton. She has become a sort of public character.
"Well," remarked Duvall, "we can readily find out, in the morning. You, Mr. Baker, can go through your files, and should you find the photograph to be there, I will take the matter up with the photographer. If, on the contrary, the picture is missing, it will be fairly conclusive evidence that the person or persons we are looking for are in some way connected with the studio."
"I will make an investigation the first thing in the morning," Mr. Baker announced, rising. "Do you expect to be at the studio early, Mr. Duvall?"
"Yes. Quite early."
"Then we had best leave matters until then. Good night. Good night, Mrs. Morton." He turned and started toward the door.
He had proceeded but a few steps, when the three occupants of the room were startled by a series of sudden and agonizing cries. From the rear of the apartment came a succession of screams so piercing in their intensity, so filled with horror, that they found themselves for a moment unable to stir. Then Mrs. Morton gave a cry of anguish, and darted out into the hall, closely followed by Duvall and Mr. Baker.
The screams continued, filling the entire apartment with their clamor. That the voice which uttered them was that of Ruth Morton none of the three doubted for a moment. With sinking hearts they went on, prepared for the worst. Duvall found himself dreading the moment when they should reach the bedroom door, and face the girl, her beauty, perhaps, disfigured beyond all recognition.
There was a sharp turn, at the end of the hall, into a shorter cross hall, at the end of which was the door of Ruth's bedroom. It was closed, but as though in response to Mrs. Morton's agonized appeals, it suddenly opened as they reached it, and Ruth Morton, pale as death, appeared.
With wide open eyes staring straight ahead, she half stepped, half fell through the doorway, her slender figure clothed only in her night dress. "Ruth," Mrs. Morton screamed, as she caught sight of her daughter.
The girl tried to say something, but her tongue failed her. Then, with a faint moan, she lurched forward and fell limply into her mother's arms.
When Duvall, Mr. Baker, of the motion picture company, and Mrs. Morton rushed down the hallway of the latter's apartment in response to the screams from Ruth's bedroom, they were one and all convinced that the girl had suffered some terrible injury—that the mysterious threats to destroy her beauty which had been made during the past few days had been converted into some frightful reality.
One glance at the girl's white face as she fell fainting into her mother's arms told the detective that their fears had been, to that extent at least, groundless. The girl's lovely features, although drawn and contorted by fear, showed no signs of the disfigurement they feared.
Leaving the girl to her mother's care, Duvall, closely followed by Baker, dashed into the bedroom, and at once switched on the lights. The place, to the intense surprise of both, presented a picture of perfect quiet and order. The bed clothing was slightly disarranged, but this of course was but natural, since Ruth had sprung up under the influence of some terrible fear, and rushed from the room. Everything else seemed in its place.
Duvall's first act was to examine the window. The one fronting on the fire escape was closed and tightly fastened. It was perfectly clear that no one had entered the room in that way.
The other window, facing on the court, was raised a few inches, just as Mrs. Morton had left it half an hour before. Duvall turned to his companion with a puzzled frown.
"I had supposed, Mr. Baker," he said, "that someone had entered this room, and frightened Miss Morton while she was asleep, but that is impossible. The windows have not been disturbed."
Baker glanced at the one which faced the court.
"That one may have been," he said, indicating it with a nod. "Someone may have come in that way, raising the window to effect an entrance, and lowering it again after leaving."
"I admit that what you say would be possible, were there any way in which the window might be reached from outside," Duvall replied, "but if you will look out, and tell me how anyone could make an entrance from the court, I will agree to the possibility you suggest."
Baker raised the window, and glanced out.
"The apartment above," Duvall went on, "is unoccupied, and the window above is closed and fastened. The little attic in the adjoining house is unused, although that is not important, since no one could reach this window from it, in any event. Can you suggest any other way?"
Mr. Baker shook his head.
"She must have been frightened by some terrible nightmare," he said. "I do not wonder at it. She has gone through enough to upset anybody's nerves. Suppose we go back and question her."
"Just a moment," exclaimed Duvall. Then he dropped upon his knees beside the disordered bed, and began to examine the surface of the counterpane with minute care.
"What is it?" Baker asked, joining him.
"I don't know—yet," returned Duvall, as he took a magnifying glass from his pocket and proceeded to scrutinize with the greatest interest some marks upon the counterpane's surface. Presently he rose, replaced the glass in his pocket, and turned to his companion.
"There is something very astonishing about this whole affair," he exclaimed. "What do you make of those?" He indicated a series of dark smudges upon the bedspread, arranged in little groups.
Baker bent over and examined the marks with an exclamation of surprise.
"Why—they look like finger prints," he cried. "Large finger prints."
"It is impossible to say whether they are finger prints or not," Duvall replied. "As you see, there are a great many of them, very confusingly arranged. But there is something else, that you have not noticed. What do you suppose could have made a mark like this?" He pointed to a long straight dark line, which extended half way across the counterpane, and pointed directly toward the window which faced upon the court. The line was very faint, but clearly defined, as though someone had laid a thin dusty stick across the bed.
"I can't make anything of it," Baker exclaimed, gazing toward the window.
"Nor can I," said Duvall. "At one time, because of certain indentations on the letters found in this room, I had thought that they might have been introduced through the partly opened window by means of a long rod, a fishing pole, perhaps. This mark on the counterpane appears to bear out that theory. The smudges which look like finger prints may have been merely the points at which the end of the pole, or whatever was attached to the end of the pole, came in contact with the bed. All that is perfectly supposable. But you can see for yourself that if a long pole were thrust through the window, raised as the latter was but a trifle above the level of the bed, the other end of such a pole must of necessity have been held at approximately the same level, and the only point outside the window from which it could have been so held is in the air, forty feet above the bottom of the court! The thing is absurd."
"There is, of course, the window of the apartment below," Baker suggested. "Might not it have been used?"
"I thought of that," Duvall replied. "You can see for yourself that even a tall man standing on the window sill below, would find not only his hands, but even his head, far below the sill of this window, nor could anyone so support themselves, without something to hold on to. But all that is beside the question. The people in the apartment below are friends of Mrs. Morton's, a middle-aged man and his wife, with two young children. They are eminently respectable people, and quite above suspicion."
"Then I give the thing up," exclaimed Baker. "Suppose we have a talk with Miss Morton."
They found the girl lying on a couch in the library, with her mother sitting beside her. She seemed very weak and quiet, but in full possession of her faculties. Duvall drew up a chair, and asked her if she felt able to tell them what had occurred.
"Yes," she replied in a faint voice, her face still showing evidences of her fright. "I will try to tell you exactly what happened."
"I had taken some medicine to make me sleep, before I got into bed, because I was very nervous and upset. When mother came back to fix the windows I was already drowsy, and just remember that she turned out the lights, and then I must have dozed.
"All of a sudden I heard a strange rasping noise, and I woke up, with the feeling that there was someone in the room. I don't know just why I felt so sure of that, whether it was merely a sense of someone's presence, or the sound of someone moving about near my bed. I think, however, that it was the latter.
"The room was dark, of course, but enough light came through the windows to make a moving object distinguishable. I looked about, terribly frightened, but for a moment I saw nothing. The noise I had heard at first continued. Then without the least warning, a hand seemed to clutch at the bedclothes, and I saw above me, bending over me, a terrible dark face, exactly like the grinning death's head on those letters I've been getting.
"I lay perfectly still, frozen with horror, and in a moment the face had disappeared, and then I began to scream. Right after that I sprang from the bed and threw open the door, and found mother and Mr. Baker and yourself standing in the hall. That is all I know."
Duvall looked at her for a moment, puzzled.
"Are you sure you really saw someone leaning over you? Might it not have been an illusion, the result of your nervous condition?"
"No. I am certain someone was there—someone quite tall, I should say, and with a terrible, evil face."
"It might have been a mask, of course," Duvall suggested. "Someone wearing a mask."
"Yes. It might have been. It was too dark for me to tell, of course. But I remember the eyes, for I saw them distinctly. They were only a few inches from my own." She put her hands to her face and shuddered. "It was terrible, terrible. I shall never sleep in that room again."
"There—there, dearie," Mrs. Morton whispered in a soothing voice. "You need not sleep there. You can lie right here, for the rest of the night, and I will stay with you and see that no one harms you."
"That would be best, Mrs. Morton," Duvall remarked. "And to-morrow I suggest that you and your daughter move, temporarily at least, to another location. Some quiet hotel, where you will not be subject to these terrible annoyances. I cannot imagine how it is done, but in some way, some almost superhuman way, it seems, someone can apparently either enter your daughter's room, or at least reach it from without, at will."
"What do you mean by that?" asked Ruth, somewhat mystified.
"I mean this, Miss Morton. I do not believe that there was anyone in your room to-night. I do not believe that there has ever been anyone there. But I do believe that the two letters we found there were introduced from without, in some mysterious way, at the end of a long pole, or rod. And I think that what frightened you so to-night was merely a mask, a grotesque representation of the seal used on the letters, and pushed toward you in some way, as you lay in bed for the purpose of terrifying you."
"But—why—why?" the girl cried.
"I cannot say. But it has occurred to me that these people, whoever they are, that are trying to injure you, may not intend any physical violence at all, at least for the present, but may be depending solely upon the terrible and insidious power of suggestion. You must bear this possibility in mind, and try to control your fears. I can readily believe that thirty days of this sort of persecution, and you would be a physical and mental wreck. But we shall stop it. You need have no fears on that score." Mrs. Morton turned to her daughter with a few words of explanation.
"Mr. Richards, or rather, Mr. Duvall, is not a newspaper man, Ruth, but a detective, who is trying to bring the wretches who are annoying you to justice. I feel every confidence in him."
Ruth turned toward Duvall a very white and pathetic face.
