The Poisoned Pen by, Arthur B. Reeve (transcriber's note: these stories were first published in 1911-13)
I THE POISONED PEN
II THE YEGGMAN
III THE GERM OF DEATH
IV THE FIREBUG
V THE CONFIDENCE KING
VI THE SAND-HOG
VII THE WHITE SLAVE
VIII THE FORGER
IX THE UNOFFICIAL SPY
X THE SMUGGLER
XI THE INVISIBLE RAY
XII THE CAMPAIGN GRAFTER
THE POISONED PEN
Kennedy's suit-case was lying open on the bed, and he was literally throwing things into it from his chiffonier, as I entered after a hurried trip up-town from the Star office in response to an urgent message from him.
"Come, Walter," he cried, hastily stuffing in a package of clean laundry without taking off the wrapping-paper, "I've got your suit-case out. Pack up whatever you can in five minutes. We must take the six o'clock train for Danbridge."
I did not wait to hear any more. The mere mention of the name of the quaint and quiet little Connecticut town was sufficient. For Danbridge was on everybody's lips at that time. It was the scene of the now famous Danbridge poisoning case - a brutal case in which the pretty little actress, Vera Lytton, had been the victim.
"I've been retained by Senator Adrian Willard," he called from his room, as I was busy packing in mine. The Willard family believe that that young Dr. Dixon is the victim of a conspiracy - or at least Alma Willard does, which comes to the same thing, and - well, the senator called me up on long-distance and offered me anything I would name in reason to take the case. Are you ready? Come on, then. We've simply got to make that train."
As we settled ourselves in the smoking-compartment of the Pullman, which for some reason or other we had to ourselves, Kennedy spoke again for the first time since our frantic dash across the city to catch the train.
"Now let us see, Walter," he began. "We've both read a good deal about this case in the papers. Let's try to get our knowledge in an orderly shape before we tackle the actual case itself."
"Ever been in Danbridge?" I asked.
"Never," he replied. "What sort of place is it?"
"Mighty interesting," I answered; "a combination of old New England and new, of ancestors and factories, of wealth and poverty, and above all it is interesting for its colony of New-Yorkers - what shall I call it? - a literary-artistic-musical combination, I guess."
"Yes," he resumed, "I thought as much. Vera Lytton belonged to the colony. A very talented girl, too - you remember her in 'The Taming of the New Woman' last season? Well, to get back to the facts as we know them at present.
"Here is a girl with a brilliant future on the stage discovered by her friend, Mrs. Boncour, in convulsions - practically insensible - with a bottle of headache-powder and a jar of ammonia on her dressing-table. Mrs. Boncour sends the maid for the nearest doctor, who happens to be a Dr. Waterworth. Meanwhile she tries to restore Miss Lytton, but with no result. She smells the ammonia and then just tastes the headache-powder, a very foolish thing to do, for by the time Dr. Waterworth arrives he has two patients."
"No," I corrected, "only one, for Miss Lytton was dead when he arrived, according to his latest statement."
"Very well, then - one. He arrives, Mrs. Boncour is ill, the maid knows nothing at all about it, and Vera Lytton is dead. He, too, smells the ammonia, tastes the headache-powder - just the merest trace - and then he has two patients, one of them himself. We must see him, for his experience must have been appalling. How he ever did it I can't imagine, but he saved both himself and Mrs. Boncour from poisoning - cyanide, the papers say, but of course we can't accept that until we see. It seems to me, Walter, that lately the papers have made the rule in murder cases: When in doubt, call it cyanide."
Not relishing Kennedy in the humour of expressing his real opinion of the newspapers, I hastily turned the conversation back again by asking, "How about the note from Dr. Dixon?"
"Ah, there is the crux of the whole case - that note from Dixon. Let us see. Dr. Dixon is, if I am informed correctly, of a fine and aristocratic family, though not wealthy. I believe it has been established that while he was an interne in a city hospital he became acquainted with Vera Lytton, after her divorce from that artist Thurston. Then comes his removal to Danbridge and his meeting and later his engagement with Miss Willard. On the whole, Walter, judging from the newspaper pictures, Alma Willard is quite the equal of Vera Lytton for looks, only of a different style of beauty. Oh, well, we shall see. Vera decided to spend the spring and summer at Danbridge in the bungalow of her friend, Mrs. Boncour, the novelist. That's when things began to happen."
"Yes," I put in, "when you come to know Danbridge as I did after that summer when you were abroad, you'll understand, too. Everybody knows everybody else's business. It is the main occupation of a certain set, and the per-capita output of gossip is a record that would stagger the census bureau. Still, you can't get away from the note, Craig. There it is, in Dixon's own handwriting, even if he does deny it: 'This will cure your headache. Dr. Dixon.' That's a damning piece of evidence."
"Quite right," he agreed hastily; "the note was queer, though, wasn't it? They found it crumpled up in the jar of ammonia. Oh, there are lots of problems the newspapers have failed to see the significance of, let alone trying to follow up."
Our first visit in Danbridge was to the prosecuting attorney, whose office was not far from the station on the main street. Craig had wired him, and he had kindly waited to see us, for it was evident that Danbridge respected Senator Willard and every one connected with him.
"Would it be too much to ask just to see that note that was found in the Boncour bungalow?" asked Craig.
The prosecutor, an energetic young man, pulled out of a document-case a crumpled note which had been pressed flat again. On it in clear, deep black letters were the words, just as reported:
This will cure your headache. DR. Dixon.
"How about the handwriting?" asked Kennedy.
The lawyer pulled out a number of letters. "I'm afraid they will have to admit it," he said with reluctance, as if down in his heart he hated to prosecute Dixon. "We have lots of these, and no handwriting expert could successfully deny the identity of the writing."
He stowed away the letters without letting Kennedy get a hint as to their contents. Kennedy was examining the note carefully.
"May I count on having this note for further examination, of course always at such times and under such conditions as you agree to?"
The attorney nodded. "I am perfectly willing to do anything not illegal to accommodate the senator," he said. "But, on the other hand, I am here to do my duty for the state, cost whom it may."
The Willard house was in a virtual state of siege. Newspaper reporters from Boston and New York were actually encamped at every gate, terrible as an army, with cameras. It was with some difficulty that we got in, even though we were expected, for some of the more enterprising had already fooled the family by posing as officers of the law and messengers from Dr. Dixon.
The house was a real, old colonial mansion with tall white pillars, a door with a glittering brass knocker, which gleamed out severely at you as you approached through a hedge of faultlessly trimmed boxwoods.
Senator, or rather former Senator, Willard met us in the library, and a moment later his daughter Alma joined him. She was tall, like her father, a girl of poise and self-control. Yet even the schooling of twenty-two years in rigorous New England self-restraint could not hide the very human pallor of her face after the sleepless nights and nervous days since this trouble had broken on her placid existence. Yet there was a mark of strength and determination on her face that was fascinating. The man who would trifle with this girl, I felt, was playing fast and loose with her very life. I thought then, and I said to Kennedy afterward: "If this Dr. Dixon is guilty, you have no right to hide it from that girl. Anything less than the truth will only blacken the hideousness of the crime that has already been committed."
The senator greeted I us gravely, and I could not but take it as a good omen when, in his pride of wealth and family and tradition, he laid bare everything to us, for the sake of Alma Willard. It was clear that in this family there was one word that stood above all others, "Duty."
As we were about to leave after an interview barren of new facts, a young man was announced, Mr. Halsey Post. He bowed politely to us, but it was evident why he had called, as his eye followed Alma about the room.
"The son of the late Halsey Post, of Post & Vance, silversmiths, who have the large factory in town, which you perhaps noticed," explained the senator. "My daughter has known him all her life. A very fine young man."
Later, we learned that the senator had bent every effort toward securing Halsey Post as a son-in-law, but his daughter had had views of her own on the subject.
Post waited until Alma had withdrawn before he disclosed the real object of his visit. In almost a whisper, lest she should still be listening, he said, "There is a story about town that Vera Lytton's former husband - an artist named Thurston - was here just before her death."
Senator Willard leaned forward as if expecting to hear Dixon immediately acquitted. None of us was prepared for the next remark.
"And the story goes on to say that he threatened to make a scene over a wrong he says he has suffered from Dixon. I don't know anything more about it, and I tell you only because I think you ought to know what Danbridge is saying under its breath."
We shook off the last of the reporters who affixed themselves to us, and for a moment Kennedy dropped in at the little bungalow to see Mrs. Boncour. She was much better, though she had suffered much. She had taken only a pinhead of the poison, but it had proved very nearly fatal.
"Had Miss Lytton any enemies whom you think of, people who were jealous of her professionally or personally?" asked Craig.
"I should not even have said Dr. Dixon was an enemy," she replied evasively.
"But this Mr. Thurston," put in Kennedy quickly. "One is not usually visited in perfect friendship by a husband who has been divorced."
She regarded him keenly for a moment. "Halsey Post told you that," she said. "No one else knew he was here. But Halsey Post was an old friend of both Vera and Mr. Thurston before they separated. By chance he happened to drop in the day Mr. Thurston was here, and later in the day I gave him a letter to forward to Mr. Thurston, which had come after the artist left. I'm sure no one else knew the artist. He was here the morning of the day she died, and - and - that's every bit I'm going to tell you about him, so there. I don't know why he came or where he went."
"That's a thing we must follow up later," remarked Kennedy as we made our adieus. "Just now I want to get the facts in hand. The next thing on my programme is to see this Dr. Waterworth."
We found the doctor still in bed; in fact, a wreck as the result of his adventure. He had little to correct in the facts of the story which had been published so far. But there were many other details of the poisoning he was quite willing to discuss frankly.
"It was true about the jar of ammonia?" asked Kennedy.
"Yes," he answered. "It was standing on her dressing-table with the note crumpled up in it, just as the papers said."
"And you have no idea why it was there?"
"I didn't say that. I can guess. Fumes of ammonia are one of the antidotes for poisoning of this kind."
"But Vera Lytton could hardly have known that," objected Kennedy.
"No, of course not. But she probably did know that ammonia is good for just that sort of faintness which she must have experienced after taking the powder. Perhaps she thought of sal volatile, I don't know. But most people know that ammonia in some form is good for faintness of this sort, even if they don't know anything about cyanides and - "
"Then it was cyanide?" interrupted Craig.
