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The Four Pools Mystery
by Jean Webster
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I presented Terry; though Mattison took his calling more calmly than the others, still I caught several sidewise glances in his direction, and I think he was impressed.

"Happy to know you, Mr. Patten," he remarked as he helped himself to a chair and settled it at the general angle. "This is a pretty mysterious case in some respects. I rode over myself this morning to look into a few points and I shall be glad to have some help—though I'm afraid we'll not find anything that'll please you."

"Anything pleases me, so long as it's the truth," Terry threw off, as he studied the sheriff, with a gleam of amusement in his eyes; he was thinking, I knew, of Polly Mathers. "I hope," he added, assuming a severely professional tone, "that you haven't let a lot of people crowd into the cave and tramp up all the marks."

The landlord, who was standing in the doorway, chuckled at this.

"There ain't many people that you could drive into that there cave at the point of the pistol," he assured us. "They think it's haunted; leastways the niggers do."

"Have niggers been in the habit of going in much?"

"Oh, more or less," the sheriff returned, "when they want to make themselves inconspicuous for any reason. I had a horse thief hide in there for two weeks last year while we were scouring the country for him. There are so many little holes; it's almost impossible to find a man. Tramps occasionally spend the night there in cold weather."

"Do you have many tramps around here?"

"Not a great many. Once in a while a nigger comes along and asks for something to eat."

"More often he takes it without asking," one of the men broke in. "A week or so ago my ole woman had a cheese an' a ham an' two whole pies that she'd got ready for a church social just disappear without a word, out o' the pantry winder. If that ain't the mark of a nigger, I miss my guess."

Terry laughed.

"If that happened in the North we should look around the neighborhood for a sick small boy."

"It wasn't no boy this time—leastways not a very small one," the man affirmed, "for that same day a pair o' my boots that I'd left in the wood house just naturally walked off by theirselves, an' I found 'em the next day at the bottom o' the pasture. It would take a pretty sizeable fellow that my boots was too small for," he finished with a grin.

"They are a trifle conspicuous," one of the others agreed with his eyes on the feet in question.

I caught an interested look in Terry's glance as he mentally took their measure, and I wondered what he was up to; but as our messenger and Pete Moser appeared around the corner at the moment, I had no time for speculation. Terry let his chair slip with a bang and rose to his feet.

"Ah, Mr. Moser! I'm glad to see you," he exclaimed with an air of relief. "It's getting late," he added, looking at his watch, "and I must get this business settled as soon as possible; I have another little affair waiting for me in New York. Bring plenty of calcium light, please. We want to see what we're doing."

As the four of us were preparing to start, Terry paused on the top step and nodded pleasantly to the group on the veranda.

"Thank you for your information, gentlemen. I have no doubt but that it will be of the greatest importance," and he turned away with a laugh at their puzzled faces.

The sheriff and I were equally puzzled. I should have suspected that Terry, in the role of detective, was playing a joke on them, had he not very evidently got something on his mind. He was of a sudden in a frenzy of impatience to reach the cave, and he kept well ahead of us most of the way.

"I suppose," said Mattison as he climbed a fence with tantalizing deliberation—we were going by way of the fields as that was shorter—"I suppose that you are trying to prove that Radnor Gaylord had nothing to do with this murder?"

"That will be easy enough," Terry threw back over his shoulder. "I dropped him long ago. The one I'm after now is the real murderer."

Mattison scowled slightly.

"If you can explain what it was that happened in that cave that upset him so mightily, I'd come a little nearer to believing you."

Terry laughed and fell back beside him.

"It's a thing which I imagine may have happened to one or two other young men of this neighborhood—not inconceivably yourself included."

Mattison, seeing no meaning in this sally, preserved a sulky silence and Terry added:

"The thing for us to do now is to bend all our energies toward finding Cat-Eye Mose. I doubt if we can completely explain the mystery until he is discovered."

"And that," said the sheriff, "will be never! You may mark my words; whoever killed the Colonel, killed Mose, too."

"It's possible," said Terry with an air of sadness, "but I hope not. I came all the way down from New York on purpose to see Mose, and I should hate to miss him."



CHAPTER XXII

THE DISCOVERY OF CAT-EYE MOSE

Having lighted our candles, we descended into the cave and set out along the path I now knew so well. When we reached the pool the guide lit a calcium light which threw a fierce white glare over the little body of water and the limestone cliffs, and even penetrated to the stalactite draped roof far above our heads. For a moment we stood blinking our eyes scarcely able to see, so sudden was the change from the semi-darkness of our four flickering candles. Then Terry stepped forward.

