He nodded permission, and ordered Clancy to read the letter. The detective did so amidst an astonished hush. It struck everyone as a proof of guilt, and no one could understand why I had forced it to the front.
"Now Mr. Clancy," said I, "please tell the jury Mr. Gaylord's explanation of this letter."
Clancy with a somewhat sheepish air gave the gist of what Radnor had said.
"Did you believe that story when you first heard it?" I asked.
"No," said he, "I did not, because—"
"Very well! But you later went to the office of Jacoby, Haight & Co., and looked over the files of their correspondence with Radnor Gaylord and verified his statement in every particular, did you not?"
"Yes, I did, but still—"
"That is all I wish to ask, Mr. Clancy. I think the reason is evident," I added, turning to the jury, "why I was willing to pay in order to get rid of him. Nobody's character, nobody's correspondence, was safe while he was in the house."
The detective retired amidst general laughter and I could see that feeling had veered again in Radnor's favor. The total effect of the evidence respecting the ha'nt and the robbery was good rather than bad, and I more than fancied that I was indebted to the sheriff for it.
Radnor was not called again and that was the end of the testimony in regard to him. The rest of the time was taken up with a consideration of Cat-Eye Mose and some further questioning of the negroes in regard to the ha'nt. Old Nancy created considerable diversion with her account of the spirited roast chicken. It had changed materially since I heard it last. She was emphatic in her statement that "Marse Rad didn't have nuffen to do wif him. He was a sho' nuff ha'nt an' his gahments smelt o' de graveyard."
The evidence respecting Mose brought out nothing of any consequence, and with that the hearing was brought to a close. The coroner instructed the jury on two or three points of law and ended with the brief formula:
"You have heard the testimony given by these witnesses. It remains for you to do your duty."
After an interminable half hour the jury-men filed back to their seats and the clerk read the verdict:
"We find that the said Richard Gaylord came to his death in Luray Cavern on the 19th day of May, by cerebral hemorrhage, the result of a wound inflicted by some blunt weapon in the hands of a person or persons unknown. We recommend that Radnor Fanshaw Gaylord be held for trial before the Grand Jury."
Rad appeared dazed at the verdict; though in the face of the evidence and his own stubborn refusal to explain it, I don't see how he could have expected any other outcome. As for myself, it was better than I had feared.
The fight had now fairly begun. The district attorney was working up the side of the prosecution, aided, I was sure, by the over-zealous sheriff. It remained for me to map out some definite plan of action and organize the defence.
As I rode back to Four-Pools in the early evening after the inquest, I continued to dwell upon the evidence, searching blindly for some clue. The question which returned most persistently to my mind was "What has become of Cat-Eye Mose?" It was clear now that upon the answer to this question hinged the ultimate solution of the mystery. I still clung to the belief that he was guilty and in hiding. But five days had elapsed since the murder, and no trace of him had been discovered. It seemed incredible that a man, however well he might know his ground, could, with a whole county on his track, elude detection so effectually.
Supposing after all that he were not guilty, but the sheriff's theory that he had been killed and the body concealed, were true; then who, besides Radnor, could have had any motive for committing the crime? There was nothing from the past that afforded even the suggestion of a clue. The old man seemed to have had no enemies but his sons. His sons? The thought of Jeff suddenly sprang into my mind. If anyone on earth owed the Colonel a grudge it was his elder son. And Jeff had more than his share of the Gaylord spirit which could not lightly forgive an injury. Could he have returned secretly to the neighborhood, and, following his father into the cave, have quarreled with him? Heaven knows he had cause enough! He may, in his anger, have struck the old man without knowing what he was doing, and overcome with horror at the result, have left him and fled.
I was almost as reluctant to believe him guilty of the crime as to believe it of Radnor, but the thought having once come, would not be dismissed. I knew that he had sunk pretty low in the nine years since his disappearance, but I could never think of him otherwise than as I myself remembered him. He had been the hero of my boyhood and I revolted from the thought of deliberately setting out to prove him guilty of his father's murder.
I spurred my horse into a gallop, miserably trying to escape from my suspicion; but the more I put it from me as impossible, the surer I became that at last I had stumbled on a clue. Automatically, I began adjusting the evidence to fit this new theory, and reluctant as I was to see it, every circumstance from the beginning fitted it perfectly.
Jeff had returned secretly to the neighborhood, had taken up his abode in the old negro cabins and made his presence known only to Mose. Mose had stolen the chicken for him, and the various other missing articles. They had resurrected the ha'nt to frighten the negroes away from the laurel walk, and the night of the party Rad, in his masquerade, had accidentally discovered his brother. Jeff demanded money, and Rad undertook to supply it in order to get him away without his father's knowing. That was why he had borrowed the hundred dollars from me, and had written to his brokers to sell the bonds. It was Jeff who was sitting beside Radnor the night they drove across the lawn. But unknown to Rad, Jeff had found his way back and had robbed the safe, and Rad suspecting it, had refused to make an investigation.
During the eleven days that intervened between the robbery and the murder Jeff had still been hiding in the vicinity—possibly in the neighborhood of Luray, certainly no longer in the cabins, for he had no desire to meet his brother.
But on the day of the picnic they had met and quarreled. Rad had charged him with the robbery and they had parted in a high state of anger. This would explain Rad's actions in the hotel, his white face later when I found him in the summer house. And Jeff, still quivering from the boy's accusation, had gone back into the cave and met his father as the old man was coming from the little gallery of the broken column with Polly Mathers's coat. What had happened there I did not like to consider; they both had uncontrolled tempers, and in the past there had been wrongs on both sides. Probably Jeff's blow had been harder than he meant.
In the evening when Mattison and I brought the news of the murder, Rad must have known instantly who was the real culprit. That was why he had kept silent; that was why he so vehemently insisted on Mose's innocence. I had found the light at last—though the darkness had been almost better.
What must I do? I asked myself. Was it my duty to search out Jefferson and convict him of this crime? No one could tell what provocation he may have had. Why not let matters take their course? There was nothing but circumstantial evidence against Radnor. Surely no jury would convict him on that. I could work up a sufficient case against Mose to assure his acquittal. He would be released with a blot on his name, he would be regarded for the rest of his life with suspicion; but in any event there seemed to be no outcome which would not involve the family in endless trouble and disgrace. And besides, if he himself elected to be silent, had I any right to speak? Then I pulled myself together. Yes, it was not only right for me to speak; it was my duty. Rad should not be allowed to sacrifice himself. The truth, at whatever cost, must be brought out.
My first move must be to discover Jeff's whereabouts on the day of his father's murder. It ought not to be difficult to trace a man who had come more than once under the surveillance of the police. Having made up my mind as to the necessary course, I lost no time in putting it into action. I barely waited to snatch a hasty supper before riding back to the village. From there I sent a fifty-word telegram to the chief of police in Seattle asking for any information as to the whereabouts of Jefferson Gaylord on the nineteenth of May.
It was ten o'clock the next morning before an answer came. So sure was I of what it was going to contain, that I read the words twice before comprehending them.
"Jefferson Gaylord spent May nineteenth in lumber camp thirty miles from Seattle. Well-known character. Mistaken identity impossible.
"HENRY WATERSON, "Police Commissioner."
I had become so obsessed with the horror of my new theory; so sure that Jeff was the murderer of his father that I could not readjust my thoughts to the idea that he had been at the time of the crime three thousand miles away. The case, then, still stood exactly where it had stood from the beginning. Six days had passed since the murder and I was not one inch nearer the truth. Six days! I realized it with a dull feeling of hopelessness. Every day now that was allowed to pass only lessened the chance of our ever finding Mose and solving the mystery.
I still stood with the telegram in my hand staring at the words. I was vaguely aware that a boy from "Miller's place" had ridden up to the house on a bicycle, but not until Solomon approached with a second yellow envelope in his hand was I jostled back into a state of comprehension.
"Nurr telegram, Mars' Arnold."
I snatched it from him and ripped it open, hoping against hope that at last a clue had turned up.
"NEW YORK, May 25. "Post-Dispatch wants correspondent on spot. If you have any facts to give out, save them for me. Arrive Lambert Junction three-fifty. "TERENCE K. PATTEN."
Under the terrible strain of the past six days I had completely forgotten Terry's existence and now the memory of his cool impertinence came back to me with a rush. For the first moment I felt too angry to think; I had not credited even his presumption with anything like this. His interference in the Patterson-Pratt business was bad enough, but he might have realized that this was a personal matter. He was calmly proposing to turn this horrible tragedy into a story for the Sunday papers—and that to a member of the murdered man's own family. Hot with indignation, I tore the telegram into shreds and stalked into the house. I paced up and down the hall for fifteen minutes, planning what I should say to him when he arrived; and then, as I calmed down, I commenced to see the thing in its true light.
The whole account of the crime to the minutest detail, had already appeared in every newspaper in the country, together with the most outrageous stories of Radnor's past career. At least nothing could be worse than what had already been said. And after all, was not the truth—any truth—better than these vague suspicions, this terrible suspense? Terry could find the truth if any man on earth could do it. He had, I knew, unraveled other tangles as mysterious as this. He was used to this sort of work, and bringing to the matter a fresh mind, would see light where it was only darkness to me. I had been under such a terrific strain for so long and had borne so much responsibility, that the very thought of having someone with whom I could share it gave me new strength. My feeling toward him veered suddenly from indignation to gratitude. His irrepressible confidence in himself inspired me with a like confidence, and I wondered what I had been thinking of that I had not sent for him at once. To my jaded mind his promised arrival appeared better than a clue—it was almost equal to a solution.