"Yes," he replied slowly. It was evident that he was suffering great physical and nervous anguish as the result of his too intimate acquaintance with the poisons in question. " I will tell you precisely how it was, Professor Kennedy. When I was called in to see Miss Lytton I found her on the bed. I pried open her jaws and smelled the sweetish odour of the cyanogen gas. I knew then what she had taken, and at the moment she was dead. In the next room I heard some one moaning. The maid said that it was Mrs. Boncour, and that she was deathly sick. I ran into her room, and though she was beside herself with pain I managed to control her, though she struggled desperately against me. I was rushing her to the bathroom, passing through Miss Lytton's room. 'What's wrong?' I asked as I carried her along. 'I took some of that,' she replied, pointing to the bottle on the dressing-table.
"I put a small quantity of its crystal contents on my tongue. Then I realised the most tragic truth of my life. I had taken one of the deadliest poisons in the world. The odour of the released gas of cyanogen was strong. But more than that, the metallic taste and the horrible burning sensation told of the presence of some form of mercury, too. In that terrible moment my brain worked with the incredible swiftness of light. In a flash I knew that if I added malic acid to the mercury - per chloride of mercury or corrosive sublimate - I would have calomel or subchloride of mercury, the only thing that would switch the poison out of my system and Mrs. Boncour's.
"Seizing her about the waist, I hurried into the dining-room. On a sideboard was a dish of fruit. I took two apples. I made her eat one, core and all. I ate the other. The fruit contained the malic acid I needed to manufacture the calomel, and I made it right there in nature's own laboratory. But there was no time to stop. I had to act just as quickly to neutralise that cyanide, too. Remembering the ammonia, I rushed back with Mrs. Boncour, and we inhaled the fumes. Then I found a bottle of peroxide of hydrogen. I washed out her stomach with it, and then my own. Then I injected some of the peroxide into various parts of her body. The peroxide of hydrogen and hydrocyanic acid, you know, make oxamide, which is a harmless compound.
"The maid put Mrs. Boncour to bed, saved. I went to my house, a wreck. Since then I have not left this bed. With my legs paralysed I lie here, expecting each hour to be my last."
"Would you taste an unknown drug again to discover the nature of a probable poison?" asked Craig.
"I don't know," he answered slowly, "but I suppose I would. In such a case a conscientious doctor has no thought of self. He is there to do things, and he does them, according to the best that is in him. In spite of the fact that I haven't had one hour of unbroken sleep since that fatal day, I suppose I would do it again."
When we were leaving, I remarked: "That is a martyr to science. Could anything be more dramatic than his willing penalty for his devotion to medicine?"
We walked along in silence. "Walter, did you notice he said not a word of condemnation of Dixon, though the note was before his eyes? Surely Dixon has some strong supporters in Danbridge, as well as enemies.
The next morning we continued our investigation. We found Dixon's lawyer, Leland, in consultation with his client in the bare cell of the county jail. Dixon proved to be a clear-eyed, clean-cut young man. The thing that impressed me most about him, aside from the prepossession in his favour due to the faith of Alma Willard, was the nerve he displayed, whether guilty or innocent. Even an innocent man might well have been staggered by the circumstantial evidence against him and the high tide of public feeling, in spite of the support that he was receiving. Leland, we learned, had been very active. By prompt work at the time of the young doctor's arrest he had managed to secure the greater part of Dr. Dixon's personal letters, though the prosecutor secured some, the contents of which had not been disclosed.
Kennedy spent most of the day in tracing out the movements of Thurston. Nothing that proved important was turned up, and even visits to near-by towns failed to show any sales of cyanide or sublimate to any one not entitled to buy them. Meanwhile, in turning over the gossip of the town, one of the newspapermen ran across the fact that the Boncour bungalow was owned by the Posts, and that Halsey Post, as the executor of the estate, was a more frequent visitor than the mere collection of the rent would warrant. Mrs. Boncour maintained a stolid silence that covered a seething internal fury when the newspaperman in question hinted that the landlord and tenant were on exceptionally good terms.
It was after a fruitless day of such search that we were sitting in the reading-room of the Fairfield Hotel. Leland entered. His face was positively white. Without a word he took us by the arm and led us across Main Street and up a flight of stairs to his office. Then he locked the door.
"What's the matter?" asked Kennedy.
"When I took this case," he said, "I believed down in my heart that Dixon was innocent. I still believe it, but my faith has been rudely shaken. I feel that you should know about what I have just found. As I told you, we secured nearly all of Dr. Dixon's letters. I had not read them all then. But I have been going through them to-night. Here is a letter from Vera Lytton herself. You will notice it is dated the day of her death."
He laid the letter before us. It was written in a curious greyish-black ink in a woman's hand, and read:
DEAR HARRIS: Since we agreed to disagree we have at least been good friends, if no longer lovers. I am not writing in anger to reproach you with your new love, so soon after the old. I suppose Alma Willard is far better suited to be your wife than is a poor little actress - rather looked down on in this Puritan society here. But there is something I wish to warn you about, for it concerns us all intimately.
We are in danger of an awful mix-up if we don't look out. Mr. Thurston - I had almost said my husband, though I don't know whether that is the truth or not - who has just come over from New York, tells me that there is some doubt about the validity of our divorce. You recall he was in the South at the time I sued him, and the papers were served on him in Georgia. He now says the proof of service was fraudulent and that he can set aside the divorce. In that case you might figure in a suit for alienating my affections.
I do not write this with ill will, but simply to let you know how things stand. If we had married, I suppose I would be guilty of bigamy. At any rate, if he were disposed he could make a terrible scandal.
Oh, Harris, can't you settle with him if he asks anything? Don't forget so soon that we once thought we were going to be the happiest of mortals - at least I did. Don't desert me, or the very earth will cry out against you. I am frantic and hardly know what I am writing. My head aches, but it is my heart that is breaking. Harris, I am yours still, down in my heart, but not to be cast off like an old suit for a new one. You know the old saying about a woman scorned. I beg you not to go back on
Your poor little deserted VERA.
As we finished reading, Leland exclaimed, "That never must come before the jury."
Kennedy was examining the letter carefully. "Strange," he muttered. "See how it was folded. It was written on the wrong side of the sheet, or rather folded up with the writing outside. Where have these letters been?"
"Part of the time in my safe, part of the time this afternoon on my desk by the window."
"The office was locked, I suppose?" asked Kennedy. "There was no way to slip this letter in among the others since you obtained them?"
"None. The office has been locked, and there is no evidence of any one having entered or disturbed a thing."
He was hastily running over the pile of letters as if looking to see whether they were all there. Suddenly he stopped.
"Yes," he exclaimed excitedly, "one of them is gone." Nervously he fumbled through them again. "One is gone," he repeated, looking at us, startled.
"What was it about?" asked Craig.
"It was a note from an artist, Thurston, who gave the address of Mrs. Boncour's bungalow - ah, I see you have heard of him. He asked Dixon's recommendation of a certain patent headache medicine. I thought it possibly evidential, and I asked Dixon about it. He explained it by saying that he did not have a copy of his reply, but as near as he could recall, he wrote that the compound would not cure a headache except at the expense of reducing heart action dangerously. He says he sent no prescription. Indeed, he thought it a scheme to extract advice without incurring the charge for an office call and answered it only because he thought Vera had become reconciled to Thurston again. I can't find that letter of Thurston's. It is gone."
We looked at each other in amazement.
"Why, if Dixon contemplated anything against Miss Lytton, should he preserve this letter from her?" mused Kennedy. "Why didn't he destroy it?"
"That's what puzzles me," remarked Leland. "Do you suppose some one has broken in and substituted this Lytton letter for the Thurston letter?
Kennedy was scrutinising the letter, saying nothing. "I may keep it?" he asked at length. Leland was quite willing and even undertook to obtain some specimens of the writing of Vera Lytton. With these and the letter Kennedy was working far into the night and long after I had passed into a land troubled with many wild dreams of deadly poisons and secret intrigues of artists.
The next morning a message from our old friend First Deputy O'Connor in New York told briefly of locating the rooms of an artist named Thurston in one of the co-operative studio apartments. Thurston himself had not been there for several days and was reported to have gone to Maine to sketch. He had had a number of debts, but before he left they had all been paid - strange to say, by a notorious firm of Shyster lawyers, Kerr & Kimmel. Kennedy wired back to find out the facts from Kerr & Kimmel and to locate Thurston at any cost.
Even the discovery of the new letter did not shake the wonderful self-possession of Dr. Dixon. He denied ever having received it and repeated his story of a letter from Thurston to which he had replied by sending an answer, care of Mrs. Boncour, as requested. He insisted that the engagement between Miss Lytton and himself had been broken before the announcement of his engagement with Miss Willard. As for Thurston, he said the man was little more than a name to him. He had known perfectly all the circumstances of the divorce, but had had no dealings with Thurston and no fear of him. Again and again he denied ever receiving the letter from Vera Lytton.
Kennedy did not tell the Willards of the new letter. The strain had begun to tell on Alma, and her father had had her quietly taken to a farm of his up in the country. To escape the curious eyes of reporters, Halsey Post had driven up one night in his closed car. She had entered it quickly with her father, and the journey had been made in the car, while Halsey Post had quietly dropped off on the outskirts of the town, where another car was waiting to take him back. It was evident that the Willard family relied implicitly on Halsey, and his assistance to them was most considerate. While he never forced himself forward, he kept in close touch with the progress of the case, and now that Alma was away his watchfulness increased proportionately, and twice a day he wrote a long report which was sent to her.
Kennedy was now bending every effort to locate the missing artist. When he left Danbridge, he seemed to have dropped out of sight completely. However, with O'Connor's aid, the police of all New England were on the lookout.
The Thurstons had been friends of Halsey's before Vera Lytton had ever met Dr. Dixon, we discovered from the Danbridge gossips, and I, at least, jumped to the conclusion that Halsey was shielding the artist, perhaps through a sense of friendship when he found that Kennedy was interested in Thurston's movement. I must say I rather liked Halsey, for he seemed very thoughtful of the Willards, and was never too busy to give an hour or so to any commission they wished carried out without publicity..
