The woman's onslaught had been so sudden, so unexpected, that Grace was entirely unable to offer any defense.
Her cries for help had been smothered at once and with the woman's thin but muscular fingers clutching at her throat, she found herself forced violently back upon a low couch that stood immediately behind her.
For a few moments she struggled violently, striving with both her hands to break her assailant's hold upon her, but her efforts were in vain. Slowly she realized that she was being choked into unconsciousness. The objects in the room, the woman's set face, whirled dimly before her eyes, and then everything became blank.
When she once more recovered consciousness, she found herself still lying upon the couch. Her throat ached fearfully, and there was a dull roaring in her head.
She opened her eyes and looked about. The room was quite dark. Only a very faint glow came through the windows at its further end—the dim reflection of the lights in the street. So far as she could determine, she was alone.
She tried to move her arms, her feet, but found them bound fast. A moment later she realized that a piece of cloth of some sort, tightly rolled, had been forced into her mouth. She could not utter a sound.
There was no one in the room, but from the one which adjoined it in the rear came the murmur of voices.
By twisting her head about she was able to learn that the door connecting the two was ajar, and through the narrow opening came a thin ribbon of light.
As her senses became clearer, she realized that two persons were in the room beyond her, and from the sounds they made, the words which from time to time came to her ears, it appeared that they were engaged in the operation of packing.
At first the words that filtered through the partly open doorway were mere fragments of conversation—words spoken here and there in a slightly higher key, and therefore distinguishable to her. She made out that her captors supposed her to be still unconscious—that they were preparing to leave the place.
"There's no hurry," she presently heard one of the women say, in a somewhat louder voice. "If she had had friends waiting outside for her, they would have come to her rescue long ago. I'm sure nobody knows where she is."
"And her husband had gone, long before I left the house. I was watching, and he first went to a saloon on the corner, and then drove off in a taxicab. So I couldn't have been followed here."
"No. But I think we ought to get away as soon as possible. When does that train go?"
"Not until half past five."
"We'll have to wait in the station, then."
"Why not here?"
"Because that woman's husband, when she fails to return to-night, is certain to look for her. She probably came in a cab, and he might trace her that way. My advice is to leave here as soon as possible. Have you finished packing that suit case?"
"No, not quite. What do you propose to do with Jack?"
"I was going to take him with me."
"I don't see how you can do that."
"Because, if any attempt is made to follow us, he would be a certain means of identification."
There was silence for a time. Grace heard the sounds of drawers being opened and shut, as the two women hurried through their task. Who was Jack, she wondered? There had been no sounds to indicate the presence of a third person in the next room.
Presently she heard the voices again.
"I think the whole affair has been a mistake, anyway," one of them said petulantly. "I don't see what you have gained by it."
"I've gotten my revenge on that baby-faced Morton girl. The stuck-up thing. I'll bet she won't act again in a hurry. What right has she to be getting a thousand a week, when they wouldn't give me a chance at any price. I may not be as good-looking as she is, but I'm a better actress. I hate her. I believe she told the director I wouldn't do—that's why I didn't get the job. And after running down to the studio every day for three weeks, too. I hate her, I tell you. I hope she's never able to act again." The woman spoke with an intensity, a violence that made Grace shudder.
"How do you ever suppose they came to connect me with the matter?" the other woman said after a time. "They didn't know my address, at the studio. And even if they had, I have never been seen with you. I don't see why they ever suspected me."
"I don't know. That man Duvall is pretty shrewd, though. I did manage to get away from him, the other night. I'd like to have seen his face, when he got back to the cab and found me gone."
"His wife followed you here, from the hotel, I suppose. You took an awful chance."
"I don't understand how she traced me. I knew she was following me, and when she saw me go up in the elevator, at the hotel, I expected her to come, too. I was afraid they might prevent me from coming down, while they were coming up, so I walked down. I watched, from the stairs, and saw her and the clerk get out of the elevator on the floor where that girl's apartment was. Then I came down the stairs and went out the side entrance. I knew she was upstairs, when I left, and I don't see how she traced me."
"Perhaps she had her taxi driver do it."
"That's just about it. And if he did, like as not he's waiting for her yet."
The other woman laughed.
"Nice wait he'll have," she said.
"That's all very well, but won't he see us going out?"
"Suppose he does. Anyway, it's dark, and we'll wear veils. And we won't go out together. But I don't think he'll wait so long."
"If he doesn't, he'll go back to the hotel and report, and then the woman's husband will be up here in no time. I think we'd better get out now. You'll have to leave the trunk. There's nothing much in it."
Again there was a long silence. Then Grace heard the door open, and the two women came into the room, carrying their suitcases. She closed her eyes and pretended to be still unconscious. One of the women paused beside her.
"If they don't find out where she is," she whispered to her companion, "she's likely to stay here and starve to death."
"I shouldn't be sorry," the other snarled. "But if you feel badly about it, it's easy enough to telephone to-morrow and tell the janitor to let her out. No chance of a cab, I guess."
"No. Not at this hour. We'll take the car down to Forty-second Street, and cross over. Are you ready?"
"Yes. I'd better put out the light, though."
"All right." The first woman moved to the door, while the second returned to the bedroom and snapped off the light. A moment later Grace saw her ghostly figure pass the couch, and then the snapping of the door catch told her that she was alone.
The thought was anything but a pleasant one. If Richard did not happen to remember Leary—she knew she had mentioned him in connection with the address on the torn card he had given her—it was by no means impossible that she might lie where she was, helpless, for days. And in that event, starvation, or what was worse, thirst, might very readily serve to fulfill the woman's predictions. She shivered at the thought of spending hours, days, in this place alone.
But was she alone? Until now, she had supposed so, in spite of the woman's remarks about "Jack," for she had heard not the slightest sound. Presently she became aware of a slow, regular scraping sound, that seemed to come from one of the rear rooms. It suggested something alive, something moving about with stealthy footsteps. Then, all of a sudden, there came a loud crash.
Grace gave an involuntary cry, or what would have been a cry, had she not been so effectually gagged. The knowledge that she lay helpless, unable to protect herself from attack, frightened her. She turned her head, straining her eyes into the semi-darkness. Something, some figure, was moving toward her from the bedroom, gliding along with swaying, noiseless steps. What it was, she could not determine; from its appearance against the darkness of the doorway it looked like a crawling figure in black.