The moment I caught sight of Terry as he swung off the train I felt involuntarily that my troubles were near their end. His sharp, eager face with its firm jaw and quick eye inspired one with the feeling that he could find the bottom of any mystery. It was with a deep breath of relief that I held out my hand.
"Hello, old man! How are you?" he exclaimed with a smile of cordiality as he grasped it. And then recalling the gravity of the situation, he with some difficulty pulled a sober face. "I'm sorry that we meet again under such sad circumstances," he added perfunctorily. "I suppose you think I've meddled enough in your affairs already; and on my word, I intended to stay out of this. But of course I've been watching it in the papers; partly because it was interesting and partly because I knew you. It struck me yesterday afternoon as I was thinking things over that you weren't making much headway and might like a little help; so I induced the Post-Dispatch to send down their best man. I hope I shall get at the truth." He paused a moment and looked at me sharply. "Do you want me to stay? I will go back if you'd rather have me."
I was instantly ashamed of my distrust of the afternoon. Whatever might be Terry's failings, I could not doubt, as I looked into his face, that his Irish heart was in the right place.
"I am not afraid of the truth," I returned steadily. "If you can discover it, for Heaven's sake do so!"
"That's what I'm paid for," said Terry. "The Post-Dispatch doesn't deal in fiction any more than it can help."
As we climbed into the carriage he added briskly, "It's a horrible affair! The details as I have them from the papers are not full enough, but you can tell them to me as we drive along."
I should have laughed had I been feeling less anxious. His greeting was so entirely characteristic in the way he shuffled through the necessary condolences and jumped, with such evident relish, to the gruesome details.
As I gathered up the reins and backed away from the hitching-post, Terry broke out with:
"Here, hold on a minute. Where are you going?"
"Back to Four-Pools," I said in some surprise. "I thought you'd want to unpack your things and get settled."
"Haven't much time to get settled," he laughed. "I have an engagement in New York the day after to-morrow. How about the cave? Is it too late to visit it now?"
"Well," I said dubiously, "it's ten miles across the mountains and pretty heavy roads. It would be dark before we got there."
"As far as that goes, we could visit the cave at night as well as in the daytime. But I want to examine the neighborhood and interview some of the people; so I suppose," he added with an impatient sigh, "we'll have to wait till morning. And now, where's this young Gaylord?"
"He's in the Kennisburg jail."
"And where's that?"
"About three miles from here and six miles from the plantation."
"Ah—suppose we pay him a visit first. There are one or two points concerning his whereabouts on the night of the robbery and his actions on the day of the murder that I should like to have him clear up."
I smiled slightly as I turned the horses' heads toward Kennisburg. Radnor in his present uncommunicative frame of mind was not likely to afford Terry much satisfaction.
"There isn't any time to waste," he added as we drove along. "Just let me have your account of everything that happened, beginning with the first appearance of the ghost."
I briefly sketched the situation at Four-Pools as I had found it on my arrival, and the events preceding the robbery and the murder. Terry interrupted me once or twice with questions. He was particularly interested in the three-cornered situation concerning Radnor, Polly Mathers, and Jim Mattison, and I was as brief as possible in my replies; I did not care to make Polly the heroine of a Sunday feature article. He was also persistent in regard to Jefferson's past. I told him all I knew, added the story of my own suspicions, and ended by producing the telegram proving his alibi.
"H'm!" said Terry folding it thoughtfully and putting it in his pocket. "It had occurred to me too that Jeff might be our man—this puts an end to the theory that he personally committed the murder. There are some very peculiar points about this case," he added. "As a matter of fact, I don't believe that Radnor Gaylord is any more guilty of the crime than I am—or I shouldn't have come. But it won't do for me to jump at conclusions until I get more data. I suppose you realize what is the peculiarly significant point about the murder?"
"You mean Mose's disappearance?"
"Well, no. I didn't have that in mind. That's significant enough to be sure, but nothing but what you would naturally expect. The crime was committed, if your data is straight, either by him or in his presence, and of course he disappears. You could scarcely have expected to find him sitting there waiting for you, in either case."
"You mean Radnor's behavior on the day of the murder and his refusal to explain it?" I asked uneasily.
"No," Terry laughed. "That may be significant and it may not—I strongly suspect that it is not. What I mean, is the peculiar place in which the crime was committed. No person on earth could have foreseen that Colonel Gaylord would go alone into that cave. There is an accidental element about the murder. It must have been committed on the spur of the moment by someone who had not premeditated it—at least at that time. This is the point we must keep in mind."
He sat for a few moments staring at the dashboard with a puzzled frown.
"Broadly speaking," he said slowly, "I have found that you can place the motive of every wilful murder under one of three heads—avarice, fear or revenge. Suppose we consider the first. Could avarice have been the motive for Colonel Gaylord's murder? The body had not been robbed, you tell me?"
"No, we found a gold watch and considerable money in the pockets."
"Then, you see, if the motive were avarice, it could not have been immediate gain. That throws out the possibility that the murderer was some unknown thief who merely took advantage of a chance opportunity. If we are to conceive of avarice as the motive, the crime must have been committed by some person who would benefit more remotely by the Colonel's death. Did anyone owe him money that you know of?"
"There is no record of anything of the sort and he was a careful business man. I do not think he would have loaned money without making some memorandum of it. He held several mortgages but they, of course, revert to his heirs."
"I understood that Radnor was the only heir."
"He is, practically. There are a few minor bequests to the servants and to some old friends."
"Did the servants know that anything was to go to them?"
"No, I don't think they did."
"And this Cat-Eye Mose, did he receive a share?"
"Yes, larger than any of the others."
"It seems that Colonel Gaylord, at least, had confidence in him. And how about the other son? Did he know that he was to be disinherited?"
"I think that the Colonel made it plain at the time they parted."
Terry shook his head and frowned.
"This disinheriting business is bad. I don't like it and I never shall. It stirs up more ill-feeling than anything I know of. Jeff seems to have proved an alibi, however, and we will dismiss him for the present."
"Rad has always sympathized with Jeff," I said.
"Then," continued Terry, "if the servants did not know the contents of the will, and we have all of the data, Radnor is the only one who could knowingly have benefited by the Colonel's death. Suppose we take a glance at motives of fear. Do you know of anyone who had reason to stand in fear of the Colonel? He wasn't oppressing anybody? No damaging evidence against any person in his possession? Not levying black-mail was he?"
"Not that I know of," and I smiled slightly.
"It's not likely," mused Terry, "but you never can tell what is going to come out when a respectable man is dead.—And now as to revenge. With a man of Colonel Gaylord's character, there were likely to be a good many people who owed him a bad turn. He seems to have been a peppery old gentleman. It's quite on the cards that he had some enemies among his neighbors?"
"No, so far as I can discover, he was very popular in the neighborhood. The indignation over his death was something tremendous. When it first got out that Rad was accused of the crime, there was even talk of lynching him."
"So?—Servants all appeared to be fond of him?"
"The old family servants were broken-hearted at the news of his death. They had been, for the most part, born and bred on the place, and in spite of his occasional harshness they loved the Colonel with the old-fashioned devotion of the slave toward his master. He was in his way exceedingly kind to them. When old Uncle Eben died my uncle watched all night by his bed."
"It's a queer situation," Terry muttered, and relapsed into silence till we reached the jail.
It was an ivy-covered brick building set back from the street and shaded by trees.
"Rather more home-like than the Tombs," Terry commented. "Shouldn't mind taking a rest in it myself."
We found Radnor pacing up and down the small room in which he was confined, like a caged animal; the anxiety and seclusion were beginning to tell on his nerves. He faced about quickly as the door opened and at sight of me his face lightened. He was growing pathetically pleased at having anyone with whom he could talk.
"Rad," I said with an air of cheerfulness which was not entirely assumed, "I hope we're nearing the end of our trouble at last. This is Mr. Patten—Terry Patten of New York, who has come to help me unravel the mystery."
It was an unfortunate beginning; I had told him before of Terry's connection with the Patterson-Pratt affair. He had half held out his hand as I commenced to speak, but he dropped it now with a slight frown.
"I don't think I care to be interviewed," he remarked curtly. "I have nothing to say for the benefit of the Post-Dispatch."
"You'd better," said Terry, imperturbably. "The Post-Dispatch prints the truth, you know, and some of the other papers don't. The truth's always the best in the end. I merely want to find out what information you can give me in regard to the ghost."
"I will tell you nothing," Radnor growled. "I am not giving statements to the press."
"Mr. Gaylord," said Terry, with an assumption of gentle patience, "if you will excuse my referring to what I know must be a painful subject, would you mind telling me if the suspicion has ever crossed your mind that your brother Jefferson may have returned secretly, have abstracted the bonds from the safe, and, two weeks later, quite accidentally, have met Colonel Gaylord alone in the cave—"
Radnor turned upon him in a sudden fury; I thought for a moment he was going to strike him and I sprang forward and caught his arm.
"The Gaylords may be a bad lot but they are not liars and they are not cowards. They do not run away; they stand by the consequences of their acts."
Terry bowed gravely.
"Just one more question, and I am through. What happened to you that day in the cave?"
"It's none of your damned business!"
I glanced apprehensively at Terry, uncertain as to how he would take this; but he did not appear to resent it. He looked Radnor over with an air of interested approval and his smile slowly broadened.
"I'm glad to see you're game," he remarked.
