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The Mansion of Mystery - Being a Certain Case of Importance, Taken from the Note-book of Adam Adams, Investigator and Detective
by Chester K. Steele
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"Nothing in the shape of any foreign compound? You once showed me a Turkish liquid that burnt when water was poured on it, and dyed everything blood red."

"Ah, yes, the fozeska, something truly dangerous. But I know of nothing— But hold!" The doctor clapped his hands together. "Yes! yes! That would do it, that and that only."

"What?"

"I had a sample of it given to me some six months ago. It was called yamlang-peholo, and was made in China, from the roots of the yamlang bush—a rare growth found only in the western part of the country. By many Chinamen the yamlang bush is supposed to be accursed, and whenever they come near one they utter a prayer for deliverance from its evils. If you sleep near the yamlang bush it will make you very sick."

"And that powder, what did it look like?"

"It was blue at first but on contact with the air quickly changed to brownish-white and lost itself, it was so fine."

"Evaporated?"

"You can call it that if you wish. It was intense. I held it at arms' length, yet it made me sick and I had cramps for over an hour afterwards."

"It would have killed you if you had placed it to your mouth or nose?"

"Not the slightest doubt of it."

"May I ask where you got the stuff?"

"It was imported into this country by a drug firm merely as a curiosity. They put it up in tiny vials which I suppose were sent around to different persons like myself. It was a dangerous piece of business and I gave them no credit for doing it."

"What was the name of the firm?"

"I would not tell everybody, but I know I can trust you to keep a secret. The firm was Alexander & Company, of Rochester, who stand very high in the trade. I buy many things from them, from time to time, and their traveling man, a Mr. Ostrello, gave me the powder when he called. He told me how the firm had experimented on a dog and an ox. Both died in less than two minutes, and each with cramps. But after death neither animal showed the least trace of the poison."

"Wasn't this Ostrello afraid to handle the stuff?"

"Not as much as I was. He said he was a bit used to it. I told him I didn't want to get used to it. Have another glass of wine?"

"No, I prefer to smoke, thanks just the same. I am interested in this yamlang, as you call it. Where can I get the stuff?"

"No more of it can be had. I rather think they got afraid of it. Wait, I'll get the vial it was in. Perhaps there is a whiff left in it."

"Thanks, but do you think I want to die?" queried the detective, and gave a laugh.

When the empty vial was produced he opened it and took a short sniff. Then he drew his breath in sharply. A faint odor was perceptible, the same odor he had detected in the carpet on the upper hallway of the Langmore mansion.

"Do you smell it?" questioned the physician.

"Yes, but not very well. I don't think it will affect me much."

"I trust not, my dear Adams. We cannot afford to lose you. Now, what is it all about?"

"Another case, that's all. I don't feel like talking about it just yet. I'll give you the particulars some other time."

"And have I helped you?"

"I think you have."

"Of course there are other powders—and there is chloroform—"

"I think we have struck a clue in this. But I must be going."

"What, so soon!" Rudolph Calkey looked hurt. "I was thinking you'd stay the day out. We could chat over old times—I'll order an extra supper—"

"No, not to-day. When this case is settled, I'll come over and we'll make an evening of it." And then the detective had to fairly tear himself from the doctor and the house. They were old friends and had worked on many a case together.

Once back in his office Adam Adams smiled grimly to himself.

"Now, Mr. Tom Ostrello, it looks as if we had you good and hard," he murmured. "You were seen around the place at the time of the murder by Cephas Carboy, you left the bit of paper in the library, you quarrelled at one time with Mr. Langmore and also quarrelled with your mother. The murder was committed by means of that deadly Chinese powder, and you are one of the few persons in this country who knew of the heathenish compound. If you are innocent I rather reckon you have a heap of explanations to make."

There were two callers who took an hour of the detective's time, and then he prepared to return to Sidham, to learn if possible more concerning Tom Ostrello, and if anybody besides Cephas Carboy had seen him around that vicinity on the morning of the tragedy.

"Letty, I may not be back to-night," he remarked, as he came out into the general office. "And it may be that I'll not be back to-morrow."

"All right, Uncle Adam. What shall I tell Mr. Capes?"

"Tell him that that bond matter must wait. He'll have to get those numbers if he possibly can. The other record was destroyed."

As Adam Adams spoke he drew closer to the desk at which his assistant was sitting. He glanced down at an envelope lying there, and started slightly.

"Where did this come from, Letty?" he questioned. The envelope was postmarked New York and the upper left-hand corner bore the notice:

Return in 10 days to Alexander & Company, Wholesale Druggists, 22-32 Wadley Street, Rochester, N. Y.

The girl glanced at the envelope and then at her employer and blushed deeply.

"Oh, why that—that is a note from a friend of mine."

"A gentleman friend, I suppose."

"Yes, Uncle Adam. I met him last winter, at Mrs. Dally's reception. He is a traveling salesman for this house," she pointed to the notice on the envelope. "He wants me to go to the theatre with him, and I expect to go. Mrs. Dally says he is a very nice young man. We—we have been out a number of times." And the girl blushed again.

"I know some parties connected with that firm. What's the young man's name, Letty?"

"Mr. Tom Ostrello."

"Indeed! And he has invited you to go to the theatre with him?"

"Yes. Then you know him, Uncle Adam? I didn't dream of that. Don't you think he is—is rather nice?"

"Evidently you think so." For some reason the detective could scarcely steady his voice. He was a bachelor, with only some distant relatives, and he thought a good deal of his protegee and her welfare.

"I—I do, Uncle Adam. He treats me so nicely. I—I—don't you approve of him?" she went on hastily, searching his face for the smile that usually rested there when he spoke to her.

"Why, I—er—I don't know him so well as all that, Letty." For the first time in his life he was visibly confused. "You say he has called on you a number of times?"

"Yes, and he has taken me out, let me see, I guess it must be a dozen times all told. I—I wanted to speak of this before, but I—well, I couldn't bring it around. I hope you'll approve, Uncle Adam."

"Approve? Of your going out with him?"

"Yes, and—and—" The girl hesitated again. Then she arose and buried her face on his shoulder. "Oh! don't you understand, Uncle Adam?"

"Letty!"

"He is very nice—I know you'll like him when you get to really know him. Of course he hasn't much money, but I don't care for that. You always said money didn't count for so much anyway—that it was character—and he's got that."

"Hum!" For the life of him Adam Adams could not speak. He felt himself growing hot and cold by turns. He caught the girl closer. Never had he loved his friend's daughter so much as now.

"I hoped you would approve," she went on, shyly. "I—of course I didn't want to leave you—you've been so very good to me since papa and mamma died. But—but Tom doesn't seem to want to wait. He has asked me twice now and—and—I don't know how I am going to put him off. He seems so miserable when I say wait."

"Asked you to marry him?"

"Yes."

"And he wants you to go to the theatre with him—now?"

"The invitation is for to-night—he sent it last week. He has been traveling out of town, but he said he would be back some time to-day. I want you to meet him." She paused. "Isn't it all right, Uncle Adam?"

He did not answer, and she gazed at him curiously. Then the look in his face made her draw back, slowly and uncertainly. At that moment he felt that the occupation of a detective was the most detestable in the world.

"You—you know something?" she gasped. "Oh, Uncle Adam, what is it?"



CHAPTER XI

AT THE CORONER'S INQUEST

Sidham was in a state of keen excitement. No such mystery as the double tragedy had occurred in that neighborhood before, and all of the inhabitants were anxious to hear the latest news and learn what the coroner and the police were going to do. A hundred theories were afloat, all centering on the one object—to find the murderer.

"Find him or her, and swing him or her to the nearest tree," was the verdict of many. "The law is all well enough, but this dastardly crime demands an object lesson."

Coroner Jack Busby, who was a dealer in horses, had never had a murder case before, and was uncertain as to the method of procedure. But with the eyes of the whole community on him he realized his importance, as he ran hither and thither, to arrange for the inquest. He felt that his own little office was altogether too small for the occasion and so arranged to bring off the affair in the general courtroom.

The place was soon crowded with people, and another crowd gathered outside. The hour for opening the inquest was at hand and the majority of the witnesses were present. The coroner, short, fat and bald-headed, looked around anxiously and then turned to the chief of police, who was near at hand.

"I don't see Miss Langmore."

"Neither do I," answered the guardian of the law, with a shrug of his shoulders, as if it was none of his especial business,

"Yes, but—ahem! you are—ahem! responsible—"

"She'll be here, coroner, don't worry."

"You have had her properly guarded?"

"Yes. I reckon she's coming now," and the chief of police nodded towards a side door of the courtroom.

There was a slight commotion, and Margaret entered, escorted by Raymond Case, and followed by one of the women and the policeman who had been on guard at the Langmore mansion. The crowd arose to gaze at the girl and to pass various comments.

"Mighty pale, ain't she?"

"Wouldn't think a girl like that could do such an awful thing!"

"Humph! you can't tell about these high-toned folks. They'd do anything. Didn't one of them millionaires run over two of my hens with his automobile an' never stop to settle the damage? Don't tell me!"

"Yes, and she detested her step-mother—the hired girl told Mrs. Brown so, an' she told me."