Presently she heard the sound of breathing, and with it a mumbling noise, as though the apparition were talking to itself. Two eyes seemed to gleam through the darkness. There was a hissing yet guttural sound, human in quality, yet horrible to her ears.
And then, without warning, the figure sprang toward her, and flung its arms about her neck.
With a gasp of fear, Grace turned and buried her face in the pillows. Fingers seemed clutching at her hair. An arm, wearing a silken sleeve, brushed her cheek, lay across her throat. A low voice muttered unintelligibly in her ear, filling her with horror. She felt her senses reeling. She thought herself about to faint.
Then, in a moment, the creature was gone, and she heard it moving noisily about the further end of the room.
From time to time there came a crash, as though in the darkness it had upset something. Then would follow long, uncanny periods of stillness, broken only by the horrible muttering. She lay with her head buried in the pillows, wondering at what instant the figure would again appear at her side.
For a long time she remained thus, straining her ears to keep track of the creature's movements. And as the moments passed, she began to take courage, to hope that since no harm had as yet been offered her, the thing in the room, whatever it was, might not come near her again.
It appeared to have crept to the door, and from it came a low, quite human whimpering, as though it were in great grief. Perhaps, Grace thought, this was caused by the absence of the two women. She lay quite still, trying vainly to free her hands from their encircling bands, praying silently that Richard would come to her assistance. Her nerves were badly shaken. She contemplated hours, even days of such a situation with terror. At least, however, the coming of the dawn would bring one relief. She would be able to see what this uncanny thing was that shared her captivity.
Suddenly she became aware that some one was ascending the stairs in the hall outside. Could it be Richard coming to her assistance? She strained her ears, fearing that it might be only one of the tenants of the apartment above, returning home at a late hour.
The creature at the door had apparently also heard the approaching sound, for its whimperings ceased. Grace could tell by its movements that it had risen. There was a faint sound of fingers sliding over the polished surface of the door. The steps outside came to a halt.
With all her force Grace tried to cry out, but the gag prevented her from uttering a sound. Then there came a sharp knocking at the door.
The figure before it seemed to be fumbling noiselessly with the catch. In a moment Grace felt, rather than saw, that the door had been opened. Another interval of silence came, and then the person outside flung himself heavily forward.
The silence of the room was broken by a fall, a succession of unearthly screams. Grace saw a dark body go hurtling through the air, and then came the sharp, vicious crack of a pistol. The next thing she saw was her husband, bending over her, flashing an electric torch in her face. With frightened eyes she looked up at him and tried to smile.
The first thing that Duvall did, after releasing Grace from her bonds, was to take her in his arms and kiss her. Then he found the electric switch upon the wall and turned on the lights.
"What—what was it?" Grace asked, staring before her in horror.
"What was what?" he questioned.
"That—that thing that was locked in here with me."
"Poor creature. A monkey. I'm sorry I had to shoot it." He pointed to a crumpled figure on the floor dressed in a gay costume of red silk.
"But—what was a monkey doing here?"
"I'll explain all that later. Where is the woman?" He glanced toward the silent bedroom.
"They have gone?"
"Yes. There were two."
"Ah! The Ford girl. I might have known. Where did they go?"
"I—I don't know. To the station, I think. They said something about waiting there for a train."
"They didn't say. But they spoke of taking a car to 42nd Street, and crossing over. It must have been the Grand Central."
"Or possibly the West Shore. We'll have to try both. Are you able to leave now?"
Grace straightened out her stiffened limbs.
"Then come along."
As they started to leave the place, two men confronted them at the door. One was Mr. Scully, he of the ground-floor apartment, the other a short, thickset man, who at once announced himself as the janitor of the building.
"What's going on up here?" he questioned. "I heard a shot."
Duvall pointed to the crumpled heap on the floor.
"I had to shoot it, though I'm sorry now that I did. It attacked me in the dark. I couldn't afford to take any chances. My wife was locked in here, and was, so far as I knew, in grave danger."
"Your wife?" The man glanced at Grace.
"But—where is Miss Norman? And how did that monkey get in here?"
"Miss Norman left here some time ago. Another woman, by the name of Ford, was with her. She brought the monkey."
"I imagine she didn't want to leave it at her rooms. She did not expect to return there."
"And Miss Norman's gone, you say?"
"I don't just know, but I mean to find out at once. She has been guilty of a grave offense, on account of which I have been trying to lay my hands on her for several days. My wife tells me she took most of her belongings with her in her flight."
"Flight, eh?" the man growled. "And she owes us a month's rent. I hope you find her."
"I think I shall. Meanwhile, suppose you wait here in the apartment, in case, for any reason, she comes back. If I find her I shall bring her here at once, and unless the place is open I couldn't very well get in."
"All right." The man glanced about the disordered room. "That damned monkey has smashed a lamp and a lot of ornaments that somebody's got to pay for. Miss Norman rented this place furnished."
Duvall made no reply, but nodding to Grace, led the way to the hall.
"I'll be back soon, whether I find the woman or not," he said. "I've got some investigations to make here."
Accompanied by Grace, he descended to the cab. Leary seemed overjoyed to realize that Grace was safe, and began a long apology for his carelessness in not waiting for her earlier in the evening, but Duvall cut him short.
"Good thing you didn't," he said. "By coming back to the hotel and leaving the note for Mrs. Duvall, you made it possible for me to find her, and if I hadn't"—he paused and looked at Grace with a troubled face—"there's no knowing what might have happened. Tell the chauffeur to drive to the Grand Central Station."
It was three o'clock when the cab drew up at the curb. In spite of the lateness of the hour, there were a good many persons moving in and out of the station. Duvall got out and motioned to Grace and Leary to do the same.
"We will all go in by different doors," he explained, "and meet in the general waiting-room. If the women are not there, Mrs. Duvall will look through the women's room. If you see them, and they make no effort to escape, wait for me to join you. If they do try to get away, detain them until I come."
It was Duvall himself, however, who first caught sight of the objects of their pursuit. They sat, both apparently asleep, on a bench in one corner of the main waiting room. The detective was not certain of their identity, heavily veiled as they were, until he had gone quite close up to them. Then he saw that they were Miss Ford and the woman who had escaped from him while in the cab the night before.
He leaned over and tapped the Ford girl on the shoulder.
"Wake up, Miss Ford," he exclaimed.
