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The Lion's Mouse
by C. N. Williamson and A. M. Williamson
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Beverley forgot to answer. The pearl-stringer's words had sent her thoughts travelling along a new path. Suddenly she became aware that she had deceived Miss Blackburne and herself. When she made that statement, she had not reflected. Clo's return, in O'Reilly's company, now seemed so long ago that she had not cast her mind back so far in connection with the pearls. She had thought of what she had done since O'Reilly's refusal of her request, and his departure. She had pictured herself as having seen the pearls in their case since then. But she had not done so. She had seen only the closed case, and had naturally taken it for granted that the pearls were in it. As a matter of fact, she had not actually seen them since she herself closed the velvet case. Could Clo possibly have dashed into the boudoir and hidden the pearls?

"I'll speak to Clo," she finally replied, with a dazed look after a silence that puzzled Miss Blackburne.

"Please stay here. I'll be back in three or four minutes, and bring Clo with me, if she's well enough."

Clo, denuded of the stolen cloak, had flung herself upon the bed to rest, and call back the force of her vitality for a later effort. Her nerves were throbbing like hot wires, and she jumped at the opening of the door.

"Oh, I'm glad it's you!" she sighed, at sight of Beverley. "Have you opened the envelope?"

"The envelope!" Beverley repeated. "Oh, Clo, I thought nothing on earth could have put it out of my head for a second. But Miss Blackburne called me to say the pearls have disappeared. I forgot the envelope. I must hurry back. Did you do anything with the pearls, on your way out?"

Clo looked aghast. "Good gracious, no!" she cried. "I went through the kitchen, and down the servants' elevator. Oh, Mrs. Sands—Angel—you don't think——"

"Nonsense! You're as bad as Miss Blackburne!" Beverley cut her short. "I thought that, for some reason, you might have hidden them. Now I know you didn't. Clo, this is the most terrible day—except one—in my life. I must find the pearls or Roger will never forgive me. And only a few minutes ago they were nothing, compared with the papers!"

Clo's wits, drowned in horror for an instant, came to the surface again. "What if O'Reilly took the pearls for revenge!" she blurted out. "Did he know—was he anywhere near them?"

Beverley, who had been standing by the bed, sank down upon it, and stared. "He did know," she said slowly. "And—and he was alone in the room with the pearls for some minutes if I remember rightly. You see, Sister Lake arrived. She was angry about your being out. I tried to soothe her. It was no use. She left, bag and baggage, in injured dignity. O'Reilly was in my boudoir. Oh, Clo, it must be he who took the pearls!"

The girl herself had said it: yet, when the words were repeated by other lips than hers, it gave her a shock. O'Reilly's face rose before her eyes. "I don't believe he did it!" she was surprised to hear her own voice cry out aloud.

"You suggested it yourself!" exclaimed Beverley.

"I know," the girl confessed. "The idea popped into my head. But it can't be true. He's not that sort, whatever else he may be!"

"He went off furious with you, with us both," Beverley said. "It must have been he who stole the pearls. There's a strong motive—something for him to hold over us, and force us to give the papers back."

"If we've got them!" cut in Clo.

Beverley sprang up. "I'm lost in this!" she faltered. "There are too many things against me. I can't cope with them all at once. I must go to the boudoir and get that envelope, whatever happens."

"What shall I do?" asked Clo.

Beverley was already at the door, and had opened it.

"If I don't come back to you in five minutes, it will be a sign I want you to come to me."

When the door had shut behind her Angel, the girl felt she would be thankful for the five minutes' respite. She lay flat and straight as a figure on a marble tomb, yet she could not rest for thinking of O'Reilly. His eyes seemed to be looking into hers. By shutting them, she could not shut him out. When she thought that the five minutes must have passed, she slid wearily off the bed.

"I must go to Angel," she said half aloud. But she had not got to her feet when, without knocking, Beverley flung the door open.

Instantly Clo guessed that some new and worse misfortune had happened.

"This time it's the end. I give up!" Beverley panted. "The envelope has gone with the pearls. I hadn't even opened it. I don't know what was inside."

"Gone! The envelope gone!" gasped the girl. "Gone—from—where?"

"From the table in the boudoir," Beverley answered. "I laid it there when Miss Blackburne told me about the pearls. It was there when I came to you. Miss Blackburne hasn't left the room. She didn't even see the envelope. I've searched everywhere for it—but it's gone."



XVIII

DEFEAT

All Clo's efforts and schemings wasted! She had tricked, stolen, risked her life, in vain. The envelope was gone.

"You can't have looked everywhere," she insisted. "The thing must have got tucked out of sight—unless Miss Blackburne ... but no, she's as good as gold!"

"I'm sure you're right about her. She is good," said Beverley. "But ... she says nobody came into the room while she was there.... I asked her. Otherwise I might have thought that Rog——" The sentence broke. "I wanted to see you alone," Angel began again, "so I came back. You've been so wonderful to-day, you've made me depend upon you. If there were anything to do, you'd be the one to do it. But there's nothing ... is there? I can't see any light, can you?"

"Let me help you to look for the envelope," said Clo.

"Come, then," said the other, in a toneless voice, unlike her own. Together they went to Beverley's boudoir, where there was a little interlude of greetings between Clo and Miss Blackburne. Then, Clo was beginning her search for the lost envelope when Roger Sands slowly passed the half-open door. Beverley had left it ajar, not because she wished to call him (that desire had fled with the news about the pearls), but in order to see that he went out. She stood with her back to the door at the moment, but on the wall directly opposite hung a long mirror. Clo guessed, by the slight start Angel gave, that she must have caught sight of his reflection. He turned and came back.

"If he asks to see the pearls!" was the thought in Clo's head. Her eyes met Beverley's and read the same terror there.

Roger spoke to Miss Blackburne, pausing on the threshold.

"What do you think of the baubles?" he asked with elaborate carelessness. "Are they above the average?"

The two girls held their breath. Would the pearl-stringer give the situation away?

But Miss Blackburne, true to herself, was discretion incarnate.

"I've not seen enough of the pearls, yet, to form an opinion," she replied, "but my impression is that they must be altogether exceptional."

"I'm glad your impression is good," said Roger. He turned to his wife. "I may not be back till late. Don't sit up for me. Good-night."

Beverley followed him into the hall.

"Roger!" she pleaded. "You're doing me a most horrible injustice. I can't bear it!"

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"You can't help knowing," she said, "It's about Justin O'Reilly. You think I——"

"Have I accused you of anything?" he challenged, brows raised, eyes blank.

"No. But——"

"Your imagination seems to be even more lively than your conscience is sensitive, my dear girl. What have you done, that I should accuse you?"

"I've done nothing, Roger, that you——"

"All right, then. Why borrow trouble? I must hurry, or I'll miss my appointment. Good-night again. Sleep well!"

Roger left her without a backward glance. Beverley felt that she was caught in the folds of a vast net.

What was it Clo had said, that day? "There was once a mouse who gnawed a net——" Poor mouse, it had tried to-day to gnaw the net! It had gnawed one small hole, but even before the prisoner could struggle to get free, the hole had closed again. Still, the mouse was ready for another bout. It was a brave, bold mouse—a subtle mouse! For some strange reason her sole hope was in Clo.

During her absence the girl had searched the boudoir from end to end. Her sharp eyes had not missed a cranny big enough to hide a pin, to say nothing of a rope of pearls or a large envelope with five red seals. Both the pearls and the envelope must have been stolen. Were there two thieves, or only one?

With Roger's departure, and Beverley's return, the three women could talk with freedom, especially after Mrs. Sands' announcement to the butler that he would not be needed to serve dinner.

Miss Blackburne reiterated that she knew nothing of the envelope. She had had no thought for anything except the pearls. Their loss put her into an embarrassing position unless Mrs. Sands intended informing Mr. Sands and the police at once of what had happened.

"I saw by your face you didn't want me to speak when your husband came in," she said to Beverley, "so I hedged, and did the best I could without lying. I realized that you would want to be the one to break the news. But I suppose you have told him now? He'll send the police, or some private detective, won't he, to take evidence while I'm here?"

"I do want to get them back," Beverley answered. "But I haven't told my husband, and we can't have the police, or even a detective. That must seem not quite fair to you, Miss Blackburne. Whatever happens, you shan't suffer, I promise. I believe I know who has taken the pearls. If I'm right, it isn't exactly a theft. Perhaps if I go the right way about it, I can get them again. What's the good of worrying my husband, when in a day or two there may be nothing to worry about?"

"M-m-m," muttered Miss Blackburne, "I think you're wrong, Mrs. Sands. I have a feeling that Mr. Sands suspects."

"That the pearls are gone? How can he?" Beverley cried.

"I don't know, I only feel," the little woman repeated.

As the two had talked, Clo watched Miss Blackburne's face. It was with her as the pearl-stringer had said of herself: she "did not know—she could only feel" that the good little woman had something on her conscience, something that she was obliged to hide.

Clo had by this time succeeded in clearing her mind from cobwebs.

Suddenly a light shone like flame upon the mystery. "Peterson!" was the name that printed itself upon the girl's brain. "If he could have got into the flat, he could have stolen both the pearls and papers. Does Miss Blackburne know something, and if she does, why won't she tell?"

It occurred to Clo that, if she could have a few words with Miss Blackburne alone, perhaps the puzzle might be solved.

"Angel," she said, "if there's been a thief in this house, perhaps he's here still. With two manservants, you ought——"

Beverley waited for no more. Any straw was worth catching at. She couldn't wait to ring for Johnson. She rushed out of the boudoir, hoping to find the butler in the dining room. He was there. And while she explained that something had been stolen, that the flat must be searched, Clo got the chance she had wanted.

"Miss Blackburne, you're my friend!" she exclaimed. "This means life or death to me. I'm responsible for that envelope we've lost. Do, for the love of heaven, tell me what happened in this room while Mrs. Sands went out and left you here alone."

The pearl-stringer remained silent. She met Clo's great, imploring eyes without shrinking, but the girl saw that she breathed hard.

"If you don't want me to die, tell me!" Clo implored.

"My child, I would tell you, if I could," she stiffened herself. "But, you see," she finished, "there's nothing to tell. So, I can't."