"Show me where you found the body and point out the spot where the struggle took place."

He spoke in quick, eager tones, so excited that he almost stuttered. It was not necessary for him to act the part of detective any longer. He had forgotten that he ever was a reporter—he had forgotten almost that he was a human being.

From where we stood we pointed out the place above the pool where the struggle had occurred, the spot under the cliff where the body had lain, and the jagged piece of rock on which we had found the coat. Moser even laid down upon the ground and spread out his arms in the position in which we had discovered the Colonel's body.

"Very well, I see," said Terry. "Now the rest of you stay back there on the boards; I don't want you to make a mark."

He stepped forward carefully to the edge of the water and bent over to examine the soft, yellow clay which formed the border of the pool on the lower side. Instantly he straightened up with a sharp exclamation of surprise.

"Did any negroes come in with you to recover the body?" he asked.

"No," returned the sheriff, "as old man Tompkins said, you couldn't hire a nigger to stick his head in here after the Colonel was found. They say they can hear something wailing around the pool and they think his ghost is haunting it."

"They can hear something wailing, can they?" Terry repeated queerly. "Well I begin to believe they can! What is the meaning of this?" he demanded, facing around at us. "How do you account for these peculiar foot-prints?"

"What prints?" I asked as we all pressed forward.

At the moment the calcium light with a final flare, died out, and we were left again in the flickering candle light which seemed darkness to us now.

"Quick, touch off another calcium!" said Terry, with suppressed impatience. He laid a hand on my shoulder and my arm ached from the tightness of his grip. "There," he said pointing with his finger as the light flared up again. "What do you make of those?"

I bent over and plainly traced the prints of bare feet, going and coming and over-lapping one another, just as an animal would make in pacing a cage. I shivered slightly. It was a terribly uncanny sight.

"Well?" said Terry sharply. The place was beginning to get on his nerves too.

"Terry," I said uneasily, "I never saw them before. I thought I examined everything thoroughly, but I was so excited I suppose—"

"What did you make of them?" he interrupted, whirling about on Mattison who was looking over our shoulders.

"I—I didn't see them," Mattison stammered.

"For heaven's sake, men," said Terry impatiently. "Do you mean they weren't there or you didn't notice them?"

The sheriff and I looked at each other blankly, and neither answered.

Terry stood with his hands in his pockets frowning down at the marks, while the rest of us waited silently, scarcely daring to think. Finally he turned away without saying a word, and, motioning us to keep back, commenced examining the path which led up the incline. He mounted the three stone steps, and with his eyes on the ground, slowly advanced to the spot where the struggle had taken place.

"How tall a man did you say Mose was?" he called down to us.

"Little short fellow—not more than five feet high," returned the sheriff.

Terry took his ruler from his pocket and bent over to study the marks at the scene of the struggle. He straightened up with an air of satisfaction.

"Now I want you men to look carefully at those marks on the lower borders of the pool, and then come up here and look at these. Come along up in single file, please, and keep to the middle of the path."

He spoke in the tone of one giving a demonstration before a kindergarten class. We obeyed him silently and ranged in a row along the boards.

"Come here," he said. "Bend over where you can see. Now look at those marks. Do you see anything different in them from the marks below?"

The sheriff and I gazed intently at the prints of bare feet which marked the entire vicinity of the struggle. We had both examined them more than once before, and we saw nothing now but what had already appeared. We straightened up and shook our heads.

"They're the prints of bare feet," said Mattison, stolidly. "But I don't see that they're any different from any other bare feet."

Terry handed him the ruler.

"Measure them," he said. "Measure this one that's flat on the ground. Now go down and measure one of those prints by the borders of the pool."

Mattison took the ruler and complied. As he bent over the marks on the lower border we could see by the light of his candle the look of astonishment that sprang into his face.

"Well, what do you find?" Terry asked.

"The marks up there are nearly two inches longer and an inch broader."

"Exactly."

"Terry," I said, "you can't blame us for not finding that out. We examined everything when we took away the body, and those marks below were simply not there. Someone has been in since."

"So I conclude. Now, Mattison," he added to the sheriff, "come here and show me the marks of Radnor Gaylord's riding boots."

Mattison returned and pointed out the mark which he had produced at the inquest, but his assurance, I noticed, was somewhat shaken.