The girl shivered, then struggled to her feet. Her companion appeared to be too dazed to move, although she opened her eyes and stared at him with a vague and terrified face.
"Will you come with me quietly," he said, "or shall I call a policeman and have you put under arrest for the attack upon my wife?" He addressed himself more particularly to the woman who was sitting.
She now rose and made a movement as though to attempt to escape. Duvall grasped her by the arm.
"It will be quite useless to attempt it, Miss Norman," he said. "I have help close at hand in case it is needed." He glanced toward Grace and Leary, who were now approaching. "I do not wish to use any violence, of course, but you and your friend are going back to the apartment on Ninety-sixth Street with me."
His voice, his manner, made it apparent to the two women that escape was hopeless. They seemed suddenly to realize it, to give up further ideas of resistance.
"Very well," Miss Norman said, "we will go."
"Good." Duvall turned to Leary. "Take those two suit cases, Leary, and get another cab." In silence the little party made its way to the street. The two women said nothing on the way back to the apartment, and Duvall did not question them. There was time enough for that, he reflected, after they reached their destination. Within less than an hour from the time of their departure, their entire party was back in the woman's apartment.
The janitor was still there on guard, but the body of the dead monkey had been removed. Duvall, requesting Leary to remain, closed the door. The janitor rose and came toward them.
"Look here, Miss Norman," he began, "who's going to pay for that broken lamp and them vases and ornaments?"
The woman regarded him with a stare, but said nothing.
"Never mind about those things now," Duvall said. "They can remain. I have some questions of much greater importance to ask these ladies. You need not wait. In fact, I should prefer that you did not. The matter is a private one." The janitor took his departure, grumbling to himself, and Duvall closed and bolted the door. Then he requested the two women to be seated. They obeyed without a word.
"Why did you send those threatening messages to Miss Morton?" he suddenly asked, addressing himself to Miss Norman.
She faced him defiantly.
"I'll answer no questions," she flung at him. "You can't prove I sent anybody any messages."
"Do you deny it, then?"
Duvall turned to Grace.
"You saw this woman enter Miss Morton's hotel to-night and go up in the elevator, did you not?"
"Do you deny that?" The detective once more addressed Miss Norman.
"No. What of it? How do you know I went to Miss Morton's room?" Her defiance was in no way lessened. Duvall saw that she meant to deny her guilt utterly. He turned to Leary.
"This woman came to you, did she not, with a request that you spy on my wife's movements, and inform her concerning them?"
The chauffeur nodded.
"Yes, sir. She did."
Again Miss Norman spoke.
"Suppose I did. What then?"
"You will admit, I presume, that you fainted at the theatre the other night when the picture of the death's-head seal was thrown on the screen, and that later you escaped from the cab in which I had placed you?"
"Certainly I will admit it. The hideous thing startled me. As for escaping from the cab, I had every reason to do so. You had not only attempted to drug me, but after that you tried to steal the contents of my purse. You are the one who ought to be arrested, not I."
The woman's attitude began to annoy Duvall, especially as, so far, he realized fully that the evidence against her was entirely circumstantial and vague. He turned away, and began to search the rooms.
The search, although he conducted it with the utmost minuteness, was quite unproductive of results. If the woman possessed a typewriter, she had apparently made away with it. The scrap basket contained nothing but a few torn bits of paper of no value. There was no stationery on the small desk in the living room, no black sealing wax, such as had been used to make the seals. Duvall began to realize that the case against his prisoner was far from complete. Returning from a fruitless search of the bedroom, Duvall's eye fell upon the two suitcases that the women had carried in their flight. He bent over to them at once, and proceeded to open them, one after the other.
"Search them, please." He nodded to Grace.
The latter did so with the utmost care, but found nothing of an incriminating nature. The two women sat in stony silence, showing little interest in the proceedings. Duvall went over to them.
"Show me your rings," he said to Miss Norman.
The woman held out her hand.
"Take them off."
She stripped from her finger three rings. One was a gold seal with a monogram upon it, another a cheap affair set with pearls, the third a twisted gold band. None of the rings contained the mysterious death's-head seal, or could in any way have concealed it.
An examination of Miss Ford's stock of jewelry produced no better results.
"Let me see the contents of your purse," Duvall said, indicating a leather bag the Norman woman carried on her wrist.
She handed the bag over with an almost imperceptible smile. Duvall examined it but without result. The seal was not inside. Nor did Miss Ford's purse, a silver one, contain anything worthy of his notice. He handed the two back.
"Anything else you would like to see?" Miss Norman asked with cutting irony.
Duvall walked over to the window and looked out. It was still quite dark. The woman's assurance puzzled him. It was quite clear now that unless he could find the typewriter, the letter paper, the missing seal, and could connect this woman with them, there remained but a single way in which she could be connected with the attacks upon Miss Morton, and that would be by the direct testimony of the motion-picture actress herself, concerning the woman's visit to her room. But suppose the visit had been made in disguise. It would have been simple enough to have put on a mask on entering the room and subsequently have thrown it away. And Miss Morton, frightened as she had been, might be totally unable to identify her assailant. She had covered her tracks well. Was she then to go free?
The matter of the typewriter Duvall put aside for the moment. The woman might readily have a friend who possessed one—a hotel stenographer, perhaps, who had permitted her to make use of her machine. But the seal was a matter of more importance. His examination of the several impressions had shown him that it was extremely well carved—a decidedly expensive piece of work. Of course, the woman might have thrown it away during her flight, but it seemed unlikely. What had she done with it? The question was one to which he felt he must find an answer.
Again, with Grace's assistance, he examined the articles in the women's suitcases, testing the backs of hairbrushes, the contents of powder boxes, the interior of a cake of soap, a bottle of shoe blackening, but the search was as unproductive of results as before. Duvall was forced, against his will, to the conclusion that the woman had made away with the seal, rather than run the risk of its being found upon her person.
"Is there anything more you want of us?" Miss Norman asked, when he had again closed the suitcases. "If not, my friend and I would like to go." She rose as though to take her departure.
"Yes. There is one thing more. You will have to go to Mrs. Morton's hotel with me, so that her daughter may have an opportunity to identify you. But it is far too early to start now. I will send out presently and have some breakfast brought in."