XIX

THE BROWN TRUNK

Clo realized that there was no more to be said, since to accuse Miss Blackburne of lying would make matters worse. When Beverley came back, to say that the servants had been questioned, and the flat searched in vain, the girl had made up her mind what to do next. There were two things, one of which had better be done at once; the second, which must be done before ten o'clock. The first was to settle with Miss Blackburne; and get rid of her. The second thing was to keep the appointment with Peterson. It was more important, Clo thought, to see him than to see O'Reilly, though she expected Angel to suggest an immediate talk with O'Reilly in person or by telephone. She hoped to bring Beverley to her point of view.

"Of course, I rely on you to let me clear myself if you don't find your pearls the way you hope," Miss Blackburne reminded Beverley. "I'm sure you'll let me know when you have news. Meanwhile, there's nothing to stay for, is there? I might as well be with mother."

It was arranged that she should go home in a taxi, to save the time which must be wasted, waiting for Beverley's car. Mrs. Sands paid, of course, and gave the pearl-stringer a present of fifty dollars, "to make up for her trouble."

It was not late, as time goes, but on this night of stress and ordeal, nine-fifteen was a terrible hour. The instant Miss Blackburne was out of the house, the two girls turned to each other, and clasped hands.

"Thank God, she's gone!" Beverley breathed. "Now I'll call up Justin O'Reilly, and——"

"Wait till I tell you something I've thought of, then you can decide," Clo cut in. "I believe that horrible creature, Peterson, may be the thief, not O'Reilly. How he could have got into the flat, and out again, I can't see. But he probably specializes in stunts like that! He has the face—and the fingers—for it. I shouldn't wonder if he terrorized poor Blacky. She's not cut out for a heroine, is she? Maybe the man was under the table in the boudoir. Maybe he warned her that, if she gave him away afterward, he'd do for her and all her belongings. That would scare Blacky blue! She worships her mother. I haven't got the tangle straightened out in my head yet. But this new idea looks good to me, so far. If Peterson's the thief—if he's pocketed the papers and the pearls—it seems to me he'll try and make a quick get-away. Let us jump on him now, at the Hotel Westmorland, before he expects us, and before bothering with O'Reilly. These pearls must be well known. Peterson can't get rid of them, even to a fence, for any big sum. I think he'd exchange, for money, and less important jewels that he might dare to sell. Haven't you got something that your husband's forgotten—or won't mind if he doesn't see you wear?"

"Yes," Beverley answered. "I have six or seven hundred dollars by me. There's a diamond muff-chain, too, and a tiara that Roger himself thinks too old looking for me. He proposed to have the stones reset—but that's months ago. He has forgotten, I'm sure, for he's given me so many other things since. I could bargain with the chain and tiara—and perhaps a few bracelets and rings."

"Let me take the jewels and money in a bag to the Westmorland. I can leave it at the desk while I do the bargaining. It's best to be on the safe side, if you're a mouse holding up a ferret! Besides, there's a question we've 'most lost sight of in this business, Angel. We're not sure the right papers were in the envelope I took from O'Reilly. They might be something else he valued."

"Why, yes!" cried Beverley. "For a moment I counted on their being the right ones—the ones I must give Peterson——"

"Well, I've only to see him to make sure," Clo went on. "He may lie, but I know I can tell by his face. Angel, waste no time on O'Reilly. There's not one second to lose! Get your jewels together, and I'll go."

"We'll both go," said Beverley. "Don't object; it's useless! I won't have you go alone. You've done more than enough already. I'm a wretch to let you slave for me, your first day out of bed! But I daren't call at Peterson's alone, not because I'm afraid for myself, but because of Roger. Besides, I can depend on you to keep your head."

"Very well," Clo consented. "The first thing that occurs to me is this: we must put on plain coats and hats. My new hat I left at the Dietz: I had to! But you'll lend me something. And we'll not 'phone for a taxi. Best slip away and not let the servants know we've gone. If you've a latch-key, we may go and even get back without a soul being the wiser."

"Come to my room and choose wraps for us both, while I collect the money and what jewels I dare spare," Beverley said. As she spoke, she ran in front of Clo, and opened a safe in the wall not unlike the hiding place Clo had rifled at the Dietz.

The girl selected two automobile coats, one of gray silk, the other of brown, both intended to match the colours of dresses, but inconspicuous and plain. There were toques made of the same material, with thin veils attached. Clo took for herself the brown coat, which was shorter than the gray, and pulled the brown toque well over her red hair. By this time Beverley had stuffed a roll of greenbacks, a chain of platinum set with brilliants, half a dozen sparkling rings and bracelets, and a flexible diamond tiara, into a dark leather handbag. Clo helped her into the long gray coat which covered her evening dress; and the two stole out of the flat like flitting shadows. They went down in the elevator, but the hall-porter was off duty for the night, having left a young understudy in charge.

The girls walked fast to the nearest taxi stand, Clo trying not to breathe hard and so remind Angel of her weakness. As the chauffeur slowed down in front of the Westmorland, Beverley held up her wrist watch for Clo to see.

"Twenty-five minutes to ten," Clo assured her confidently. "I only hope he won't have gone out. Now, you wait for me in the taxi, Angel, while I——"

"No, you're to wait for me," Beverley decided. "I can do more with the man than you, because there are things you don't know. But don't wait here. It's too far away. I might need you in a hurry. We'll keep the taxi, so there'll be no delay in getting off, and we'll both go into the hotel together. You came this afternoon, so you had better ask for Peterson. We can make up our minds what to do next when we get the answer."

A moment later a tall young woman in a gray motor cloak, and a small young woman in a brown cloak, entered the hotel. The veils that covered their close-fitting toques and fell over their faces were not thick, yet in the electric light the gauze took on a disguising glitter. The pair in their plain wraps, were not conspicuous figures even in a third-rate hotel like the Westmorland, and the clerk whom they approached was not moved to curiosity.

"Mr. Peterson? He's in; came in over an hour ago, and mentioned that he expected a caller; party to go right up."

"He's expecting us, one or both," Clo cut in hastily. "What's his number?"

"658, top floor," said the clerk. "The elevator's just over there to the left—see?"

"We'll go up together," Clo whispered, "and then, if you really think best to see the man alone, I'll hang about somewhere in the hall till you come out and call me."

Beverley made no reply. Already she was fathoms deep in thought. The musty-smelling lift shot them up to the top floor; Beverley, stepping out ahead of Clo, had the air of having forgotten her existence. The girl's anxiety deepened. The best she could do was to guide her friend through dimly lighted, dark-walled corridors, to the right number, 658. Beverley had, before they left the taxi, given the money and jewels into her companion's hand. Clo's over-strained nerves began to take their revenge. This shabby hotel was an evil place. To her it seemed that each closed door hid something secret and sinister. They met no one between the elevator and Peterson's room. Involuntarily, the two paused an instant in front of number 658 before knocking. No sound came from within. If Peterson were in his room, apparently he was alone. Beverley tapped—a sharp, nervous tap.

"Come in!" cried a voice which sounded far off, as if the speaker called from the furthest corner of the room, or from the depths of a wall cupboard.

"Keep near, but not too near," whispered Beverley, and opened the door. To her surprise and Clo's there was no light in the room; yet it was not really dark. The blind on the curtainless window opposite the door was rolled up to the top, and let in light from the brilliantly illuminated street six storeys below. As Beverley passed in, Clo caught a glimpse of a man's figure comfortably seated in a high-backed armchair in front of the window. She even recognized the mean profile of Peterson, outlined in black against the luminous square of a window pane, and anger pricked her that he should dare receive Mrs. Sands without rising. Then the door shut, and Clo, obeying the order to "keep near, but not too near," took a few steps down the corridor. Within sight of the door, but not within hearing of voices on the other side unless they should rise to a shout, she hovered uneasily.

It was hateful to Clo that Angel should be alone with the ferret-faced man behind the closed door. He might choke Beverley to death with those sly, thievish hands of his, and the sentinel outside would not know. "Why was he sitting there in the dark," she puzzled, "like a spider in his web, waiting to pounce?" She could not put away the impression that there was something more terrible even than Beverley had expected. No one came or went. After all, she had been there only four or five minutes, though the time seemed long. It might easily be half an hour, Clo reminded herself, before she could hope to be called into consultation, or invited to hand over the precious bag. She looked wistfully toward the nearest end of the corridor. There, in front of a window, was a big brown trunk. She would go and sit on that trunk to rest. It was well within sight of Peterson's door. Her eyes would never leave that door! With renewed life she could spring up as she saw it opened by Angel.

"Yes, I've got to the limit!" the girl said. She was so spent that her feet seemed to have weights attached to them as she dragged herself toward the trunk. Reaching it, she dropped, rather than sat, upon the rounded top. No sooner had she touched the lid, however, than she bounded up as if she had received an electric shock. It seemed that something inside the trunk had given a leap, and that the great box had quivered under her. At the same instant the door of number 658 was thrown open. Beverley came out.



XX

MURDER

There was something not natural in Beverley's air and manner. Normally she had a proud, erect carriage. Now she came stumbling out of Number 658, and with drooping head, and shoulders bent, crept into the hall, leaving the door half open behind her; but she stopped abruptly and turned back. Clo, forgetting her own weakness, and forgetting the brown trunk, hurried to join her friend. But Beverley seemed to be unconscious of the girl's presence. She stood as far as possible from the door, closed it without noise, and was walking away again when Clo's arm slid round her waist.

"Darling, what has he said, what has he done to you?" the girl implored.

Beverley seized Clo by the wrist, and pulled her toward the lift.

"Hurry!" she whispered. "We must get away as soon as we can, for Roger's sake!"

"But what about the papers, and the pearls?" Clo persisted. "Had Peterson taken them? Did he give them to you?"

"I don't know whether he had them or not. Nothing matters now, except to get home," was the astounding answer. Clo could hardly believe that she had heard aright. Ten—five minutes ago, nothing in the world mattered, except the papers and the pearls. Now they had lost all their importance!

"You don't want them any more?" she gasped.