"I hope you will succeed, Mr. Duvall," she said, in a weak voice. "I cannot stand much more."
"I shall, Miss Morton. And now," he turned to Mr. Baker, "I think we had better go, and let Miss Morton get some rest. I will come here in the morning, Mrs. Morton," he continued, addressing the girl's mother, "and we will consider further the question of your moving to a hotel. Meanwhile I do not think you have anything further to fear this evening. Good night."
Before leaving the apartment he made another examination of the marks upon the bedclothes, then closed and fastened both windows, and locked the door of the room.
Mr. Baker left him at the corner.
"You will come to the studio to-morrow, of course."
"By all means. I shall come down with Miss Morton and her mother. That will give us an opportunity to investigate further the matter of the missing photograph, and also to talk over that plan I had in mind concerning the new film you are to show at the Grand to-morrow night. It is barely possible that, by means of a plan I have in mind, we may be able to locate the person or persons responsible for all this trouble."
"I certainly hope so," said Baker, as he took his leave. "This thing is getting on my nerves, too."
Duvall made his way back to his hotel, as much mystified as ever. He had thought for a moment of spending the night on the sidewalk in front of the Mortons' apartment, watching the windows facing on the court, but his experience told him that it would be useless. The alarm which Ruth had made, the closing of the windows of her bedroom, the locking of the door, all made it highly improbable that any further attempt would be made to annoy her during the night. He walked along in a state of intense preoccupation, trying to discover some reasonable explanation of the astonishing events of the day.
Once he had an impression, a feeling, that he was being followed, but when he turned around, there was no one in sight but a slightly tipsy man, and a couple of young girls, far down the street. He dismissed the thought from his mind, and proceeded to his hotel.
It was not yet eleven o'clock, and Grace was waiting for him in the little parlor of their suite.
"Well, Richard," she remarked, as he came in, "you've had quite a day of it."
"Yes, quite," he replied, throwing himself into a chair. "What have you been doing with yourself?"
"Shopping, mostly. I found it rather dull. I went to a moving picture this afternoon. Saw your friend Ruth Morton. She certainly is a very beautiful girl."
"Yes—very," Duvall replied, absently.
"Have you seen her to-day?" Grace went on, with a smile.
"Oh—nothing. I was just thinking."
Duvall burst into a laugh, and rising, went over to his wife and kissed her.
"For heaven's sake, Grace," he said, "don't be silly. I'm not interested in motion picture actresses."
"You weren't, I'll admit, nor in motion pictures either, until recently, but perhaps you have changed. I could understand any man being fascinated by a girl like Ruth Morton."
Duvall did not pursue the question. It was a hard and fast rule between them not to discuss his professional work. And Mrs. Morton had made it a point that he should confide in no one, not even his wife.
"Well," he said, picking up an evening paper, "I'm not fascinated yet. No letters for me to-day, I suppose."
"None." Grace went on with her sewing.
They sat for a while in silence. Presently there came a knock on the door, and a boy appeared, bearing a telegram, Duvall opened it carelessly, thinking it some word from the overseer of his farm. He sat up with sudden astonishment as he read the contents of the message.
"Keep out," the telegram read, "or you will find that we can strike back."
Duvall placed the telegram in his pocket with a frown. So it appeared that in spite of all his care, his connection with the case was known. How this was possible he could not imagine. His first visit to the Morton apartment that day had been in the guise of a workman. His subsequent appearance at the studio, and later, at the apartment, had been in the character of a newspaper man. There was only one explanation. Someone had watched him while he was making his examination of Ruth Morton's room, and, subsequently, had followed him from the apartment to his hotel. He began to realize that he was dealing with a shrewd brain, and one that acted with almost uncanny quickness and precision. He determined that, if Mrs. Morton and her daughter changed their place of residence the following day, he would do the same. He said nothing of his intentions to Grace, however. It was more than ever necessary that he preserve secrecy in this case.
"No bad news, I hope, Richard," Grace remarked, glancing up from her sewing.
"No. Nothing serious. Have you heard anything from home?"
"Yes. Everything is going along quite smoothly. The boy is well and happy, and Mrs. Preston says to stay as long as we want to."
"Well," said Duvall, rising and throwing down his newspaper, "if things don't go better than they have been going to-day, I may have to be here some time. I've got a queer case on, Grace. I'd like to tell you about it, but I can't. But it is quite unusual. Some features to it that I have never met before."
"Oh—I wish I might help you," Grace exclaimed. "You know how often I have done so in the past."
"I know, dear. But I am bound to secrecy, for the present at least. Suppose we turn in now. I've got to get up early."
"All right," Grace said. "But if you need my help, don't hesitate to ask me. To tell you the truth, I'm having an awfully slow time."
Duvall made his appearance at the Morton apartment the following morning in his ordinary guise. It was his intention, when the time came, to disappear from the case in his normal person, to reappear in it, later, in a complete disguise. But that time, he felt, had not yet arrived.
Mrs. Morton received him in fairly good spirits. Her daughter, she said, had had a restful night, in spite of her terrible experience. When Ruth rose from the breakfast table to greet him, he was gratified to find that she showed no great traces of the fright of the evening before.
"I'm feeling almost myself again, Mr. Duvall," she said. "I've made up my mind not to let these people frighten me again."
"Nothing further occurred last night, of course," Duvall asked.
"Nothing," replied Mrs. Morton. "I could almost believe the whole thing a horrible dream." They did not touch on the question of going to a hotel, during the short interval that elapsed before they set out for the studio. Duvall was anxious to see Mr. Baker. He hoped sincerely that by means of the photograph which had been in the company's files, some trace of the persons responsible for the threats might be obtained.
The trip to the studio was made most uneventfully, and Ruth started in with her work in very good spirits. Duvall, leaving the girl with her mother, sought out Mr. Baker in the latter's private office.
"Hello!" Baker cried, grasping the detective's hand warmly. "Anything new?"
"Not a thing. How about the photograph we were going to trace?"
Mr. Baker frowned.
"It's a curious thing," he replied. "Most curious. The picture in question was, I find, taken from the files by Mr. Moore, our president, and placed on his desk. He always admired it, and kept it there, along with a number of others, to show to persons calling upon him. Now, it seems, it has disappeared. There is not the slightest trace of it." "But," Duvall objected, "who could have taken it?"
"A dozen people. Half a hundred, I guess. You see, Mr. Moore's office is a big room, just beyond here." He rose, and led the detective through a short corridor. "Here it is," he went on, throwing open the door. "This is where Mr. Moore receives his callers. It is his reception room, and no private papers are kept here. Those are all in the smaller office adjoining. This room is open at any time. After Mr. Moore leaves in the evening, and he often leaves early, anyone might come in here. And when the offices are closed, at night, I suppose any employee of the company might look in, if he cared to do so, without anyone objecting. You see, this is a sort of public room. The inner office is always kept locked, but there has never seemed to be any good reason for locking this one."
"Still, although you cannot tell who has taken the picture, it seems clear enough that it must have been removed by some one employed in the studio."
"Even that is by no means certain. So many people come here every day. All sorts of visitors, writers, actors, and the like. After business hours I don't doubt any number of persons enter this room, to look at the pictures of our great successes that hang on its walls. And then there are the caretakers, the scrub-women, and their friends. I find that they, many of them, bring in outsiders, after working hours, to look at the studio, and the famous offices. Of course it should not be, and it will not be, in the future, but up to now we have rather welcomed people from outside. It seemed good advertising."
Duvall followed his companion back to his office.
"Then this clue, like all the others in this singular case," he remarked, "seems to end in a blind alley."
"It seems so," assented Mr. Baker, gloomily. "What was your plan about the new film we're going to show to-night?"
Duvall was about to speak, but before he could do so, they heard a slight commotion in the hall outside. Then someone rapped violently on the door.
Both he and Baker sprang to their feet.
"Come in," the latter cried.
The door was flung open, and Mr. Edwards, the director, who was making the picture upon which Ruth Morton was working, strode hastily into the room. "Mr. Baker!" he exclaimed, then paused upon seeing Duvall.
"What is it?" Baker replied.
"Will you look here a minute, please?"
Baker went up to him, his face showing the greatest uneasiness.
"What's the matter?" he asked. "Anything wrong?"
"Yes. Miss Morton was going through the scene in the first part, where she gets the telegram, you know, and when she opened the message, and read it, she fainted."
"Fainted? What was in the telegram to make her faint?"
"Well, it ought to have read, 'Will call for you to-night, with marriage license—Jimmy.' That was the prop message we had prepared. But somebody must have substituted another one for it. This is what she read." He handed Baker a yellow slip of paper. "I can't make anything out of it."
Baker snatched the telegram from his hand with a growl of rage, and read it hastily. Then he passed it over to Duvall.
"What do you think of that?" he asked. Duvall gazed at the telegram with a feeling of helpless anger.
"Twenty-six days more," it read. "When you appear in your new picture at the Grand to-night, it will be your last. I shall be there." The grinning death's head seal was appended in lieu of a signature, as before.
A feeling of resentment swept over the detective. It seemed that these people acted as they saw fit, with supreme indifference to the fact that he was on their trail. Never before had he felt his skill so flouted, his ability made so light of. And yet, as usual, the message had apparently been delivered in such a way as to make tracing it impossible.
"Still at it, it seems," Mr. Baker remarked. "This thing has got to stop, and at once. I don't propose to let anybody make a monkey of me."
Duvall turned to the director, Mr. Edwards.
"Who prepared the original telegram?" he asked quickly.
Mr. Edwards looked at the detective in surprise, evidently wondering what this stranger had to do with the matter.
"Answer, Edwards. It's all right," snapped Mr. Baker.
"I prepared the property telegram," the director answered.
"Last night. I knew it would be needed to-day."
"What did you do with it?"