Two days passed with not a word from Thurston. Kennedy was obviously getting impatient. One day a rumour was received that he was in Bar Harbour; the next it was a report from Nova Scotia. At last, however, came the welcome news that he had been located in New Hampshire, arrested, and might be expected the next day.
At once Kennedy became all energy. He arranged for a secret conference in Senator Willard's house, the moment the artist was to arrive. The senator and his daughter made a flying trip back to town. Nothing was said to any one about Thurston, but Kennedy quietly arranged with the district attorney to be present with the note and the jar of ammonia properly safeguarded. Leland of course came, although his client could not. Halsey Post seemed only too glad to be with Miss Willard, though he seemed to have lost interest in the case as soon as the Willards returned to look after it themselves. Mrs. Boncour was well enough to attend, and even Dr. Waterworth insisted on coming in a private ambulance which drove over from a near-by city especially for him. The time was fixed just before the arrival of the train that was to bring Thurston.
It was an anxious gathering of friends and foes of Dr. Dixon who sat impatiently waiting for Kennedy to begin this momentous exposition that was to establish the guilt or innocence of the calm young physician who sat impassively in the jail not half a mile from the room where his life and death were being debated.
"In many respects this is the most remarkable case that it has ever been my lot to handle," began Kennedy. "Never before have I felt so keenly my sense of responsibility. Therefore, though this is a somewhat irregular proceeding, let me begin by setting forth the facts as I see them.
"First, let us consider the dead woman. The question that arises here is, Was she murdered or did she commit suicide? I think you will discover the answer as I proceed. Miss Lytton, as you know, was, two years ago, Mrs. Burgess Thurston. The Thurstons had temperament, and temperament is quite often the highway to the divorce court. It was so in this case. Mrs. Thurston discovered that her husband was paying much attention to other women. She sued for divorce in New York, and he accepted service in the South, where he happened to be. At least it was so testified by Mrs. Thurston's lawyer.
"Now here comes the remarkable feature of the case. The law firm of Kerr & Kimmel, I find, not long ago began to investigate the=20 legality of this divorce. Before a notary Thurston made an affidavit that he had never been served by the lawyer for Miss Lytton, as she was now known. Her lawyer is dead, but his representative in the South who served the papers is alive. He was brought to New York and asserted squarely that he had served the papers properly.
"Here is where the shrewdness of Mose Kimmel, the shyster lawyer, came in. He arranged to have the Southern attorney identify the man he had served the papers on. For this purpose he was engaged in conversation with one of his own clerks when the lawyer was due to appear. Kimmel appeared to act confused, as if he had been caught napping. The Southern lawyer, who had seen Thurston only once, fell squarely into the trap and identified the clerk as Thurston. There were plenty of witnesses to it, and it was point number two for the great Mose Kimmel. Papers were drawn up to set aside the divorce decree.
"In the meantime, Miss Lytton, or Mrs. Thurston, had become acquainted with a young doctor in a New York hospital, and had become engaged to him. It matters not that the engagement was later broken. The fact remains that if the divorce were set aside an action would lie against Dr. Dixon for alienating Mrs. Thurston's affections, and a grave scandal would result. I need not add that in this quiet little town of Danbridge the most could be made of such a suit."
Kennedy was unfolding a piece=20of paper. As he laid it down, Leland, who was sitting next to me, exclaimed under his breath:
"My God, he's going to let the prosecutor know about that letter. Can't you stop him?"
It was too late. Kennedy had already begun to read Vera's letter. It was damning to Dixon, added to the other note found in the ammonia-jar.
When he had finished reading, you could almost hear the hearts throbbing in the room. A scowl overspread Senator Willard's features. Alma Willard was pale and staring wildly at Kennedy. Halsey Post, ever solicitous for her, handed her a glass of water from the table. Dr. Waterworth had forgotten his pain in his intense attention, and Mrs. Boncour seemed stunned with astonishment. The prosecuting attorney was eagerly taking notes.
"In some way," pursued Kennedy in an even voice, "this letter was either overlooked in the original correspondence of Dr. Dixon or it was added to it later. I shall come back to that presently. My next point is that Dr. Dixon says he received a letter from Thurston on the day the artist visited the Boncour bungalow. It asked about a certain headache compound, and his reply was brief and, as nearly as I can find out, read, 'This compound will not cure your headache except at the expense of reducing heart action dangerously.'
"Next comes the tragedy. On the evening of the day that Thurston=20 eft, after presumably telling Miss Lytton about what Kerr & Kimmel had discovered, Miss Lytton is found dying with a bottle containing cyanide and sublimate beside her. You are all familiar with the circumstances and with the note discovered in the jar of ammonia. Now, if the prosecutor will be so kind as to let me see that note - thank you, sir. This is the identical note. You have all heard the various theories of the jar and have read the note. Here it is in plain, cold black and white - in Dr. Dixon's own handwriting, as you know, and reads: 'This will cure your headache. Dr. Dixon.'"
Alma Willard seemed as one paralysed. Was Kennedy, who had been engaged by her father to defend her fianc=82, about to convict him?
Before we draw the final conclusion," continued Kennedy gravely, "there are one or two points I wish to elaborate. Walter, will you open that door into the main hall?"
I did so, and two policemen stepped in with a prisoner. It was Thurston, but changed almost beyond recognition. His clothes were worn, his beard shaved off, and he had a generally hunted appearance.
Thurston was visibly nervous. Apparently he had heard all that Kennedy had said and intended he should hear, for as he entered he almost broke away from the police officers in his eagerness to speak.
"Before God," he cried dramatically, "I am as innocent as you are of this crime, Professor Kennedy."
"Are you prepared to swear before me," almost shouted Kennedy, his eyes blazing, "that you were never served properly by your wife's lawyers in that suit?"
The man cringed back as if a stinging blow had been delivered between his eyes. As he met Craig's fixed glare he knew there was no hope. Slowly, as if the words were being wrung from him syllable by syllable, he said in a muffled voice:
"No, I perjured myself. I was served in that suit. But - "
"And you swore falsely before Kimmel that you were not?" persisted Kennedy.
"Yes," he murmured. "But - "
"And you are prepared now to make another affidavit to that effect?"
"Yes," he replied. "If - "
"No buts or ifs, Thurston," cried Kennedy sarcastically. "What did you make that affidavit for? What is your story?"
"Kimmel sent for me. I did not go to him. He offered to pay my debts if I would swear to such a statement. I did not ask why or for whom. I swore to it and gave him a list of my creditors. I waited until they were paid. Then my conscience - " I could not help revolting at the thought of conscience in such a wretch, and the word itself seemed to stick in his throat as he went on and saw how feeble an impression he was making on us - " my conscience began to trouble me. I determined to see Vera, tell her all, and find out whether it was she who wanted this statement. I saw her. When at last I told her, she scorned me. I can confirm that, for as I left a man entered. I now knew how grossly I had sinned, in listening to Mose Kimmel. I fled. I disappeared in Maine. I travelled. Every day my money grew less. At last I was overtaken, captured, and brought back here."
He stopped and sank wretchedly down in a chair and covered his face with his hands.
"A likely story," muttered Leland in my ear.
Kennedy was working quickly. Motioning the officers to be seated by Thurston, he uncovered a jar which he had placed on the table. The colour had now appeared in Alma's cheeks, as if hope had again sprung in her heart, and I fancied that Halsey Post saw his claim on her favour declining correspondingly.
"I want you to examine the letters in this case with me," continued Kennedy. "Take the letter which I read from Miss Lytton, which was found following the strange disappearance of the note from Thurston."
He dipped a pen into a little bottle, and wrote on a piece of paper:
What is your opinion about Cross's Headache Cure? Would you recommend it for a nervous headache?
BURGESS THURSTON, c/o Mrs. S. BONCOUR.
Craig held up the writing so that we could all see that he had written what Dixon declared Thurston wrote in the note that had disappeared. Then he dipped another pen into a second bottle, and for some time he scrawled on another sheet of paper. He held it up, but it was still perfectly blank.
"Now," he added, "I am going to give a little demonstration which I expect to be successful only in a measure. Here in the open sunshine by this window I am going to place these two sheets of paper side by side. It will take longer than I care to wait to make my demonstration complete, but I can do enough to convince you."
For a quarter of an hour we sat in silence, wondering what he would do next. At last he beckoned us over to the window. As we approached he said, "On sheet number one I have written with quinoline; on sheet number two I wrote with a solution of nitrate of silver."
We bent over. The writing signed "Thurston" on sheet number one was faint, almost imperceptible, but on paper number two, in black letters, appeared what Kennedy had written: " Dear Harris: Since we agreed to disagree we have at least been good friends."
"It is like the start of the substituted letter, and the other is like the missing note," gasped Leland in a daze.
"Yes," said Kennedy quickly. "Leland, no one entered your office. No one stole the Thurston note. No one substituted the Lytton letter. According to your own story, you took them out of the safe and left them in the sunlight all day. The process that had been started earlier in ordinary light, slowly, was now quickly completed. In other words, there was writing which would soon fade away on one side of the paper and writing which was invisible but would soon appear on the other.
"For instance, quinoline rapidly disappears in sunlight. Starch with a slight trace of iodine writes a light blue, which disappears in air. It was something like that used in the Thurston letter. Then, too, silver nitrate dissolved in ammonia gradually turns black as it is acted on by light and air. Or magenta treated with a bleaching-agent in just sufficient quantity to decolourise it is invisible when used for writing. But the original colour reappears as the oxygen of the air acts upon the pigment. I haven't a doubt but that my analyses of the inks are correct and on one side quinoline was used and on the other nitrate of silver. This explains the inexplicable disappearance of evidence incriminating one person, Thurston, and the sudden appearance of evidence incriminating another, Dr. Dixon. Sympathetic ink also accounts for the curious circumstance that the Lytton letter was folded up with the writing apparently outside. It was outside and unseen until the sunlight brought it out and destroyed the other, inside, writing - a change, I suspect, that was intended for the police to see after it was completed, not for the defence to witness as it was taking place."
