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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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"Go on."

"The two had a long talk, and Ostrello seemed to be angry about something. Then this Styles seemed to threaten Ostrello and the young man seemed to lose all his nerve and wilt. I never saw a fellow change so. 'You can't do it!' I heard him say and Styles answered: 'I can and I will, if you try to interfere with my business.' Then they talked in a low tone and Styles went off in a buggy, saying he was going home. Ostrello walked up the street and down again, as if he didn't know what to do. At last he hired a rig and came out here. He went into the house and I was just going to change my disguise and take a look around when you came up."

"I see. Well, Vapp, if he meets this Styles again you do your level best to hear what is said."

"I did it before, but they kept in a corner of a building and I couldn't get near without attracting their attention. I tried it once but both of them gave me such a suspicious look I had to move on."

"That's all?"

"He sent three letters and a telegram. The telegram was to the firm he works for, something about an order for quinine pills—I heard it clicked off at the telegraph office."

"Well, you can stay here and I'll go into the house. If he comes out you follow him," said Adam Adams.

The detective found the mansion in charge of the policeman and Mrs. Morse. Both looked at him questioningly as he entered.

"Nothing is to be touched," said the policeman. "Them's orders from headquarters."

"Is anybody here?"

"Mrs. Morse and myself, that's all."

"No visitors at all?"

"No, sir."

"That's queer. Haven't seen anything of Mrs. Langmore's son to-day?"

The policeman shook his head. "You haven't seen him, have you?" he asked of the woman.

"No, and I don't want to see him," she answered tartly. "I don't want anybody to bother me," and she looked directly at the detective.

"I shan't bother you," was the quick reply. "But as I am working on behalf of Miss Langmore, and as this was her father's house and the one in which she lived, I think I shall take a look around," he went on, in a slightly stiffer voice.

"But orders—" began the policeman.

"You may go around with me, so that you can be sure I do not touch anything."

"Well, I dunno—" began the bluecoat.

His speech was cut short by the banging of a rear door, as the wind caught it. Mrs. Morse gave a cry.

"What was that? I didn't leave any door open!"

She ran to the rear of the mansion and the policeman followed. Adam Adams stepped to the front door and then out on the lawn. He was in time to see a man leap a side fence and start down the road. A moment later Charles Vapp was following the disappearing individual. The detective stepped into the house again.

"Well, that's mighty queer," muttered the policeman, as he came back.

"It is queer," answered Adam Adams, eying him sternly. "You had better explain it if you want to keep out of trouble."

"Explain what?" came from Mrs. Morse.

"You just told me that nobody was in the house."

"Well?"

"A man just left by the back door and ran away. Either you knew he was here or else you are not taking proper care of these premises."

"Why, sir—" began the woman, but then her eyes dropped before the steady gaze of the detective. "I—that is—"

"Who was that man? Come, answer me truthfully, or I shall report this, and let me say, my word will carry great weight."

"Oh, well, if you must know, it was Mr. Ostrello, Mrs. Langmore's son. He wanted—er—some books he left here some time ago. I don't know why he left in such a hurry. Perhaps because he didn't wish to meet you."

"Then you admit you lied to me, do you?"

At this the woman broke down completely and began to cry. "I didn't want to do any wrong, sir. He said he wanted to get the books and he didn't want every Tom, Dick and Harry to know he was here—those are his own words. He's a very nice gentleman, and so—so—I said what I did."

"You let him go through the house?"

"He had that right. It was his mother's home, wasn't it?"

"Yet you didn't want me to go through."

"A relative is different."

"Nevertheless, I think I'll take a look around, now he has gone," returned Adam Adams.

To this the woman felt she could no longer object and the policeman merely shrugged his shoulders. From the pair the detective learned that the safe had been opened by an expert in the presence of the coroner and chief of police, who had then had the combination set to suit themselves.

A tour of the mansion brought nothing new to light and Adam Adams left by the back way and walked down to the brook. Then he leaped the stream and took to a narrow path leading through the woods beyond. Deep in the woods he paused, to make several changes in his appearance, putting on a light wig and blue goggles and also an old-fashioned collar and necktie. Then he rubbed a little brown powder on his hands and face, rendering his complexion several shades darker than ordinary,

From a map of the county he had studied the surrounding roads thoroughly, and soon came out on a highway leading to Matlock Styles' residence. He was more than ever interested in the Englishman and wondered what John Watkins, Tom Ostrello and Styles might have in common.

In the distance he presently beheld a house he knew must be the Styles place. There was a turn in the road and instead of going up to the house by the front way the detective leaped a fence and passed through a wheatfield. Beyond this, and quite close to the house and the out-buildings, was a field planted with corn, between the rows of which were pumpkins and squashes.

He had hoped to gain the vicinity of the residence without being observed, as it was now growing darker, but he was not yet halfway through the cornfield when the deep baying of a mastiff burst upon his ear, coming nearer and nearer.

"Hullo! this is something I didn't bargain for," he muttered. He did not wish to shoot a valuable dog and at the same time he did not intend to run the risk of being bitten and perhaps torn to pieces.

He halted and drew his pistol, and a second later the dog burst into view. He was a full-blooded mastiff and a magnificent creature in every way. He came to a halt and showed his teeth, and presently his mate also appeared.

"Back there!" cried the detective. "Back, I say!" But the dogs only came closer, baying loudly and eying him in anything but a friendly fashion.

"Hi, there, Nelson!" came a voice from the other side of the cornfield. "Hi, Queen, what's the matter?"

"Call off your dogs, unless you want me to shoot them!" exclaimed Adam Adams.

"Blast you, don't you shoot my dogs," was the answer, and in a moment more Matlock Styles put in an appearance. He carried a dog-whip and motioned the animals away. "Back, Nelson, you bloody brute! Back, Queen!" And both animals slunk to his rear.

"Thanks! I am glad you came," said Adam Adams, and slipped his pistol back into his pocket.

"Are you?" sneered the Englishman. "If you had killed one of those dogs you would have gotten into a mess, I can warrant. They are worth a hundred pounds—five hundred dollars—each."

"Great smoke! I'm glad I didn't touch 'em, sir. I couldn't pay for one leg," and the detective grinned.

"What are you doing in this field?"

"I thought I'd take a short-cut to the Knoxbury road. It's getting late and I want to get back to the tavern there."

"The Knoxbury road? Why, man, you're a good three miles out of your bloomin' way. The Knoxbury road isn't this way—it's over there," and Matlock Styles pointed with his whip.

"Is that so? Then I'm twisted. Too bad! I'm so dog tired I can't walk much further either."

"Been taking a constitutional?"

"That and I walked over to look at the place where that double murder took place. Awful crime that, eh? Made me shiver just to look at the house. I suppose you've heard about it?"

"Yes, everybody knows about it around here."

"They say the man's daughter did it."

"If she did, they ought to string her up for it," growled Matlock Styles. "Such a blasted, cold-blooded crime as that was. Was you to the inquest?"

"No."

"Our coroner got her to rights. He's a sharp one."

While the two were talking they were walking towards the house, which was a pretentious affair but closed up on one side. They halted near a side porch.

"If I am three or four miles from the Knoxbury road I'd like to get something to eat and rest a bit before I start out again," said the detective. "Could you supply me with a bite? I'm willing to pay whatever's fair."

"I fancy so," answered the Englishman, after a slight hesitation, during which he eyed Adam Adams keenly. "Polly!" he called, and an old woman, with a wrinkled face and a tangle of gray hair appeared, holding a cup in one hand and a towel in the other.

"What are ye wantin' now, Mat?" she croaked.

"Here's a gentleman has lost his way. He wants a bite to eat before he starts again. Fix him up some sandwiches and some milk, and whatever else you have handy that's good. Where is Paul?"

"Gone to town."

"And Fred?"

"Gone to see the Garrison girl."

The woman disappeared from view, and a moment later Matlock Styles and Adam Adams entered the dining room of the abode.



CHAPTER XX

A QUEER TURN OF AFFAIRS

The detective felt that he was on delicate as well as dangerous ground. Nothing had been said to arouse his suspicions but he could feel by instinct that the Englishman was growing distrustful of him.

"Take off your coat, it's bloomin' warm in here," said Matlock Styles, as he proceeded to shed his outer garment.

"Thanks, but I'd just as soon keep my coat on," was the answer. "I am used to it. Fine farm you have here."

"Pretty fair."

"Raise much grain?"

"Only for the stock. I deal mostly in horses and in fancy dogs."

"I used to own a fancy dog myself," said Adam Adams smoothly and mentioned the fine points. The Englishman seemed to warm up to this subject and spoke of the many dogs he had, and of the prices some had brought him. In the midst of the conversation a lunch was brought in and the detective sat down to eat. Then with great care Adam Adams brought the talk around once more to the Langmore tragedy. But Matlock Styles at once grew cold.

"The girl did it," he reaffirmed. "They have her cornered. It won't be possible for her to clear herself, even with the best lawyers in the country."

"Do they suspect anybody else?"

"I think not. By the way, did you say you were at the house?"

"Oh, I walked around the place, that's all. I saw a policeman on guard there."

"Anybody else?"

"No."

"Did you come across the stream?" asked the Englishman quickly.

"Yes. I thought it was a short cut, but I got left."

"You came right from the brook to my place?"

"Well, not exactly. I got tangled up in the woods before I got on the path that brought me here."

"See anything strange around the Langmore house—any tracks or anything like that?"

"Why do you ask that? I thought you were sure Miss Langmore was guilty."

"So I am, but a fellow makes some bloomin' mistakes sometimes. I am not interested very much though," continued Matlock Styles, and gave a yawn.

"I saw nothing out of the ordinary. There were a good many footprints."

"Running this way?"

"Running every way, I thought. What kind of a man was this Barry Langmore?"

"A fairly good sort. He wanted everything that was coming to him, and so did his wife. She was a tartar and so was the girl. I shouldn't have wanted to live in the house with them."

At that moment another man appeared at the doorway.

"Hullo! got company?" he called out.

"Not exactly, Bart," answered Matlock Styles. "Excuse me for a moment," he continued, to the detective, and passed out of the room and to the kitchen with the newcomer.

