"SO that's your game, is it?"
The question was rapped rather than spoken by a young fellow, one of four men gathered about the card table.
His opposite, a dark, heavy-set person, with a black tip curled mustache overhanging his red lips, raised his thick-lidded eyes from the cards he was rapidly dealing and stared full into the flushed face of the one who had addressed him.
"What's my game?" he growled in reply.
"Slip dealing," flared the other. "You took your last card from the bottom, and—you weren't quite quick enough. I was watching you."
The dark man—it appeared afterward that his name was Swartzberg—merely smiled slightly and shook his head.
"I tell you you did!" persisted the youngster, his voice rising in excitement. "Don't shake your head at me, you card cheat!"
Swartzberg shrugged. "I hate a poor loser," he remarked to the atmosphere of the room at large.
"Pick up that card and turn it over!" demanded his accuser. "It's an ace. I'm as good a loser as any in a fair hand, but I won't stand for funny work in a gentlemen's game. A man who cheats in a friendly hand is the lowest sort of thief."
With a sudden motion Swartzberg gathered the cards before him into his hand and cast them into the center of the table in a ragged heap. "You lie," said he quite coldly.
Almost instantly the smack of a blow sounded as the younger man landed upon the side of Swartzberg's jaw.
A steward, attracted by the sounds of the altercation, entered at this point and inquired as to the cause of the disturbance, caught a glance of the scattered cards and the flushed face of the boy, now securely held in the grasp of the two other players, and grinned, as one accustomed to such scenes.
Swartzberg, secure from further aggression, felt gingerly of his jaw, grimaced at the other occupants of the room as one who would say "the impulsiveness of youth," and sauntered out.
I had noticed him before. He had a stateroom on the saloon deck midway of the port side on the same boat on which Connie, Dual, and I were running up from New Orleans to St. Louis.
I had seen him come aboard at New Orleans just before the boat was starting, and, to tell the truth, I didn't like him.
There was something about his personality which repelled, so far as I was concerned. I didn't like his dark, heavy features, his puffy eyes, his tip curled mustache, his thick, red under lip, his heavy-lobed ears, nor his self-satisfied air. In a word, there was nothing about him I did admire.
He had traveling salesman writ large all over him, and I mentally placed him in that class at the same time that I wondered what put him on a Mississippi River steamer.
The altercation which I had just witnessed occurred in the card and smoking room of the Cairo, from New Orleans to St. Paul, on the morning of a day in June. Perhaps I had better explain how we all came to be there ourselves, so that the things which come later will be better understood.
There had been some marked changes in my life of late. To begin with, I was no longer a reporter on the Record, where I had won my living for years. Instead, I was now the senior partner of the private inquiry bureau of "Glace & Bryce," with offices in the Urania Building, seventh floor.
Bryce and the sort of work I had done for the Record in unraveling baffling police cases were responsible for my change of endeavor. Bryce as a police inspector had been associated with me on more than one of these affairs; so that, after all, it was natural that he should make the half joking, half serious remark: "Glace, you oughter tie a can to this twenty-five-a-week an' get into a man's game. Say, kid, why don't you open a 'tec joint' of your own?"
"I might if you'd chuck the force and go hunks," I returned.
To my surprise he gave me a quick look and stuck out his hand.
After that it was a natural sequence to talk with my friend Dual, who smiled slightly and told me to go ahead. A week after, aided by Dual's backing, we opened an office and announced ourselves as ready to unravel mysteries at so much a ravel. Several things came our way, and we hired a stenographer and an office-boy. It looked as if we were going to make good.
So much for me. Now as to Connie. We were married, and this was our honeymoon trip. We had not intended taking one at the time of the wedding, and it was not until after the ceremony had been performed that we changed our minds.
I think I should say, rather, that Semi Dual changed them for us by announcing that he was about to start upon a trip to Goldfield to see his old friend and partner, John Curzon, who was managing their jointly owned mine, and inviting us to accompany him as his guests.
For the benefit of those who have not followed the events which threw Semi Dual and me together, I must say a word. Briefly, he was a student and exponent of the higher universal forces. A "Psychological Physician" was what he called himself.
Back home where he dwelt and I had worked as a reporter on the Record he lived in magnificent quarters which he had fitted up on the roof and in the tower of our largest sky-scraper.
Here he passed his time in the pursuit of those studies which made him able to perform acts of sapience which I have never seen equaled by any other living man.
These quarters of his on the roof of the Urania were reached from the twentieth floor by a beautiful marble and bronze staircase, leading at its head into a garden of flowers and shrubs created by Dual about the tower, and kept green the year round by means of a curved roof or dome of glass which arched it during the winter months.
I first met Semi Dual on an occasion when Smithson, who was then my city editor, sent me to interview him, and I have never forgotten the first impression he made upon me. Tall he was, with a splendid physique, brown-haired and gray-eyed, of a deep olive complexion and a highly arched nose.
His physical presence mirrored the admixture of high-caste Persian and Caucasian bloods which were his, and in his mentality one found the impassiveness of the Oriental, united with the practicality of the Occidental man. On that first occasion he had helped me to unravel a puzzling police case, and thereafter, time and again, I had called upon his peculiar powers to reveal the truth of mysteries which baffled the police.
The abstruse sciences of chirography, telepathy, astrology, and many others were open books to this friend of mine; yet there was no charlatanism, no skullduggery, about either the man or his methods.
He announced as true only what he himself had proved and could prove. Let me quote him on his own attitude. "I will believe anything which is capable of a scientific proof," he once said in speaking to me.
This, then, was the man as whose guests my wife and I found ourselves aboard a Mississippi steamer on that most magnificent of rivers—the "Father of Waters." Dual had met Connie at a time when he had been instrumental in freeing her brother from a cloud of dreadful suspicion swept over him by peculiar circumstances; and so when I mentioned our approaching marriage to him he surprised and pleased me by suggesting that the ceremony be held at the Urania—in the garden, in fact.
After the ceremony, which was very simple—with only Dual, myself, and Connie, her brother Billy and his fiancée, Smithson (my old city editor on the Record), and the minister present—Dual led us into the tower and seated us at a splendid supper he had had prepared. It was then that he first mentioned his proposal of a trip, and invited us to come along.
At first Connie demurred, hesitating quite naturally to accept so much from our host; but he smilingly waved aside her objections with the affirmation that he was amply able to afford the pleasure it would give him.
Put in that light, we found it doubly hard to refuse. We accepted instead. Dual had thereupon suggested that we go by boat from New York to New Orleans, and after spending some days in the Southern metropolis continue westward. It was arranged that Bryce should run the office, and we set sail. At New Orleans one day Connie caught sight of a river steamer while we were prowling about the riverfront, with its many-colored, polyglot life, and voiced a wish that she might some day take a trip on one of the things.
Dual, in the role of fairy godfather, at once suggested that, instead of going West by rail, we take a boat up the river to St. Louis and catch one of the overland routes from there.
Connie accepted with the delight of a child, and I was pleased because she was. One can therefore imagine that I was feeling pretty well satisfied with the world in general on the morning when the events which held us for the next sixty odd hours began to fall into place.
I had told Connie a great deal about Dual's work on the various mysteries which I had seen him handle, and more than once after listening to me with absorbed interest she had expressed the wish that she too might see him actually engaged upon a case.
Still, as I leaned forward and listened to the turmoil of voices aroused by the dramatic interruption of the card game, I little dreamed that her wish was in a fair way to be gratified.
On the Cairo the men's lounge, smoking and card room was set in just off the social hall, back of the library, on the starboard side.
Coming from them, one emerged directly into the main saloon, which widened at the forward end into the library itself. At the other end was the well through which rose the companion-stairs from the main deck, and back of that was the dining saloon.
Across the social hall were two cabin de luxe suites which Dual had obtained for Connie and me and himself. These consisted of a small parlor, a bedroom, and a bath, and were very comfortable indeed.
On this morning, after a late breakfast, I had come to the lounge for a quiet smoke. It was perhaps ten of a cloudless day, and Connie and Dual had gone to their deck-chairs; she armed with a camera, with which she enthusiastically shot up the country and the inhabitants as we passed or stopped at small landings; Dual to lounge idly, watching the drifting landscape and think of only he knew what.
As I entered the card-room I noticed the four players seated at one of the little tables with cards, chips, and long glasses before them. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, and were apparently fixed for a day's play.
After a cursory glance I lighted a cigarette, told the white-jacketed bar steward to bring me a bottle of ale, and opened a current number of a magazine which I had brought from the library when I entered. The next thing I knew was the flare up of the light-haired young man at the card table, who now shook himself free from the restraining hands of his companions with a somewhat shamefaced grin.
Well, I had been a reporter, and there is something akin to that in the life of the detective. My instinct for getting at the heart of things has always been strong.
I got up and sauntered over to form one of the group comprising nearly every man in the room, which had by now gathered about the light-haired youth.
"I tell you I saw him slip the bottom card into his own hand," he was doggedly protesting as I came up. "He's a petty tinhorn, that's what he is; and he's been skinning us by crooked play. I thought his luck was too good to be the real thing, and I began watching him. On that last deal he—"
"Well, never mind, son," one of the other players cut in. "We're all losers to him, and there's no way to prove it now."
"We don't need to prove it!" flashed the youngster. "He as good as admitted it when he mixed his hand with the deck just before I hit him. He's a dirty cheat!
"Supposin' he is," the steward interjected. "You was playin' for stakes, wasn't you, son?"
"Well?" The young fellow turned to the petty officer and spoke more quietly than he had yet done.
"That's gamblin'," decided the official. "You fellows aren't supposed to do it on these boats; but if you do, why you take your chances, an' there's nobody to blame but yourself. I've seen more'n one fellow trimmed in these pick-up games. It used to be a regular trade. He called you a liar and you hit him. Let it go at that."
"He as good as stole fifty dollars of my money," said the youth more hotly.
The steward whistled softly, then grinned. "You can't prove it, son, as the gent said. Charge it up to experience. You folks was havin' quite a little game, wasn't you?"
"Hardly." The young chap swept the faces about him almost with a glance of suspicion. "It was merely a lamb-shearing contest, I guess."
"Cut that, suh!" snapped one of the other players, a dark-skinned chap with a small black mustache of the Creole type. "You saw me lose twenty to him mahself. Ef yuh keep on beefing about it, hang me, suh, ef Ah don't agree with th' sheeney that yuh air one poor loser." He shrugged his white-flannel-clad shoulders.
The steward nodded. "The gent's right," he said. "Better forget it, young feller. What's done's done, as I see it. You got one good punch to the jaw for your half century, anyway." He turned away.
So did the others; some with winks and grins, others with even less show of interest. Each returned to the spot and occupation which suited him best. Remained the light-haired youth and myself beside the table.
I sat down on one of the soft chairs and took out my case of cigarettes, offering him one and lighting another. "Sit down and tell me about it," I suggested.
Under the circumstances he complied. He was full of his troubles, ready for sympathy, and didn't care particularly with whom he talked about it. He dropped into the opposite seat, lighted the cigarette, and picked up the scattered cards from the table, bunching them in his hands. "Case of a fool and his money, I guess. Mr.—" he began with a somewhat weak grin.
"Glace," I supplied to his interrogative pause.
He nodded. "I'm John Greer, and no doubt a good deal of a fool on the face of it. I'm sorry I acted like a cub, now that it is over with. It was my hot-headed temper made me pull that cheap melodramatic stuff; but I do hate a cheat." He threw down the cards.
"The steward was right when he said that these pick-up games are apt to surprise one of the players, and that boat-gambling used to be almost a recognized profession. I'm sorry you were the fall guy," I replied.
He smiled sourly. "It isn't the money," said he. "Not that I like to lose any better than any one else, and the jolly loser is a rare bird in my experience; but if the game had been square I wouldn't have kicked. I've both won and lost more. It's just that I hate being roped in like that. I didn't particularly want to play, you see. Came up here for a smoke after breakfast, and they were trying to get some one to take a fourth hand—you know how those things go.
"They asked me to sit in. I declined, and they insisted. Finally I did come in. Everything went all right for a time, at that; and then this—Swartzberg, I think his name is—hit a winning streak and kept it up. I got suspicious after a bit and began to watch him, and he was dealing crooked. Then I got mad, and I suppose you saw the rest."
Suddenly his grin became totally unrestrained. "Anyway I bet his jaw's sore. I got in one jolly swing to the side of his map."
"It sounded sincere when it landed," I admitted.
"It was," said Greer.
Frankly, after the heat had died out of him I rather liked the young chap. He was clean-looking, well set up, with a clear, blue eye, a good breadth of forehead, and a firm jaw which gave evidence of latent strength waiting to be developed.
Furthermore, I could sympathize with him in his position. He was, after all, only a boy, sore at being treated as one. I had felt like that at times myself not far distant.
"Where did you learn to deliver the punch?" I inquired.
"At school," he replied at once, his eyes lighting. "Oh, I'm an unlicked cub out of college, and that goes double—I never was licked in the gym boxing matches. Now I'm going home for dad to lick into business, I suppose.
"Dad's in business in St. Louis, but nothing would do save I had to graduate from his own alma mater. I went to New Orleans with a classmate for a visit, and now I'm going home; thought it would be fun to come by boat. Still"—his grin came back again—"it seems my education wasn't finished when I dragged down my sheep-skin. What's your line, Mr. Glace?"
"I'm a detective," I returned.
"Oh, Lord!" grimaced Greer. "Worse and worse. I'm going to get home as quick as I can. I don't even know when it's safe to talk, I reckon."
"I'm on my honeymoon," I said, laughing. "Don't be alarmed."
"Congratulations on the honeymoon. I made a narrow escape," said the youngster. His finger went toward the push-button on the panel. "What'll you have?"
I shook my head. "What business is your father in?" I asked.
"Contracting—building," he answered. "I'm going in with him, now that I know how to say brick in Latin. Maybe my punch will come in handy, though, in handling the gangs."
I nodded, and for some time we smoked in silence. Presently I took out my watch. It was getting on toward eleven, and I fancied I'd hunt up Connie and see how she was making out. I sat up in my seat. Greer, too, sat up.
"Have a cigar, anyway, before you go, just to show me you don't think I'm altogether the ass these other chaps evidently consider me," he begged in a boyish appeal.
I assented, and he called the bar steward, ordering two cigars, and a drink for himself as well. "If there was any way of doing it, I'd like to go after that fellow and make him shell out my fifty," he began again in a moment; "just to show 'em that I'm not as easy as I look."
"Just who is this chap?" I rejoined.
"I don't know." The steward came back, and he paid and dismissed him. "He says he's Isaac Swartzberg, a drummer, and I imagine he is. He looks like the typical loud-mouthed con man he ought to be. One thing's sure—he thinks he is a warm number with the ladies.
"I've an idea he's one of these 'johnnies' who tries to make up to every pretty face he sees. He kept up a patter about his experiences along that line all during the game this morning. I hate that sort of man, and no doubt my swat was only one of many he deserves. Did you notice the pretty little pouting red lip he wore?"
"Particularly, my young friend," I returned. "It goes with the sort of man you appraise Swartzberg to be."
Greer laughed. "I'm glad to hear it. I suppose you ought to know. You do meet all sorts in your line of work, don't you, Mr. Glace?"
"A few," I told him. "The pendulous lower lip does not go with a high sense of moral integrity, though it is compatible with vanity."
"That's Swartzberg," agreed my acquaintance. "When he wasn't talking about girls he was bragging about other exploits of his."
"Did you know either of the others?" I inquired. "Who was the man in the white flannel suit?" Some way the chap had interested me.
Greer shook his head. "Said his name was Gaston Lafourche. I never saw him before. Rather a touchy beggar, I guess, from the way he took up my remark about the wool market."
"French Creole type?" I remarked.
Greer nodded. "Guess so." Then he reverted to Swartzberg and the subject next his heart. "Do you know, I believe that fellow uses his steady talk to distract attention while he fixes the deck. I wish I had something on him, and I'd make him disgorge his winnings of to-day."
I shook my head. "Better let him alone," I advised.
Greer grinned. "What'll you bet I can't get it out of him before he leaves this boat?" he asked.
"Not a thing," said I. "If you're contemplating any more foolishness take my advice about trying it, and don't."