"I left it on my desk. This morning I took it into the studio, and when the moment arrived, I gave it to the actor who took it to Miss Morton."
"Was he out of your sight, after you gave him the telegram?"
"No. He took it and walked right on the scene."
"Then he couldn't have substituted another for it?"
"No. It would have been impossible, unless he used sleight of hand."
"Before you gave the man the telegram where was it?"
"In my coat pocket."
"No chance, I suppose, of anyone having taken it out and substituting another."
"Then it is clear that the substitution must have been effected between the time you left your office last night, and your arrival here this morning."
"Was this possible?"
"Undoubtedly. I left my office last night about six. It is never locked. The caretakers, the women who clean the offices, were in there later, and from seven to nine this morning it would also have been a simple matter for anyone to enter and make the change."
Duvall turned to Mr. Baker.
"It's the same story," he said. "Someone who works in the building is responsible for this thing, or else is able to bribe one or more of your employees to act for them. But we won't get very far looking for the guilty person, with several hundred people to watch and no clues whatever to go on. Suppose we go back to your office, and I will tell you what I had in mind about this evening."
"Is Miss Morton able to go on with the scene?" Baker asked, as Edwards started away.
"No. She seems all broken up. I don't think she is very well. Her mother is going to take her home, as soon as she feels better."
"Will you ask Mrs. Morton to wait a little while, Mr. Edwards? Tell her that Mr. Duvall will join her presently, and go back to the city with her." Mr. Edwards nodded, and withdrew, and Duvall and Mr. Baker retired to the latter's private office.
"What did you have in mind about that new film we're going to release to-night?" Mr. Baker asked.
"I'll explain that presently. First, tell me how long it will take you to make a short section of film, say enough to show for about ten seconds?"
"Oh—not long. But what of?"
"I'll explain that presently. But you could make such a section of film, develop and print it, and insert it in the picture you are going to show to-night, if you had to, couldn't you?"
"Yes—if we had to. But what's the idea?"
Duvall took a bit of paper from his pocket and handed it to Baker.
"I want you to make a picture of this, and have it inserted in the film at any convenient point—say at the beginning of the second part. And you had better have the cutting and pasting-in done by some trusted person, under your personal supervision."
"But," said Baker, gazing in amazement at the bit of paper Duvall had handed him. "What's the idea of putting this in our picture? It wouldn't do at all."
"Look at that telegram Mr. Edwards just gave you. The writer says in it, 'I shall be there.' Now if the person who is causing all this trouble is going to be in the audience at the Grand Theater to-night, it is our business to find her. I say her, because I am convinced the guilty person is a woman."
A look of comprehension began to dawn upon Mr. Baker's face.
"By George!" he exclaimed. "You figure out that this will cause her to disclose herself—make some sign?"
"I feel certain of it."
"Then we will put it in." He laid the square of paper on his desk. "I will have the section of film made privately, and at once. I shall not tell even the other officers of the company about it. I suppose they will give me the devil, until after they know the reasons for it, but then, of course, it will be all right."
Duvall rose and put out his hand.
"You will be there to-night, of course?"
"Of course. And you?"
"Oh, I'll be on hand all right, although you may not recognize me. Good day." With a quick hand-shake he left the room, and went to look for Ruth and her mother. He found them in the girl's dressing-room, ready to depart. Ruth was pale and terrified, showing the most intense nervousness in every word and movement. Mrs. Morton, scarcely less affected, strove with all her power to remain calm, in order that her daughter might not break down completely. Duvall did his best to cheer them up.
"You must not let this thing prey on your mind, Miss Morton," he said. "We are going to put a stop to it, and that very soon."
"I hope so, Mr. Duvall," the girl replied. "If you don't, I'm afraid I shall break down completely."
"I think we had better go home at once," Mrs. Morton said. "Ruth is in no condition to do any more work to-day."
"I quite agree with you about going, Mrs. Morton, but not home." He lowered his voice, as though fearing that even at that moment some tool of the woman who was sending the letters might be within earshot. "I suggest that you let me take your daughter to some quiet hotel. You can follow, with her maid and the necessary baggage, later on. But we must be certain to make the change in such a way that our enemies, who are undoubtedly watching us, will not know of it. We will all leave here in your car, giving out that we are going to your home. No one will suspect anything to the contrary. On our arrival in the city, your daughter and I will leave the car, and drive to the hotel in a taxicab. When, later on, you follow with the baggage, take a taxi, sending your own car to the garage. I know your confidence in your chauffeur, but in this affair we can afford to trust no one. Your daughter and yourself can remain quietly in the hotel, under an assumed name, for a few days, until she recovers her strength. Meanwhile, I have every expectation that the persons at the bottom of this shameful affair will have been caught."
The plan appealed to Mrs. Morton at once, and she told the detective so.
"But where shall we go to—what hotel?" she asked.
Duvall leaned over and whispered in her ear the name of an exclusive and very quiet hotel in the upper part of the city.
"Do not mention the name to anyone," he said, "not even to the taxicab driver, when you leave the house. Tell him to put you down at the corner, a block away, and do not proceed to the hotel until you see that he has driven off. And keep your eyes on your maid. I do not suspect her, I admit, but there seems to be a leak somewhere, and we must stop it."
Mrs. Morton nodded, and rose.
"We had better start, then," she said. "I understand perfectly. Have Ruth register in the name of Bradley. And I think, Mr. Duvall, if you can do so, you had better arrange to stop there as well."
"I had intended to do so," the detective replied.
"That will be better." Mrs. Morton led the way to the street.
"You did not intend to go to the showing of your new film at the Grand to-night, did you?" Duvall asked Ruth, after they had started away from the studio.
"Yes, I had intended to go," she replied. "I always go to my first releases. But to-night I do not feel able to do so."
"I think it is just as well. What you need most now is rest."
The girl looked at herself in a small mirror affixed to the side of the car.
"Oh," she exclaimed. "I look terrible. These people are right, it seems. Three more weeks of this persecution and my looks would be quite gone. Mr. Edwards told me only this morning that he had never seen me look so bad." There were tears in her eyes.
Duvall realized that she spoke the truth. The effect of the strain upon her nervous system, the brutal shocks of the past two days, the horror of the experience of the night before, had wrought havoc with the girl's beauty. Her face, gray, lined, haggard, her eyes, heavy and drawn, made her the very opposite of the radiant creature that had created such a furore in motion picture circles. The methods of her persecutors, if unchecked, would beyond doubt wreck her strength and health in a short time, and in addition, there was the danger that at any moment a physical attack, a swiftly thrown acid bomb, an explosive mixture concealed in an innocent-looking package, might destroy both her beauty and her reason in one blinding flash. With the fear in her great brown eyes constantly before him, Duvall determined more than ever to free her from this terrible persecution.
They separated in the neighborhood of 30th Street, Duvall and Miss Morton taking a taxicab that stood before one of the smaller Fifth Avenue hotels. He made a pretense of entering the hotel, and did not summon the taxi until Mrs. Morton's car was well out of sight up the Avenue. Then he instructed the driver to proceed first to his hotel.
Their stop here was but momentary. Duvall went to his room, threw a few articles of clothing into his grip, left a note for Grace, telling her that he would be absent for several days, then rejoined his companion and drove uptown to the hotel opposite the park, the name of which he had mentioned to Mrs. Morton. He felt perfectly certain that they had not been followed.
Upon arriving at the hotel, he entered their names, including that of Mrs. Morton, upon the register, using the pseudonym which that latter had suggested. Then, sending Ruth to her room, he asked to see the manager, and had a brief conference with him in private. Immediately thereafter, he went up to his own apartment.
As he had arranged, it adjoined the suite selected for the Mortons. He tapped lightly on the communicating door.
"Are you all right, Miss Morton?" he called.
"Yes," came the girl's voice from the opposite side. "All right, thank you."
Grace Duvall said good-by to her husband that morning with very little enthusiasm. She was not jealous of him, she was too sensible a woman, and trusted him too fully for that. But his sudden interest in Ruth Morton, the charming motion picture star, seemed rather incomprehensible to her. Of course she suspected he was working on a case which concerned the girl although Duvall had neither affirmed nor denied it. But she felt lonely, and perhaps a trifle out of sorts, and found her solitary breakfasts, luncheons, dinners, a little trying. So often before, she and Richard had worked together. Why, she wondered, did he so pointedly exclude her from this case? She would have liked to talk it over with him.
She sat rather disconsolately in her room most of the forenoon, and about one o'clock made ready for a lonely luncheon. She was just about to leave the apartment when the telephone bell rang. Grace hastened to it at once, hoping that the call might be from her husband. A woman's voice, low, firm, determined sounded in her ears.
"I want to speak with Mr. Duvall," the voice said.
"Mr. Duvall is out. This is Mrs. Duvall."
"Very well, Mrs. Duvall. If you want to keep your husband from very serious harm, you had better tell him to steer clear of Ruth Morton's affairs in future. A word to the wise, you know. Good day." The speaker suddenly rang off.
Grace turned from the telephone, her brain in a whirl. What danger threatened her husband? Ought she not to tell him of the message as soon as possible, so that he might be on his guard? And what did this mysterious reference to "Ruth Morton's affairs" mean. Did it imply that Richard was in any way involved—but that was preposterous. She put the thought from her mind, and went down in the elevator to a lonely and not very enjoyable meal.
