It is said that those who are insane are usually shrewd, and so it was in Margaret's case. She prepared to run away, but she did not allow the nurse or the doctor to become aware of what she was doing. She waited until the doctor had made another call, and then asked the nurse to fix her something special to eat.
"Why, yes, I'll get whatever you wish, my dear!" said the nurse, and went below to prepare the food.
No sooner had the woman disappeared than Margaret leaped from her bed and began to dress. All of her things, even to her hat, were in a closet of the bedroom, so this was easy.
"How shall I go?" she asked herself. She knew, from the talk she had heard, that a policeman was somewhere around, watching the house. She looked out of a window and saw him, leaning against a fence, taking occasional sly puffs from a pipe he held in the hollow of his hand.
She did not dare descend the stairs. She looked out of the window. It was not very far to the roof of a porch, and against the porch was a trellis, with a wealth of honeysuckle growing upon it.
How she did it, Margaret could not afterwards remember. But she crawled forth from the window, and climbed down the trellis as if it were a ladder. The sweet scent of the honeysuckle made her sick, and she came close to falling in a faint at the foot of the vines.
Reaching the ground, she stared around like a frightened fawn seeking to hide from the hunters. Then, without knowing why, she sped for the river bank.
The water looked cool and inviting, and for several minutes the beautiful girl stood there, gazing steadily down into those depths. Should she make a leap and end it all?
"It would be the easiest way out of it!" she moaned to herself. "The easiest way, and nobody would care!"
But, as she bent lower, she seemed to see reflected, not her own face, but the face of Raymond. With a cry of despair, she shrank back as if struck a blow.
"No! no! It will not do!" she moaned. "Not that! Not that!"
She ran along the river bank until she came to where a rowboat was tied up. On the seats were the oars, and, scarcely knowing what she was doing, she leaped into the craft, untied the painter, and took up the oars.
The fresh air seemed to give her strength, and she pulled on and on. She grew thirsty and stopped to drink some of the water and to bathe her face and hands. While doing this, her hat slipped overboard and drifted away, but she did not notice this.
Presently she took up the oars once more, and rowed along the stream until she reached a spot where there was an island. Here she went ashore, hiding the rowboat in the bushes.
It was only a small island, but in the center some boys had erected a hut where they had once camped out. Margaret dragged herself to this shelter. Her strength was almost gone now, and, as she dropped on a rude bench, her senses forsook her.
She did not remain unconscious long, but during that time she had a dream or vision. She imagined that she was back home once more, and that her father and her stepmother were alive and well, and that the bitter quarrelling had come to an end. She sat up and brushed the tumbled hair from her forehead,
"It—it must have been a dream!" she murmured. "It can't be true—that daddy is dead! I—I must go home and find out!"
She was surprised to find herself on the island, but the sight of the rowboat brought with it a memory of how she had used the craft, and once again she got in and rowed away.
This time she headed for the Langmore mansion, and it was not long before she came within sight of the well-known dock where her own tiny craft still rested. She looked around. Not a soul seemed to be in sight.
With a cunningness far out of the ordinary, the poor girl crept along the shrubbery in the direction of the barn. This structure was locked up. From the barn she turned to the house, and, watching her chance, she entered by the cellar-way, which chanced to be standing open.
It was dark and damp below stairs, and the girl shivered as she stood there, trying to make up her mind what to do next. Should she go right up and try to find her father? Supposing her stepmother was there, would she try to make more trouble?
Margaret mounted the stairs and entered the lower hall of the house. The blinds were closed, and all was dark. She moved towards the room where the body of her father had been found.
At that moment the woman who had been left at the mansion came from the kitchen. She caught one glimpse of the girl and set up a shriek.
"It's a ghost!" she cried. "A ghost! Heaven help me!"
The cry was so piercing and so genuine, it roused Margaret from the stupor in which she was moving.
"My father! He is dead, after all! Oh, daddy!" she screamed, and then turned, brushed past the woman, and sped out of the back door of the mansion.
"What's the matter?" came from the policeman who was on guard.
"She—a ghost!" stammered Mrs. Morse. "I saw her!"
"Margaret Langmore! Or else her ghost!" The woman had gone white, and was shaking from head to feet.
"It can't have been the girl. She is in bed, under the doctor's care."
"But I saw her!" insisted the woman.
"We'll take a look around," answered the guardian of the law.
They commenced the search, but long before this was done Margaret had run back to the river. She dropped into the rowboat, and rowed off as swiftly as her failing strength would permit.
"Daddy is dead, after all!" she moaned, over and over again. "And she is dead, too! I remember it all, now. And the blood! Oh, I must get away, or they will hang me, or electrocute me!"