"But it would be fun to make him loosen," Greer persisted.
"I didn't know whether it would or not," I responded. "I've an idea he might prove a nasty customer if forced to it."
"Oh, it wouldn't be a matter of force—say persuasion, rather, Mr. Glace. What'll you bet I can't do it?"
I rose and stood facing him across the table. "If you're going to look for trouble I'll bet you find it," I said in answer. "You've kicked up some considerable fuss for one morning as it is. I think you'd better take a rest."
"All the same, I've an idea I could do it," he grinned back. "Maybe I won't, and then again—maybe I will. Just wait and see."
"Go ahead. You may succeed in raising enough excitement to give me excuse for butting in in my professional capacity," I flung back as I walked away.
I didn't know that my words would prove prophetic, but they did.
THE BOAT had been swinging in toward the shore while Greer and I chatted over our cigars, and had eventually swung into a small landing with a great clanging of gongs and thrashing of paddles.
As I left the card-room and started to hunt up Dual and my wife I noticed the first slow quiver of departure. Evidently it had merely checked to allow some passenger a landing or take some one aboard.
Such incidents as this were proving a constant source of interest to Connie, who seemed never to tire of this remnant of the bygone time when many boats churned the waters of the great river.
She had spent most of the preceding day on deck, watching the odd life of the river settlements as we approached or left them, studying the ragged stevedores on the wharfs, listening to their chanting cries as they handled freight and baggage, or their more modern and less musical profanity, with an equal fascination which had not yet seemed to flag.
Passing into the social hall with the intention of gaining the deck through one of the side alleys, I first came face to face with the wheat-haired girl. That is really the only way I can think of describing the great mass of fine-fibered tresses which crowned her head. It wasn't golden and it wasn't yellow. It was silvery, yellowish color, like the straw of ripened wheat.
She was one of the Southern blond types who are really at times of an almost exotic beauty. She was mounting the companion-stairs from the main deck in the wake of a colored steward burdened by her traveling-cases, and they had just reached the head of the stairs at the after-end of the social hall as I started from the door of the card-room.
As a result, I paused to allow them to pass before continuing on my way outside, whereupon one of those odd turns of fortune which occasionally happen brought us into instant and intimate contact.
The girl was wearing a shimmery gown of some light silk, held daintily in her hand as she mounted the stairs. In some way, which probably a woman will understand better than I, her foot appeared to catch somewhere among the mysteries of her skirts. She wavered and swayed and would have fallen had I not sprung forward and checked her with a hand.
For a moment she clung to me, a hand on my shoulder and one on my arm. Then, having extricated her foolishly high-heeled shoe from her ruffles or wherever it was caught, she straightened and raised a flushed face to mine.
"I thank you, suh," she said in some confusion. "You saved me a bad fall."
I took off my traveling-cap and smiled. "I am happy to have had the privilege," I told her, and saw her vanish after the steward toward her room.
"Lucky dog," said a voice not far from me, and I turned to find Swartzberg looking on with a grin. Having attracted my attention, he went on: "Some dame, that, my boy. With that good a start you ought to be solid for the rest of the trip."
I've said I didn't like the man, and I didn't like his uncalled-for comment. I turned on my heel. "I'm joining my wife," I said.
"So?" he remarked. "Well, no offense. Folks seem to be pretty touchy on this boat this morning. Has our young friend cooled down?" He jerked his head toward the card-room. "Think it would be safe for me to go order a drink? He's a hot-tempered cub."
"He was rapidly approaching normal when I left," I responded. "He admits he acted like a fool."
"He's a college rah-rah boy," said Swartzberg. "Daffy over these young ideas of honor, noblesse oblige, and that sort of thing. He'll get it knocked out of him after he's butted around a bit. I got it doped out that the Lord helps them as helps themselves. If you're married I don't suppose you're interested in the little blond you so gallantly saved from a tumble?"
I felt my gorge rise at the fellow, turned and looked down the alley along which the girl was gone. In the moment she had clung to me I had seen that her lips were soft and almost characterless in expression, and her eyes blue and wide open, with the blue of the flax and the openness of innocence, as it seemed to me.
Her face was that of an unlearned child or a woman totally shielded from experience. Because of that I resented Swartzberg's leer.
"Only that of any decent man in a woman," I said shortly, and turned my back on the man.
I went on past the companionway and gained the deck. The girl had disappeared, and the steward was just coming out of stateroom well toward the after part of the ship. I paused and looked back to the social hall.
Swartzberg had turned in his seat and was steadily watching the passage as though waiting for some one. I remembered my conversation with Greer and our appraisal of the alleged drummer. Well, here was surely a pretty face, and discipline on the boat was lax. Would he—
I turned in disgust, without finishing the question, and swung forward where Connie and Dual had their chairs. I found Connie just turning up a fresh film in place of one she had exposed.
"Oh, Gordon," she cried as I came up, "you ought to have been out here a bit ago. You used to be so fond of local color, and I just caught a snap of some people saying good-by to the prettiest girl. They were real Southern blue-bloods, I think—big, strong, romantic-looking men, and the girl was an awfully sweet-looking little thing. She took the boat."
"I saw her," I said as I stretched out in a deck-chair. "She's just been hanging on my neck. Her stateroom's on this deck."
Connie opened her eyes. "Hanging on your neck?" she gasped. "What do you mean?"
"It was that or let her fall on her nose," I said, grinning. "Why will women wear high heels and a lot of loose ends to catch them in? She pretty nearly bit a hole in the top of the companionway as she came up. I caught her because I happened to be there."
"Oh!" said Connie, "is that all? For a minute I was for getting jealous. I believe I'll speak to her the first chance I get. She looked so sweet and just a little bit timid. I don't believe she's used to being away from home. There was the nicest old lady with her. I think it was her mother, and she was crying. We're going to have the loveliest lot of pictures when we get home, Gordon, if—"
"They develop all right, eh?" I laughed.
She nodded. "I'm going in now," she announced. "They'll be serving luncheon after a bit and I want to go right in as soon as I can. I've an awful appetite. I think traveling agrees with me." She arose and flitted away.
Dual and I had the platform to ourselves. He glanced across at me and smiled. "The growth of the soul is a wonderful thing to watch, Gordon. You have waked the woman in your wife with your love, yet her soul is the clean one of a child. Remember it is as little children that we enter the kingdom of heaven, and see to it that no act of yours shall change her paradise."
I opened my eyes and my lips, when he went on: "I know that of any intent, you will not, my friend; but it is, alas! so easy to err. A word, even sometimes a thought, and the mistake has been made. A spoken word, or a thought which has flown, can never be recalled. A woman gives so much into a man's keeping with herself. See that you as a man keep your trust."
Characteristically he lapsed abruptly into silence, and left me to consider the words he had spoken. He had a way of planting his words like seeds and letting them germinate thoughts in the minds they entered.
Right at that time my mind was a fertile soil to his hand, and I knew that he knew it. I don't remember that we spoke again until luncheon was announced.
We found that Connie had made good her threat of speaking to the wheat-haired girl. In fact, she was chatting with her in the library when we went in. She caught sight of us at once, and, rising, met us in the social hall. I could see by the set of her lips that something had displeased her, but it was not until we were seated at our table that she began to speak:
"I was right about that girl. This is her first long trip. She's going to visit relatives in St. Louis. After I had freshened up a bit for luncheon I went into the library, and some time later she came in and sat down and looked about. I just got up and went over and spoke to her, and she told me about her trip. And what do you think? After a bit that big, dark man came to the library door and looked in. Then he came in and began to look over the books and magazines, but that was only an excuse to keep ogling the girl. After a bit I set my eyes on him and just kept them there, and pretty soon he went out. I don't think I like that man."
"He's not a man, Mrs. Glace," said Semi quite casually, as Connie paused for breath.
"He's no gentleman, at any rate," she agreed heartily.
"And experience is a great thing, but costly," continued our host.
"Meaning the girl with the wheat-colored hair?" I asked.
"Meaning any one," said Dual, "and particularly the girl."
I grinned. "Now, just what do you mean, Dual?" I begged.
"She has had none," replied my friend. "Her face is an unwritten page. I was wondering what experience was fated to write thereon."
A waiter came just then, and so far as I remember that ended the conversation along that line for the time, yet I had a strange sensation as though Dual had sensed something which I had not. If he didn't then, he did later, as his own words were to prove.
After luncheon Connie went to our stateroom for a nap, and I went to the card-room for another smoke, leaving Dual in a deck-chair deep in the pages of a book which he had dug out of one of his suit-cases and begun to read.
I found young Greer and the man in flannels—Lafourche—sitting at a little table. Greer caught sight of me as I entered, beckoned me to come over, and called the bar-steward.
"Come on and sit down and have a cool one," he invited. "And meet Mr. Lafourche who thought me a shoe-string player this morning. Mr. Lafourche—Mr. Glace."
I shook hands with the dark-complexioned man, and took the opportunity to size him up. In appearance he might be anywhere from thirty to forty, and he was built like a steel spring, I decided. I formed the instant idea that under his loose clothing his muscles were like thin, flexible bands. For the rest he had a well-shaped head, a cool, dark eye, a small black mustache, and flexible, long-fingered hands.
"Pleased to meet yuh, Mr. Glace," he acknowledged, half rising. "Ah've just been telling Mr. Greer some of the history of the old sort of gambling which used to obtain on these rivair steamers. Fortunes were lost in a night, suh, as perhaps yuh know."
"Yes, and we were exchanging opinions on that fat hog, Swartzberg, too," grinned Greer. "What are you going to have, Mr. Glace?"
"Bring me a bottle of ale," I told the steward and dropped into a chair. "You live in New Orleans, Mr. Lafourche?"
"There and on my plantation," he responded. "Ah'm off for a vacation now, though; some frien's of mine in Sant Louis air for a trip to Wyoming, an' they invited me to accompany them, suh. Ah expect an enjoyable trip, an' perhaps some shootin'. Ah brought mah guns along on th' chance."
"Guns!" said Greer quickly. "Gee, I like a good gun! What sort do you use?"
"Perhaps yuh would care to take a look at them, suh," suggested Lafourche. "They air in their cases in mah stateroom on th' deck above. Ah only decided to come at th' last moment an' took any cabin Ah could get."
"You bet I'd like to see them," Greer accepted. "I'm some shot myself. After Glace has finished his ale let's go up."
Lafourche nodded, and soon we three rose and ascended to the promenade-deck where he had his quarters. He unlocked the door and invited us to enter, told us to sit down, and dragged out a couple of pigskin cases, which he opened to display a magnificent rifle and an equally handsome shotgun. Greer cried out in delight and began examining them with the eye of a judge, while Lafourche looked on well pleased.
"Ah pride mahself on those weapons," he said at length. "They air of French manufacture an' air a present to me from a dear frien'."
"They're peaches!" said the boy. "But if they're imported, don't you have trouble with your ammunition?"
Lafourche nodded and smiled. "Oh, yes, but Ah always save mah shells and reload them mahself. Ah carry a reloading outfit, Mr. Greer."
Greer nodded and passed the shotgun to me. I took it and turned it in my hands. It was a splendid specimen of fowling-piece, beautifully wrought and balanced. I could well imagine that Lafourche might feel pride in its possession.
Presently we gave them back and the owner strapped them up. We all rose and returned below, and I made my way outside to where Dual still sat with his book. Connie had not yet appeared, but came out presently, reaching us from the other side of the deck. She was bristling.
"I think it's a shame!" she exclaimed, as she sank into a chair, between Semi and me. "That black-mustached masher has finally succeeded in forcing himself upon that girl's attention. I came out on the far side of the deck and came around, and there he was, sitting with her against the side of the house, smirking and smiling in a way to make a person sick. Such men ought to be quarantined."
Dual smiled slightly. "Your idea is good, if not practical, Mrs. Glace," he observed. "Still it is some satisfaction to know that karmic law necessitates the causes which such people set into operation, eventually returning upon them with a cumulative effect."
Connie turned full upon him. "You are the strangest man, Mr. Dual," she said. "Don't you ever feel a desire for vengeance or anything like that?"
Semi shook his head. "I used to," he made answer, "but that was long ago. Now I have learned that justice is of the Lord, and it is sufficient to demand it and wait."
"If I wish you would teach me something of your philosophy," said Connie. "Gordon has told me about it, and it seems so wonderful and so fine and clean."
"If it is for me to do, I will do so," Dual promised, his eyes lighting. "Frankly I would like to do so. Yet we of the temple may not speak until the time is propitious. Be assured, Mrs. Glace, that when the pupil is ready the master will appear. If it is to be I, I shall be very glad. But before that time can come you must desire the knowledge for your soul, as the flower desires the rain and the sun."
"That is beautiful!" cried Connie.
"The religion of the universe is beautiful," Dual replied. "It is beautiful and easy. All one has to do is to desire—naturally—not from curiosity merely, or self-interest, but just to know; and one by one the veils rise and roll back before us and we see farther and farther into the heart of God. Faith and trust and a desire to grow in the spirit, as the flower grows with its face to God's light, because God wills it to. Man may grow like that if he will—may feel toward his God as a child to its parent. That is what the last great Messianic spirit, now called the Christ, meant when He said: 'Unless ye come as a little child ye may not enter in.' God is the father, we are His spirit children—a long way from home, yet not forgotten for one instant of eternity."
There were tears in Connie's eyes when he ceased, and she rose and went back into our stateroom. I followed after a glance from Dual.
"He is wonderful, wonderful, boy o' mine!" she said when we had reached our quarters. "God has been good to give us such a friend."
Dual joined us just after the dinner call had sounded, and we made our way to the dining saloon. I glanced about as we went in, and there was Swartzberg and the girl, chatting away in the social hall. The man's face wore a self-satisfied grin.
Our places happened to be at the captain's table, owing to our holding the de luxe staterooms, and I had noticed ere this that Swartzberg sat behind us at another, but facing Dual, who sat opposite Connie and me at our own. Just after we had taken our places the girl and the man came in, and Connie fairly gasped: "Will you look at that?"
"Perhaps," said I, "if you'll tell me what that is."
"Why, that man! He's had that girl's place put next to his. I know it wasn't at noon, so he must have arranged it. Did you ever hear of such nerve?"
"She must have been a party to the arrangement," I reminded her.
"She's a silly little fool," Connie declared.
"Not being married to me, she is doubtless taking what she can get," I suggested to break the tension, and Connie laughed.
"All the same, those things make me wonder how girls can be so foolish," she claimed her last word and began to talk of something else.
It was after this, however, that I first noticed a strong preoccupation in Semi Dual. His answers to my remarks became less and less ready and presently ceased. Glancing up after one unanswered sally, I found that he had laid down knife and fork and was leaning back in his chair, his eyes more than half closed, his chest rising and falling in long, slow respirations, almost as though he had fallen into a doze.
Connie, following my glance, started to speak, but I checked her. "What is it? Is he ill?" she whispered to me.
I shook my head. "Go on eating," I counseled. "Pay no attention to him. I've seen him like this before. Some day you may understand better—I can't explain now; but this much is sure. Dual is very sensitive. Something, I don't know what, has arrested his full attention and he is sensing it out. Perhaps he'll tell us after a while."
Almost as I ceased speaking Semi opened his eyes and sat up in his place, reached for his glass of water, and sipped it slowly ere he set it down, then looked into my eyes and smiled.
"What was it, Dual?" I made bold to ask.
"What was what?" he returned. "What were you looking at?" He shook his head and smiled slightly. "Not now, my friend," said he.
"He was looking at that man," Connie whispered, voicing a woman's intuition.
Dual heard her and smiled. I turned my head along our table and caught a glance of Lafourche on the other side. He was sitting so that he, too, faced the table behind me, and I fancied that he also was watching Swartzberg and the wheat-haired girl and that there was an expression almost malign on his dark, handsome face. I rather liked the young Creole, and I wondered if he, too, felt disgust at the spectacle of the open flirtation of the two.
We adjourned from the dining-room to the deck to enjoy the evening, and sat there for a long time. It was a beautiful sight as the boat plowed her way up the great river, so wide that its wooded banks were beginning to appear but dim lines in the coming dusk, twisting about great bends, turning this way and that to follow the channel, breasting the current like a strong swimmer.