He was gone for several minutes and during that time Adam Adams finished his lunch and took a good look at the room he occupied. There was nothing unusual about the apartment and his survey was finished before the Englishman returned.

"Now I think I'll pay you and be on my way," said Adam Adams, rising. There seemed to be no excuse for his lingering longer. "How much do I owe you?"

"Not a blasted farthing."

"Then I am much obliged. Will you have a smoke?" and Adam Adams handed forth a couple of choice Havana cigars.

"I don't know as I care to smoke, Mr.—You didn't give me your name."

"Robert Dixon. And yours?"

"Matlock Styles. I don't care to smoke."

"Bart!"

At the call the other man came in from the kitchen. To his surprise Adam Adams saw that he carried a rope in one hand and a pistol in the other. He was followed by the mastiff Nelson.

"Don't you dare to stir, you bloody rascal!" went on Matlock Styles to the detective.

"Why, what's the matter now?" queried Adam Adams. The turn of affairs puzzled him not a little.

"You'll soon see what's the matter," said the man called Bart.

"I must say I don't understand you."

"Maybe you'll understand when you are a prisoner," put in Matlock Styles.

"A prisoner? What for?"

"You know well enough."

"I am entirely in the dark. See here, is this a hold-up?"

"Yes, for we are going to hold you up, you bloody villain," said the Englishman, with a chuckle. "Don't dare to resist, or it will be the worse for you," and he drew a pistol from his pocket.

"But what does it mean?"

"It means that I have found you out. You are the murderer of Mr. and Mrs. Langmore."

"What!"

For the instant Adam Adams was truly surprised. It was such a turn of affairs as he had not anticipated. He looked at Matlock Styles keenly. Could the Englishman really mean what he said? He certainly appeared sincere enough.

"You have made a great mistake, sir," said the detective. "I know nothing more of the murders than I have already related."

"I think differently, my fine fellow."

"What makes you imagine I am guilty?"

"Never mind that now."

"Why, I can prove an alibi."

"Then you'll have to prove it, and a bloody strong one too, before I let you go. I've seen you sneaking around before. That's a wig you are wearing. Bart, bind him, and do it bloomin' tight, too."

"I'll do it tight enough," answered the other man, pocketing his pistol. "Hold out your hands," he went on to the detective.

Adam Adams looked around to see if there was some means of escape. But he realized that between the two men and the somewhat savage mastiff he was squarely cornered.

"I suppose I'll have to submit," he said. "But let me tell you that you are making a big mistake and it will cost you dear if you make me submit to this indignity. I'll sue you for a good round sum."

At this Matlock Styles winced. Evidently he was one who did not like to have his pocketbook touched. But then he stiffened again.

"I am willing to run the risk. Go ahead, Bart."

Adam Adams was compelled to hold out his hands and to his astonishment, not to say chagrin, his arms and also his legs were tightly bound.

"Going to search him?" asked the fellow called Bart.

"Of course," answered Matlock Styles and went through the detective's pockets one after the other. Fortunately Adam Adams had but little with him outside of a roll of bankbills and the material for several disguises. Matlock Styles allowed him to keep his money but placed the disguises on the table.

"That looks as if you were an honest man," said he with a sneer. "Honest men don't go around in this fashion. You're the man, beyond a bloody doubt, and I am going to hand you over to the police. Nelson!"

At the call the mastiff came up and looked inquiringly at his master.

"Sit down in that chair," continued the Englishman to Adam Adams, shoving him backward on a seat. "Now, Nelson, watch him. Watch him, old boy. Don't let him get up." And the dog growled In response.

The Englishman then motioned to the other man, and the pair went out together, closing the door after them. Listening, the detective heard a murmur of voices in the kitchen of the house and then all became quiet.

Adam Adams was angry, and that anger was directed entirely at himself. In the easiest possible manner he had allowed himself to be outwitted and exposed.

Could the Englishman be honest in what he said, or was he playing a deep game? That was a question which could not as yet be answered. If the fellow was honest he was most likely now getting ready to take his prisoner to the Sidham lockup. The absurdity of such a move compelled Adam Adams to smile bitterly.

To escape was out of the question. He could not slip from the cords which bound him, and at his slightest move the mastiff growled and showed an inclination to leap at his throat. So the detective considered discretion the better part of valor and remained quiet.

It was fully an hour before Matlock Styles returned. He was alone and carried a lantern on his arm, for it was now dark outside.

"I can't take you to town to-night," he said. "I am going to keep you here until morning."

"You haven't any right to keep me at all."

"I'll risk that. I'll make you comfortable, don't you fear."

Adam Adams thought rapidly. Perhaps to remain a prisoner at the farmhouse would be better than to be taken to town. During the night he might get the opportunity to escape.

Matlock Styles untied the end of the rope which bound the detective's legs and ordered the prisoner to follow him.

"And don't try to run away, unless you want Nelson to make a meal of you," he added grimly.

"Where are you going to take me?"

"You'll soon see."

The Englishman led the way out of the farmhouse and past the barn and several other out-buildings. Then he took to a path leading to the river and presently came to a halt in front of an old deserted mill. The building was dark and forbidding, and an owl, hooting in a nearby tree, added to the loneliness of the situation.

"I don't understand this," said the detective, as Matlock Styles came to a halt.

The Englishman did not answer. Instead, he set down his lantern and proceeded to bind the detective's legs once more. His manner was now rough and he acted as if he was somewhat desperate. He shoved open a door to the mill and peered around inside. Then he stepped back, put his lantern over his arm and caught Adam Adams up by the middle and threw the detective over his shoulder as if his prisoner were a log of wood.

There was no use arguing and Adam Adams did not attempt it. Indeed, he was rather curious to see what the fellow would do next. Matlock Styles entered the old mill and then descended a flight of stone steps. Below was a sort of cellar, damp and musty. Crossing the cellar the Englishman opened an iron door in a brick wall and literally threw Adam Adams into the inky darkness beyond.

"Now stay there until I get ready to take you to jail," cried the man.

He banged the heavy iron door shut and bolted it. The next instant the detective heard him cross the cellar. He mounted the stairs, banged the door above; and all became quiet.



CHAPTER XXI

CLOSE TO DEATH

For several seconds after being forced into the darkness beyond the iron door Adam Adams stood perfectly still. He heard Matlock Styles go upstairs and was fairly well satisfied that the Englishman had left the old mill.

"That man has something up his sleeve as sure as fate," murmured the detective to himself. "He is playing a game, and a deep one, too."

The darkness was absolute, and although he strained his eyes to the utmost he could not see a single thing surrounding him. To all appearances he was in a veritable dungeon.

He sat down on the cement floor, and bending forward, managed, after much labor, to loosen the rope around his legs with his teeth. Then he began to twist and turn at the rope which held his arms and presently that also came away. His efforts lacerated his wrists and ankles, but to the pain he paid no attention.

With caution he moved around until his hands came in contact with a stone wall. He paused for a moment and then moved along the wall, feeling carefully, so that he might not miss any opening which might present itself, and keeping one hand in front of him, so that he might not run into anything.

The wall was smooth and apparently solid. Suddenly he put out his foot and stepped upon nothing but air. He tried to draw back, but it was too late, and with a cry that could not be suppressed he went down into pitch-black space. He struck on some sharp rocks, and then his senses forsook him.

The fall was a perilous one and it was only by good luck that Adam Adams did not have his brains dashed out. As it was he remained unconscious for fully half an hour, and came to his senses to find a large lump on his head and the blood flowing over his face. His left shoulder was lame and for the time being he was afraid it was broken.

The rocks upon which he had fallen rested in several inches of water, and with this water he washed off the blood and bathed his hurts as best he could in the darkness.

The mishap made him reach but one conclusion. Matlock Styles had placed him there so that he might injure if not kill himself!

"The rascal!" muttered the detective. "If I ever get out of here he shall suffer for this if for nothing else!"

It took him some time to pull himself together and get his breath. Then he felt around cautiously, being careful to take no more steps until he was sure of his footing.

In a quarter of an hour he knew he was a prisoner in a circular cistern perhaps twelve feet in diameter and of uncertain depth. The walls were perpendicular, smooth and covered with slime, so to crawl up was totally out of the question.

"A pretty fix to be in," he mused. "If Styles had wanted to kill and bury me he couldn't have started out better. Ha! What's that?" He listened and then smiled grimly to himself. "Rats. I suppose there are scores of them around this place. I must see to it that they don't get a chance to feed upon my body!"

What was the best way to get out? For some minutes the detective studied the situation. In one of his pockets he had stuffed the rope taken from his legs, thinking it might come in handy in some way. He made a small loop at one end of this rope and threw it upward a dozen times or more. At last it caught on something and held fast.

Being on guard, in case he might fall backward, Adam Adams pulled himself up on the rope. It had caught on a sharp stone close to the top of the cistern and with an effort he drew himself to the flooring above.

"Thank Heaven for that," he murmured. "I must steer clear of such pitfalls in the future. If only I had a light!"

But his pocket light as well as his pistol had been taken from him. Whatever was to be done, must be accomplished in the darkness, and once more he set out on his tour of exploration, but this time with added caution.

It was not long before he found a place where the cellar sloped downward. At the end was a semi-circular opening, not unlike a huge drain.

"I'll follow this and see where it leads to," he told himself, and went ahead a distance of thirty feet, when he found himself wading into water that was fairly clean and sweet.

"I must be close to the river now," he reasoned. "I wonder if I can swim out to the stream?"

He hesitated for a minute and then resolved to make a dive for liberty. Down he went into the water and plunged along until he was over his head. Then he struck out as well as circumstances permitted. It was a truly perilous thing to attempt, but the detective was on his mettle and desperate.

Twenty feet were passed and then the force of the water seemed to drive him upward. There was now no turning back, and holding his breath with difficulty, he swam on and on, rising steadily until his head struck an iron obstruction. He put up his hands and found that it was a grating. Opening his eyes he made out that the grating was less than three inches from the surface of the river. Beyond he could see the open sky and the stars shining brightly.

With might and main he tried to push the grating aside. It refused to budge, and he grew frantic, for his breath was fast leaving him. It looked as if he would be drowned like a rat in a trap.