"Want them?" Beverley echoed. "Yes, more than ever, I want them. But it's too late. Don't ask me why. Only—come!"

Clo could not argue with Angel, or oppose her, in such a mood as this. She wished that she had taken her own way, and gone herself to "have it out" with Peterson. She felt that nothing he could have said or done would have forced her to give up without at least knowing whether or not the booty were in his possession. As she kept pace with Beverley she was screwing up her courage to one last, desperate coup. She would make it in spite of Angel!

They came to the elevator, but before Clo could put out her hand to touch the electric button, Beverley drew her farther on, to the staircase. They went down swiftly and in silence. The entrance hall of the hotel smelt of tobacco. They descended into it behind the elevator. A group of men surrounded the desk where they had inquired for Peterson, and the two girls in motor coats and veiled toques passed without catching sight of the clerk who had sent them to 658. Three or four men of the commercial traveller type glanced at the gray and brown figures; but the elevator had at that moment released a golden-haired, black-eyed young woman in a pink evening dress. She became at once an object of interest, and the plainly-cloaked pair vanished unnoticed.

The taxi, which had been ordered to wait, was at a distance. They hurried to it. It was Clo who opened the door of the cab, and almost pushed Angel in!

"Shall I tell him to go to the corner where he picked us up?" she asked. Beverley nodded, and sank back against the shabby leather cushions. This was Clo's moment. She had led up to it, and decided what to do. First she placed the bag of jewels in Beverley's lap. Next she spoke to the chauffeur, giving clear directions. Then she slammed the door shut, and stepped back upon the sidewalk, motioning to the man to start.

"Angel will be so surprised, she won't know what to do for a minute," the girl thought. "By the time she pulls herself together she'll realize it's too late to stop me."

As fast as she dared, Clo retraced her steps to the hotel. She hated to leave Beverley alone, but between two evils it seemed that she had chosen the less. When the taxi stopped Beverley would get out; and then she would have a few blocks to walk before reaching home. As for the bag, she could hardly forget it in the cab. The thing was too heavy to fall from her lap without being noticed. She would have the jewels safe, while Clo tried to bargain with ferret-face on promises of reward.

By the time she had argued away her worst tremors, Clo had again entered the Hotel Westmorland. She had decided to say that her friend had forgotten something if a question were asked; but the desk was still surrounded with its group of talkative men, and she walked to the stairs at the back of the hall as if she were a guest of the hotel. Thence she toiled to the top.

It was only when she approached the door of Number 658, and saw once more the brown trunk at the end of the hall, that Clo remembered the odd side-issue of her adventure. She hesitated between the need for haste and the wish to solve the mystery that troubled her. But it would take only a minute to run to the trunk, to sit on it again, and see what happened! Meanwhile, any one who went in, or came out from, Number 658, must do so under her eyes.

Curiosity conquered. Clo tip-toed to the trunk, sat heavily down on the rounded top, as she had done before, and nothing happened. There was no sign of movement within; and Clo wondered if, after all, the thing that had jumped under the lid had been created by her own jumping nerves. Suddenly the impulse came upon her to try and open it. She seized the corner of the rounded lid, but it remained immovable. She picked at the metal hasp which covered the cheap lock. It did not yield, but her fingers—or she fancied it—touched moisture. The girl shrank back and looked at her hand. Thumb and forefinger were smeared with blood.

The girl felt sick, and might have fainted comfortably. "Pooh!" she scolded herself. "You've cut your finger. Serve you right for not minding your own business. Go to it now, and no nonsense, if you please!"

Goading herself to courage she marched to the door of 658 and knocked. No answer came, and the girl's heart sank. It seemed too bad to be true that Peterson should have escaped during the few minutes spent in putting Angel into a taxi. Besides, she had scarcely gone beyond eye-shot of the hotel entrance.

"Perhaps he's asleep," thought Clo. She turned the handle, and to her surprise the door yielded. She had expected to find it locked. As before, the room was unlit save by golden reflections from the street below. The girl opened the door wide, and deliberately looked in. Strange; there sat the man in his easy chair in front of the window, with his mean profile outlined against the light, just as he had sat when Beverley had answered the summons to "Come in!" One would say, to look at him, that he had not moved an inch.

Clo's theory had gone wrong. She had urged her conviction upon Angel that he was the thief; that, if he were the thief, he would "make his get-away" in haste. Yet here he sat, in the dark, asleep.

She stepped across the threshold, felt along the wall for an electric switch, found it, and flooded the room with light. Still the figure in the chair did not stir.

Clo glanced round the squalid room. Peterson had begun to pack. A suitcase lay open on the narrow bed. The wrinkled gray-white counterpane was half covered with scattered clothing.

"If he's fast enough asleep, I can go through everything," she thought, "including his pockets!"

The girl walked in, and closed the door resolutely but softly, her eyes always upon the figure in the chair. She mustn't begin to search the place without making sure that Peterson was not playing "possum." It would be awful, when her back was turned, to have him pounce upon her like a monkey. She tip-toed across the room, and stopped in front of the easy-chair, within a yard of the stretched-out feet, where she could take a good look at the sleeper. His head was bent down over his breast, and the girl had to stoop a little to peer into the face. But a glance sent her reeling back against a chest of drawers. The top of the man's head had been crushed in by some blunt instrument. His forehead and the side of his face turned toward the window were covered with blood. His shirt and coat were soaked with it, in a long red stripe, and a dark pool had formed in a vague heart-shape on the patterned carpet.

Clo had never before seen a dead man, yet she did not doubt that this man was dead. He could have been dead for a short time only. The blood on the livid face glistened wet in the electric light. It had hardly ceased to drip from the wound in his head.

For a time Clo stood still, as if frozen. But slowly the power to think came back. To her own horror and disgust she found herself wondering if Beverley Sands had killed Peterson. It would have been a tremendous blow for a woman to strike, but Beverley was desperate, and she was strong. She had boasted of her strength of arm only the other day, to Sister Lake, who had tested and admired the splendid firmness of her young muscles. Besides, the man had been caught unawares, and had been struck from behind; the position of the wound showed that. On a small table by the chair lay the weapon. It was a long pistol, Clo did not know of what kind or make, but it looked old-fashioned; and there was no question as to the way in which it had been used. Someone had taken it by the muzzle and struck with the butt end, which was coated with blood and hairs. Perhaps the pistol had not been loaded, or perhaps the murderer—(no, "avenger" was the better word, with that fear knocking at her heart!) had not dared fire because of the noise.

Clo's mind began to work more quickly. She pieced details together. The person who had killed Peterson could not have picked up the pistol from that table without being seen by him, therefore it had been lying there before the murder. Most likely it had lain on the bed, among the strewn things which ferret-face had begun to pack. In that case any one entering the room might have spied and snatched it, unsuspected by the man in the chair.

"If my poor, tortured Angel didn't do this, I can bear anything!" Clo told herself. "It wouldn't so much matter for me. I'd have killed him for her sake—I believe. But for her it would be horrible!"

The girl remembered the blood on her fingers, which she had found after touching the lock of the brown trunk, and this remembrance gave her hope. The murderer must have passed that way, whereas Beverley had not been near the trunk. "Thank goodness for one good bit of evidence in case it's ever needed!" Clo thought. "Who knows but the murderer was hiding in the trunk, and jumped in his fright when I plumped down on it? Well, if he did, he must either be smothered by now, since the trunk's been locked since then, or else he's escaped. Oh, Angel, how could I dream for a minute it might have been you? And yet if this wretch was dead then, who called 'Come in?'"

A wild impulse to run away seized the girl. She started toward the door, but stopped half way. No, she would not fail Angel. The man was dead. He could do her no harm. If Beverley's pearls, or if Beverley's papers, were in this room, no matter where, even if she had to touch that blood-stained coat to search the pockets, she would not go without them.

The dark blind ought to be pulled down, because from some high window she might be seen and identified afterward, if trouble came of this night's work. To reach the blind she had to step over the feet which sprawled beyond the chair; and stretching up her arm to touch the broken cord, she was conscious that her dress brushed the dead man's knees.

Next she went to the bed, and began turning over Peterson's miserable belongings. She prayed that, by a miracle, she might come across the sealed envelope. As for the pearls, if the murderer were of the Peterson type, to steal them would have been his first thought. But—it would need a stout-hearted criminal to go through the pockets of his victim, and if the motive were other than theft, it might be that the pearls and papers were still on the body. If Clo failed to find them elsewhere she would have to ransack those pockets. The thought was too horrible to dwell upon. Frantically she tossed over the contents of the suitcase, lifting and shaking every garment scattered on the bed. She peered under the pillows; she pulled out the drawers of wash-stand and dressing-table; but there was nothing to be found there, not even a letter, not a torn morsel of paper which could serve Beverley's cause. Clo's spirit groaned a prayer for strength when at last—sick and shaking, her palms damp—she had to set about the pillage of the dead man's pockets. Some she needed merely to touch with her finger ends, to make sure that they were empty. Others had to be searched to their depths: and the girl felt convinced that she would die if in the horrid business she plunged a hand into some unseen sop of blood.

From a waistcoat pocket she pulled out a small leather cigarette case, still warm from the wearer's breast—another proof, if she had let herself think of it, that he had not long been dead. In the leather case, behind a store of tightly packed cigarettes, was a card—the cheapest sort of visiting card, on which, scrawled in pencil, was the name Lorenz Czerny. On the back of this card, in a different handwriting, but also in pencil, a memorandum had been scribbled. A glance showed Clo that it consisted of names, abbreviated addresses, and the hours of appointments, or perhaps of trains. She did not stop to examine the card thoroughly, but slipped it into her pocket for future reference, and went on with her task.