Five minutes more and the rowboat came to grief on some rocks close to the side of the stream. It commenced to fill with water, and Margaret had to wade ashore, which she did, slowly and deliberately, like one in a dream. Then she passed into the woods. Coming to a thick clump of bushes, she sank down exhausted, and there merciful sleep overtook her.
How long she slept, she did not know. The low growl of a dog aroused her. She sat up, and the growl of the dog became a heavy bark. Looking from out of the clump of bushes, she saw a mastiff standing there, eying her suspiciously.
"What is it, boy?" she heard a heavy voice ask. "A woodchuck? Never mind now, come on."
But the mastiff continued to bark, and came close enough to sniff at Margaret's foot. She essayed to draw back, but was too weak to do so.
"Won't come, eh?" cried the man. "What's the bloomin' reason, I'd like to know?"
He came closer and then caught sight of Margaret. For a second he stared in amazement; then uttered an exclamation.
"You! How did you get here?"
"Oh!" she fairly screamed. She recognized Matlock Styles, and knew not what to say. For some reason she felt as does the bird in the net of the fowler.
"This is bloomin' strange," went on the Englishman. "I thought you were down in the village, under the care of the doctors."
"I was," she managed to falter.
"How did you get here—run away?"
"I—I do not know. I—they have found me out! They are going to hang me, or electrocute me! I—I couldn't stand it!"
"How do you know that?"
"Oh, I know only too well."
"So you ran away, did you? 'Twas a bloody cute thing to do, Margaret. Say, your dress is wet," he went on wonderingly.
"Yes, I was in a rowboat and had to wade ashore." She looked at him with a face full of wild misery. "Oh, please go away and leave me!"
"I can't do that, Margaret."
"But you are not fit to be left alone. You're sick."
"Never mind—only leave me!"
"Better let me take care of you." And now, having stopped the barking of the mastiff, he came and sat down by her side.
"No! no!" She tried to shrink away, but was too weak to succeed.
"So you ran away, eh? Are they after you?"
"I don't know. I—I suppose so."
"How did you get out of the house?"
"I climbed out of a window, when the nurse and the policeman were not looking."
"Bloomin' clever, that," he murmured. His eyes were watching her closely, and to himself he was saying: "Gad, what a beauty she is, in spite of what she has suffered!"
"I am going away—far away!" she went on, in a low voice. "Oh, I cannot, cannot stay here."
"You can't travel in your condition, Margaret." He pulled thoughtfully at his mutton-chop whiskers. "You let me help you."
"Yes. Come, give me your arm," and he caught hold of her, as if to assist her to arise.
"No, no! Please leave me!" she begged. "I can take care of myself. Only give me the chance to get away!"
"Margaret! You are out of your mind."
"No, I am not."
"I know better. And I am not going to let you go away. You shall go with me."
"Oh, Mr. Styles! Please go away."
"No," he answered firmly. "Come, you have got to go with me."
A GLASS OF POISON
Margaret could do nothing but stare at the man before her. He was heavy-set and powerful, and wont to having his own way.
"Mr. Styles—" she began, but he put his hand over her mouth.
"You are sick—out of your head," he interrupted. "I know what is best, and you must do as I say. Come on." And he pulled her forward by the hand.
"Not very far."
"I—I do not wish to go to your home."
"I'll not take you there, don't fear."
"You are going to hand me over to the—the authorities."
"Never! Come. I won't hurt you."
He led the way through the woods, across a small stream and past a spot where some wild berries grew. Then they struck a trail leading up a hillside. The place was new to her.
"I want to know where you are taking me," she said presently, and came to a halt.
"To a place where you will be safe."
"That isn't answering the question."
"We'll be there in a few minutes, and then you can see for yourself, Margaret. Cannot you trust me, girl? I'm not going to hurt you. I love you, and I'll do all I can to help you. Come!" And again he made her move on.
At last they came in sight of a tumbled-down cottage on the edge of what had once been a clearing, but which was now overgrown with weeds and brushwood. As they came up, Margaret's strength gave out, and suddenly she sank down on her knees.
"All in, are you?" he said, not unkindly, and, stooping, he picked her up bodily. She tried to resist, but could not, and he took her into the cottage and placed her on a couch.
"I'll get you a nurse," he said, noting her extreme paleness. "You need one."
"Thank you," she murmured, and then closed her eyes, for she was too far gone to say more, or to make a move.
He was as good as his word, and when she roused up once more an old woman was at Margaret's side. She had administered some sort of drug—what, the girl did not know—and it had put her into a sound sleep.
When Margaret looked around again, she was surprised to see that it was morning. She tried to think, but her mind was almost a blank. Outside of the broken window a wild bird was singing gayly. She looked around. The old woman was not in sight.
She had been put to bed, and sat there, trying to think for several minutes. Then she gave a low call, and the old woman appeared in the doorway.