It was beginning to grow light now. Duvall suggested to Grace that she had better go out into the little kitchenette at the rear of the apartment and see if she couldn't find the materials for preparing some coffee. He himself sat down at the little writing desk, and proceeded once more to examine its varnished surface with the greatest care. He had thought, if the letters had been sealed here, there would in all probability be some tiny spots of the black sealing wax upon the desk top, but he could discover nothing. Presently he heard Grace calling to him from the kitchen.
Directing Leary to keep an eye on the two women, he joined her at once.
"What is it?" he asked. "Have you discovered anything?"
"No, not exactly. But—what does that mean?" She pointed to a candle which stood in a tin holder on the table. "Do you notice the spots of black wax on the candlestick?"
Duvall took the candlestick up and looked at it. There were large splashes of sealing wax all over the bottom of the tin tray, not minute spots, such as might have been made by the dropping of bits of the hot wax in making a seal, but circular splotches half an inch or more in diameter, as though a great quantity of the material had been melted.
"What do you make of it?" Duvall asked.
"I don't know. Looks as though she had melted up the whole stick, for some reason or other. Possibly to destroy it."
"Hardly that. It would have been far easier to have simply thrown it out of the window. And besides, the mere possession of a stick of sealing wax, black or otherwise, could not be regarded as evidence. This woman is smart, very smart and shrewd. She did not melt that wax up for nothing. I think I have an idea of her purpose, although I cannot, of course, be sure, yet. Did you find some coffee?"
"Yes. I'll have it ready very soon. What do you make of this woman's attitude?"
"It is simple enough. She believes that she can bluff this thing out without it being possible to prove her the author of the letters. And she may be right. Certainly, unless Miss Morton can identify her, or we can discover the death's-head seal in her possession, she stands a very good chance of getting away scot free."
The coffee which Grace presently brought in was drunk by the whole party in silence. Duvall seemed unusually preoccupied. His eyes scarcely left Miss Norman; he appeared to be studying her, watching her every movement with extraordinary interest, although he strove, by assuming a careless indifference, to disguise his scrutiny. Grace, who knew his methods, realized that the sealing wax in the candlestick had suggested some clue to him, which he was trying his best to work out.
At about seven o'clock Leary was sent out to fetch some breakfast. By half past eight they were ready to go to see Mrs. Morton.
Before doing so, Duvall thought it wise to call the latter up and make arrangements about their coming. He presently got Mrs. Morton on the wire.
"Good morning, Mrs. Morton. How is your daughter?" he asked.
"Much better," the reply came. "Very much better. I am going to take her back to the apartment at once."
"Yes. She will be more comfortable there, and safer, too, I think. We came here on your advice so that we might escape this fearful persecution. But since the persons who have been threatening my daughter have discovered our whereabouts, I see no reason for remaining any longer. Do you?"
"No. I was going to suggest that you should return. I think I can quite safely assure you that there will be no recurrence of the threats."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because I think the woman who has been making them is now in my hands. I will bring her to the apartment a little later in the morning so that your daughter may identify her. Will eleven o'clock suit you?"
"Yes, very well."
"Then I will come at that hour. Good-by." He hung up the receiver and turned to speak to Grace. His eyes, however, sought the figure of Miss Norman. She had not anticipated his quick scrutiny, and had for the moment ceased to be on her guard. Duvall smiled to himself. The theory which the spots of sealing wax had suggested had in that moment received an unexpected confirmation.
Ruth Morton had received a fearful shock the evening before, but by the morning she had recovered from the immediate effects of it, although she still felt extremely weak.
When Duvall and his little party arrived at the apartment on Fifty-seventh Street, they were received in the library by Mrs. Morton.
She greeted both Grace and Duvall cordially, but it was evident, from her manner, that she found the presence of the Norman woman and Miss Ford highly distasteful to her.
Duvall drew her to one side, leaving the two women in charge of Leary and Grace.
"How is your daughter now, Mrs. Morton?" he asked.
"Better, I think."
"May I see her for a few moments?"
"Yes. She is expecting you. Come this way, please. She is occupying my room at present. She still has a fear of the other one—the one she formerly used."
"I see. But she need not have it now. There will be no further trouble." He followed Mrs. Morton into her bedroom.
Ruth, looking very haggard and white, was sitting in an easy chair by the window. Duvall was amazed to note how terribly the shock of the night before had affected her.
"How do you do, Miss Morton," he said, offering his hand. "I am glad to find you almost yourself again."
The girl looked up with a faint smile.
"Thank you, Mr. Duvall. I am much better. I understand that you have found out who has been causing me all this trouble."
"I think I have. But before I go ahead I want you to give me a little assistance. Do you think you would know the woman who came to your rooms last night, in case you should see her again?"
Miss Morton shuddered.
"I—I don't know. I do not think I saw her face. It was all so very sudden——"
"Tell me about it," Duvall said. "It may help me to get at the facts. That is, if you feel able to do so."
"I think I do. What shall I tell you?"
"Just describe, in a few words, what happened."
"Well, as you know, I had been feeling rather better yesterday, and had begun to rather laugh at my fears. Mother was with me constantly, and Nora as well, and I began to feel quite cheerful again, especially as I knew that you were making splendid progress and had found the woman who had been writing me. Mother told me that you expected to arrest her before the day was over. She said your wife had been helping you, too.
"After dinner Nora, who had been in the hotel all day, asked permission to go out for awhile and mother told her she might go. The poor girl had been almost a prisoner since we arrived at the hotel. That was about eight o'clock.
"About half past eight a boy came to the room with a card, upon which was written your wife's name, and a note asking if she might see mother for a few moments. We both looked at the card and then mother decided to go down and see her. She instructed me to lock the door while she was out, and of course I did so.
"In a few minutes mother came back. She seemed greatly excited, said that she had seen Mrs. Duvall and that you had sent a message to the effect that you had arrested the woman who had been threatening me and wanted mother to come to your hotel at once to appear against her in court. It was necessary, the woman who pretended to be your wife said, that mother should come at once, as otherwise the woman couldn't be held.
"We talked the matter over for a few moments and I told her that I thought she ought to go. She seemed rather afraid to leave me alone, but I promised to keep the door locked, and anyway, as I pointed out to her, if the woman was arrested I had nothing further to fear.
"At last mother decided she would go, and left me. I locked the door as soon as she went out.
"It seemed to me a very few moments before I heard some one rapping. At first I supposed that mother had come back for some reason or other. Then I thought it might be Nora who had said she was only going out for a breath of air. So, suspecting nothing, I unlocked the door and opened it.