The sealed envelope she sought was too large not to protrude over the top of any pocket of a man's indoor coat; but Clo reflected that the envelope might have been destroyed, and the contents distributed, or folded into smaller compass. With this idea she spared herself nothing in her quest; but the sole reward she had (save for the cigarette case) was the finding of a paragraph cut from a newspaper, a roll of blood-stained greenbacks, which she hastily replaced, and a torn silk handkerchief. The newspaper cutting told of Roger Sands' magnificent house in Newport, whither he and his "beautiful young bride" would shortly move. This also Clo annexed, in order that no connection should seem to exist between Beverley Sands and the man Peterson when the police got to work. The handkerchief she took from the coat pocket into which it had been untidily stuffed, in order to search underneath. But the nervous jerk she gave pulled out something else also—something small, which fell to the floor with a tinkle as of a tiny stone striking wood, when it touched a chair leg, and rolled under the chest of drawers. Clo had not time to see what the thing was. There was only a flashing glimpse of a pebble-like object as it disappeared. But her heart leaped at the thought of what it might be. Thrusting the ragged handkerchief into a pocket already examined, she had just stooped to peer under the clumsy piece of furniture when a telephone bell began to ring.

The girl sprang to her feet, quivering and alert. It seemed that the bell had rung almost in her ear. Someone was calling for Peterson!



XXI

"KIT!"

Somehow Clo got to the telephone, which was placed on the wall by the door, and her hand trembled on the receiver before she realized that the bell which rang was in the adjoining room. There was no communicating door between, but the wall must be almost as thin as cardboard, for the noise seemed to smite her ear-drum. For an instant Clo's relief was overwhelming; but as the shrill noise struck her nerves blow after blow, they rebelled. Her brain refused to work until, suddenly, blessed silence fell.

Once more she had a sense of being saved. The power of recollection came back. She knew that she had been going to look for the thing which had dropped out of Peterson's handkerchief, and rolled out of sight. She went down on her knees for the second time, but only to spring up, and stand quivering like a creature at bay. Again the telephone bell was ringing, and now the sound was in the room. The call was for 658. She answered at once.

"Hello!" she saluted the unknown.

"Hello!" came the response, in a man's voice. "This is Chuff calling. Are you Peterson?"

"Peterson is in the room," returned Clo, after an instant's pause, in which her heart missed a beat. "But he can't come to the 'phone."

"Oh, say, is that you, Kit?" the man wanted to know.

Clo was almost incapable of thinking; but she was vaguely aware that the accent was slightly foreign. "Yes," she ventured. "It's Kit."

"Nice thing you are! I've been trying to get you the last ten minutes. Thought your room was next door to his. Couldn't you hear your own 'phone from Petes'?"

"I've just come in," said Clo.

"You're late. Anything wrong? Your voice sounds sort of queer."

"I've got chewing gum in my mouth," said Clo "What do you want to say to Pete?"

"I want to know if he's got the papers."

Clo's blood rushed to her head. This looked like a wonderful chance to tap a secret, if she didn't lose it by giving the wrong answers. Beverley Sands' whole future might depend upon the next few minutes.

"Hold the line a second or two," she said. She needed to think.

If she replied that Peterson had the papers, embarrassing questions might be asked. If she said that he hadn't, the man at the telephone might end the conversation before she had learned enough to help Angel. "I'll try hedging," she decided, and began again with a tentative "Hello!" For an instant there was no response, and Clo was sick with fear lest she had been cut off. But luck was with her. The foreign-sounding voice began again: "Well, is Pete there this time?"

"No," said the girl. "Pete is—packing. He wants me to say it isn't much after ten. He's expecting to get the papers any minute now."

"He 'phoned me he'd made ten the time limit. Didn't he tell Olga that Stephen would sure be done for if she didn't hand over the real docs by ten o'clock sharp?"

"Olga!" ... "Stephen!" ... Clo felt that she was hearing things she had no right to know.

"The lady's had her hands full all the afternoon and evening," she answered carefully. "I suppose you know what's been going on?"

"Don't know a damned thing since Pete 'phoned some little skirt had brought around the wrong papers to the hotel. Tell him to quit his packing and show up at the 'phone."

"He's gone out this very instant," said Clo. "A boy has come to the door to say there was someone to see him downstairs. Maybe it's the right one. He won't be long anyhow. But I'm just as glad to have a chance for a word with you while he's out of the way. Seems sort of funny he didn't put you wise about the excitement, you know where."

"You mean Park Avenue?"

"Yes. I can't talk in the 'phone the way I would if the wall was thicker. Didn't Pete tell you about the present of pearls the lady got from her husband?"

"What pearls?"

"I can't give you their whole history, but maybe Pete could, if he wanted to."

"What makes you think so? Have you got on to some frame up, or are you kidding?"

"Well. Somebody relieved the lady of them. That's what's made her busy the rest of the time. Might account for documents being late."

"Say, what are you giving me? Has Pete made a deal on his own?... Pearls instead of papers?"

"Hold the line again for a jiffy, and I'll go through his togs."

"All right. Look sharp."

Clo let the receiver hang loose, and for the third time went down on her knees before the chest of drawers. Thrusting her arm underneath, she passed her hand over the dirty carpet. Lodged against the wall at the back, and in a corner, was something round and hard, a thing which seemed to be about the size of a small filbert. The girl brought it out between thumb and finger, freed it of dust, and saw an immense pearl.

"That settles that!" she said to herself. Peterson was the thief. But had he stolen the envelope as well as the pearls? Oh, if she could only galvanize the dead to speak! But the next best thing was to speak to the telephone. The truth might come from that direction, bit by bit, piecing the different parts of the story together.

Clo, getting to her feet again, was struck with a sudden luminous idea.

"Kit," the woman she was personating, the woman apparently set to watch Peterson, had found out about the pearls. Either she had believed him a traitor to the "gang," or she had wanted the pearls for herself. In either case she had killed him to get them; and one pearl had escaped to tell the tale of its fellows.

Yes, "Kit" had the pearls. But where were they, and where was she? The woman was not in her room, because the telephone bell had been ringing there and she hadn't answered. What if she hadn't been able to get back to her room after the murder? Kit might have locked her door when she came to have a chat with Peterson. It was likely enough there'd be things in her quarters which she wouldn't want a prying chambermaid to see! Perhaps she'd seen Peterson looking at the pearls. Perhaps, when she knocked, he had thrust the broken rope back into his pocket with the loose pearls. Perhaps Kit had put him off his guard, chatting of other things, while he packed. But no, she had caught him unawares when he sat as he was sitting now! Clo pictured her offering to help him pack. He had lolled comfortably while Kit worked. Then, she had come behind him and dealt that frightful blow with the butt of his own pistol. A strong, determined woman, Kit!

Clo remembered how she and Beverley had walked slowly from the corridor of the lift into Peterson's corridor, looking at the numbers over the doors; and remembered how she had said to Angel, "This must be the right way to turn." Even after that, they had paused a moment for Beverley to gather up her failing courage; and if Kit had then been in the act of opening the trunk, she could easily have hidden herself inside before the owners of the voices she heard had turned the corner. It must have given her a beautiful fright when someone sat down on the trunk with a thud! No wonder she had jumped, and made the big box shake!

Kit's actions later could be plausibly accounted for, too. She must have guessed that one of the women she had heard speaking (had seen, perhaps, if she contrived to peep from the trunk when their backs were turned) had been in Peterson's room. How she must have wished that she'd taken time to lock his door on the outside! As it was, she couldn't have been sure that an alarm would not be given downstairs. Her one thought must have been haste; and Clo doubted that, if she had forgotten her key in Peterson's room, she would have ventured back to get it. No, she would have crept out of the trunk, and looked at her dress in the dim light to see whether blood stains showed. If she wore dark clothing, she might have run the risk. Clo pictured her locking the trunk, and following, as closely as she dared, the cloaked figures in gray and brown; pictured her pausing in the background to see whether the pair stopped at the desk, or went away with their secret; pictured her relief when they passed on in silence; and the bid for freedom she must have made a minute later.

"I bet, by the time we were in our taxi, that woman was out of this, and legging it as fast as she could go. She wouldn't have taken a cab, for fear of being traced," Clo finished her reflections. She stared at the pearl in her hand.

"Awkward for me if Kit gets to the man at the other end while her double chats to him at the Westmorland!" the girl thought, and flew back to the telephone. "Are you there?" she called.

"You bet your sweet life I'm here. Did you find the beans?"

"I've found something I must bring to you. Where's the safest place?"

"What's the matter with here?"

"It won't do," she answered. "It's on account of Pete!"

"Well, then, come to Churn's. When'll you be there?"

This was a blow. Clo was angling for an address, with street and number. But she would not be downed by one disappointment. "Same reason holds good for Churn's," she said. "Can't you think of some place Pete doesn't know? And think quick, or he'll be back."

"Think quick yourself! We'll go round to your own house, you dub! Pete ain't sure where your real pitch is—unless you've blabbed."

"I may have dropped something that's put him wise," the girl persisted in desperation. "I tell you I'm not talking to hear myself talk when I ask for a new place."

"Krantz's Keller, then, eleven thirty."

"Right for Krantz's Keller. But I can't be sure of eleven thirty. I'll have to keep an eye on Pete till I know what he's up to. Maybe I can 'phone you there. What's Krantz's number?"

"Can't give it to you without looking it up. Haven't you got the book there?"

"No. Somebody must have nicked it."

"Ain't there one in your own room next door?"

"Yes. But say—a fool thing's happened. I locked my door when I came in to Pete's, and I've dropped my key."

"Find it, and go look at the book. Jake's got mine. I'll call you up in your room in five minutes. Then if Pete's back it won't matter. See?"

"Yes. But——Have you gone?"

There was no answer. Clo could do nothing save hang up the receiver, and begin to search for a key which, despite her elaborate deductions, might be in "Kit's" pocket for all she knew. Luck was with her once more, however. On the floor by the mantelpiece lay a key, almost hidden in the deep fur of a mangy, goat-hair rug. Clo might have wasted twice the time in her search, had she not stepped on it.

"I'll make the best of a bad bargain," she promised herself. "If I must go to Kit's room, I won't throw away a single second."

She fastened Peterson's door on the outside, and fitted the key she had found, into the lock of the door at the left, in front of which stood the brown trunk.

The key served, as she had felt certain it would. Hastily she locked herself into the room, and switched on the light. It was a mean little room, a facsimile of Peterson's in most of its features, but a woman's clothing hung from hooks on the door, and on the bed and chairs and dressing table a woman's belongings were flung untidily about; hats, gloves, collars, and a handbag of jet and steel beads. Kit must have hated to leave that bag, thought Clo. She drew the ribbons, and took a hasty peep at the bag's contents. There was a soiled suede purse, and in that purse, mixed up with a few greenbacks, there were some papers. Clo dared not stop to examine them. She could only hope that they might give clues which she had failed to obtain from the telephone.