"Come awake, have ye, miss?" said she.
"Where am I?" asked Margaret feebly.
"You're safe enough, never fear."
Margaret said no more and the woman went about some little work. Presently the girl arose and dressed herself. She felt much stronger than when at the home of Martha Sampson, in spite of what she had experienced in running away. She sank down in a rocking chair, to think matters over.
How far was she from Sidham? She knew she must have come a long distance, but could not tell if it was five miles or fifty. She looked out of the window, but the scenery was strange to her.
As she sat there she reviewed what had passed, her mind becoming clearer as she thought. She remembered the scene at the inquest, and remembered how she had fainted, and how Raymond had supported her and taken her to the nurse's house. Then she remembered how the coroner's jury had accused her of the terrible crime, and she gave a deep shudder.
"Poor, dear father," she murmured. "Who could have been so wicked as to take your life?"
An hour went by, and she prepared to leave the cottage, when a shadow fell across the window, and Matlock Styles appeared. He spoke a few low words to the old woman, and the latter walked away.
As the man entered the room, Margaret arose and faced him. The Englishman was well dressed, and newly shaven, and wore a rosebud in his buttonhole. Evidently, he had spent some time over his toilet in honor of the occasion.
"I'm glad to see you up and looking so well," he said pleasantly. "I was afraid your running away would hurt you."
"I—I must thank you for what you have done for me, Mr. Styles," she answered.
"Oh, that's all right, Miss Margaret. I'd do as much for you any day. I think it's a bloomin' shame the way you have been treated."
"Well, I suppose it cannot be helped. But I must be getting back soon. You will show me the road?"
"Don't be in a hurry to go. You're not strong enough to go. Besides—" the Englishman paused impressively. "What's the use of going back? Don't you know things look beastly black for you?"
"Perhaps, but I am not afraid—now. I am not guilty, Mr. Styles."
"Of course not! Of course not! I knew that from the start. But things do look black, no use of talking. I want to help you." He came closer, at which she retreated a step.
"Thank you, but I do not see what you can do. I must go back and give myself up. I—I was not myself when I ran away. It was a very foolish thing to do."
"If you go back, do you know what they will do? They will surely hang you?"
"Oh, merciful Heaven? Do not say that!"
"I wouldn't if it wasn't so. But I've been talking to the coroner and the chief of police, and they have all of the evidence as straight as a string."
"I am innocent."
"I feel that you are, and that is why I side with you. Besides, you know my feeling for you. I've loved you for a long time—I told you so before." He took hold of her arm. "If you'll do what I wish, I'll see to it that you escape—that you are never bothered any more."
"How can you do that?"
"Never mind how it can be done. Promise to give up Case, and be my wife, and I will attend to all of the rest. And I'll promise you more than that. Listen, do you know that I am immensely wealthy? It is so, and I can easily prove it. Look here." He drew a big roll of bank bills from his pocket, each bill of a large denomination. "I have ten thousand dollars here. It shall be yours for the taking—if you will marry me. I can easily raise five times this amount in forty-eight hours. We can go to Europe, or Australia, or anywhere we wish. Isn't that far better than to stay here, to be hung by a lot of country bumpkins, who don't understand the matter at all?"
She put up her hands, and waved him away. Then she burst into tears.
"Don't speak so, please don't! I—I cannot bear it, I have gone through so much already!"
"Won't you listen to reason?" Matlock Styles' face darkened. "I am giving you everything I have, my wealth, my honor, everything! Can a man do more than that? I love you—love you more than Raymond Case ever did, or will."
She wrung her hands and his dark eyes seemed to pierce her very soul. She felt faint and sank on a bench.
"Come, will you accept, Margaret?"
"No, no, I cannot!"
"But think of what is before you."
"If I tried to escape, they would soon be on my track—"
"No, I can prevent that."
"Because the world will know that you are innocent."
She gave a start and looked at him wildly, pleadingly.
"Then you know the real murderer?" she panted.
"If I answer that question, will you become my wife?"
Again she shrank back.
"You know the murderer," she repeated. "Perhaps you committed the foul deeds yourself."
He took a step back as if struck a blow. Then he recovered quickly and smiled a bitter smile.
"No, I was not near the place, I can prove it. Besides, your folks and myself were on good terms. There is somebody else, who was around the house when the affair happened—somebody you know well, a person who would know all about the drug with which your father and Mrs. Langmore were killed."
"Who was it?"
"Will you consent to marry me?"
"Tell me first."
"You are fooling me."
"I swear I am not, Margaret. Marry me, and I will clear you as surely as the sun is shining."
"And if I refuse?"
He came and caught her by the arm, his face blazing with sudden passion.