"I tell you I don't know who killed my father any more than you do," Radnor cried. "You needn't come here asking me questions. Go and find the murderer if you can, and if you can't, hang me and be done with it."
"I don't know that we need take up any more of Mr. Gaylord's time," said Terry to me. "I've found out about all I wished to know. We'll drop in again," he added reassuringly to Radnor. "Good afternoon."
As we went out of the door he turned back a moment and added with a slightly sharp undertone in his voice:
"And the next time I come, Gaylord, you'll shake hands!" Fumbling in his pocket he drew out my telegram from the police commissioner, and tossed it onto the cot. "In the meantime there's something for you to think about. Good by."
"Do you mean," I asked as we climbed back into the carriage, "that Radnor did believe Jeff guilty?"
"Well, not exactly. I fancy he will be relieved, though, to find that Jeff was three thousand miles away when the murder was committed."
Only once during the drive home did Terry exhibit any interest in his surroundings, and that was when we passed through the village of Lambert Corners. He made me slow down to a walk and explain the purpose of everyone of the dozen or so buildings along the square. At "Miller's place" he suddenly decided that he needed some stamps and I waited outside while he obtained them together with a drink in the private back room.
"Nothing like getting the lay of the land," he remarked as he climbed back into the carriage. "That Miller is a picturesque old party. He thinks it's all tommy-rot that Radnor Gaylord had anything to do with the crime—Rad's a customer of his, and it's a downright imposition to lock the boy up where he can't spend money."
For the rest of the drive Terry kept silence and I did not venture to interrupt it. I had come to have a superstitious feeling that his silences were portentous. It was not until I stopped to open the gate into our own home lane, that he suddenly burst out with the question:
"Where do the Mathers people live?"
"A couple of miles farther down the pike—they have no connection whatever with the business, and don't know a thing about it."
"Ah—perhaps not. Would it be too late to drive over to-night?"
"Yes," said I, "it would."
"Oh, very well," said he, good-humoredly. "There'll be time enough in the morning."
I let this pass without comment, but on one thing I was resolved; and that was that Polly Mathers should never fall into Terry's clutches.
"There are a lot of questions I want to ask about your ghost, but I'll wait till I get my bearings—and my dinner," he added with a laugh. "There wasn't any dining car on that train, and I breakfasted early and omitted lunch."
"Here we are," I said, as we came in sight of the house. "The cook is expecting us."
"So that is the Gaylord house is it? A fine old place! When was it built?"
"About 1830, I imagine."
"Let me see, Sheridan rode up the Shenandoah Valley and burned everything in sight. How did this place happen to escape?"
"I don't know just how it did. You see it's a mile back from the main road and well hidden by trees—I suppose they were in a hurry and it escaped their attention."
"And that row of shanties down there?"
"Are the haunted negro cabins."
"Ah!" Terry rose in his seat and scanned them eagerly. "We'll have a look at them as soon as I get something to eat. Really, a farm isn't so bad," he remarked as he stepped out upon the portico. "And is this Solomon?" he inquired as the old negro came forward to take his bag. "Well, Solomon, I've been reading about you in the papers! You and I are going to have a talk by and by."
WE SEARCH THE ABANDONED CABINS
"Now," said Terry, as Solomon and the suitcase disappeared upstairs, "let's you and I have a look at those haunted cabins."
"I thought you were hungry!"
"Starving—but I still have strength enough to get that far. Solomon says supper won't be ready for half an hour, and we haven't half an hour to waste. I'm due in the city the day after to-morrow, remember."
"You won't find anything," I said. "I've searched every one of those cabins myself and the ha'nt didn't leave a trace behind him."
"I think I'll just glance about with my own eyes," laughed Terry. "Reporters sometimes see things, you know, where corporation lawyers don't."
"Just as you please," I replied. "Four-Pools is at your disposal."
I led the way across the lawn and into the laurel growth. Terry followed with eyes eagerly alert; the gruesome possibilities of the place appealed to him. He pushed through the briars that surrounded the first cabin and came out on the slope behind, where he stood gazing down delightedly at the dark waters of the fourth pool.
"My word! This is great. We'll run a half-page picture and call it the 'Haunted Tarn.' Didn't know such places really existed—thought writers made 'em up. Come on," he called, plunging back to the laurel walk, "we must catch our ghost; I don't want this scenery to go to waste."
We commenced at the first cabin and went down the row thoroughly and systematically. At Terry's insistence one of the stable men brought a ladder and we climbed into every loft, finding nothing but spiders and dust. The last on the left, being more weatherproof than the others, was used as a granary. A space six feet square was left inside the door, but for the rest the room was filled nearly to the ceiling with sacks of Indian meal.
"How about this—did you examine this cabin?"
"Well, really, Terry; there isn't much room for a ghost here."
"Ghosts don't require much room; how about the loft?"
"I didn't go up—you can't get at the trap without moving all the meal."
"I see!" Terry was examining the three walls of sacks before us. "Now here is a sack rather dirtier than the rest and squashy. It looks to me as if it had had a good deal of rough handling."
He pulled it to the floor as he spoke, and another with it. A space some three feet high was visible; by crawling one could make his way along without hitting the ceiling.
"Come on!" said Terry, scrambling to the top of the pile and pulling me after him, "we've struck the trail of our ghostly friend unless I'm very much mistaken.—Look at that!" He pointed to a muddy foot-mark plainly outlined on one of the sacks. "Don't disturb it; we may want to compare it with the marks in the cave.—Hello! What's this? The print of a bare foot—that's our friend, Mose."
He took out a pocket rule and made careful measurements of both prints; the result he set down in a note book. I was quite as excited now as Terry. We crawled along on all fours until we reached the open trap; there was no trace here of either spider-webs or dust. We scrambled into the loft without much difficulty, and found a large room with sloping beams overhead and two small windows, innocent of glass, at either end. The room was empty but clean; it had been thoroughly swept, and recently. Terry poked about but found nothing.
"H'm!" he grunted. "Mose cleaned well.—Ah! Here we are!"
He paused before a horizontal beam along the side wall and pointed to a little pile of ashes and a cigar stub.
"He smokes cigars, and good strong ones—at least he isn't a lady. Did you ever see a cigar like that before?"
"Yes," I said, "that's the kind the Colonel always smoked—a fresh box was stolen from the dining-room cupboard a day or so after I got here. Solomon said it was the ha'nt, but we suspected it was Solomon."
"Was the cupboard unlocked?"
"Oh, yes; any of the house servants could have got at it."
"Well," said Terry, poking his head from the windows for a view of the ground beneath, "that's all there seems to be here; we might as well go down."
We boosted up the two meal bags again, and started back toward the house. Terry's eyes studied his surroundings keenly, whether for the sake of the story he was planning to write or the mystery he was trying to solve, I could only conjecture. His glance presently fixed on the stables where old Uncle Jake was visible sitting on an upturned pail in the doorway.
"You go on," he ordered, "and have 'em put dinner or supper or whatever you call it on the table, and I'll be back in three minutes. I want to see what that old fellow over there has to say in regard to the ghost."
It was fifteen minutes later that Terry reappeared.
"Well," I inquired as I led the way to the dining-room, "did you get any news of the ghost?"
"Did I! The Society for Psychical Research ought to investigate this neighborhood. They'd find more spirits in half an hour than they've found in their whole past history."
Terry's attention during supper was chiefly directed toward Nancy's fried chicken and beat biscuits. When he did make any remarks he addressed them to Solomon rather than to me. Solomon was loquacious enough in general, but he had his own ideas of table decorum, and it was evident that the friendly advances of my guest considerably scandalized him. When the coffee and cigars were brought on, Terry appeared to be on the point of inviting Solomon to sit down and have a cigar with us; but he thought better of it, and contented himself with talking to the old man across my shoulder. He confined his questions to matters concerning the household and the farm, and Solomon in vain endeavored to confine his replies to "yes, sah," "no, sah," "jes' so, sah!" In five minutes he was well started, and it would have required a flood-gate to stop him.
In the midst of it Terry rose and dismissing me with a brief, "I'll join you in the library later; I want to talk to Solomon a few minutes," he bowed me out and shut the door.
I was amused rather than annoyed by this summary dismissal. Terry had been in the house not quite two hours, and I am sure that a third person, looking on, would have picked me out for the stranger. Terry's way of being at home in any surroundings was absolutely inimitable. Had he ever had occasion to visit Windsor Castle I am sure that he would have set about immediately making King Edward feel at home.
He appeared in the library in the course of half an hour with the apology: "I hope you didn't mind being turned out. Servants are sometimes embarrassed, you know, about telling the truth before any of the family."
"You didn't get much truth out of Solomon," I retorted.
"I don't know that I did," Terry admitted with a laugh. "There are the elements of a good reporter in Solomon; he has an imagination which I respect. The Gaylords appear to be an interesting family with hereditary tempers. The ghost, I hear, beat a slave to death, and to pay for it is doomed to pace the laurel walk till the day of judgment."
"That's the story," I nodded, "and the beating is at least authentic."
"H'm!" Terry frowned. "And Solomon tells me tales of the Colonel himself whipping the negroes—there can't be any truth in that?"
"But there is," I said. "He didn't hesitate to strike them when he was angry. I myself saw him beat a nigger a few days ago," and I recounted the story of the chicken thief.
"So! A man of that sort is likely to have enemies he doesn't suspect. How about Cat-Eye Mose? Was Colonel Gaylord in the habit of whipping him?"