We looked at each other aghast. Thurston was nervously opening and shutting his lips and moistening them as if he wanted to say something but could not find the words.
"Lastly," went on Craig, utterly regardless of Thurston's frantic efforts to speak, "we come to the note that was discovered so queerly crumpled up in the jar of ammonia on Vera Lytton's dressing-table. I have here a cylindrical glass jar in which I place some sal-ammoniac and quicklime. I will wet it and heat it a little. That produces the pungent gas of ammonia.
"On one side of this third piece of paper I myself write with this mercurous nitrate solution. You see, I leave no mark on the paper as I write. I fold it up and drop it into the jar - and in a few seconds withdraw it. Here is a very quick way of producing something like the slow result of sunlight with silver nitrate. The fumes of ammonia have formed the precipitate of black mercurous nitrate, a very distinct black writing which is almost indelible. That is what is technically called invisible rather than sympathetic ink."
We leaned over to read what he had written. It was the same as the note incriminating Dixon:
This will cure your headache. Dr. DIXON.
A servant entered with a telegram from New York. Scarcely stopping in his exposure, Kennedy tore it open, read it hastily, stuffed it into his pocket, and went on.
"Here in this fourth bottle I have an acid solution of iron chloride, diluted until the writing is invisible when dry," he hurried on. "I will just make a few scratches on this fourth sheet of paper - so. It leaves no mark. But it has the remarkable property of becoming red in vapour of sulpho-cyanide. Here is a long-necked flask of the gas, made by sulphuric acid acting on potassium sulphocyanide. Keep back, Dr. Waterworth, for it would be very dangerous for you to get even a whiff of this in your condition. Ah! See - the scratches I made on the paper are red."
Then hardly giving us more than a moment to let the fact impress itself on our minds, he seized the piece of paper and dashed it into the jar of ammonia. When he withdrew it, it was just a plain sheet of white paper again. The red marks which the gas in the flask had brought out of nothingness had been effaced by the ammonia. They had gone and left no trace.
"In this way I can alternately make the marks appear and disappear by using the sulpho-cyanide and the ammonia. Whoever wrote this note with Dr. Dixon's name on it must have had the doctor's reply to the Thurston letter containing the words, 'This will not cure your headache.' He carefully traced the words, holding the genuine note up to the light with a piece of paper over it, leaving out the word 'not' and using only such words as he needed. This note was then destroyed.
"But he forgot that after he had brought out the red writing by the use of the sulpho-cyanide, and though he could count on Vera Lytton's placing the note in the jar of ammonia and hence obliterating the writing, while at the same time the invisible writing in the mercurous nitrate involving Dr. Dixon's name would be brought out by the ammonia indelibly on the other side of the note - he forgot" - Kennedy was now speaking eagerly and loudly - "that the sulpho-cyanide vapours could always be made to bring back to accuse him the words that the ammonia had blotted out."
Before the prosecutor could interfere, Kennedy had picked up the note found in the ammonia-jar beside the dying girl and had jammed the state's evidence into the long-necked flask of sulpho-cyanide vapour.
"Don't fear," he said, trying to pacify the now furious prosecutor, "it will do nothing to the Dixon writing. That is permanent now, even if it is only a tracing."
When he withdrew the note, there was writing on both sides, the black of the original note and something in red on the other side.
We crowded around, and Craig read it with as much interest as any of us:
"Before taking the headache-powder, be sure to place the contents of this paper in a jar with a little warm water."
"Hum," commented Craig, "this was apparently on the outside wrapper of a paper folded about some sal-ammoniac and quicklime. It goes on:
"'Just drop the whole thing in, paper and all. Then if you feel a faintness from the medicine the ammonia will quickly restore you. One spoonful of the headache-powder swallowed quickly is enough.'"
No name was signed to the directions, but they were plainly written, and "paper and all" was underscored heavily.
Craig pulled out some letters. "I have here specimens of writing of many persons connected with this case, but I can see at a glance which one corresponds to the writing on this red death-warrant by an almost inhuman fiend. I shall, however, leave that part of it to the handwriting experts to determine at the trial. Thurston, who was the man whom you saw enter the Boncour bungalow as you left - the constant visitor?"
Thurston had not yet regained his self-control, but with trembling forefinger he turned and pointed to Halsey Post.
"Yes, ladies and gentlemen," cried Kennedy as he slapped the telegram that had just come from New York down on the table decisively, "yes, the real client of Kerr & Kimmel, who bent Thurston to his purposes, was Halsey Post, once secret lover of Vera Lytton till threatened by scandal in Danbridge - Halsey Post, graduate in technology, student of sympathetic inks, forger of the Vera Lytton letter and the other notes, and dealer in cyanides in the silver-smithing business, fortune-hunter for the Willard millions with which to recoup the Post & Vance losses, and hence rival of Dr. Dixon for the love of Alma Willard. That is the man who wielded the poisoned pen. Dr. Dixon is innocent.
"Hello! Yes, this is Professor Kennedy. I didn't catch the name - oh, yes - President Blake of the Standard Burglary Insurance Company. What - really? The Branford pearls - stolen? Maid chloroformed? Yes, I'll take the case. You'll be up in half an hour? All right, I'll be here. Goodbye."
It was through this brief and businesslike conversation over the telephone that Kennedy became involved in what proved to be one of the most dangerous cases he had ever handled.
At the mention of the Branford pearls I involuntarily stopped reading, and listened, not because I wanted to pry into Craig's affairs, but because I simply couldn't help it. This was news that had not yet been given out to the papers, and my instinct told me that there must be something more to it than the bare statement of the robbery.
"Some one has made a rich haul," I commented. "It was reported, I remember, when the Branford pearls were bought in Paris last year that Mrs. Branford paid upward of a million francs for the collection."
"Blake is bringing up his shrewdest detective to co-operate with me in the case," added Kennedy. "Blake, I understand, is the head of the Burglary Insurance Underwriters' Association, too. This will be a big thing, Walter, if we can carry it through."
It was the longest half-hour that I ever put in, waiting for Blake to arrive. When he did come, it was quite evident that my surmise had been correct.
Blake was one of those young old men who are increasingly common in business to-day. There was an air of dignity and keenness about his manner that showed clearly how important he regarded the case. So anxious was he to get down to business that he barely introduced himself and his companion, Special Officer Maloney, a typical private detective.
"Of course you haven't heard anything except what I have told you over the wire," he began, going right to the point. "We were notified of it only this noon ourselves, and we haven't given it out to the papers yet, though the local police in Jersey are now on the scene. The New York police must be notified to-night, so that whatever we do must be done before they muss things up. We've got a clue that we want to follow up secretly. These are the facts.
In the terse, straightforward language of the up-to-date man of efficiency, he sketched the situation for us.
"The Branford estate, you know, consists of several acres on the mountain back of Montclair, overlooking the valley, and surrounded by even larger estates. Branford, I understand, is in the West with a party of capitalists, inspecting a reported find of potash salts. Mrs. Branford closed up the house a few days ago and left for a short stay at Palm Beach. Of course they ought to have put their valuables in a safe deposit vault. But they didn't. They relied on a safe that was really one of the best in the market - a splendid safe, I may say. Well, it seems that while the master and mistress were both away the servants decided on having a good time in New York. They locked up the house securely - there's no doubt of that - and just went. That is, they all went except Mrs. Branford's maid, who refused to go for some reason or other. We've got all the servants, but there's not a clue to be had from any of them. They just went off on a bust, that's clear. They admit it.
"Now, when they got back early this morning they found the maid in bed - dead. There was still a strong odour of chloroform about the room. The bed was disarranged as if there had been a struggle. A towel had been wrapped up in a sort: of cone, saturated with chloroform, and forcibly held over the girl's nose. The next thing they discovered was the safe - blown open in a most peculiar manner. I won't dwell on that. We're going to take you out there and show it to you after I've told you the whole story.
"Here's the real point. It looks all right, so far. The local police say that the thief or thieves, whoever they were, apparently gained access by breaking a back window. That's mistake number one. Tell Mr. Kennedy about the window, Maloney."
"It's just simply this," responded the detective. "When I came to look at the broken window I found that the glass had fallen outside in such a way as it could not have fallen if the window had been broken from the outside. The thing was a blind. Whoever did it got into the house in some other way and then broke the glass later to give a false clue.
"And," concluded Blake, taking his cigar between his thumb and forefinger and shaking it to give all possible emphasis to his words, "we have had our agent at Palm Beach on long-distance 'phone twice this afternoon. Mrs. Branford did no: go to Palm Beach. She did not engage rooms in any hotel there. And furthermore she never had any intention of going there. By a fortunate circumstance Maloney picked up a hint from one of the servants, and he has located her at the Grattan Inn in this city. In other words, Mrs. Branford has stolen her own jewels from herself in order to collect the burglary insurance - a common-enough thing in itself, but never to my knowledge done on such a large scale before."
The insurance man sank back in his chair and surveyed us sharply.
"But," interrupted Kennedy slowly, "how about -"
"I know - the maid," continued Blake. "I do not mean that Mrs. Branford did the actual stealing. Oh, no. That was done by a yeggman of experience. He must have been above the average, but everything points to the work of a yeggman. She hired him. But he overstepped the mark when he chloroformed the maid."
For a moment Kennedy said nothing. Then he remarked: "Let us go out and see the safe. There must be some clue. After that I want to have a talk with Mrs. Branford. By the way," he added, as we all rose to go down to Blake's car, "I once handled a life insurance case for the Great Eastern. I made the condition that I was to handle it in my own way, whether it went for or against the company. That's understood, is it, before I undertake the case?"
"Yes, yes," agreed Blake. "Get at the truth. We're not seeking to squirm out of meeting an honest liability. Only we want to make a signal example if it is as we have every reason to believe. There has been altogether too much of this sort of fake burglary to collect insurance, and as president of the underwriters it is my duty and intention to put a stop to it. Come on."
Maloney nodded his head vigorously in assent with his chief. "Never fear," he murmured. "The truth is what will benefit the company, all right. She did it."
The Branford estate lay some distance back from the railroad station, so that, although it took longer to go by automobile than by train, the car made us independent of the rather fitful night train service and the local cabmen.