"Do not dare to do that! Don't you understand the matter? You are in my power—in my power absolutely. I can hand you over to the police whenever I will."
"That will not be such a hardship. I said I was going back."
"Bah! If I tell them that I caught you, that you begged me to let you get away—that you even said you would marry me, if I would aid you, what then? Everybody will think you guilty, and Raymond Case will never come near you again."
"Perhaps I am a monster when aroused. You had better think this matter over."
"I do not want to think it over. My mind is made up. I shall never marry you, never, no matter what happens. I loathe and despise you!"
There was a moment of silence, and his dark face turned a sickly white and then red. He breathed heavily through his set teeth.
"You mean that?" he said finally, his eyes shining like those of a serpent.
He glared at her steadily. Then, in a burst of rage, he caught her by the throat and threw her backward to the floor. She offered no resistance, and pausing in his madness he realized that she had swooned away.
"Fainted!" he hissed between his set teeth. "I wish she was dead! Curse her and her beauty!"
He waited, and as she did not return to consciousness, he picked her up, and placed her on the bed. Then he hurried outside:
"Go back to the house," he said to the old woman. "You'll not be needed here any more. And see that you keep your jaw closed over this," he added harshly. And the woman slunk away as if struck, like a dog.
Once inside of the cottage, he took up a glass of water standing on the table, and to this added a powder taken from his pocket, stirring it up well. Then he looked around to see that there was no other water around the building.
"When she rouses up she will be dry, and she will drink this," he muttered to himself. "Half a glass will do the work and she will never bother me or anybody else any more."
He paused again and took from his pocket several sheets of paper, closely and carelessly written upon in pencil. The first sheet was headed:
Dying Confession of Margaret Langmore.
"A fine forgery, if I do say so myself," he mused. "Mat, you always were a plum with the pen. I'll add a line telling where she can be found and then send it to the coroner. That will be better than leaving it around here. She might find it before she drank that dose." He paused again. "Perhaps she won't drink it after all. I'll give her some of it now, and make sure."
He raised up the almost lifeless girl, and forced open her lips. Then he took the glass, and poured half the contents down her throat. She spluttered, but swallowed, and he let her form drop back on the bed. He was in a cold perspiration now, and in sudden fear, he fairly rushed out of the cottage and down the hillside in the direction of his home.
RAISING THE CURTAIN
As soon as his interview with Tom Ostrello was at an end, Adam Adams asked the young man to leave him.
"I am going to follow up this clew," he said. "And the quicker the better."
He looked over a valise he carried and selected a number of things he wanted. Midnight found him at the depot, boarding a train for Fairfield. At the latter place he changed and took another train for Bryport. Arriving at that city, he located at a hotel, and went to bed.
He was up at sunrise and procured an early breakfast. Then he returned to his room and spent a full hour in donning another outfit and in powdering his face, and adjusting a wig and a reddish moustache.
The same car that had taken him to the vicinity of John Watkins' residence before, took him there again. As he approached the house he saw the secret service man coming forth.
"Excuse me, Mr. Watkins, but I must see you," said he, in a low and suggestive tone.
"To see me?" questioned the man. "What about?"
"Well, I must see you alone. The sky may be rather red, you know."
At the last words the secret service man started slightly. "That's true, and I don't like a red sky," he answered. "Come into the house. You just caught me in time."
He led the way inside and up to his den, closing and locking the door after him.
"Now, then, what do you want to see me about?" he demanded sharply.
"Don't you recognize me?"
"I must say I do not, although your face seems familiar."
"I am Number Four."
There was a pause, and Adam Adams studied the face before him closely.
"Well?" came from the secret service man coldly.
"There has been trouble, Mr. Watkins. Matlock Styles sent me to you."
"The dickens you say. What right has he—"
"He had to do it. Things are getting warm."
"He should have come himself."
"He couldn't do it. The detectives are shadowing every movement he makes. He didn't even dare to drop you a letter."
"What's the cause of the trouble?"
"Those queers in the safe."
"Then the authorities got them?"
"Yes, and they've sent down some New York detectives, who are watching everybody."
"Bah! Styles must be getting nervous."
"He told me to tell you something more. They found something else. It's about the poison powder that was used. You made some kind of a mistake—"
John Watkins leaped to his feet and turned pale.
"I made a mistake?" he cried. "How? For Heaven's sake, man, tell me all!" He went to a cupboard, got out some brandy and drank a stiff portion.
"That is what Styles wants to find out. He thinks you put out some clews that point to him. He says if you did he will blow you sky-high. He wants the truth from you, and he wants it right away."
"Clews? Against him? He is crazy. I never put out a single clew against him. Why should I? Wasn't it arranged that we should fix it against the girl, and didn't I even go to the trouble to spy on Langmore and get the combination of the safe—although it didn't do any good. And then after the job was done, didn't I—" The secret service man came to an abrupt stop, as if fearing he had said too much. "Look here, did he tell you all this, or is this some game?"