"That," said Terry half contemptuously, "is the mark of Colonel Gaylord. You must remember that he was struggling with his assailant. He did not plant his foot squarely every time. Sometimes we have only the heel mark: sometimes only the toe. In this case we have more than the mark of the whole foot. How do I account for it? Simply enough. The Colonel's foot slipped sideways. The mark is, you see, exactly the same in length as the others, but disproportionately broad. At the heel and toe it is smudged, and on the inside where the weight was thrown, it is heavier than on the outside. The thing is easy enough to understand. You ought to have been able to deduce it for yourselves. And besides, how did you account for the fact that there was only one mark? A man engaged in a struggle must have left more than that behind him. No; it is quite clear. At this point on the edge of the bank there was no third person. We are dealing with only two men—Colonel Gaylord and his murderer; and the murderer was bare-footed."

"Mose?" I asked.

"No," said Terry, patiently, "not Mose."

"Then who?"

"That—remains to be seen. I will follow him up and find out where he comes from."

Terry held his candle close to the ground and followed along the path. At the entrance to the little gallery of the broken column it diverged, one part leading into the gallery, and the other into a sort of blind alley at one side. Terry paused at the opening.

"Give me some more calcium light," he called to the guide. "I want to look into this passage. And just hand me some of those boards," he added. "It's very necessary that we keep the marks clear."

The rest of us stood in a huddled group on the one or two boards he had left us and watched him curiously as he made his way down the passage. He paused at the end and examined the ground. We saw him stoop and pick up something. Then he rose quickly with a cry of triumph and came running back to us holding his hands behind him.

"It's just as I suspected," he said, his eyes shining with excitement. "Colonel Gaylord had an enemy he did not know."

"What do you mean?" we asked, crowding around.

"Here's the proof," and he held out towards us a well gnawed ham bone in one hand and a cheese rind in the other. "These were the provisions intended for the church social; the pies, I fancy, have disappeared."

We stared at him a moment in silent wonder. The sheriff was the first to assert himself.

"What have these to do with the crime?" he asked, viewing the trophies with an air of disgust.

"Everything. The man who stole those is the man who robbed the safe and who murdered Colonel Gaylord."

The sheriff uttered a low laugh of incredulity, and the guide and I stared open-mouthed.

"And what's more, I will tell you what he looks like. He is a large, very black negro something over six feet tall. When last seen, he was dressed in a blue and white checked blouse and ragged overalls. His shoes were much the worse for wear, and have since been thrown away. He was bare-footed at the time he committed the crime. In short," Terry added, "he is the chicken thief whom Colonel Gaylord whipped a couple of days before he died," and he briefly repeated the incident I had told him.

"You mean," I asked, "that he was the ha'nt?"

"Yes," said Terry, "he was the second ha'nt. He has been hiding for two or three weeks in the spring-hole at Four-Pools, keeping hidden during the day and coming out at night to prowl around and steal whatever he could lay his hands on. He doubtless deserved punishment, but that fact would not make him the less bitter over the Colonel's beating. When I heard that story, I said to myself, 'there is a man who would be ready for revenge if chance put the opportunity in his way.'"

"But," I expostulated, "how did he happen to be in the cave?"

"As to that I cannot say. After the Colonel's beating he probably did not dare to hang about Four-Pools any longer. He took to the woods and came in this direction; being engaged in petty thieving about the neighborhood, it was necessary to find a hiding place during the daytime and the cave was his most natural refuge. We know that he is not afraid of the dark—the spring-hole at Four-Pools is about as dismal a place as a man could find. He established himself in this passage in order to be near the water. See, here in the corner are drops of candle grease and the remains of a fire. On the day of the Mathers's picnic he doubtless saw the party pass through and recognized Colonel Gaylord. It brought to his mind the thrashing he had received. While he was still brooding over the matter, the Colonel came back alone, and it flashed into the fellow's mind that this was his chance. He may have been afraid at first or he may have hesitated through kindlier motives. At any rate he did not attack the Colonel immediately, but retreated into the passage, and the old man passed him without seeing him and went on into the gallery and got the coat.

"In the meantime, the negro had made up his mind, and as the Colonel came back, he crept along behind him. It is hard to trace the marks, for another bare-footed man has walked over them since. But see, in this place at the edge of the path, there's the mark of a palm, showing where the assassin's hand rested when he crouched on the ground. He sprang upon the old man from the rear and they struggled together over the water—touch off a light, please—you see how the clay is all trampled over on both sides of the path, 'way out to the brink of the pool. There is no second set of marks here to obliterate it; we are dealing with just two people—Colonel Gaylord and his assassin."

Terry bent low and picked up from a crevice what looked like a piece of stone covered with clay.

"Here, you see, is the end of the Colonel's candle. He probably dropped it when the man first sprang, and in the darkness he could not tell who or what had attacked him. In his frenzy to have a light he snatched out his match box—Radnor's box—and that too was dropped in the scuffle.