"Well, Coroner Busby will git to the bottom of it putty quick. He told Lem Hansom he knew what he was doin'."

"He must know, if he's as slick at tryin' folks as he is in a hoss dicker," returned an old farmer who had made a trade of steeds which had proved unprofitable for him.

Margaret was shown to a chair and sat down, with Raymond beside her. The young man was plainly nervous, yet he did what he could to comfort his companion.

"Courage, Margaret," he whispered. "It is bound to come out right in the end."

"I can scarcely see a friendly face," she faltered, taking a shy look around. "They all think I am—" She could not finish, but had to bite her lip to keep the tears from flowing.

The coroner mounted the platform and rapped on a desk with his knuckles.

"The—ahem! courtroom will come to order!" he called out, gazing around on all sides.

There was a final buzz and then the place became quiet, broken only by the ticking of a big round clock on the wall.

"We are gathered here—ahem! to inquire into the mysterious deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Barry Langmore," went on the coroner.

"That's so—an' we want plain facts," put in an old farmer, sitting well up front.

"Silence!" cried the coroner. "We must have silence!"

"All right, Jack," replied the farmer. "I won't say another word."

"Silence. We cannot go on if there is not silence. Ahem! ahem! Miss Langmore!"

Margaret arose and bowed slightly. Then the coroner swore her in as a witness and told her to relate her story. She could scarcely stand and Raymond brought her chair forward.

"You wish me to tell all I know?" she asked, in a faint but clear voice.

"Everything," was Coroner Busby's answer.

Pausing for a moment to collect her thoughts, she plunged into the recital, her tale being merely a repetition of that given to Adam Adams. When she came to tell how her father had been found her voice broke and it was fully a minute before she could go on. When she had finished the courtroom was as still as a tomb, save for the ticking of the clock, now sounding louder than ever.

"Is that all?" asked the coroner, after a painful pause.

"Yes, sir."

"They say, Miss Langmore, that you were not on good terms with your stepmother."

"Who says so?"

"It is an—ahem! a common rumor. What have you to say on that point?"

"It is true, sir," answered Margaret, after another pause, during which the eyes of all in the courtroom were fixed upon the girl.

"It is said that you had violent quarrels," pursued the coroner.

"No very violent quarrels. Sometimes we did not speak to each other for days."

"Then you admit that you did quarrel?"

"I do."

"And you also quarreled with your father?"

"No, sir."

"What, not at all?" queried Coroner Busby, elevating his eyes in surprise, either real or affected.

"We held different opinions upon certain questions, but we did not quarrel."

"Hum!" The coroner mused for a moment.

"That is all for the present," he added, and Margaret moved back to where she had been first sitting.

"I am glad that is over," whispered Raymond. "Can I do anything? Get you some water?"

"No, nothing," she answered, and dropped a veil over her face.

The next witness called was Mary Billings, the domestic employed at the Langmore mansion, and who had been about the place at the time of the tragedy. She proved to be a round-faced Irish girl, not particularly bright, and now all but terror-stricken. As soon as she was sworn in she burst into tears.

"Sure as there is a heavin above me, Oi didn't do that murder, so Oi didn't!" she moaned.

"Nobody said you did," answered the coroner dryly, while a general smile went around the courtroom.

"Then why did yez bring me here, I dunno? Sure an' Mr. Langmore was afther bein' me bist frind, an' Oi wouldn't harm him fer a million dollars, so Oi wouldn't!" It was with difficulty that she was quieted and made to tell what she knew.

"Where were you from ten o'clock to twelve of the morning of the tragedy?" was the first question put to her.

"Oi was in the kitchen, an' down to the barn, yer honor."

"Were you in the kitchen first."

"Sure an' Oi was that."

"What were you doing?"

"Phat was Oi doin'? Sure Oi was washin' the dishes, cl'anin' the silverware, peelin' the praties, shellin' the beans, cleanin' the lamps, fixin' the—"

"Ahem! You mean you were doing the housework, eh?"

"Yis, sur."

"While you were in the house, did you leave the kitchen?"

"Only to go to the ciller fer a scuttle o' coal."

"Did you see or hear anything unusual going on while you were in the kitchen?"

The Irish girl scratched her head and shrugged her shoulders.

"Oi heard a lot av things, yer honor."

"What were they?"

"Oi heard Mrs. Langmore walkin' around upstairs, an' Oi heard Miss Margaret walkin' around, too. Then Oi heard Mrs. Langmore call to Miss Margaret."

"Did Miss Margaret answer?"

"Oi dunno—if she did, Oi didn't hear her."

"What else?"

"Thin Oi heard the front dure slam."

"Did you see anybody come in or go out?"

"Sure, an' Oi did not."

"What time was this, as near as you can remember?"

"Atwixt tin an' eliven o'clock."

"Did you hear anything after the slamming of the front door?"

"Oi did not, fer Oi wint down to the barn directly afterwards."

"How long did you remain down at the barn?"

"Till Miss Margaret came scr'amin' from the house. She cries, 'Mary, oh Mary! Me father! Me father!' an' staggers around loike she was goin' to fall, an' Oi run up to her an' hild her up, poor dear." And the servant girl shot a sympathetic glance in Margaret's direction.

"Ahem! Now—er—you remained in the barn until you heard her cry out. Did you hear or see anything from the barn while you were down there?"

"Well, to tell the truth, sur, Oi didn't notice anythin' at the toime, bein' that interested in me pet chickens, sur. Ye see, Pat Callahan gave me three foine Leghorns, an'—"

"Never mind the Leghorns. If you saw or heard anything, what was it?"

"'Twas something Oi was afther hearin', sur. Oi think somebody ran past the barn, aisy loike."

"You didn't see anybody?"

"No, sur. As Oi said before, thim Leghorns that Pat Callahan gave me—"

"We'll—ahem! drop the Leghorns. After you heard the strange noise how long was it before you heard Miss Langmore scream?"

"Perhaps quarter av an hour, sur. Oi didn't look to the clock."

"And she fainted in your arms?"

"Not exactly that, sur. She scr'ams, 'Me father! me father! Mary, he is murdered! Go to the library!' An' thin she wint over in me arms loike a stone, poor dear, poor dear!" And the domestic began to weep afresh.

"What did you do then?"

"Sure, phat could Oi do? Oi scr'amed fer hilp as loud as Oi could, an' thin Mrs. Bardon an' her son, Alfred, the docthor, came over."

"What happened next?"

"We all wint in the house, an' there we found poor Mr. Langmore dead in the library, in his chair. The doctor thought he moight be aloive yit an' had his mother an' me run upstairs fer some medicine from the medicine closet. In the upper hall we kim on Mrs. Langmore's body, also dead, an' I got that scared Oi turned an' flew down the back stairs an' out av the house loike the divil was afther me!"

There was a general laugh throughout the courtroom, at which the coroner rapped loudly on the desk.

"Silence. Such—ahem! conduct at an inquest is not to be allowed. If this happens again I shall clear the courtroom."

"Thet's right, Jack, make 'em behave themselves," came from the old farmer in front. "This is serious business, this is."

"What was done with the body of Mrs. Langmore?" continued the coroner to the servant girl.

"The docther said to lave it till you came."

"Mrs. Langmore was quite dead?"

"Yis. Hivin rest her sowl!"

"And Mr. Langmore?"

"Sure an' the docther could do nothin' fer the poor mon. It made the docther sick to work over the corpse an' he soon had to give it up."

"Now, tell me, how do you think the two were killed?"

"Oi dunno. The docther ought to tell that—sure an' he has the eddication, an' Oi haven't."

"There were no marks of violence?"

"Phat?"

"The victims had not been struck down?"

"Oi dunno as to that, sur—better axed the docther."

"Hum!" Coroner Busby mused for a moment. "How long have you lived with the Langmore family?"

"Iver since Mr. Langmore married his sicond woife."

"How many of the family lived at home?"

"The first year there was the mister and missus an' Miss Jennie an' Miss Margaret. But Miss Jennie married an' moved away—she's travelin' now, they tell me."

"Then Miss Margaret was the only child home?"

"Yis, sur."

"Didn't Mrs. Langmore have two sons?"

"Yis, but they niver lived there. One av thim used to come an' see her now an' thin, an' that's all."

"Was Miss Margaret on good terms with Mrs. Langmore?"

"She was not. Mrs. Langmore was a—a vixin, always afther findin' fault, an' Oi wasn't on good terms wid her meself."

"Ah! Then you quarreled also?"

"Oh, no, sur, Oi knew me place, so Oi did, an' did me wurruk an' said nothin'. If it hadn't been fer Miss Margaret Oi'd a lift me job long ago. But she was such a noice girrul, an' so lonely loike, in the house wid that tongue-lasher—"

"Wait! wait! You say Miss Margaret and Mrs. Langmore quarreled. When did they quarrel last?"

At this question the domestic pursed up her lips and looked at Margaret.

"Oi have nothin' to say about that," she answered coldly.

This reply was a surprise to all, including Raymond. The coroner gazed at the witness sternly.

"You must answer," he said. "It is my duty to get at the bottom of this awful affair."

"Oi'll not answer," was the stubborn return.