As she left the dining-room, and passed through the lobby, she thought she saw ahead of her a familiar figure. A moment later she realized that it was Richard himself, walking very rapidly toward the main entrance, his satchel in his hand. Was he leaving the hotel? And if so, ought she not to make an attempt to give him the message she had just received, before he did so? She walked quickly after him, but his pace was so rapid that she reached the sidewalk only in time to see him swing himself into a waiting taxi, baggage in hand, and drive quickly off. But what Grace saw, in addition to this, filled her with queer misgivings. Beside her husband in the cab was a woman—very beautiful woman, whom Grace had no difficulty whatever in identifying as Ruth Morton. And she also noticed, in the brief moment that elapsed before the taxi shot toward the Avenue, that the woman seemed to be in tears, and that Richard leaned over with the utmost solicitude and affection and clasped her hand in his. For the first time in her life, Grace Duvall was actually jealous.
Thoughts of possible danger to her husband, however, were paramount in her mind. Without an instant's hesitation she stepped into a second taxi, whose driver was trying to attract her attention, and told him to follow the car containing the man and woman which had just driven off.
The chauffeur grinned knowingly, nodded, and started his car. His grin drove from Grace's mind her sudden and unaccustomed jealousy. She knew that Richard must be going away with this girl for some reason connected with his professional work. Of course that work did not usually include consoling beautiful damsels in distress, but there must be extenuating circumstances. She put her unpleasant thoughts from her mind, and proceeded on her mission, to give her husband the warning message she had just received, with a reasonably calm mind.
After a drive of some fifteen minutes, she saw the cab ahead of them begin to slow up, and observed that her chauffeur did likewise. Presently the first cab stopped before the doors of a big, imposing looking hotel, and Richard and Miss Morton hurriedly entered.
Grace did not at once get out. She knew that her husband might resent her having followed him, and did not care to put him to any disadvantage by appearing so unexpectedly upon the scene. She waited, therefore, for several minutes, until he would have had time to go to his room, and then, paying off her cabman, she strolled quietly into the hotel lobby.
There were a few persons sitting about, but Richard was not amongst them. Going to the clerk at the desk, she asked to see Mr. Richard Duvall.
The clerk regarded her with a supercilious stare, consulted his records in a bored way, then informed her that no such person was registered there.
Grace was completely taken aback.
"But I saw him come in, only a few moments ago," she protested.
"No such person here, Miss." With a frigid smile the clerk turned away, watching her, however, out of the corner of his eye, as though he considered her a suspicious character.
Grace leaned over and examined the register. There were three entries upon it, in a handwriting clearly that of her husband. "Mrs. Bradley and maid," the first entry said. "Miss Bradley," the second. They had been assigned a suite of rooms. The third and last entry was "John Bradley." His room adjoined the suite. All three were set down as hailing from Boston.
Grace puzzled for a long time over this mysterious series of entries without arriving at any definite conclusion regarding them. Where was the so-called Mrs. Bradley? And why had her husband assumed the same name? Was he posing as Ruth Morton's brother, and if so, for what reason? She could not make head or tail of the matter, and wondered whether she had better send up her card, or write Richard a note and leave it for him, telling of the warning. While she was debating the matter in her mind, she suddenly saw him emerge from one of the elevators at the opposite side of the lobby, and come toward the desk.
Grace approached him at once, glad that the matter had been so simply arranged.
"Richard," she said, in a low voice. "I want to speak to you."
The gentleman she had addressed regarded her with a frown.
"My name is not Richard, madam," he said, pointedly. "I am John Bradley. You must have made a mistake." With a polite bow he passed on.
Grace was completely taken aback. She knew that between them there existed a tacit understanding never to address each other, in public, during the progress of a case, unless requested to do so by some sign. But she felt that she had important information to give her husband, and then, she had been a trifle jealous and annoyed. The thought that she had committed an error filled her with chagrin. Without a word, she left the hotel.
At a nearby corner she stepped into a telephone booth, and calling up the hotel, asked to speak to Mr. John Bradley. In a few moments she heard Richard's familiar tones.
"This is Grace," she said quickly. "I'm sorry I spoke to you, just now, but I wanted to tell you that some woman telephoned the hotel to-day, and left a warning to the effect that if you did not keep out of Miss Morton's affairs, you would be in serious danger."
"How did you know where I was?" Duvall asked.
"I saw you leave the hotel, and followed you."
"You should not have done so."
"But I wanted to give you the message. I thought you ought to know."
"I understand that, but I wished my presence here to be unknown to anyone. You made a serious mistake. I only hope that no harm will come of it."
"But—how could harm come of it?"
"You drove here in one of the hotel's regular cabs, I suppose?"
"Then the people I am trying to avoid may trace me here, through the driver of that cab."
"Oh—Richard—I'm so sorry. Isn't there anything I can do?"
"Nothing, now, except to make no further attempt to communicate with me here. Good-by."
Grace returned to her hotel, very thoroughly dissatisfied with what she had done. It seemed to her that by trying to warn Richard of possible danger, she might only have brought it upon him. Apparently he had left their hotel, to avoid the very persons who had telephoned the warning message to her. She arrived at the door, got out of the cab in which she had made the journey, and looked about, hoping that the cabman who had driven her uptown might now be at his usual stand. To her delight, she saw that he was.
She went up to the man, a slim, keen looking young Irishman, and engaged him in conversation.
"Do you remember driving me uptown an hour or so ago?" she asked.
"Sure I do, Miss," answered the man, touching his cap.
"Then please forget completely where you went, will you?" She handed the man a ten dollar bill. "It is barely possible that someone may try to find out, through you, where I went. Be sure that you give them no information."
"They'll get nothing out of me, Miss," the man replied, pocketing the bill with a pleased grin.
"And if anybody does try to find out, get their name, if you can, and if not, a description of them."
"I'll do my best, Miss."
"I am stopping here. My name is Duvall, Mrs. Duvall."
"Very good, ma'am. I'll attend to it, ma'am."
Grace went up to her room, satisfied that she had remedied her mistake, and began to look through an afternoon paper she had bought. There seemed nothing better to do, during the evening, than to go to the theater. Glancing down the list of attractions, she suddenly saw the name of Ruth Morton, in large letters, billed in a new feature play, An American Beauty, opening at the Grand Theater that night. She at once made up her mind to go. Since yesterday, her interest in Miss Morton had perceptibly increased. And in spite of all, Richard had held her hand.
She was just finishing her dinner, when a page came through the room, calling her name. She got up at once and followed him to the lobby.
"I am Mrs. Duvall," she said.
The boy looked up.
"There's a chauffeur outside wants to see you, ma'am," he said, "Tom Leary."
Grace understood at once, and made her way to the sidewalk. The cab driver of the morning stood near the entrance.
"I beg pardon, ma'am, for calling you out," he said, "but I couldn't come in, and there was something I felt you ought to know."
"What is it?"
"A lady came here to see me a while ago," he said. "A smallish looking woman, not pretty, with light hair. She had on a dark brown suit. Not very good style, ma'am. She asked me if I knew anybody in the hotel named Duvall. I said I did. I find she'd been asking all the other cabmen, and had been to the desk, before that. I guess she must have been inquiring for your husband, ma'am."
"Yes—yes—very likely," Grace hastily replied. "What then?"
"Well, ma'am, she then asked me if I knew Mrs. Duvall. I said I did. Then she wanted to know if I'd driven either you or your husband to any other hotel to-day, and I said I hadn't, but that I usually did drive you, when you went anywhere. I took the liberty of saying that, ma'am."
"Yes. I'm glad you did. Go on."
"Then she hands me five dollars, and says that if I did drive you to any other hotel, I was to let her know which one it was."
"Where?" Grace asked, eagerly.
The man fished from his pocket a small bit of cardboard upon which was scrawled with a pencil "Alice Watson, General Delivery."
Grace stared at the bit of paper in surprise. Had she, by some lucky chance, discovered the very person for whom Richard was seeking? Of course the name was probably a fictitious one, and the address "General Delivery," meant nothing, and yet, it provided a clew by means of which this woman might be found.
"You have acted very wisely, Leary," she said. "I am greatly obliged to you."
"Do you want me to send her any word, ma'am?"
"I may. I am anxious to get hold of this woman, or, to be more exact, my husband is. I will consult with him first, however. It may be that he will want you to write her a letter, giving her some such information as she desires, and then, by going to the general delivery window at the post office and watching, identify her when she comes for it. Do you think you could arrange to get off and do this?"
"Well, ma'am, even if I can't arrange to get off, you could of course hire my cab, and——"
"Of course," Grace interrupted. "Very well. I will let you know further about the matter a little later. Meanwhile, here is something more for your trouble." She gave the man another bill. "Now drive me to the Grand Theater."
Duvall, after having satisfied himself that Ruth Morton was safely installed in her suite of rooms at the hotel, came down to the lobby to await the arrival of Mrs. Morton.
The unexpected meeting with Grace caused him the utmost anxiety. He appreciated fully her reasons for having come to see him, and yet he deeply regretted her coming. The enemies of Ruth Morton were far too clever, too shrewd, he feared, not to take advantage of her mistake, and by means of it, trace him at once to his present address. A complete disguise became an immediate necessity. He decided to assume one, as soon as Mrs. Morton had arrived.
The latter came in about ten minutes later accompanied by Nora. Duvall explained matters to the clerk at the desk, and the supposed Mrs. Bradley was conducted to her rooms at once. Duvall accompanied her.
They found Ruth resting quietly, but her joy at her mother's arrival was very apparent. She feared to be left alone, and seemed to expect her persecutors to appear from every closet, through every door or window.
"Oh, mother, I'm so glad to see you," she exclaimed.
"I'm glad to find you safe," Mrs. Morton returned.
"I advise you to stay right here with your daughter throughout the evening, Mrs. Morton," said Duvall, as he made ready to go to his own room. "Have your meals sent up. Admit no one. Open no packages. I have every hope that before the night is over, I may have some most important and satisfactory news for you. I shall probably not see you again until after the performance to-night, but if anything vital occurs, I will of course communicate with you by telephone. Good-by, and good luck."