Desperately and with all of his remaining strength he threw himself at the grating. It bent at one end and came loose. Then he made another attack and the grating dropped to one side and his body shot upward to the surface of the river, out into the life-giving air. He gasped, spluttered, almost tumbled down again, and then staggered to the shore, which was close at hand. He had been under water less than three minutes, yet the time had seemed an age.

He sat on the grassy bank for a long time, trying to get back his strength and wondering what he had best do next. All was silent around him, saving for the hooting of some owls and the occasional far-off cry of a whip-poor-will. He gazed around, but not a light was in sight. The old mill was beyond him, partly screened by a number of trees.

Should he return to the vicinity of Matlock Styles' house and set a watch? This he thought a good idea, but there were two objections. He was wet to the skin and wanted some dry clothes, and he did not relish running into one or more of the Englishman's savage dogs, when he had nothing with which to defend himself.

As he sat there meditating, a stream of light shot across his feet and then disappeared. It had come from an upper window of the old mill and he scrambled to his feet to see what it meant. In a moment more he saw another stream of light and then a curious white cloud floated up from another window of the mill. At the same time he heard loud groans and then a hoarse note coming from what appeared to him to be a fog horn. The groans and the white vapor lasted for several minutes and then died away together.

It was a most uncanny happening and made his heart beat a little quicker than was its usual habit. Then of a sudden his face brightened and he smiled to himself.

"Make-believe ghosts and nothing more," he mused. "I wonder who is trying to scare folks away from the old mill? Most likely it is this Matlock Styles and it is part of another game of his. He must have gotten his idea from the old miser in the 'Chimes of Normandy,' only he works his ghostship a little differently."

He was about to move forward when a sound reached his ears which caused him to pause. A dog was approaching—one of the mastiffs he had met before. The animal growled ominously and would have attacked Adam Adams had not the detective leaped into the water and begun to swim away. The dog halted on the edge of the bank, and then there seemed nothing for the detective to do but to swim to the other side of the river, which he did, and then disappeared into the bushes.

"I think this investigation will keep—at least for to-night," he reasoned. "I may as well get back to town, get some dry clothes, and go to bed."

His adventures had tired him and he was thoroughly exhausted by the time he reached the Beechwood Hotel. Here he explained that he had slipped into the river and readily obtained some dry garments, after which he went to bed, sleeping soundly until sunrise.

He obtained an early and substantial breakfast and then visited a clothing establishment for another suit of clothing and a hat. From the clothing store he stepped into a drug shop, purchasing a number of chemicals and also an atomizer. Then he visited a barber shop and got a close hair cut.

At the post-office he received a letter, dropped by Charles Vapp the evening before. It was short and to the point:

"The man is keeping me on the jump. He went to see Matlock Styles and Styles threatened him with something again and Ostrello was greatly disturbed. After that Ostrello sent a money-order to his brother Dick for fifty dollars. He is now going to New York again and I shall follow."

This communication set Adam Adams to thinking once more. That Tom Ostrello and Matlock Styles had something in common there could be no doubt. The question was, What?

As the detective was walking back to the hotel he saw Raymond Case approaching and went to meet the young man.

"Oh, Mr. Adams, I am glad to meet you," cried Raymond. "Have you learned anything new?"

"A little but not a great deal. How is Miss Langmore this morning?"

Raymond drew a long sigh.

"I do not think she is much better. She is more quiet, but—"

"She is not clear in her mind?"

"That's it. She is now thoroughly convinced that she is guilty."

"And you do not believe her?"

"Of course not. I know she is innocent. Come now, honestly, don't you think so yourself?"

"I do."

"I knew it!" The young man's face brightened for an instant.

"But it is going to be no easy thing to prove," pursued the detective. "This crime was no simple matter. I am certain it was carefully planned and just as carefully executed. Those who committed it made it look as simple as possible for a purpose."

"And you are on the track?"

"I am on several tracks. I am not sure of the right one yet."

"Do you think those counterfeits had anything to do with the crime?"

"Undoubtedly. You say Miss Langmore seems to be resting easier?"

"Slightly."

"If it would not hurt, I should like to have a few words with her."

"Then come along and we can ask the specialist I have called in from New York."

Placing his purchases in the room at the hotel, Adam Adams accompanied Raymond to Martha Sampson's residence. They found the nurse and the doctor discussing the case, and the detective was introduced and he mentioned the object of his visit.

"It will do no harm to speak to Miss Langmore so long as you do not excite her," said the specialist. "But do not dwell on the subject of the murder too long."

"I shall not mention the murder," was the reply.

When Adam Adams entered the sick room he found Margaret sitting up in bed with several pillows behind her head. She gazed at him in perplexity and then gave a slight shiver.

"You—you have come to take me to prison," she cried.

"Not at all, Miss Langmore," he answered, dropping into a chair by her side. "You shall never go to prison if I can prevent it. But I came to see you about something else. Do you feel a bit stronger?"

"No, I feel very weak. What do you want to see me about, if not about the—"

"Oh, I want to ask you about some of the men with whom your father did business."

"Didn't you ask me that before?"

"Perhaps I did. But I want you to give me all the information you possibly can."

"I will."

"In the first place, you know Matlock Styles."

"Why, yes, I know him fairly well."

"He had some business dealings with your father."

"Yes, he owed my father money on several mortgages."

"Did they have any other business relations?"

"I think Mr. Styles had some interest in one of my father's patents—or, at least he claimed an interest. He and my father had some differences of opinion in the matter."

"Was the patent matter settled up?"

"I do not know, but I do not think so."

"Can you tell me anything else about Mr. Styles?"

The girl hesitated and then a flush mounted to her face. "Yes, I can. I—I did not wish to speak of it before, yet I see no harm in doing so. About four months ago Mr. Styles asked me to marry him. I told him I could not do so. He was very persistent and said he had more money than I imagined. I told him that that would make no difference, that I did not love him and did not wish him to mention the matter again."

"How did he take your refusal?"

"He was very bitter and overbearing. He said I had better think it over, and he hinted something about having my father in his power. He did not say it in just so many words but he hinted at it."

"Did he mean about the patent?"

"No, I think it was something else. But I did not pay much attention, for I thought he was talking merely to get me to consider his suit, and I did not wish to consider it, for I had become acquainted with Raymond."

"Did he ever bother you after that?"

"Only once, when I met him on the road. Then he asked me again, and said I'd be sorry some day if I refused him."

"Humph!" Adam Adams mused for a moment. "Now to change the subject. When did Matlock Styles last call on your father?"

"He called several times last week. I don't know exactly when he called last. But I do know that my father was greatly excited over something, and that he called in my stepmother and she was excited, too. I was not told what it was about."

"Well, to drop him, do you know a man named John Watkins, of Bryport?"

"Watkins? Yes, I do. He once called on my father, about the same time that Mr. Styles called last."

"Do you know why he called?"

"I do not. I thought it was about a patent. I learned that Mr. Watkins worked for the United States government and I thought it was for the patent office."

"Then that is all, Miss Langmore." The detective arose and held out his hand. "Now take good care of yourself and do not worry. Matters are bound to come out right in the end."

"But how can they be better for me?" Margaret's face took on its worried look again. "They have proved that I am guilty."

"You are not guilty," said Adam Adams firmly and looking her squarely in the eyes. "You are not guilty. I say so, and I know. Do not worry. Rest quietly, and soon everything shall be made plain to you." And then before she could answer he was gone. She sank back among the pillows, closed her eyes and heaved a sigh.

"It cannot be!" she murmured. "It is too late! I am guilty! I am guilty!"



CHAPTER XXII

AN UNDERGROUND MYSTERY

Late that afternoon a burly negro, plainly dressed and wearing a slouch hat, made his way along the river road in the direction of the old mill. He kept as much as possible in the shade of the bushes and trees and when close to the mill sank low in the tall grass, that he might not be seen by anyone who was passing.

The negro was Adam Adams and his disguise was perfection itself. The detective was heavily armed and carried in his pockets several things which were unusual to him.

He waited around the old mill until the sun went down and the stars began to come out one by one. No one was in sight, but this did not ruffle him. He was ready to play a waiting game and take whatever was to come, even at the risk of his life.

Presently he heard a whistle at a distance. Then a man appeared whom he rightfully took to be the fellow called Bart. This individual passed up and down the road near the mill and also came down to the water's edge, to gaze at the footpath on the other side of the river. The man had the mastiff Queen with him and the dog came within a hundred feet of where Adam Adams was in hiding. Quickly the detective pulled a large atomizer from his pocket. Then, as the man walked back to the Styles' farmhouse, the dog turned and disappeared in the bushes as if following a trail.

"Don't come here, old lady," muttered the detective, as he stood on guard, with the atomizer ready for use. "If you do you'll be sorry."

The mastiff was following Adam Adams' trail and in a minute more she came up and set up a fierce growl. Then she made a savage leap forward.

The detective might have finished her with a shot from his pistol, for he was an expert marksman. But he had come prepared to strike a blow without making any noise. As the mastiff sprang at him, he held the atomizer at full length and let a portion of the contents fly full into the animal's face. There was a snarl and a gasp and the magnificent canine fell over on her side. Leaping forward, the detective held the atomizer at the dog's nostrils and used it vigorously for a few seconds. It was more than sufficient for his purpose and soon the animal stiffened out in death.

"It's a shame to kill so fine a brute, but it can't be helped," he muttered as he restored the atomizer to his pocket. He had used a mixture of chloroform, carbolic acid and other drugs, and the dog had been blinded as well as smothered by the application.

He left the mastiff where she had fallen and, as the darkness increased, drew closer to the mill. Then he saw a man approaching and recognized Matlock Styles. The Englishman entered the old mill, closing the door carefully behind him.

"More ghost work, I suppose," murmured the detective, but he was mistaken, no such manifestations occurring. Evidently they were to take place later.

Without making a sound he crawled up to a side door of the old mill. It was unfastened, and pushing it open, he entered the lower floor of the building. All was silent.

He waited and after awhile heard a step overhead and a low murmur of voices. Then a man came down a narrow stairs, carrying a pole, a white sheet and a round, flat pan in which evidently something had been burnt.

"Looks like the ghost outfit," thought Adam Adams, as he crouched down behind some empty boxes and bins.