CHAPTER XII

FOR AND AGAINST

There was a moment of intense silence throughout the courtroom. Every eye was turned on Mary Billings, who pursed up her lips more closely than ever.

"You'll not answer?" thundered Coroner Busby.

"Mr. Coroner," began Raymond, rising, "is it legally necessary that she answer? Remember, she is here without proper legal council."

"Silence! I—ahem—yes, she must answer, or I shall have to commit her, as a witness if for nothing else. Girl, are you going to answer or not?"

"Sure, an' Oi—"

"Chief, will you call a policeman?" went on the coroner, turning to the chief of police.

He was a fairly good judge of human character. At the sight of the bluecoat the domestic wilted and began to sob.

"Ohone! Ohone! don't take me to prison!" she wailed.

"You prefer to answer?"

"Yis, if Oi must. But Oi think Miss Margaret the swatest little lady—"

"Never mind that. When did the girl and her stepmother quarrel last? Come now, tell me the plain truth," and the coroner put as much of sternness as possible in his voice.

"Well, thin, if yez has got to know, it was on the marnin' av the murders, sur," sniffled the servant girl.

"When was this?"

"Right afther breakfast. They had some words at the table, too."

"What was said? Repeat the exact words if you can," and the coroner leaned forward expectantly, while many in the courtroom held their breath.

"Mrs. Langmore said she wished Miss Margaret was off the face of the earth, an' that she'd be afther seein' that the dear girrul wasn't in the house much longer. 'Twas a very bitter scene, an' me heart wint out to the dear girrul—"

"And what did Miss Margaret reply to that?"

"She said it was her father's house, an' she would stay as long as her father wished her to. An' it was her father's house, too."

"And after that?"

"A whole lot more followed, which Oi didn't catch, fer Oi am no avesdropper. But Oi did hear Mrs. Langmore, in a perfect rage, cry out that she'd kill Miss Margaret if the girrul didn't moind her."

"And then?"

"Miss Margaret said she would do as she pl'ased—that she was her own mistress—an' Oi was glad to hear her say it. Mrs. Langmore went on wid her quarrel—sure, an' she had the divil's own tongue, so she had. Thin she must have caught hould av Miss Margaret, fer Oi heard the girrul cry out to lit go or she'd stroike her down. Thin there was more wurruds, hotter an' hotter, an' Mrs. Langmore said she would make the girrul mind as sure as fate, an' thin Miss Margaret got roused up an' she said fer Mrs. Langmore to beware, that she had Southern blood in her veins, an' she wouldn't be accountable fer what she did, if her stepmother wint too far."

There was a pause, and a murmur ran the round of the little courtroom. The testimony seemed to be highly important and many shook their heads. The girl and her stepmother had certainly had a bitter quarrel, the girl had hot Southern blood in her veins, and the bitterness had ended in the tragedy. In the minds of many it was only a question of what the extenuating circumstances might be.

"Was Mr. Langmore present at this quarrel?" asked the coroner, after another pause.

"He was at the breakfast table, but afther that he wint to the bank."

"Did you hear anything more?"

"Not right away, sur. Oi wint to me work. Whin Mr. Langmore came from the bank Oi heard him talkin' to Miss Margaret."

"What was said then?"

"Oi dunno exactly, exceptin' that he said he was sorry she an' her stepmother had quarreled, an' he wanted her to make it up wid his woife."

"And what did Miss Margaret say to that?"

"She said that all she wanted was to be left alone."

"What else?"

"Oi didn't hear anything more, as Oi wint to the ciller fer coal. By an' by Oi see Miss Margaret in the garden cryin'. Oi wanted to go to her, but Mrs. Langmore kim to the kitchen an' Oi had to attind to me wurruk."

"How did Mrs. Langmore seem to appear when she came to the kitchen?"

"Sure an' she was very excited an' findin' more fault than iver. She stayed only a few minutes, an' thin wint to the library, an' that was the very last Oi saw av her. Oi'm sorry she's dead, but she had that divil's own temper!" And the domestic heaved a long sigh.

"That will do. You may sit down." The coroner looked around the courtroom. "Is Doctor Bardon present?"

For reply the young physician came forward from one side of the room. He looked pale and slightly troubled. In a low voice he corroborated the testimony already given regarding the finding of the two bodies, and told what he had done in his effort to restore Mr. Langmore to life.

"I thought there might be a spark there still, but I was mistaken," he went on. "He looked so natural—and Mrs. Langmore looked natural, too, for the matter of that. But both were stone dead."

"What was the cause of death?"

"That is something of a mystery. I have tried my best to get at the bottom of it, but I cannot, nor can my colleague, Doctor Soper."

"Were the pair strangled, smothered, poisoned?" suggested the coroner.

"I have a theory that they were poisoned, but not in an ordinary way. Neither Doctor Soper nor myself could find any traces of ordinary poison."

"What is your theory?"

"Something was used to stupefy them, and so much was used that it killed them."

"In that case the murder might have been unintentional?"

"Yes. Somebody might have thought to stupefy Mr. Langmore and then rob him. But the drug, being too powerful, or used too long, might have done its deadly work. Then the crime may have been discovered by Mrs. Langmore and the murderer might have turned on her to conceal his first wrongdoing."

"Hum. Have you—ahem! any idea of the nature of the poison?"

"No, excepting that it had a very powerful odor. When I bent over Mr. Langmore I got several whiffs of it and it made me sick at the stomach. But the odor was soon gone."

"And you have no idea what the poison was?"

"No, nor has Doctor Soper. It may be something new, or something little known. Chemists are constantly discovering new things," went on the young physician, bound to clear himself of any suspicion of ignorance concerning medical matters.

"You found no marks of violence, as if there had been a struggle?"

"The only marks I found were two scratches on the right arm of Mrs. Langmore, right above the wrist, and a scratch on Mr. Langmore's left cheek."

"Finger nail scratches?"

"Possibly, or else they may have been made by a ring or bracelet—if there was a struggle."

"Hum! Have you anything else to tell, doctor?"

"I have not. I am willing to tell all I know."

There was another pause, as the young physician stepped back. The coroner was about to call one of the women set to guard Margaret and the Langmore mansion, when he suddenly turned.

"Miss Langmore, you will please take the stand again," he said, and the girl did so, throwing aside her veil. "Are you in the habit of wearing finger rings and bracelets?"

It was a leading question and several gasped as they heard it. Raymond started to rise up, but then sank back again.

"I do not wear bracelets," answered Margaret. "I have two rings."

"What kind of rings are they?"

"One is a plain gold band. It was my mother's wedding ring." The girl's voice sank low suddenly. "The other is a diamond ring, as you can see," and she held up her hand.

"Will you let me have the diamond ring?"

"Yes, sir." She took it off. "But please be careful of it, for it—it is very precious to me."

The coroner nodded. "That is all just now," and as Margaret let fall the veil again, he called Doctor Bardon to his side. A whispered conversation ensued, and the young physician left with the precious circlet—Margaret's engagement ring—in an envelope.

"Margaret, you should not have let him have that ring," whispered Raymond.

"How could I help it?" was the low answer. "Oh, this is terrible! I feel as if everybody was trying to look me through and through!"

"I can't understand why Mr. Adams is not here," went on the young man. "Perhaps he has found some important clew and is following it up," he added hopefully.

"They are bound to convict me, Raymond! Isn't it horrible?"

"They shall never do it, never!" cried the young man. And then a sharp rapping on the desk terminated the brief conversation and restored quietness to the little courtroom.



CHAPTER XIII

THE WEIGHT OF EVIDENCE

The next witness called was Mrs. Morse, who told briefly how she had been placed in charge of the upper part of the Langmore mansion shortly after the tragedy, and how she had been watching Margaret. She said the girl had had only a few visitors, mentioning Raymond Case and a stranger from New York.

"Who was the stranger?" asked Coroner Busby.

"A Mr. Adams. He's either a lawyer or a detective."

"Oh!"

"I brought Mr. Adams to see Miss Langmore," put in Raymond. "Wasn't that all right?"

"Certainly—certainly," answered the coroner hastily.

"I have kept the best watch on Miss Langmore that I could," went on the woman. "You told me to do it."

"Has Miss Langmore had anything to say about her father?"

"She seems to be very sorry that he is dead."

"What did she say about Mrs. Langmore?"

"She does not seem to care much about her stepmother."

"Have you discovered anything unusual, Mrs. Morse, that had to do with this tragedy?"

"Well, I don't know. I have looked around a bit, and among other things I found this. It was in Miss Langmore's dressing case."

As she spoke the woman held up a small bottle. It was marked chloroform and was empty.

"Anything else?"

"With the empty bottle I found the half of a big silk handkerchief. It was wrapped around the bottle and had Miss Langmore's monogram in the corner. I went on hunting around the house and I found the other half of the handkerchief in a dark corner of the upper hallway, not far from where Mrs. Langmore's body was found."

At this announcement there was a buzz of excitement. All present looked at the witness and then at Margaret. The girl had thrown aside her veil once more, and was standing up, with a face as pale as death itself.

"I—I—may I speak?" she faltered.

"Yes."

"I bought that chloroform a month ago and used it to put a sick canary and a sick parrot out of their misery. Mary Billings saw me chloroform the parrot."