"Often," I nodded, "but the more the Colonel abused Mose, the fonder Mose appeared to grow of the Colonel."
"It's a puzzling situation," said Terry pacing up and down the room with a thoughtful frown. "Well!" he exclaimed with a sudden access of energy, "I suppose we might as well sit down and tackle it."
He took off his coat and rolled up his shirt sleeves; then shoving everything back from one end of the big library table, he settled himself in a chair and motioned me to one opposite.
"Tomorrow morning," he said as he took out from his pockets a roll of newspaper clippings and a yellow copy pad, "we will drive over and have a look at that cave; it ought to tell its own story. But in the meantime—" he looked up with a laugh—"suppose we use our brains a little."
I did not resent the inference. Terry was his old impudent self, and I was so relieved at having him there, assuming the responsibility, that he might have wiped the floor with me and welcome.
"Our object," he commenced, "is not to prove your cousin innocent of the murder, but to find out who is guilty. The most logical method would be to study the scene of the crime first, but as that does not appear feasible until morning, we will examine such data as we have. On the face of it the only two who appear to be implicated are Radnor and this Cat-Eye Mose—who is a most picturesque character," Terry added, the reporter for the moment getting ahead of the detective.
He paused and examined the end of his fountain pen speculatively, and then ran through the pile of clippings before him.
"Well, now, as for Radnor. Suppose we look into his case a little." He glanced over one of the newspaper slips and tossed it across to me.
"There's a clipping from the 'Baltimore Censor'—a tolerably conservative journal. What have you to say in regard to it?"
I picked it up and glanced it over. It was dated May twenty-third—four days after the murder—and was the same in substance as many other articles I had read in the past week.
"No new evidence has come to light in regard to the sensational murder of Colonel Gaylord whose body was discovered in Luray Cave, Virginia, a few days ago. The authorities now concur in the belief that the crime was committed by the son of the murdered man. The accused is awaiting trial in the Kennisburg jail.
"It seems impossible that any man, however depraved, could in cold blood commit so brutal and unnatural a crime as that with which Radnor Gaylord is accused. It is only in the light of his past history that the action can be understood. Coming from one of the oldest families of Virginia, an heir to wealth and an honored name, he is but another example of the many who have sold their birth-right for a mess of pottage. A drunkard and a spendthrift, he wasted his youth in gambling and betting on the races while honest men were toiling for their daily bread.
"Several times has Radnor Gaylord been disinherited and turned adrift, but Colonel Gaylord, weak in his love for his youngest son, invariably received him back again into the house he had dishonored. Finally, pressed beyond the point of endurance, the old man took a firm stand and refused to meet his son's inordinate demands for money. Young Gaylord, rendered desperate by debts, took the most obvious method of gaining his inheritance. His part in the tragedy of Colonel Gaylord's death is as good as proved, though he persistently and defiantly denies all knowledge of the crime. No sympathy can be felt for him. The wish of every right-minded man in the country must be that the law will take its course—and that as speedily as possible."
"Well?" said Terry as I finished.
"It's a lie," I cried hotly.
"All of it?"
"Every word of it!"
"Oh, see here," said Terry. "There's no use in your trying to hide things. That account is an exaggeration of course, but it must have some foundation. You told me you weren't afraid of the truth. Just be so kind as to tell it to me, then. Exactly what sort of a fellow is Radnor? I want to know for several reasons."
"Well, he did drink a good deal for a youngster," I admitted, "though never to such an extent as has been reported. Of late he had stopped entirely. As for gambling, the young men around here have got into a bad way of playing for high stakes, but during the past month or so Rad had pulled up in that too. He sometimes backed one of their own horses from the Gaylord stables, but so did the Colonel; it's the regular thing in Virginia. As for his ever having been disinherited, that is a newspaper story, pure and simple. I never heard anything of the sort, and the neighborhood has told me pretty much all there is to know within the last few days."
"His father never turned him out of the house then?"
"Never that I heard of. He did leave home once because his father insulted him, but he came back again."
"That was forgiving," commented Terry. "In general, though, I understand that the relations between the two were rather strained?"
"At times they were," I admitted, "but things had been going rather better for the last few days."
"Until the night before the murder. They quarreled then? And over a matter of money?"
"Yes. Radnor makes no secret of it. He wanted his father to settle something on him, and upon his father's refusal some words passed between them."
"And a French clock," suggested Terry.
I acknowledged the clock and Terry pondered the question with one eye closed meditatively.
"Had Radnor ever asked for anything of the sort before?"
"Not that I know of."
"Why did he ask then?"
"Well, it's rather galling for a man of his age to be dependent on his father for every cent he gets. The Colonel always gave him plenty, but he did not want to take it in that way."
"In just what way did he want to take it?" Terry inquired. "Since he was so infernally independent why didn't he get to work and earn something?"
"Earn something!" I returned sharply. "Rad has managed the whole plantation for the last three years. His father was getting too old for business and if Rad hadn't taken hold, things would have gone to the deuce long ago. All he got as a regular salary was fifty dollars a month; I think it was time he was paid for his services."
"Oh, very well," Terry laughed. "I was merely asking the question. And if you will allow me to go a step further, why did Colonel Gaylord object to settling something on the boy?"
"He wanted to keep him under his thumb. The Colonel liked to rule, and he wished everyone around him to be dependent on his will."
"I see!" said Terry. "Radnor had a real grievance, then, after all—just one thing more on this point. Why did he choose that particular time to make his request? You say he has had practical charge of affairs for the past three years. Why did he not wish to be independent last year? Or why did he not postpone the desire until next year?"
I shrugged my shoulders.
"You'll have to ask Radnor that." I had my own suspicions, but I did not wish to drag Polly Mathers's name into the discussion.
Terry watched me a moment without saying anything, and then he too shrugged his shoulders as he turned back to the newspaper clippings.
"I won't go into the matter of Radnor's connection with the ha'nt just now; I should like to consider first his actions on the day of the murder. I have here a report of the testimony taken at the inquest, but it is not so full as I could wish in some particulars. I should like to have you give me the details. First, you say that Radnor and his father did not speak at the breakfast table? How was it when you started?"
"They both appeared to be in pretty good spirits, but I noticed that they avoided each other."
"Very well, tell me exactly what you did after you arrived at Luray."
"We left our horses at the hotel and walked about a mile across the fields to the mouth of the cave. We had lunch in the woods and at about one o'clock we started through the cave. We came out at a little after three, and, I should say, started to drive back about half past four."
"Did you notice Radnor through the day?"
"Did you see either him or the Colonel in the cave?"
"Yes, I was with the Colonel most of the time."
"And how about Radnor? Didn't you see him at all?"
"Oh, yes. I remember talking to him once about some queerly shaped stalagmites. He didn't hang around me, naturally, while I was with his father."
"And when you talked to him about the stalagmites—was there anyone else with him at the time?"
"I believe Miss Mathers was there."
"And he was carrying her coat?"
"I didn't notice."
"At least he left it later in what you call the gallery of the broken column?"
"I see," said Terry glancing over the printed report of the inquest, "that the coroner asked at this point if Radnor were in the habit of forgetting young ladies' coats. That's more pertinent than many of the questions he asked. How about it? Was he in the habit of forgetting young ladies' coats?"
"I really don't know, Terry," I said somewhat testily.
"It's a pity you're not more observing," he returned, "for it's important, on the whole. But never mind. I'll find that out for myself. Did you notice when he left the rest of the party?"
"No, there was such a crowd of us that I didn't miss him."
"Very well, we'll have a look at his testimony. He left the rest of you in this same gallery of the broken column, went straight out, strolled about the woods for half an hour or so and then returned to the hotel. I fancy 'strolled' is not precisely the right word, but at any rate it's the word he uses. Now that half hour in the woods is an unfortunate circumstance. Had he gone directly to the hotel from the cave, we could have proved an alibi without any difficulty. As it is, he had plenty of time after the others came out to remember that he had forgotten the coat, return for it, renew the quarrel with his father, and after the fatal result make his way to the hotel while the rest of the party were still loitering in the woods."
"Terry—" I began.
He waved his hand in a gesture of dissent.
"Oh, I'm not saying that's what did happen. I'm just showing you that the district attorney's theory is a physical possibility. Let's glance at the landlord's testimony a moment. When Radnor returned for his horse he appeared angry, excited and in a hurry. Those are the landlord's words, and they are corroborated by the stable boy and several loungers about the hotel.
"He was in a hurry—why? Because he wished to get away before the others came back. He had suddenly decided while he was in the woods—probably when he heard them laughing and talking as they came out of the cave—that he did not wish to see anyone. He was angry—mark that. All of the witnesses agree there, and I think that his actions carry out their evidence. He drank two glasses of brandy—by the way, I understood you to say he had stopped drinking. He ordered the stable boy about sharply. He swore at him for being slow. He lashed his horse quite unnecessarily as he galloped off. He rode home at an outrageous rate. And he was not, Solomon gives me to understand, in the habit of maltreating horses.
"Now what do you make of all this? Here is a young man with an unexpended lot of temper on his hands—bent on being reckless; bent on being just as bad as he can be. It's as clear as daylight. That boy never committed any crime. A man who had just murdered his father would not be filled with anger, no matter what the provocation had been. He might be overcome with horror, fear, remorse—a dozen different emotions, but anger would not be among them. And further, a man who had committed a crime and intended to deny it later, would not proclaim his feelings in quite that blatant manner. Young Gaylord had not injured anyone; he himself had been injured. He was mad through and through, and he didn't care who knew it. He expended—you will remember—the most of his belligerency on his horse on the way home, and you found him in the summer house undergoing the natural reaction. By evening he had got himself well in hand again and was probably considerably ashamed of his conduct. He doesn't care to talk about the matter for several reasons. Fortunately Solomon is not so scrupulous."