The fellow was tall, broad-shouldered and powerful looking, and Adam Adams felt certain he was not Matlock Styles. He wore a thin white bag over his head, with two holes for seeing purposes, and in one hand carried a flash lantern.

To the detective matters seemed to be growing tremendously interesting.

The man placed the things he carried in a closet partly filled with rubbish. Then he flashed his light around carefully. Adam Adams got down out of sight and placed his hand on the butt of his pistol. He was resolved to take no more risks than were absolutely necessary.

Presently the light was lowered, and taking a peep Adam Adams saw the man kneeling down and tugging away at an iron ring in the floor. Soon a trapdoor came up, and the man, taking up his lantern, disappeared from view, closing the trapdoor behind him.

The detective waited for several minutes and then stole forward in the utter darkness. He had measured the distance perfectly and found the iron ring with ease. He pulled upon it gently but firmly and raised the secret door several inches.

A look below showed nothing but darkness. He strained his ears, and heard a faint noise at a distance but could not determine whether it was the flowing of the river over the stones or something else.

He got out his pistol and examined it with care, to make certain that it was ready for use. Then, with a quick motion, he threw up the trapdoor, dropped below, and closed the opening above him.

He felt as does a lion tamer stepping into a cage of beasts new to him. He realized that he was on the verge of some important discovery, but that this investigation might cost him his life.

He was on a narrow staircase. There were but ten steps and then he found himself between two stone walls with the roof just above his head. Not caring to take another drop into the unknown, he advanced slowly, taking no step until he was sure of it.

Presently he came to a turn and then another. He could now see a light shining ahead, coming from under a heavy wooden door. The barrier was tightly closed. He tried it softly, to find it fastened on the other side.

There was a strange whirr and a clicking in the apartment beyond, as if some machinery was in motion. But then came a loud voice and the other sounds stopped. By getting down on his hands and knees Adam Adams was enabled to hear nearly all that was said in the place beyond the barred door.

"I will listen to reports," said a voice which sounded much like that of Matlock Styles. "Number One, have you performed the ghostly manifestations?"

"I have, chief," was the answer.

"Did you notice anything unusual?"

"A boy and a girl on the other side of the river ran away as if the Old Nick were after them."

"Anything else?"

"No, but it's Number Three's turn after tonight."

"Very well; Number Three, take notice of that. Number Two, there are but six of you here to-night. What of the other two?"

"A note was left at the foot of the tree. They could not come, for one had business in New York and the other business in New Haven."

"Very well. Number Three, what of the goods you shipped to Philadelphia day before yesterday?"

"I have a telegram that it was safely received and payment will be made to-morrow."

"How much?"

"Two thousand dollars."

"That is fine. We are doing better than we did."

"I'll try to get more next time."

"Do so by all means. The more we get the better off we shall be and the sooner we can retire. Number Four, what have you to report?"

"I haven't heard from Albany yet. I think I'll hear to-morrow."

"What have you to say, Number Five?"

"I met my man last night. He won't touch the stuff—says it is too risky."

"Humph! What does he expect? A fortune for nothing? What have you to say, Number Six?"

"I got a long letter from Denver. The man out there will take twenty thousand dollars' worth at fifteen per cent."

"Didn't you tell him our rate was twenty-five per cent.?"

"I did, but he won't bite at that figure. He says he will go elsewhere."

"Where can he go?"

"He didn't say, but he swears he can get the goods."

"Not as good as ours. However, let him have the stuff at fifteen per cent. for the present."

There was a pause. "Now, has anybody got anything to say?"

"I have," spoke up the man called Number Three. "I say we must be careful. That tragedy at the Langmore house has brought a lot of detectives to this vicinity."

"Yes, I know that. One of them came over to the farm," answered the leader, and now Adam Adams was sure he was Matlock Styles.

"Came to the farm? What did you say to him?"

"I put him off the track. He will never bother us again, to my way of thinking."

"That's sure?" asked another of the men.

"Bloody sure."

"We must make certain—" began another of the number, when a noise outside of the door caused an interruption.

So interested had Adam Adams become in the conversation that he had not noticed the advance of two burly men upon him and he was not aware of their presence until one pounced on his back and made him a prisoner.

"What's the row out there?" came from within the room.

"A spy, boys! Open the door and help capture him!"

Instantly there was wild confusion. The door was flung open and seven men poured forth, each armed, and all wearing the white head coverings, such as has already been described.

It was a battle of one man against nine and the space was so small that Adam Adams could not turn himself. He drew his pistol, but while one man held his wrist another wrenched the weapon from his grasp. Then the detective went down and was severely kicked and pummelled, until to resist further was out of the question.

"He ought to be killed!" cried one man.

"That's right, kill him!" put in several.

"No! no! not yet. We must question him first," said another.

The band surrounded Adam Adams and several pistols were leveled at his head as he arose.

"It's funny how the nigger got down here—" began one of the men.

"Nigger?" broke in another. "He is no nigger. See how the black has rubbed off his face."

The men stepped closer and then one of them gave a start.

"It's the same man!" he cried excitedly. He turned to another. "I thought you said—"

"I did," was the agitated answer. "There's a bloomin' mystery here. He couldn't get out! He was bound and the door was locked—I locked it myself."

"Go and make sure."

Matlock Styles, for it was he, ran from the room and was gone several minutes. When he came back he was more disturbed than ever.

"You are right, he is gone!" he gasped. "Can this be the same man?" He made another examination of Adam Adams. "Yes, you are right. Well, he shall not get away again!" he added, significantly.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MARGARET

"Tom, I tell you the best you can do is to make a clean breast of it and get Uncle Adam to help you."

It was Letty Bernard who spoke and she addressed Tom Ostrello. The two were seated on a bench in the park, where they had gone to talk matters over without fear of interruption or of being overheard. The conversation had lasted over two hours, and in that time the girl had learned many of the young man's secrets, and in return had told him a few things which had astonished and disturbed him.

He was much downcast and with good reason. For the past month many things had gone wrong with him. The one bright spot had been Lefty's love for him, pure and strong, helping him to carry his burdens.

"That's an easy thing to say, Letty," he answered. "But it is not such an easy thing to do. Poor Dick is deep enough in the mud as it is, and it will not be to my credit to mention my connection with Matlock Styles."

"Yes, but Tom, you—you—Oh, how can I explain? Can't you trust me when I tell you that I am speaking for your own good? I—I know many things of which you are ignorant."

"Then why don't you tell me, Letty? Is it fair for you to keep silent?"

"No, but then you must remember that I am Mr. Adams' private clerk, and he is working on this case in the interests of Miss Langmore."

"I know he is working for her and I hope he clears her. I always thought she was a pretty nice kind of a girl, and I can't believe that she is guilty."

"Tom, did you ever imagine they would think you were guilty?" and she gazed at him earnestly, as If to search his very soul.

He started.

"Me? Why—why should anybody imagine I was guilty? It's—it's out of all reason." He drew a quick breath. "Letty, do you mean to insinuate that Mr. Adams imagines—"

"You mustn't ask me questions, Tom. But think over what you have told me—of that letter your brother Dick wrote asking for money, and how you visited the house on the very morning of the murder to get the money, and how Mr. Langmore took the letter from your mother and tore it in half, and the scene afterwards."

"Yes, I know. But—"

"And then think of the way by which Mr. Langmore and your mother died. Killed by a curious poison, something that they inhaled, which, when the doctor got a whiff of it, gave him cramps in the stomach—a curious drug not generally known to medical science, a drug—"

He caught her by the wrist and looked fearfully, frightfully, into her face.

"Letty! My God!"

A short silence followed and she saw that he was thinking, deeply, swiftly. The cold perspiration stood out on his forehead but he did not appear to notice it. He dropped her wrist and his hand fell as if made of stone.

"Now you understand, Tom. I—I am speaking for I—I—want you to clear yourself."

"Then it has gone as far as this?" He gave a groan. "It was that drug—Letty, are you sure they have found out about that drug?"

"Yes, but do not say I said so."

"That drug is accursed—a Chinese student told me so. I laughed at him then, but now I believe it. The first time I carried it around with me I was wrecked in a railroad accident and had my arm hurt. Then, two weeks later, when I had it with me, I got caught in that hotel fire in Buffalo. After that a vial once broke on me and if I hadn't gotten away in a hurry I should have been smothered. And now—"

"Have you carried any of It lately?"

"No, not for a month. I was afraid of it, and so was the firm. We got rid of it, and I was glad of it." He bit his lip meditatively. "And they think—they suspect—that that drug was used? It may be."

"Cannot you trace where the drug went to, Tom?"

"That might be possible, although a good many people saw and heard of it while our firm handled it."

"Was any of it sold or used in the vicinity of Sidham?"

"No, but—" The young commercial traveler stopped short. "I think—But no, it can't be. And yet—"

"What, Tom?" she asked eagerly.

He shook his head. "What's the use? It would only drag me into the mud deeper. I really can't see what's to do," he went on with something of anguish in his tones.

"I am certain the very best thing you can do is to go to Uncle Adam and tell him everything. He will help you and clear up this great mystery."

"But he is working for Margaret."

"Yes, but I know he will work for you—after he has heard your story. But you must tell him everything."

"Where is he now?"

"Somewhere around your mother's home, or in Sidham, I think. I can find out for you,"

"Very well, I will go to him and ask him if he is willing to side with me as well as with Margaret. But watt, I think I'll go and see Margaret first. You can send word to Mr. Adams that I want to see him. Tell him I will be at the Beechwood Hotel. He can send me a message there. Tell him I can clear up some points which may seem queer to him."

"I will, Tom," Letty looked much relieved. "Oh, I am sure he will help you! He has never yet failed to accomplish anything he has undertaken!"

An hour later saw Tom Ostrello on his way to Sidham. His face was careworn and he looked to be ten years older than he had a week before. He was in a thoughtful mood and scarcely looked out of the car window as the train rushed onward to its destination.

Arriving at the town, he speedily learned that Margaret had been taken to the home of Martha Sampson and was said to be in a serious if not dangerous state. This caused him to halt, and he was half inclined to give up the idea of interviewing her,

"It will only make her condition worse," he mused. "And, poor girl, she seems to have suffered more than her share already. Perhaps I had better wait until I hear from Adam Adams."