"When did you do the chloroforming?"

"About a week ago, on the parrot. The canary I chloroformed when I obtained the drug."

"Sure, and that's roight, sur," broke in the servant girl.

"Then you know all about using chloroform?" remarked the coroner dryly.

"The druggist told me."

"Did it take all you had for the birds?"

"No."

"What did you do with what remained?"

"I threw it away, for I had no further use for it."

"Hum." The coroner turned to Mary Billings. "Did you see her throw the chloroform away?"

"N—no," stammered the servant girl. "But if she says she did, she did," she added stoutly.

"Now, Mrs. Morse, did you find anything else of value?"

"I did not, but Mrs. Gaspard, who was in charge downstairs, did."

"Very well, you may step down. Mrs. Gaspard!" And the other woman came forward to face the coroner and his jury, and was sworn.

"Mrs. Morse says you found something of importance. What was it?"

"It was this, Mr. Busby," and the woman held out a sheet of note paper. "I came across it on the stairs leading to Miss Langmore's room. Shall I read it?" And as the coroner nodded, the woman read as follows:

"Since you refuse to open your room door to me, let me give you fair warning. You must either obey your mother that now is, and me, or leave this house. I have had enough of your willfulness and I shall not put up with it any longer."

As the woman finished reading she handed the paper to the coroner.

"Ahem! Mrs. Gaspard, do you know who wrote this note?" asked the latter.

"The handwriting is exactly like Mr. Langmore's. I have compared the two, and so have Mrs. Morse and Mr. Pickerell, the schoolmaster."

Again all eyes were bent upon Margaret. She had again arisen and was swaying from side to side.

"My father—never—never sent me—never wrote such a note—" she gasped, and then sank back and would have fallen had not Raymond supported her.

"A glass of water, quick!" cried the young man, and it was handed to him, and also a bottle of smelling salts. In a moment more Margaret revived.

"Take me away," she moaned.

"I am sorry, but that cannot be allowed," replied the coroner. "You will have to remain until this session is over."

"It's an outrage!" exclaimed Raymond, his eyes flashing. "You are all against her, and you are going to prove her guilty if you possibly can. The whole proceedings is a farce."

"Silence, young man, or I'll have you removed by an officer. You have interrupted the proceedings several times. I do not know what interest you have—"

"I am not ashamed to tell you of my interest, sir. I am engaged to this young lady. I know she is innocent. It is preposterous to imagine that she would kill her own father. They loved each other too much."

"Yes, but this note—" piped in Mrs. Gaspard. She was a strong believer in Margaret's guilt.

"I know nothing about that. It may be a forgery. I know Miss Langmore is innocent."

"To merely say a thing does not prove it," came from the coroner. "We want facts, nothing else—and we are bound to have 'em." He began to warm up also. "I'm here to do my duty, regardless of you or anybody else. I ain't going to shield anybody, rich or poor, high or low, known or unknown! Now, you sit down, and let the inquest proceed." And Raymond sat down, but with a great and growing bitterness filling his heart. He looked at Margaret and saw that she was trembling from head to foot.

There was an awkward pause.

"Mrs. Gaspard, did Mr. Pickerell say he thought Mr. Langmore had written this note?" questioned the coroner.

"He said the two handwritings were exactly alike. Here is a letter written and signed by Mr. Langmore. You can compare the two, if you wish."

The letter was passed over and not only the coroner, but also his jury, looked at both documents carefully.

"Pretty much the same thing," whispered one man.

"Exactly the same," added another, and the rest nodded.

The coroner looked around the courtroom and then at the jury.

"Have any of you any questions to ask?" he queried of the men. "If not we'll take a brief recess until Doctor Bardon returns."

One after another the jurors shook their heads. Whatever the coroner did was sufficient for them. Coroner Busby had picked men he knew would agree with him.

The recess had lasted but a few minutes, when Doctor Bardon reappeared. His face wore a knowing look that was almost triumphant.

"You will please take the stand again, doctor," was the request. "I wish to ask you if a person could be smothered by chloroform."

"Certainly, under certain conditions."

"Do you think it possible that Mr. and Mrs. Langmore could have been smothered in that way?"

"Possibly, yes, although I did not see any traces."

"Would there have been traces?"

"Yes and no—it would depend on circumstances."

"Hum. Now about the diamond ring belonging to Miss Langmore, which I gave you a short while ago to examine? Have you—ahem—examined it?"

"I have, and so has Doctor Soper. We used a magnifying glass and made several tests."

"Did you find anything unusual?"

"We did. In the first place two of the prongs which hold the diamond in place are bent out and up in such a fashion that each forms a sharp point. We next looked under the stone and found there a substance which both of us are convinced is a bit of dried-up blood."

"You are sure it is blood?"

"Yes. I can illustrate it scientifically, if you desire."

"It will not be necessary just now. When you say blood do you mean human blood?"

At this the young physician shrugged his shoulders.

"I am not prepared to go as far as that. We should have to make another test. The amount was so very small."

"Might be blood from a mosquito," muttered Raymond. "There are enough around here."

"You may think as you please," said the young doctor. "I am only stating the facts."

"Have you anything else to say, doctor?" came from the coroner.

"Nothing more. Here is the ring. We have kept what we found under the stone."

"Very well. Miss Langmore, you may have the ring back." It was passed out and Raymond took it and slipped it back on Margaret's hand, which was cold and nerveless. The girl was sitting as motionless as a marble statue.

There was another pause and then, one after another, several minor witnesses were brought up and examined. At four o'clock the coroner began to sum up the evidence, to which the jury listened with close attention. Then the jurors filed out into a side room, the door to which was tightly closed.

"Is—is it over?" faltered Margaret. "Wha—what will they do next?"

"We must wait for the finding of the jury, Margaret."

"How long will that take?"

"I don't know."

"Mr. Adams did not show himself. I thought he would help us in some way."

"He must have a good reason for staying away."

"What do you think the jury will do?"

At this direct question, the young man gave an inward groan. "I don't know," he answered in an unnatural voice. "We must hope for the best."

In less than an hour it was announced that the jury had arrived at a verdict. Those who had left the courtroom returned and the jurymen filed in. The excitement was subdued, but plainly at a white heat. The coroner took his place at the desk.

"Gentlemen of the jury, have you agreed upon a verdict?" was the question put.

"We have," was the unanimous answer.

"Who will speak for you?"

"Mr. Blackwell, our foreman."

"Very well. Ahem! Mr. Blackwell, what is the verdict?"

Mr. Blackwell, a well-known citizen of the town, stood up. The courtroom became intensely silent.

"We find that Mr. and Mrs. Barry Langmore came to their deaths either by being smothered, chloroformed, poisoned, or in some similar fashion, the direct means not yet being brought to light, and we find that the evidence points to Margaret Langmore as the one who committed the murders."

Hardly was the verdict rendered than a wild cry rang out through the courtroom. Margaret staggered to her feet, put out her hands in an uncertain fashion, and then dropped senseless into Raymond's arms.



CHAPTER XIV

IS THIS MADNESS?

Instantly there was wild confusion, and half a dozen persons sprang forward to assist Raymond with his burden. But he waved them back.

"Let her have air," he said. "Don't crowd so close. She must have air," and he moved towards a window. The crowd separated to let him pass and allowed him the use of an entire bench, while more water was brought and the bottle of smelling salts was again produced. In the meantime the coroner whispered to the chief of police, who in turn whispered to a policeman, and the two minions of the law followed Raymond.

Margaret lay like one dead, every particle of color having forsaken her cheeks. Raymond waited anxiously, and then applied his ear to her heart.

"A doctor!" he cried hoarsely. "A doctor, for Heaven's sake! She is dying!"

Doctor Bardon came forward, followed by Doctor Bird, and both looked at the unconscious one closely and critically. There was no shamming here—the shock had been heavy—the bolt had struck home.

"This is serious, truly," murmured the older physician. "We had better remove her to a side room and loosen up her garments."

Many were willing to assist, but Raymond shook them off and he and Doctor Bird carried Margaret into the room where the jury had arrived at the verdict which had so stunned her. Then a nurse who happened to be in the court-room was called in, and she and the physician began to work over the suffering girl.

"Doctor—" Raymond could scarcely speak. "She will—will come around all right?"

"Why, I guess so. She has swooned, that is all. The trial was too much for her. And then there was such a crowd, and the ventilation being poor—"

The young man waited, five, ten, fifteen minutes—it was as an eternity. The doctor still continued to work, and so did the nurse. Then the latter whispered something and Raymond caught the words, "a mental shock, by her eyes."

"What's that?" he questioned. He looked at Margaret and saw that her eyes were wide open and she was staring hard at him. "Margaret!"

She did not answer, but continued to stare, turning from him to the nurse and then to the old doctor. The chief of police was at the doorway and she gave him a look that fairly froze his blood.

"Who—" she began and stopped short. "How light it is! What struck me? Why are you all staring at me in this manner? What have I done? Where am I? Have I been sick?"

"Margaret!" Raymond came closer and took her hand. "Margaret!"