"I don't know what you're driving at, Terry," said I.
"Don't you?" he inquired. "Well, really, it's about time that I came down!" He paused while he scrawled one or two sentences on his copy pad, then he glanced up with a laugh. "I don't know myself, but I think I can make a pretty good guess. We'll call on Miss Polly Mathers in the morning and see if she can't help us out."
"Terry," I expostulated, "that girl knows no more about the matter than I do. She has already given her testimony, and I positively will not have her name mentioned in connection with the affair."
"I don't see how you can help it," was his cool reply. "If she's in, she's in, and I'm not to blame. However, we won't quarrel about it now; we'll pay her a call in the morning." He ran his eyes over the clippings again, then added, "There are just two more points connecting Radnor Gaylord with the murder that need explaining: the foot-prints in the cave and the match box. The foot-prints I will dismiss for the present because I have not seen them myself and I can't make any deductions from hearsay evidence. But the question of the match box may repay a little investigation. I want you to tell me precisely what happened in the woods before you went into the cave. In the first place, how many older people were there in the party?"
"Mr. and Mrs. Mathers, a lady who was visiting them and Colonel Gaylord."
"There were two servants, I understand, besides this Mose, to help about the lunch. What did they do?"
"Well, I don't know exactly. I wasn't paying much attention. I believe they carried things over from the hotel, collected wood for the fire, and then went to a farm house for water."
"But Mrs. Mathers, it seems, attended to lighting the fire?"
"Yes, she and the Colonel made the fire and started the coffee."
"Ah!" said Terry with a note of satisfaction in his voice. "The matter begins to clear. Was Colonel Gaylord in the habit of smoking?"
"He smoked one cigar after every meal."
"Never any more than that?"
"No, the doctor had limited him. The Colonel grumbled about it regularly, and always smoked the biggest blackest cigar he could find."
"And where did he get his matches?"
"Solomon passed the brass match box from the dining-room mantelpiece just as he passed it to us to-night."
"Colonel Gaylord was not in the habit of carrying matches in his pockets then?"
"No, I think not."
"We may safely assume," said Terry, "that in this matter of making the fire, if the two were working together, the Colonel was on his knees arranging the sticks while Mrs. Mathers was standing by, giving directions. That, I believe, is the usual division of labor. Well, then, they get to the point of needing a light. The Colonel feels through his pockets, finds that he hasn't a match and—what happens?"
"What did happen," I broke in, "was that Mrs. Mathers turned to a group of us who were standing talking at one side, and asked if any of us had a match, and Rad handed her his box. That is the last anyone remembers about it."
"Exactly!" said Terry. "And I think I can tell you the rest. You can see for yourself what took place. Mrs. Mathers went back to the spot where they were building the fire, and the Colonel took the match box from her. No man is ever going to stand by and watch a woman strike a match—he can do it so much better himself. At this point, Mrs. Mathers—by her own testimony—was called away, and she doesn't remember anything further about the box. She thinks that she returned it. Why? For no reason on earth except that she usually returns things. As a matter of fact, however, she didn't do it this time. She was called away and the Colonel was left to light the fire alone. He recognized the box as his son's and he dropped it into his pocket. At another time perhaps he would have walked over and handed it back; but not then. The two were not speaking to each other. Later, at the time of the struggle in the cave, the box fell from the old man's pocket, and formed a most damaging piece of circumstantial evidence against his son.
"On the whole," Terry finished, "I do not think we shall have a very difficult time in clearing Radnor. I had arrived at my own conclusions concerning him from reading the papers; what extra data I needed, I managed to glean from Solomon's lies. And as for you," he added, gazing across at me with an imperturbable grin, "I think you were wise in deciding to be a corporation lawyer."
TERRY ARRIVES AT A CONCLUSION
"And now," said Terry, lighting a fresh cigar, and after a few preliminary puffs, settling down to work again, "we will consider the case of Cat-Eye Mose—a beautiful name, by the way, and apparently a beautiful character. It won't be my fault if we don't make a beautiful story out of him. You, yourself, I believe, hold the opinion that he committed the murder?"
"I am sure of it," I cried.
"In that case," laughed Terry, "I should be inclined to think him innocent."
I shrugged my shoulders. There was nothing to be gained by getting angry. If Terry chose to regard the solving of a murder mystery in the light of a joke, I had nothing to say; though I did think he might have realized that to me, at least, it was a serious matter.
"And you base your suspicions, do you not, upon the fact that he has queer eyes?"
"Upon what then?"
"Upon the fact that he took part in the struggle which ended in my uncle's death."
"Well, certainly, that does seem rather conclusive—there is no mistake about the foot-prints?"
"None whatever; the Mathers niggers both wore shoes, and anyway they didn't go into the cave."
"In that case I suppose it's fair to assume that Mose took part in the struggle. Whether he was the only man or whether there was still a third, the cave itself ought to tell a pretty clear story."
Terry rose and paced up and down the room once or twice, and then came back and picked up one of the newspaper clippings.
"It says here that the boot marks of two different men are visible."
"That's the sheriff's opinion," I replied. "Though I myself, can't make out anything but the marks of Mose and the Colonel. I examined everything carefully, but it's awfully mixed up, you know. One really can't tell much about it."
Terry impatiently flung himself into the chair again.
"I ought to have come down last week! If I had supposed you people could muddle matters up so thoroughly I should. I dare say you've trampled the whole place over till there isn't one of the original marks left."
"Look here, Terry," I said. "You act as if Virginia belonged to you. We've all been working our heads off over this business, and you come in at the last moment and quarrel with our data. You can go over tomorrow morning and collect your own evidence if you think it's so far superior to anyone else's. The marks are just as they were. Boards have been laid over them and nothing's been disturbed."
"You're rather done up, old man," Terry remarked, smiling across at me good-humoredly. "Of course it's quite on the cards that Cat-Eye Mose committed the crime—but there are a number of objections. As I understand it, he has the reputation of being a harmless, peaceable fellow not very bright but always good-natured. He never resented an injury, was never known to quarrel with anyone, took what was given him and said thank you. He loved Colonel Gaylord and watched over his interests as jealously as a dog. Well now, is a man who has had this reputation all his life, a man whom everybody trusts, very likely to go off the hook as suddenly as that and—with no conceivable motive—brutally kill the master he has served so faithfully? A man's future is in a large measure determined by his past."
"That may all be true enough," I said, "but it is very possible that people were deceived in Mose. I have been suspicious of him from the moment I laid eyes on him. You may think it unfair to judge a man from his physical appearance, but I wish you could once see Cat-Eye Mose yourself, and you would know what I mean. The people around here are used to him and don't notice it so much, but his eyes are yellow—positively yellow, and they narrow in the light just like a cat's. One night he drove Radnor and me home from a party, and I could actually see his eyes shining in the dark. It's the most gruesome thing I ever saw; and take that on top of his habits—he carries snakes around in the front of his shirt—really, one suspects him of anything."
"I hope he isn't dead," Terry murmured wistfully. "I'd like a personal interview."
He sat sunk down in his chair for several minutes intently examining the end of his fountain pen.
"Well," he said rousing himself, "it's time we had a shy at the ghost. We must find out in what way Radnor and Mose were connected with him, and in what way he was connected with the robbery. Radnor could help us considerably if he would only talk—the fact that he won't talk is very suggestive. We'll get at the truth without him, though. Suppose you begin and tell me everything from the first appearance of the ha'nt. I should like to get him tabulated."
"The first definite thing that reached the house," I replied, "was the night of my arrival when the roast chicken was stolen—I've told you that in detail."
"And it was that same night that Aunt What-Ever-Her-Name-Is saw the ghost in the laurel walk?"
"Did she say what it looked like?"
"It was white."
"And when you searched the cabins did you go into the one where the grain is stored?"
"No, Mose dropped his torch at the entrance. And anyway Rad said there was no use in searching it; it was already full to the brim with sacks of corn meal."
"Do you think that Radnor was trying to divert you from the scene?"
"No, I am sure he hadn't a suspicion himself."
"And what did the thing look like that you saw Mose carrying to the cabins in the night?"
"It seemed to be a large black bundle. I have thought since that it might have been clothes or blankets or something of that sort."
"So much for the first night," said Terry. "Now, how soon did the ghost appear again?"
"Various things were stolen after that, and the servants attributed it to the ha'nt, but the first direct knowledge I had was the night of the party when Radnor acted so strangely. I told you of his going back in the night."
"He was carrying something too?"
"Yes, he had a black bundle—it might have been clothes."
"And after that he and Mose were in constant consultation?"
"Yes—they both encouraged the belief in the ha'nt among the negroes and did their best to keep everyone away from the laurel walk. I overheard Mose several times telling stories to the other negroes about the terrible things the ha'nt would do if it caught them."
"And he himself didn't show any fear over the stories?"
"Not the slightest—appeared rather to enjoy them."
"And Radnor—how did he take the matter?"
"He was moody and irritable. I could see that something was preying on his mind."
"How did you explain the matter to yourself?"
"I was afraid he had fallen into the clutches of someone who was threatening him, possibly levying blackmail."
"But you didn't make any attempt to discover the truth?"