A young moon rose in the west and hung an amber crescent on a pale, yellow field. Now and then a mellow note of a gong clanged softly from below deck, some signal to the engine-room.
I think the soft beauty of the evening impressed us all in a similar fashion so that gradually our conversation languished and finally ceased. Nine o'clock came, and with it almost complete darkness. Connie turned her head to me.
"Run and have your good-night smoke and we'll go in," she advised.
I had been thinking of doing the same thing, so I nodded, and rising, moved off, but the spell of the night was still upon me, and some way I didn't feel like going into the smoking-room, whose lights showed through a warm, blue haze. I decided rather that I would stroll about the decks and have my smoke as I walked.
Lighting a cigarette I made my way up to the promenade-deck, and, led on by my fancy, mounted to the very top of the boat where the hurricane-deck stretched out under the star sprinkled sky.
Above my head two long trails of smoke from the funnels writhed astern, while now and then an angry red glare burst from the stacks as the stokers fed the furnaces far below. I made my way aft and stood for some time watching the broken reflection of the boat's lights on the sullen waters of the great river. Then I turned and walked slowly forward on the starboard side until I was close abaft the pilot-house. There I came to a sudden pause.
A dim light shone from the windows of the house and fell outward on the deck. Half revealed in its illumination I made out two figures, huddled on a couple of small stools, evidently at times used by the boatsmen, but now drawn close against the side wall of the house. I had hardly expected to find any one here, and naturally I gave them as close a scrutiny as was possible in the half light. Then I muttered an exclamation of disgust to myself, for I had recognized Swartzberg and the light-haired girl.
They sat there huddled under the screening wall and the dark, like a pair of moonstruck young kids rather than a woman grown and a man old enough to have been her father. I agreed with Connie that it made one sick.
I swung on an impatient heel and continued forward. I made my way to a point directly in line with the funnel and paused again, because it seemed to me that as I approached a dim shadow moved at the base of the great stack. I diverted my steps and walked directly up to the steel tube and confirmed my suspicion.
A figure was lurking in its protecting shadow, but as I came upon it it waited and I could see the flash of teeth in the dark. It came over me suddenly that he had been standing there spying on the pair by the pilot-house, and I began to wonder at the action. I could really see no cause for any one to be standing gazing at a silly girl making so public a fool of herself. Then the fellow spoke.
"Hello, Mr. Glace, Ah see that yuh too have discovered the little turtle doves."
With a start I recognized Lafourche. "Oh, it's you, is it? What are you doing here?" I said sharply.
He chuckled. "Ah was standing here watchin'," he whispered softly. "Ah was jus' thinkin' that ef the young woman were only our Lady Circe how easy her task to convert her present esquire into the fabled hog." Again he chuckled. "Ah came up 'ere for a breath of air," he continued. "Like yourself, Ah stumbled upon the pair yonder. I drew back behin' the funnel an' watched them. Dieu! but they are well worth watching. An' yet, 'twas a boy's trick for a man grown, was it not?"
"What are they doing way up here by themselves?" I questioned with a jerk of the head toward the pilot-house.
"Talkin'," said Lafourche. "Talkin', Mr. Glace—in the dark—oh, quite in the dark. Who says romance is dead? That is a canard. Oh, yes."
"Rot," I half growled. "Let's get out of here. The man's a rascal and the girl's a fool."
"Ah agree with you on both points, completely," Lafourche retorted. "We can find a drink and a cigarette below."
We crossed the deck and went down. Lafourche insisted upon having a drink, after which I hunted up Connie and Dual and we went to our room. My mind was again full of the thing I had witnessed on the hurricane-deck, and through association I remembered Dual's peculiar actions at dinner. "Come on in with us a minute," I suggested as I unlocked the parlor. "I want to ask you a question before I forget it."
He smiled slightly, but followed us in. "Now," said I, as soon as we were seated, "what were you looking at during dinner? I know you saw something, and I believe it referred to this man we have discussed before to-day. What was it, Dual?"
"The lights," said he.
"The lights!" I exclaimed.
"They were too dim, Gordon," he said. "I was speaking of auric lights."
"Auric lights?" repeated Connie with instant interest. "Oh, what are they, Mr. Dual?"
I remembered. Suddenly I saw again a picture of the inner room in the tower of the Urania, where a man suspected of murder had sat under the purple radiance Dual had arranged for his undoing, and I recalled what my friend had said of auric colors at that time.
For an instant I lost myself in the land of memory until Dual's voice brought me back.
"I think," he was saying, "that I may as well explain, now as another time. Science has at last proved that they exist, long after they had been recognized by other men than the scientists. Have you ever heard of the N-rays, Mrs. Glace?"
Connie shook her head.
"At least," Dual went on, "you know that light is merely etheric vibration, and that the color of each ray depends upon its vibratory character. Roentgen or X-rays are waves of so high a rate of vibration that they are invisible to the naked eye, but still capable of affecting changes in a sensitized photographic plate. The N-rays are a still higher form of light. That is all, except that some very clever French investigators have at last been able to make them affect extremely sensitive plates as well.
"Now, in order to explain more fully I must digress a bit. All life is motion and every motion produces vibration. Every cell of our bodies is in a constant state of vibration, and if that ceases the body, as we say, dies. Mental activity is no exception to this rule, for there are no exceptions to the rules of the universe. Consequently, mental activity—thought—produces vibration, corresponding to the nature of the thought produced. These thought waves radiating from the individual produce actual currents in the surrounding ether and—one step further—they can be perceived as an expression of color, varying also with the character of the thought. It is these colors which we denominate auric lights. It is at least some form of these currents which is now known and designated the N-ray.
"But long before Science announced her discovery certain men who had studied deeply and developed the ability to do so had sensed these lights, studied them; and classified them, and found that they corresponded to the lights of the physical spectrum, and that each degree or gradation formed an absolute index to the character of the individual who produced them, both mentally and physically."
The stronger the person's health the stronger the light under ordinary conditions; the purer his nature the higher up the spectrum would the predominating color be.
"You will notice that I said these men sensed these colors, and I meant just that. Each of the physical senses has its subconscious or soul counterpart, Mrs. Glace. We may see and hear by the objective sense or by clairvoyance or clairaudience, which are the subconscious parallels off these; we feel physically or psychometrically, and so on. That is why I closed my physical eyes just now and allowed my subconscious sense to appraise the lights I saw."
"Referring to the man Swartzberg?" I guessed.
Semi Dual smiled.
"And what color does he give off?" I asked.
"Red," said Dual. "The lowest in the spectrum. The man is a materialist—an animal."
"I could have told you that myself," I laughed.
"Doubtless," my friend responded. "However, I was considering his aura from an entirely different point of interest, my friend."
"He's certainly not a man of any high sense of principle," I replied, and went on to narrate the scene on the deck I had just witnessed, and my conversations with Lafourche and young Greer. Both Dual and Connie listened with interest. "So you see we all appraised him as you did, Semi," I made an end.
"You may add me to the list," said Connie. "There is something repellent about him to me, though it looks as if he had that poor silly girl completely hypnotized."
"He will do her no lasting harm," said Dual.
"Quit it," I put in. "You're holding something back on us, Dual."
Semi shot me a glance. "It's a peculiar thing," said he, "about auric lights, that they often pale shortly before the individual's death. You say this man's name is Isaac Swartzberg, I believe. I think I must do a little figuring if you will excuse me."
Drawing a note-book from his pocket he laid it on the table and wrote down Swartzberg's full name, placing the letters one below the other in a vertical line. Opposite these he set a column of numerals, one to each letter of the name, and began to add their total. While Connie and I watched he plunged into still further computations, presently closing the book and putting it away. "If your young man Greer is going to recover his money he had better be about it ere long. Swartzberg is, I fear, apt to suffer a sudden demise."
"To die?" cried Connie, paling as she spoke.
"To change his form of existence at least," said Dual with a smile.
"That's what you were watching, then," I exclaimed in sudden comprehension.
Dual nodded. "His aura is far paler than it should be in a man of his apparent health," he remarked. "Further, it is growing paler as time goes by."
Connie shuddered. Myself I seemed to feel a cold breath contract the skin of my face and hands.
AFTER such an experience it seems but natural in looking back that Dual himself should have been the one to discover that his prediction had been verified.
If only the rank and file of us could see as clearly with our fore as with our hind sight a great many things would turn out otherwise than they do.
After Dual had left us and we had retired Connie and I talked for some time, and long after her soft breathing told me she was asleep I lay awake staring into the darkness, listening to the muffled pulse of the engines.
I was turning over the events of the day in my mind, trying to pick up a thread of meaning which now in the quiet of the night it seemed to me lay somewhere just beyond my mental grasp. I pictured Swartzberg in the card-room and Greer's sudden attack upon him. I visualized the wheat-haired girl as she came aboard and clung to me for a moment at the head of the companionway with her hand on my arm.
There had been a little gold seal ring on that hand, and now I seemed to see it plainly. Then I seemed again to see the two huddled figures beside the pilot-house, and to stumble on the figure of Lafourche behind the funnel. I turned Dual's words over and over.
Many a time I had known him to predicate some event even as now, and prove right in what he promised would occur. Time and again I had found myself shaken by an inward spasm, excited by his uncanny ability of timing the future as well as the past. Now while my mate slumbered by my side I reviewed his statements concerning the drummer, and wondered what form the verification would take.
On the face of it it seemed weirdly impossible that so well preserved a physical animal as the man looked should be approaching his end, and yet I had a strange premonitory feeling that it was true. Dual didn't make such statements as that without good reason. In some way, sometime soon then, Swartzberg's aura must pale into nothingness and go out. How?
It was a tap on the stateroom door which awakened me to the gray light of a new day upon which the sun had not yet risen. I opened my eyes and lay a moment trying to decide if I had really heard anything or not. For a space nothing came save the pulse of the engines in their dull rhythm and the sigh of a vagrant breeze through an open shutter. Then I heard the rap again.
Slipping out of the berth, taking care not to awaken my wife, I slid into a bathrobe and unlatched the parlor door.
Semi Dual was standing in the social hall, where a garish night-lamp still burned faintly in the growing light.
"Dress yourself and come out," he suggested. "We'll go on the deck and watch the sun rise. It is a beautiful day and well worth the effort and an hour's lost sleep."
I nodded and drew back. Then I smiled. If there was a man in all the world who loved nature in all her phases it was my friend Dual. Several times during the voyage down to New Orleans he had routed me out in similar fashion to accompany him and stand or sit on the deck, while the great orb of the sun set the east pink and violet blue, turning to gold, and finally to a brilliance unbearable to the eye, as it leaped out of the watery-waste. I hastened now to comply with his suggestion, fumbled my way into shirt, collar and trousers, slipped on a coat and shoes and joined him outside the door.
"We'll go outside and walk down the deck," he said, leading the way to the port alley which gave on the outside promenade. I followed, and we started back along the rows of staterooms, single file. We had progressed perhaps half the distance to the stern of the boat when Dual stopped so suddenly that I all but trod on his heels.
I raised my face in question and saw that his delicate nostrils were quivering into dilation. I would have said in that moment that he was sniffing something so subtle as to be imperceptible to me. While I watched in surprised wonder he turned directly upon me. "Do you sense it?" he inquired.
"What?" I whispered.
"The odor of death," he replied. "It has come upon us in the night. Some one lies dead inside that room behind the closed shutter in the door."
I trembled. I remembered my thoughts of the night before and this strange man's words. Suddenly it came to me that Swartzberg had a stateroom somewhere along the port row of cabins. With a catch of my breath I wondered if perhaps this might be it, and if his fate had struck down upon him while I slept.
Again I noticed Dual's nostrils quiver as we stood outside the door of the room—number fifty-seven, it was. "I will lift you up to the transom," he said calmly, "and you can look over. Come."
He reached out and raised me up until I could get my eyes above the frame of the door and apply them to the narrow transom between the casing and the top of the stateroom wall. So while he held me I fastened my eyes upon the interior of the room and felt my heart contract at what I saw.
It was the head and torso of Isaac Swartzberg lying back in his berth in the shadowy light of the room; but the eyes were wide open and staring in their position, the jaw was sagged down so that his mouth appeared to gape, as one seeking to shriek a cry for succor, and all the red was gone from his pendulous lower lip and his face, leaving it sallow and pallid like yellow wax. One hand was lying across his body, the other at his side, and upon the bosom of his night clothes, on the left side was an irregular dark spot. I realized in that moment that truly the aura had paled and flickered out. The man was dead!
One glance served to convince me, and I turned my face back and downward to Dual. He nodded slowly and immediately lowered me upon my own feet. "We must notify the boat's authorities at once," he declared. "Go find a steward and tell him to send some one here."
Without a word I swung on my heel and raced back along the deck, darted into the social hall, and looked about. A steward was there, working in listless fashion with a hair broom.
The man glanced up at my call, caught sight of me, standing there near the companion, and hurried in my direction. "Yassuh. Did you all call me?" he inquired.
"Yes," I told him. "Steward, go and notify the boat's officers that there is a dead man in room fifty-seven on this deck."
"A daid man!" cried the Negro, his eyes starting in his dusky face. "A daid— Oh, Lordy, howcum you all know dat?"
"Never mind how I came to know it," I responded. "You get some one in authority and send him back there at once. I'll be waiting there with a friend."
"Yassuh, I'll git de purser—Mr. Keating," gasped the steward, dropping his broom and darting to the door of a room which opened onto the gallery about the companionway.
Leaving him beating a lusty tattoo on its panels, I turned and hurried back to where Dual was leaning against the rail outside of number fifty-seven.
"The steward is getting the purser," I reported. "Well, your prediction seems to have been verified. Couldn't the man have been warned?"
My friend shook his head. "It was inevitable, Gordon. My calculations of last night showed me that. Furthermore, had he had any chance for life his aura would not have paled as it did. No, Glace, my friend, the man's hour had come. Otherwise I should have warned him myself."
Footsteps were approaching the deck and we turned. A young and light-complexioned man in the dark uniform of a boat's officer was coming hurriedly toward us, with the Negro steward trailing some distance behind, a mixture of curiosity and timidity upon his ebony face.
Dual greeted the officer as he came up. "Good morning, Mr. Purser. It seems that murder was done last night while we slept."
"Murder!" The purser started back a pace, colliding with the steward. "What do you mean, sir? The boy here said something about a dead man in fifty-seven, and that you had sent for me; but—"
"He didn't tell you the reason," completed Dual. "Well, we didn't tell him, but the man in this room is dead—stabbed, I think."
"Good God!" gasped the official, and swung upon the Negro. "You didn't know anything about this, did you, Jake?"
"Nossuh. I ain't knowed nuthin', sah, till this gemman called me an' told me to git you all."
The man was palpably telling the truth and was trembling as he answered. The purser turned back to Dual. "And how did you gentlemen happen to find this out?" he asked with harrowing eyes.
Semi Dual smiled. "Intuition say, purser. I am an early riser. The fact that this is Sunday makes no difference in my habit. I intended going out on the deck and watching the sun rise. I got my friend Glace and invited him to come along. As we were passing this room on the outside promenade a premonition seized me that there was something amiss in this cabin. I lifted my friend up so that he could see into the room. He tells me that the man in the berth is lying there with a dark spot on his night smock, over his heart. As soon as he had seen what was within we called the steward and sent him for you. That brings us up to the present, I think."
"But, good Lord! how could he have been murdered?" exclaimed the purser. "Let's see—a man by the name of Swartzberg—a drummer, I think—had fifty-seven. Have you tried the door? Is it unlocked?"
"I haven't touched it," said Semi Dual.
The purser put out a hand and laid it on the knob, turned it, and sought to press the door inward. It was fast. He stooped and sought to squint into the keyhole, then rose and turned a puzzled face to us. "The key is sticking in the lock," he announced. "Did you notice that?"
"No." Both Dual and I shook our heads.
With a leap the purser caught the edge of the transom and drew himself up. One glance through the glass and he dropped back beside us. "Jake," he cried to the steward, "go get Captain Branning and bring him back here at once. Hurry now. Git!"
The Negro scurried away down the deck and left us three standing outside the locked door. A look of unbelieving horror was upon the face of the young purser as he began speaking again. "You gentlemen seem to me right in what you have told me. The man looks like he was dead to me, but I can't imagine how his room could have been entered and yet left locked from the inside. Maybe he committed suicide."