She stared at him and flung his hand away. "I've had a horrible dream—I dreamed papa was murdered—that somebody had strangled him! Strangled him to get my engagement ring from me! And there was blood there, blood, and nobody could come to the lawn party. Oh, if they knew—and my poor head—it swims so! And the bottle—the handkerchief—"

"Margaret, Margaret! Don't go on so!" He caught her hand again and sank down on his knees beside her. "Be calm. It will all come out right. You fainted, that's all. Don't you remember, Margaret?"

"Yes, yes, I remember. You said you would marry me, and then you said, you," she tore her hand away and pointed her finger at him, "you said I had murdered papa and murdered her! Oh, the shame of it, the shame!" And then she gave a shriek and began to rave, tearing at her clothes and her hair, until the latter fell all over her face. The paroxysm lasted for several minutes and then she fainted once more.

"I shall have to give her something to quiet her," said the doctor. "She is in a worse state than I at first imagined. The strain has been entirely too much for her nervous system. We must get her to some quiet spot."

"Shall we take her home?" asked Raymond.

"No, I would not advise that, Mr. ——"

"My name is Raymond Case."

"My home is a quiet one," spoke up the nurse. "If you wish you can take her there. It is not very far from here."

"Besides," the old doctor paused. "The coroner has something to say about it."

"Coroner Busby has turned the prisoner over to me," came from the chief of police, and he advanced a few feet into the room.

"The prisoner!" faltered Raymond. "Oh, yes, I suppose that is right. But you can't take her to jail. I'll go her ball for any amount he may fix."

"Sorry, Mr. Case, but they don't take bail on such a charge as murder."

"But you can't lock her up in this condition—it would be inhuman. I'll have her taken to some quiet place and you can have a guard set—I'll pay all the bills. Ask the coroner if that won't do. She isn't going to run away. She looks now more as if she might die!" and he gave a groan that came straight from his heart.

The chief of police had once been young and in love with a pretty girl and his face softened. Then he remembered what Raymond had said about paying the bills.

"I'll fix it up with Busby," he said. "Go ahead and do what you wish, only don't take her out of town."

A little later a carriage was brought around and Margaret was placed inside and driven rapidly to the home of Martha Sampson, the nurse. She began to rave again, but the physician gave her a quieting potion, which put her in a sound but unnatural sleep. She was placed in a pretty and comfortable bedroom on the second floor in the rear, so that she might not be annoyed by those passing the house in front. Two policemen, in plain clothes, were put on guard, one relieving the other.

In the meantime the news that Margaret had been adjudged guilty by the coroner's jury spread like wild-fire, and the curiosity seekers could scarcely be kept away from the place to which the poor girl had been taken.

"The grand jury can't do anything but indict her," said more than one. "And, if there is any justice left, she'll surely be electrocuted."

It was a bitter blow to Raymond, to have Margaret thought guilty, but he did not think of that as he sat by her side, or walked up and down in the little hallway just outside of her door. Her staring eyes haunted him and he longed for a look that should tell him her reason had once more asserted itself.

The doctor had come and gone twice and had promised to come again that evening. Slowly the hours wore away. The nurse had gone below to prepare herself something to eat, and Raymond stood by the suffering one's bedside. He saw the eyelids of the one he loved quiver slightly.

"Margaret!" he said softly, bending over her.

There was no response and he repeated the name several times. Then her eyes opened full.

"Where am I?" she asked vacantly.

"You are safe, with me," he answered and took her hand.

"With you, Raymond? Where?"

"At the home of a lady who is going to take care of you for the present."

"How queer! I thought I was at my own home."

"We thought it best to bring you here. Miss Sampson will do all she can for you. The doctor said you must be kept very quiet." He smoothed down her hair. "You have had a terrible trial, my dear."

"A trial? I don't remember it. What was it?" She stared vacantly at him. "Oh, how queer my head feels!" And she put one cold hand to her temple.

"Never mind trying to think now, Margaret. Just take it easy. The doctor will come back in a little while and he will give you something that will make you all right again."

"How long have I been here?"

"Only four hours. Now please, don't worry."

"I can't—I can't think—it's all like a terribly dark cloud, Raymond." She stared in a wild fashion and then a look of untold horror crossed her drawn features. "Ah! Yes, yes, I remember now! I remember!" She shook from head to foot. "I remember! The courtroom! And those many men and women! And the ring—our engagement ring—think of that, Raymond! They found blood on it, blood!" And she shivered again.

"Margaret, dearest, you must try to keep quiet," he interrupted soothingly. "It will all come out right, I feel certain of it."

"Right? I don't know what you mean by that word. Was I on trial, or what?"

"No, not on trial. It was simply the coroner's inquest. But don't think of it, dear." He tried to brush back her hair, but she stopped him. The wild look in her eyes was increasing.

"The inquest? Oh, yes, I know now, and they said—they said—" She gave a piercing scream. "They said I had killed her and killed my own father! Yes, that I had killed them! Do you hear, Raymond, I had killed them!" She sat up and motioned him away. "Do not touch me! Do not come near me!"

"Margaret!" he interrupted appealingly.

"No! no! It is too late, too late!" Her voice sank to a hoarse whisper. "I see it all—the blood on the ring, the chloroform, our quarrels, and what she said to me, and then, and then—" She gave another scream. "Go away! go away! You must not come near me again!"

"But Margaret, dear—"

"No, I cannot listen! You must go away, and let them take me to prison, let them hang me if they will!" Her voice sank still lower. "There is nothing else to do—I see the end. They have cornered me, have found me out! Yes, they have found me out!" She gave a wild, uncanny laugh that made his flesh creep. "Ha! ha! I thought they could not do it, but they did. They have found me out! They have found me out!" And then, with another scream, she pitched back and lay again like one dead.



CHAPTER XV

LOVE VERSUS BUSINESS

"Uncle Adam, you must tell me everything. Do you hear?—everything!"

"But my dear Letty, I am not sure of these things. I only want you to wait. That's easy enough, isn't it?"

"It will be, if you tell me everything. But I can't wait if I am kept in the dark." The girl raised her tear-stained face to that of the detective. "Oh, I am sure you will do the best you can and all that—you have always been so kind to me. But—but I must know the details."

A half hour had passed since he had discovered that Letty Bernard was in love with Tom Ostrello, that she had been in love with the traveling man ever since they had first met. He had heard her whole tale, how the young man had taken her out and how they had planned for the future—a tale not uncommon even in these plain, common-sense days, when Romance lingers only on the outskirts of society. He had been tremendously interested, as much so as if the girl was his own flesh and blood.

"Of course, he invited me to the theatre before he knew of the death of his mother," Letty went on. "And I suppose he has been so upset he hasn't thought to notify me. But he might have sent me word," she added wistfully. "I should have done so if it was my mother."

"He is not like you, Letty."

"Well, he is just as good."

"That remains to be seen."

"Are you going to tell me what you have in your mind or not, Uncle Adam?"

He gazed at her fondly. How could he tell her? And yet, if his suspicions were correct, it would be better for her to know the truth now than to be struck down by it later on.

"There is nothing very definite, Letty," he said slowly. "You know that all detectives get on the wrong trail at times—I have made a mess of more than one case—you know that, even if the general public doesn't."

"Then he is suspected of these murders?" she said boldly.

"If you must have the whole story, I'll tell it to you. It is certainly a curious situation. At first suspicions pointed to Mr. Langmore's daughter; now they appear to point to Mrs. Langmore's son. For your sake and for the sake of Miss Langmore, who appears to be a very nice young lady, I trust we shall be able to prove some outside party guilty."

"Tom isn't guilty, I am sure of that."

"And Raymond Case is equally certain that Miss Langmore isn't guilty."

"He is the young man who came here and engaged you?"

"Yes."

"Is he engaged to her?"

"Yes."

"Then, of course, he thinks her innocent."

"I think her innocent myself."

"Do you think Tom is guilty?"

At this direct question Adam Adams winced. He saw before him a disagreeable duty which must be performed.

"I see I must give you the facts, Letty. But I will do so on one condition only, and that is, that you keep what I have to say to yourself—considering them as office secrets."

"Very well, Uncle Adam, I'll promise," she answered, with a pale face upturned to him. He bent down and kissed her on the forehead. Then he locked the office door, sat down in an armchair and let her sit on his lap, just as she had done since childhood.

His recital took the best part of an hour, and he gave all the particulars of his interview with Cephas Carboy and with Doctor Calkey, and told of the finding of the bit of paper with the address of the drug firm on it, and of the strange Chinese poison. At the mention of the fatal drug she drew a sharp breath.

"I—I—" she began, and stopped short.

"Do you know anything of that drug, Letty? Perhaps he spoke to you about it?"

"He did, once, when we were speaking of poisons. He said he was glad his firm had decided not to handle it, for it was too dangerous. It has a power that most folks do not know about."

"The power to kill people, I suppose."

"No, not that. He said it was a fatal drug, but more than that, he said it had a strange power, according to the Chinese chemists who manufactured it. That power was, if it was used on a person and did not kill it would, in a few days or a week, make that person mad."

"Humph! Worse and worse! Such a drug should be banished by law. But to go on with my story, if you must hear the whole of it. I am fairly certain it was that drug which was used to kill Mr. and Mrs. Langmore."

"But Tom did not use it," she insisted. "Somebody else must have gotten the drug from him or from his traveling sample case."