"Now, even if the original motive of the crime were not robbery but revenge—as I fancy it was—at any rate the murderer, being a tramp and a thief, would have robbed the body. But he did not. Why was that? Because he saw or heard something that frightened him, and what could that have been but Mose running to his master's assistance?"

Terry strode over to the steps which led to the incline, and motioning us to follow, pointed out some marks on the sloping bank at the side of the path.

"See, here are Mose's tracks. He was in such a hurry that he could not wait to come up by the steps; he tried to take a cross cut. He scrambled up the slippery bank so fast that he fell on his hands and knees in this place and slid back. That accounts for those long dragging marks, which none of you appear to have noticed. Mose did his best, but he could not reach his master in time. The murderer seeing—or rather hearing him, for it must have been dark—was seized with sudden fear, and with a convulsive effort he threw the old man against the rock wall here, where his head struck on this broken stalactite. If you look carefully you can see the marks of blood. He then hurled him into the pool and fled."

"It sounds plausible enough," said the sheriff slowly, "but there are one or two points which I'm afraid will not bear examining. Suppose your man did thrown the Colonel into the water and run for it, then what, I should like to know, has become of Cat-Eye Mose?"

"That," said Terry, knitting his brows, "is still a mystery and a fairly deep one. There is something uncommonly strange about those tracks on the lower borders of the pool and I confess they puzzle me. Only one explanation occurs to me now and that is not pleasant to think of. We have some clues to work with however, and we ought not to be long in getting at the truth. If I had had your chance of examining the cave on the day of the crime," he added, "I think I should know."

"You might, and again you might not," said Mattison. "It's easy enough for you fellows to come down here and make up a story about a lot of people you've never seen, but I'll tell you one thing, and that is that you're not so likely to hit the truth as the men who've been brought up in the country. In the first place it comes natural to niggers to be whipped and they don't mind it. In the second place if your tramp did want to take it out on the Colonel why should he be scared by Mose, who was a little bit of a sawed-off cuss that I could lick with one hand tied behind me? You may be able to impress a New York jury with a ham bone and a cheese rind, Mr. Patten, but I can tell you, sir, that a Virginia jury wants witnesses."

"We shall do our best to provide some," said Terry, coolly.

"And perhaps you can tell," added Mattison with the triumphant air of clinching the matter, "what has become of the five thousand dollars in bonds? You can never make me believe that any nigger—"

"Oh, they're back in the safe at Four-Pools. I found 'em this morning in the spring-hole where the man had thrown them away.—Now, gentlemen," he added with a touch of impatience, "I want to try a little experiment before we leave the cave. Will you all please put out your lights? I want to see how dark it really is in here."

We blew out our candles and stood a moment in silence. At first all was black around us, but as our eyes became accustomed to the darkness, we saw that a faint light filtered in from somewhere in the roof above our heads. We could make out the pale blur of the white rock wall on one side and the merest glimmer of the pool below.

"No," Terry began, "he could have seen nothing; he must have—" He broke off suddenly and gripping my arm whispered out, "What's that?"

"Where?" I asked.

"Up there; straight ahead."

I looked up and saw two round eyes which glittered like a wild beast's, staring at us out of the darkness. A cold chill ran up my back and I instinctively huddled closer to the others. For a moment no one spoke and I heard the click of Terry's revolver as he cocked it. Then it suddenly came over me what it was, and I cried out:

"It's Cat-Eye Mose!"

"Good Lord, he can see in the dark! Strike a light, some one," Terry said huskily.

The sheriff struck a match. We lit our candles with trembling hands and pressed forward (in a body) to the spot where the eyes had appeared.

Crouched in a corner of a little recess half way up the irregular wall, we found Mose, shivering with fear and looking down at us with dumb, animal eyes. We had to drag him out by main force. The poor fellow was nearly famished and so weak he could scarcely stand. What little sense he had ever possessed seemed to have left him, and he jabbered in a tongue that was scarcely English.

We bolstered him up with a few drops of whisky from Mattison's flask, and half carried him out into the light. The guide ran ahead to get a carriage, spreading the news as he ran, that Cat-Eye Mose had been found. Half the town of Luray came out to the cave to escort us back, and I think the feeling of regret was general, in that there had not been time enough to collect a brass band.



CHAPTER XXIII

MOSE TELLS HIS STORY

We took Mose back to the hotel, shut out the crowd, and gave him something to eat. He was quite out of his head and it was only by dint of the most patient questioning that we finally got his story. It was, in substance, as Terry had sketched it in the cave.