Dual shook his head. "I do not think so," he rejoined.
"Well, as soon as the captain gets here we'll force the door and find out," said Keating, "but if it's murder I can't imagine how it was done."
Dual made no reply. Watching him I once more saw the peculiar narrowing of his lids which went with his deeper consideration of any matter. I knew that his wonderful brain was already reaching out toward some explanation of the thing which had occurred, and how a murder might have been done and the door remain locked. Keating stood frowning at the floor and fidgeting about, now and then glancing at Semi as though half in doubt as to whether to credit his tale of our discovery or not. I don't think one of us spoke further on the matter until Jake came back with the captain, a short, heavy-set, florid complexioned individual, whom we had all seen at table and found a very likable man.
"What's this about a murder in fifty-seven?" he broke forth as soon as he was near enough for ordinary conversation.
"A man has been killed in there," Dual responded. "I said murdered, because somebody killed him. I think that is the correct word."
Branning shot him a quick glance and turned to Keating. "When was this discovered, purser?" he asked.
"The gentlemen here, Mr. Dual and Mr. Glace, say they discovered it some fifteen minutes ago or thereabouts," said Keating. "They called Jake and sent him for me."
"And what, Mr. Dual, attracted your attention to the matter?" Branning asked.
"I was passing and some premonition made me think there was some thing wrong," said Dual. "I have explained to Mr. Keating."
"You didn't hear any sound or anything like that?"
"You just felt that something was wrong?"
"To tell you the truth, I smelled the man's dead essence," said Dual.
"You what?" Branning started back a step.
"I smelled the odor of death emanating from this room."
Branning shook his head. "Well, then what did you do?"
"Glace and I came and looked over the transom. The man is lying in his berth, dead."
"And the door's locked on the inside," Keating put in.
"Well, then, he committed suicide."
"I don't think so," Dual declared for the second time.
"You don't?" Branning turned directly upon him. "You were the first one to find him, weren't you? And you don't think so. Well—"
Dual lifted his eyes and met those of the captain. After an interval of silence he smiled slightly. The officer's eyes wavered and fell, and he resumed in a different tone:
"Keating, who left this boat during the night?"
"Nobody was supposed to, except an old woman about midnight. I know she did, for I saw her go. She had a room, on the promenade."
"That's right about the old woman, captain," said a voice behind us, and we all turned to see Lafourche, who had come down the passage and was now quite close to us. "I saw her get off mahself," he added as he paused at our side.
He was clothed this morning in a suit of dark gray, verging almost on black, and was wearing a soft felt hat. "Just what is the trouble?" he inquired.
"A man is supposed to have been murdered in this stateroom some time during the night," Branning told him. "If you were up until midnight, Mr. Lafourche, perhaps you may know at what time this man—Swartzberg, I think his name was—retired. He was a big, dark man—"
"Ah know him," Lafourche interrupted. "He was still in the card-room when Ah retired mahself."
"Branning turned to the purser. "Who got on last night, Keating?"
"Only a couple of men, early," said the purser. "They went right to their rooms."
"Well, if he's dead, somebody killed him, unless he did commit suicide," said Branning; "and if we didn't drop the murderer anywhere during the night, it looks bad for some one on board."
Dual nodded. "Regardless of that fact, I think that is the proper view of the matter," he remarked.
"Of course. Ef he isn't elsewhere he's here," said Lafourche. "Why don't you go in and see how things look from there, captain? Better find out all we can before the boat wakes up."
Branning nodded. "We'll force the door," he remarked. "By the way, you're up pretty early yourself, Mr. Lafourche."
"Ah was up and down all night," said the creole. "Ah don't know why, but for the life of me Ah couldn't sleep. Ah wandered about the deck half the night."
"Down here?" Branning flashed.
"Down heah, up theah, all around," laughed Lafourche.
"And you heard no outcry?" Branning was eagerness itself.
"Nothing," said the other. "Let's get inside."
Under Branning's direction the steward forced the lock and we entered the room. A glance showed us that it was in wild confusion. The dead man's clothing lay scattered all over the place; the bed-clothing was pulled awry and lay half off the berth.
A couple of pigskin suit-cases were open upon the floor and their contents added to the litter of the little apartment. There was every evidence that the place had been thoroughly ransacked.
Keating, after a glance about, opened the shutters, admitting more light. Next he examined the inner ventilating transom. It was securely fastened. He turned back with a shake of his head.
Meanwhile, Branning had approached the berth and given a glance to the body upon it. "He's dead, all right," he announced as he rose from his inspection; "and he's sure been stabbed."
"But how the devil," stammered Keating, "with everything locked up tight?"
Dual had been poking about among the litter of clothing, shirts, collars, neckties, socks, and underwear which covered the bulk of the floor. At Keating's puzzled outburst he straightened and turned to Branning. "Have you any objection to my making an examination of the body?" he inquired. "I have assisted at more than one criminal examination in the past, and have even dabbled in detection a bit."
Gruesome as was the situation, I smiled. Dual's calling his work dabbling certainly held an element of the humorous. However, the others knew nothing of the man's real ability, and after a moment's consideration Branning nodded his head as though half in doubt.
I motioned Keating and drew the key out of the broken lock, carrying it across to near the light from the port in the end of the room. There the purser and I bent above it, and I pointed to two little scratches upon the tip, just beyond the wards.
"There," said I, "is the answer to how your assassin got in and out again. He used a steel clip, such as professional burglars carry, for nipping the keys in locked doors."
Keating whistled. "Gad!" he exclaimed. "I never thought of that!"
Dual, already, working over Swartzberg's body, heard my remark, lifted his head, and smiled. I gave the key to the purser and joined him beside the berth. He had opened the bosom of the man's night clothing, and was now pointing to the line of a cut, some half-inch long, in the flesh of the chest as I came back. It wasn't a large cut, but it had bled considerably for so small a wound.
"He was stabbed, gentlemen," said Dual.
"But what could have inspired such an act? What was the motive?" Branning began.
"There are usually but two motives for such a crime," replied Semi, bending still further over the body of the salesman; "revenge or robbery."
"Or both, perhaps!" exclaimed Keating as he paused.
Dual turned and regarded him with lifted brows.
"There was a young fellow in the card-room had a run-in with this one yesterday morning over a card game," the purser explained. "I understand he says this man cheated him out of fifty, and he offered to bet afterward that he could make him give it back. Sam, the bar steward, told me about it yesterday. Maybe the chap tried it some way and this is what happened."
"Hold on!" exclaimed Branning. "That reminds me of something else. Last night I heard voices outside the pilot-house along between nine and ten, and I looked out to see what was doing. This fellow Swartzberg and a girl with light hair were sitting there against the side wall of the house, and he was showing her something that looked like jewelry to me. I ain't a judge of such things, but he had some sort of stones, and he was letting her look at them. He heard me and shut them up quick in a case. I didn't say anything to him—at the time—just gave them a glance; but it struck me that he had brought the girl up there for a private talk."
"One minute," I interrupted. "Didn't this Swartzberg ask you to have this same girl put beside him at table, Mr. Purser?"
"Yes," said Keating; "he did. By Jove, that's so!"
Looking at Dual, I saw his eyes flash. "What color were these jewels, captain?" he asked.
"Red," said Branning promptly. "I know, because I caught a flash from them as I was looking at the fellow and the girl."
Dual nodded and turned back to his examination of the body, turning Swartzberg's head to one side, and pausing to stare at the junction of the scalp and the skin of the face. Leaning forward, we all saw the discoloration of a long, oval bruise, extending from the side of the face up into the hair.
Semi laid the head back on the pillow and straightened up. "This man was stunned by a blow, probably against the edge of the berth, before he was stabbed," he said. He paused and appeared to consider for a moment.
"Now as to motive," he went on. "If, as Captain Branning says, he was in the possession of a case of red jewels—most probably rubies, at that rate—we should search this room thorough at once."
"And while we're doing it," said Branning to Keating, "you go get that young fellow who had the row with this chap and bring him down here. We'll see what he has to say. Now come on, and let's see what we can find."
Branning, Lafourche, and I set to work ransacking the stateroom. Dual sat down on the berth while we worked.
"What sort of a case did he have the jewels in?" Lafourche inquired.
"Couldn't tell," returned Branning, running his hands through the pockets of the dead man's trousers. "It was too dark. I just happened to catch a flash of red from the things. Ah!" He drew out a handsome gold watch and held it up. "They left his timepiece, anyway."
Meanwhile, I had dug up a roll of bills from a vest-pocket, and these I now showed to the men. At a sign from Dual I handed them to Branning, who placed them with the watch. "If it was theft, the murderer didn't want money, at any rate," he remarked.
We picked up and examined all the man's belongings. We lifted the mattress and examined beneath it. We poked into every corner and crevice of the room, and we found nothing beyond the dead man's wallet, with some more currency in it, a check-book on a New York bank, and some cards and papers which seemed to establish him as a partner in the firm of "Swartzberg & Stein," importers of precious stones.
If he had been in possession of any case of gems of any sort whatever, there was no sign of them now. At last we desisted in the search, and admitted that we had covered the entire list of places possible and impossible where the jewels might have lain. Save for Branning's assertion, the things might never have existed. There was simply no sign.
Dual waited until we had finished and then nodded slightly. "Gentlemen, the motive of this crime appears to have been robbery, either actual or attempted," said he.
"BUT who could have done it?" stammered Branning dazedly. "We have nothing to go on—not a thing. There isn't any clue."
"There is a clue, perhaps—that is, what the average detective would consider as one," said Semi Dual quite calmly. "I haven't examined it closely as yet."
"What do you mean, sir?" Branning hastily inquired. "We haven't found anything that I know of. What is this clue?"
"Something which I found before you began looking," said Dual. "Wait until Keating gets back with this young man and we see how he acts—not that I believe that you will find anything there."
Footsteps came down the deck, and the door opened to admit the purser and young Greer. The boy was wearing a puzzled expression, and as soon as he was inside his eyes swept our faces and darted to the bed. He recognized Swartzberg and started slightly.
"Why, what's the matter?" he began.
"Somebody killed Swartzberg in the night," Branning informed him. "They stabbed him and took a lot of jewels—rubies, we think—which he had on him. We know you had a run-in with him yesterday and offered to bet you could make him shell out."
"My Lord!" Greer turned pale. His eyes sought mine half accusingly, and I knew he was asking himself if I had told Branning and the others of the row in the card-room. "Who told you I made such a bet?" he inquired.
"The bar steward told Keating," said Branning. "We got it straight."
Greer nodded and again glanced at me, this time with an expression of relief. "Is it really murder, Glace?" I nodded my head. "Where were you last night?" asked Branning.
"In the card-room till midnight; asleep after that," said Greer.
"Did you see Swartzberg there?"
"Speak to him?"
"No. He was drinking steadily, and I had no reason to accost him."
"What do you know about him?"
"Nothing. I never saw him until the card game which started the row. I know he was playing crooked, but that's all."
"Ah don't think there is any reason for drawing Mr. Greer into this, captain," Lafourche put in. "Ah was one of the players, and Ah know that he came into our game at my invitation, as we wanted a fourth hand. Ah also believe that his accusation of this man Swartzberg was correct. Ah had been watching his play mahself."
"Did you," said Branning, "speak to Swartzberg after the row?"
"All right," the captain decided; "you can go back now. I may want to ask you some more questions, but this is all now. Go out quietly, and don't talk about this. It will be discovered soon enough, and we want to do all we can before the passengers grow excited."
"If I can do anything to help—" began Greer.
Branning shook his head. "I'll let you know if you can. Not now."
Greer turned on his heel, gave a last glance to the dead man in the berth, and passed out.
"And now," resumed the captain, "about that clue, Mr. Dual."
Semi was still sitting on the edge of the berth. Now he thrust a hand into his pocket and brought it out closed.
"It may or may not prove important," he began slowly, "but I fancy it may give us a start on discovering the location of the rubies at present. I found it almost at once after we came into the room. It was lying on the floor close by the edge of the berth.
"Looking at the matter calmly, it seems rather odd that it should have been left behind if it really belonged to the one responsible for the murder, because had he lost it during a struggle he would probably have been conscious of so doing, and have made a search for it before he left; but at any rate here it is."
He opened his hand and displayed a small gold seal-ring!
For as much as a minute nobody said a word then.
"A woman's ring!" cried Keating and Branning with one voice.
"Manifestly," said Semi Dual. "Maybe it was a part of his jewelry," Branning suggested.
"I hardly think so," returned Semi, "for it is already cut with a monogram—C.I.E."
"That's right," nodded Keating. "But a woman! Do you think a woman would be guilty of this?" He gestured, to the dead man.
"I think a woman may have the rubies at present," said Semi Dual.
"Who is there on the boat with a name to fit those letters?" Branning turned to the purser.
"Wait a moment," I broke in. "What was the name of the girl with wheat-colored hair who got on yesterday between ten and eleven?"
Keating started. "Elwood," he said, after a moment. "Why?"
"Elwood begins with an 'E,' and she wore a seal-ring which looked like this. I noticed it," I explained.
"And Swartzberg had a light-haired woman with him on the hurricane last night."
Branning leaped to his feet. "That settles it. We've got to see this girl and find out what she knows."
"Maybe Swartzberg gave her the rubies last night. Good Lord! Maybe they were accomplices in some deal," exclaimed Lafourche of a sudden.
"Then why the murder?" snapped Branning. "The murderer left everything else."
"One moment, gentlemen," said Semi Dual. "Captain, I believe that you desire to conduct this matter as quietly as possible. We can gain nothing by causing excitement among the boat's company, of course, and the more we can learn before the knowledge of what has happened becomes general the better. Suppose then that we drop this matter until after breakfast, and then if you wish we will go into the matter as affecting this young woman. The boat is just waking up, and to cause any disturbance at this time would bring the whole company about our ears."
Branning considered a moment, and then nodded. "That is a good suggestion," he accepted. "After the breakfast hour we'll interview this girl, and if the ring is hers it's a safe bet that she is mixed up in this crime."
"That would be the obvious conclusion," said Semi Dual, "and now, that being decided, I think Glace had better get his wife and we'll have a bite to eat." He rose. "Come along, Gordon, and we'll join Mrs. Glace."
I saw Keating and Branning glance curiously at him as I rose and prepared to follow, and I smiled. Dual was palpably on their nerves by his nonchalant air. On that Sunday morning of tragedy he was the coolest person of us all. Having just displayed a bit of apparent evidence, warranted to connect a woman with a ghastly crime, he advised delay in following it up and began in the next breath to speak of refreshment in an every-day voice.
He puzzled them as he had puzzled better trained minds than theirs before now, and yet I, who knew him, knew well that his interest in the case was greater than ever.
As I followed him back toward our stateroom I pondered his remarks and wondered what purpose they held. Presently my curiosity found expression in words. "What did you mean by 'obvious conclusion,' Dual?"
"Obvious—plain—on the surface—clearly appearing—apparently the correct conclusion," he flung me as he swung along the deck. "Ordinarily correct unless—too plain, Gordon."
"Then you think—" I began.
"Wait. Time will tell. Get Mrs. Glace and we'll have breakfast," he said.
I went in and found Connie dressing. "Where have you been?" she cried.
I sat down, and while she finished putting on a morning dress I told her briefly all that had transpired. She was, of course, deeply interested and no little excited.
"And they're going to question the girl after breakfast?" she inquired.
"They're going to try and see if she knows anything about this affair," I replied. "I am sure the ring is hers. I saw it on her finger when she clung to my arm at the companionway head yesterday."
"I don't believe she did it, just the same," flared Connie. "That girl never went into that man's room and knocked him unconscious and stabbed and robbed him. Why don't you use your wits, Gordon, instead of trying to implicate a poor child like that?"
"I'm not trying to," I expostulated. "No one has accused her of murder as yet, Connie. We're just following up clues, or rather the only clue we have."
"I'm surprised at Mr. Dual for allowing such a thing," sniffed my wife. "Well, let's get breakfast, and then I'm going to be ready to take care of the child after you men have tortured her."