"That is possible. Now there is another side to this case, which I cannot understand at all." And then he told of the counterfeit bank bills.

"Counterfeits!" she exclaimed, and the color began to leave her face once more. "What kind of bills were they, Uncle Adam?"

"They were one hundred dollar bills, on the Excelsior National Bank of New York City."

She gave a gasp and clenched her little hands to control herself. He could not help but notice her increased agitation.

"What is it, Letty? Do you know—"

"Oh, Uncle Adam, do not ask me," she gasped. "I—I—there is some mistake—Tom did not—" she failed to go on and looked at the detective hopelessly.

"What do you know about these counterfeits? Come, it is best that you tell me everything," he continued kindly, but firmly.

"To—Tom had a counterfeit one hundred dollar bill. He—we went to the theatre and he got into some trouble over it, until he convinced the ticket seller that he did not know it was bad."

"Did he tell you where he got the bill?"

"No, he said he got stuck, that's all."

"Do you know what he did with it?"

"He said he was going to give it back and get a good one for it, if he could."

At that moment a postman's whistle sounded in the hallway and several letters dropped through the slit in the door. The girl glanced at them, and uttering a faint cry, arose and picked them up.

"Here is one from Tom now." She tore it open and glanced at it hastily. "I knew it," she went on. "He is all upset because of the murder and scarcely knows what to do. He had an important engagement in Albany for yesterday and one in New York for to-day, but has broken both. He says he will come to me as soon as he can, and adds a postscript asking me to look in the papers for the particulars of the awful affair. You read it, Uncle Adam. That doesn't look much as if he were guilty, does it?"

The detective took the communication and scanned it with care. It had evidently been penned in a hurry and was signed, "Your own Tom." One line read: "I hope with all my heart that the authorities bring the guilty party to justice."

"How could he pen that if he was guilty himself?" said Letty, pointing to the line. "Oh, Uncle Adam, you must look elsewhere for the one who did this foul deed."

"I wish I knew where he got that counterfeit?"

"Perhaps I can find out for you."

"Can you tell me where he stays when in New York?"

"At the Kingdon House, on Broadway."

"Then I may look him up."

"Cannot I do something?"

"Yes—wait and keep quiet, Letty."

"But you will try to clear him, if you can, won't you?"

"I am going to try to find the guilty party."

"It is dreadful to remain here and do nothing, with such a cloud hanging over one."

"Then take a vacation. It will do you good. Get Miss Harringford to come in here—she knows the ropes—and you go off in the country or to the seashore. I'll make you an allowance of fifty dollars for the trip. Take it out of the cash on hand. And, Letty, don't worry too much."

The girl smiled, but it was not a smile to please one. "Very well, I'll go off," she said, and turned back to her desk. "I'll take the time off to help clear poor Tom," she murmured to herself.



CHAPTER XVI

SOMETHING ABOUT A SECRET SERVICE MAN

On the following morning the newspapers brought to Adam Adams the full particulars of the Langmore inquest, with the finding of the coroner's jury. The papers also described how Margaret Langmore had fainted and been placed at a nurse's residence, under the care of a physician and guarded by the police. By a few it was supposed that the girl's illness was genuine, but the general opinion was that it was assumed, in order to draw public sympathy. Raymond Case was pictured as a loyal, but misguided young man, and it was hinted that his relatives were much chagrined to see him remaining at the accused girl's side, in view of the evidence which had been brought to light.

The detective read the accounts with interest and then leaned back in his office chair in a thoughtful mood. Letty had absented herself and in the outer office was another girl, who had done substitute work before. Suddenly the detective arose with decision, went to the telephone, and rang up Central.

"Hullo!"

"Give me 45678 Park."

There was a buzz and then a heavy voice came over the 'phone.

"Hullo!"

"Is that you, Vapp?"

"Yes. Is this Mr. Adams?"

"Yes. Are you particularly busy?"

"Not if there is any money afloat," and a chuckle came over the wire.

"I want you to do some shadowing for me, I don't know how long it will take. It's a man—a commercial traveler. You can pick out your own make-up."

"When am I on?"

"Right away."

"Want me up there first?"

"I think it will be best. I want to give you some details."

"I'll be there in half an hour and all ready for the job."

Adam Adams busied himself in various ways, and at the end of half an hour, a well-dressed, middle-aged man came in, carrying a small sample case in one hand.

"Hullo, going to be a commercial traveler yourself, eh?" commented the detective.

"It will give me an easy way to get around," answered Charles Vapp. "I'm Andy Weber, representing the Boxton Seed Company. A seed man can go anywhere, in the city and the country. I got the outfit from old Boxton himself. He thinks it a good joke and he will keep mum. Now, what's the game?"

"I want you to do some shadowing for me."

"All right—that's my line."

"This is a bit out of the ordinary, Vapp."

"Well, that makes it more interesting. Who is the party?"

"The fellow's name is Tom Ostrello."

"Foreigner, eh?"

"No, he is American-born—the son of Mrs. Langmore."

"You don't mean the woman who was murdered with her husband?"

"Yes. He is a commercial traveler for a drug concern."

"Good! I'm glad I elected to be a traveler myself."

"As I said, Vapp, this is no ordinary case. I want you to keep track of this man day and night."

"I'll do it—if it can be done."

"I want you to note every person he communicates with."

"I'll do that, too."

"And here is another thing of great importance. If he spends money, try to find out if it is good money."

"Eh?" The shadower looked surprised for an instant. "You want me to look out for counterfeits?"

"Exactly."

"That is not so easy, but I'll do my best," went on Charley Vapp, and then he asked a number of questions regarding Tom Ostrello, all of which Adam Adams answered as well as he was able.

"You are to stay on this case until I tell you to drop it," said the detective. "And remember, if anything unusual occurs, let me know as soon as you can reach me."

"I understand. Anything more?"

Adam Adams mused for a moment.

"Yes. You know Miss Bernard, who works for me here?"

"Sure."

"Well, take care that she doesn't see you shadowing Ostrello."

"I'm wise," answered the shadower, smiling, and the next moment he was gone. He was not flustered by what was before him, for he had been shadowing people for eleven years, and as long as there was five dollars per day and his expenses in the work, he was willing to continue indefinitely.

With the shadower gone, Adam Adams meditated for a moment and then donned his walking coat and his hat. In his pockets he placed several large but rather flat packages.

"I am going out, Miss Harringford," he said to the clerk. "If I am not back by five o'clock, you may lock up and go home. Be on hand as usual in the morning."

Down in the street he hopped aboard a passing car and rode eight blocks. He entered an office building, went up in an elevator to the third floor, and took himself to a suite of offices occupied by certain United States secret service officers.

"I want to see Mr. Breslow," he said, and was shown to a private apartment, where an elderly man sat, studying several reports.

"How are you, Adams!" was the greeting.

"Rather busy to-day, but what can I do for you?"

"I want to sell you some bank bills," was the reply, and Adam Adams dumped the package on the desk. Mr. Breslow opened it and examined the contents.

"By the jumping Judas! Where did you get those? Say, this is worth while."

"I guess you haven't rounded up quite as many as I have, have you?" said the detective, with a grim smile.

"As many? Why, man, we've only run across sixteen so far, and you've got thirty. They are such a clever counterfeit that even the banks get nipped. This is wonderful! I didn't know you were following this trail. Why didn't you say something before? Or maybe you wanted to spring a surprise, and make some of the boys, down here feel cheap."

"No, it was nothing but blind luck. I wasn't on the trail at all. I simply stumbled over the bills."

"Did you get your man?"

"There was no man to get."

"Do you mean to say you found the bills?"

"I did and I didn't. They were in the safe of a man who was murdered. I guess I'll have to tell you the best part of the story," and Adam Adams did so. "This is, of course, confidential," he went on.

"Trust me for that, Adams. Strange complication, as you just remarked. I suppose you are going to follow up the murder mystery. Will you follow this up, too?"

"I think so. I can't get it out of my head that the two are related to each other."

"More than likely. Now, you just said you wanted to know something."

"I want to know about this John S. Watkins, of Bryport."

"Um! If I give you his record, you'll of course keep it to yourself. You know how the department is about such things?"

"You are safe with me."

"I'll have the record brought in."

There was a wait of several minutes, and then a big book was produced from one of the safes.

"Here you are, Adams: John S. Watkins, Bryport. Born at New Haven, October 4, 1862. Former occupation, model maker and cabinet maker. Private detective for four years, and one year with the Cassell agency. Entered the United States service three years ago. Never been advanced. Cases 45,254; 47,732; 46,829. Wait till I see what those cases are."

Then three other records were brought forth and examined.

"Humph! all small affairs. No wonder he hasn't been promoted. The first is that of a young woman who used washed postage stamps. They found four dollars worth of washed stamps in her possession. The next is the arrest of a cigar dealer, who used stamped boxes more than once. He was a fellow sixty-eight years old and got two years. The last case is a mail-order swindle, a ten-cent puzzle, a small affair, run by a nineteen-year-old boy, and sentence was suspended."

"Not a very brilliant record," was Adams's comment. "It's a wonder he can hold his job."