There were four or five frocks hanging on the door, showy blouses and bright-coloured skirts; but Clo searched in vain for pockets. In the chest of drawers, which was the twin of Peterson's, was a certain amount of underclothing, much trimmed with cheap lace. There were silk petticoats with torn frilling, and shoes and slippers. But nothing was marked with name, or even initials. Kit, though gaudily coquettish in her taste, was apparently careless in her habits. Clo no longer visioned Kit large, masculine, and determined, a tigress woman. Instead she saw a lithe, cat-like creature, strong, no doubt (it had taken strength to strike that blow and Clo would have staked her life that it had been struck by Kit) but not big or massive.

The five minutes grace must certainly have passed before Clo had come to the end of her inspection, but the telephone was silent. This struck the girl as ominous, for it might mean that Kit had appeared in person at the other end of the line. It might mean that some trap was being laid to catch Kit's double.

"If she turns up, and tells everything, they can't let me get away with what I know, even about Krantz's Keller," Clo told herself. "They'll have to send someone to watch, especially if they think I'm a 'tec, who's found Peterson's body. They won't know what I'm like. All the same, if they don't call me up in just one minute more, I must make a bolt. I'll count sixty, and—see what happens."



XXII

THE VOICE THAT DID NOT SEEM STRANGE

What happened was that the telephone began ringing in the next room—Peterson's room. It began when Clo had counted up to forty.

She had hoped not to go back to the room of the dead man. She had searched it from end to end. But now she knew the thing would have to be done.

Already the jet and steel bag hung by its ribbons over her arm. Clo switched off the electricity, and let herself out into the hall. Before she had finished her count of sixty seconds she was once more locked in Peterson's room. So confidently had she expected to hear the same foreign-sounding accents that she almost dropped the receiver and started away when her "Hello!" was answered by a strange voice.

Yet—was it a strange voice? As it went on to ask: "Is this Mr. Peterson?" Clo had a strong impression that she had heard the voice before. Assuredly it was not the one which had talked to "Kit," but it sounded astonishingly familiar. Though she could not yet identify the tones recognition was only a question of instants.

"This is Mr. Peterson's room," she replied. "He is—here. He wishes me to speak for him."

"I had better tell you before we go further, then, that I'm talking for Mr. John Heron. When you have explained that, Mr. Peterson will decide whether he'd rather come to the 'phone and attend to the business himself."

Clo was glad of the pause. "John Heron!" That was the man Peterson had mentioned during her second conversation with him. He had said that Roger Sands was "working for John Heron" when Roger and Beverley met in the train; and she—Clo—had heard the name with a queer thrill which she could not understand. So far as she knew, it was strange to her: yet she seemed to have heard it in dreams—sad dreams, where someone had sobbed in the dark. Through the strenuous adventures which had kept body and brain busy the girl had recalled it again and again, since the moment when the name had fallen from Peterson's lips. She had wondered if she would ever have the "cheek" to ask Angel who was John Heron. Whoever he might be, John Heron was in some way concerned with Beverley's secret, or Peterson would not have spoken his name in that connection.

She answered quietly: "Mr. Peterson allows me to go on speaking for him."

"Very well," returned the voice. "Mr. Peterson called Mr. Heron up not long ago, to say he could sell him a rope of fine pearls for Mrs. Heron, at a low price. He'd heard, it appears, that Mr. Heron wished to buy pearls, and he suggested an appointment for to-night. Mr. Heron did not receive this message himself; he was indisposed at the time it came, and Mrs. Heron took it, but was unable to answer for her husband. He asks me to say, in his name, that if Mr. Peterson has some particularly fine pearls to dispose of, he'll be pleased to look at them, not to-night, but to-morrow morning about ten o'clock, at his hotel, the Dietz."

"The Dietz!" cried Clo. "Now I know who's speaking to me. You're Justin O'Reilly!"

Inadvertently she had kept her lips at the receiver. The cry had flown to the man who held the line.

"And you're my girl burglar! By Jove, I thought I knew that voice! Are you in the pearl business, too? Has Mrs. Sands commissioned you and some fellow called Peterson to sell her pearls to Mrs. Heron? Now I begin to see light! She tried to make a bargain with me over those pearls. I refused in Heron's name and my own. What's her game now, when there's nothing left to bargain for, and you've sent the papers back?"

"Sent the papers back!" Clo gasped into the telephone. This coming into touch with O'Reilly over the wire had been a shock. But she forgot the surprise of it in the new surprise of his last words.

"Wasn't it you who sent them?" he went on.

She stopped to think before daring a reply. O'Reilly had got the papers back, or he wanted her to think so, for some reason of his own.

"Well, if you must know, perhaps I did send them," she prevaricated.

"I'm glad to have this chance to thank you for repenting. I felt at the time you weren't the stuff trick-confidence-ladies and burglaresses are made of."

"I didn't exactly repent," confessed Clo. "I had an object to gain. I'm glad the papers weren't lost on the way. You're sure no one had tampered with the envelope?"

"Apparently not. The messenger handed it to me sealed up and seemingly intact, with the address of my bank on it in my own handwriting. The boy wouldn't say how he knew I was staying at the Dietz. He is an ornament to his profession! I want you to know that I don't bear malice."

As Clo listened she was surprised at the soothing effect of his voice upon her nerves. It was like hearing the voice of a friend. After all, why should they be enemies, since of the two O'Reilly was the injured party, and had just assured her that he didn't "bear malice?" But he was going on to ask what was the "object" she had wished to gain. "Do you mean to tell me, or is it one of your many mysteries?"

"I realized I'd gone to work with you in the wrong way," she ventured. "Now I need someone's help. I need it horribly. It ought to be a man's help. And, except Mr. Sands, you're the only man I know."

She heard O'Reilly laughing. He wouldn't laugh if he could see what her eyes saw!

"So you want to call a truce?" he asked.

"Yes, if I could trust you."

"I like that! I wasn't the betrayer. But never mind. Your second thoughts are best. And anyhow, you weren't working for yourself. Do you really want my help?"

"Don't I? But it would be for—for——You know whom I mean. And you're her enemy, aren't you?"

"Not the least in the world. But I can't buy her pearls, and I'm sure Heron will refuse to bargain if——"

"The pearls aren't for sale any more. They've been stolen. She thinks you took them for a hold-up."

"The devil she does! But you know better. Tell me what you wish me to do for you, and I'll do it; I wanted to see you again. You were like a bad but interesting dream, broken off in the midst, that I longed to dream over again."

"I feel as if I had been broken off in the midst!" said Clo. "I may be broken past mending if somebody doesn't pick up the pieces good and quick! What I want you to do is to meet me outside the Westmorland. Will you? And if so, how soon?"

"I will," came the answer. "I'll be there in eight minutes, with a taxi. Does that suit you?"

"Yes. Have the taxi drawn up in front of the hotel, and as it slows down, I'll jump in. Give the chauffeur an order—before he starts—not to stop, you know, but to go on the instant I'm in. A lot may depend on that."

"What mischief have you been up to?" asked the laughing voice, which to Clo, in the room of death, seemed to come from another world.

She shuddered as her eyes turned to the figure in the chair.

"Good-bye!" she said, and hung up the receiver without another word.

Eight minutes! It would take her about three to get out of the room, down the stairs, and to the front door—if all went well. What was she to do with the other five? Now that her mission was ended, she could not stay where she was. She had reached, and almost passed, the limit of her endurance. One idle moment in that place would surely drive her mad! Yet she could not stand in the street, waiting for O'Reilly to come to the rescue. Kit and the man who had talked to Kit might be ready to pounce upon her there.



XXIII

"WHAT'S DONE CAN'T BE UNDONE"

"Don't be frightened, Mums! It's only me, back earlier than I expected," Ellen Blackburne announced herself at the door of her mother's bedroom.

Mrs. Blackburne was propped up in bed, reading Young's "Night Thoughts."

"Of course, I'm not frightened!" she reassured her daughter. "I'm only surprised. That's what makes my hands tremble."

"I was in hopes you'd have gone to sleep," said Ellen, "and I could slip in without giving you a start. I stopped the taxi at the corner on purpose."

"I'm delighted to have you back. But why did you bring the pearls home to string? Now you'll be sitting up the whole blessed night!"

"Don't you worry!" Ellen soothed her. "I'm not going to sit up. I'm going to bed. Shall I leave the door open between the rooms while I undress, or shall I just kiss you good-night now, and let you rest in peace?"

The little woman had sat down on the edge of the bed, but as she spoke, she stood up. It struck the older woman that, for some reason, she was in a hurry to get away.

"There's something you don't want to tell me, isn't there, dear?" her mother quietly observed.

"Well, you have the most wonderful intuition!" Ellen praised her parent. "I believe you could see through a wall. It's only that I didn't want to wake you up and make you nervous, so you would have a bad night."

"I shall have a better night if I don't need to rack my brain thinking over what might have happened."

"Oh, all right!" sighed Ellen, and sat down again. "You're a grand safety valve, you know, Mums, because I can talk to you, and be sure that whatever I say will be locked up in your strong box. I meant to write all this down in my notebook, with initials instead of names; but the diary can't give advice. You can. Only—you're certain we hadn't best wait till to-morrow?"

"I shouldn't close my eyes!" said Mrs. Blackburne. "But I can say this to begin with: You did the right thing. You always do."

"This is different from anything that ever came into my experience," Ellen answered.

"I told you before I started, I thought I was in for an exciting job. It wasn't only that Mr. Sands is a sort of celebrity, and everyone has been talking of Mrs. Sands as a beauty. It was the man himself gave me a kind of thrilled feeling the minute I saw him. Mums, Roger Sands is the sort I could fall in love with, if I was the falling-in-love type. He's strong and silent. He isn't a bit a woman's man. I don't know how to describe him, exactly. He made me feel as if I longed to do something for him. I was mighty keen to see what Mrs. Sands would be like. I suppose to see what style of woman he'd worship enough to pick up from the gutter."