"A woman came in, very quickly, before I realized it. She was not tall, and rather slight, and I think she had light hair. I couldn't see her face well because she had twisted a black veil across it, hiding her eyes and the upper part of her features. She turned as soon as she got in the room and locked the door.
"I was too surprised for a moment to speak, then I asked her what she wanted.
"'I want you,' she said in a terrible voice, and I saw that she was taking a bottle from her handbag.
"I was so frightened that I could not cry out, although I tried. You see, the warnings I had received had gotten me so worked up that my nerves were all on edge, and as soon as I saw the bottle, I concluded that the woman was about to throw vitriol in my face. So I put my hands to my eyes and ran into the bedroom.
"The woman came behind me, saying that my looks would soon be gone, that my days as an actress were over, and other things like that which I scarcely heard I was so frightened. When she got to me she caught hold of my arm and pulled me around, facing her.
"I couldn't keep my eyes closed now, for I simply had to see what she was doing. It seemed worse not looking at her, and then I thought I might take the bottle away from her and save myself in that way. So I took my hands from my face and rushed toward her.
"Then she raised the bottle and dashed something into my face.
"It seemed hot, stinging, and made my eyes burn frightfully. I was sure it was vitriol, and the thought was too much for me I guess, for I felt myself falling and—well, that's all I remember until I woke up and found the doctor and mother there. It was a terrible experience. I could scarcely believe them, when they told me, after I came to, that I wasn't really hurt at all."
Duvall looked at the girl's face. It showed no signs of injury, although her eyes were red and inflamed.
"Then it wasn't vitriol after all?" he asked, wondering.
"No, it apparently wasn't. The doctor said he thought it must have been ammonia."
"Remarkable!" Duvall muttered to himself. "Why should she have gone to all that trouble, just to frighten you?"
"That's apparently all she intended to do from the start. Do you know, Mr. Duvall, I've been thinking this thing over, and I believe her whole plan from the beginning was merely to ruin me in my work by fear. And I must say that she very nearly succeeded."
"Very nearly," said Duvall, with a frown. "If this thing had kept up for another week or two, you would have been a complete nervous wreck."
"I am now, I'm afraid," Miss Morton said, sadly. "I don't feel as though I could act again for a long time."
"Oh, yes, you will. You have youth, and that is everything. And now, tell me, do you think if you took a look at this woman you might recognize her?"
The girl shuddered.
"Is she—here?" she asked.
"Yes. In the library."
"You think it would be quite safe?"
"Quite. She can do you no harm while I am here."
"Very well. I will see her if you wish it, but I am very much afraid that I shall not be able to identify her." Duvall held out his hand.
"Come," he said. "I will take you in."
Miss Morton rose, and walking slowly and with considerable effort, went with him into the front room. Standing in the doorway, with the detective beside her, she confronted the two women. They regarded her with stony indifference.
"Miss Morton," Duvall said, "do you recognize either of these two women as the one who attacked you in your rooms last night?"
The girl gazed helplessly from Miss Ford to her companion and back again. Then she slowly shook her head.
"No," she said. "It might have been either of them. They look somewhat alike. But as for saying which one it was, if it was either of them, I'm afraid I can't. The woman was veiled. The room was not brightly lighted. And I was very much frightened."
The look of disappointment in Duvall's face was reflected in that of both Grace and Mrs. Morton. The two women, on the contrary, seemed vastly relieved. Miss Norman's mouth curled in rather an ironical smile.
"Are you through with this inquisition now?" she asked. "For if you are, my friend and myself would like to continue our journey. You have had no right to bring us here in the first place, and I am strongly considering making a complaint against you for having done so." She grasped firmly the umbrella she had held in her hand all the morning, and turned as though to go. Leary, however, stood before the door.
"You apparently have forgotten," Duvall remarked, going toward her, "that I still have a charge against you for attacking my wife."
"Very well; make it. I can prove that your wife forcibly entered my apartment under false pretense, saying that she was collecting money for the war sufferers in Poland. If I attacked her, it was in self-defense."
"That isn't true," cried Grace. "You sprang at me——"
"My word is as good as yours," Miss Norman interrupted. "And my friend here will bear out what I say." She nodded to Miss Ford. "You also," she again faced Duvall, "broke into my apartment without warrant and killed my pet monkey. You will have to answer for that as well. You have accused me of sending threatening letters to this girl here. I defy you to prove it."
Duvall, who had been coming nearer the woman all the time, reached out and snatched from her hands the umbrella she held. The others in the room regarded him with astonishment. The woman herself gave a cry of anger, and starting forward tried to recover her lost property.
Duvall yielded it to her at once, but not before he had torn from the handle two small round balls covered with knitted silk that hung from it by a heavy silken cord.
Miss Norman, seeing what he had done, drew back with a cry of anger. A few incoherent words trailed from her lips. Duvall, paying no attention to her, ripped open one of the silk-meshed coverings and extracted from it a small, round black object about the size of a hickory nut.
He gazed at it for a moment, then going quickly to the table in the center of the room brought the thing down smartly upon its surface.
There was a crackling sound, and bits of some black substance flew in every direction. A moment later the detective raised in his hand a glittering bit of metal and held it up so that the others might see it.
"The death's-head seal," he said, quietly.
Miss Norman fell on her knees before Ruth Morton, her hands upraised.
"Forgive me—forgive me!" she sobbed.
"In reconstructing the case from the beginning," Duvall said, later in the day, "one fact stands out with especial prominence—the almost total absence of any definite clues."
He was sitting in the library of the Morton apartment, and with him were his wife, Mrs. Morton and Ruth.
"The thing was certainly very cleverly done," Mrs. Morton remarked. "I still do not understand it in the least. How, for instance, were the letters placed in my daughter's room?"
"I am coming to that," replied Duvall. "But first I will run over the case in the light of Miss Norman's confession to me so that you may understand it thoroughly and decide what action you wish to take against her and her sister, Miss Ford."
"Yes. The woman's name is not Norman. It is Ford—Jane Ford. Norman is an assumed name.
"The two of them came to New York about a year ago from somewhere up the state—a small town near Rochester, I believe. One secured employment in the motion picture studio—the other, the one calling herself Miss Norman, worked as a stenographer.