"It is a wonder. But he may have political influence, or something else, or, it is barely possible that he may be doing some work that is not on record here. That is all I can tell you."

"What is his salary?"

"A thousand or twelve hundred a year."

"Not a very elaborate income. No wonder he would like to run down those counterfeiters. It would be a feather in his cap, eh?"

"Most assuredly. Do you expect to double up with him? Of course, it's none of my business and you needn't answer if you don't care to."

"I don't know what I'll do yet. This is a complication I want to study first."

"I see. Well, if we can help you—"

"I'll send word, don't fear. And if I do send word, I want you to act on the jump."

"Don't worry about that. I know if you send word it means business," answered the secret service officer, with a laugh.

An hour later found Adam Adams on a train bound for Bryport. He reached that city in the evening, and from a directory he learned where the secret service man resided. A street car brought him to within two blocks of the dwelling. It was a building of no mean pretentions and on a corner which looked to be valuable. Walking along the side street he saw that two domestics were at work in the kitchen and dining room.

"He certainly lives in style," mused Adam Adams. "Wonder if he manages it on twelve hundred a year?"

As it was a warm night the windows were open and by going close to the house he could hear the conversation being carried on by the servants as they moved back and forth between the two rooms.

From their talk, he learned that Mrs. Watkins and her two daughters were at Saratoga, and that it was expected that the husband would join his family there soon.

"And we'll have good times when he's gone, ain't that so, Caddie?" said one of the domestics.

"That we will," was the answer. "Better times than now, anyway, when you can't tell when he is coming in and when he is going out. It is a queer way he has with him lately."

"I guess he is worried over his money."

"Why, what do you know about that, Caddie Dix?"

"What do I know, Nellie Casey? Tim Corey told me Mrs. Watkins didn't git a cent of the old grandfather's money, although she said she did, and so did the master say so. It all went to the other part of the family."

"Then where did Mr. Watkins git his money, I'd like to know."

"Don't ask me. Tim says he is flush enough at the club and other places. The government must pay him more than most folks imagine."

"Is Tim goin' to the Rosebud's picnic?"

"Yes, and Dan's goin' too, and Dan wants me to bring you," went on one of the domestics, and then the talk drifted into a channel which was of no further interest to Adam Adams.

He rightfully surmised that John Watkins was not home and was somewhat puzzled to decide what he should do next. It was a long journey from Bryport to Sidham, and it was a question if he could accomplish anything at the scene of the tragedy during the night.

"Perhaps it will pay just as well to go to a hotel and go to bed," he told himself.

He had just come out to the corner of the street and was halting at the curb, when he saw two men approaching. One of the pair was John Watkins, and the other was a heavy-set stranger, with bushy hair and a round, red nose and mutton-chop whiskers.

"Here we are, Styles," said John Watkins. "It's a little late, but I reckon the girls can fix us up something to eat. It's better than going to a restaurant."

"Anything will do me, if you've got a glass of ale to go with it," was the reply.

"Got to have a real Englishman's drink, eh?" said the secret service man, with a short laugh. "Well, I've remembered you and I can fix you up to the queen's taste. Come on inside." And then the pair entered the house.



CHAPTER XVII

AN INTERESTING CONVERSATION

Adam Adams had watched the appearance and disappearance of the two men with interest. He remembered that Matlock Styles, the man who owed the Langmore estate $16,000 on three mortgages, was an Englishman, with mutton-chop whiskers. Evidently the man who had arrived with the secret service employee was the same individual.

This being so, the question at once arose, what had brought the pair together? Matlock Styles lived in an old colonial mansion, so Raymond Case had said, a mile and a half from the Langmore estate. Did his coming to Bryport have anything to do with the tragedy or with the counterfeits?

Going close to the house once more, he heard the two men enter the parlor and heard Watkins order supper. Then followed a conversation in such a low tone that he could only catch an occasional word. He heard something about mortgages and then a safe was mentioned, but he could not catch the direct connection. Evidently though, they were discussing the Langmore affair.

In a short while supper was served and the two men passed to the dining hall. Here, while the girls were near, they spoke of matters in general. The meal finished, John Watkins invited his visitor up to his den on the second floor.

As said before, the house was on a corner, and by the lighting up of a room above, Adam Adams located the den, just behind the main front corner room, and close to a tree, which grew along the side street. Looking around, the detective made certain that nobody was observing him, and then began to climb the tree with the agility of a schoolboy. One heavy branch ran out close to the building, and standing on this brought him to within three feet of the window, which was screened and open from the bottom to admit the air. The curtain was down to within three inches of the window sill, thus affording the detective a chance to peep into the apartment without running much risk of being discovered.

"Then you say the mortgages have not been paid?" came from John Watkins.

"No, blast the luck!" growled Matlock Styles. "I didn't think he wanted the cash so I let them run on."

"Have you any idea how the estate is to be divided?"

"I understand the girl gets half. The wife's half will go to her two sons now."

"That is lucky for them. I reckon Dick Ostrello can use all the money he can lay hands on. He's a wild one, if ever there was one."

"Don't Tom spend his money?"

"Not lately. I understand he is saving up to marry some girl in New York."

"Humph."

There was a pause, during which time both men lit cigars.

"How is the bloody business going?" asked Matlock Styles presently.

"Oh, I manage to earn my salary," answered the secret service man, with a dry laugh. "I don't get promoted though."

"You ought to try to unearth some big mystery. That would get your name in the papers."

"I don't want my name in the papers. I am doing well enough. Ain't I on the track of those counterfeits? What more do you want?"

"Yes, but you haven't got them yet, blast the luck! And you say you had the safe open?"

"I did."

"Then why didn't you look inside? I should have done so."

"I thought I'd get a better chance later on. But when I went back hang me if I could work the combination again."

"Have the safe makers opened the safe yet?"

"I think so, but if the counterfeits were found the local authorities haven't said a word. Somebody must be laying low."

There was another pause, and then Matlock Styles brought some papers from his pocket.

"You might glance over these bloody things while you have time," he observed. "Perhaps they'll give you a clue to work on. You see, I believe in helping a detective all I can," and he chuckled broadly.

As Adam Adams could see, the documents were of legal aspect and with them were several letters.

"Then the deal goes through," said John Watkins.

"Doesn't that look like it?"

"And the patent is yours?"

"Yes."

"I wonder what Barry Langmore would say to this, if he was alive?"

"He wouldn't like it at all."

"Do you think you can make any money out of the patent?"

"Money? I hope to make a fortune out of it."

"Say, Styles, you're a lucky dog and always were."

"It's because I watch my bloomin' chances," answered the Englishman. "By the way, were you at the inquest?"

"Sure."

"I didn't see you."

"No, but you spoke to me."

"I did? You're mistaken."

"Don't you remember the farmer who asked you for a chew of terbacker?"

"Was that you?" exclaimed Matlock Styles. "If it was you're improving. The first thing you know you'll be the real thing and getting a head position at Washington."

"I shouldn't mind that," answered John Watkins.

"Where are you going to-morrow?"

"To New York—to nose around."

"Want to locate the counterfeits?"

"I want to see if they have been reported. I've got a certain idea about them, but I am not sure if I am right."

"What's the idea?"

"That Langmore girl has engaged a detective named Adam Adams to clear her, if he can. He was dodging around the house when I was there, and somehow it's got into my head that he knows about the counterfeits."

"Does he belong to the secret service?"

"No, he's a private detective. I don't know much about him, but they say he's a pretty good one," continued John Watkins.

"You think he opened the safe?"

"I'm thinking that perhaps he was at the safe after I opened it. The safe is of a make in which the combination can be changed with ease. He could have looked into it and then have changed the numbers. I certainly didn't forget the old combination—it was so easy, four on forty, three on thirty and two on twenty—but that wouldn't open it when I went back."

"Can't you get in with him and find out what's what?" suggested Matlock Styles. "You can tell him that you are working up this case of the counterfeits."

"I may do that. The trouble is, these private detectives don't like to go in with an outsider—they are too much afraid of losing the credit for what they are trying to do."

"Is anybody else on the case?"

"Not that I know of. If there was—"

At that moment the door bell of the house rang and soon one of the girls came upstairs.

"Mr. Martin is below," said she to John Watkins.

"Is that so? Tell him I will see him in a minute." The secret service man turned to the Englishman. "He is a real estate man who is going to sell this house for me. I'd forgotten that I had an appointment with him."

"Never mind, give me that money you promised and I'll be going," answered Matlock Styles. "I've got a lot of things to attend to in the next few days."

"I'll give it to you in the library. The money is in the safe," was the answer, and then both of the men left the room.

Adam Adams descended to the ground and walked slowly to the front of the house. In a few minutes he saw the Englishman step out on the front piazza followed by the secret service man.

"Where are you going now?" asked the latter.

"Home and to bed," was the reply. "Goodnight. Will I see you to-morrow?"

"Either to-morrow or the day after. I want to settle up this real estate deal. I promised my wife I'd do it."

The Englishman came away from the house and hurried along the street to where the trolley car ran. He boarded a car moving towards the depot and Adam Adams did the same. At the depot Matlock Styles took a train for home.

Adam Adams made his way to a hotel in a thoughtful mood. The conversation he had overheard interested him greatly. He decided to learn more concerning the pair, and especially Matlock Styles, without unnecessary delay.