"Goodness me, child!" broke in Mrs. Blackburne, absorbed. "You don't mean that's where she came from? I never heard——"

"No—no! I oughtn't to have used that expression," Ellen confessed, "though they tell all sorts of stories about her origin. I daresay none of 'em are right, and not a soul knows the truth. People have given her a nickname: 'the girl from nowhere.' But you've only to see her to realize at once that whatever she was, she must have been brought up like a princess."

"Handsome?"

"A dream of beauty. She's worthy of her husband that way, but she's not in other ways. That's my excuse."

"Your excuse, lovey? For what?"

"For what I did. But you won't know why I did it, or forgive me for doing it, unless I tell you the story as I understand it."

"Go right on, dear, and take your time. I won't interrupt again." So Ellen gave her mother a succinct account of all that had befallen her, until the fateful moment when she discovered that the pearls were not in their case.

"The case empty! The pearls gone! My goodness me!" gasped the old lady.

"I never had such a scare in my life. Mrs. Sands had told me how she'd been dressing in her bedroom, with the door wide open into the boudoir, because the pearls were there, all ready for me to begin on, if I arrived before she'd got into her gown. She either believed the pearls were in the case, or else she wanted me to believe she believed it! The desperate state she was in, under her pretty manner, made me think maybe she was playing some dreadful trick, and after I'd got over the first shock of surprise I was mad with that woman. 'She doesn't care if she ruins me, so she can save herself from a scrape,' was what I thought about her. I made up my mind I wouldn't be catspaw, to pull her chestnuts out of the fire."

"What did you do?" breathed Mrs. Blackburne, sitting straight up in bed.

"I rang the bell for the butler. He came to the door in an instant. I told him to call Mrs. Sands at once, it was urgent. I thought that would fetch her, but it didn't. It was the man who came back. He seemed a bit embarrassed: Mrs. Sands was very busy at the moment, it would be a little while before she was at liberty. It came into my head that she was leaving me alone as long as possible in the room where her wonderful pearls were supposed to be, so she could accuse me of making away with them, when the truth had to come out, that the pearls were gone. I saw just one thing to do. I told the butler to call Mr. Sands, quick. 'Mr. Sands is just going,' he said. 'I was ready to help him on with his coat when you rang.' 'Well, beg him to step in here one instant,' said I. The man went out; and I couldn't have counted ten before Mr. Sands appeared. I pointed to the empty case that was open on the table, and explained in about a dozen words—I wanted to finish before Madam arrived!—that Mrs. Sands had told me to look in the case for the pearls; that she went out in a hurry; and when I looked, the pearls weren't there. 'I sent and asked her to come,' I went on, 'but she was busy.'

"Well, Mother, the face of that man just broke my heart! It was more as if some awful thing he'd half expected, had come true. I might have stuck a knife in his heart.

"'Does my wife know you asked for me when she couldn't come?' was the first thing he said after he'd stood quite still for a second or two. I told him no, I'd taken the responsibility on myself, and I hoped I hadn't done wrong.

"'Not wrong,' said he. 'You meant well, I'm sure. Still, I wish the news had come to me from my wife and no one else.'

"Then he walked over to the window, and stood looking out. If I hadn't known he was there, I shouldn't have seen him. The curtains were drawn, not all across, but partly, and it was a sort of bay window, so there was room for him to stand behind the curtains, in the shadow they made. He hadn't been there two seconds, I give you my word, when the door flew open, and Mrs. Sands bounced in.

"'You sent for me?' she asked, and threw a look round the room, as if searching for someone. I felt I should die if her husband came out—but he didn't. I managed to stammer that the pearls weren't in their case, and so on; and it seemed as if my words turned her to a block of marble! She just stared at me. 'Maybe you think I stole the pearls!' I said right out. She assured me quite nicely that she believed nothing so foolish, and that even if I'd wanted to steal the things, I couldn't have smuggled them away from the house. (Of course, I could, though, if there had been time.) My heart melted to her, I must confess. But I was thinking more of her husband. It was up to me to get him out of the fix. I suggested to Mrs. Sands calling in Clo, to see what she could make of the business. The instant she was gone, out from the bay window stalked her husband! By that time I was at the door. I'd opened it for Mrs. Sands. I hardly dared glance at him—it seemed so prying. All I know—for sure, now—is that he stopped for an instant at the table. He had to pass it, on the way from his hiding place to the door. I supposed then, when he paused there, that he would be gazing at the empty velvet case. But he may have been doing something different—I'll tell you why and what, in a minute.

"I stood without moving, and, as he came near the door he stopped again. 'Miss Blackburne,' he said, 'you've been mixed up against your will, and not by any fault of your own, in an unfortunate business. It's a family affair, and I feel certain you'll keep your own counsel. Don't think I'm trying to bribe you. I'm not. But I should like you to accept this.' My arms were hanging straight down at my sides, but he managed to stick something into one of my hands. What do you think it was?"

"Fifty dollars?" her mother guessed.

"Fifty fiddlesticks! It was five hundred!"

"My heavens! Enough to pay off the mortgage. But you couldn't possibly accept it?"

"I said no. I swore that I'd done nothing to earn a cent: that wild horses wouldn't drag from me anything I'd seen, or heard, or even imagined, in his house. But Mr. Sands insisted. 'It will give me pleasure for you to have the money. It's little enough,' he said. Then he walked right out. He must have gone back to his own room instead of leaving the flat just then, for I saw him again later. I'll tell you about that. But do you think it was wrong to keep the money?"

"In the circumstances, no," Mrs. Blackburne decided. "It would have hurt his feelings to give it back. Oh, my dear, five hundred dollars! It's like a fairy gift, just when we're needing it so much!"

"Well, I'd got the bills tucked away when Mrs. Sands came running in. She made for the table, the way a pointer goes for a shot bird. She hadn't a glance for the velvet case. She was searching for something else. Oh, Mother, it scared me to see her! She threw everything about. She was out of her head. A tall vase of flowers tipped over, and splashed water on the books, and even on the velvet case. I don't think she knew it had happened. Books fell on the floor. She didn't see or care. Then she sank all of a heap into a big chair close by. 'The envelope?' she gasped, as if she were choked by a hand on her throat. 'It was there. Where is it now?'

"I told her I hadn't seen any envelope, which was perfectly true. She described it: quite a big, long envelope, made of linen, and sealed up with several red seals. I swore over again I hadn't seen an envelope of any description. At last she had to believe me. But the worst was to come. 'Did you leave the room, for so much as a second, after I left you?' she asked, with her eyes on my face. I told her I hadn't stirred outside the door; but what I was scared of came next: 'Did any one come in?'"

"Oh, lovey, I hope you didn't have to tell a falsehood?"

"That depends on what you call a falsehood," said Miss Blackburne. "I hate fibs as much as you do. But it was an awful fix!"

"It was," Mums agreed.

"You see," Ellen went on, to make her position clear, "I had asked Mr. Sands not to let his wife know I'd called him in. Later, he pressed that money on me, and I accepted it. I felt as if it had bought me, body and soul. When he stood by the table, he must have seen that envelope, and taken it. Well, now, I ask you, could I give him away?"

"I don't see how you could," wailed the old lady.

"Neither did I. 'Did any one come in?' I echoed, when Mrs. Sands put the question. 'Wouldn't I have mentioned it to you the first thing, if any one had?' Was that a falsehood, or wasn't it?"

"It was a prevarication," answered Mrs. Blackburne, "and I think I should have done the same thing."

"Thank goodness!" sighed Ellen. "That's what I wanted to know. You don't blame me, then?"

"I feel you acted for the best. And it's done now!"

"Yes, it's done, and can't be undone," the pearl-stringer echoed.



XXIV

ROGER'S APPOINTMENT AT THE CLUB

Roger Sands dined alone at his club that night. Many men hailed him as he came in, very late, and in sixty seconds he received six invitations to dine. He refused them all, however.

It was with the hope of meeting a certain man that Roger had gone to the club. He had excused himself to Beverley on the plea of an appointment, because he had wanted to be alone, and had no intention of dining anywhere.

It was upon an impulse that he had taken the sealed envelope addressed to Justin O'Reilly. Afterward, he felt that his whole course of conduct, from the moment he had entered the room till the moment he had left the flat, was radically wrong. He ought, perhaps, to have shown himself to Beverley when she came in, despite Miss Blackburne's appeal. If he had done this, he would have learned the truth about that envelope. Seeing her husband at such a moment, Beverley must have betrayed herself, Roger thought, if there were anything to betray in connection with the envelope. Had its concealment been important, she would mechanically have sprung to hide it. Had it been left inadvertently by O'Reilly, for no concern of hers, Beverley's ignorance of his presence, or her indifference, would have cleared her in Roger's eyes.

He could not contemplate confessing to Beverley that he had hidden himself and then taken the envelope. She would probably say: "I never dreamed that you'd be mean enough to spy upon me! Why didn't you show yourself, like a brave man, instead of hiding?"

No, he would not tell Beverley that he had been a witness of the scene between her and the pearl-stringer; nor that he was responsible for the vanishing of O'Reilly's envelope. Let her think what she liked about its loss, just as he—Roger—was free to think what he liked about the loss of the pearls! He would wait for Beverley to tell him that the pearls were gone. Her carelessness, to say the best of it, her ingratitude and disloyalty, to say the worst, gave him the right to keep his knowledge to himself. He would wait and see what Beverley meant to do. Then he decided to send back the sealed letter to O'Reilly. Ten minutes after leaving home he had given the envelope to a messenger, with directions to take it at once to the Dietz.

It was when he had thus disciplined himself, that Roger turned toward the club. A man who was an old acquaintance of Roger's, and a friend of O'Reilly's, often dropped in there on a Sunday evening. Possibly he would come that night. Roger had thought of a question to ask. He saw that there might be a way to getting even with O'Reilly, a way just as efficacious, and more open, than the one he had sacrificed.