But then he determined to learn exactly how she was, anyway, and turned his footsteps toward the cottage, which stood on a side street of the town, backed up by a patch of woods leading to the river. He was just in sight of the place when he heard a cry, and a man came running out of the cottage, followed by a woman and a policeman.

"Where is she? Where is she?" cried the man, and Tom Ostrello recognized Raymond Case.

"Hullo! What's up?" queried the commercial traveler.

"Margaret! She is gone!" cried Raymond. He ran back of the house. "I can't see anything of her!" he added with a groan.

"Margaret gone? I thought she was sick."

"So she is. She was out of her mind and slipped out of her room while the nurse went downstairs for some broth. I was in the parlor writing a letter."

"And I was on guard in the hallway," put in the policeman. "She didn't pass me, that I'll swear to."

"I was only gone a few minutes," said the nurse. "And I am sure she did not go through the kitchen."

"How long ago was this?" asked Tom Ostrello.

"Only a few minutes ago. Oh, we must find her," answered Raymond. "If she wanders off in her present state of mind there is no telling what will happen to her."

The four scattered, and a vigorous search was instituted for the missing girl. Soon the news spread and the chief of police came hurrying to the scene.

"Collins, you are responsible for this escape," said he sternly to the policeman.

"I did the best I could, sir," was the nervous answer. "She was that sick, sir, I didn't think she could get out of bed, much less walk off."

"Perhaps she is hiding in the house."

The building was searched from cellar to garret, and so were several other buildings in that vicinity, but without avail. Then the gathering crowd scattered through the woods and along the river.

"I don't believe she was as sick as they pretended," said one of the number. "This is only a bluff to let her get away. I said all along she was a sly one."

"Perhaps she pulled the wool over the doctor's eyes," came from another. "And over the eyes of that young fellow who's in love with her, too."

Raymond heard some of these remarks and they made his face burn. He longed to knock some of the speakers down, but held his temper in check as best he could. He realized that no argument he might advance would make an impression where opinions were so set.

Tom Ostrello joined in the search as diligently as the rest, and he and Raymond ran through the woods from end to end several times. Then they procured a boat and rowed up and down the river, and crossed over to the other side.

"She could not have gone far," said Raymond. "Her strength was not equal to it."

It was dark by the time they came back to the river, to cross to the town side. As they rowed along, slowly and silently, Tom Ostrello noticed something floating on the water. He steered toward the object and picked it up. It was a girl's summer hat.

"Margaret's hat!" cried Raymond. He dropped his oar and his face turned as white as death. "I know the truth now! She has drowned herself in the river!"



CHAPTER XXIV

ONE AGAINST MANY

Surrounded by his enemies, Adam Adams stood in the center of the stone room under the old mill, speculating upon what was to happen next. He saw that the men were thoroughly aroused and ready for any crime. Although all were masked by the hoods over their heads, each showed his rage and temper by his movements and his tone of voice.

"Well, now you are in our power, what have you to say for yourself?" came from Matlock Styles, after a pause.

"What do you want me to say?" returned the detective. "You have the best of the game just now, so it would seem."

"You're right—and we mean to keep it; eh, boys?"

"That's so," answered several.

"As a spy, he must suffer the fate of a spy," put in one of the number.

"Unless he consents to join us," added another.

"I'd never trust this bloody rascal," broke in Matlock Styles. "He's too sharp for us. He's a detective."

"If you don't mind telling, what is your business down here, Matlock Styles?" asked Adam Adams. He thought it best to put on a bold front, even with matters looking as black as they did.

"Ha! So you think you know me?" questioned the Englishman harshly.

"Of course, I know you."

"Well—it don't matter much—now," was the significant return.

"Are you transacting business down here?"

"Don't you know?"

"I do not."

"In that case, it's best to keep you ignorant."

"That's right, don't tell him a thing," came from one of the men who had first caught the detective.

"I want to know why you followed me up?" continued Matlock Styles. "You'll find it to your interest to answer me."

"I might answer as you have done and say it is best to keep you in ignorance. But I won't do it. I followed you up because I think you were connected with the Langmore murders."

At this Matlock Styles started, but quickly recovered.

"What made you think that?"

"Certain things I discovered around the mansion."

"Bah! That shows how you detectives often miss it. I was not near the Langmore house when the murders were committed."

"You can prove that?" questioned Adam Adams curiously.

"Of course I can. I was over to Stony Hill with my team, doing some trading. I stopped at the tavern and at the hardware store, and had quite a chat with several people there. I left home at eight o'clock in the morning and didn't get back until one o'clock in the afternoon. If you had taken the trouble you could easily have found out that what I have told you is the truth."

"You can prove that you were at Stony Hill from ten to twelve that morning?"

"I can easily do it. You can ask Doc Mason, at the hardware shop, Sam Ross at the tavern, and Dick Stout at the stables, besides a dozen others. Why, I was even talking to Mr. Anderson, the minister. He is thinking of buying a horse from me."

"That detective ain't going to prove anything," broke in one of the men.

"That's right," came from another. "He has got to take his medicine as a spy."

"Of course," said Matlock Styles. "I only wanted to satisfy his curiosity. Maybe he'll die feeling easier now."

His cold-blooded way of speaking made a chill run down Adam Adams' backbone. He was beginning to see the Englishman in a new light. The man was a master of deception, not as clumsy in thought and action as he assumed to be. And he was as heartless as a stone.

"Would you murder me?" asked the detective.

"It is the rule of our order that no man who acts the spy on us shall get away to tell of what he has discovered. How did you get away after I put you in that other room in the dark?"

"It was an easy trick."

"Won't you explain?"

"I might, but it would hinder my getting away in the present instance."

"You'll not get away again, never fear."

"Perhaps he didn't come alone!" exclaimed one of the other men. "He may have others with him, and they may have helped him to escape in the first place."

"He was alone when he came to the farm," answered the Englishman. And then he added:

"Bind him, and Number Three and Number Four shall remain on guard to watch him."

"Where shall we take him?" questioned Number Four.

"Take him to the last chamber. But blindfold him first. He has seen enough already."

In a moment Adam Adams was seized and bound in such a fashion that he could scarcely move a hand or a foot. Then a bag was placed over his head, with the eye-holes to the back, so that he could see absolutely nothing. He was led away, through a door opposite to the one he had entered and along a stone passageway. When the party came to a halt they were in a stone chamber, not over twelve feet square. Here the detective was tied fast to a ring in the wall and the two men sat down on a bench to guard him, lighting pipes and smoking in the meanwhile.

"Are you going to keep me blindfolded?" asked the detective.

"We are," was the surly response.

"For how long?"

"Until we get orders to do otherwise."

"Matlock Styles is your master, is he?"

"He is our chief. But you needn't to ask any questions about him."

"I don't intend to, but if you'll take this off my head I'll tell you something worth knowing," went on Adam Adams smoothly.

"Is this a game?" growled the fellow, known as Number Three. "Because if it is, I warn you it won't work. We've got pistols and we can shoot."

"How can I play any game on you, tied up in this fashion? No, I want to see a little and get more air—and I want to get square on Matlock Styles."

The two guards consulted together and finally came to the conclusion to remove the head covering. The men had a lantern with them and one glance around showed the detective to what a stronghold he had been brought.

"Now, what have you got to say about Matlock?" asked one of the men.

"You say he is your chief. Have you any idea as to whether he is treating you fairly?"

"Why do you ask that?"

"Well, perhaps it is nothing to me, but if I was taking the risks you take I'd want all that was coming to me."

"We get our share."

"How do you know? I once exposed a gang of counterfeiters in Maine and I found that the chief, Bill Davidson, was getting the lion share of the returns. More than that, when the exposure came, Davidson tried his best to get out of it by turning State's evidence."

"And did he get out?" asked one of the men, becoming interested.

"No, he did not. I would not allow it. I got two of the other men to tell the truth, and Davidson got twenty years."

"And what of the other men?"

"One got scared and ran away and the authorities let him slide. The other man was not prosecuted. The rest of the gang, four of them, got from five to twelve years each."

"Are you a government detective?"

"Not exactly, although I occasionally work for the government. Here is another thing I want you two fellows to know. The government has been hot-footed after your counterfeits ever since they were first marketed."

"Humph, they ain't found out much."

"You are mistaken, they have found out a great deal. I am only at one end of this game, and I must say I have put my foot into it bad."

"That's right," commented Number Three. He was a small-built man and evidently of a vicious temper.

"I am sorry in more ways than one," continued the detective, not appearing to notice the interruption. "I'd like to get out of this mess and get ahead of the other fellows working on this case. It would mean great credit to me and a big reward besides. The gang is bound to be rounded up very soon now, and when one or two are caught they'll tell on the others. If I could get somebody to help me out of this scrape, and put me next to the whole game, I'd pay him well and see that he got out with a whole skin in the bargain."

"Look here, you can't bribe me, so don't try it!" growled Number Three. "I'm in this game to a finish, see? I never got caught yet and I don't intend to begin now."

"All counterfeiters get caught sooner or later."

Adam Adams directed his words especially to Number Four, a big-boned young man, who was plainly nervous. The fellow fumbled with his pipe but made no reply.

"I always help the man who helps me," went on the detective. "And I am so well known in my profession that my word counts for a great deal. I can save a man if he will only put his trust in me. I have done it many a time."

"Ah, I don't want to hear your fairy stories," growled Number Three, but Number Four merely shrugged his shoulders, knocked his pipe clean and restored the article to his pocket.

The detective continued to talk, in a low and earnest manner. He was really pleading for his life, for he realized that it was not Matlock Styles' intention to let him escape again. As soon as the counterfeiters were sure the coast was clear outside, they would turn again to the prisoner and settle his fate.

Thus an hour passed and then came a low whistle. A minute later Matlock Styles entered the stone chamber.

"We'll get to business again," he said shortly. "We have no time to spare."

"What are you going to do next?" asked Number Four, and Adam Adams thought he detected a tremor in the tones.

"We are going to draw lots as to who is to dispose of the prisoner."

"How is he to be killed?" asked Number Three.

"That can be decided by the man who draws the red ball," was the Englishman's cold-blooded response.