"Her interest in motion pictures having been aroused by her sister's stories of the life in the studio, she became an ardent picture 'fan,' and spent every evening watching the films.
"Her attention was particularly devoted to the pictures in which your daughter appeared, owing to the stories her sister told her about Miss Morton's marvelous salary, her beauty, the ease with which she had become famous.
"These stories naturally inflamed her sister's mind. Working for ten dollars a week, she began to compare her state with that of a girl of her own age earning a hundred times as much, and gradually the idea began to possess her that she could become a motion-picture star herself.
"At first she admired Miss Morton immensely and never missed an opportunity to see the pictures in which she appeared. Then, convinced of her own ability as an actress, she made application at the studio at which her sister worked for a position.
"It seems she haunted the studio for several weeks without getting any encouragement. Then, more to get rid of her than for any other reason, one of the directors offered her a place as extra woman in a picture Miss Morton was doing—a very minor part, in which she had to appear momentarily as a saleswoman at a counter in a department store.
"Unfortunately, when Miss Morton saw her she happened to say to the director that she would have preferred a woman of a different type, dark, taller, so as to provide a more effective foil to her own type of beauty. As a result, the girl did not get the position."
"I am so sorry," Ruth cried. "I hadn't the least idea who the girl was, and, of course, I wouldn't have done her any harm for the world."
"I know that," Duvall replied, "but she did not. She is mentally rather erratic, and she at once conceived the idea that you had singled her out for persecution; that, in fact, you were envious of her abilities and meant to prevent her from getting a chance.
"The thing preyed on her mind, and I fancy, unbalanced it a little. She conceived a violent hatred for you, and with her sister began to plot revenge.
"Her first move was to persuade her sister to move to the house on Fifty-seventh Street, close to your apartment. It took them some time to find the place—to secure a room situated as Miss Ford's was, but at last they managed it. Then they went to work.
"The letters were all typewritten on a machine belonging to a public stenographer whom the girls knew. Jane Ford would stop in at this woman's place late in the afternoon and asking permission to use one of the machines would type the threatening letters. The paper she used was procured especially for her by her sister at a stationery store downtown.
"The seal, a curious thing, had belonged to the girls' father, and she conceived the idea of signing the letters with it to add to the grimness of her threats. As a matter of fact, I do not think she ever had the least intention of carrying them out. It was to be solely a campaign of fear. She probably thought that she could so frighten you, Miss Morton, that your health would be broken down, and your work consequently interfered with to such an extent that you would lose your position. As I say, I think she is mentally somewhat unbalanced. I cannot account for some of her actions, otherwise.
"The mailing of the first letter, the telephone messages, were comparatively simple. It was the delivery of those at the apartment that taxed her ingenuity. Yet the method was simple enough.
"The girls' father, I am told, had been an animal trainer in a circus, and one of his bequests to his daughters was a pet monkey named Jack, that had been taught to do all sorts of tricks. The girls brought this monkey to New York with them after their father's death. When the question arose of delivering the letters in your room, Miss Morton, she decided to make use of the animal.
"Creeping out of Marcia Ford's bedroom to the roof of the back building, and taking the monkey with her, she crossed the roof of the second house and reached the wall of the apartment. From here she was in a position to reach either of your bedroom windows in the following manner.
"The monkey was led by means of a long, thin rope, attached to a sort of harness about his neck and shoulders. By going to the rear edge of the back building they could readily swing him over to the fire-escape, while by ascending to the top of the attic roof overlooking the court, they could in the same way enable him to reach the other window. The monkey had been trained to carry objects in his mouth. This accounts for the row of indentations on the letters found in your room. I had supposed they came from some mechanical device, fastened to the end of a long pole, but as a matter of fact, they were made by the monkey's teeth.
"The animal being light in weight, and the pads of his feet being, of course, soft, no traces of his presence were left on the newly painted surface of the fire-escape. The handkerchief that I found there had been knotted about his neck as the collar to which the rope was fastened had seemed a bit weak. In some way it became detached, probably when the girls jerked on the cord to summon him back after he had completed his task.
"In crossing the roofs of the two houses, the monkey's paws, as well as the rope, became covered with dust. This explains the spots which seemed to be finger marks upon the counterpane of your bed, and the long, dark straight line across the bed, which I thought might have been left by a rod or pole. As a matter of fact, it was made by a tightly stretched rope.
"The sending of the monkey on the night when you were lying in bed must have been a mistake. You will remember that, contrary to your usual habit, you retired that night very early—a little after eight o'clock, if I remember correctly. The girls, coming over the room, saw that your room was dark, and naturally supposed that no one was in it. The grinning face of the monkey standing on the bed beside you, was the death's head apparition you thought you saw. At your cries the two women at once jerked on the cord, and the monkey hastened back to them through the partly raised window, leaving no trace of his presence except the black smudges of which I have spoken.
"I have no doubt that Jane Ford followed me back to my hotel after one of my early visits to your apartment, and thus learned my name and address. Her supposition that I was engaged in an attempt to ferret out the writer of the letters was a shrewd guess.
"The photograph was stolen from the studio by Marcia Ford who, being an employee, had ample opportunity to stroll about the place after office hours without exciting suspicion. She also arranged the subsequent delivery of the photograph and the substitution of the fake telegram.
"Even when I made my night visit to Marcia Ford's room, and was attacked in the dark by the monkey, I did not suspect what it was. The room was pitch dark, and in the gloom I got the impression of a much larger object—a person, in fact, and this impression was heightened by the fact that the animal wore a silken jacket, and I felt the sleeve of it against my throat. I only regret that the noise, the cries he made, singularly human in quality, made it necessary for me to leave the place so precipitately.
"The Ford girl and her sister had evidently just come in, and rushing to the room found evidences of some one having been there. The monkey had been shut in a closet, and by opening the door I had, of course, released it. Fearing discovery, they arranged to flee at once. Jane Ford went uptown. Her sister remained to pack up her belongings.
"The visit to your hotel, the attack on you, was a crazy inspiration of the moment. Not knowing that my wife was following her, and having seen me on the sidewalk on Fifty-seventh Street as she drove away, Miss Norman naturally felt that if she could get you, Mrs. Morton, out of the way, she would be perfectly safe in going up to your rooms.