When he reached his own room, he proceeded to the business of divesting himself completely of all resemblance to Richard Duvall. It was clear that the persons he was seeking knew him by sight, and hence his opportunities to accomplish anything against them were very greatly lessened. The threatening telephone message received by Grace did not worry him at all, but the fact that those people were so constantly upon his heels did. He determined to disappear completely as Duvall, and reappear in the person of John Bradley, using all his skill in the matter of disguise to create for himself a totally different personality.
Taking a makeup box from his grip, he proceeded first to give his dark brown hair a very decided and natural looking touch of gray, over the temples and at the sides. Then he fitted into place a short pointed grayish beard, and a mustache with waxed ends. These were products of the skill of one of the best wig-makers in Paris, and so cleverly made that they would defy detection, even in broad daylight. A pair of gold-rimmed eyeglasses completed the facial disguise. Duvall might now have passed anywhere for a well-groomed professional man of fifty-five or sixty.
The impression was heightened by his frock coat and silk hat. He felt quite sure that, in his present disguise, the plotters against Ruth Morton's welfare could not possibly recognize him.
He went down to the theater very early, after a hasty dinner, and found Mr. Baker in the box office. The moving picture man did not recognize him, of course, and Duvall, after drawing him aside, had some little difficulty in convincing him of his identity. Once it had been established, however, Mr. Baker conducted him to a dressing room behind the scenes, and motioned him to a chair.
"We can talk here without being seen or heard," he said. "Is there anything new?"
"Nothing. I have taken Mrs. Morton and her daughter to a hotel, where I feel sure they will be quite safe from further annoyance. Ruth will not come to the studio for a few days, until we have gotten to the bottom of this affair. I am staying in an adjoining room, so as to be on hand at once in case of any trouble. I suppose you have everything fixed for to-night?"
"Yes." Mr. Baker's tone was dubious. "I have inserted in the film the material you gave me. It will appear just at the end of Part I. I hope it will not spoil our picture."
"I think not. As a matter of fact, when the reasons for its introduction become known, I imagine it will give you a lot of very valuable advertising."
"Possibly so," Mr. Baker granted. "But after all, I begin to feel very doubtful as to the results. This woman, whoever she is, that is persecuting Miss Morton seems to be mighty clever. She may not be affected in the way you think, by what she sees on the screen."
"I realize that. It is only a chance. But don't you think that, under the circumstances, it is a chance worth taking?"
"Most certainly; otherwise I should not have consented to it. But, as I say, I doubt very much its success."
"Well—we can only try. You will remember what I said about the lights, and the call for a doctor, if one appears to be needed."
"Yes. I have all that in mind. Miss Morton is not coming to-night, I presume."
"No. I advised against it."
"I'm glad of that."
Duvall sat in silence for a moment.
"By the way," he said presently. "There is one important matter that I have overlooked. Do you give your employees passes for these opening performances?"
"No—not regularly, that is. But any member of our organization who wishes to see the performance would of course be admitted. We reserve a section of the house for that purpose. A number of our people usually come over."
"Good! That's just what I had hoped for. Where is this section?"
"The last five rows on the left-hand side of the house. But why?"
"Don't you see? All the evidence points to the fact that the person who is responsible for these threats either works in your studio, or is in some way able to gain access to it at any time. Witness the stolen photograph—the substituted telegram of this morning. In the latter it was definitely stated that the woman in the case would be in the audience to-night. I am hoping sincerely that she will not have the cleverness to enter as one of the public, but will come in as one of your people, and sit in the section of the house reserved exclusively for your employees. In that event, I think we shall discover who she is beyond a doubt."
"I certainly hope so," sighed Mr. Baker. "This thing has got us all up in the air. Our President had a long conference with me this afternoon about Miss Morton. He seems to think she is going to pieces, and recommended trying to get Joan Clayton away from the Multigraph people to take her place. He says that she is losing her good looks. I told him nothing, of course, but it worried me a lot. I am very fond of Ruth Morton, and I don't want to see her lose her place."
"She won't lose it," asserted Duvall. "When we get through, her position with your company will be stronger than it has ever been before. Shall we go out in the lobby and take a look at the crowd as it comes in?"
Mr. Baker assented, and the two men stationed themselves near the box office.
Without appearing to do so, Duvall inspected the various members of the incoming crowd. His scrutiny was careful, comprehensive, but the only person he recognized was Grace.
That she also recognized him he knew. She had seen the disguise he wore, many times, and was familiar with it. She did not betray herself, however, by so much as a glance, but proceeded at once to her seat.
When the moment arrived for the beginning of the performance, the house was filled. Duvall, with Baker at his side, stationed himself back of the left-hand section of seats, so that the rows reserved for the employees of the company were directly in front of him. He occupied himself, during the interval before the lights were switched off, by noting carefully all the women in the last five rows, but none of them attracted his attention particularly.
Soon the performance began. Ruth Morton, the American Beauty, stepped upon the screen, a compelling vision of loveliness. The audience followed eagerly her exciting adventures. Duvall himself, in spite of his preoccupation, found himself absorbed by the charm and action of the picture. In the opening scenes, Ruth appeared as a poor girl, trying to make her way in the great world of the theater. Her struggles, her sacrifices, her failures, were almost vividly portrayed. When at last, through her marvelous beauty, she succeeded in gaining recognition from the critics, he applauded with those about him, completely under the spell of her charm.
The final scene of the first part was a view of Ruth, as Catherine Grey, the American Beauty, refusing the dubious offers made her by a rich New Yorker. With a faith in herself by no means assumed, Catherine turned from his picture of luxury, of steam yachts, of country estates, of unlimited bank accounts, with a smile which showed her confidence in her beauty, her talents. The audience watched her, spellbound, as she stood on the sidewalk before the theater, looking with grave inscrutable eyes after the costly limousine that had just driven away without her. In no picture heretofore taken of the girl had she appeared to better advantage. Every line of her lovely face seemed responsive to the effect of the lighting, the situation, the motives which inspired her. The audience drew itself back, ready to register its approval of the first part of the film with hearty applause.
And then, something happened. The lovely, smiling face of Ruth Morton faded from view, and in its place came with brutal suddenness the picture of a huge grinning death's head, amazing in its suggestion of horror. The audience sat in utter silence, wondering what could be the reason for this sudden apparition. Beneath the death's head appeared in huge letters the words:
"We know the woman."
The thing had come as a complete surprise. The tension throughout the house was electric. Duvall saw his wife rise from her seat on the aisle, a few rows away, and come quickly to the rear of the house. She, at least, realized that a moment of importance had arrived.
And then, without warning, the stillness of the theater was broken by a sudden cry, and a woman, sitting some three rows from where Duvall stood, but on the opposite side of the aisle from the seats indicated by Mr. Baker, rose to her feet, turned, and fell heavily against the back of the seat ahead of her. At almost the same moment the lights were switched on, and a voice was heard calling. "Is there a doctor in the house?"
It was Mr. Baker, and Duvall, who stood beside him, sprang forward at once.
"I am a doctor," he cried, and approached the place where the woman sat.
"Can I be of any assistance?" Grace asked. "I am a trained nurse."
"Yes," replied Duvall, quickly. "Get this woman to the ladies' dressing room at once."
Grace sprang forward. There was a bustle among the audience, a sudden rising, a craning of necks. Everyone seemed to be looking for the person who had uttered the sudden cry. Before anyone fully realized what had happened, Grace had reached the fainting woman's side, and supporting her with an arm about her waist, was leading her toward the rear of the house.
Almost at once the theater became dark, and the second part of the picture was flashed upon the screen. The lovely face of Ruth Morton once more greeted the eyes of the audience. The interruption had occupied less than a minute.
Duvall, standing at the entrance to the aisle, watched Grace come quickly toward him, supporting the fainting woman. The latter seemed completely overcome, and Grace was obliged almost to carry her.
"Keep her there, in the dressing room, until I return," he said in a quick whisper. Then with a nod to Mr. Baker, who stood close by, he went toward the street. A taxicab drew up, awaiting a fare. Duvall signaled to it.
"Wait for me here," he said to the driver. "I will be back in a moment." Then he re-entered the theater.
Grace meanwhile had conducted the woman to the ladies' dressing room, and placed her upon a couch.
She was a frail, insignificant looking creature, not at all the sort of person one would associate with threats of the kind that Ruth Morton had been receiving. She appeared to be greatly ashamed of her sudden collapse, and kept insisting, in spite of her evident weakness, that she was quite all right again, and wanted to go.
Grace, however, paid no attention to her protestations, but insisted that she remain quiet.
"The doctor will be here in a moment," she said. "You must wait quietly until he comes."
The woman, however, seemed determined to leave, and it was with a sigh of relief that Grace welcomed her husband's return.
Duvall came in hurriedly, as he did so taking a small brown bottle from his waistcoat pocket.
"Get me a glass of water," he said to the negro maid. The woman brought one at once.
Duvall took a tablet from the bottle and placed it in the glass, stirring the water about with the end of a lead pencil until the tablet was dissolved. Then he went up to the woman on the couch.
"Here—drink this," he commanded. "It will quiet your nerves."
The woman took the glass, her eyes regarding him with suspicion. Duvall, in his character of a physician, turned aside, and addressed a few words to Grace, fearing that in some way the woman might succeed in recognizing him. As a result both failed to see that instead of drinking the medicine he had given to her, the girl swiftly poured it upon the floor. When he again turned to her, she held the empty glass in her hand.
Duvall took it from her, and handed it to Grace.
"Come with me, Miss," he said. "I will see you home."
"It isn't necessary," the woman gasped. "I—I'm all right now."
"You have had a severe shock, Miss. As a physician, it is my duty to see that you arrive home safely. I have already engaged a cab. Come." He took the woman by the arm and in spite of her objections, raised her from the couch.