We went out, joined Semi, and made our way to the dining saloon. The breakfast crowd was there, and Captain Branning was presiding at the head of the table.
But it seemed to me that, despite his attempts to appear affable, there was a suppressed subcurrent of excitement among the passengers already. Branning had told Greer to keep a tight mouth, and from my knowledge of the boy I felt that he had. The steward might have babbled, but surely not to many.
And yet, as we came in and took our places, it seemed to me that I felt the eyes of those already at table pick us up. I didn't like it, either. I'd been in the limelight all along as the husband of my wife—people always spot the bride and groom—and this added focus of eyes did not please me at all.
As for Dual, he might have been at home in the Urania with myself and Henri, for any sign he gave of the exciting events of the morning.
He quietly opened his serviette, ordered some fruit and a jug of milk, and began a conversation on the scenery, the industries of the country, and the history of river travels in the past.
I let my eyes wander to the table behind me for the wheat-haired girl. She was not yet in. Then she came, and I studied her face with interest. It was calm, undisturbed, smiling as she walked gracefully to her place.
Certain it was that if she had any guilty knowledge of the past night's horror she was amply able to mask it under her appearance of fresh young innocence.
I even saw her glance at the place beside her as she sat down, as though she expected the dead man to appear at her side.
I glanced back at the head of our table and saw that Branning was watching her every move. Then as a matter of prudence I gave my attention to my food and to Connie, who, I perceived, had been watching the girl as well.
"Well, what do you think now?" she whispered.
"The time for thinking hasn't come yet," I told her.
She set her lips and refused to make any reply to anything else I said.
The breakfast crowd began to thin out. I caught Branning's eye and his almost imperceptible nod. I glanced at Semi, and he also nodded slightly.
Connie was waiting, anyway, and we all rose and went back to the social hall, where Lafourche joined us a few minutes later.
Connie went into the library, saying she would get a book and read for a time, and Greer came up to us men.
"What have you found, out?" he wanted to know.
"Not much, Mr. Greer," said Lafourche. "Mr. Dual here found a ring—a woman's seal ring—which we have reason to think belongs to a young woman this Swartzberg was talking to last night. We are waiting for Mr. Branning, who intends to question her."
"Who was the girl?" asked Greer.
"The blonde with the strikingly light hair. You may have seen her yesterday," I replied.
"What! You don't think she did it?" Greer grinned.
Keating came up just then with Branning in his wake.
Lafourche shook his head. "Swartzberg was a big brute," he remarked. "Ah don't see how a woman could have done him up. She would have to have a lot of nerve and strength."
"Swartzberg was unconscious when stabbed," began Keating.
"Well, he had to be knocked that way, didn't he?" flared Greer.
"But there is the ring," said Branning. "How about that?"
"That is what we are to find out, is it not?" observed Dual, with a smile.
Branning nodded. "If we're going to talk let's get into a more private place than this. We're attracting attention, and there is something I want to tell you before we start. Come into Keating's room."
Followed by the curious eyes of the after breakfast loungers, who had begun to observe the apparent conclave of passengers and ship's officers in the hall, we turned and followed the purser to his room.
He opened the door and we filed in, Greer coming along without any objection being raised by Branning.
We found such seats as we could, and the captain immediately began to speak.
"While we were at breakfast and Miss Elwood was out of her stateroom I ordered Keating to have a stewardess make a careful search of her quarters to see if she might find any sign of the missing rubies. As soon as I came from the table Mr. Keating met me and reported the results. It seems that the stewardess found absolutely no trace of the jewels, but she did find this—"
He reached into a pocket and brought out a scrap of paper which resembled a page torn from an ordinary note-book. This he handed to Semi Dual.
Dual gave it a glance and passed it to me.
It contained what appeared to be a pencil written address and that was all. At the same time I scanned it with a great deal of interest because the address inscribed lengthwise of the page was that of
West 27th St.New York City, N.Y.
I passed it to Lafourche and Greer.
"Where did the stewardess find this?" inquired Dual.
"In the purse of the young woman," Branning replied.
"Some relative of Swartzberg's, it looks like. His name was Isaac," said Greer.
"Anyway, this proves that she knew him," the captain resumed as he took back the piece of paper. "I don't think we can doubt longer that there was something between them or that this Miss Elwood is the woman who was sitting against the pilot-house with him last night when I saw the rubies for the first time. This would also make it appear more certain that the ring you found, Mr. Dual, is really hers."
Lafourche frowned. "Do you suppose that she could have been a confederate of his, captain?"
"Confederate?" repeated Branning. "Why would the man need a confederate, Mr. Lafourche?"
The Creole shrugged. "Ah was thinking of the scene on the hurricane-deck you described," he replied. "Ah, too, saw them sitting there, and so did Glace. Ah watched them for a time, till Glace stumbled on my point of vantage and routed me out."
"Then you, too, saw the rubies?" Branning was somewhat excited.
"Yes. Ah saw him show her something just before Glace strolled up. That was what made me watch them. They seemed to me to be actin' mighty funny, runnin' way up thar to talk about somethin' in almos' a whisper. Ah was yieldin' to a natural love of mystery when Glace came upon me an' spotted me spyin' an' so Ah didn't get to see the end of the tête-à-tête."
"Did you see the jewels, too, Mr. Glace?" Branning inquired.
"No," I told him. "I just saw who the two people were, and I was disgusted at the way the girl had let the man pick up with her."
"But if they knew each other," suggested Keating, "that would put a different light on that."
Branning frowned. "We'll talk to this girl herself and see what she has to say," he remarked. "If she knows anything about the thing we'll try and get at it, and if we can't get on the trail of these infernal stones through her I'll ransack this old scow of a steamer from one end to the other. They can't pull this sort of stuff on my boat and get away with it. If I have to I'll lock the people on board in their rooms and make them submit to a search. The longer I think about it the nastier it seems to me, and if the girl was a pal of this fellow's she's got to come across with anything she knows. We'll get her up to my cabin, where there's more room, and see what we can find out, and the sooner we do it the better, I guess. Keating, you get her and bring her up there quietly."
"Just a minute, captain," interposed Dual. "This is necessarily going to be a very unpleasant ordeal for the young woman, and under the circumstances I wish, unless you would consider it presumption, that you would allow me to suggest a change in your plans."
"Well?" Branning waited.
"Suppose that you have Mr. Keating bring the young lady to the stateroom of my friend Glace. We will have plenty of room there and will be free from all disturbance. Furthermore, I am sure Mrs. Glace will recognize the claim of a fellow member of her own sex upon her sympathies and will be able to make things easier for the other woman during our investigation."
I wondered what Connie would say if she could hear that. She had expressed surprise at Dual's passivity in the girl's behalf, and here was proof of his considering it. I felt sure she would be sorry for having misjudged my friend.
Branning accepted at once. "I'll be glad to accept the suggestion, if Mr. Glace is willing," he replied.
I nodded and rose. "My wife is in the library. I'll go and bring her back do the stateroom," I said, as I turned toward the door.
"Then we'll do that," decided Branning. "Keating, bring Miss Elwood, to suite 'A.' "
Keating departed and I followed him out. I found Connie staring out of a window in the library rather than reading, and she turned as I stopped at her side.
"How is the inquisition going?" she wanted to know.
"The inquisition hasn't started," I retorted, "and you'll see where you were wrong in a minute or two. Dual has just asked that you return with me to our suite. They are going to bring the girl in there, so that she may have the support of another woman's presence during their questioning. That was Semi's own proposal, when the others were for having her up to the captain's cabin."
"Really," said Connie, rising. "Well, I'm awfully glad I misjudged him. He's always seemed so kind and considerate before. I was sitting here wondering what you men were doing to the poor girl. Come on, boy, let's go back."
We went back and entered our stateroom. On the way I noticed Greer and Lafourche entering the door of the card-room. Evidently we were not to have them at the investigation. Dual came in a moment later with Branning.
Dual glanced at Connie and smiled. "There are times when one is compelled for good reasons to allow events to take their natural course, Mrs. Glace," he remarked. "The most we can do, or ought to do, in fact, is to mitigate the situation without interfering with major issues."
Connie flushed. "I feel sorry for this girl," she began.
Dual smiled his understanding and Branning broke in.
"You understand that as the captain of this boat I have to investigate this crime, an' that I've got to use every clue I can get. I don't want to make trouble for any one, least of all a woman, but I have to do my duty."
"Of course," said Connie. "Maybe I've let my sympathy run away with my judgment. I sometimes do."
Dual turned directly to the captain. "Mr. Branning, will you let me talk to Miss Elwood when she comes in?" he requested.
Branning nodded acquiescence. "I don't mind," he said.
There was a tap on the door and I swung it open. The wheat-haired girl was standing outside. Her face lighted slightly as she saw me. "You are Mr. Glace, aren't you?" she began. "The purser said that the captain was in your room and wished to see me."
"Come in, Miss Elwood," I invited. Semi Dual offered her a seat and she thanked him as she sank into it and looked about the room.
After giving her a moment to settle herself, Dual began to speak. "Miss Elwood, we have asked you here to see if you can help us in clearing up a mystery involving one of the passengers on this boat—"
"A mystery—about a passenger?" repeated the girl. "My, mercy—what do you mean?"
"We will explain," said Semi Dual. "It will be necessary to ask you several questions. First, did you or did you not, when you came aboard this boat, wear a small gold signet ring?"
If anything the girl's wide eyes seemed to widen. As without voluntary thought I saw them glance momentarily toward her left hand, now devoid of any ornamentation whatever. "Why—why do you ask me that?" she stammered.
"Because one was found on this deck this morning," said Semi Dual. "It was thought that it might possibly be yours."
"What was it lak'?" she questioned in turn.
Semi smiled. "You had best answer that," he told her. "One proves ownership by describing the property correctly."
"But why did you think it was my ring?" It seemed to me that a frightened look had crept into her eyes.
"Because," said Semi, "some one saw you wearing it yesterday, and when it was found this morning he recognized it. Did you lose it or give it away?"
"Give it away!" cried Miss Elwood. "Ah don't think I know what yuh mean, suh. Why should Ah give it away?"
"That," said Dual, "is what we are trying to find out. Now another question besides. Did you last night see some jewels, rubies, which a man named Swartzberg had in his possession?"
There was no doubt now about the frightened expression of the woman's eyes. The glance she threw about the parlor was suddenly that of a trapped animal seeking a means of escape.
"Ah—Ah cain't answer that question, suh," she stammered at last.
"Miss Elwood—you must answer that question." Dual's voice had all at once lost its suave note and grown stern, cold, commanding. His eyes, those strangely compelling gray eyes which I had seen arrest the rising hand of a desperate man armed with a revolver, fastened themselves upon the girl's face.
She sat there and gazed back at him, while every drop of blood seemed to drain from her face and lips, leaving her pale and trembling. "Why," she said, in little better than a whisper—"why must Ah answer yuh—why?"
Dual rose and stood before her and put out his hand, took hers, and raised her to her feet. Then while we watched he took the little ring found beside the berth of the man in fifty-seven and slipped it upon her finger, where a reddened groove in the flesh received it as though made for it.
"Because," he said, speaking slowly, "this ring of yours was found this morning in the room of this Swartzberg, where during the night some one had entered. Mr. Swartzberg was found murdered and the rubies were gone."
"Murdered!" The girl wrested her hand from his grasp and started back, gazing with wild terror into his eyes.
"Murdered," said Semi Dual.
"And yuh found mah ring there? No! No! Oh, my God, no!"
With a piercing scream the wheat-haired girl sank fainting into the outstretched grasp of Semi Dual.
LIKE a baby he lifted her up in his strong arms and held her, her head rolling across his arm and her body against his chest.
Then, while we all sat silent, he carried her to the leather-padded divan built into the wall of the parlor and laid her at full length upon its tufted surface.
"And now, Mrs. Glace, if you will examine her clothing while she is still unconscious, it will spare her that added unpleasantness when she rallies. Gordon and the captain and I will turn our backs."
"You want me to search her?" cried Connie. "Really, Mr. Dual."
"If you will be so kind—to her," said Semi. "It is a woman's task."
"Very well." Connie rose and approached the girl's motionless form. "What am I expected to find?"
"A small leather case, I imagine," Dual told her, and walked over to Branning and me.
We turned away from the divan and silence followed. I had seen Connie drop on her knees beside the girl, and I knew that she was at work. None of us spoke as we waited the outcome of the search.
Presently I thought I heard a sound. It was faint, suddenly checked, a mere catching of the breath, from the direction of the divan behind us. Followed another interval of silence and then the voice of my wife, strained, choked, well nigh unrecognizable to me.
"You may turn around now. I have done what you asked, and I suspect that I have found what you wished. Oh, the poor foolish girl!"
She was holding out toward us a flat black case of morocco, which fastened with a clasp. Dual took it as she ceased speaking and fairly tore it open as it seemed to me. Without any words he held it forth so that we could see its contents—a shimmering, flashing, twinkling mass of deep red stones.
He closed the case upon them and handed it to Branning. "There are the ill-fated stones, captain," he said as he did so. "If you will permit me to advise you, guard them well while they are in your possession."
He swung to me. "Gordon, go to the smoking-room and get some brandy. Quickly now, we must break Miss Elwood's shock at once."
I made my way to the lounge as quickly as possible and, getting the bar-steward, ordered a glass of brandy.
As I entered the room I noticed Lafourche and Greer at a little table, the latter smoking a cigar and the former his seemingly perpetual cigarette. While I waited for the steward to get my order I approached and halted beside their table. Greer glanced up at once.
"What did you find out?" he wanted to know.
"The ring was hers," I told him.
"And what did she say?"
"When we told her about Swartzberg's murder she cried out that she didn't do it and fainted. That's why I'm up here after brandy."
"The poor kid," said Greer.
"After she fainted we found the rubies on her," I went on.
"Mon Dieu!" gasped Lafourche. "Really? Well, just the same, Mr. Glace, Ah don't believe that woman ever did for that pig. There's some other explanation."
"It looks bad for her just now, however," I rejoined.
"I don't believe it," said Greer, setting his jaw. "I don't believe that girl would do anything like that. She isn't that kind. She's soft and fluffy like a kitten. She's no adventuress. She'd have to tell me she did it herself before I'd believe it."
"She seems to have two champions at any rate," said I. "I'm afraid the captain will take an opposite view."
Greer sneered. "Yes, and he'd have tried to lay it onto me if the ring hadn't turned up and steered him on another trail. I suppose he's the party who scared her into fainting."
"No," I told him, "that was Dual."
Lafourche nodded. "All the same, it is not only monstrous to suspect a woman of committing that murder, it is foolish as well. So your friend conducted the examination. Odd-looking chap, that fellow. Ah've an idea he doesn't always tell all he knows."
"He's a wonder, in his way. As for telling what he knows, he speaks when he is ready," I returned.
"Well, isn't there something we can do to help the girl?" Greer suggested. "It's a rotten fix for her."
"If any one can help her, my friend Dual will," I told him.
Back in the stateroom the girl still lay, utterly relaxed with closed eyes, upon the divan. Connie was bending over her, loosening her clothing. Dual sat in a chair, but rose as I came in, took the brandy and approached the girl. Raising her head with one hand slightly, he forced the edge of the glass between her teeth.
Very slowly he tilted the glass until a trickle of the contents found its way into her mouth and down her throat. After a moment she choked slightly, struggled and opened her eyes. Dual laid her down, extending the glass backward to me.
"Lie still a moment," he said in the tones of command. "You'll be all right in a minute or two."
She fastened her eyes on his face and held them there for a moment. "What does it mean?" she said with an effort. "Is Mr. Swartzberg dead—who killed him?" She shuddered.
"That," said Dual, "is what I want to talk to you about, when you are strong enough."
"Yes—yes," she murmured. "I will be strong. We must talk—find out. Do you suppose they killed him for the rubies? But, of course, they did. He said"—with an effort she lifted herself up on an arm—"he said they were the heart's blood of a nation. And they were red—red like blood."
"Everything is red in this affair," said Semi Dual. "It has a red aura. Glace, get a pillow or two."
I went into our bedroom and took the pillows out of the berth, returning with them to the parlor. Dual took them from me and speedily arranged them at the girl's back, until she was in a half reclining position.
"Comfortable?" he asked.