CHAPTER XXV

IN THE HANDS OF THE ENEMY

"If I can't get away now I am doomed!"

It was Adam Adams who uttered the words in a low but firm voice. He sat on a small bench, in the stone chamber. His feet were bound with a rope and his hands were chained to a ring in the wall behind him.

The counterfeiters had started to draw lots, to see who should be the one to do the detective to death. Then had come an interruption, in the shape of an important message, and the detective had been bundled off by himself, while the communication was under discussion.

Adam Adams knew that his situation was a desperate one. The counterfeiters were a gang who would stop at nothing to keep their secrets. The only one who appeared to be at all timid was the fellow known as Number Four. Possibly if he could get this fellow alone and work on his feelings Number Four might aid him. But just now such a course seemed out of the question.

The detective listened attentively, but only a faint murmur of voices reached his ears. The counterfeiters were having an animated discussion over something, but they were on their guard so that not even their prisoner might hear.

"Wonder why they are so careful?" mused the detective grimly. "If they are going to take my life I don't see what difference it will make whether I know their secrets or not."

Adam Adams was not the man to give in easily. Upon every case where his services were called for, he usually "kept at it" until every possibility was exhausted. He did not give in now, yet it must be confessed, being but human, his heart was somewhat heavy.

"I'll have to take chances," he told himself. "Anything is better than to let them kill me in cold blood."

He waited for a few minutes, to find out if anybody was coming to watch him. One of the counterfeiters came in, looked him over in silence, and then passed out again, this time closing the door more tightly than before.

As soon as the fellow had departed, Adam Adams commenced to work on his bonds. He had studied all sorts of handcuffs, and knew well how to manage his hands and wrists when being fastened. He had not been able to get the better of the fellow at the cottage, but now it was different, and, with a twist of his wrists, he withdrew first one hand and then the other.

With his hands free, it was an easy matter to untie his feet. This done, he arose and tiptoed his way to the door. He opened the barrier with caution, and peered out.

The sight that met his gaze was not a reassuring one. The counterfeiters sat on all sides of the room, and each had a pistol where it could be gotten at with ease.

"It's got to be done!" Matlock Styles was saying. "It should have been done long ago."

"All right, I'll do it," grumbled another member of the band. "But I'll be running a big risk."

"Not half the bloomin' risk I've been running," grumbled the Englishman.

"What about the word from Buffalo?" asked another.

"We'll settle that to-night—after we have settled about our prisoner."

"I've got to get back to New York."

"How soon?"

"Just as soon as possible."

"Do you want to take the letter along?"

"Yes; I gave my word I'd bring the letter."

"All right, then; we'll have to write the letter, and each man sign it," said Matlock Styles. "But, I must say, I don't like this way of doing things."

"No more do I," growled another of the band.

"It's putting a fellow's head under the axe," came from Number Four.

"Oh, don't get scared!" came from another. "I know Luffer—he's O.K."

"Everybody is O.K. until he gets in a tight corner and squeals," grumbled Number Four.

"Kicking again, eh?" roared Matlock Styles, glaring sourly at Number Four.

"Oh, no; I'll do as the others say!" answered the big-boned young man, but with a slight tremble in his voice. Then all of the counterfeiters gathered around a table, to dictate and sign a certain letter some outside party had demanded.

Adam Adams did not stop to listen to all of this conversation. He felt that if he was to get away he must lose no time in making the attempt. For a moment he thought to rush past the counterfeiters and try to gain the regular entrance to the den, but then he realized the foolishness of such an attempt. Before he got a dozen steps, they would fire at him, and, most likely, kill him.

He closed the door gently, and, seeing a small stick of wood on the floor, stuck this under the barrier and shoved it as tight as possible. Then he took up the bench and braced this under the handle of the door, so that to shove the door inwards would be all but impossible.

"Now, then, to see if there is some other way out," he mused.

A lantern, hanging on a nail, lit up the stone chamber. Taking the light in hand, he commenced a rapid but thorough investigation of his prison.

The walls were practically solid, the only break being at the door and on the opposite side, where there had once been another door. This second doorway had been bricked up to within six inches of the top, which had been left open, probably for ventilation.

Standing on tiptoes, Adam Adams held up the lantern and looked through the ventilating space. Some cool air coming in, told him that the passageway beyond must lead to the outer world.

"If that opening was only a bit larger a fellow might crawl through," was what he told himself.

He set the lantern down and felt of the wall, putting his arm through the opening. It was about a foot thick, and the bricks were well laid, in good cement.

"Not much show there," he reasoned grimly. "If a fellow had time, it could be done. But it would take hours—with only a pocketknife—and they'd be sure to hear the noise. I must see if there isn't some other way."

He listened at the door for a moment. The counterfeiters were still at work over the letter, and another angry discussion was in full sway. Then he held up the lantern, looking at the flooring over his head.

The planks were heavy but old, and several of them looked to be pretty well rotted. Picking up a stick that was handy, he poked at one plank after another. It was not long before he came to one that was so far decayed that the end of the stick went through it with ease.

There was nothing to stand upon but the bench, and so he took it away from the door and placed it directly under the decayed plank. Then he stood up and pushed on the plank with both hands. It gave way, sending down a shower of dust and mold in his face, and almost blinding him.

He had made considerable noise, but angry words between the men in the other chamber drowned out the sounds. Catching up the lantern once more, he lifted it through the opening over his head, and tried to look around.

He could see but little, excepting boxes and barrels, some as decayed as was the floor. Evidently the apartment above had once been a store-room, but had not been used for years.

Adam Adams did not speculate long over what to do next. He felt that the farther he got from the counterfeiters the better off he would be. Setting the lantern on the floor above, he took a firm hold on a plank that looked fairly strong, and drew himself up. It was a tight squeeze, but he had been through many tight squeezes before, so did not mind it.

Once in the storeroom, his next move was to place what was left of the broken plank into position, and on it he piled several empty boxes and barrels.

"That may keep them guessing as to how I got out of the room below," he thought. "They'll find out sooner or later—but the later the better."

Lantern in hand, he moved cautiously around the old storeroom. There were many empty boxes and barrels, and also sacks that contained musty flour. Rats were in evidence, and they scurried hither and thither as the detective moved around.

It was not long before he discovered two doors. One was nailed up, and where it led to, he could not surmise. The other stood partly open, and through it came a whiff of fresh air.

"That smells like liberty," he thought, as he breathed in the fresh air.

He looked down a passageway, with a flooring partly of brick and partly of stone. Where it led to, there was no telling.

Feeling that it would be unwise to use the light longer, he put it out. But he kept the lantern in his hand, for possible use in the future, either to show the way or as a weapon.

The passageway made several turns, and in the darkness he had to feel his way along. Then he reached a flight of stone steps, leading downward.

"I don't want to go down—I want to go up," he reasoned. But there seemed no help for it, and down he went, sixteen steps, to land in a small room at the bottom.

Here all was pitch-dark, and for the moment he stood still, not knowing in what direction to move next. All around him were stone walls.

Presently he felt a small iron door. He took bold of the handle and found the door locked.

Curious to learn his whereabouts, he felt for a match, struck it, and lit the lantern once more. A brief glance at the door caused a look of wonder to overspread his face. The door was locked with a combination lock similar in make-up to the lock on a safe.

He gazed around, and soon learned that there was no exit from where he was, save by the flight of stone steps. To get out, he would have to go back.

He gazed again at the small iron door, set in an iron frame, embedded in the stone wall. What could be behind that barrier? Most likely something of great value.

On the floor at his feet was a bit of dirty white paper. Mechanically, he picked it up and looked it over. On it was the following:

O—4 L 2—12 R 3 53 L 2 44

"The combination!" he murmured. "Somebody had it on that paper and dropped it. Shall I try to work it, or try to get out?"

His better judgment told him he should try to make his escape. But he was curious to know what was behind that iron door; and, setting the lantern down, he commenced to work the combination knob. He twirled the knob around four times and stopped at O. Then he began on the combination proper—twice to the left, stopping at 12; three times to the right, stopping at 53; and then twice to the left again, stopping at 44. Then he came around slowly to O again. There followed a click. The combination was off.

He twisted the handle of the iron door and pulled upon it. It came open noiselessly, revealing a stone chamber beyond, eight feet square, and equally high.

Lantern in hand, Adam Adams stepped into the vault and gazed around eagerly. On two sides were wooden shelves, six in number. On the shelves rested several boxes, of wood and of metal.

He opened one of the boxes, and gazed at the contents with interest. It contained a quantity of haired paper, almost an exact duplicate of the haired paper used in the making of banknotes.

He looked at another box. This also contained paper. The third box held a quantity of counterfeits, the amount of which made even the matter-of-fact detective gasp.

"If they ever floated these, they would be the richest gang of counterfeiters in the world!" was his mental comment. He had no idea of the exact amount, but saw that it would total up to a tremendous sum.

He turned to one of the metal boxes. It was empty, and he set it down again. Then he took up another box that was fairly heavy, and threw open the cover.

There, resting on some thick blotting paper, was a counterfeit plate—a plate undoubtedly used for printing the backs of the spurious $100 bills!

Adam Adams could not help but gaze at that plate with interest. How the Secret Service men had worked to bring that plate to light, and arrest the users! And here he, in following up the clues of one crime, had stumbled upon the broad trail of another.

As he put the plate down, a noise reached his ears. By instinct, he blew out the lantern and listened. The noise was that from footsteps at a distance. Then he heard a murmur of voices, quickly growing louder.

"They have discovered my escape," he told himself. And then he blamed himself for not having made better use of his time in an endeavor to get away.

He stepped out of the vault, and listened with strained ears. The counterfeiters had separated, and were searching in all directions for him.

"If they come this way, I'll have to fight," he reasoned. "I might as well die that way, as to be killed in cold blood."

But then a sudden idea came to him, and as quickly as he had left the vault, he returned to it. Footsteps were coming closer, and he had no time to spare.

One of the shelves of the vault was close to the top and very broad. Up on this climbed the detective, and laid out at full length, as close to the wall as possible. In front of him he held two of the wooden boxes containing the haired paper.

Somebody came closer, and he heard talking in the passageway at the foot of the stone steps. A hand was placed on the door of the vault.