"Well, it was Rad's own affair, and I didn't want the appearance of spying. I did keep my eyes open as much as I could."
"And the Colonel, how did he take all this excitement about the ha'nt?"
"It bothered him considerably, but Rad kept him from hearing it as much as he could."
"When did the ha'nt appear again after the party?"
"Oh, by that time all sorts of rumors were running about among the negroes. The whole place was haunted and several of the plantation hands had left. But the next thing that we heard directly was in the early evening before the robbery when Mose, appearing terribly frightened, said he had seen the ha'nt rising in a cloud of blue smoke out of the spring-hole."
"And how did the Colonel and Radnor take this?"
"The Colonel was angry because he had been bragging about Mose not being afraid, and Rad was dazed. He didn't know what to think; he hustled Mose out of the way before we could ask any questions."
"And what did you think?"
"Well, I fancied at the time that he had really seen something, but as I thought it over in the light of later events I came to the conclusion that he was shamming, both then and in the middle of the night when he roused the house."
"That is, you wished to think him shamming, in order to prove his complicity in the robbery and the murder; and so you twisted the facts to suit your theory?"
"I don't think you can say that," I returned somewhat hotly. "It's merely a question of interpreting the facts."
"He didn't gain much by raising all that hullabaloo in the middle of the night."
"Why yes, that was done in order to throw suspicion on the ha'nt."
"Oh, I see!" laughed Terry. "Well, now, let's get to the end of this matter. Was any more seen of the ha'nt after that night?"
"No, at least not directly. For five or six days everyone was so taken up with the robbery that the ha'nt excitement rather died down. Then I believe there were some rumors among the negroes but nothing much reached the house."
"And since the murder nothing whatever has been seen of the ha'nt?"
I shook my head.
"Just give me a list of the things that were stolen."
"Well, the roast chicken, a box of cigars, some shirts off the line, a suit of Rad's pajamas, a French novel, some brandy, quite a lot of things to eat—fresh loaves of bread, preserves, a boiled ham, sugar, coffee—oh, any amount of stuff! The niggers simply helped themselves and laid it to the ha'nt. One of the carriages was left out one night, and in the morning the cushions were gone and two lap robes. At the same time a water pail was taken and a pair of Jake's overalls. And then to end up came the robbery of the safe."
"The ha'nt had catholic tastes. Any of the things turned up since?"
"Yes, a number of things, such as blankets and clothes and dishes have gradually drifted back."
"The carriage cushions and lap robes—ever find them?"
"Never a trace—and why anyone should want 'em, I don't know!"
"What color were the lap robes?"
"Plain black broadcloth."
Terry got up and paced about a few moments and then came back and sat down.
"One thing is clear," he said, "there are two ha'nts."
"Two ha'nts! What do you mean?"
"Just what I say. Suppose for convenience we call them ha'nt number one, and ha'nt number two. Number one occupied apartments over the grain bin and haunted the laurel walk. He was white—I don't wonder at that if he spent much time crawling over those flour sacks. He smoked cigars and read French novels; Mose waited on him and Radnor knew about him—and didn't get much enjoyment out of the knowledge. It took money to get rid of him—a hundred dollars down and the promise of more to come. Radnor himself drove him off in the carriage the night he left, and Mose obliterated all traces of his presence. So much for number one.
"As for number two, he appeared three or four days before the robbery and haunted pretty much the whole place, especially the region of the spring-hole. In appearance he was nine feet tall, transparent, and black. Smoke came from his mouth and blue flames from his eyes. There was a sulphurous odor about him. He was first seen rising out of the spring-hole, and there is a passage in the bottom of the spring-hole that leads straight down to hell. Solomon is my authority.
"I asked him how he explained the apparition and he reckoned it was the ghost of the slave who was beaten to death, and that since his old master had come back to haunt the laurel walk, he had come back to haunt his old master. That sounds to me like a plausible explanation. As soon as it's light I'll have a look at the spring-hole."
"Terry," I said disgustedly, "that may make a very picturesque newspaper story, but it doesn't help much in unravelling the mystery."
"It helps a good deal. I would not like to swear to the flames or sulphur or the passage down to hell, but the fact that he was tall and black and comes from the spring-hole is significant. He was black—mark that—so were the stolen lap robes.
"Now you see how the matter stands on the night of the robbery. While ghost number one was out driving with Radnor, ghost number two entered the house through the open library window, found the safe ajar and helped himself. Let's consider what he took—five thousand dollars in government bonds, two deeds, an insurance policy, and a quart of small change—a very suggestive lot of loot if you think about it enough. After the robbery he disappeared, nothing seen of him for five or six days; then he turned up again for a day or so, and finally disappeared forever. So much for ha'nt number two. He's the party we're after. He pretty certainly robbed the safe and he possibly committed the murder—as to that I won't have any proof until I see the cave."
He stretched his arms with a laugh.
"Oh, this isn't so bad! All we've got to do now is to identify those two ghosts."
"I'm glad if you think it's so easy," I said somewhat sullenly. "But I will tell you one thing, if you go to basing any deductions on Solomon's stories you'll find yourself bumping against a stone wall."
"We'll have Rad over to dinner with us tomorrow night," Terry declared.
He rose and pulled out his watch.
"It's a quarter before ten. I think it's time you went to bed. You look about played out. You haven't been sleeping much of late?"
"No, I can't say that I have."
"I ought to have come down at once," said Terry, "but I'm always so blamed afraid of hurting people's feelings."
I stared slightly. I had never considered that one of Terry's weak points, but as he seemed to be quite in earnest, I let the remark pass.
"Do you think I could knock up one of the stable-men to drive me to the village? I know it's pretty late but I've got to send a couple of telegrams."
"Telegrams?" I demanded. "Where to?"
"Well, I must send a word to the Post-Dispatch to the effect that the Luray mystery grows more mysterious every hour. That the police have been wasting their energies on the wrong scent, but that the Post-Dispatch's special correspondent has arrived on the scene, and that we may accordingly look for a speedy solution."
"What is the second one?" I asked.
"To your friend, the police commissioner of Seattle."
"You don't think that Jeff—?"
"My dear fellow, I don't think, unless I have facts to think about.—Don't look so nervous; I'm not accusing him of anything. I merely want more details than you got; I'm a newspaper man, remember, and I like local color even in telegrams. And now, go to bed; and for heaven's sake, go to sleep. The case is in the hands of the Post-Dispatch's young man, and you needn't worry any more."
TERRY FINDS THE BONDS
I was wakened the next morning by Terry clumping into my room dressed in riding breeches and boots freshly spattered with mud.
They were Radnor's clothes—Terry had taken me at my word and was thoroughly at home.
"Hello, old man!" he said, sitting down on the edge of the bed. "Been asleep, haven't you? Sorry to wake you, but we've got a day's work ahead. Hope you don't mind my borrowing Radnor's togs. Didn't come down prepared for riding. Solomon gave 'em to me—seemed to think that Radnor wouldn't need 'em any more. Oh, Solomon and I are great friends!" he added with a laugh, as he suddenly appeared to remember the object of his visit and commenced a search through his pockets.
I sat up in bed and watched him impatiently. It was evident that he had some news, and equally evident that he was going to be as leisurely as possible about imparting it.
"This is a pretty country," he remarked as he finished with his coat pockets and commenced on the waistcoat. "It would be almost worth living in if many little affairs like this occurred to keep things going."
"Really, Terry," I said, "when you refer to my uncle's murder as a 'little affair' I think you're going too far!"
"Oh, I beg your pardon," he returned good-naturedly, "I guess I am incorrigible. I didn't know Colonel Gaylord personally, you see, and I'm so used to murders that I've come to think it's the only natural way of dying. Anyhow," he added, as he finally produced a yellow envelope, "I've got something here that will interest you. It explains why our young friend Radnor didn't want to talk."
He tossed the envelope on the bed and I eagerly tore out the telegram. It was from the police commissioner in Seattle and it ran:
"Jefferson Gaylord returned Seattle May fifth after absence six weeks. Said to have visited old home Virginia. Had been wanted by police. Suspected implication in case obtaining money false pretences. Mistaken charge. Case dismissed."
"What does it mean?" I asked.
"It means," said Terry, "that we've spotted ghost number one. It was clear from the first that Radnor was trying to shield someone, even at the expense of his own reputation. Leaving women out of the case, that pointed pretty straight toward his elder brother. Part of your theory was correct, the only trouble being that you carried it too far. You made Jeff commit both the robbery and the murder, while as a matter of fact he did neither. Then when you found a part of your theory was untenable you rejected the whole of it.
"This is how the matter stood: Jeff Gaylord was pretty desperately in need of money. I suspect that the charge against him, whatever it was, was true. The money he had taken had to be returned and somebody's silence bought before the thing could be hushed up. Anyway, Seattle was too hot to hold him and he lit out and came East. He applied to Radnor, but Radnor was in a tight place himself and couldn't lay his hands on anything except what his father had given him for a birthday present. That was tied up in another investment and if he converted it into cash it would be at a sacrifice. So it ran along for a week or so, while Rad was casting about for a means of getting his brother out of the way without any fresh scandal. But Mose's suddenly taking to seeing ha'nts precipitated matters. Realizing that his father's patience had reached its limit, and that he couldn't keep you off the scent much longer, he determined to borrow the money for Jeff's journey back to Seattle, and to close up his own investment.