In obedience to my request, Mose had gone back after the coat, not knowing that the Colonel was before him. Suddenly, as he came near the pool he heard a scream and looked up in time to see a big negro—the one my uncle had struck with his crop—spring upon the Colonel with the cry, "It's my tu'n, now, Cunnel Gaylord. You whup me, an' I'll let you see what it feels like."

The Colonel turned and clinched with his assailant, and in the struggle the light was dropped. Mose, with a cry, ran forward to his master's assistance, but when the negro saw him climbing up the bank he suddenly screamed, and hurling the old man from him, turned and fled.

"The fellow must have taken him for the devil when he saw those eyes, and I don't wonder!" Terry interpolated at this point.

After the Colonel's murder, it seems that Mose, crazed by grief and fear, had watched us carry the body away, and then had stayed by the spot where his master had died. This accounted for the marks on the border of the pool. Knowing all of the intricate passages and hiding places as he did, it had been an easy matter for him to evade the party that had searched for his body. He ate the food the murderer had left, but this being exhausted, he would, I haven't a doubt, have died there himself with the unreasoning faithfulness of a dog.

When he finished his rambling and in some places scarcely intelligible account, we sat for a moment with our eyes upon his face, fascinated by his look. Every bit of repugnance I had ever felt toward him had vanished, and there was left in its place only a sense of pity. Mose's cheeks were hollow, his features sharper than ever, and his face was almost pale. From underneath his straight, black, matted hair his eyes glittered feverishly, and their expression of uncomprehending anguish was pitiful to see. He seemed like a dumb animal that has come into contact with death for the first time and asks the reason.

Terry took his eyes from Mose's face and looked down at the table with a set jaw. I do not think that he was deriving as much pleasure from the sight as he had expected. We all of us experienced a feeling of relief when the doctor appeared at the door. We turned Mose over to him with instructions to do what he could for the poor fellow and to take him back to Four-Pools.

As the door shut behind them, the sheriff said (with a sigh, I thought), "This business proves one thing: it's never safe to lynch a man until you are sure of the facts."

"It proves another thing," said Terry, dryly, "which is a thing you people don't seem to have grasped; and that is that negroes are human beings and have feelings like the rest of us. Poor old Colonel Gaylord paid a terrible price for not having learned it earlier in life."

We pondered this in silence for a moment, then the sheriff voiced a feeling which, to a slight extent, had been lurking in the background of my own consciousness, in spite of my relief at the denouement.

"It's kind of disappointing when you've got your mind worked up to something big, to find in the end that there was nothing but a chance nigger at the bottom of all that mystery. Seems sort of a let-down."

Terry eyed him with an air of grim humor, then he leaned across the table and spoke with a ring of conviction that carried his message home.

"You are mistaken, Mattison, the murderer of Colonel Gaylord was not a chance nigger. There was no chance about it. Colonel Gaylord killed himself. He committed suicide—as truly as if he had blown out his brains with a gun. He did it with his uncontrollable temper. The man was an egoist. He has always looked upon his own desires and feelings as of supreme importance. He has tried to crush the life and spirit and independence from everyone about him. But once too often he wreaked his anger upon an innocent person—at least upon a person that for all he knew was innocent—and at one stroke his past injustices were avenged. It was not chance that killed Colonel Gaylord. It was the inevitable law of cause and effect. 'Way back in his boyhood when he gave way to his first fit of passion, he sentenced himself to some such end as this. Every unjust act in his after-life piled up the score against him.

"Oh, I've seen it a hundred times! It's character that tells. I've seen it happen to a political boss—a man whose business it was to make friends with every voter high and low. I've seen him forget, just once, and turn on a man, humiliate him, wound his pride, crush him under foot and think no more of the matter than if he had stepped on a worm. And I've seen that man, the most insignificant of the politician's followers, work and plot and scheme to overthrow him; and in the end succeed. The big man never knew what struck him. He thought it was luck, chance, a turn of the wheel. He never dreamed that it was his own character hitting back. I've seen it so often, I'm a fatalist. I don't believe in chance. It was Colonel Gaylord who killed himself, and he commenced it fifty years ago."

"It's God's own truth, Terry!" I said solemnly.

The sheriff had listened to Terry's words with an anxiously reminiscent air. I wondered if he were reviewing his own political past, to see if by chance he also had unwittingly crushed a worm. He raised his eyes to Terry's face with a gleam of admiration.