We found the house not deserted by the servants, but subdued. The body of the maid had been removed to a local morgue, and a police officer was patrolling the grounds, though of what use that could be I was at a loss to understand.
Kennedy was chiefly interested in the safe. It was of the so-called "burglar-proof" variety, spherical in shape, and looking for all the world like a miniature piece of electrical machinery.
"I doubt if anything could have withstood such savage treatment as has been given to this safe," remarked Craig as he concluded a cursory examination of it. "It shows great resistance to high explosives, chiefly, I believe, as a result of its rounded shape. But nothing could stand up against such continued assaults."
He continued to examine the safe while we stood idly by. "I like to reconstruct my cases in my own mind," explained Kennedy, as he took his time in the examination. "Now, this fellow must have stripped the safe of all the outer trimmings. His next move was to make a dent in the manganese surface across the joint where the door fits the body. That must have taken a good many minutes of husky work. In fact, I don't see how he could have done it without a sledge-hammer and a hot chisel. Still, he did it and then -"
"But the maid," interposed Maloney. "She was in the house. She would have heard and given an alarm."
For answer, Craig simply went to a bay-window and raised the curtain. Pointing to the lights of the next house, far down the road, he said, "I'll buy the best cigars in the state if you can make them hear you on a blustery night like last night. No, she probably did scream. Either at this point, or at the very start, the burglar must have chloroformed her. I don't see any other way to explain it. I doubt if he expected such a tough proposition as he found in this safe, but he was evidently prepared to carry it through, now that he was here and had such an unexpectedly clear field, except for the maid. He simply got her out of the way, or his confederates did - in the easiest possible way, poor girl."
Returning to the safe, he continued: "Well, anyhow, he made a furrow perhaps an inch and a half long and a quarter of an inch wide and, I should say, not over an eighth of an inch deep. Then he commenced to burgle in earnest. Under the dent he made a sort of little cup of red clay and poured in the 'soup' - the nitroglycerin - so that it would run into the depression. Then he exploded it in the regular way with a battery and a fulminate cap. I doubt if it did much more than discolour the metal at first. Still, with the true persistency of his kind, he probably repeated the dose, using more and more of the 'soup' until the joint was stretched a little, and more of an opening made so that the 'soup' could run in.
"Again and again he must have repeated and increased the charges. Perhaps he used two or three cups at a time. By this time the outer door must have been stretched so as to make it easy to introduce the explosive. No doubt he was able to use ten or twelve ounces of the stuff at a charge. It must have been more like target-practice than safe-blowing. But the chance doesn't often come - an empty house and plenty of time. Finally the door must have bulged a fraction of an inch or so, and then a good big charge and the outer portion was ripped off and the safe turned over. There was still two or three inches of manganese steel protecting the contents, wedged in so tight that it must have seemed that nothing could budge it. But he must have kept at it until we have the wreck that we see here," and Kennedy kicked the safe with his foot as he finished.
Blake was all attention by this time, while Maloney gasped, "If I was in the safe-cracking business, I'd make you the head of the firm."
"And now," said Craig, "let us go back to New York and see if we can find Mrs. Branford."
"Of course you understand," explained Blake as we were speeding back, "that most of these cases of fake robberies are among small people, many of them on the East Side among little jewellers or other tradesmen. Still, they are not limited to any one class. Indeed, it is easier to foil the insurance companies when you sit in the midst of finery and wealth, protected by a self-assuring halo of moral rectitude, than under less fortunate circumstances. Too often, I'm afraid, we have good-naturedly admitted the unsolved burglary and paid the insurance claim. That has got to stop. Here's a case where we considered the moral hazard a safe one, and we are mistaken. It's the last straw."
Our interview with Mrs. Branford was about as awkward an undertaking as I have ever been concerned with. Imagine yourself forced to question a perfectly stunning woman, who was suspected of plotting so daring a deed and knew that you suspected her. Resentment was no name for her feelings. She scorned us, loathed us. It was only by what must have been the utmost exercise of her remarkable will-power that she restrained herself from calling the hotel porters and having us thrown out bodily. That would have put a bad face on it, so she tolerated our presence. Then, of course, the insurance company had reserved the right to examine everybody in the household, under oath if necessary, before passing on the claim.
"This is an outrage," she exclaimed, her eyes flashing and her breast rising and falling with suppressed emotion, "an outrage. When my husband returns I intend to have him place the whole matter in the hands of the best attorney in the city. Not only will I have the full amount of the insurance, but I will have damages and costs and everything the law allows. Spying on my every movement in this way - it is an outrage! One would think we were in St. Petersburg instead of New York."
"One moment, Mrs. Branford," put in Kennedy, as politely as he could. "Suppose - "
"Suppose nothing," she cried angrily. "I shall explain nothing, say nothing. What if I do choose to close up that lonely big house in the suburbs and come to the city to live for a few days - is it anybody's business except mine?"
"And your husband's?" added Kennedy, nettled at her treatment of him.
She shot him a scornful glance. "I suppose Mr. Branford went out to Arizona for the express purpose of collecting insurance on my jewels," she added sarcastically with eyes that snapped fire.
"I was about to say," remarked Kennedy as imperturbably as if he were an automaton, "that supposing some one took advantage of your absence to rob your safe, don't you think the wisest course would be to be perfectly frank about it?"
"And give just one plausible reason why you wished so much to have it known that you were going to Palm Beach when in reality you were in New York?" pursued Maloney, while Kennedy frowned at his tactless attempt at a third degree.
If she had resented Kennedy, she positively flew up in the air and commenced to aviate at Maloney's questioning. Tossing her head, she said icily: "I do not know that you have been appointed my guardian, sir. Let us consider this interview at an end. Good-night," and with that she swept out of the room, ignoring Maloney and bestowing one biting glance on Blake, who actually winced, so little relish did he have for this ticklish part of the proceedings.
I think we all felt like schoolboys who had been detected robbing a melon-patch or in some other heinous offence, as we slowly filed down the hall to the elevator. A woman of Mrs. Branford's stamp so readily and successfully puts one in the wrong that I could easily comprehend why Blake wanted to call on Kennedy for help in what otherwise seemed a plain case.
Blake and Maloney were some distance ahead of us, as Craig leaned over to me and whispered: "That Maloney is impossible. I'll have to shake him loose in some way. Either we handle this case alone or we quit."
Right-o," I agreed emphatically. "He's put his foot in it badly at the very start. Only, be decent about it, Craig. The case is too big for you to let it slip by."
"Trust me, Walter. I'll do it tactfully," he whispered, then to Blake he added as we overtook them: "Maloney is right. The case is simple enough, after all. But we must find out some way to fasten the thing more closely on Mrs. Branford. Let me think out a scheme to-night. I'll see you to-morrow."
As Blake and Maloney disappeared down the street in the car, Kennedy wheeled about and walked deliberately back into the Grattan Inn again. It was quite late. People were coming in from the theatres, laughing and chatting gaily. Kennedy selected a table that commanded a view of the parlour as well as of the dining-room itself.
"She was dressed to receive some one - did you notice?" he remarked as we sat down and cast our eyes over the dizzy array of inedibles on the card before us. "I think it is worth waiting a while to see who it is."
Having ordered what I did not want, I glanced about until my eye rested on a large pier-glass at the other end of the dining-room.
"Craig," I whispered excitedly, "Mrs. B. is in the writing-room - I can see her in that glass at the end of the room, behind you."
"Get up and change places with me as quietly as you can, Walter," he said quickly. "I want to see her when she can't see me."
Kennedy was staring in rapt attention at the mirror. "There's a man with her, Walter," he said under his breath. "He came in while we were changing places - a fine-looking chap. By Jove, I've seen him before somewhere. His face and his manner are familiar to me. But I simply can't place him. Did you see her wraps in the chair? No? Well, he's helping her on with them. They're going out. Garcon, l'addition - vite."
We were too late, however, for just as we reached the door we caught a fleeting glimpse of a huge new limousine.
"Who was that man who just went out with the lady?" asked Craig of the negro who turned the revolving-door at the carriage entrance.
"Jack Delarue, sah - in 'The Grass Widower,' sah," replied the doorman. "Yes, sah, he stays here once in a while. Thank you, sah," as Kennedy dropped a quarter into the man's hand.
"That complicates things considerably," he mused as we walked slowly down to the subway station. "Jack Delarue - I wonder if he is mixed up in this thing also."
"I've heard that 'The Grass Widower' isn't such a howling success as a money-maker," I volunteered. "Delarue has a host of creditors, no doubt. By the way, Craig," I exclaimed, "don't you think it would be a good plan to drop down and see O'Connor? The police will have to be informed in a few hours now, anyhow. Maybe Delarue has a criminal record."
"A good idea, Walter," agreed Craig, turning into a drug-store which had a telephone booth. "I'll just call O'Connor up, and we'll see if he does know anything about it.
O'Connor was not at headquarters, but we finally found him at his home, and it was well into the small hours when we arrived there. Trusting to the first deputy's honour, which had stood many a test, Craig began to unfold the story. He had scarcely got as far as describing the work of the suspected hired yeggman, when O'Connor raised both hands and brought them down hard on the arms of his chair.
"Say," he ejaculated, "that explains it!"
"What?" we asked in chorus.
"Why, one of my best stool-pigeons told me to-day that there was something doing at a house in the Chatham Square district that we have been watching for a long time. It's full of crooks, and to-day they've all been as drunk as lords, a sure sign some one has made a haul and been generous with the rest. And one or two of the professional 'fences' have been acting suspiciously, too. Oh, that explains it all right."
I looked at Craig as much as to say, "I told you so," but he was engrossed in what O'Connor was saying.
"You know," continued the police officer, "there is one particular 'fence' who runs his business under the guise of a loan-shark's office. He probably has a wider acquaintance among the big criminals than any other man in the city. From him crooks can obtain anything from a jimmy to a safe-cracking outfit. I know that this man has been trying to dispose of some unmounted pearls to-day among jewellers in Maiden Lane. I'll bet he has been disposing of some of the Branford pearls, one by one. I'll follow that up. I'll arrest this 'fence' and hold him till he tells me what yeggman came to him with the pearls."