Suddenly her opposition vanished. She seemed glad of his assistance, and, leaning on his arm, made her way from the theater. Duvall was in high spirits. He fully believed that his plan had succeeded, that the woman at his side was the one who was responsible for the threats which had made Ruth Morton so wretched for the past few days.
The cab that he had engaged stood waiting at the door. He put the woman inside. She seemed very weak and helpless. "Drive to the —— Hotel," Duvall called to the chauffeur, then entered the cab and seated himself at the woman's side. He saw Mr. Baker standing upon the sidewalk, and nodded. Then they drove off.
The woman lay, in a state of apparent collapse, in one corner of the cab, her face pale, her eyes closed. Duvall, inspecting her as well as he could in the faint light, began to feel grave doubts as to whether after all he had been successful in his ruse. She seemed so little the type of woman he would have associated with the brutal campaign of terror that had been directed against Miss Morton.
She clutched a black leather satchel tightly in one hand. Duvall regarded it with interest. If he was right in his assumption that this was the woman he sought, it seemed highly probable that within that satchel lay evidence that might convict her. At least there would be some clue as to who she was, and that in itself would be valuable.
The woman seemed to grow weaker and weaker. Her closed eyes, her slow but regular breathing, indicated that the drug he had given her had begun to take effect. Stealthily Duvall's hand reached toward the small black satchel. With eager fingers he pressed the catch, and as the bag opened, began to draw out its contents.
The woman, however, seemed far less helpless than he had supposed. She pulled the satchel toward her, her fingers seeking to close it. Duvall discontinued his efforts at once. It would be time enough, he felt, when they had reached the hotel, and the woman had been safely conducted to a room there. He had made his plans carefully in advance, and arranged matters with the hotel manager. There was nothing to do, now, but wait.
Presently the woman, who had been regarding him, unnoticed, from beneath lowered lids, uttered a groan, as though in great pain, and clutched her breast. Duvall turned to her at once, speaking in a soothing voice, and assuming a professional manner.
"Is anything wrong, Miss? I had hoped you were feeling better."
"No, doctor. I'm not. I feel terrible—terrible."
"In what way?"
"My—my heart. It is in awful shape. I need some stimulant. The—the medicine you gave me made me feel very ill."
Her words surprised Duvall. He had given her a simple drug, the effect of which should have been to make her drowsy, to quiet her nerves. That she had not taken it, he of course did not know. His greatest fear had been that she would refuse to enter the cab with him. Now that she had done so, he was prepared to use even force, if necessary, to retain her in his custody until he had either obtained the evidence he desired, or forced from her a confession. What he particularly hoped to find was the seal with which the death's head impression had been made. He felt certain that, if this was the woman he sought, she would have this seal somewhere about her person. It was far too significant a bit of evidence to be left lying about at home.
But there was always the chance that this woman, who had been so instantly affected by the ghastly apparition on the screen, the significant words beneath it, might not, after all, be the right one, the one he sought. There was always the possibility that the real criminal, although present in the audience, had made no sign, and that his companion in the cab might be entirely innocent. As he had told Baker, it was a chance—a long chance, yet something seemed to say to him that he had made no mistake in taking it. Now, however, a new situation had arisen to upset his plans. His prisoner, instead of having been quieted by the drug he had administered, was apparently becoming more and more agitated and nervous every minute. Her groans, as she lay huddled up in the corner of the cab, puzzled him, filled him with vague alarm. Was it possible that she had a weak heart? Had the sedative he had given her, harmless as he knew the dose would be to a normal person, affected her in so unfavorable a way? He took her wrist in his hand, and felt her pulse. It was quick, indicative of nervous excitement, but certainly not weak.
"Oh—doctor, doctor, won't you please give me something to make me feel a little better?" the woman gasped. "It's my heart, I tell you. I—I can't breathe. I'm suffocating. I must have something at once—some aromatic spirits of ammonia—some brandy—anything, to make me feel a little better."
Her earnestness, her trembling voice, her excited manner, all served to convince Duvall that his companion was really in need of a stimulant of some sort. He decided to humor her. A dose of aromatic spirits, he reflected, could do no harm, and would doubtless serve to lessen her excitement. He leaned out, and directed the driver of the cab to stop at the nearest drug store.
"Oh—thank you—thank you," the woman gasped. "Tell him to hurry, please." Then collapsing in the corner of the seat, she closed her eyes and sat so silent that Duvall began to wonder whether she had lost consciousness.
The taxicab, meanwhile, had drawn up in front of a drug store on Sixth Avenue. Duvall took a look at the apparently unconscious woman, then spoke quickly to the chauffeur.
"Stay here until I return," he said. "Don't go away under any circumstances. I shall be gone but a moment."
The man nodded.
"I'll stay, sir," he said. "Don't worry."
Duvall went quickly into the store. Going up to the soda counter, he instructed the clerk to prepare him a dose of aromatic spirits of ammonia as quickly as possible. While waiting for it, he watched the cab through the store window.
The preparation of the dose required but a few moments. Then, explaining matters to the clerk, Duvall took the glass in his hand and went back to the cab. He smiled to himself at his anxiety, as he passed through the door. The woman was far too ill, he reflected, to entertain any thoughts of escape.
"Here," the detective said, opening the door of the cab. "Drink this."
There was no response. Duvall stuck his head into the vehicle with some misgivings. Then he experienced a sudden and most mortifying shock. There was no fainting woman huddled against the cushions in the far corner. There was no woman at all. The cab was empty!
Richard Duvall had had charge of many unusual and intricate cases, in the past, and he prided himself upon the fact that he had handled them with skill and discretion, and that the results which had followed had been both quick and decisive. But in all his career he had not, so far as he could remember, ever felt quite so chagrined, as he did when he threw open the door of the cab and found that the woman he had left there had disappeared.
The fault was his, he knew that well—entirely and unmistakably his. This woman was evidently far more clever, more subtle than he had imagined. He realized now that she had in all probability not taken the drug he had given her in the dressing room of the theater, that she had seen his effort to examine the contents of her handbag, that her weakness, her call for a stimulant of some sort had been but clever acting, and that she had purposely sent him into the drug store in order that she might escape. He blamed himself, utterly and completely, for his amazing stupidity in not realizing that the woman, instead of ordering the cabman to drive away, had only to slip out through the door on the opposite side of the vehicle, and vanish in the darkness.
And this she had quite evidently done. The door of the cab opposite him stood open. No doubt she had purposely refrained from closing it, fearing that the click of the lock might attract the driver's attention. The latter with his eyes following Duvall, as the detective entered the store, had remained serenely unconscious of his passenger's movements, her clever escape.
At least three or four minutes had elapsed. Duvall glanced up and down the street, but no sight of the vanished woman greeted his anxious gaze. She had had ample time to reach the next corner, and disappear in the darkness. Thoughts of pursuit entered his mind, but he realized at once the fruitlessness of such an attempt. His captive might have fled east or west, at either of the streets north or south of where he stood. Or she might have entered some restaurant, some motion picture house, or other convenient doorway along the Avenue. She might even have boarded a Sixth Avenue car, or hailed a passing cab. He looked up at the chauffeur, who still sat at his steering wheel, totally unaware of the flight of one of his passengers.
"The woman has gone," Duvall exclaimed, nodding toward the vacant cab.
The man turned in complete surprise. He seemed scarcely able to credit the evidence of his senses.
"I—why sir—she was here just a moment ago, sir," he gasped, gazing into the interior of the cab as though he expected its recent occupant to suddenly materialize in the flesh.
"She got out on the other side, while I was in the store," Duvall remarked, shortly, then taking an electric searchlight from his pocket, made a thorough examination of the interior of the cab. He scarcely expected to find anything, although it flashed through his mind that the woman, in her hurry to escape, might have left her bag, her gloves, or something that might afford him a clue to her identity.
At first he saw nothing. Then, as his eyes became more accustomed to the brilliant glare of the electric torch, he observed a bit of white cardboard lying on the floor. It looked like a visiting card, and he snatched it up, devoutly hoping that it had fallen from the woman's bag during the attempt he had made to rifle it.
Under the light of his pocket lamp he made a quick examination of his find. It proved a lamentable disappointment. It was in fact a visiting card, or to be more correct, the torn half of one, but what was engraved upon it afforded him not the least clue to either the identity or the address of the woman he sought. On the first line were the words, "Miss Mar"—then came the torn edge of the card. On the second line there was but the figure 1, and then the break.
Was the name so tantalizingly suggested by the letters before him "Miss Mary" something or other? Or "Miss Margaret?" Or was it "Miss Martin," or "Miss Marvin," or "Miss Marbury," or any one of a score of other names beginning with the letters "Mar?" And what was the missing address? What numbers followed the figure 1, on that part of the card that had been torn off? And what was the name of the street? He realized at once that while what he had found might, under certain circumstances, act as a suggestion, it would not serve to get him very far, unless reinforced by other and more definite evidence. He thought for a moment of securing from Mr. Baker a list of the women employees of the studio. It was true, he remembered, that his prisoner had not been seated in that particular section of the house reserved for the company's employees, but that might have readily come from the fact that the section was fully occupied when she arrived. Then, as more names beginning with "Mar" occurred to him, the futility of the idea became apparent. Apart from any possible number of Marys, and Margarets there were Martha, Maria, Marcia, Marian, Marcella—others perhaps. Of course he would be able to recognize the woman, if he saw her, but she would be too clever to return to her place in the studio the following day, if by any chance she worked there, knowing, as she must inevitably know, that she would be identified at once.
Still, there was of course the chance that Mr. Baker might have recognized her. He presumably knew all the employees of his company by sight. Duvall got into the cab with a mortifying sense of having made a very foolish blunder, and directed the cabman to drive him back to the Grand Theater.