"Hey!" exclaimed Adam Adams, pretending to be amazed. "Did he tell me. See here, I don't care if you are the boss, I am not going to run the risk of being sent up for twenty years for you. I came to help Styles out, that's all. I had the devil's own job getting out of Sidham without being followed. To-morrow I am going to take my money and move West. You won't trust a fellow, and yet you expect—"
"Never mind, Pink, don't get on your ear so quick—"
"Ain't I got a right to get on my ear? You go and poison two people and then—"
"Who said I did the poisoning?" John Watkins was plainly agitated.
"Didn't Styles tell all of us? He wasn't going to have those clews pointing to him. He says you bungled."
"He is a calf!" roared John Watkins. "Where is the nerve he used to have? So he told all of you that I did the job, eh? Well, I'll square things with him for that."
"He wouldn't care if you hadn't made some sort of a botch—"
"I? A botch? Say, don't you believe what he tells you, because it isn't true!"
"Well, he says—"
"I don't care what he says. I didn't do the job, and I am not going to let him shift the responsibility on my shoulders. He's a fool. Don't everybody think the girl is guilty, and if they clear her isn't there another string to the bow?"
"You mean Tom Ostrello?"
"That's it. So he told you about that, too," came from the secret service man bitterly. "Well, he isn't the man I thought he was. I suppose he has gone and blabbed right and left."
"Only to the band. We knew something was on the carpet and we cornered him and then he had to speak. Why, one of the New York detectives found our place under the old mill, and we had to do him, to keep the thing a secret."
"You got him out of the way?"
"Did Styles do that job?"
"No. We had to draw lots. I ain't saying who drew the red ball."
"Maybe you drew it yourself."
"Maybe I did and maybe I didn't. What I want to know is: What are we to do? The crowd don't like Styles much, and I can tell you confidentially, that for two pins we would throw him over—that is, if you will stand by us."
"You want to elect a new leader?"
"Yes. But with the understanding that the crowd is to be let in on the ground floor after this. No more working in the dark. Even yet we don't know why those murders were committed, and yet it looks as if all of us might suffer, unless you pull us through O.K."
"Didn't Styles tell you why?"
"No, although he hinted at something."
"Well, I'll tell you, Pink, and you can tell the rest. Barry Langmore had some dealings with Styles about patents and mortgages. One day Styles drank a little too much, and went to Langmore to pay a bill. He had two packages of money with him, each for several thousand dollars. One package was good money and the other was our own brand. Styles also had some loose bills with him. He paid part of a mortgage and also something on an invention. When he went away, he saw that he had made a mistake and given Langmore the counterfeit bills. He went back the next day, but Langmore had gone away, on a short vacation. When he came back Styles went to him and they had a pretty stormy scene. Langmore had tried to pass a bill, and learned it was a counterfeit. Styles pretended that he didn't know the money was bad, but Langmore wouldn't believe him. Some of the money had gone to Mrs. Langmore, too. Styles begged to get the money back and offered Langmore his rights in an invention if only Langmore would keep quiet. Langmore said he would think it over, but I am inclined to think he communicated with the police instead, although I have no proof. Anyway, we made up our minds that Langmore knew too much, and so did his wife. Then—well, they were found dead, that's all."
"And you say you didn't commit the deed?"
"I did not."
"Then Styles must have done the job, since there was no one else."
"Didn't he tell you that he can prove an alibi! That he was over to Stony Hill at the time the deed was done?"
"Yes, but if that is true, then you are guilty. You got that poison from Henry Bloom, and he told Tom Ostrello that he let you have it. There is where you blundered. Ostrello and others are on your track. You can't escape unless you can prove an alibi, too."
Again John Watkins shrank back as if struck a blow.
"Who—who told this—who says—" he began hoarsely.
"Then he can go to perdition! I'll not stand up for him a minute longer. Yes, I got the poison, but I gave it to him. I can prove it by the old woman who works for him, if I have to wring her neck to make her speak. She heard me tell him how to use it. He trusts her, because he has her where the hair is short. She killed a child years ago, when she ran a baby farm. And then about that alibi—" The secret service man laughed bitterly. "So that's his game, if it comes to a showing of hands? Well, I can put a spoke in his wheel. He was at Stony Hill, was he? Well, so was I. I can prove that, too."
There was a pause, during which the secret service man took another drink of liquor. He was plainly very nervous. With great deliberation, Adam Adams drew from one pocket a pistol, and from another a pair of handcuffs.
"The scene is ended, Mr. Watkins," he said coolly. "I want you to slip on those and come with me." And he threw the handcuffs on the table, and leveled the pistol at the fellow's head.