"And if you find out, will you go with me to that house near Chatham Square, providing it was some one in that gang?" asked Craig eagerly.
O'Connor shook his head. "I'd better keep out of it. They know me too well. Go alone. I'll get that stool-pigeon - the Gay Cat is his name - to go with you. I'll help you in any way. I'll have any number of plain-clothes men you want ready to raid the place the moment you get the evidence. But you'll never get any evidence if they know I'm in the neighbourhood."
The next morning Craig scarcely ate any breakfast himself and made me bolt my food most unceremoniously. We were out in Montclair again before the commuters had started to go to New York, and that in spite of the fact that we had stopped at his laboratory on the way and had got a package which he carried carefully.
Kennedy instituted a most thorough search of the house from cellar to attic in daylight. What he expected to find, I did not know, but I am quite sure nothing escaped him.
"Now, Walter," he said after he had ransacked the house, "there remains just one place. Here is this little wall safe in Mrs. Branford's room. We must open it."
For an hour if not longer he worked over the combination, listening to the fall of the tumblers in the lock. It was a simple little thing and one of the old-timers in the industry would no doubt have opened it in short order. The perspiration stood out on his forehead, so intent was he in working the thing. At last it yielded. Except for some of the family silver, the safe was empty.
Carefully noting how the light shone on the wall safe, Craig unwrapped the package he had brought and disclosed a camera. He placed it on a writing-desk opposite the safe, in such a way that it was not at all conspicuous, and focused it on the safe.
"This is a camera with a newly-invented between-lens shutter of great illumination and efficiency," he explained. "It has always been practically impossible to get such pictures, but this new shutter has so much greater speed than anything ever invented before that it is possible to use it in detective work. I'll just run these fine wires like a burglar alarm, only instead of having an alarm I'll attach them to the camera so that we can get a picture. I've proved its speed up to one two-thousandth of a second. It may or it may not work. If it does we'll catch somebody, right in the act."
About noon we went down to Liberty Street, home of burglary insurance. I don't think Blake liked it very much because Kennedy insisted on playing the lone hand, but he said nothing, for it was part of the agreement. Maloney seemed rather glad than otherwise. He had been combing out some tangled clues of his own about Mrs. Branford. Still, Kennedy smoothed things over by complimenting the detective on his activity, and indeed he had shown remarkable ability in the first place in locating Mrs. Branford.
"I started out with the assumption that the Branfords must have needed money for some reason or other," said Maloney. " So I went to the commercial agencies to-day and looked up Branford. I can't say he has been prosperous; nobody has been in Wall Street these days, and that's just the thing that causes an increase in fake burglaries. Then there is another possibility," he continued triumphantly. "I had a man up at the Grattan Inn, and he reports to me that Mrs. Branford was seen with the actor Jack Delarue last night. I imagine they quarrelled, for she returned alone, much agitated, in a taxi-cab. Any way you look at it, the clues are promising - whether she needed money for Branford's speculations or for the financing of that rake Delarue."
Maloney regarded Craig with the air of an expert who could afford to patronise a good amateur - but after all an amateur. Kennedy said nothing, and of course I took the cue.
"Yes," agreed Blake, "you see, our original hypothesis was a pretty good one. Meanwhile, of course, the police are floundering around in a bog of false scents."
"It would make our case a good deal stronger," remarked Kennedy quietly, "if we could discover some of the stolen jewellery hidden somewhere by Mrs. Branford herself." He said nothing of his own unsuccessful search through the house, but continued: "What do you suppose she has done with the jewels? She must have put them somewhere before she got the yeggman to break the safe. She'd hardly trust them in his hands. But she might have been foolish enough for that. Of course it's another possibility that he really got away with them. I doubt if she has them at Grattan Inn, or even if she would personally put them in a safe deposit vault. Perhaps Delarue figures in that end of it. We must let no stone go unturned."
"That's right," meditated Maloney, apparently turning something over in his mind as if it were a new idea. "If we only had some evidence, even part of the jewels that she had hidden, it would clinch the case. That's a good idea, Kennedy."
Craig said nothing, but I could see, or fancied I saw, that he was gratified at the thought that he had started Maloney off on another trail, leaving us to follow ours unhampered. The interview with Blake was soon over, and as we left I looked inquiringly at Craig.
"I want to see Mrs. Branford again," he said. "I think we can do better alone to-day than we did last night."
I must say I half expected that she would refuse to see us and was quite surprised when the page returned with the request that we go up to her suite. It was evident that her attitude toward us was very different from that of the first interview. Whether she was ruffled by the official presence of Blake or the officious presence of Maloney, she was at least politely tolerant of us. Or was it that she at last began to realise that the toils were closing about her and that things began to look unmistakably black?
Kennedy was quick to see his advantage. "Mrs. Branford," he began, "since last night I have come into the possession of some facts that are very important. I have heard that several loose pearls which may or may not be yours have been offered for sale by a man on the Bowery who is what the yeggmen call a 'fence.'"
"Yeggmen - 'fence'?" she repeated. "Mr. Kennedy, really I do not care to discuss the pearls any longer. It is immaterial to me what becomes of them. My first desire is to collect the insurance. If anything is recovered I am quite willing to deduct that amount from the total. But I must insist on the full insurance or the return of the pearls. As soon as Mr. Branford arrives I shall take other steps to secure redress."
A boy rapped at the door and brought in a telegram which she tore open nervously. "He will be here in four days," she said, tearing the telegram petulantly, and not at all as if she were glad to receive it. "Is there anything else that you wish to say?"
She was tapping her foot on the rug as if anxious to conclude the interview. Kennedy leaned forward earnestly and played his trump card boldly.
"Do you remember that scene in 'The Grass Widower,'" he said slowly, "where Jack Delarue meets his runaway wife at the masquerade ball?"
She coloured slightly, but instantly regained her composure. "Vaguely," she murmured, toying with the flowers in her dress.
"In real life," said Kennedy, his voice purposely betraying that he meant it to have a personal application, "husbands do not forgive even rumours of - ah - shall we say affinities? - much less the fact."
"In real life," she replied, "wives do not have affinities as often as some newspapers and plays would have us believe."
"I saw Delarue after the performance last night," went on Kennedy inexorably. "I was not seen, but I saw, and he was with - "
She was pacing the room now in unsuppressed excitement. "Will you never stop spying on me?" she cried. "Must my every act be watched and misrepresented? I suppose a distorted version of the facts will be given to my husband. Have you no chivalry, or justice, or - or mercy?" she pleaded, stopping in front of Kennedy.
"Mrs. Branford," he replied coldly, "I cannot promise what I shall do. My duty is simply to get at the truth about the pearls. If it involves some other person, it is still my duty to get at the truth. Why not tell me all that you really know about the pearls and trust me to bring it out all right?"
She faced him, pale and haggard. "I have told," she repeated steadily. "I cannot tell any more - I know nothing more."
Was she lying? I was not expert enough in feminine psychology to judge, but down in my heart I knew that the woman was hiding something behind that forced steadiness. What was it she was battling for? We had reached an impasse.
It was after dinner when I met Craig at the laboratory. He had made a trip to Montclair again, where his stay had been protracted because Maloney was there and he wished to avoid him. He had brought back the camera, and had had another talk with O'Connor, at which he had mapped out a plan of battle.
"We are to meet the Gay Cat at the City Hall at nine o'clock," explained Craig laconically. "We are going to visit a haunt of yeggmen, Walter, that few outsiders have ever seen. Are you game? O'Connor and his men will be close by - hiding, of course."
"I suppose so, I replied slowly. But what excuse are you going to have for getting into this yegg-resort?"
"Simply that we are two newspaper men looking for an article, without names, dates, or places - just a good story of yeggmen and tramps. I've got a little - well, we'll call it a little camera outfit that I'm going to sling over my shoulder. You are the reporter, remember, and I'm the newspaper photographer. They won't pose for us, of course, but that will be all right. Speaking about photographs, I got one out at Montclair that is interesting. I'll show it to you later in the evening - and in case anything should happen to me, Walter, you'll find the original plate locked here in the top drawer of my desk. I guess we'd better be getting downtown."
The house to which we were guided by the Gay Cat was on a cross street within a block or two of Chatham Square. If we had passed it casually in the daytime there would have been nothing to distinguish it above the other ramshackle buildings on the street, except that the other houses were cluttered with children and baby-carriages, while this one was vacant, the front door closed, and the blinds tightly drawn. As we approached, a furtive figure shambled from the basement areaway and slunk off into the crowd for the night's business of pocket-picking or second-story work.
I had had misgivings as to whether we would be admitted at all - I might almost say hopes - but the Gay Cat succeeded in getting a ready response at the basement door. The house itself was the dilapidated ruin of what had once been a fashionable residence in the days when society lived in the then suburban Bowery. The iron handrail on the steps was still graceful, though rusted and insecure. The stones of the steps were decayed and eaten away by time, and the front door was never opened.
As we entered the low basement door, I felt that those who entered here did indeed abandon hope. Inside, the evidences of the past grandeur were still more striking. What had once been a drawing-room was now the general assembly room of the resort. Broken-down chairs lined the walls, and the floor was generously sprinkled with sawdust. A huge pot-bellied stove occupied the centre of the room, and by it stood a box of sawdust plentifully discoloured with tobacco-juice.
Three or four of the "guests " - there was no "register" in this yeggman's hotel - were seated about the stove discussing something in a language that was English, to be sure, but of a variation that only a yegg could understand. I noted the once handsome white marble mantel, now stained by age, standing above the unused grate. Double folding-doors led to what, I imagine, was once a library. Dirt and grime indescribable were everywhere. There was the smell of old clothes and old cooking, the race odours of every nationality known to the metropolis. I recalled a night I once spent in a Bowery lodging-house for "local colour." Only this was infinitely worse. No law regulated this house. There was an atmosphere of cheerlessness that a half-thickened Welsbach mantle turned into positive ghastliness.
Our guide introduced us. There was a dead silence as eight eyes were craftily fixed on us, sizing us up. What should I say? Craig came to the rescue. To him the adventure was a lark. It was novel, and that was merit enough.
"Ask about the slang," he suggested. "That makes a picturesque story."