"Even when alone with your daughter, she did not attempt to do her any serious bodily injury, but contented herself with hurling the ammonia in her face, counting, no doubt, upon the effect of the shock that would result. As I have said, the woman is mentally a little unbalanced. The things she does are not normal."
"Nevertheless, they came very near being fatal," Mrs. Morton remarked grimly. "The doctor informed me that the fright, the shock of her experience, might readily have caused Ruth's death, or upset her reason."
"I do not doubt it," replied Duvall. "The woman has all the cunning of an insane person. She showed it when, overcome by the sight of the death's-head seal I had flashed upon the screen at the theater, she so quickly recovered herself that she was able to deceive me completely regarding her condition, and subsequently to make her escape.
"Both she and her sister realized that it had become necessary for them to leave the city. Marcia Ford, taking the monkey with her in a cab, hastened uptown to join her sister at the latter's apartment. She knew that I was not following her, for she had seen me drive off to join you, Mrs. Morton, at my hotel. They both thought themselves quite safe, and able to leave the city without interference.
"The arrival of my wife at their apartment caused them to hasten their plans. They realized that we were close upon their heels. Jane Ford knew that the ring containing the death's-head seal was about the only evidence that existed against her, yet she hesitated to throw it away, as it had belonged to her father, and she prized it highly. With the cunning that she had exhibited throughout, she conceived the idea of hiding it in one of the tassels upon the handle of her umbrella.
"These tassels, as you perhaps know, are usually made of round bits of wood, enclosed in a covering of knitted silk. The girl removed one of the wooden balls, and having embedded the ring in a ball of black sealing wax, put it in place of the wooden one. It was a most ingenious hiding place, and one extremely unlikely to be discovered."
"How did you happen to discover it, Mr. Duvall?" Mrs. Morton asked.
"In this way. When my wife called my attention to the spots of black wax on the tray of the candlestick, I saw at once that a far larger amount of the wax had been melted than would have been required in making an ordinary seal. The impressions on the warnings the woman sent were very small and flat, so as to readily be inserted in the envelopes containing the letters without being bulky, or becoming broken while passing through the mails. But here were spots of the wax that had dripped down as large as a silver quarter and larger. What, I wondered, had caused the woman to melt so large a quantity of wax?
"I attempted to put myself in her place and to think what she would do to hide the seal ring. The idea of embedding it in a ball of the wax occurred to me. But, having done this, what would she do with the ball? It was not an easy thing to hide; in her purse, her satchel, it would have attracted attention at once. Then I noticed the round black ornaments hanging from her umbrella, with their silken cords and tassels. What better place to hide the ball of wax?
"In order to test my theory, I twice attempted to take the umbrella from her on our way here, as though to relieve her of the trouble of carrying it. In both instances she drew back at once, and refused to allow the umbrella to leave her possession. This action on her part convinced me that my guess had been a correct one. The subsequent finding of the ring broke down her assurance. As you know, she has made a complete confession."
"Poor woman," Ruth Morton remarked. "What are you going to do with her?"
"That rests with you, Miss Morton. If you decide to prosecute you can readily do so. The penalty for sending threatening letters through the mails is not a light one. And her attack upon you, under the circumstances, is a very serious matter indeed."
Ruth turned to her mother.
"I think we ought to let them go," she said.
"And have the same trouble over again," Mrs. Morton replied. "I could never feel safe with that woman at large."
"I do not think she will trouble you again, Mrs. Morton," remarked Duvall. "She is thoroughly frightened. All her assurance has disappeared. She begs that she and her sister be allowed to return home at once. It seems that some relative in Rochester has offered them a home there, and they were going to join her when we intercepted them."
"Then let them go," Ruth Morton exclaimed. "I certainly do not wish to cause them any harm, especially as you tell me the woman who originated the whole thing is mentally not quite right."
"She is certainly unbalanced, so far as her grievance against you is concerned. But I feel sure that were you to explain matters to her, and let her understand that your action in losing her the position at the studio was quite impersonal on your part, she will realize the folly of what she has done, and come to her senses."
"I will do it," said Ruth. "I don't want to injure her any more. Let them go home in peace."
"Very well." Duvall rose to go. "Permit me to say, Mrs. Morton, that I admire your daughter's generosity very much. Good morning." He and Grace bade their hosts good-by and took their leave.
"She's a lovely girl," Grace remarked, as they drove to their hotel. "I like her immensely."
"Then you aren't jealous of me any more, because I so suddenly became a motion-picture 'fan'?"
"Richard!" she laughed. "Don't be silly. I suppose I shall always be jealous of you when a girl, as beautiful as Ruth Morton, is concerned. After all, to be jealous is only a woman's way of paying tribute to another woman's charms."
"It was Miss Ford's way, too," he said, "but as a means of showing one's appreciation it had its faults."
THE NOVELS OF
MARY ROBERTS RINEHART
May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap's list.
K. LeMoyne, famous surgeon, drops out of the world that has known him, and goes to live in a little town where beautiful Sidney Page lives. She is in training to become a nurse. The joys and troubles of their young love are told with that keen and sympathetic appreciation which has made the author famous.
THE MAN IN LOWER TEN.
Illustrated by Howard Chandler Christy.
An absorbing detective story woven around the mysterious death of the "Man in Lower Ten." The strongest elements of Mrs. Rinehart's success are found in this book.
WHEN A MAN MARRIES.
Illustrated by Harrison Fisher and Mayo Bunker.
A young artist, whose wife had recently divorced him, finds that his aunt is soon to visit him. The aunt, who contributes to the family income and who has never seen the wife, knows nothing of the domestic upheaval. How the young man met the situation is humorously and most entertainingly told.
THE CIRCULAR STAIRCASE. Illus. by Lester Ralph.
The summer occupants of "Sunnyside" find the dead body of Arnold Armstrong, the son of the owner, on the circular staircase. Following the murder a bank failure is announced. Around these two events is woven a plot of absorbing interest.
THE STREET OF SEVEN STARS.
Illustrated (Photo Play Edition.)
Harmony Wells, studying in Vienna to be a great violinist, suddenly realizes that her money is almost gone. She meets a young ambitious doctor who offers her chivalry and sympathy, and together with world-worn Dr. Anna and Jimmie, the waif, they share their love and slender means.
B. M. BOWER'S NOVELS
May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset and Dunlap's list.
CHIP OF THE FLYING U. Wherein the love affairs of Chip and Della Whitman are charmingly and humorously told.