"You've been pretty clever, Mr. Patten, in finding out the truth about this crime," he acknowledged generously. "But you couldn't have expected me to find out," he added, "for I didn't know any of the circumstances. I had never even heard that such a man existed as that chicken thief—and as to there being two ghosts instead of one, there wasn't a suggestion of it brought out at the inquest."

Terry looked at him with his usual slowly broadening smile. He opened his mouth to say something, but he changed his mind and—with a visible effort—shut it again.

"Terry," I asked, "how did you find out about the chicken thief? I confess I don't understand it yet."

He shrugged his shoulders and laughed.

"Nothing simpler. The trouble with you people was that you were searching for something lurid, and the little common-place things which, in a case like this, are the most suggestive, you overlooked. As soon as I read the story of the crime in the papers I saw that in all probability Rad was innocent. His behavior was far too suspicious for him really to be guilty; unless he were a fool he would have covered up his tracks. There was of course the possibility that Mose had committed the murder, but in the light of his past devotion to the Colonel it did not seem likely.

"I had already been reading a lot of sensational stuff about the ghost of Four-Pools, and when the murder followed so close on the heels of the robbery, I commenced to look about for a connecting link. It was evident that Radnor had nothing to do with it, but whether or not he suspected someone was not so clear. His reticence in regard to the ha'nt made me think that he did. I came South with pretty strong suspicions against the elder son, but with a mind still open to conviction. The telegram showing that he was in Seattle at the time of the murder, proved his innocence of that, but he might still be connected with the ha'nt. I tried the suggestion on Radnor, and his manner of taking it proved pretty conclusively that I had stumbled on the truth. The ha'nt business, I dare say, was started as a joke, and was kept up as being a convenient method of warding off eavesdroppers. Why Jefferson came back and why Radnor gave him money are not matters that concern us; if they prefer to keep it a secret that's their own affair.

"Jeff helped himself pretty freely to cigars, roast chickens, jam, pajamas, books, brandy, and anything else he needed to make himself comfortable in the cabin, but he took nothing of any great value. In the meantime, though, other things commenced disappearing—things that Radnor knew his brother had no use for—and he supposed the workers about the place were stealing and laying it to the ghost, as a convenient scapegoat.

"But as a matter of fact they were not. A second ghost had appeared on the scene. This tramp negro had taken up his quarters in the spring-hole and was prowling about at night seeking what he might devour. He ran across Jeff dressed in a sheet, and decided to do some masquerading on his own account. Sheets were no longer left on the line all night, so he had to put up with lap robes. As a result, the spring-hole shortly became haunted by a jet black spirit nine feet tall with blue flames and sulphur, and all the other accessories.

"This made little impression at the house until Mose himself was frightened; then Radnor saw that the hoax had reached the point where it was no longer funny, and he determined to get rid of Jeff immediately. While he drove him to the station he left Mose behind to straighten up the loft; and Mose, coming into the house to put some things away, met ghost number two just after he had robbed the safe. If Mose's eyes looked as they did to-day I fancy the fright was mutual. The ghost, in his excitement, dropped one package of papers, but bolted with the rest. He made for his lair in the spring-hole and examined his booty. The bonds were no more than old paper; he tossed them aside. But the pennies and five-cent pieces were real; he lit out for the village with them. The robbery was not discovered till morning and by that time the fellow was at 'Jake's place' on his way toward being the drunkest nigger in the county.

"He stayed at the Corners a week or so until the money was gone, then he came back to the spring-hole. But he made the mistake of venturing out by daylight; the stable-men caught him and took him to the Colonel, and you know the rest.

"As soon as I heard the story of the beating I decided to follow it up; and when I heard of a jet black spirit rising from the spring-hole, I decided to follow that up too. At daylight this morning I routed out one of the stable-men, and we went down and examined the spring-hole; at least I examined it while he stood outside and shivered. It yielded an even bigger find than I had hoped for. Chucked off in a corner and trampled with mud I found the bonds. A pile of clothing and carriage cushions formed a bed. There were the remains of several fires and of a great many chickens—the whole place was strewn with feathers and bones; he had evidently raided the roosts more than once.

"When I finished with the spring-hole it still lacked something of six o'clock and I rode over to the village hoping to get an answer to my telegram. I wanted to get Jeff's case settled. 'Miller's store' was not open but 'Jake's place' was, and it was not long before I got on the track of my man. There was no doubt but that I had him accounted for up to the time of the thrashing; after that I could only conjecture. He had not appeared in the village again; the supposition was that he had taken to the woods. Now he might or he might not have come in the direction of Luray. All the facts I had to go upon were, a man of criminal proclivities, who owed Colonel Gaylord a grudge, and who was used to hiding in caves. It was pure supposition that he had come in this direction and it had to be checked at every point by fact. I didn't mention my suspicions because there was no use in raising false hopes and because, well—"

"You wanted to be dramatic," I suggested.