The man staggered and threw up his hands, half expecting a shot. He suddenly began to tremble, as if with the ague.
"What do you mean? Wh—who are you?" he faltered.
"I am Adam Adams. I believe we have met before."
"Adams!" The secret service man sank back in an armchair. "And you—you are here to arrest me?"
"Exactly. As I said before, the whole game is up. Inside of half an hour you will be safe in prison, and then we shall round up such other members of the gang as are still at large. Unless you want to make a confession, you will have to stand trial for the murder of Mr. and Mrs. Langmore."
"Never! I'll—I'll tell all I know, first!" The man's lips were white and his eyes full of commingled rage and fear.
"You will make a clean and clear statement?"
"Clearing up the murder mystery?"
LIGHT AT LAST—CONCLUSION
As soon as Adam Adams returned to Sidham he communicated with the chief of police, and with several other persons, and also sent two telegrams to New York. He tried to find Charles Vapp, but could not locate his assistant.
The detective's plans were laid with care and he gave the posse of men under him minute instructions as to what to do. In the midst of the work Raymond and Tom Ostrello appeared.
"Let me go along," said Raymond. "I want to do my little towards rounding that gang up."
"And so do I," came from the young commercial traveler.
"You may go as far as Styles' farm, if you wish," said Adam Adams. "But why not look for Miss Langmore instead?"
At this Raymond's face grew troubled.
"We have looked everywhere—" he began.
"As you please."
It was not long after this that a portion of the party set out, to be followed presently by the rest. The men did not keep together, but scattered in a wide semicircle, and then in a circle, which completely surrounded the Styles' farm, and the old mill, and its vicinity.
As they approached the farm they saw the man called Bart come out, and walk towards the barn. He was promptly arrested by Adam Adams and was asked where Matlock Styles could be found.
"I don't know," he answered sullenly. "I don't know why you are arresting me. I haven't done anything wrong."
"We'll see about that later," returned the detective, and when the man wanted to blow a whistle he carried, promptly prevented it, and took the whistle away. Then the man was compelled to quiet the dogs, which he did with bad grace.
In the kitchen of the house they found the old woman, who gave a cry of alarm when told that she must give herself up to the law.
"Sure, I didn't have anything to do with it!" she wailed. "I—I didn't touch the young lady!"
"What's that?" cried Raymond, stepping forward.
"I didn't touch the young lady, sir. I offered her something to eat, that's all."
"Can she mean Margaret?" whispered Tom Ostrello.
"Where did you meet Miss Langmore?" demanded Raymond sharply.
"Up at the old cottage on the hill. I—I didn't take her there. It was—" She stopped short. "I can't tell you. Mat would kill me," she whined.
"See here, tell all you know," came sternly from Adam Adams. "I know you. You once ran a baby farm, and a baby died, and I know how."
The old woman gave a shriek and fell on her knees, rocking to and fro.
"I knew it! I knew it would come! It can't be hid any longer! Yes, I did it!"
"Where is Miss Langmore?" demanded Raymond impatiently.
"At the cottage on the hill. Mat took her there. He's in love with her. Oh, dear! Oh, dear!" she began to rock to and fro again. "I knew it would come! Murder will out, they say!"
"Take us to that cottage and be quick about it," said Raymond. "Will you go along?" he asked of Adam Adams and Tom Ostrello.
They said they would, and set off without delay. It was rather a long walk and the old woman was out of breath when they reached the building near the top of the hill.
"Watch her," said the detective to Tom Ostrello, and he and Raymond entered the cottage. As they did so, they stumbled over a person lying on the floor.
"Margaret!" burst out the young man and caught his sweetheart in his arms. Then he gave a gasp, and staggered with his burden to the bed. "She is dead!"
"Dead!" ejaculated Adam Adams. "You are certain?" He placed his ear to her heart. "No, she still lives."
"But what does this mean? Margaret! Margaret! Speak to me! What has happened to you?"
The girl offered no reply, nor did she open her eyes. She rested on him and on the bed like a leaden weight. He kissed her fondly, a great agony filling his soul.
Adam Adams looked around the room. On the table rested a glass, with a dirty substance at the bottom. He tasted the stuff. It was sweetishly bitter. He ran outside.
"Tell me at once, did Matlock Styles say anything about poisoning this young lady?" he demanded, catching the old woman by the arm. "The truth now, remember!"
"No, he didn't say anything. But he had some poison, a powder—you put it in water. It kills a person in six to ten hours, sure."
"We must have a doctor!"
Tom Ostrello had heard the talk and saw what had happened.
"I'll get a doctor, if you'll watch the old woman. I can get a horse at Styles' farm."