"That same night he drove Jeff to the station at Kennisburg. The Washington express does not stop at Lambert Junction, and anyway Kennisburg is a bigger station and travellers excite less comment. This isn't deduction; it's fact. I rode to Kennisburg this morning and proved it. The station man remembers selling Radnor Gaylord a ticket to Washington in the middle of the night about three weeks ago. Some man who waited outside and whose face the agent did not see, boarded the train, and Rad drove off alone. The ticket seller does not know Rad personally but he knows him by sight—so much for that. Rad came home and went to bed. When he came down stairs in the morning he was met by the information that the ha'nt had robbed the safe. You can see what instantly jumped into his mind—some way, somehow, Jeff had taken those bonds—and yet figure on it as he might, he could not see how it was possible. The robbery seemed to have occurred while he was away. Could Jeff merely have pretended to leave? Might he have slipped off the train again and come back? Those are the questions that were bothering Radnor. He was honest in saying that he could not imagine how the bonds had been stolen, and yet he was also honest in not wanting to know the truth."
"He might have confided in me," I said.
"It would have been a good deal better if he had. But in order to understand Rad's point of view, you must take into account Jeff's character. He appears to have been a reckless, dashing, headstrong, but exceedingly attractive fellow. His father put up with his excesses for six years before the final quarrel. Cat-Eye Mose, so old Jake tells me, moped for months after his disappearance. Rad, as a little fellow, worshipped his bad but charming brother.—There you have it. Jeff turns up again with a hard luck story, and Mose and Radnor both go back to their old allegiance.
"Jeff is in a bad hole, a fugitive from justice with the penitentiary waiting for him. He confesses the whole thing to Radnor—extenuating circumstances plausibly to the fore. He has been dishonest, but unintentionally so. He wishes to straighten up and lead a respectable life. If he had, say fifteen hundred dollars, he could quash the indictment against him. He is Radnor's brother and the Colonel's son, but Rad is to receive a fortune while he is to be disinherited. The money he asks now is only his right. If he receives it he will disappear and trouble Rad no more.—That, I fancy, is the line of argument our returned prodigal used. Anyway, he won Rad over. Radnor was thinking of getting married, had plenty of use for all the money he could lay his hands on, but he seems to be a generous chap, and he sacrificed himself.
"For obvious reasons Jeff wished his presence kept a secret, and Rad and Mose respected his wishes. After the robbery Radnor was too sick at the thought that his brother may have betrayed him, to want to do anything but hush the matter up. At the news of the murder he did not know what to think; he would not believe Jeff guilty, and yet he did not see any other way out."
Terry paused a moment and leaned forward with an excited gleam in his eye.
"That," he said, "is the whole truth about ghost number one. Our business now is to track down number two, and here, as a starter are the missing bonds."
He tossed a pile of mildewed papers on the bed and met my astonishment with a triumphant chuckle.
It was true—all five of the missing bonds were there, the May first coupons still uncut. Also the deeds and insurance policy, exactly as they had left the safe, except that they were damp and mud-stained.
I stared for a moment too amazed to speak. Finally, "Where did you find them?" I gasped.
Terry regarded me with a tantalizing laugh.
"Exactly where I thought I'd find them. Oh, I've been out early this morning! I saw the sun rise, and breakfasted in Kennisburg at six forty-five. I'm ready for another breakfast though. Hurry up and dress. We've got a day's work before us. I'm off to the stables to talk 'horses' with Uncle Jake; when you're ready for breakfast send Solomon after me."
"Terry," I implored, "where on the face of the earth did you find those bonds?"
"At the mouth of the passage to hell," said Terry gravely, "but I'm not quite sure myself who put them there."
"Mose?" I queried eagerly.
"It might have been—and it might not." He waved his hand airily and withdrew.
POLLY MAKES A CONFESSION
At breakfast Terry drank two cups of coffee and subsided into thought. I could get no more from him on the subject of the bonds; he was not sure himself, was all the satisfaction he would give. When the meal was half over, to Solomon's dismay, he suddenly rose without noticing a new dish of chicken livers that had just appeared at his elbow.
"Come on," he said impatiently, "you've had enough to eat. I've got to see those marks while they're still there. I'm desperately afraid an earthquake will swallow that cave before I get a chance at them."
Fifteen minutes later we were bowling down the lane behind the fastest pair of horses in the Gaylord stables, and through the prettiest country in the State of Virginia. Terry sat with his hands in his pockets and his eyes on the dash-board. As we came to the four corners at the valley-pike I reined in.
"Would you rather go the short way over the mountains by a very rough road, or the long way through Kennisburg?" I inquired.
"What's that?" he asked. "Oh, the short way by all means—but first I want to call at the Mathers's."
"It would simply be a waste of time."
"It won't take long—and since Radnor won't talk I've got to get at the facts from the other end. Besides, I want to see Polly myself."
"Miss Mathers knows nothing about the matter," said I as stiffly as possible.
"Doesn't she!" said Terry. "She knows a good many things, and it's about time she told them.—At any rate, you must admit that she's the owner of the unfortunate coat that caused the trouble; I want to ask her some questions about that. Why can't girls learn to carry their own coats? It would save a lot of trouble."
It ended by my driving, with a very bad grace, to Mathers Hall.
"You wait here until I come out," said Terry, coolly, as I drew up by the stepping stone and commenced fumbling for a hitching strap.
"Not much!" said I. "If you interview Polly Mathers I shall be present at the interview."
"Oh, very well!" he returned resignedly. "If you'd let me go about it my own way, though, I'd get twice as much out of her."
The family were at breakfast, the servant informed me. I left Terry in the parlor while I went on to the dining-room to explain the object of our visit.
"There is a friend of mine here from New York to help us about the trial"—I thought it best to suppress his real profession—"and he wants to interview Miss Polly in regard to the coat. I am very sorry—"
"Certainly," said Mrs. Mathers, "Polly is only too glad to help in any way possible."
And to my chagrin Polly excused herself and withdrew to the parlor, while her father kept me listening to a new and not very valuable theory of his in regard to the disappearance of Mose. It was fifteen minutes before I made my escape and knocked on the parlor door. I turned the knob and went in without waiting for a summons.
The Mathers's parlor is a long cool dim room with old-fashioned mahogany furniture and jars of roses scattered about. It was so dark after the bright sunshine of the rest of the house, that for a moment I didn't discover the occupants until the sound of Polly's sobbing proclaimed their whereabouts. I was somewhat taken aback to find her sitting in a corner of the big horsehair sofa, her head buried in the cushions, while Terry, nonchalantly leaning back in his chair, regarded her with much the expression that he might have worn at a "first night" at the theatre. It might also be noted that Polly wore a white dress with a big bunch of roses in her belt, that her hair was becomingly rumpled by the cushion, and that she was not crying hard enough to make her eyes red.
"Hello, old man!" said Terry and I fancied that his tone was not entirely cordial. "Just sit down and listen to this. We've been having some interesting disclosures."
Polly raised her head and cast him a reproachful glance, while with a limp wave of the hand she indicated a chair.
I settled myself and inquired reassuringly, "Well, Polly, what's the trouble?"
"You tell him," said Polly to Terry, as she settled herself to cry again.
"I'll tell you," said Terry, glancing warily at me, "but it's a secret, remember. You mustn't let any of those horrid newspaper men get hold of it. Miss Mathers would hate awfully to have anything like this get into the papers."
"Oh, go on, Terry," said I, crossly, "if you've got anything to tell, for heaven's sake tell it!"
"Well, as far as we'd got when you interrupted, was that that afternoon in the cave she and Radnor had somehow got separated from the rest of the party and gone on ahead. They sat down to wait for the others on the fallen column, and while they were waiting Radnor asked her to marry him, for the seventh—or was it the eighth time?"
"The seventh, I think," said Polly.
"It's happened so often that, she's sort of lost track; but anyway, she replied by asking him if he knew the truth about the ghost. He said, yes, he did, but he couldn't tell her; it was somebody else's secret. On his word of honor though there was nothing that he was to blame for. She said she wouldn't marry a man who had secrets. He said that unless she took him now, she would never have the chance again; it was the last time he was going to ask her—is that straight, Miss Mathers?"
"Y-yes," sobbed Polly from the depths of her cushion.
Terry proceeded with a fast broadening smile; it was evident that he enjoyed the recital.
"And then being naturally angry that any man should presume to propose for the last time, she proceeded to be 'perfectly horrid' to him.—Go on, Miss Mathers. That's as far as you'd got."
"I—I told him—you won't tell anyone?"
"I told him I'd decided to marry Jim Mattison."
"Ah—" said Terry. "Now we're getting at it! If you don't mind my asking, Miss Mathers, was that just a bluff on your part, or had Mr. Mattison really asked you?"
Polly sat up and eyed him with a sparkle of resentment.
"Certainly, he'd asked me—a dozen times."
"I beg pardon!" murmured Terry. "So now you're engaged to Mr. Mattison?"
"Oh, no!" cried Polly. "Jim doesn't know I said it—I didn't mean it; I just wanted to make Radnor mad."
"I see! So it was a bluff after all? Were you successful in making him mad?"
She nodded dismally.
"What did he say?"
"Oh, he was awfully angry! He said that if he never amounted to anything it would be my fault."
"And then what?"
"We heard the others coming and he started off. I called after him and asked him where he was going, and he said he was going to the d—devil."
Polly began to cry again, and Terry chuckled slightly.
"As a good many other young men have said under similar circumstances. But where he did go, was to the hotel; and there, it appears, he drank two glasses of brandy and swore at the stable boy.—Is that all, Miss Mathers?"