"Oh, yes, certainly, that's my business. Well, anyway I felt I was getting warm, and I came over here this morning with my eyes open, ready to see what there was to see.

"The first thing I unearthed was this story of the church social provisions. There had, then, been a thief of some sort in the neighborhood just at the time of Colonel Gaylord's murder. The further theft of the boots fitted very neatly into the theory. If the fellow had been tramping for a couple of days his shoes, already worn, had given out and been discarded. The new ones, as we know, were too small—he left them at the bottom of the pasture—and went bare-footed. The marks therefore in the cave, which everyone ascribed to Mose, were in all probability, not the marks of Mose at all. Actual investigation proved that to be the case. The rest, I think, you know. The Four-Pools mystery has turned out to be a very simple affair—as most mysteries unfortunately do."

"I reckon you're a pretty good detective, Mr. Patten," said Mattison with a shade of envy in his voice.

Terry bowed his thanks and laughed.

"As a matter of fact," he returned, "I am not a detective of any sort—at least not officially. I merely assume the part once in a while when there seems to be a demand. Officially," he added, "I am the representative of the New York Post-Dispatch, a paper which, you may know, has solved a good many mysteries before now. In this case, the Post-Dispatch will of course take the credit, but it wants a little more than that. It wants to be the only paper tomorrow morning to print the true details. We four are the only ones who know them. I should, perhaps, have been a little more circumspect, and kept the facts to myself, but I knew that I could trust you."

His eye dwelt upon the sheriff a moment and then wandered to Pete Moser who had sat silently listening throughout the colloquy.

"Would it be too much," Terry inquired, "to ask you to keep silent until tomorrow morning?"

"You can trust me to keep quiet," said Mattison, holding out his hand.

"Me too," said Moser. "I reckon I can make up something that'll satisfy the boys about as well as the real thing."

"Thank you," Terry said. "I guess you can all right! There doesn't seem to be anything the matter with your imaginations down here."

"And now," said Mattison, rising, "I suppose the first thing, is to see about Radnor's release, though I swear I don't know yet what was the matter with him on the day of the crime."

"I believe you have the honor of Miss Polly Mathers's acquaintance? Perhaps she will enlighten you," suggested Terry.

A look of illumination flashed over Mattison's face. Terry laughed and rose.

"I have a reason for suspecting that Miss Mathers has changed her mind and, if it is not too irregular, I should like by way of payment to drive her to the Kennisburg jail myself and let her be the first to tell him—I want to give her a reason for remembering me."



CHAPTER XXIV

POLLY MAKES A PROPOSAL

I was dropped in Kennisburg to attend to the legal formalities respecting Radnor's release, while Terry appropriated the horses and drove to Mathers Hall. His last word to Mattison and me was not to let a whisper reach Radnor's ear as to the outcome of the investigation. He wanted a spectacular denouement. The sheriff assented very soberly. The truth had at last forced itself upon him that his chances with Polly were over.

Terry reappeared, two hours later, with a very excited young woman beside him. They joined us in the bare little parlor of the jail, and if Mattison needed any further proof that the end had come, Polly's greeting furnished it. An embarrassed flush rose to her face as she saw him, but she shook hands in a studiously impersonal way and asked immediately for Radnor.

Mattison met the situation with a dignity I had scarcely expected. He called a deputy and turned us over to him; and with the remark that his services were happily no longer needed, he bowed himself out. I saw him two minutes later recklessly galloping down the street. Polly's eyes, also, followed the rider, and for a second I detected a shade of remorse.

As we climbed the stairs Terry fell back and whispered to me, "I tell you, I laid down the law coming over; we'll see if she's game."

As the door of the cell was thrown open, Rad raised his head and regarded us with a look of bewildered astonishment. Polly walked straight in and laid her hand on his shoulder.

"Radnor," she said, "you told me you would never ask me again to marry you. Did you really mean it?"

Rad still stared confusedly from her to Terry and me.

"Well!" Polly sighed. "If you did mean it, then I suppose I'll have to ask you. Will you marry me, Radnor?"

I laid a hand on Terry's arm and backed him, much against his will, into the corridor.

"Jove! You don't suppose he's going to refuse her?" he inquired in a stage whisper.

"No such luck," I laughed.