Mr. Baker was waiting in the lobby when the detective arrived, and at a nod from the latter the two men retired to the dressing room in which they had had their previous consultation. The moving picture man's face was eager, expectant, as he waited for Duvall to speak, and the latter felt his chagrin increase by the moment.
When he had at last finished his account of the affair, Mr. Baker looked exceedingly grave.
"Too bad—too bad," he muttered, "to have had her in our hands like that, and then, to lose her."
"Did you ever see the woman before?" Duvall questioned.
"No. Of course she might be in our employ, but I doubt it, although I could not be expected to know by sight every girl who works in the plant. There are stenographers, film cutters and pasters, dozens of others, that I do not engage directly, and never see. Let me look at the card."
Duvall handed the torn bit of pasteboard to him.
"Not much to go on," he said, quietly.
"No. Not much."
"Of course," the detective went on, "the evening has not been entirely wasted. We know the woman by sight, and that is a great deal. As for her name, I have made a careful study of this card, and assuming it to have been of the usual length in comparison to its width, the name following the 'Miss,' if it was a first name, points to a very short one, such as Mary, and not a long one, such as Margaret."
"How do you make that out?"
"Simply enough. The entire name would of course have been placed in the center of the card, which was, it appears, torn almost exactly in half. On the left-hand side, which we have in our possession, there are, in the word 'Miss,' four letters, and in 'Mar' three, or seven in all. We should correspondingly expect to find seven letters on the right or missing half of the card. But were the first name Margaret, or Marcella, which each contain eight letters, or five to be added to the 'Mar' we already have, it would leave but two letters for the woman's last name, and names of that length, or rather shortness, are so rare as to be negligible. It is far more probable that we have but to add a 'y' to the 'Mar,' or one letter, leaving six for the last name. This would give us 'Miss Mar-y Gordon,' with the name evenly divided by the tear. Or, if by chance, the first name is such a one as Marian, containing six letters, we need add but the 'ian,' or three letters, to the left-hand side of our card, leaving us four letters for the last name. Thus, Miss Marian Kent. The full name on the card should have just fourteen letters, provided the card is, as I conclude, torn exactly in half."
"Why do you conclude that?"
"Because visiting cards of this sort are usually made in standard sizes. I happen to have a woman's card—Miss Morton's, in fact, in my pocket. Its width is the same as that of the torn card, and if the latter was of the same length, you can readily see that it was torn exactly in half." He took a card from his wallet and laid the torn bit of pasteboard upon it. Their widths were identical. The whole card was just twice the length of the torn one.
"That is a most interesting deduction," Baker exclaimed. "What use can we make of it?"
"I will tell you. You have your car here, have you not?"
"Then I suggest that we run down to the studio at once, get your list of employees, examine the name of every woman upon it, and see if we cannot find one of fourteen letters, including the 'Miss,' of which the first name begins with 'Mar.' The chances are that we will be able to locate the name immediately."
"Yes," Mr. Baker exclaimed, rising in some excitement, "but, as you have before said, the woman, if she works for us, will not dare to appear in the morning, for fear that she will be recognized at once."
"That is true, but you will no doubt have on your books her home address. If we hurry, we can get there and back by midnight, and we may be able to place our hands on the woman before she can have time to escape."
Mr. Baker reached the door in two steps.
"Come along," he said. "We'll burn up the roads."
The two men said little, during their long ride. When they reached the entrance to the dark and silent studio building, only the night watchman appeared to greet them.
Inside the building, however, there were more signs of life. Some stage carpenters were busy, working overtime on a piece of scenery. In the developing and drying departments were also signs of activity. Mr. Baker led the way to his office. "It happens," he said, "that as I am obliged to O. K. the payroll each week, I have a list of our employees in my desk." As he spoke, he took his keys, opened a drawer, and drew out a small red book.
"Here is the list, with the home addresses," he said. "How shall we go to work?"
"Read me all the women's names, in which the first name begins with 'Mar,'" Duvall said. "I will put them down on a sheet of paper." He drew a pad toward him, took out his pencil, and the two set to work.
When they had at last reached the end of the book, both Duvall and Mr. Baker were surprised to find that the names they had picked out were so few. In all there were but eight, as follows:
Miss Mary Sollenberger, Miss Mary Green, Miss Margaret Schwartz, Miss Maria Rosenheim, Miss Martha Simmons, Miss Marcia Ford, Miss Marian Greenberg, Miss Mary King.
Duvall ran his pencil down the list of names. "There is but one that fulfills the requirements," he announced. "The sixth name, that of Miss Marcia Ford, contains in all fourteen letters. None of the others do. Two, those of Miss King and Miss Green, come the nearest. Miss King's full name contains twelve letters, Miss Green's, thirteen. Any one of the three might be the one we seek."
"I can answer for Miss King at once," said Mr. Baker, quietly. "She is my stenographer, and most certainly not the woman who was in the theater to-night."
"That leaves then, Miss Green and Miss Ford. What do they do, and what are their addresses?"
Mr. Baker referred to his book.
"Miss Green is a telephone operator. Her address is given here as 310 Gold Street, Brooklyn. Miss Ford is a film cutter, and lives at 122 West 9th Street, New York."
"Neither sounds particularly promising," Duvall remarked, with a frown.
"No. But of course we are assuming that the woman in question works in the studio. If she does not, our whole fabric falls to pieces." Duvall took the torn piece of card from his pocket and glanced at it.
"The address given here begins with the number 1," he said, significantly. "It may be that Miss Marcia Ford, of 122 West Ninth Street, is the woman we are looking for, although I confess I should have suspected some rival motion picture star, rather than a film cutter."
"By George, I forgot the fact that the card had an address on it," Baker exclaimed. "I think we had better look up Miss Ford at once."
"I agree with you," Duvall said. A few moments later they were driving at top speed back toward New York.
It was five minutes to twelve when they reached the corner of Fifth Avenue and Ninth Street and turned west. Duvall realized that they were following a very slim clue, but it seemed for the moment the only promising one they had.
The house, No. 122, proved to be a typical high stooped, brownstone boarding house of this section of the city. It was for the most part dark, although one or two of the upper windows showed lights.
Accompanied by Baker, Duvall quickly mounted the steps and rang the bell. At first there was no answer, although they could hear the sound of the bell tinkling mournfully inside. A second summons brought no greater response. At the third, a woman's head appeared in one of the upper windows, and they heard a shrill and not over pleasant voice asking them what they wanted.
"I have an important message for Miss Marcia Ford," Duvall replied pleasantly. "I must see her at once."
"Miss Ford moved away from here three months ago," the woman snapped.
"Will you please give me her present address?" the detective exclaimed, somewhat taken aback.
"I don't know it. She didn't say where she was going. Good night!" A moment later the window above them was closed with a slam.
The two men stood staring at each other in the utmost disappointment. They had expected a more favorable outcome of their expedition.
"How long has she been with you?" Duvall asked, turning to his companion.
"I don't know. Certainly over three months, or we shouldn't have this address on our books. I suppose, when she changed it, she omitted to notify us. What are we going to do now?"
"There isn't anything we can do, until morning. If Miss Marcia Ford reports for work to-morrow, and you see that she is the woman who fainted in the theater to-night, have her arrested at once. If she doesn't report for work, at least we shall know that she is the woman we are after."
"That isn't much consolation," Mr. Baker grumbled.
"I don't agree with you. Having the woman's name, knowing her appearance, we are certain to catch her, sooner or later. And in the meanwhile, I do not think that she will attempt anything further so far as Miss Morton is concerned. We are too close on her trail, for that."
"I hope you are right," said the motion picture man. "Well, I guess I'll go along home. I'll be at the studio first thing in the morning, however, and I suppose you will be there too."
"By all means. I am most curious to see whether our reasoning to-night has been correct."
"Shall I take you to your hotel in my car?"
"No, thanks. I'll take a taxi. Good night."
A few moments later, Duvall was speeding up Fifth Avenue, his brain still puzzling over the curious contradictions which the events of the night had developed. On one point he felt secure, however. He was certain that the woman who had so narrowly escaped him earlier in the evening would not soon again attempt anything against Ruth Morton.
Arrived at his hotel, he asked for his key. The man behind the desk, with a queer look, handed him along with it a slip of paper. On it was written: "Mrs. Bradley wishes Mr. John Bradley to come to her room at the moment he returns."
"When was this message left?" the detective asked.
"Oh—nearly two hours ago. The time is stamped on the back of it, sir."
Duvall turned the card over, and saw from the stamp on the other side that Mrs. Morton had sent for him at half past ten.
"The message was phoned down by the lady herself," the clerk added, by way of explanation.
Duvall went up in the elevator, and a few moments later, was knocking at the door of Mrs. Morton's suite.
The latter herself appeared in the doorway. She was pale and agitated. "Come in, Mr. Duvall," she said.
The detective entered, closing the door behind him.
"What is wrong, Mrs. Morton?" he asked.
"There has been another warning—a dreadful one," the older woman exclaimed, her voice trembling. "It came a little after ten."
"What was it?" Duvall's voice was almost as strained as that of the woman before him. Her words came to him as a complete surprise. Had all the work of the evening, then, been wasted?
"At a little after ten," Mrs. Morton said slowly, "I sent my maid Nora out for some medicine for my daughter. She went to a drug store some three blocks away. As she returned to the hotel, she saw a young woman standing near the entrance, apparently watching those who went in and out. As soon as the maid came up to the doorway, the woman stepped up to her, and thrusting a package into her hands, said quickly, 'Give this to Miss Ruth Morton. It is from the studio.' Then she walked away at once.
"Nora, as she tells me, did not know just what to do. You will remember that while she realizes from our presence here under an assumed name, that something is wrong, she knows little or nothing of the circumstances surrounding Ruth's terrible persecution. Hence she foolishly took both the medicine and the package the woman had given her, to my daughter."