"Who left this unlocked?" came in Matlock Styles' voice.

"Is it unlocked?" asked another of the band.

"Yes."

"That is strange. It was locked yesterday; I am sure of it."

"Maybe that bloody rascal got here!" growled the Englishman.

"How could he work the combination?"

"Oh, some of those chaps are keener than you think. Wait, hold up the light."

Matlock Styles opened the door and gazed into the vault. For the moment he saw nothing.

"Not here," he said briefly. "Come on; we'll have to look elsewhere."



CHAPTER XXVI

DOOMED TO DIE

"Wait a minute!" came from the other man, as Matlock Styles was on the point of coming out of the vault.

"What do you want?"

"I want to get some of that new paper."

"Oh, you can get there after we have caught our man."

"I'll take it now—it won't take a minute."

The man pushed his way into the vault. He took hold of a box. Then he suddenly backed away.

"He's in there!" he gasped.

"In there? Where?"

"There—on the shelf! Look out!"

"Ha! So he is!" ejaculated Matlock Styles. He, too, leaped back. "I've got him, too, the skunk!"

Both of the counterfeiters leaped into the passageway. Adam Adams came down from the shelf. But the movement was not swift enough. As he leaped towards the iron door, it was banged shut in his face. Then the combination knob was twirled around.

"Ha! ha! That's the time we caught you like a rat in a trap!" sang out the Englishman in triumph.

"Sure it was our man?" queried his companion. "I didn't get a very good look."

"Yes, it was our man, the bloody villain!"

"He's a slick one!"

"So he is—but he'll not get away again. Go and tell the others that it is all right—that we have him," went on Matlock Styles.

"You are sure he can't get out of there?"

"Not in a hundred years! He'd have to blast his way out to do it."

"Then it's all right," returned the other man, and walked away up the flight of stone steps.

"Now, then, you have come to the end of your rope, you bloomin', bloody rascal!" cried Matlock Styles, when he was left alone in front of the vault. "You'll not get out of there until I open the door."

"Styles, supposing we talk this matter over?" suggested Adam Adams, as calmly as he could.

"Talk it over? What do you mean?"

"Let me out, and I'll explain."

"I'll not let you out."

"It won't do you any good to keep me in here."

"I know better."

"Don't think that I am alone on this case, for I am not. If you harm me, you'll take the consequences."

"Bah! You can't scare me! I'm not a baby. If you weren't alone, some of your chums would be after you long ago. You thought to run me and my gang down single-handed, and have your praises sung in every bloomin' newspaper of the country! I know your kind. But I've got you now like a rat in a trap. And you'll get out like the rat does—after he's dead."

"You won't talk then?"

"No—at least, not now. Perhaps I'll talk later. But I'll not give you your liberty," and thus speaking Matlock Styles tried the door of the vault, to make certain that it was secure, and walked away.

It must be confessed that Adam Adams felt that he was in a dangerous situation—a situation in which the majority of men would have given up utterly. He still had his lantern, and this he lit once more, and by its rays examined every foot of the vault in which he was a prisoner.

He saw little that gave him encouragement. The sides and flooring were of stone and brick, well put together and strong. The ceiling was likewise of brick, resting on arches of iron.

"Looks as If I was booked to stay here!" he muttered grimly, as he viewed the situation. "No getting out as I got out of that other hole."

He noticed that the air was not good, and this soon gave him cause for additional alarm. If he could not get any fresh air, he might smother before anybody came to release him.

Once more he went over the walls and the flooring, and even pounded on the iron door. It was all to no purpose. He was as close a prisoner as if encased in a stone tomb.

"Perhaps they will leave me here until I either smother or starve to death," he reasoned. "It would be an easy way of disposing of me. And Miss Langmore and Mr. Case would wonder how I came to disappear so mysteriously."

He set the boxes on the floor, and, standing on one of them, proceeded to examine the roofing of the vault more carefully. He found one of the iron arches a bit loose at one end, and pulled upon it with all his might.

The result was greater than he had anticipated. The iron brace came down, and with it fell several dozens of brick, some hitting the detective on the legs and feet. He shrank back against the shelves, and so avoided getting the shower on his head. The lantern was smashed, leaving him in total darkness.

As soon as the fall was over, he pulled the boxes from beneath the bricks and piled them one on top of the other. Mounting as high as he could, he felt around, secured a hold on some bricks and stones above, and hauled himself upward.

"Now to get out somehow!" he told himself. "No more lingering in this den of criminals!"

He felt around, as he moved forward. On all sides the walls were wet and slimy. He advanced with care, resolved to avoid all pitfalls, were it possible to do so. He was in a place where the roofing was no higher than his shoulders, so he had to stoop as he progressed.

A moment later he found himself in a narrow passageway, with rocks on one side and a heavy wooden partition on the other. Through a slit in the partition a faint light was streaming.

Adam Adams tiptoed his way to the slit and looked through. Beyond he made out the printing room of the counterfeiting plant. Only one man was present, the big-boned fellow known as Number Four. He was seated on the corner of a rude table, idly tearing some paper into strips, and evidently thinking deeply.

As the detective was about to move on, another person entered the printing room.

"Did they get him?" asked Number Four eagerly.

"Yes," was the short reply.

"Where was he?"

"You'd never guess."

"At the river?"

"No; in the vault."

"What! How did he get there?"

"Nobody knows. He must have found the door open. But it's against the rules for anybody to leave that door unlocked."

"I know that," said Number Four, and heaved a deep sigh.

"Say, you don't like your job, do you?" went on the other counterfeiter, with a sniff.

"Would you like it?" demanded Number Four, half angrily.

"Well, not particularly."

"When I joined this gang, I did it to make money, both ways. I didn't join to kill folks."

"Sure, that's true. But the fellow deserves what he'll get. He is a spy, and when a fellow spies on the likes of us he takes his life in his hands—and he knows it."

"Well, that may be so. Just the same, I'm sorry I drew the red ball," went on Number Four.

"Ain't going to back out, are you?"

"Humph! How can I back out? Styles wouldn't allow it."

"You bet he wouldn't—and none of us would, for that matter. If I had drawn the red ball I would have done what was asked of me, and no shirking—and you've got to do the same."

"I ain't shirking," growled Number Four. "I'll do my duty. But I don't like the job," and then he arose and left the room.

Adam Adams had moved on, too—down the dark passageway. Soon he came to a place so narrow that he squeezed through with difficulty. Here he stepped into a nest of rats, and one bit him in the ankle, causing him to give an involuntary cry of pain. The rats were all around, and he had to hiss quite loudly to make them keep their distance.

He could now smell the water, and knew he must be close to the river. Once in the stream, he felt that he could swim to safety. But he must look our for more traps.

Another turn, and he found the water flowing at his feet. Far ahead was a faint glimmer of light. He entered the water and pushed forward. Then, of a sudden, he came to a halt. He had heard the sound of somebody rowing.

The small boat passed, and all became silent once more. Again he pushed on, and presently reached a spot at the edge of the old mill. He was under a dock. Close at hand rested a rowboat, with the oars across the seats.

"The boat for mine—if I can get into it without being seen," the detective told himself.

With added caution, he waded around to the stern of the rowboat, and peered around carefully. Not a soul seemed to be in sight, and, with care, he climbed over the stern of the craft.

"Stop!" came a cry. "Here he is!"

He turned and leaped to the oars. As he did this, something whizzed through the air. It struck him on the head, and over he went, across the seats of the boat. He clutched wildly at the air; and then his senses forsook him.

"Who is it?" came another call.

"That rascal who escaped!"

"It can't be—he is in the vault."

"Come, see for yourself. Quick!"

Three men came rushing to the spot, and the rowboat was hauled close to the dock. The counterfeiters pounced upon Adam Adams, and by the time he had recovered his senses, he was again a close prisoner. Then Matlock Styles appeared.

"He is a wizard!" ejaculated the Englishman. "But he shall not get away again! I'll guard him myself—until Number Four finishes him!"



CHAPTER XXVII

TOM OSTRELLO'S STORY

On the following evening, at exactly seven o'clock, an old man came to the depot at Sidham and met the incoming train. He was rather feeble in his movements and hobbled rather than walked to meet a man who came in with a portfolio under his arm.

"Excuse me, but is this Mr. Granby?" he asked in a quavering voice.

"That's my name," said the new arrival, with a slight start.

"How are the sketches getting along? I hope you are making a good picture of my daughter."

"Very good, I think, sir. If you will come to my room, I will show you my proof."

"All right, sir," answered the old man.

The two men left the depot, and crossing the roadway, walked to a hotel on the next block. They ascended to the third floor and made their way to a fine apartment in the front. Here the door was locked, the curtains drawn, and the gas was lit. Then both men removed wigs and false whiskers, and there stood revealed Charles Vapp and Adam Adams.

"You are on time, I see," said the latter, as he dropped into an easy chair and lit a cigar.

"Yes, I was lucky enough to get your telegram directly after it came in. The trail took me near the office and Frank passed it to me."

"What of the man you have been following?"

"He is looking for you."

"Do you know the reason?"

"Yes. He has had several talks with Letty Bernard, and she has advised him to speak to you, and tell you everything, whatever that may mean. The girl told him that you could clear him."

"Humph! She takes a good deal for granted. Anything else?"

"Do you know that Margaret Langmore has disappeared?"

"So I heard, less than an hour ago."

"They say she ran away to escape trial."

"Perhaps so, but if she did she was out of her head. It is too bad, for it complicates matters."

"By your telegram I see that you want me to turn to something else," went on Charles Vapp, after a pause.

"I do." Adam Adams drew a long breath.

"Charley, wonderful things can happen in twenty-four hours."

"I know that, Adam."

"Last night I was doomed to die. I was in the hands of one of the worst band of evil-doers I ever ran across. They drew lots as to who should slay me—just as the Anarchists draw lots to kill one who has been marked by them."

"And you escaped?"