She nodded slightly—"Yes."
Dual seated himself on the end of the divan, next her feet, so as to face her. "Now, we must go into this matter, if you are able. I want to ask you some questions, and you must try and answer them. First, I must tell you that we know you had the rubies—"
The girl's hand darted to her body. "You took them!" she cried. "Oh, yuh took them. What did yuh do with them? Oh, please!"
"Captain Branning has them," Dual told her. "Now, don't worry."
"But Ah mustn't lose them," said the woman. "They were a trust. Yuh must give them back. They aren't yours."
"No, they aren't ours, and we want to find out whose they are," said Dual. "You must tell us that."
"Yuh must give them back," she insisted. "They air wuth thousands—a fortune. They represent the hopes of thousands. Yuh had no right to take them. Oh, what shall Ah do!"
"Miss Elwood," said Dual slowly, "the first thing you do must be to regain your control. No one intends taking anything from you unjustly, but whoever killed this man Swartzberg, did so in order to obtain those rubies. We must find out the truth of the affair. Try and trust me to handle the matter and give me what help you can. First, now, what is your given name?" He drew a note-book and prepared to write.
"Catherine," said the girl.
"Spelled with a 'C,' Miss Elwood?"
"Do you know the date of your birth, Miss Elwood?"
I saw an expression of surprise sweep the woman's face. I didn't really wonder, either. It did seem a rather odd way to begin the investigation of the circumstances which involved her. The question seemed almost trivial, viewed in that light. Yet I knew, as she did not, that Dual was gathering the material for one of those abstruse astrological calculations which would show the outcome of this affair, and I felt a sensation of admiration and wonder for the man before me. After a moment the girl replied:
"I was born on the 25th of July, 1893."
Dual wrote this down. "Do you know the hour of the day?"
"I have been told that it was about 3.15 a.m."
"Excellent," said Semi Dual.
I glanced at Branning. He was looking at Dual in amazed incomprehension. I doubt if he had ever even heard of such methods as my peculiar friend used in his efforts at crime detection, and to him all this talk of birthdays and hours must have seemed strangely lacking in bearing upon the case in hand. I knew that before we were done with the matter he would see results if he couldn't understand the methods used.
Then I allowed my eyes to wander to my wife, and I remembered that she had often said she wanted to see Dual engaged upon a case. I wondered how she was enjoying her present opportunity, or if she understood. Her sweet face, however, held nothing it seemed to me save sympathy for the wheat-haired girl who was lying back pale and troubled among the pillows piled behind her. I dropped my introspection and came back to the voice of Dual.
"Did you ever meet this Mr. Swartzberg before yesterday, Miss Elwood?" he was asking.
"No, sir," the girl replied. "I never saw him in my life, until after I came aboard the Cairo yesterday morning."
"Didn't even know his name, until he told you?"
"Then how did you come to engage in conversation with him—to have your chair at table placed beside him—to have his rubies in your possession, Miss Elwood?"
Miss Elwood flushed. "Ah suppose it was not the thing to do," she said slowly, "but yuh see Ah did not know a soul on board, except Mrs. Glace, here, who had spoken to me before luncheon, and she was lying down in the afternoon. This Mr. Swartzberg came into the library where Ah was sitting after luncheon and sat down with a magazine. After a while every one else went out and he asked me if Ah had read a certain article in the magazine he had been reading. He was very polite and courteous in his mannah and Ah answered him. That led to other things, and the first thing Ah knew we were chatting along like old acquaintances, so that after a while, when he suggested that we go outside, Ah said Ah didn't mind, and we went out and sat on the deck. It was then that he suggested that he get my place at the table changed next to his, and just before dinner he told me he had had it arranged. Ah asked him what his occupation was, and he said he was a jeweler and imported a great many diamonds and rubies, and—"
"You told him you loved rubies," Semi remarked.
"How did you know that?"
"They are your talismanic stone, according to ancient belief," explained Semi. "They keep you from harm."
"Ah'm afraid they haven't brought me any luck, nor poor Mr. Swartzberg, either," said Miss Elwood, "although yuh are right about my having said that Ah loved them."
"Don't worry about the explanation," Dual suggested. "Your remark was natural in a person born at the time you were."
Miss Elwood opened her eyes wider. "Yuh are the oddest person," she rejoined. "Ah suppose that Ah ought to be afraid of yuh, but instead Ah feel perfectly safe. Ah feel Ah can trust yuh, and yet yuh seem to be making me do what Ah said I wouldn't."
"Be content to trust me, then, Miss Elwood," said Semi Dual. "And then what happened next?"
"After Ah'd said that about lovin' the rubies he told me the most romantic story Ah've ever heard," resumed Miss Elwood. "It was just lak one reads in books of romance and adventure. He told me that he had a lot of rubies with him an' that he feared that he was in great danger because of them."
"Ah asked him jus' what he meant an' he told me how he came to get th' rubies. He said that there was a very old family in northern Mexico who had had them in their possession evah since the' days of the Spanish settlin' of that country, handin' them down from one generation to another, an' that now this family was a very prominent one in a rebellion against the tyranny of the present government.
"They needed a great deal of money to help them in their desire to throw off the yoke of oppression. So after a gatherin' of the whole family it was decided that they should sell this collection of rubies, and devote the money to buying weapons to arm their soldiers. After they had decided to do this they looked about to find some one who would buy the rubies, an' they finally sent word to Mr. Swartzberg, who was in business with his brother and another man, askin' them if they would buy them.
"Mr. Swartzberg said that he agreed to go to El Paso and meet one of the men of the family an' inspect the jewels, an' he did. He said that he found them to be very fine, and so he told the man he would take them back to New York and sell them for him, and he started to do so. He said he knew it was a rather risky business, and that after he left El Paso he thought he saw a man following him, so he thought that when he got to New Orleans he'd take a steamer and throw them off the track.
"That's how he came to be on the Cairo. But just as the boat was leavin' he saw a man on the dock, and he was the same man who had followed him from El Paso, so he feared they had trailed him and put a man he didn't know on the boat to try and steal the rubies from him.
"He said he thought they were agents of the government against which this family was starting a revolution. So he said he was afraid they might get the rubies or kill him, an' then all at once he asked me if Ah wouldn't take them and keep them for him, because if any one got into his room and didn't find them they would think he didn't have them, and it would be all right. He asked me to keep them till we got to St. Louis, and he said if Ah would he'd give me one for mahself. Then we fixed it that Ah should give him mah ring, and if he couldn't come for them he would send that by a messenger to show it was all right, an' if anything happened to him Ah was to send them to an address he wrote down for me on a piece of paper, where he said his brother would get them and sell them the same as he would.
"So after dinner he took me up on the top of the boat where we could be alone. He gave me the rubies, and we came back down here—and that's all."
Dual held out his hand to Branning for the case of rubies, and showed it to the girl. It was a rectangular affair, about six or seven inches long by perhaps three or four inches wide, with some sort of design stamped upon it in tarnished gilt. It was made of soft black leather and fastened by a clasp.
"Is this the case he gave you, Miss Elwood?" Dual asked.
"Yes. At least it looks like the same."
"When did you last see Mr. Swartzberg alive, Miss Elwood?"
"Just after we came down from the deck. He said good night and went into the card-room, and Ah went to my own room and to bed."
"And you knew nothing about anything happening to him this morning?"
"Not until Ah came in here and you told me that he was dead—murdered, you said, and that the rubies were gone. That frightened me dreadfully, though of course Ah knew I had the jewels, but it seemed so awful that they should have killed him, and so—Ah guess—Ah fainted. Ah thought it was so awfully romantic and was going to be such an adventure to tell about when Ah got home, and now—Ah reckon—that—" Suddenly she began to sob convulsively.
Glancing at Semi, I surprised an expression of compassion on his face. To my mind, that look of pity meant that he saw the seeming flimsiness of the girl's story and was grieved that the blow must fall upon her.
I pieced out in my own mind what he had said of the rubies—that they were the woman's talismanic stone. She had said that she loved them. How deep, how primitive, I asked myself, was that love? Was it possible that while she slept her subconscious self had taken possession of her, and that she had risen and sought to possess herself of the rubies? People had killed before this for the possession of jewels, as witnessed by the tragic histories of some of the world's magnificent gems.
Yet the girl was young and beautiful. No wonder that Semi's face fell into lines of sadness as he regarded her sob-shaken form. I glanced at Connie and read the unspoken sympathy in her eyes.
She had risen and gone to the side of the girl, seeking to check her outburst of nervous grief and terror. Gradually under her low-voiced urging Miss Elwood controlled herself, and again sat upon the divan. Not until then did Dual address her again.
"You have friends to whom you are going in St. Louis, Miss Elwood?"
She nodded in mute reply.
"That being the case," Semi said to Branning, "how would it do, captain, to leave the young lady remain in this suite in charge of Mrs. Glace until we can decide what is best? She will be far more comfortable with another woman, and Glace here can bunk on the divan in this room. He has slept in worse places, as I know."
Miss Elwood sat up at the words. "You mean that Ah am to be kept here—that you don't believe me—that you think Ah could have killed him—that Ah'm under arrest!"
"We mean, my dear young lady, that you must not try to leave this steamer until we have found out about this matter, or until we reach St. Louis," Dual told her. "However, I predict that long before we arrive there this matter will be past. Captain Branning, what do you think of my plan?"
"I'd a whole lot rather fix it that way than to keep her in her own room," said Branning. "But it's rather hard on Mrs. Glace."
"I'll be glad to do it," Connie told him quickly. "This little girl needs a friend now if she ever did."
"That's very good of you," said Branning. "We'll let it go like that to-day, then, and to-night."
"That being settled," Dual said, "I suggest that Gordon and I go to luncheon. With your permission, Mrs. Glace, I'll send a waiter to take your orders here."
I felt small appetite at luncheon time. Dual, however, disposed of a cantaloupe, some wheaten cakes, a pot of coffee, and some ice-cream. I watched him in utter amazement as he devoured the mixture. He was more of a puzzle to me to-day than ever before, and all the time he seemed strangely preoccupied, as though thinking of two things at once, which was unusual for him. Presently, without having said a half-dozen words, he glanced at me and rose.
We stopped at the stateroom and inquired if any service was needed, and upon being assured that there was nothing we could do Semi drew me to a seat on a divan in the social hall.
Immediately after he began to speak: "It's red, Gordon. The whole thing is red—Swartzberg's aura last night, the spot on his night smock, the rubies themselves, the astral gem of the girl. All red, my friend—the color of violence and tragic intent. Now, where does that lead?"
"I hate to think about the apparent answer," I responded.
Dual raised his eyebrows, then smiled. "She needs the lesson rather badly," he remarked, as though fully apprehending my inmost thoughts. "Still, that is not answering the question. The red color gives the key-note to the whole occurrence, Gordon; and in the ending the affair must come back to its basic theme. It will end red. Doesn't that mean anything to you?"
"Less than nothing, if that be possible," I confessed.
For a moment I thought Dual was inclined to smile at my density. "You have evidently forgotten, then, or failed to apply my sermon on auric light of last evening," he said. "See here! If the key-note is red, the one who killed Swartzberg is either a person with a red aura or one whose aura may easily become so preponderated."
"Admitting that is true, what of it?" I asked.
"The events of to-day, you must admit also, have certainly tended to keep that person's mind fully concentrated upon his act. His thoughts will still be of the murder, necessarily, and of the rubies he didn't get as the price of his crime. His thought-waves and, consequently, his present aura, at least, will be red. Now do you see?"
"I understand what you say," I assented; "but look here! Now that the murder is generally known and talked of, won't practically every person on this boat be thinking more or less of the murder? If the thought of murder gives a red thought-wave, how are you going to pick your assassin out of the rest?"
This time Dual did smile. "Very good, indeed," he rejoined. "But your argument holds the germ of its answer in itself. Are you aware that we think of the act of another with far less concentration than of an act of our own; and that the dynamic strength of a thought-wave depends upon the energy given out as its initial impulse, and, consequently, upon the degree of concentration with which it is generated?"
"That sounds all right," I agreed.
"That is all right," said Dual, his smile growing. "Now, if one were able to compare the auras of, say, some dozen people who were thinking of this crime, one with the other, could he or could he not decide which man was the murderer?"
"He could, if he were endowed with the power of sensing auræ at all, I suppose," I replied.
"Or"—Dual offered a counter proposition—"supposing that one had had an opportunity of sensing a certain aura before the murder became generally known, how about it then?"
I leaned forward. "What are you talking about?" I cried.
"The red aura," he said and smiled again.
"Dual," I whispered on edge, my hand gripping his knee—"Dual, what are you concealing from us all in that brain of mystery?"
He shook his head and, reaching into his pocket, drew out his note-book and a pencil. "I have yet some calculations which I wish to make in this matter," he remarked. "They will take me less than an hour if I am not disturbed."
But ere I left him Greer and Lafourche came out of the library and paused beside where we had been sitting.
"We're threading a rather bad channel here," said the creole, "with a lot of bars; and there's any amount of waterfowl about. Greer and I are going to get my fowling-piece, and he's goin' to show me how to shoot. Want to come along?"
"I don't, but Glace does," said Dual without looking up. He bore down hard on his pencil and there came a tiny snap. "There!" he exclaimed in annoyance. "I've broken the point of my pencil. As you were the disturbing element, Mr. Lafourche, lend me your knife."
The creole laughed and complied.
With complete deliberation Semi re-pointed the lead and handed the knife back. "Thank you," he said. "Now, take Glace away with you and keep him. I have work to do."
Together, we three turned up the stairs to the promenade-deck and left him leading the figures of his abstruse calculations over page after page.
WE got Lafourche's shotgun and made our way up onto the hurricane-deck alongside the pilot-house, from whence we could command a view of the great river.
Branning himself was at the wheel, taking the boat along the uncertain channel with watchful care. The river was spread out over shallow flats and bars, where the waterfowl gathered, and it was these which had caused Greer to suggest the expedition to the top of the boat. He slipped a couple of shells into the breech and let drive at an immense heron which rose slowly and flapped awkwardly away from our course. At the second barrel the bird crumpled up in mid air and dropped slowly back into the brown flood, to be swept away.
"Good shot!" approved Lafourche.
To me it seemed a cruel and useless waste of a harmless life. I used to enjoy trap-shooting, and was fairly good at the clay pigeons. I liked the exhibition of marksmanship, the union of hand and eye involved; but I have never seen the sport in the taking of innocent life.
Greer grinned. "She's a dandy smoke wagon," he remarked, reloading the piece. "Here, Glace; try a shot."
I shook my head. "Thanks," I replied. "Without intending offense, I regard that sort of work as petit murder."
"By Jove," said the youngster, growing serious, "I never thought of that!" Lafourche laughed with a flash of teeth and a very Latin shrug. Branning glanced from the open window of the house. "I feel the same way about it as you do, Mr. Glace," he chipped in. "If the good Lord put them birds here, let 'em live, says I. I warrant your friend Dual feels the same way."
"Of course." I nodded and lighted a cigarette. To tell the truth, I felt that I had spoken with rather poor consideration, even though I felt as I did.
Branning wagged his head. "We're through the worst of this strip," he resumed speaking. "You boys come up here and let's talk. I want to ask you about this friend of yours, Mr. Glace. He impresses both Keating and me as a rather peculiar man."
I smiled as we three went up the few short steps and entered the pilot-house; of the Cairo, where Keating was sitting, while Branning stood at the wheel. It was not because of what the captain had said, but because it simply included both him and the purser in the number who had sensed my friend's unusual personality of power, regulated and controlled.
"In what way?" I asked.
Branning shook his head and Keating laughed slightly. "It's rather hard to define," he made reply. "Did you ever hear of the iron hand in the velvet glove, Mr. Glace?"
I smiled more broadly, and he went on:
"That's, in a measure at least, how your friend impresses me. He is courtesy itself, and yet one has the feeling that if he wished to exercise the power he could carry all opposition before him and gain any end he desired. Branning and I have been talking about him. We both have the feeling that he knows more of this matter than he is saying, and far more than either of us or even yourself. Naturally, we are anxious to know just what it is."