"Yes—yes—go on," Duvall exclaimed, seeing Mrs. Morton pause.
"Ruth opened them both. I was in the next room at the moment. Suddenly I heard a cry, and on rushing in, found her standing in the center of the room, holding a small bottle in one hand, and staring at it in the utmost consternation. In her other hand was a sheet of paper, which, as I subsequently found, had been wrapped around the bottle, inside the outer brown-paper cover.
"The bottle was labeled 'carbolic acid.' Here is the sheet of paper." Mrs. Morton, with trembling fingers, extended a half sheet of note-paper toward the detective.
Duvall took it and read the typewritten words upon it.
"We gave you thirty days. Now we give you seven. Drink this, and save yourself from a horrible fate." The death's head signature ended the message. "Ruth has been very ill ever since," Mrs. Morton added drearily. "If she is not better in the morning, I shall call in a doctor. She felt herself absolutely safe, here, and was recovering her cheerfulness. Now all her fears have returned with redoubled force. I am terribly worried about her—terribly worried." Taking out her handkerchief, the poor woman wiped the tears from her eyes. "How could these people have known we were here?" she whispered, in an awed voice. "It seems like the work of fiends."
There was little that the detective could say in reply. Even to his sober judgment, there came a suggestion of the uncanny, the supernatural. The woman in the cab had escaped at half past nine, presumably quite ignorant of the location of Mrs. Morton's retreat. Half an hour later, the campaign of intimidation was renewed with greater vigor than before.
"I'm afraid, Mrs. Morton," he said, "that it will be necessary for you to remain with your daughter every minute of the time, for a day or two. By then, I am convinced that we shall have laid our hands on the guilty parties. Good night."
Duvall rose very early the following morning, and drove at once to the studio, but early as he was, Mr. Baker was there before him.
The latter was seated in his office, poring over a mass of reports, when Duvall entered. He glanced up, rose, shook hands nervously, then motioned to a chair.
"Nothing new yet," he said. "My stenographer, Miss King, is here. Neither Miss Green nor Miss Ford have yet arrived, but it is still a little early. Miss King came before her usual time, as she had some reports to get out that she could not complete last night. We have at least fifteen minutes to wait."
Duvall told him to proceed with his work, and drawing a newspaper from his pocket, made an effort to interest himself in it. In this, however, he was not very successful. Time after time his mind would wander from the printed sheet before him to the strange events of the night before. The thing that puzzled him most was, how did the persecutors of Miss Morton discover her new address so soon? Was the woman who had handed the package to Nora, the maid, the same one that had vanished from the cab? He remembered that it had been about nine o'clock when they left the Grand Theater, and perhaps half-past when he had gone into the drug store in Sixth Avenue to get the aromatic spirits of ammonia. Had the woman gone directly from the cab to the hotel? She must have done so, without much loss of time, in order to reach there by ten o'clock. How had she known the address? He knew very well that he had given it to the cabman, when they started away from the theater. Had the supposedly fainting woman overheard his words? If she had, and had so promptly acted upon them, she was far more clever and determined than her appearance would seem to warrant. He revolved the matter endlessly in his mind, waiting for Mr. Baker to announce that the time had come, when Miss Ford's or Miss Green's arrival or non-arrival would indicate which of the two, if either, was the woman they sought.
Suddenly the bell of the telephone on Mr. Baker's desk ran sharply. He answered it, then turned to Duvall.
"Miss Green, the telephone operator, is at her desk," he said. "Would you like to take a look at her?"
"Yes." The detective arose, and followed Mr. Baker into the corridor. The switchboard of the building was located at the end of the hall, in a small bare room. When they reached it, Mr. Baker spoke to a dark-haired, rather stout, woman who sat at the desk.
"Miss Green," he said, "if any calls come in for Mr. Duvall, he will be in my office." Then he went back along the corridor.
"She certainly isn't the woman we are after," he remarked to Duvall, as soon as they were out of earshot.
"No. It must be Miss Ford," the detective replied.
"Suppose we go to the developing and finishing department," Baker suggested. "It is time all our people were on hand. Mr. Emmett, who is in charge there, can tell us about Miss Ford."
They crossed to the other side of the building, and entered a small office. A bald-headed man sat at a littered desk.
"Mr. Emmett," Baker said, "shake hands with Mr. Duvall. He is looking for a young woman in the finishing department. Miss Marcia Ford. Has she come in yet?"
"No," replied the bald-headed man, gravely shaking hands. "She is not here this morning. It is rather surprising, too, for she usually is on time."
"What sort of a looking woman is she?" Duvall inquired.
"Oh—a rather insignificant looking girl of about twenty-five. Small, slender, not very prepossessing, but clever—enormously clever. One of the best film cutters we have. I should be sorry to lose her."
"Light blue eyes, and light hair," Duvall questioned. "And a thin, rather cruel mouth?"
"Exactly. But why? Has she gotten into any trouble?"
"No—I hope not. I merely wanted to see her."
"Well—of course she may show up later, although as I say she has usually been very punctual. I shouldn't be surprised if she is sick. She's been acting rather peculiarly, the past few days."
"How so?" asked Duvall, quickly.
"I can't say—exactly. I got the impression from her manner that she was nervous, excited, out of sorts. Merely an impression, but such things count."
"Telephone me, Emmett," Mr. Baker said, "if she comes in during the next hour. Come along, Mr. Duvall, you can wait in my office."
They returned to the other side of the immense building, and Duvall sat down to wait. He felt sure that they were on the right track, and was impatient to get back to New York and try to locate the missing woman. The description given by Mr. Emmett left little doubt in his mind that she and Miss Marcia Ford were one and the same. He sat in Mr. Baker's office, reading the paper, waiting anxiously for the hour the latter had specified to pass.
After what seemed an interminable wait, Mr. Baker glanced at his watch, then rose.
"It is ten o'clock, Mr. Duvall," he announced. "Miss Ford has not come, or Mr. Emmett would have notified me. I do not see that there is anything further to be accomplished here."
As he spoke, the telephone bell rang sharply. Mr. Baker picked up the receiver, listened intently for a few moments, then slammed the receiver back upon the hook.
"Hell!" he ejaculated softly.
"What is it?" Duvall asked.
"Miss Ford has just reported for work!"
The announcement, made by Mr. Baker, that Miss Marcia Ford, the film cutter, had reported for work, filled Duvall with astonishment. He had expected nothing of the sort, so convinced was he that the girl in question was the one they were looking for, the one who had been persecuting Ruth Morton, the motion picture star, with her threats.
He rose from his seat, in Mr. Baker's office at the studio, and turned toward the door. "If Miss Ford has reported for work," he said, "I had better take a look at her at once. If she is the woman who escaped from the cab, last night, I shall have no difficulty in recognizing her. But I am afraid it is out of the question. Knowing that both you and I had seen her, when she fainted at the theater, she would not dare to put in an appearance here to-day. The thing is utterly incomprehensible.
"Still, she might suppose that we would not suspect her, that she could carry on her work in the studio without anyone being the wiser. I seldom go into that part of the building, myself, and she would certainly not expect to see you. In fact, it may not have occurred to her that we suspect one of our employees, in spite of the stolen photograph or the fake telegram."
"Suppose we take a look at her at once. That will settle the whole question," Duvall urged.
"Very well." Mr. Baker closed his desk and the two men crossed the corridor and made their way into that part of the studio building devoted to the developing and finishing of the films.
Mr. Emmett, the head of the department, was seated at his desk when they arrived.
"So the Ford girl is here," Baker said at once.
"Yes, sir. She came in about ten minutes ago, explaining her lateness by saying that she was ill, when she got up this morning, and was not sure that she could get here at all. Shall I send for her?"
"No," Duvall interposed quickly. "Pardon me, Mr. Baker," he turned to the latter, "but if we send for this girl, it will arouse her suspicions. Of course I do not think she is the woman we are looking for, but she may be in league with her. Would it not be better to have Mr. Emmett and yourself conduct me through the room in which she works, as though I were a visitor to the studio? You can readily point her out to me as we pass, and that will give me ample opportunity to recognize her, in case I have ever seen her before."
"I think that a very good idea," returned Baker. He said a few words to Mr. Emmett, and the three men set out to go through the rooms in which the film cutting and pasting were done.
At one of the tables a girl of about twenty was at work. As they passed, Mr. Emmett turned his head and nodded. The girl did not look up, and the three men continued their way through the room.
When they again reached the hall, Mr. Baker turned to Duvall.
"Well?" he questioned.
"It is not the woman," the detective said. "I did not suppose it would be. There is some slight resemblance, of course. The color of the eyes and hair is the same, and the features are somewhat alike. However, I am very much afraid, Mr. Baker, that I have wasted both your time and mine. And yet, I cannot get over my original impression, that the person responsible for these threats is connected, in some way, with your company."
Baker, puzzled and disappointed as well, led the way back to his office. Duvall, however, when they reached it, did not enter.
"I shall not remain any longer, at present," he said. "I have an idea that I can accomplish more in town. Perhaps I may discover something there—some clue, that will enable us to make progress. I have a plan that may result in something."
"What is it?" Mr. Baker asked.
"I prefer not to say yet. If anything develops, I will let you know. Good day."
The taxicab in which he had made the trip down was still waiting for him. An hour later he had reached his hotel.
The disguise of the night before he had discarded. The woman in the cab had penetrated it. His presence, and that of Mrs. Morton, at the uptown hotel, was known. There seemed to be no further purpose, for the present, in attempting to preserve his incognito. He went to his room at once, and knocked on the door which separated it from the apartment of Mrs. Morton and her daughter. The door was opened by the maid, who ushered him into the little parlor.