It seemed to me innocuous enough, so I engaged in conversation with a man whom the Gay Cat had introduced as the proprietor. Much of the slang I already knew by hearsay, such as "bulls" for policemen, a "mouthpiece" for a lawyer to defend one when he is "ditched" or arrested; in fact, as I busily scribbled away I must have collected a lexicon of a hundred words or so for future reference.
"And names?" I queried. "You have some queer nicknames."
"Oh, yes," replied the man. "Now here's the Gay Cat - that's what we call a fellow who is the finder, who enters a town ahead of the gang. Then there's Chi Fat - that means he's from Chicago and fat. And Pitts Slim - he's from Pittsburgh and - "
"Aw, cut it," broke in one of the others. "Pitts Slim'll be here to-night. He'll give you the devil if he hears you talking to reporters about him."
The proprietor began to talk of less dangerous subjects. Craig succeeded in drawing out from him the yegg recipe for making "soup."
"It's here in this cipher," said the man, drawing out a dirty piece of paper. "It's well known, and you can have this. Here's the key. It was written by 'Deafy' Smith, and the police pinched it."
Craig busily translated the curious document:
Take ten or a dozen sticks of dynamite, crumble it up fine, and put it in a pan or washbowl, then pour over it enough alcohol, wood or pure, to cover it well. Stir it up well with your hands, being careful to break all the lumps. Leave it set for a few minutes. Then get a few yards of cheesecloth and tear it up in pieces and strain the mixture through the cloth into another Vessel. Wring the sawdust dry and throw it away. The remains will be the soup and alcohol mixed. Next take the same amount of water as you used of alcohol and pour it in. Leave the whole set for a few minutes.
"Very interesting," commented Craig. "Safe-blowing in one lesson by correspondence school. The rest of this tells how to attack various makes, doesn't it?"
Just then a thin man in a huge, worn ulster came stamping upstairs from the basement, his collar up and his hat down over his eyes. There was something indefinably familiar about him, but as his face and figure were so well concealed, I could not tell just why I thought so.
Catching a glimpse of us, he beat a retreat across the opposite end of the room, beckoning to the proprietor, who joined him outside the door. I thought I heard him ask: "Who are those men? Who let them in?" but I could not catch the reply.
One by one the other occupants of the room rose and sidled out, leaving us alone with the Gay Cat. Kennedy reached over to get a cigarette from my case and light it from one that I was smoking.
"That's=20our man, I think," he whispered - "Pitts Slim."
I said nothing, but I would have been willing to part with a large section of my bank-account to be up on the Chatham Square station of the Elevated just then.
There was a rush from the half-open door behind us. Suddenly everything turned black before me; my eyes swam; I felt a stinging sensation on my head and a weak feeling about the stomach; I sank half-conscious to the floor. All was blank, but, dimly, I seemed to be dragged and dropped down hard.
How long I lay there I don't know. Kennedy says it was not over five minutes. It may have been so, but to me it seemed an age. When I opened my eyes I was lying on my back on a very dirty sofa in another room. Kennedy was bending over me with blood streaming from a long deep gash on his head. Another figure was groaning in the semi-darkness opposite; it was the Gay Cat.
"They blackjacked us," whispered Kennedy to me as I staggered to my feet. "Then they dragged us through a secret passage into another house. How do you feel?"
"All right," I answered, bracing myself against a chair, for I was weak from the loss of blood, and dizzy. I was sore in every joint and muscle. I looked about, only half comprehending. Then my recollection flooded back with a rush. We had been locked in another room after the attack, and left to be dealt with later. I felt in my pocket. I had left my watch at the laboratory, but even the dollar watch I had taken and the small sum of money in my pocketbook were gone.
Kennedy still had his camera slung over his shoulder, where he had fastened it securely.
Here we were, imprisoned, while Pitts Slim, the man we had come after, whoever he was, was making his escape. Somewhere across the street was O'Connor, waiting in a room as we had agreed. There was only one window in our room, and it opened on a miserable little dumbwaiter air-shaft. It would be hours yet before his suspicions would be aroused and he would discover which of the houses we were held in. Meanwhile what might not happen to us?
Kennedy calmly set up his tripod. One leg had been broken in the rough-house, but he tied it together with his handkerchief, now wet with blood. I wondered how he could think of taking a picture. His very deliberation set me fretting and fuming, and I swore at him under my breath. Still, he worked calmly ahead. I saw him take the black box and set it on the tripod. It was indistinct in the darkness. It looked like a camera, and yet it had some attachment at the side that was queer, including a little lamp. Craig bent and attached some wires about the box.
At last he seemed ready. "Walter," he whispered, "roll that sofa quietly over against the door. There, now the table and that bureau, and wedge the chairs in. Keep that door shut at any cost. It's now or never - here goes."
He stopped a moment and tinkered with the box on the tripod. "Hello! Hello! Hello! Is that you, O'Connor?" he shouted.
I watched him in amazement. Was the man crazy? Had the blow affected his brain? Here he was, trying to talk into a camera. A little signalling-bell in the box commenced to ring, as if by spirit hands.
"Shut up in that room," growled a voice from outside the door. "By God, they've barricaded the door. Come on, pals, we'll kill the spies."
A smile of triumph lighted up Kennedy's pale face. "It works, it works," he cried as the little bell continued to buzz. " This is a wireless telephone you perhaps have seen announced recently -=20 good for several hundred feet - through walls and everything. The inventor placed it in a box easily carried by a man, including a battery, and mounted on an ordinary camera tripod so that the user might well be taken for a travelling photographer. It is good in one direction only, but I have a signalling-bell here that can be rung from the other end by Hertzian waves. Thank Heaven, it's compact and simple.
"O'Connor," he went on, "it is as I told you. It was Pitts Slim. He left here ten or fifteen minutes ago - I don't know by what exit, but I heard them say they would meet at the Central freightyards at midnight. Start your plain-clothes men out and send some one here, quick, to release us. We are locked in a room in the fourth or fifth house from the corner. There's a secret passage to the yegg-house. The Gay Cat is still unconscious, Jameson is groggy, and I have a bad scalp wound. They are trying to beat in our barricade. Hurry."
I think I shall never get straight in my mind the fearful five minutes that followed, the battering at the door, the oaths, the scuffle outside, the crash as the sofa, bureau, table, and chairs all yielded at once - and my relief when I saw the square-set, honest face of O'Connor and half a dozen plain-clothes men holding the yeggs who would certainly have murdered us this time to protect their pal in his getaway. The fact is I didn't think straight until we were halfway uptown, speeding toward the railroad freight-yards in O'Connor's car. The fresh air at last revived me, and I began to forget my cuts and bruises in the renewed excitement.
We entered the yards carefully, accompanied by several of the railroad's detectives, who met us with a couple of police dogs. Skulking in the shadow under the high embankment that separated the yards with their interminable lines of full and empty cars on one side and the San Juan Hill district of New York up on the bluff on the other side, we came upon a party of three men who were waiting to catch the midnight" side-door Pullman " - the fast freight out of New York.
The fight was brief, for we outnumbered them more than three to one. O'Connor himself snapped a pair of steel bracelets on the thin man, who seemed to be leader of the party.
"It's all up, Pitts Slim," he ground out from his set teeth.
One of our men flashed his bull's-eye on the three prisoners. I caught myself as in a dream.
Pitts Slim was Maloney, the detective.
An hour later, at headquarters, after the pedigrees had been taken, the "mugging" done, and the jewels found on the three yeggs checked off from the list of the Branford pearls, leaving a few thousand dollars' worth unaccounted for, O'Connor led the way into his private office. There were Mrs. Branford and Blake, waiting.
Maloney sullenly refused to look at his former employer, as Blake rushed over and grasped Kennedy's hand, asking eagerly: "How did you do it, Kennedy? This is the last thing I expected."
Craig said nothing, but slowly opened a now crumpled envelope, which contained an untoned print of a photograph. He laid it on the desk. "There is your yeggman - at work," he said.
We bent over to look. It was a photograph of Maloney in the act of putting something in the little wall safe in Mrs. Branford's room. In a flash it dawned on me - the quick-shutter camera, the wire connected with the wall safe, Craig's hint to Maloney that if some of the jewels were found hidden in a likely place in the house, it would furnish the last link in the chain against her, Maloney's eager acceptance of the suggestion, and his visit to Montclair during which Craig had had hard work to avoid him.
"Pitts Slim, alias Maloney," added Kennedy, turning to Blake, "your shrewdest private detective, was posing in two characters at once very successfully. He was your trusted agent in possession of the most valuable secrets of your clients, at the same time engineering all the robberies that you thought were fakes, and then working up the evidence incriminating the victims themselves. He got into the Branford house with a skeleton key, and killed the maid. The picture shows him putting this shield-shaped brooch in the safe this afternoon - here's the brooch. And all this time he was the leader of the most dangerous band of yeggmen in the country."
"Mrs. Branford," exclaimed Blake, advancing and bowing most profoundly, "I trust that you understand my awkward position? My apologies cannot be too humble. It will give me great pleasure to hand you a certified check for the missing gems the first thing in the morning."
Mrs. Branford bit her lip nervously. The return of the pearls did not seem to interest her in the least.
"And I, too, must apologise for the false suspicion I had of you and - and - depend on me, it is already forgotten," said Kennedy, emphasising the "false" and looking her straight in the eyes.
She read his meaning and a look of relief crossed her face. "Thank you," she murmured simply, then dropping her eyes she added in a lower tone which no one heard except Craig: "Mr. Kennedy, how can I ever thank you? Another night, and it would have been too late to save me from myself."
THE GERM OF DEATH
By this time I was becoming used to Kennedy's strange visitors and, in fact, had begun to enjoy keenly the uncertainty of not knowing just what to expect from them next. Still, I was hardly prepared one evening to see a tall, nervous foreigner stalk noiselessly and unannounced into our apartment and hand his card to Kennedy without saying a word.
"Dr. Nicholas Kharkoff - hum - er, Jameson, you must have forgotten to latch the door. Well, Dr. Kharkoff, what can I do for you? It is evident something has upset you."