"If I hadn't I shouldn't be here. It's a long story. As luck would have it, the foul deed fell to the lot of a fellow known as Number Four. He was a weak-kneed chap, and I had previously spoken to him about getting caught and imprisoned, and I said I would befriend anybody who would befriend me. He was to shoot me, tie my body in a bag with rocks, and sink me to the bottom of the river. He said he would do the job only when alone and the others took him at his word. When he got me where he wanted me, he told his story. He used to be poor but honest, and was once sent up for a theft that he had not committed. The gang got hold of him, when he came out of prison, and he was made to join the band. He said he did not want to kill anyone, that he was sick of what he had been doing, and wanted to reform. I promised him a thousand dollars if he would let me go, and promised not to testify against him, if he would tell me all he knew. He took me at my word, and sank a sack full of grass and stones to the bottom of the river, instead of yours truly. Then he came away with me, told me some astonishing things, took his thousand dollars; and I haven't seen him since, and I doubt if he will ever show himself again."

"You were more than lucky. But what is this band—if it is any of my business?"

Adam Adams leaned forward.

"Don't breathe it to a soul, not even at headquarters," he whispered. "I have located a band of counterfeiters—the makers of that clever counterfeit bill on the Excelsior National Bank of New York. You've heard of it—the one they said was printed from the Racksburg plates."

"Sure, the one Fields tried to run to earth last year."

"The same."

"That's a big feather in your cap."

"In following up one thread I seem to have gotten away from another. I started out to find the murderer of Mr. and Mrs. Langmore. I thought I had a line on one fellow, but it would seem now that he can readily prove a complete alibi."

"What do you want me to do?"

"I want you to keep your eyes on certain people in and around this town, and especially on that Matlock Styles. If you see any indications of his running away, arrest him on the spot. Here is a list of the men to be watched." Adam Adams brought out a slip of paper. Then he described the old mill. "The counterfeiters' rendezvous is under that mill," he continued. "They make folks think the place is haunted and Styles has savage dogs on his farm near by, and that keeps the curious away. I want you to watch the mill, too, if you can. But keep out of all danger. If any of the gang try to trap you shoot them down, for if they catch you they won't be apt to let you get away alive. If you wish get Strong to help you."

"I understand, and I'll be on my guard," said the assistant.

After that the pair conversed for a quarter of an hour longer and then, after making some changes in his disguise, Charles Vapp hurried from the hotel and out into the darkness of what looked as if it would prove a stormy night.

As soon as Vapp had gone, Adam Adams sat down and penned a brief note. This he sent out by a hotel messenger, and then sank back in his easy chair, to smoke and to meditate.

The detective had learned much, yet about certain things he was in the dark as much as ever. The mysterious Number Four—he had not asked the penitent for his name—had given him the names and addresses of fourteen men connected with the band of counterfeiters. Eleven of these individuals were makers of the bogus bank bills, and the other three operated in the big cities, disposing of the "goods" in bulk to others, who in their turn, fed the bad bills to the general public.

So far as Number Four knew, Matlock Styles was the head of the gang, but the man had said there was another individual, to whom Styles often went for advice. This man was considered to be very shrewd, but what his name was there was no telling. Number Four ventured a guess that he might be connected with the United States treasury department.

After his escape from the den, Adam Adams had gone to Stony Hill in secret, and there verified Matlock Styles' story that the Englishman had not been near the Langmore mansion during the time the murders were committed. So, from that crime, at least, the counterfeiter was apparently cleared.

But this only made the mystery connected with the counterfeits in the safe so much deeper. Number Four had never mentioned Barry Langmore when speaking of the members of the gang, and when questioned about the man, said he had known him by sight and that was all.

Less than an hour after he had sent out the messenger, there came a knock on the door and Tom Ostrello presented himself.

"You are the gentleman that wishes to see me?" he inquired.

"I believe you wish to see me," was the reply, as the detective closed the door and locked it again. "Sit down, Mr. Ostrello. I am Adam Adams."

"Oh, I—er—I didn't quite recognize you in that dress."

"I suppose not." There was a brief pause. "Mr. Ostrello, if you wish to speak to me, I am at your disposal for the next hour."

"Thank you." The young commercial traveler cleared his throat. "You are—I mean, I believe you know the relationship between Miss Bernard and myself?"

"She has told me something about that."

"She tells me you are her closest friend—that you have really been a father to her since her own parent died. And she tells me that you are one of the greatest detectives in the world. I wish I had known that when we first met—I should have engaged you to clear up the mystery of this sad affair."

The young man paused again. Evidently it was hard work for him to get directly at the subject on hand. Adam Adams remained silent.

"I did not imagine that I—well, that I would be connected with this great crime. I mean, that anybody would suspect that I had done the deed. It is a fearful thought! That I would kill my own mother! I know such things have been done, but they must have been done by beasts, not men. I know I should have spoken of the visit that very morning to my mother."

"Then you admit that you called at the house?"

"Yes."

"You were dressed in a gray suit and wore a slouch hat, and you entered by the back way?"

"How did you learn all that?" cried the young commercial traveler in astonishment.

"Never mind. In coming away you slipped and fell, and your hat dropped off."

Tom Ostrello nodded. "I understand that somebody must have noticed me after all. I came in by the back way because I missed the train for Sidham, and took that which stops only at Chester. It is a short cut through the woods from Chester Station to the Langmore place. When I came away I had just time enough to catch another train at Chester, and I was very anxious to get back to the city, for I had an important engagement with one of my customers."

"I understand. Proceed, please."

"I came to the house for two reasons. In the first place, as perhaps you know, my brother, Dick, is a spendthrift, and works occasionally only. He got into a scrape in Los Angeles, and telegraphed me to help him out financially. It was an old plea, but I thought if I left him to himself my mother would not forgive me. I did not have money enough to help him by myself, for my capital was tied up in such a fashion that I could not get at it. More than that, I had in my possession two one hundred dollar bills, which my mother had gotten from Mr. Langmore, and both of these were counterfeits."

"One of those bills you had tried to pass at a theatre, eh?"

"Ha! You know that, too! Then you have been following me up?"

"The United States Government has been trying to follow up those bills for several years."

"I came to the house and saw my mother. Mr. Langmore had gone to the bank. There had been a family row, but that was not all of the trouble. Mr. Langmore was strangely excited, so my mother said, and had declared he was going to have somebody arrested, before the week was out."

"On account of the counterfeits?"

"Either that, or on account of a patent. She said he had sent off several letters and was also going to telegraph to somebody. She said he had asked her to give back the hundred dollar bills, and had been much disturbed when she told him that I had them. She took the bills back and gave me good money for them, and also gave me two hundred dollars more, to forward to my brother Dick, which I did, adding a hundred of my own."

"Did your mother tell you anything more about the counterfeits?"

"No."

"Did you see Miss Langmore?"

"I did not, nor did I see the servant. I was in a hurry, and so I came away as soon as my business was accomplished."

"When you came away from the house and dropped your hat, did you go back again, crawling along by the bushes?"

"I certainly did not."

"Did you see any other man around?"

"Not there. I caught a glimpse of a man when I was hurrying through the woods to the station."

"When you came to the house, after the tragedy, Mr. Ostrello, what were you so anxious about?"

"You mean what was I looking for?"

"Yes."

"A letter Dick had sent me. It told about his trouble. I thought at first it might be in the library, but I found it in my mother's room. It contained an account of the scandal he had gotten into. I did not wish that scandal to become public property. I can show you that letter if you wish to see it."

"Lately you have had some trouble with a man named Matlock Styles. What was that about?"

"It was over a patent. I thought of an idea for a machine to box up pills in a new way, and spoke to Mr. Langmore about it. I left some papers with Mr. Langmore and I think Styles got hold of them and applied for the patent. We had several disputes, and at last he threatened to get me into trouble with the firm I represent. He said he had influence, and as I didn't want to lose my job, I didn't press him about the patent. He acts like a farmer, but he is a shrewd fellow, and not to be trusted."

"You went back to the house lately, on the sly—told Mrs. Morse you wanted some books."

"I admit it. I wanted to get some of my mother's private papers. Now she is dead, I wish to look out for any share of the estate that may be coming to my brother Dick and myself. Isn't that natural? It was foolish of me to run away as I did, but—well, I was nervous. This tragedy has completely unnerved me, and I hardly know what I am doing."

"How about this bit of wrapping paper?" and Adam Adams brought forth the piece he had found under Mr. Langmore's safe.

"I do not know where that came from, but it is evidently a part of some of my firm's advertising. The first three lines are the name and address. The last line reads, 'Keep dark'."

"I found this under the library safe."

"That is not to be wondered at. Some time ago, I remember, I got some powders for Mr. Langmore, for headaches. I remember the box had a wrapper of that sort on it. The powders lose their strength if exposed to the sunlight. And that reminds me, you—you think these murders were committed through the agency of a Chinese powder—yamlang-peholo—a powder my firm once introduced in this country."

"The evidence points that way."

"I know of nobody around that house who had any of the accursed stuff, for it certainly was accursed. I never took any there—or, at least, if I ever did, I do not remember taking it out of my grip."

"Can you furnish me with a list of people who received this stuff from you or from others?"

"I can. On my way to Sidham I made out this list, and here it is," and the young man brought it forth.

Adam Adams glanced at it quickly, and read over the long line of names and addresses—doctors, druggists and private individuals. Suddenly he paused and a smile of triumph lit up his features.

"Good!" he almost shouted.

"You have discovered something?" asked Tom Ostrello quickly.

"Yes, I have discovered a great deal. I think the murder mystery is as good as solved."



CHAPTER XXVIII

WHAT HAPPENED TO MARGARET

It is said by specialists that the human brain can stand just so much, and no more. The tension becomes so great—something snaps—and then? The question is one, hard, if not impossible, to answer.

So it was with poor Margaret, hounded by the well-meaning but ignorant officers of the law of the community in which the double crime had been committed. So searching had been the questions put, so strong the accusations, that the reasoning powers of the girl were completely shattered. She imagined herself guilty—imagined herself being taken to prison, to be hung or electrocuted, and in a hundred ways suffered the mental tortures of the eternally condemned.

Then came a change, when she grew hysterical and laughed softly to herself. No! no! she must not let them hang or electrocute her! It would be too much of a disgrace! She must escape such a fearful fate!

But how? There could be but one answer to that question. She must contrive in some way to outwit her enemies—she must escape—must fly to some place where they would never be able to find her.

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