"Do it, and hurry!" cried Raymond. "Take the best horse and bring the doctor at once. Tell him it is poison—a powder in water. Offer him any amount of money—"
"I will!" Ostrello shouted back. He was running down the hill path with the swiftness of a college sprinter. In a moment the bushes hid him from sight.
Adam Adams was talking to the old woman. "You know about the poison. Is there nothing we can give her to counteract the effects? Do something, and I'll not be so hard on you when you stand up for trial."
"I can do nothing. But wait, yes, I can! Make a fire, and boil some water!"
She ran to the back of the cottage and to some bushes growing close at hand. With her bare hands she dug at the roots and tore them up, stripping off the bark with her teeth. Adam Adams comprehended, and lit a fire and set on the kettle to boil. Then the roots were placed in the boiling water.
"Make her drink—it will do her good," said the old woman. "I swear it will help, at least a little—until the doctor comes." And with shaking hands, she poured the concoction she had made into a saucer to cool.
It was no easy matter to get Margaret to swallow, but after a while it was accomplished, and her heart appeared to beat a trifle more steadily. But still she did not rouse up or open her eyes, and Raymond was as depressed as before.
"We can't overcome the effects of the drug," he groaned. "Oh, if only the doctor would come!"
"Give her some more," said the old woman. "Give her all of it," and this was done.
Slowly the time dragged by, until they heard a shouting in the distance, followed by a pistol shot. Then two horses burst into view, one ridden by Ostrello, and the other by a doctor who lived not a great distance away.
"I will do all I can," said the physician, as he leaped to the ground. He set to work at once, meanwhile questioning the old woman regarding what had already been done. "That was all right—it has helped to put the patient into a perspiration and keep up the heart action."
"Another doctor is also coming," said Ostrello to Raymond and the detective.
"In that case I'll join my men," came from Adam Adams. "By that pistol shot something must be doing. I will be back later. See that that old woman does not get away." And he was off.
Something was indeed doing. The old mill had been surrounded and the chief of police had entered the building, followed by several other men of the party. The counterfeiters were taken by surprise, but they did not give up at once. Some began to fight, and in the melee two were seriously wounded. Then all but three surrendered, these three doing what they could to get out by a back way. One of the three was Matlock Styles.
The three men came out in the woods, and one was quickly shot in the leg, and fell headlong among the trees. Seeing this the second man shouted that he would surrender, and threw up his arms as a signal.
"You bloomin' fool! I'll not surrender!" cried Matlock Styles, and ran on, through the woods, and up the hill that led to the cottage.
He was still some distance off, when Adam Adams saw him coming. The detective had his pistol in his hand.
"Stop, Styles, or I'll fire on you!" he called out.
For an answer the Englishman raised his own pistol and fired point blank, the bullet cutting through the loose flap of Adam Adams' coat. Then the Englishman went down, with a bullet in his left side. When Adam Adams ran up to him he was twisting and breathing heavily.
"You've done me up, hang you!" he gasped. "Oh, if I only could get at you!" and he tried to crawl towards his pistol, but Adam Adams promptly kicked it out of the way.
"You're down and out, Styles," said the detective. "It won't do you any good to squirm. You're in the hands of the law."
"What for, counterfeiting?"
"That and worse."
"Yes, a good deal worse. Murder!"
By nightfall all of the prisoners were either in the jail or at the hospital at Sidham. Some of the secret service authorities from New York had arrived, and to them Adam Adams turned over the case, so far as it related to the counterfeiters.
"I did not start out to round up such a gang," he said, in speaking of the affair to Mr. Breslow, some days later. "I came here to clear up the murder mystery."
"But you get the credit, Adams," said the head of the secret service detail. "And you deserve it. But do you think you are going to convict Matlock Styles of the tragedy?"
"It's a sure thing. The alibi won't bother me, for I can now prove it was a bogus one. John Watkins got the poison for him, and promised to impersonate him at Stony Hill, while the crime was being committed. He did it, but I have found two people who thought it was not Styles after all. Watkins himself is willing to testify that he did the impersonating."
"How did they happen to use that strange powder?"
"Watkins got it from a friend of his, who afterwards mentioned the fact to Tom Ostrello. When Styles got it I suppose he thought the use of it might throw suspicion on Ostrello, which it did. Then suspicion was also thrown on Miss Langmore, so that the general public might get tangled up."
"Did Styles write that note, which was supposed to have been written by Mr. Langmore, saying she must obey or leave the house?"
"Yes. He is an expert penman, and most likely a regular forger as well as counterfeiter. He only made a mistake when he drank too much."
"Did Watkins know any of the details of the murder?"