"Yes; it's the last time I ever saw him and he thinks I'm engaged to Jim Mattison."
"See here, Polly," said I with some excusable heat, "now why in thunder didn't you tell me all this before?"
"You didn't ask me."
"She was afraid that it would get into the papers," said Terry, soothingly. "It would be a terrible scandal to have anything like that get out. The fact that Radnor Gaylord was likely to be hanged for a murder he never committed, was in comparison a minor affair."
Polly turned upon him with a flash of gray eyes.
"I was going to tell before the trial. I didn't know the inquest made any difference. I would have told the coroner the morning he came to take my testimony, only he brought Jim Mattison with him as a witness, and I couldn't explain before Jim."
"That would have been awkward," Terry agreed.
"Polly," said I, severely. "This is inexcusable! If you had explained to me in the first place, the jury would never have remanded Radnor for trial."
"But I thought you would find the real murderer, and then Radnor would be set free. It would be awful to tell that story before a whole room full of people and have Jim Mattison hear it. I detest Jim Mattison!"
"Be careful what you say," said Terry. "You may have to take Jim Mattison after all. Radnor Gaylord will never ask you again."
"Then I'll ask him!" said Polly.
Terry laughed and rose.
"He's in a bad hole, Miss Mathers, but I'm not sure but that I envy him after all."
Polly dimpled through her tears; this was the language she understood.
"Good by," she said. "You'll remember your promise?"
"Never a syllable will I breathe," said Terry, and he put a hand on my shoulder and marched me off.
"She's a fascinating young person," he observed, as we turned into the road.
"You are not the first to discover that," said I.
"I fancy I'm not!" he retorted with a sidewise glance at me.
Terry gazed at the landscape a few moments with a pensive light in his eyes, then he threw back his head and laughed.
"Thank heaven, women don't go in for crime to any great extent! You're never safe in forming any theory about 'em—their motives and their actions don't match."
He paused to light a cigar and as soon as he got it well started took up the conversation again.
"It's just as I suspected in regard to Rad, though I will say the papers furnished mighty few clues. It was the coat that put me on the track coupled with his behavior at the hotel. You see his emotions when he came out of that cave were mixed. There was probably a good deal of disappointment and grief down below his anger, but that for the moment was decidedly in the lead. He had been badly treated, and he knew it. What's more, he didn't care who else knew it. He was in a thoroughly vicious mood and ready to wreak his anger on the first thing that came to hand. That happened to be his horse. By the time he got home he had expended the most of his temper and his disappointment had come to the top. You found him wrestling with that. By evening he had brought his philosophy into play, and had probably decided to brace up and try again. And that," he finished, "is the whole story of our young gentleman's erratic behavior."
"I wonder I didn't think of it myself," I said.
Terry smiled and said nothing.
"Radnor is naturally not loquacious about the matter," he resumed presently. "For one thing, because he does not wish to drag Polly's name into it, for another, I suppose he feels that if anyone is to do the explaining, she ought to be the one. He supposed that she would be present at the inquest and that her testimony would bring out sufficient facts to clear him. When he found that she was not there, and that her testimony did not touch on any important phase of the matter, he simply shut his mouth and said, 'Very well! If she won't tell, I won't.' Also, the coroner's manner was unfortunate. He showed that his sympathy was on the other side; and Radnor stubbornly determined not to say one word more than was dragged out of him by main force. It is much the attitude of the little boy who has been unfairly punished, and who derives an immense amount of satisfaction from the thought of how sorry his friends will be when he is dead. And now, I think we have Rad's case well in hand. In spite of the fact that he seems bound to be hung, we shall not have much difficulty in getting him off."
"But what I can't understand," I grumbled, "is why that little wretch didn't tell me a word of all this. She came and informed me off-hand that he was innocent and asked me to clear him, with never a hint that she could explain the most suspicious circumstance against him."
"You've got me," Terry laughed. "I give up when it comes to finding out why women do things. If you had asked her, you know, she would have told you; but you never said a word about it."
"How could I ask her when I didn't know anything about it?"
"I managed to ask her," said Terry, "and what's more," he added gloomily, "I promised it shouldn't go any further—that is, than is necessary to get Rad off. Now don't you call that pretty tough luck, after coming 'way down here just to find out the truth, not to be allowed to print it when I've got it? How in the deuce am I to account for Rad's behavior without mentioning her?"
"You needn't have promised," I suggested.
"Oh, well," Terry grinned, "I'm human!"
I let this pass and he added hastily, "We've disposed of Jeff; we've disposed of Radnor, but the real murderer is still to be found."
"And that," I declared, "is Cat-Eye Mose."
"It's possible," agreed Terry with a shrug. "But I have just the tiniest little entering wedge of a suspicion that the real murderer is not Cat-Eye Mose."
MR. TERENCE KIRKWOOD PATTEN OF NEW YORK
"There is Luray," I said, pointing with my whip to the scattered houses of the village as they lay in the valley at our feet.
Terry stretched out a hand and pulled the horses to a standstill.
"Whoa, just a minute till I get my bearings. Now, in which direction is the cave?"
"It extends all along underneath us. The entrance is over there in the undergrowth about a mile to the east."
"And the woods extend straight across the mountain in an unbroken line?"
"Pretty much so. There are a few farms scattered in."
"How about the farmers? Are they well-to-do around here?"
"I think on the whole they are."
"Which do they employ mostly to work in the fields, negroes or white men?"
"As to that I can't say. It depends largely on circumstances. I think the smaller farms are more likely to employ white men."
"Let me see," said Terry, "this is just about planting time. Are the farmers likely to take on extra men at this season?"
"No, I don't think so; harvest time is when they are more likely to need help."
"Farming is new to me," laughed Terry. "East Side problems don't involve it. A man of Mose's habits could hide pretty effectually in those woods if he chose." He scanned the hills again and then brought his eyes back to the village. "I suppose we might as well go on to the hotel first. I should like to interview some of the people there. And by the way," he added, "it's as well not to let them know I'm a friend of yours—or a newspaper man either. I think I'll be a detective. Your young man from Washington seems to have made quite a stir in regard to the robbery; we'll see if I can't beat him. There's nothing that so impresses a rural population as a detective. They look upon him as omnipotent and omniscient, and every man squirms before him in the fear that his own little sins will be brought to light." Terry laughed in prospect. "Introduce me as a detective by all means!"
"Anything you like," I laughed in return. "I'll introduce you as the Pope if you think it will do any good." There was no keeping Terry suppressed, and his exuberance was contagious. I was beginning to feel light-hearted myself.
The hotel at Luray was a long rambling structure which had been casually added to from time to time. It was painted a sickly, mustard yellow (a color which, the landlord assured me, would last forever) but it's brilliancy was somewhat toned by a thick coating of dust. A veranda extended across the front of the building flush with the wooden side-walk. The veranda was furnished with a railing, and the railing was furnished at all times of the day—except for a brief nooning from twelve to half-past—with a line of boot-soles in assorted sizes.
We drew up with a flourish before the wooden steps in front of the hotel, and I threw the lines to the stable boy who came forward to receive us with an amusing air of importance. His connection with the Luray tragedy conferred a halo of distinction, and he realized the fact. It was not every one in the neighborhood who had had the honor of being cursed by a murderer. As we alighted Terry stopped to ask him a few questions. The boy had told his story to so many credulous audiences that by this time it was well-nigh unrecognizable. As he repeated it now for Terry's benefit, the evidence against Radnor appeared conclusive. A full confession of guilt could scarcely have been more damning.
Terry threw back his head and laughed.
"Take care, young man," he warned, "you'll be eating your words one of these days, and some of them will be pretty hard to swallow."
As we mounted the steps I nodded to several of the men whom I remembered having seen before; and they returned an interested, "How-dy-do? Pleasant day," as they cast a reconnoitering glance at my companion.
"Gentlemen," I said with a wave of my hand toward Terry, "let me introduce Mr. Terence Kirkwood Patten, the well-known detective of New York, who has come down to look into this matter for us."
The chairs which were tipped back against the wall came down with a thud, and an awed and somewhat uneasy shuffling of feet ensued.
"I wish to go through the cave," Terry remarked in the crisp, incisive tones a detective might be supposed to employ, "and I should like to have the same guide who conducted Mr. Crosby the time the body was discovered."
"That's Pete Moser, he's out in the back lot plowin'," a half dozen voices responded.
"Ah, thank you; will some one kindly call him? We will wait here."
Terry proceeded with his usual ease to make himself at home. He tipped back his hat, inclined his chair at the same dubious angle as the others, and ranged his feet along the railing. He produced cigars from various pockets, and the atmosphere became less strained. They were beginning to realize that detectives are made of the same flesh and blood as other people. I gave Terry the lead—perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he took it—but it did not strike me that he set about his interviewing in a very business-like manner. He did not so much as refer to the case we had come to investigate, but chatted along pleasantly about the weather and the crops and the difficulty of finding farm-hands.
We had not been settled very long when, to my surprise, Jim Mattison strolled out from the bar-room. What he was doing in Luray, I could easily conjecture. Mattison's assumption of interest in the case all along had angered me beyond measure. It is not, ordinarily, a part of the sheriff's duties to assist the prosecution in making out a case against one of his prisoners; and owing to the peculiar relation he bore to Radnor, his interference was not only bad law but excruciatingly bad taste. My dislike of the man had grown to such an extent that I could barely be civil to him. It was only because it was policy on my part not to make him an active enemy that I tolerated his presence at all.