While he pretended to dine and read an "evening edition," a hateful little voice in Roger's brain chirped suggestions to him. What if Beverley had somehow been in O'Reilly's power? What if she had written him love letters which afterward she wished to get back, and he refused to surrender? What if she had contrived to steal them, and O'Reilly had followed, for reprisals? What if, since then, the man had been torturing her, and Clodagh Riley (a poor relation of Justin O'Reilly's, perhaps) had been acting as a go-between? What if the girl had pretended illness as an excuse to bring O'Reilly into the flat, and the man had frightened Beverley into giving him the pearls?

He was sipping his demi tasse, and had ceased to expect the man he wanted, when that man walked into the room. Before he could sit down at a neighbouring table Roger hailed him; a small, dark man of Jewish type, a man of forty-five, perhaps, with the brilliant eyes of a scientist and the arched brows of a dreamer.

"Hello, Doctor Lewis! I've been hoping you'd blow in!" Sands said cordially. "Won't you dine with me?"

"But you've finished. I'd be keeping you."

"I want a talk with you, my dear chap," Roger assured him.

The doctor sat down at Sands' table.

"I'd have got here a long while ago," Doctor Lewis went on to explain, "but just as I was leaving the Dietz, where I have a patient, I was asked to stop and see—whom do you think?"

"Your friend, O'Reilly, perhaps. Someone mentioned to me that he was there."

"No," said Lewis, "not O'Reilly, but as it happens, a friends of O'Reilly's, in the same hotel, who suddenly collapsed."

"I can guess, then," replied Sands. "I know the Herons are at the Dietz. Your patient was one of those two—Mrs. Heron, I should say. I don't somehow see Heron 'collapsing.'"

"My patient was Heron, not his wife. The attack was nothing serious, but Mrs. H—— was scared. You and Heron are as fast friends as ever, of course?"

"I admire John Heron in many ways," Roger answered, indirectly.

"And he ought to admire you, as certainly he does! A good many people thought you risked your life, throwing yourself into that business in California, the way you did, Sands. But you came out on top, and brought Heron out on top. Your reward was great!"

Roger smiled. He was thinking of the journey back, after his triumph, and of Beverley. She had been his reward. Once it had seemed great.

"Have you seen Heron since he got to New York?" said the doctor.

"Not yet," said Sands.

"Well, he's hardly more than just arrived. Heron's a wiry chap. It needs a good deal to knock him over. If it had happened last summer, or fall, when the big row was on, there'd have been plenty of excuse, as Mrs. Heron remarked. It appears the two had been quietly sitting together down below, in the big hall, watching the crowd, and waiting for Justin O'Reilly to go in with them to dinner. Mrs. H—— sent Heron back to their bedrooms to find something she'd forgotten. She got scared at last when time passed and neither Heron nor O'Reilly came down. She went to see for herself what was up, and found her husband in a fainting fit. She 'phoned just as I was leaving my other patient, and by the time I arrived on the scene O'Reilly had floated in from the next-door suite. He'd been out while the Herons thought he was dressing to dine with them. All's well that ends well. Heron will be as brisk as ever in a day or two."

"I'm glad to hear that," Roger said, gravely. "As you say, Heron's not a man to be knocked over easily. Last year, when I was in California, he came within an ace of being shot one night, and never turned a hair."

"His wife was asking him, when he came to, a lot of questions. Heron wouldn't want to worry her, naturally. Didn't she have some great shock last summer, or fall, while you were out West? A brother who was killed, or killed himself?"

"A brother who died suddenly. There was no proof of violence. The young man's death occurred the day I left, and not in California, but in New Mexico—near the town of Albuquerque, at a house belonging to Mrs. Heron. The Herons haven't been married many years," Roger went on. "Not more than eight or ten. Mrs. Heron can't be much over thirty. I never saw the brother. He was something of an invalid, and lived always at the Albuquerque place. His handsome sister stayed with him sometimes. He was a few years younger than she."

Sands had the air of giving these details somewhat grudgingly, as a concession to the very evident curiosity of Lewis: but having satisfied it as far as necessary, he turned the conversation to his own affairs: the affairs, in fact, which had suggested to him this meeting with the doctor.

"Whenever I have leisure just now I cut down to Newport to see how the decorators get on with an alleged 'cottage' I've bought there for my wife," he said. "It's been quite an amusement to me for the past few weeks. I'm tired of living in an apartment, though ours isn't bad, as flats go. I want a house, and I want an old one, or my wife does, with a little romance of history attached to it. I'd like to get hold of one, as a surprise for her. I know there aren't many in the market. I suppose there's nothing good down in your neighbourhood?"

"Well, as you know, Gramercy Park and all round there has been pretty thoroughly modernized," said Lewis, who lived in a big new house of apartments, not far from Gramercy Park. "The only fine, old-fashioned mansion I can think of, that would just suit you is Miss Theresa O'Reilly's—a patient of mine—when she's any one's patient. Do you know anything about the ancient dame?"

Roger knew so much that he had waited for Lewis entirely for the reason that Miss Theresa O'Reilly was a patient of his.

"Isn't she related to your friend, Justin O'Reilly?" he inquired.

"She's a distant cousin. As for the house, Justin feels that it ought to be his. I have this from her, not from him. The old lady told me the other day that she heard Justin had been hoarding up his money to buy the house, and was coming to New York on purpose to talk matters over, but she would refuse to see him."

"A cranky old bird!" Sands sympathized.

"You're right. Last year she mentioned to several people, me among others, that she thought of offering the place for sale if she could get a good price, because the New York climate gave her rheumatism, and she'd like to try the French Riviera. But the minute she'd spoken to me—a friend of Justin's—she could have cut out her tongue. You see, Justin's great-great-grandfather built the house: an Irishman who came over before the Revolution, and fought with the Americans against the English. It remained in the family till a few years before Justin's birth, when his father was obliged to sell through poverty, and move out West. This old lady, Theresa O'Reilly, was the purchaser. She was, of course, a youngish woman then, though no chicken. The story is that she loved Justin's father, and tried to catch him with her money—she was a rich heiress. He was on the point of engaging himself when he fell desperately in love with a poor girl Theresa employed as social secretary, or something of the sort. Out of revenge, Theresa went to work in secret ways to ruin Justin Senior, who was a gay, careless fellow, without too much money to lose, or too much patience to make more. She's said to have put men up to lead him into bad investments. Anyhow, she got the house, and California got the man and his family. I imagine there was a hard struggle out there at first. Young Justin has had to carve his own fortune: his father and mother, and an older brother, died when he was a boy. All this long story came out of your wanting an old house. It can't have interested you much, I'm afraid!"

"Certainly, there's enough romance attached to that house!" said Roger, with a short laugh. "But Miss O'Reilly has changed her mind, and won't sell?"

"So she assures me," answered Lewis. "You see, she couldn't be sure Justin wasn't standing behind a dummy buyer, now she knows he's definitely after the place, and able to purchase for a decent price. I take it that in the circumstances she won't sell to any one. Perhaps she never meant to when the test came."

"So poor O'Reilly wants the home of his ancestors?"

"He does. I've known of that dream for years. He told me once he'd grown up with it."

Roger made his comment upon this: but he determined to write to Miss O'Reilly the moment Lewis had gone.



XXV

KRANTZ'S KELLER

Clo had been able to think very clearly, while there had been something definite to think about, but her brain refused this problem of an extra five minutes, which might mean success or failure. She couldn't stop where she was; she couldn't hang about in the street, lest the real Kit had given the false Kit away to the "gang"; yet to dawdle in the corridor, or on the stairs of the Westmorland Hotel, was unthinkable. When the murder of Peterson was discovered someone might remember that slim girl in brown. The police were diabolically clever—now and then. Who could say if they might not trace that girl in brown, and, finding her, eventually reach Beverley Sands?

"One minute must have gone, just while I've been thinking of it!" Clo told herself. "And Peterson hasn't come alive. Now, if I can only think hard enough, and forget him and the silence, for two or three minutes, I can start."

But the silence broke. Once more her nerves thrilled to the telephone bell. She was standing by the door, her back resolutely turned to the figure in the chair, when the sound began. The girl snatched the receiver and called "Hello" but no one answered. She must get out quickly, at the risk of having to wait in the street before O'Reilly could arrive.

"Unless they live close by, they won't have had time to reach me yet, even if Kit's given the show away," Clo thought. But of course, "Chuff" might have 'phoned from a house round the corner. Peterson might have chosen the Westmorland Hotel in order to be near his friends!

Clo locked the door, took out the key, and dropped it behind the trunk at the end of the hall. That would not be unfair to the owner of the trunk, she thought, for in any case, the blood stains would direct suspicion to Peterson's vanished neighbour. The key would be only a detail.

As she descended the stairways leading from the sixth story to the ground floor, she met two or three men, but they had the air of tired commercial travellers going up to bed. Apparently the veiled girl in brown had no special interest for them. Next came the ordeal of the entrance hall, and passing the desk; but there a new group of men had collected. Clo peered through her brown veil, but encountered no curious glances. Yet the worst was to come. The eight minutes could hardly have run out; besides, O'Reilly might be late. If "Kit" were true to her pals, and if she had seen from her hiding place in the trunk, who went into Peterson's room, the coming moment might hold the greatest peril of all. The girl hesitated at the door, then sprang into the street as she might have sprung into a wave.

Plenty of people were passing as she walked slowly away. She had not taken many steps, however, when a taxi separated itself from others in the double line of moving vehicles, and slackened speed near the curb. The window was open, and Justin O'Reilly was looking out. Clo gave a welcoming cry, and waved Kit's bead bag. He caught her eye, spoke to the chauffeur, and the taxi slowed down, short of the hotel entrance. The girl ran back. O'Reilly held the door ajar, and, putting out his hand, pulled her in while the car was in motion. He had not forgotten her orders, and had instructed the driver. On bounded the taxi, as the door slammed shut, and the sudden jerk, before Clo was seated, flung her into O'Reilly's arms. He held her for a second or two, and then carefully set her by his side.

"By Jove, I'm glad to have you safe!" he said in a warm, kind voice, which for some reason made Clo want to cry. "I've a hundred things to say and ask, you child or imp, but first of all, where do you want to go? Home, or——"

"To Krantz's Keller," Clo finished the sentence. "Do you know where it is?"