I took out my cigarette-case and handed it around, took one myself, and lighted it before I replied: "In a measure, Mr. Keating, both Branning and yourself are correct. I have known Semi Dual for some time, and I have seen him handle more than one puzzling case. More than that, I have never seen him fail to get his man when once he started after him. His methods are peculiar, and he talks only when he is ready; but for your mental ease let me add that I have reason to say he has started after the murderer of Swartzberg, and I fully expect to see him clear the affair up."
"Really?" said Lafourche, puffing out smoke in a cloud. "Barring the girl, Ah don't see that there is th' slightest evidence against any one, an' equally Ah don't believe she ever killed that fellow. As Ah've said all along, it isn't a woman's job. Ah don't know how she got the rubies, but Ah'll risk a bet Swartzberg gave 'em to her."
"That's what she says," I admitted.
"Then thar yuh air," said the Creole, waving his cigarette. "That bein' the case, where does your friend have anything to go on? Ah don't know him lak yuh do, Mr. Glace; but Ah'll lay yuh ten to one yuh see him fail in this."
"You're on," I told him on the instant. "Dollars or cents?"
He grinned, showing his teeth under his short mustache. "Dollahs of co'se, Mr. Glace," he replied.
I produced a ten-dollar bill and handed it to Greer. "Hold the stakes," I requested. "I can use a hundred of Lafourche's money on my wedding-trip."
Lafourche counted out a hundred from a plethoric roll and tossed it to Greer. "Just what does your friend think, now that the money is up?" he inquired.
"He hasn't expressed a definite opinion as yet," I returned.
"He thinks the girl's guilty," declared Branning. "Look at what he did! He practically left her under the guard of Mrs. Glace till we reach St. Louis. He thinks she stole the rubies. That's what I think."
"Is he a detective or an amateur dabbler?" said Keating.
I grinned. "He's both," I answered; "that is, in the sense you mean. He is not a regularly constituted detective, and yet to call him an amateur would seem rather a joke to me. At the risk of exciting your incredulity, gentlemen, I may say that Dual is a modern metaphysician—a student of what are commonly called the 'occult forces.' Back home Smithson, city editor of the paper I used to work on, called him the 'occult detector.' "
Young Greer, who had been busily stowing away the stakes in our wager, glanced up in surprise at my words. "D'ye mean that he goes in for this 'new-thought' business—mind-reading, crystal gazing, and that sort of stuff, Mr. Glace?"
"If you really want an answer, I'll try and explain it as best I can," I returned.
Keating nodded and Branning's face showed interest. Lafourche smiled as one greatly amused, and Greer frowned. "I've got an idea there's something in it," he said.
"To begin with," I commenced, "my friend does not exactly 'go in,' as you put it, for any theory or fad. He is a man who has studied deeply, both the forces of life or nature if you prefer, and men as well. He has conducted his studies along strictly scientific lines, accepting a fact as true only after he has demonstrated its proof. He has proven and convinced me at least of the truth of a great many things commonly regarded as superstitious. The crux of the whole matter is the old proposition of the fourth dimension in natural philosophy. A person perceives only what he can sense. A creature with an eye fixed on an immovable level would recognize only length. If the eye turned side-wise it would sense width as well; if up and down, also length, breadth, and thickness. Men in the concrete perceive only what their development has given them the ability to recognize. Yet there are higher planes of perception, and a man by training himself can develop to a degree where he can recognize the higher laws, which other men of a lesser evolution term supernatural forces. Having reached that point, he finds the supernatural becomes the natural instead."
"Are we to understan' that your frien' is a superman?" said Lafourche.
"I don't know," I told him. "At any rate, he uses these higher laws as naturally as we do the lower ones. What would you say if I told you that at present he is using them in this case?"
"Ah'd be inclined to ask Greer fo' your ten right away," he laughed.
"Maybe, if he can do what you say, that is how he sensed that Swartzberg was dead this morning," Keating cut in. "I thought at first that he was handing me something when he pulled that about intuition, and then all at once I found myself believing him. I've been thinking about that all day."
"That's exactly how he did it, Mr. Keating," I said.
"But he told me he smelled it. He called it the essence of death!" Branning exclaimed from beside the wheel.
"He told you the truth, too," I replied. "When a man has developed to Dual's plane he can sense things subjectively as well as objectively, captain, and every objective sense has its counterpart in the subjective plane. When he told me myself that Swartzberg was dead I noticed that he was sniffing the air as though he got something I couldn't find."
"Hound dawgs do that, too," smiled Lafourche. "Is your friend a dawg?"
"Shut up, you skeptic!" laughed Greer. "Say, Glace, does he believe in astrology, too? I've always been interested in that. I don't see why the magnetic waves of the other planets shouldn't affect life on the earth."
I nodded. "Dual says they do," I answered. "I've seen him do some wonderful bits of forecasting from astrological calculations."
"G'wan!" Branning turned, his face broadening into a grin.
Greer took him up at once. "That isn't superstition any longer, you know, captain," he declared. "Science has proved that there is an interchange of magnetic waves between the various planets of the solar universe. I'll bet those old Chaldeans and Egyptians knew a bit more of the truth about some things than we do nowadays, with all our modern wisdom—things we are just beginning to rediscover. Why, Flammarion has shown that there is reason to believe that the whole ether is a sort of photographic plate and that it records every action which anybody performs, and that if we were able to sense them we could review every act ever committed since time began."
"Thank Gawd, we are blind in a sensory way!" grinned Lafourche as Greer finished. "Fo' my part, I can see enough by reviewin' my own misdeeds, without seekin' a world full of ethereal pictures."
Keating nodded slowly. "I don't know about the picture gallery," he began. "This is the first time it's come my way; but as for the effect of the planets, I don't really see why not. Maybe it was the observation of something like that which was responsible for the old custom of planting things in different phases of the moon."
"Exactly," I answered. "I have seen Dual set up a figure concerning a crime many a time."
"What for?" asked Branning.
"To learn the truth," said Semi Dual.
We all turned to face him where he was standing on the top step, just outside the door. He had come up and approached the pilot-house while we were talking, yet so interested had we become in our discussion that we had not noticed until he spoke.
"Come in—come in, Mr. Dual," invited Branning.
Semi nodded and stepped inside the door. "I perceive that my friend Glace has been retailing things of the past," he remarked; "but it is the present and the future which must hold us now."
"Speakin' of the future," began Lafourche, "Glace has been regalin' us with the information that yuh can do a trick of calculatin', usin' the stars as indicators for various qualities, an' get an answer as to what's goin' to happen. Ef that were so, Ah can't see but yuh could put the detectives all out of business. Glace's talk was interestin', but Ah don't subscribe to his faith in it mahself. Sta' gazin' is all right fo' girls an' lovers, but Ah reckon th' man who gets what he goes aftah is the man who acts."
"As a man thinketh, so he is," said Semi Dual.
"That's hardly an answer to mah question," said Lafourche. "Do yuh claim that that sort of thing can be done?"
"You made an assertion as to your beliefs, if I am correct," Dual said slowly. "To answer your last remark: Yes."
"Then why don't yuh do it, an' tell us how this thing is comin' out," challenged the creole. "So fah, all we've accomplished is to cast suspicion on a pore girl, who never did what it looks like she did, to mah mind. Ef th' stars show how a thing's goin' to end, and who did a certain thing, why don't yuh wait till to-night an' find out?"
For the second time that day Dual turned and stared a man in the eye, in that level, brain-penetrating, soul-searching stare I knew from my first experience with him. "And what if I have already done so, Mr. Lafourche?" he asked.
Lafourche sought to brazen it out, but his dark eyes wavered. "But how could yuh when there are none of th' little stars shinin'?" he laughed in a simulated ease.
"If one knows the planetary positions, one can calculate from that knowledge," Dual said calmly. "It is not necessary to scrutinize the heavens in the majority of instances to-day. Therefore, it is not heedful to wait for to-night, for to-night will have its own toll of events, I predict, though of less serious import than those of the one before."
"And what," persisted the creole, "of the ending of the affair?"
"In the ending," Dual said slowly, "the jewels will return to their rightful owners, and full justice shall be satisfied in an unexpected way."
"Good!" Lafourche began rolling a cigarette. "I suppose yuh have the fateful baubles now, captain, eh?"
"Yes." Branning nodded his head. "I shall turn them over to the authorities when we reach St. Louis, and report the case."
"An' you're goin' to turn th' girl over too?"
"I have no other course to follow, Mr. Lafourche."
"Unless her innocence were proven, captain."
Greer laughed shortly. "She don't need to prove it with me," he threw in. "Lafourche and I don't agree on astrology, but we are together on the matter of the girl's innocence."
"But gentlemen, one must admit that her story of how she came by the rubies is, to say the least, flimsy," said Branning.
"Just what was it?" Lafourche inquired. "Greer and I haven't heard it yet."
"That's so," said Branning. He began and gave a rapid résumé of the girl's story.
Lafourche and Greer listened with eager interest and a frown gradually grew upon the creole's face. When Branning had finished he gravely considered the tip of his cigarette for some moments and then began to speak.
"Ah don't know as I'd exactly call that flimsy, captain. As Ah judge the matter this Swartzberg was a shrewd sort of coward, an' the story the girl says he told her was just the sort of tale to impress a romantic creature such as Ah would judge her to be. Fo' my part Ah am inclined to take her story at its face value an' continue to believe in her innocence. Mr. Dual, Ah'll lay you even money the girl is cleared of suspicion before she leaves the boat."
Greer laughed. "What are you trying to do, Lafourche," he chuckled, "hedge? You just bet Glace that Dual wouldn't clear up the case."
Lafourche shook his head. "That stands too," he answered. "It's mah money talkin'. What do yuh say, Mr. Dual?"
"I never wager," said Dual.
"Against your principles?" Lafourche laughed.
"Against my knowledge, rather," replied Semi. "Nothing happens from chance in this life. Everything is but cause and effect. Mr. Greer, did you get many birds?"
"I got one, and then Glace accused me of petit murder and I desisted," said Greer.
Lafourche picked up his gun. "Well, what are we going to do now?" he queried. "Greer, Ah'll take yuh on at 'coon-can' if you have nothing bettah to do."
"Gotcha," laughed the youth. "I need some of that roll of yours myself."
Lafourche nodded. "Come on and watch mah dealin' closely," he said, grinning.
We four passengers left the pilot-house and went below.
That evening at dinner, by Dual's suggestion, Branning arranged a place at our table for the wheat-haired girl, and we took her in with us. It was well for her that we did so, for aside from our support she was already an outcast among the passengers of the Cairo. The details of the murder, which had now leaked out, had become common property, and the fact that the girl was under detention served to cause most of the travelers to regard the woman as already convicted of a heinous crime.
Cold glances of suspicion or curiosity were her portion from most of those at the tables. Some of them, mostly women, even went so far as to make comments in voices which were purposely pitched to reach the girl's ears. More than once as she struggled to eat her dinner I saw tears in the blue eyes which she kept fastened upon her plate.
As soon as we had returned to the social hall, Dual found a steward and had him carry chairs back to the extreme end of the saloon deck, where the rail ended above the great paddle-wheel of the Cairo, and place them there in the little square corner where they offered complete seclusion from the annoyance of the passengers.
Thither he led Connie and the girl, and it was then that I noticed for the first time that the steward had placed five chairs. I glanced at Semi as Connie and Miss Elwood took seats and he smiled.
"Suppose you find young Greer and suggest that he make one of our party," he told me. "I fancy Miss Elwood and he will enjoy an hour's conversation."
I grinned and turned back to the card-room, where I found the light-haired youth still chatting with Lafourche. I beckoned him to me and he came at once. "How would you like to meet Miss Elwood?" I asked.
"Bully," said he. "She is a nice little girl, and so far I've been languishing at a distance. What is the answer, Glace?"
"Dual told me to ask you if you'd like to spend an hour with us and the girl on deck," I replied. "He's got chairs back by the wheel, where she can get an hour's air without being stared at by the groups on this boat, and he thought she might enjoy a chat with you."
"Your friend is a man of most wonderful perception," grinned Greer. "I think he's a mind-reader. Come on and take me to the lady fair. I shall try my worst to cheer her up. I am an artist at slinging the optimistic lingo. I shall endeavor to divert her mind from herself to me, which should please us both."
"Come on," I said, laughing; and taking him by the arm I led him back to where the three sat. There I presented him to Miss Elwood, and without hesitation he took the chair next to her and began to chatter of all the inconsequential things in the world. Presently Miss Elwood laughed. That was after about fifteen minutes, by which time the conversation had become practically a dialogue between the two. In ten minutes more I fancy they had completely forgotten that Dual, Connie, or I were among the living, or were but dimly conscious of it.
Connie glanced at me, with her eyes dancing in the twilight. I nodded in answer and looked at Dual. He smiled. " 'Two shall be born the whole wide world apart—' You know the rest of it, my friend, perhaps. It is a beautiful thought, and the best of it is it is true. More; when those two meet let no man seek to in any way interfere with the working of the—law."
I shook with an inward quiver of emotion and let my eyes wander back to the boy and girl. They were sitting very close together, he talking eagerly; she with downcast eyes, a soft color in her cheeks, her hands clasped in her lap. I swung back to Dual. "You knew," I said softly. "Dual, you knew."
He smiled upon me. "He who seeks to read may ofttimes find an answer," he replied.
Night fell, and presently we went in and sought our beds. Greer and the girl came last and parted only at our door. Connie took the girl to our berth and I removed my coat and vest, shoes and collar, and threw myself upon the divan.
Little by little the sounds of the boat died down; but still I lay awake, turning the events of the day in my mind. Some way I was keyed to a tension which defied sleep.
I turned, and tossed, and puzzled over the matter and as much as anything I puzzled over Dual's action in throwing the two young creatures together this evening and then pulling that quotation about twin souls on me.
Suddenly I sat up with a gasp and grinned in self ridicule. There was the answer I was seeking. I was a great detective, I was. With my knowledge of Semi I could not for an instant believe he would have allowed that meeting if he even dreamed that the girl was guilty.
I looked at my watch. It was twelve o'clock. I laid down again and thought it all over. Was it possible, I asked myself, that Swartzberg had really tried to use the girl, as her story would indicate and Lafourche had suggested before he heard her story?
Yet if she were guiltless who in Heaven's name had entered the stateroom of the man during the night before and slain him and left him lying dead behind a locked door? Some one who had sought to rob him of the rubies he carried and had probably discovered too late that they were no longer in his possession—some one who had killed and yet failed to gain what he sought.
One o'clock came while I turned and twisted the facts which I knew, and after a while two. In disgust at my inability to sleep, I arose, slipped on my shoes and coat and went out into the social hall, crossed its deserted floor and made my way to the forward part of the saloon deck, where I leaned against a stanchion and gazed out over the night-shrouded river.
A soft, damp coolness rose to me as the boat forged her way up the river, and I stood and let it play on my brow. Then suddenly a something darted past me, with a soft-sighing flutter like the beat of invisible wings.
I started back in an instinctive movement, paused, and waited a moment, then laughed.
Probably I thought it was only the whir of some night-bird which had almost dashed itself against the front of the boat and fled onward in the dark. It was not until hours later that I knew I had made a mistake.
I TURNED back to my stateroom and glanced again at my watch. It was two-thirty-five. However, my stroll on deck seemed to have freshened me a bit, and I threw myself back on the divan and fell asleep. It was only an uneasy slumber, however, broken by occasional wakenings, and I rose and again consulted my watch. It now lacked about ten minutes of five.
Utterly disgusted now at my inability to sleep, like a sensible man I gave up the endeavor and dressed myself. Then quite softly I opened the door of the suite and again slipped out into the social hall.
As before, it was totally deserted. Not even the stewards were yet at their cleaning. I passed through it to the library and took a seat where I could see the river, now plainly visible in the rising day. I sat there for some time and then got up.
I was still strangely restless, and I concluded to walk about. I walked back into the hall, and then fate or some such prompting took hold of my wandering feet and guided them down the sweep of the companion-stairs to the main deck.
I passed out to the side, turned, and presently found myself standing at the foot of the swing gangplank on the port side. How long I stood there I really do not know. I know that I watched the water ripple away from the prow of the boat, and after a bit I started and walked to the tip of the deck.