THE HAPPY FAMILY. A lively and amusing story, dealing with the adventures of eighteen jovial, big hearted Montana cowboys.
HER PRAIRIE KNIGHT. Describing a gay party of Easterners who exchange a cottage at Newport for a Montana ranch-house.
THE RANGE DWELLERS. Spirited action, a range feud between two families, and a Romeo and Juliet courtship make this a bright, jolly story.
THE LURE OF THE DIM TRAILS. A vivid portrayal of the experience of an Eastern author among the cowboys.
THE LONESOME TRAIL. A little branch of sage brush and the recollection of a pair of large brown eyes upset "Weary" Davidson's plans.
THE LONG SHADOW. A vigorous Western story, sparkling with the free outdoor life of a mountain ranch. It is a fine love story.
GOOD INDIAN. A stirring romance of life on an Idaho ranch.
FLYING U RANCH. Another delightful story about Chip and his pals.
THE FLYING U'S LAST STAND. An amusing account of Chip and the other boys opposing a party of school teachers.
THE UPHILL CLIMB. A story of a mountain ranch and of a man's hard fight on the uphill road to manliness.
THE PHANTOM HERD. The title of a moving-picture staged in New Mexico by the "Flying U" boys.
THE HERITAGE OF THE SIOUX. The "Flying U" boys stage a fake bank robbery for film purposes which precedes a real one for lust of gold.
THE GRINGOS. A story of love and adventure on a ranch in California.
STARR OF THE DESERT. A New Mexico ranch story of mystery and adventure.
THE LOOKOUT MAN. A Northern California story full of action, excitement and love.
Typographical errors in original have been corrected as follows:
"Would you take one, if it were offered to you," asked Grace quickly. changed to: "Would you take one, if it were offered to you?" asked Grace quickly.
"No one, but an old negro cook, who has been with me for years. changed to: "No one but an old negro cook, who has been with me for years.
I am going to take the case largely bceause it has interested me, changed to: I am going to take the case largely because it has interested me,
Duvall examined this house next door with a great deal of interest changed to: Duvall examined this house next door with a great deal of interest.
"Nothing, so far. I confess the thing is somewhat of a puzzle. changed to: "Nothing, so far. I confess the thing is somewhat of a puzzle."
...eyes of the two men were tent curiously upon her, changed to: ...eyes of the two men were bent curiously upon her,
Why, sir. Is anything wrong?" changed to: Why, sir? Is anything wrong?"
Dora will bring me some dinner," she said, changed to: Nora will bring me some dinner," she said,
She has become a sort of public character." changed to: She has become a sort of public character.
Duvall turned to his companion with a juzzled frown. changed to: Duvall turned to his companion with a puzzled frown.
...his head, far below the sill of this window. nor could anyone... changed to: ...his head, far below the sill of this window, nor could anyone...
...may have to be here some time, I've got a queer case... changed to: ...may have to be here some time. I've got a queer case...
"Nothing, replied Mrs. Morton. changed to: "Nothing," replied Mrs. Morton.
"This is where Mr. Moore receives his callers: changed to: "This is where Mr. Moore receives his callers.
...at the Grand to-night, It will be your last changed to: ...at the Grand to-night, it will be your last.
"Last night I knew it would be needed to-day." changed to: "Last night. I knew it would be needed to-day."
...when the moment arrived, I gave it to the actor who took it to Miss Morton:" changed to: ...when the moment arrived, I gave it to the actor who took it to Miss Morton."
...Duvall asked Ruth, after they had had started away from the studio. changed to: ...Duvall asked Ruth, after they had started away from the studio.
With a polite bow he passed no. changed to: With a polite bow he passed on.
Duval, after having satisfied himself that... changed to: Duvall, after having satisfied himself that...
The lovely face of Ruth Morton once more greeted the eyes of the audience changed to: The lovely face of Ruth Morton once more greeted the eyes of the audience.
...the water about with the end of a leadpencil until the tablet... changed to: ...the water about with the end of a lead pencil until the tablet...
...sent him into the drag store in order that she... changed to: ...sent him into the drug store in order that she...
...provided the card is, as I conclude, torn exactly in half. changed to: ...provided the card is, as I conclude, torn exactly in half."
...begins with 'Mar,' Duvall said. I will put them down on a sheet of paper." changed to: ...begins with 'Mar,'" Duvall said. "I will put them down on a sheet of paper."
It may be that Miss Marcia Ford,... changed to: "It may be that Miss Marcia Ford,...
...extended a half sheet of none-paper toward the detective. changed to: ...extended a half sheet of note-paper toward the detective.
...he said, "that it will, be necessary for you to remain... changed to: ...he said, "that it will be necessary for you to remain...
Mr. Emmett, who is in charge there, can tell as about Miss Ford." changed to: Mr. Emmett, who is in charge there, can tell us about Miss Ford."
The thing is utterly incomprehensible." changed to: The thing is utterly incomprehensible.
What's the matter with you. changed to: What's the matter with you?
...in case anyone questioned him about me." changed to: ...in case anyone questioned him about me.
She gave him a name and address. changed to: "She gave him a name and address.
"Yes. I came to see you about a matter of importance. changed to: "Yes. I came to see you about a matter of importance."
...been following appeared, wearing a flowered kimona. changed to: ...been following appeared, wearing a flowered kimono.
"Very well Get me a cab. changed to: "Very well. Get me a cab.
He was overjoyed, when it was opened by a man... changed to: He was overjoyed when it was opened by a man...
He doubted his ability to break it in. nor did he wish... changed to: He doubted his ability to break it in, nor did he wish...
"'Is there anything more you want of us?" Miss Norman asked, changed to: "Is there anything more you want of us?" Miss Norman asked,
"I am glad to find you almost yourself again. changed to: "I am glad to find you almost yourself again."
It seems she haunted the studio for several weeks without... changed to: "It seems she haunted the studio for several weeks without...
...and thus learned by name and address. changed to: and thus learned my name and address.
What better place to hide the ball of wax. changed to: What better place to hide the ball of wax?
Permit me to say, Mrs. Morton, that I... changed to: "Permit me to say, Mrs. Morton, that I...
B.M. Bower's Novels
THE RANGE DWELLERS. Spirited action, a range feud be two families, and a... changed to: THE RANGE DWELLERS. Spirited action, a range feud between two families, and a...