"Yes," said O'Reilly. "I know, though I've never been. But——"

"I've got to go there," said Clo. "If you don't like, you needn't."

"I do like!" he laughed. "What do you know about Krantz's Keller?"

"I'll tell you that, and other things, when we arrive," said Clo. "Please, what time is it?"

"No thanks to you that I have a watch, and can answer that question," he thrust at her slyly. The street lights turned to ivory the small face from which Clo had pushed back the veil. It was a child's face, though not impish or defiant now; but the great dark eyes, it seemed to the man, were a woman's eyes. He was conscious that never in his life had he been so intensely interested in a female thing. She had tricked him, she had deceived and she had robbed him. Yet his dominant feeling was joyous triumph at having found her when he had thought her lost. He was happy because she had summoned him, excited because they were going side by side toward some unknown adventure.

He looked at his watch which had been retrieved from the wall safe, and said that the time was twelve minutes to eleven. Krantz's Keller was in Fourteenth Street, and they could reach there at the hour, for already the cab was moving in the right direction. "Are you in a hurry?" he asked, "or shall we go a round-about way and talk things over? The Keller won't be at its best till nearly midnight."

"I've a—sort of appointment at eleven-thirty," Clo said. "But I'd like to be on the spot before that, for a look round to get my bearings. I daresay I can tell you the whole story in twelve minutes. I've learned the lesson to-night that almost anything can happen, and you can live years in the time that it takes to button a pair of shoes."

"Certainly you can accomplish more in a few brief minutes than any other person I ever met! My own experience with you proves that!" O'Reilly laughed. But the girl's face was drawn. He remembered hearing that she had been dangerously ill. He wished her to realize that he was ready to give sympathy as well as help. "I don't want to talk of myself, but of you. Tell me what you care to tell. You may trust me."

"You're sure?" insisted Clo. "I'm putting my life in your hands."

"I've just my word to give," O'Reilly answered. "Look me in the face and decide if it's worth taking."

Clo looked him in the face, and said, "Yes! I'll tell you everything. Please don't ask questions, or speak till I finish."

Since the moment when he had been surprised by her voice at the telephone, and she had claimed his help, O'Reilly had thought of fantastic things, but they were commonplace compared to the story she flung at his head. To make him understand, in ten minutes, why she had to be at Krantz's Keller meant that she must spring all her facts upon him. Already, without knowing how she had escaped at the Dietz, O'Reilly had formed the opinion that she was a girl, not in a thousand but in many thousands. Now, listening in silence, he heard her tell what she had found, and what she had done, in Peterson's room. She spoke in simple words. Yet O'Reilly saw the scene as if his eye were at a keyhole; saw the girl realize that she was in the presence of a man not only dead, but murdered; saw the battle between horror and courage as she searched the room and the pockets of the corpse whose blood-stained clothing was still warm. He heard the bell of the telephone. He followed Clo into the room next door, and marvelled at the way in which she drew information from "Chuff." When the taxi slowed down in Fourteenth Street, she had but reached the point where she "made a dash for the street." O'Reilly's brain had been busy. He was ready to give the advice expected.

Clo was talking still, while he paid the chauffeur and sent him away. As they entered the restaurant below which lay Krantz's Keller, breathlessly she brought her story to an end. "There! You know all I know!"

While they went downstairs side by side, step by step, O'Reilly gazed at the girl's profile. "I'm going to fall in love with this strange child," he thought. "I'm in love with her already."

They penetrated the blue curtain of tobacco smoke which veiled the cellar restaurant. People of all sorts were sitting at small, uncovered wooden tables, which were painted green. There were long-haired foreigners; there were rich American Jews. There were girls who looked like "show girls" or chorus girls at least, companioned by fashionably dressed and silly-faced boys. And all the company drank wine from oddly shaped bottles, or beer out of stone or pewter "krugs." At the end of the long, narrow room stood two huge casks, one on either side of a small stage where three men in the costumes of Tyrolese peasants played a zither, a 'cello, and a violin, for a gaily dressed boy and girl to dance.

There were a number of tables still unoccupied, and of these a few were free. O'Reilly chose one close to the entrance. Seated there, he and Clo could see everybody who came in or went out. If they themselves wished to leave in a hurry it would be a convenient place.

Clo could not even pretend to eat. She asked for strong coffee, and not to be conspicuous O'Reilly ordered for himself beer, and food with an odd, Russian sounding name. Having thus bought their right to the table, he leaned across to the pale girl.

"The time's come when I can tell you what I think," he said. "First, what I think of you. You're the bravest person I ever met, and the most loyal. If the woman for whose sake you've done this is worthy of her friend, why, I'll be on her side from this night on."

"Thank you," said Clo, meekly. She was very tired, but vitality flowed through her newly at O'Reilly's words and look. "I don't deserve such a compliment, but she deserves everything. If I've behaved badly to you, it was for her."

"I know," said O'Reilly. "But you weren't precisely 'bad.' You were, on the whole, rather—wonderful. How did you get out of my room with the only door locked on the inside?"

"Oh!" the girl cried, surprised, "I thought you'd guess. I went along the stone ledge under the window of your bedroom till I came to an open window of a room in the next suite."

"I thought of that, when it was too late; but it seemed incredible."

"It wasn't as hard to do as I was afraid it would be," said Clo. "The other window was open, the curtain was blowing out. I caught hold of it, and got along somehow, through not looking down. Then in the room where I went in, there was a man. He was at the door, and I scared him popping in that way at the window, so he let me run past. That's all." Firmly the girl closed the subject.

"Let's talk about the pearls," she said. "Peterson was a wicked man. I can't pretend to be sorry he's been killed. He was acting for others higher up. I want to find Kit, not because I think she murdered him, but because I'm sure she's got the pearls. Who called out 'Come in!' in a man's voice, when Peterson was dead? We haven't got time to discuss the whole business before half-past eleven. Here comes my coffee! It's going to give me new life!"

"You must need it. Try to nibble a few crumbs of this rusk," O'Reilly advised. "I've been thinking hard since you told me how 'Chuff' 'phoned to 'Pete,' and took you for Kit. As for the voice that called 'Come in', the wall being thin, a man in the room close by might think the knock was at his door. You're almost surely right about Kit being in the hotel to watch Peterson. No doubt he was acting for men who have the power to—trouble Mrs. Sands. Don't look at me like a wild cat! I shan't tell what you don't want to hear, but there certainly are such men. Most likely Peterson followed us into the Sands' apartment without being noticed in the wild confusion of your fainting. He was there to get hold of the thing he was blackmailing her for, the thing you went back to my hotel to steal, and then repented stealing. Naturally Peterson didn't find it, as it was still in my safe at the Dietz, but he might have seen the pearls. The fellow must have been hiding close to Mrs. Sands and me, when we talked, or he wouldn't have known that John Heron had wanted to buy those pearls! He 'phoned, later, from the Westmorland to Heron, as you must have guessed from what I 'phoned back. As for Kit, she was in her room next door when he called Heron up, and heard about his having pearls to sell; or else she went in to help him pack, and saw them. But it strikes me that a young woman of her class wouldn't bash a man on the head, and risk the Chair, for the righteous joy of turning a fortune over to her pals. No, if she killed Peterson, she killed him because she wanted the pearls for herself or a 'sweetheart.'"

"There's Churn," said Clo. "He and Kit may be a 'case.' She may have gone straight to him with the pearls."

"'Churn's' possibly a nickname for that Lorenz Czerny, whose name you found written on a visiting card," O'Reilly said. "What with that card, and the memorandum, and Kit's bag, we ought to get on to the track of the gang. I'm on Mrs. Sands' side now. But I know a private detective who's worked for clients of mine. He's close as an oyster, and true as a compass. Chuff may keep his appointment, or he may not. If the real Kit's turned up and told the truth, perhaps he won't dare, for fear of a trap. Still, he may, if he's got pluck, and a good disguise—or if the police have nothing 'on' him. The gang won't want the false Kit to get away with what she knows if the real one's true to them. And they'll be eager to see whom they're up against. That's why I should like to have Denham—the detective—on the spot."

"Would that be the best way to get the pearls?" asked Clo.

"Can you suggest a better one?"

"Not on the spur of the moment."

"It's on the spur of the moment we must decide."

"Well—'phone Denham."

"I will," said O'Reilly. "I think I ought to get him now unless he's on some job. I'll be back in a few minutes. There's no danger of serious trouble for you here."

"I'm used to taking care of myself," said Clo. The hot, strong coffee had brought a faint colour to her face, and she looked up with one of those "cheeky" grins of hers, such as his "cousin" had given him at the Dietz. O'Reilly went away bewitched with the creature, absorbed in her. She had done so much for the love of a woman. What would she do for love of a man?

He had to go upstairs to the telephone, it seemed, at Krantz's. Then the line was busy. He was obliged to wait.

Meanwhile a tall girl, in a bright pink cloak over a pink dress, hurried through the gloomy restaurant. She paused only to glance at a clock on the wall, and then ran downstairs to the "Keller."



XXVI

THE GIRL IN PINK

Clo sat watching the crowd. She had removed her veil, and the long, brown cloak lent by Beverley. The latter she had folded, and was sitting upon it.

It was then, when most of the tables were taken, and when a young tenor with a good voice had replaced the Italian peasants, that the girl in pink walked in. Clo sat with her face to the entrance, and happened to be looking that way. At sight of the girl, who came in alone, it was all she could do to sit still. She felt the blood stream to her face, and taking up the empty coffee cup, pretended to drink.

"Gracious, why did I never think of her!" she wondered. For this was the girl who had got out of the elevator at the Westmorland, and had been stared at by the men, when Clo and Beverley descended the stairs from Peterson's room. Would there have been time after they had turned their backs for Kit to get out of the brown trunk (if she'd been in it!), fasten the lid, and descend to the lift while the two women went down the six flights of stairs?

Yes, there would have been time. Clo was thankful that she had disposed of her veil, and was sitting on the cloak. Here at Krantz's she was only a girl in a white dress, with a brown toque which at the Westmorland had been hidden with a veil.

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