The tall Russian put his forefinger to his lips and, taking one of our good chairs, placed it by the door. Then he stood on it and peered cautiously through the transom into the hallway. "I think I eluded him this time," he exclaimed, as he nervously took a seat. "Professor Kennedy, I am being followed. Every step that I take somebody shadows me, from the moment I leave my office until I return. It is enough to drive me mad. But that is only one reason why I have come here to-night. I believe that I can trust you as a friend of justice - a friend of Russian freedom?"
He had included me in his earnest but somewhat vague query, so that I did not withdraw. Somehow, apparently, he had heard of Kennedy's rather liberal political views.
"It is about Vassili Saratovsky, the father of the Russian revolution, as we call him, that I have come to consult you," he continued quickly. "Just two weeks ago he was taken ill. It came on suddenly, a violent fever which continued for a week. Then he seemed to grow better, after the crisis had passed, and even attended a meeting of our central committee the other night. But in the meantime Olga Samarova, the little Russian dancer, whom you have perhaps seen, fell ill in the same way. Samarova is an ardent revolutionist, you know. This morning the servant at my own home on East Broadway was also stricken, and - who knows? - perhaps it will be my turn next. For to-night Saratovsky had an even more violent return of the fever, with intense shivering, excruciating pains in the limbs, and delirious headache. It is not like anything I ever saw before. Can you look into the case before it grows any worse, Professor?"
Again the Russian got on the chair and looked over the transom to be sure that he was not being overheard.
"I shall be only too glad to help you in any way I can," returned Kennedy, his manner expressing the genuine interest that he never feigned over a particularly knotty problem in science and crime. "I had the pleasure of meeting Saratovsky once in London. I shall try to see him the first thing in the morning."
Dr. Kharkoff's face fell. "I had hoped you would see him to-night. If anything should happen -"
"Is it as urgent as that?"
"I believe it is," whispered Kharkoff, leaning forward earnestly. "We can call a taxicab - it will not take long, sir. Consider, there are many lives possibly at stake," he pleaded.
"Very well, I will go," consented Kennedy.
At the street door Kharkoff stopped short and drew Kennedy back. "Look - across the street in the shadow. There is the man. If I start toward him he will disappear; he is very clever. He followed me from Saratovsky's here, and has been waiting for me to come out."
"There are two taxicabs waiting at the stand," suggested Kennedy. "Doctor, you jump in the first, and Jameson and I will take the second. Then he can't follow us."
It was done in a moment, and we were whisked away, to the chagrin of the figure, which glided impotently out of the shadow in vain pursuit, too late even to catch the number of the cab.
"A promising adventure," commented Kennedy, as we bumped along over New York's uneven asphalt. "Have you ever met Saratovsky?"
"No," I replied dubiously. "Will you guarantee that he will not blow us up with a bomb?"
"Grandmother!" replied Craig. "Why, Walter, he is the most gentle, engaging old philosopher - "
"That ever cut a throat or scuttled a ship?" I interrupted.
"On the contrary," insisted Kennedy, somewhat nettled, "he is a patriarch, respected by every faction of the revolutionists, from the fighting organisation to the believers in non-resistance and Tolstoy. I tell you, Walter, the nation that can produce a man such as Saratovsky deserves and some day will win political freedom. I have heard of this Dr. Kharkoff before, too. His life would be a short one if he were in Russia. A remarkable man, who fled after those unfortunate uprisings in 1905. Ah, we are on Fifth Avenue. I suspect that he is taking us to a club on the lower part of the avenue, where a number of the Russian reformers live, patiently waiting and planning for the great 'awakening' in their native land."
Kharkoff's cab had stopped. Our quest had indeed brought us almost to Washington Square. Here we entered an old house of the past generation. As we passed through the wide hall, I noted the high ceilings, the old-fashioned marble mantels stained by time, the long, narrow rooms and dirty-white woodwork, and the threadbare furniture of black walnut and horsehair.
Upstairs in a small back room we found the venerable Saratovsky, tossing, half-delirious with the fever, on a disordered bed. His was a striking figure in this sordid setting, with a high intellectual forehead and deep-set, glowing coals of eyes which gave a hint at the things which had made his life one of the strangest among all the revolutionists of Russia and the works he had done among the most daring. The brown dye was scarcely yet out of his flowing white beard - a relic of his last trip back to his fatherland, where he had eluded the secret police in the disguise of a German gymnasium professor.
Saratovsky extended a thin, hot, emaciated hand to us, and we remained standing. Kennedy said nothing for the moment. The sick man motioned feebly to us to come closer.
"Professor Kennedy," he whispered, "there is some deviltry afoot. The Russian autocracy would stop at nothing. Kharkoff has probably told you of it. I am so weak - "
He groaned and sank back, overcome by a chill that seemed to rack his poor gaunt form.
"Kazanovitch can tell Professor Kennedy something, Doctor. I am too weak to talk, even at this critical time. Take him to see Boris and Ekaterina."
Almost reverently we withdrew, and Kharkoff led us down the hall to another room. The door was ajar, and a light disclosed a man in a Russian peasant's blouse, bending laboriously over a writing-desk. So absorbed was he that not until Kharkoff spoke did he look up. His figure was somewhat slight and his face pointed and of an ascetic mould.
"Ah!" he exclaimed. "You have recalled me from a dream. I fancied I was on the old mir with Ivan, one of my characters. Welcome, comrades."
It flashed over me at once that this was the famous Russian novelist, Boris Kazanovitch. I had not at first connected the name with that of the author of those gloomy tales of peasant life. Kazanovitch stood with his hands tucked under his blouse.
"Night is my favourite time for writing," he explained. "It is then that the imagination works at its best."
I gazed curiously about the room. There seemed to be a marked touch of a woman's hand here and there; it was unmistakable. At last my eye rested on a careless heap of dainty wearing apparel on a chair in the corner.
"Where is Nevsky?" asked Dr. Kharkoff, apparently missing the person who owned the garments.
"Ekaterina has gone to a rehearsal of the little play of Gershuni's escape from Siberia and betrayal by Rosenberg. She will stay with friends on East Broadway to-night. She has deserted me, and here I am all alone, finishing a story for one of the American magazines."
"Ah, Professor Kennedy, that is unfortunate," commented Kharkoff. "A brilliant woman is Mademoiselle Nevsky - devoted to the cause. I know only one who equals her, and that is my patient downstairs, the little dancer, Samarova."
"Samarova is faithful - Nevsky is a genius," put in Kazanovitch. Kharkoff said nothing for a time, though it was easy to see he regarded the actress highly.
"Samarova," he said at length to us, "was arrested for her part in the assassination of Grand Duke Sergius and thrown into solitary confinement in the fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul. They tortured her, the beasts - burned her body with their cigarettes. It was unspeakable. But she would not confess, and finally they had to let her go. Nevsky, who was a student of biology at the University of St. Petersburg when Von Plehve was assassinated, was arrested, but her relatives had sufficient influence to secure her release. They met in Paris, and Nevsky persuaded Olga to go on the stage and come to New York."
"Next to Ekaterina's devotion to the cause is her devotion to science," said Kazanovitch, opening a door to a little room. Then he added: "If she were not a woman, or if your universities were less prejudiced, she would be welcome anywhere as a professor. See, here is her laboratory. It is the best we - she can afford. Organic chemistry, as you call it in English, interests me too, but of course I am not a trained scientist - I am a novelist."
The laboratory was simple, almost bare. Photographs of Koch, Ehrlich, Metchnikoff, and a number of other scientists adorned the walls. The deeply stained deal table was littered with beakers and test-tubes.
"How is Saratovsky?" asked the writer of the doctor, aside, as we gazed curiously about.
Kharkoff shook his head gravely. "We have just come from his room. He was too weak to talk, but he asked that you tell Mr. Kennedy anything that it is necessary he should know about our suspicions."
"It is that we are living with the sword of Damocles constantly dangling over our heads, gentlemen," cried Kazanovitch passionately, turning toward us. "You will excuse me if I get some cigarettes downstairs? Over them I will tell you what we fear."
A call from Saratovsky took the doctor away also at the same moment, and we were left alone.
"A queer situation, Craig," I remarked, glancing involuntarily at the heap of feminine finery on the chair, as I sat down before Kazanovitch's desk.
"Queer for New York; not for St. Petersburg, was his laconic reply, as he looked around for another chair. Everything was littered with books and papers, and at last he leaned over and lifted the dress from the chair to place it on the bed, as the easiest way of securing a seat in the scantily furnished room.
A pocketbook and a letter fell to the floor from the folds of the dress. He stooped to pick them up, and I saw a strange look of surprise on his face. Without a moment's hesitation he shoved the letter into his pocket and replaced the other things as he had found them.
A moment later Kazanovitch returned with a large box of Russian cigarettes. "Be seated, sir," he said to Kennedy, sweeping a mass of books and papers off a large divan. "When Nevsky is not here the room gets sadly disarranged. I have no genius for order."
Amid the clouds of fragrant light smoke we waited for Kazanovitch to break the silence.
"Perhaps you think that the iron hand of the Russian prime minister has broken the backbone of revolution in Russia," he began at length. "But because the Duma is subservient, it does not mean that all is over. Not at all. We are not asleep. Revolution is smouldering, ready to break forth at any moment. The agents of the government know it. They are desperate. There is no means they would not use to crush us. Their long arm reaches even to New York, in this land of freedom."
He rose and excitedly paced the room. Somehow or other, this man did not prepossess me. Was it that I was prejudiced by a puritanical disapproval of the things that pass current in Old World morality? Or was it merely that I found the great writer of fiction seeking the dramatic effect always at the cost of sincerity?
"Just what is it that you suspect?" asked Craig, anxious to dispense with the rhetoric and to get down to facts. " Surely, when three persons are stricken, you must suspect something."
"Poison," replied Kazanovitch quickly. "Poison, and of a kind that even the poison doctors of St. Petersburg have never employed. Dr. Kharkoff is completely baffled. Your American doctors - two were called in to see Saratovsky - say it is the typhus fever. But Kharkoff knows better. There is no typhus rash. Besides" - and he leaned forward to emphasise his words - " one does not get over typhus in a week and have it again as Saratovsky has." I could see that Kennedy was growing impatient. An idea had occurred to him, and only politeness kept him listening to Kazanovitch longer.