We took a couple of turns up and down the corridor and cautiously presented ourselves in the doorway. Polly was telling, between laughing and crying, the story of Mose's discovery. Radnor came to meet us, his left arm still around Polly, his right hand extended to Terry.

"Will you shake hands, Patten?" he asked. "I'm afraid I wasn't very decent, but you know—"

"Oh, that's no matter," said Terry, easily. "I wasn't holding it up against you. But I hope you realize, Gaylord, that it's owing to me you've won Miss Mathers. She never would have got up the courage to ask you, if—"

"Yes, I should!" flashed Polly. "I wanted him too much ever to let him slip through my fingers again."

Terry's boast came true and Radnor dined at Four-Pools Plantation that night. The news of his release had in some way preceded us, and as we drove up to the house, all the negroes came crowding out on the portico to welcome home "young Marse Rad." But the one person who—whatever the circumstances—had always been first to welcome him back, was missing; and the poor boy felt his home-coming a very barren festival.

Terry was steadfast in the assertion that he had an engagement in New York the next day, and as soon as supper was over I drove him to the station. He was in an ecstatically self-satisfied frame of mind.

"Do you know I'm a pretty all-round fellow," he observed in a burst of confidence. "I've always known better than the proprietor how the paper ought to be run, and I can give the police points about detective work. I'm something of a cook, and I can play the hand-organ like Paderewski; but this is the first time I ever tried my hand at matchmaking and it comes as easy as a murder mystery!"

"You think that their engagement is due to you?"

"But isn't it? If it weren't for me they'd have it all to go over again from the beginning, and there's no telling how long they'd take about it."

"I hope they appreciate your services, Terry. You're so modest that what you do is in danger of being overlooked."

"They appreciate me fast enough," returned Terry, imperturbably. "I promised Polly to spend my first vacation with 'em after they're married—Oh, you'll see; I'll make a farmer one of these days!"

I laughed and then said seriously:

"Whether you made the marriage or not, you have cleared Radnor's name from any suspicion of dishonor, and I don't know how we can ever sufficiently show our gratitude."

"That's all right," said Terry with a deprecatory wave of his hand. "I enjoyed it. Never did anything just like it before. I've arranged a good many funerals of one sort or another, but this is the first time I ever arranged a marriage. And Jove! but I could make a story out of it," he added regretfully, "if she'd only let me tell the truth."

The events which I have chronicled happened a number of years ago, and Four-Pools has never since figured in the papers. I trust that its public life is ended. In spite of the most far-reaching search, the murderer of Colonel Gaylord was never found. Radnor and I have always believed that he was lynched by a mob in West Virginia some two years later. The description of the man tallied exactly with the appearance of the tramp my uncle had thrashed, and something he said in his ante-mortem statement, made us very sure of the fact.

Mose, until the time of his death, was an honored member of the household, but he did not long outlive the Colonel. The memory of the tragedy he had witnessed seemed to follow him constantly; an unreasoning terror looked from his eyes, and he started and shivered at every sound. The poor fellow had lost what few wits he had ever possessed, but the one rational gleam that stayed with him to the end, was his love for his old master. When he lay dying. Radnor tells me, he roused after hours of unconsciousness, to call the Colonel's name. I have always felt that this devotion spoke equally well for both of them. The old man must have had some splendid traits underneath his crusty exterior to awaken such unquestioning love in a person of Mose's instinctive perceptions. Perhaps after all, half idiot though he was, Mose could see clearer than the rest of us. He now lies in the little family burying-ground on the edge of the plantation, a stone's throw from the grave of Colonel Gaylord.

There has never been any further rumor of a ha'nt at Four-Pools, and we hope that the family ghost is laid forever. The deserted cabins have been torn down, and the fourth pool dredged and confined, prosaically enough, within its banks. Its mysterious charm is gone, but it yields, every season, some fifteen barrels of watercress.

It was the following April—a year from the time of my first visit—that Terry and I snatched a couple of days from our work, purchased new frock coats, and served as ushers at Polly's wedding. She and Radnor have been living happily at Four-Pools ever since, and the house with a young mistress is a very different place from the house as it used to be. Marriage and responsibility have improved Radnor immensely. He has developed from a recklessly headstrong boy into a keen, rational, upright man; I am sure that Polly has never for a moment had cause to regret her choice.

When the estate was settled, Radnor, very justly, insisted on breaking his father's will and giving to Jeff his rightful share of the property. Jeff has since become middle-aged and respectable. He owns a raisin ranch in southern California with fifty Chinamen to run it. When he comes back to Four-Pools Plantation on an occasional visit, he occupies the guest room.

THE END

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