"Yes. After it was over, Styles came to him and told his story, being half drunk at the time. He said he left home and came through the woods, where he saw Tom Ostrello just coming from the Langmore mansion. As soon as the coast seemed clear, he ran past the bushes and got in the house by a window. He found Mr. Langmore in the library and asked again for the counterfeits. Langmore said he was going to give them to the authorities, and expose Styles. Then the Englishman said he would explain, and Langmore sat down in his chair to listen. Styles turned around, took some cotton from his pocket, and saturated it with the powder, and sprang at Langmore from behind. The victim struggled and got his face scratched from the Englishman's ring. Langmore was no match for his assailant, and in a minute the murder was done. Then Styles ran upstairs. He knew the servant was in the barn, and he heard Miss Langmore playing on the piano in the parlor. He met Mrs. Langmore just coming from her room. She was scared, but before she could scream or resist, he gave her what was left of the powder and she fell over where she was found. Then he stepped out of an upper window to the top of the piazza and dropped to the ground, and came away across the brook and through the woods."
"Then you are bound to convict him. What of Watkins?"
"I'll use him as a witness against Styles in the murder trial and then you can have him tried as a counterfeiter. The old woman will also prove a good witness. She is so old, and has promised to reform, so there is no use of our pushing a charge against her. The rest of the crowd will all get what they deserve. I'm glad we got the bogus printing plates."
"Have you heard anything of the Langmore estate?"
"Yes. Mr. Langmore left his wife her legal share, and the balance to his daughters, Margaret getting a little the larger portion. Mrs. Langmore leaves her money to her sons, one-fourth to Dick, the spendthrift, and three-fourths to Tom. I have also rooted out some papers among Styles' effects, which will give Tom Ostrello his patent back, and also give some patent rights to Mr. Langmore's estate. I can tell you, Matlock Styles was a deep one. It was only once in a great while that he drank and bungled."
"Well, the greatest of criminals have their weak spots, you know that as well as I do. Styles, I suppose, also got up that bogus confession, signed in Miss Langmore's name."
"He did. When he found the girl wouldn't marry him, he was wild and ready for any treachery."
"And how is the girl doing?"
"I am going to see now."
When out on the street, Adam Adams ran into Tom Ostrello, arm in arm with Letty. He was amazed for an instant, and then his face broke into a smile.
"I just couldn't help it, Uncle Adam!" cried the girl. "I had to come here to congratulate Tom on his escape."
"Well, I don't blame you, Letty. Yes, it has turned out well for you. I hope it turns out as well for Miss Langmore and Mr. Case."
Margaret was again at Martha Sampson's cottage. When the detective entered he heard a murmur of voices in one of the upper rooms. He ran upstairs, to find the girl sitting up in bed and Raymond by her side. The young man's face was filled with happiness.
"Come in! Come in!" he cried joyously. "She has come around all right, Mr. Adams. She is a little weak still, but the doctor says she will be well as ever in a week or ten days. The good news has braced her up wonderfully."
"And all due to you, Mr. Adams," said the girl. "Oh, how can I ever thank you enough?" She clasped his hand warmly. "You are so good!"
"This is certainly famous," he replied, sitting down at the foot of the bed. "It's the best news yet. I have just left one happy couple and here I find another."
"You mean Tom Ostrello and that young lady from your office?" asked Raymond. And then, as the detective nodded, he went on: "I met them, and I asked them to come here. Margaret wanted to see them."
"I wish Tom to know that I want to be friends, always," said Margaret. "We have had enough of trouble in the family. And when he gets married, I want to be friends with his wife, too."
"I am glad to hear that, for I know it will please Letty and she is a good girl. It may be— Here they come, now!"
A minute later the newcomers were ushered into the sick room, and the two girls, who had never met, were introduced to each other. It was a happy meeting all around, and the lovers were all as devoted as lovers can well be. Seeing this, Adam Adams thought it about time to leave.
"I am going now," he said, and stopped at the door.
"So soon?" asked Margaret.
"Yes, I have another important case on hand," answered Adam Adams.
"Another case?" queried Tom Ostrello. "Well, I wish you luck, I am sure."
"We all do," chimed in Raymond.
"What is it?" queried Letty.
Adam Adams smiled broadly. "As you are no longer connected with the office, I cannot tell you," he said.
"Maybe I can guess it!" cried Raymond. "The disappearance of John Darr—the case all New York is talking about?"
Adam Adams smiled faintly. "You've struck it," he said. "It is a wonderful case, and will demand all of my attention. But I'll be back tomorrow. In the meantime, I want you all to remember that you owe me an invitation."
"An invitation to what?" asked both girls, in a breath, and knowing perfectly well what he meant.
"An invitation to the weddings, when they come off."
"Oh!" came in a little feminine shriek.
"Well, you get them," said Raymond.
"Indeed, he does," said Tom.
And he did.