CHAPTER XVIII

A GIRL'S RAVINGS

Raymond Case passed a sleepless night watching over Margaret. The doctor called once more, as he had agreed, and left another soothing powder, which the nurse administered with difficulty. She shook her head when she came out of the sick room.

"What do you think?" questioned the young man pleadingly.

"To tell the truth, it looks like a bad case to me, Mr. Case," was the reply. "I may be mistaken, but I've had a pretty large hospital experience. She doesn't seem to respond to treatment as she should."

"Don't you think I ought to call in a specialist?"

Martha Sampson shrugged her shoulders. "That is for you to say. It wouldn't be proper for me to say anything against Doctor Bird."

"I'll send for a specialist at once," said Raymond, and hurried off to the nearest telephone station. He had some difficulty in getting the proper connection with New York, and then had to hold the wire until the specialist could be roused up. The expert's fee was large, but once guaranteed, he promised to come by the first train.

"He'll be here by seven o'clock," said the young man, on returning to the house.

"Will you let Doctor Bird know?"

"Yes, as soon as the specialist gets here. I want to be sure of my new man first."

It was six o'clock when Margaret roused up once more. Raymond was dozing in an armchair, the nurse having retired to get a short sleep. The young man was instantly at the sufferer's side.

All the color had left Margaret's face and she was deathly pale. Her eyes were as bright as stars and had a look in them that Raymond had never before seen.

"Are you better, Margaret?" he asked softly.

"I—I don't know," she answered slowly. "I—I feel very strange all over me."

"Perhaps you had better go to sleep again."

"No, I don't want to sleep any more, Raymond. I want to know something."

"What is it, dear?"

"Will they make me go to the funerals?" Her face began to show signs of worriment.

"You'll not have to go if you don't wish to," he answered, and gave a slight shiver in spite of himself, for the question was such an unexpected one.

"I can't go—I can't look at them! And then the crowd would stare so! Oh, Raymond, the crowd is the worst of all! Hundreds of eyes boring one through and through! I can't stand that!"

"You'll not have to stand that, Margaret. But go to sleep, do! It will do you a world of good," and he smoothed down her hair fondly.

"No, I've slept enough—I want to talk. Oh, I am not afraid to talk now," she added, sitting up. "I thought it all out while I was sleeping. Isn't it funny that one can think a thing out in one's sleep? And it's so very clear now—as clear as crystal—and it was so dark and muddled before. Will they give me a trial?"

He started in spite of himself. "Please don't think of that now, Margaret, I beg of you. Lie down and try to sleep. I have sent for another doctor, a specialist. He will be here soon."

"A specialist? How can he help me? You hired that Mr. Adam Adams but he has deserted me. But then—but then—he must have learned the truth!" She gave a sob and buried her face in her hands. "Yes, he must have learned the truth!"

"Margaret, do keep quiet, please!" he pleaded. "You need rest, you must have rest."

"No, I want to talk, to tell you something, Raymond. I—I want you to go away."

"Away? Oh, Margaret!"

"Yes, away—you mustn't come near me any more. You are innocent and it isn't right that you should suffer with me. You must go away and forget me."

"I'll never do that. You mustn't even dream of such a thing. We are going to get you well, and we are going to prove your innocence to the world."

"My innocence? Oh, Raymond, don't speak so—it cuts me like a knife!"

"But I mean it," he said firmly.

"Yes, yes, I know—you are so good-hearted, so true! But haven't I told you? Must I go over it again? The ring, the blood—"

"Margaret!"

"And that note, and the quarrels, and all. Didn't they prove that I was guilty? Yes, they proved it, and I must—must— Will they hang me or electrocute me? I wonder how it feels to be hung or electrocuted?" She gave a hollow, bitter laugh. "I'll soon know, I suppose!" And then she fell back on her pillow exhausted.

The nurse had been aroused by the talking and stood in the doorway. She gazed questioningly at the young man.

"Did you wake her up?"

"No, she roused up and insisted upon talking."

"She ought to be kept quiet. I'll give her another powder."

"Had you not better wait until the specialist arrives?"

"Well, we can do that—if he isn't delayed too long."

After that the time dragged heavily. Just before train time Raymond took a coach to the depot and there met the specialist and told his story as the pair were driven rapidly to the house.

"It is a purely nervous shock, undoubtedly," said the specialist. "I will first find out from the nurse what the other doctor has given her."

He was soon in consultation with Martha Sampson. In the midst of this Doctor Bird arrived. The local physician was willing enough to transfer the case to new hands.

"I am of the opinion that she is guilty," he said in private to the specialist. "Mr. Case, of course, thinks differently. You can figure it out to suit yourself," and he told exactly what he had done and then went away, not to return.

Doctor Fanning watched at the sufferer's side for over an hour, before Margaret roused up again. The girl was very weak and spoke disconnectedly, but always in the same strain. She went over the scene at the inquest several times, and spoke of the blood on the engagement ring, as if that was the crown of her misfortunes. Then she sat up suddenly and looked at the new doctor.

"Are you the judge?" she demanded. "If you are I will tell you all. I am guilty—they proved it! I am guilty! guilty! guilty!" she repeated the words over and over again, until she fell back on the pillow as before. Then she became delirious and it took both the nurse and Raymond to hold her. The doctor speedily opened up his case of medicines and gave her a hypodermic injection in the forearm. Then he made an examination of the patient, lasting some time.

"I will be plain with you, Mr. Case," he said, drawing the young man to another room. "This is a serious matter—a very serious matter indeed. I believe you think the young lady innocent of the crime of which she is accused?"

"I am willing to stake my life on it. She is raving now, that is all."

"Um!" The specialist nodded slowly and thoughtfully. "Well then, we can only hope for the best. I had better stay with her, at least to-day and to-morrow—there may be another turn to her condition shortly."

"Do your best, doctor. I am willing to foot the bill, no matter what it is."

"If I was certain she was innocent—"

"I am certain of it."

"You have the proofs?"

"No, not that. But—"

"I understand your situation, Mr. Case, and I honor you for the stand you have taken. At the same time I feel it my duty to tell you something. It is about a case that came under my notice three years ago. An old man was murdered and his wife was suspected of the crime. She declared that she was innocent and many believed her. But soon the evidence began to accumulate against her and she had the same kind of a shock that Miss Langmore has experienced. She raved and at last cried out that she was guilty—"

"And was she guilty?"

"It was never proven, although matters looked black against her. The case hung fire because the old woman kept growing worse. The doctors who were in attendance did all that medical science could suggest to bring the old woman out of her peculiar state. But it was of no avail."

"And the end, doctor, the end?" questioned the young man eagerly.

"It's a sorry thing to tell you, but it is best to be warned. The old woman went mad and while in that condition she one night committed suicide by leaping out of a window. It is a sad case but it may act as a warning. Someone must be on hand to watch Miss Langmore constantly."

A long conversation followed, and the specialist gave minute direction to the nurse, who promised to get another nurse to relieve her. Then the medical man mixed up several drugs and placed the mixture in a glass with some water.

The talk left Raymond in low spirits and the young man walked up and down in the parlor below in a thoughtful mood. The outlook was certainly gloomy enough. What if the shock should prove so severe that Margaret would never get over it? In that case it would matter little even if her innocence was established.

In the midst of his meditations he saw a man come up on the porch and he opened the door to admit Adam Adams and ushered the detective in the parlor.

"I understand Miss Langmore was brought here," said Adam Adams, dropping into a chair.

"Yes," and Raymond told his story. "We looked for you at the trial," he added.

"I had other things to do, Mr. Case, and I read the most of the testimony in the newspapers. But I am sorry to learn that Miss Langmore is in this condition and I trust the specialist pulls her through in good shape."

"Yes, yes, so do I. But we must clear her, Mr. Adams—it must be done."

"I said I would do my best. But this is going to be no ordinary mystery to unravel. It is deeper than most folks suspect. A deep motive was the cause of the double murder—a motive I hope to unearth before I am through."

"Unless the mystery is speedily cleared up I am afraid Miss Langmore will go raving mad, and the specialist is afraid so, too."

"Yes, such things have happened before—the mental strain is too great for sensitive nerves to bear. So I must lose no time. Now to come to business. I want you to tell me all you can about Mr. Langmore's life and his business dealings with people in this vicinity."



CHAPTER XIX

ADAM ADAMS MAKES A NEW MOVE

It was not until an hour later that Adam Adams left Martha Sampson's cottage. He had gained from Raymond all the information he could and also the names and addresses of half a dozen people he thought to interview. He spent what was left of the forenoon in the town, calling at the bank, and on a lawyer and one of the merchants, and about three o'clock in the afternoon made his way once more to the vicinity of the Langmore mansion. Here, to his surprise, he ran into Charles Vapp.

"Is your man around here?" he asked, as the pair met in the shadow of some bushes.

"Yes, went into the house five minutes ago."

"Have you learned anything unusual?"

"Not much. He has been around arranging his business affairs and he met Miss Bernard and the two had a confidential talk, but I couldn't get close enough to hear what was said. After that he came out to Sidham and there met a man named Matlock Styles."

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