Then, instead of retracing my steps, I continued my course so as to make a complete circuit of the forward deck and return down the starboard rather than the port side.
I had progressed almost to the forward wall of the superstructure, and had decided that I would go back and rouse Semi Dual to keep me company, when I suddenly stopped as though rooted to the deck. My roving eye had caught sight of something which drove every particle of boredom and purposeless straying out of my mind. It lay almost at my feet, close to the wall which rose from the main to the saloon deck above.
In fact, I had almost trodden upon it before I saw it. When I sensed it, after the first momentary pause, I flung myself upon it like a terrier onto a mouse.
In one grasping swoop my hand seized upon it and lifted it for my inspection, and I am sure I gasped. For the thing I had so inadvertently discovered was a black leather case, somewhat scuffed and soiled, bearing upon one side an armorial design in tarnished gilt, and fastened with a clasp!
It fell open in my hand as I raised it, and showed an interior lined in age-yellowed white satin, and nothing else. It was empty, and yet I was sure it was the same case I had seen but yesterday filled to overflowing with a scintillating mass of deep-red jewels.
Well, the jewels were gone. That fact was certainly patent to any one, let alone myself, who stood there in stupid amazement, the looted case dangling in my hand.
And then reason and the instincts of the detective reasserted themselves. How had the case come there was the question. Suddenly I remembered the fluttering rush of something before my face hours before. I glanced upward along the side of the decks rising above me and sought to locate the place where I had stood. As near as I could figure, I was almost directly below it now. The case, then, had dropped straight past me and landed on the deck to await later discovery. So much was plain.
But, said my brain, the case was in the hands of the captain last night, and it held the rubies at that time. In that instant curiosity gave place in my mind to fear. I saw several things. First I had stood on the forward part of the saloon-deck. Almost above me in that location was the captain's cabin on the forward starboard side of the promenade.
And the captain had had the rubies last night. Merciful Heavens, had the tragedy of the night before been repeated? Had the captain met the same fate as Swartzberg?
Had the murderer of the Jew, failing to gain what he sought the night before, returned to the quest during the one just past and wrested them from Branning at last?
Having done so, had he sought to toss the case into the river, and had it by some chance struck a stanchion or been deflected by a gust of wind, so that it fell inward and landed upon the deck?
My breath clogged in my chest.
Thrusting the empty case into my pocket, I leaped into action, darting to the companionway and up it two steps at a time, until I stood panting outside the door of the purser's room.
My knuckles fell upon it with a crash and I kept hammering until Keating poked out a scowling face, which changed to surprised question as he saw me standing there.
"Let me in," I told him, and pushed into the room.
"Dress yourself quickly," I went on as he closed the door.
"What—" he began in startled question.
I pulled out the case and held it toward him.
"Do you recognize this?" I burst out. "Do you know where I found it? On the main deck close to the house.
"There's something wrong here, Keating. Branning had this last night, and it was full of rubies. It's empty now."
The purser grew pale and sprang to his clothing, dragging and jerking it over his body in purposeful haste.
"How did you come to find it?" he asked.
I told him.
"Branning had 'em all right last night," he said as I finished. "Do you suppose— Oh, for God's sake, come with me, till we see!"
He flung himself at the door and tore it open. We sprang out and took the stairs to the promenade-deck on the jump, turned and ran along the deck to the captain's cabin, and paused. For an instant Keating looked about, as though nerving himself for what he would see, and laid his hand upon the door.
Like that of Swartzberg twenty-four hours before, it was fast—locked from the inside, its shutter closed.
Keating nodded, as though verifying a suspicion, and dashed his fist against the door in an imperative rapping, paused, and stood while I held my breath.
From within it seemed to me there arose a muffled grunting and whining more like the complaint of an imprisoned animal than any human noise.
Once it came, and again while we stood, then Keating drew back and leaned forward, hurling his shoulder against the door.
It creaked under the blow, then swung inward with a slam as the lock snapped and precipitated the purser into the room. Crowding after, I was on his heels as he staggered to a balance, and we both turned our eyes to the berth.
Captain Branning lay there securely trussed both hand and foot, and apparently without a head. The latter detail, however, proved to be due to the fact that a pillow-case had been drawn over his ruddy features and tied under his chin.
The whining and grunting redoubled upon our entrance, and the figure began contorting itself in a vain effort to rise in the berth. Keating reached his superior and tore the pillow-case from his head so that its staring eyes and cloth-gagged mouth protruded from a ragged collar ripped from the tied edge of the case.
"Captain," he mouthed as he worked to free the night's victim, "my God, but I'm glad to find you living. What happened here, anyway?"
Branning, untied, sat up on the edge of the berth and began wiggling his numbed fingers as if in some doubt of his ability to do so. Keating unfastened the cloth which gagged him and uncorked a torrent of bottled-up rage and explanation.
"It was all mixed up with them damned rubies!" exclaimed the captain. "Them condemned stones are makin' more trouble than I ever had on a run in my life.
"Just let me lay hands on the joker who come after them last night an' I'll make him walk on air by his thumbs, s'welp me! Things are getting to one darn fine state when a captain ain't safe on his own boat, an' locked in his room.
"Here I been lying here for hours, yellin' my head off an' tryin' to kick the back out of the berth, an' not a deaf mute, wooden-headed hand could I raise. Is the Cairo a young woman's seminary where every one goes to bed with the chicks, or a river packet? Where you all been? Did he dope the rest of you, or what?"
"Who?" gasped Keating.
"Who?" mimicked Branning, red in the face. "How do you suppose I know who? If I knew, do you suppose I'd be sitting here now? But if he hasn't left the boat I'll know who before I'm a day older, and you can lay to that! Who got off this boat last night?"
"Nobody," said the purser.
"How do you know?" exclaimed Branning with a sneer. "Maybe there was, and maybe there wasn't. You was asleep."
"I can find out, anyway, Mr. Branning," said Keating, almost as though apologizing to the irascible spirit he had set free.
"Later," snapped the captain, and turned to me.
"Hullo, Mr. Glace!" he remarked. "What brought you up here?"
"It was Glace found the empty case on the main deck," Keating explained before I could answer. "He brought it to me, and I was afraid that you might have been—"
"Empty," interrupted Branning, frowning. "Of course it would be empty. The murdering thief who was after them won't take any chances at letting the case lay around; he'll hide them somewhere else. Now we will have to turn this old scow inside out. Say, Glace, is Mr. Dual or Lafourche awake?"
"I don't know," I responded. "I've an idea Dual is up. Shall I go get them for you?"
"Yes, if you will. This is all mixed up with them cussed gem stones, so they may as well be in on the deal. Tied me up in my own cabin, darn his hide!"
I made my way to Lafourche's stateroom and rapped on the door. I had to repeat my summons before he replied:
"Hey, thar! What yuh want?"
"Lafourche," I called softly, "get up. Somebody broke into Branning's cabin last night, tied him up, and grabbed the jewels."
"Eh? The devil!" exclaimed the creole. "Wait a minute!"
I heard his feet hit the floor, and a moment later the key grated in the look. He thrust out a tousled head.
"Hello, Glace!" he said, rubbing an eye. "Is that straight—really?"
"Yes," I answered. "He sent me for you. Go up there, will you? I'm after Dual."
"In a jiffy," he assured me.
I found Dual up and dressed, and told him briefly what had happened.
He smiled slightly.
"And you found the case?" he remarked.
"Yes. I think the thief meant to throw it into the river, but it chanced to drop onto the deck instead."
"That," said Semi, "is another obvious conclusion, and I fancy correct. Well, suppose we go up."
We mounted the stairs, and met Lafourche just making his way forward. Together, we three continued and entered the captain's room. Branning had risen from the berth and was vigorously stamping his feet.
"Good morning, gentlemen," he greeted. "I suppose Glace has told you all about it. If anybody had told me it could happen I'd have laughed in his face. Tied up in my own cabin. I'd like to tar and feather the cussed devil who done it before he's hung."
"What happened?" said Semi Dual.
Branning grinned slightly. "I reckon I don't know exactly, but I'm going to find out."
"At least," said Dual, "tell us what you do know. When did the thing happen?"
"I don't just know that, either," growled the captain. "I didn't get a chance to look at my watch."
"I think I can help out on that," I volunteered. As quickly as possible I ran over the incident of my standing on the deck in the night and sensing the case as it dropped in front of my face. "It was just two-thirty-five when I got back to the parlor of our suite."
"Then," judged Dual, "allowing for the time it took the captain's assailant to tie him up, search for and find the jewels, remove them from the case, and decide to throw the latter away, we may judge that the attack was committed certainly between one and two."
"That's about right, too," agreed Branning. "I know it was about that time, anyway, for it seemed to me I'd been asleep a long time when I woke up and found the fellow at my throat."
"That being settled, then, tell us all you remember," prompted Dual.
"All right," said Branning. He sat down on the berth. "I went to bed last night about midnight and fell asleep almost at once, as I always do. Before turning in I took the rubies an' put them into that locker, which, you can see, has been busted open to git them.
"I'm a pretty sound sleeper, an' so I suppose I never heard the thief when he got into the cabin."
"Let's see," grinned Lafourche as he put out a hand and withdrew the key from the lock. "Ah believe the key to Swartzberg's room showed the marks of a burglar's nipper, didn't it? Well"—he raised the key and scrutinized it closely—"here they air on this one, too!" He held it out.
I took it, and Keating and I bent above it. Sure enough, it showed the tiny scratches where the instrument had gripped its end beyond the ward.
"That's how he got in, then, dodgast him," continued Branning. "As I said, I didn't hear him at all, and the first thing I knew I was dreamin' that I was bein' strangled by a devil-fish. I woke up then and found my dream wasn't all imagination by a long shot. Something had me by the gullet, but I couldn't see what it was because the yaller houn' had pulled a blanket over my face an' was chokin' me through that. I tried to yell, but I couldn't seem to get wind enough to raise so much as a whisper."
"And yet yuh don't look lak a chap it would be easy to strangle, cap'n," said Lafourche. "Thet neck of yours ain't exactly what one would call a slendah pillah."
Branning grunted. "When I come to again," he continued, "I couldn't quite figure out what had happened to me. I tried to yell and I found that devil had gagged me. I tried to see and I got next to the fact that he'd tied my head up in a pillow-case. I tried to get my hands up, an' they was fast; ditto my feet.
"Of course, I knew he was after the red stones, and you bet I cussed them, too. Then I begun kickin' the side of the berth and gruntin' in hopes somebody would come to find out what was the matter; but everybody was sleepin' sweetly, an' nobody come.
"After while I reckon I went to sleep again. I know I remember thinkin' I might as well, seein' as I couldn't get nobody to untie me. The next thing I knew, was Keating rappin' on the door an' then bustin' it in."
"At that rate," said Keating, "some one was prowling about the boat from one o'clock till two-thirty last night. Funny nobody saw him—"
"Everybody was sleepin'," growled Branning, and Lafourche laughed.
"You didn't notice anybody when you were up, did you, Glace?" Keating went on.
"Not a soul," I assured him. "Anyway, this lets th' girl out," Lafourche declared, smiling. "With huh in Glace's berth with Glace's wife, an' Glace on the parloh divan, Ah reckon she didn't find an opportunity for takin' any stroll about the boat nor chokin' ouh wo'thy cap'n."
"You can lay to that!" burst out Branning. "It wasn't no fluffy-headed kid with baby-sized fingers shut off my air!"
Lafourche's smile widened into a grin. Ah'd 'a' won mah bet about th' girl bein' cleared, Ah reckon, Mr. Dual."
Semi smiled. "You will recall that I refused to take the other end of it, Mr. Lafourche," he replied.
The Creole nodded and shook some tobacco into a paper. "Right," he said. "Ah reckon what yuh said of your knowledge was correct. We were both right. Well, Ah'm glad."
"So am I," declared Branning. "She was a pretty little thing, an' I hated like sin to even think she might have done it."
"Hold on!" interrupted Keating. "Could she have slipped out while Glace was on deck last night? Do you know if she's still in your suite or not, Mr. Glace?"
I shot him a glance. "No, I don't," I retorted. "I didn't disturb the ladies when I got up this morning; but if you think that girl could get out of bed and pull off a stunt like this with my wife on the job you're way off. I left the suite after two, and I was back at two thirty-five.
"Do you suppose that girl could get up, dress, leave the suite, come up here, get into Branning's room, choke him insensible, get the rubies, hide them, and attempt to throw the case away in any half-hour at most? Remember, I didn't sleep until I went back. I was awake all night till then, so she didn't get out while I was there."
"Thar yuh air, Keating," said Lafourche, grinning over his cigarette. "Don't be a blitherin' ass."
"There ain't no question," Branning spoke shortly. "I tell you the girl's out of it, because it was a man. He had fingers like a steel trap, and I hit him. I know the feel of a man's ribs from experience.
"It wasn't no soft bit of a girl that lit on my neck last night. An' if she didn't do this, she didn't do the other. This fellow pulled it the same way he did the night before, only he killed the drummer."
"Then what are we going to do?" inquired Keating. "There's somebody on this boat who has those rubies and goes wandering over the place at night whenever he darned pleases. What gets me is why he don't try to make a sneak now he's got them."
"How do you know he hasn't?" snarled Branning. "Glace had to pound you up."
"I can soon find out," the purser declared with some heat. "I wasn't expectin' the man with the stones to lay down and let somebody—"
"Shut up!" Branning got to his feet. "I'll take charge of this here now. You go find out if any one did get off, an' do somethin' 'stead of talkin'. When you find out, tell it to me, an' if he's still aboard I'll get him if I have to tie up to a snag, lock every mother's son aboard in his room, an' go through them one by one."
"Grand," laughed Lafourche, puffing smoke. "Ah'll go order the steward to send something up to mah room to help out mah imprisonment. Also Ah would suggest that while we air settin' heah talkin' we air bein' very un-gallant. Ef we no longer believe that the girl is guilty we should in all kindness inforhm huh of th' fac'."
"That's right, too, Mr. Lafourche," said Branning. "But I think we will allow Mr. Dual or Mr. Glace to handle that."
"Mr. Lafourche has shown the chivalric impulse in his suggestion," Dual began speaking, for the first time since he had addressed the creole before, "and I am glad that things have so shaped themselves as to remove all shadow from the young woman. In view of what he has said, I shall ask your tolerance for a moment. Yesterday he asked me why I had not set up an astrological figure of this event, and now I will tell him that I did, and that I learned a number of things, important among them being that the girl was devoid of all complicity in the affair. In proof of which I will again recall to his mind the fact that I said I had knowledge."
"Yuh was right," Lafourche noddled; "but ef you knew that, why did yuh let thet pore girl suffer under an' unjust suspicion?"
"For her own good," replied Dual. "Mr. Lafourche and gentlemen, that little woman, as shown by my calculations, reached a great turning-point in her life some forty-eight hours ago.
"Up to now she has led a passive existence. From now on it will be fuller. She needed this lesson in order to teach her some of the dangers which lie along the road of life. She will never forget, and she will be stronger for the experience, painful though it was. It was through this very ordeal that she has met one who will from now on find his destiny linked with hers, through the rest of their mutual lives, so that nothing but a great good shall come to them both from the episode.
"Therefore, having learned all this from my calculations, I stood aside and let her learn her lesson, while at the same time she met that one who will from now on guard her path of life."
Lafourche shook his head. "Greer, Ah suppose," said he. "Your talk of astrology is all too deep for me, though I reckon yuh know what you're talkin' about. Did yuh perhaps learn anythin' about the real perpetrator of the deed?"
Dual paused before he made any reply to the question. To me it seemed that he was plunged into a serious consideration of some detail in the affair. "There is so much good in the worst of us," he said at length, "that at times it grieves one to find it shadowed by an unrevocable and justice-demanding evil."
Lafourche knocked the ashes from his cigarette with a finger. "Meanin'," said he, "that you ar' keepin' your own counsel, which is your privilege, suh. However, barrin' my ignorance of astrology Ah fancy yuh an' Ah agree on a lot of things. For instance, as to that quotation yuh jus' started: 'There is so much good in the worst of us, an' so much bad in th' bes' of us, that it ill behooves any of us to criticize th' res' of us.' That, suh, is largely my philosophy of life."
"In the general sense it is a good one," returned Semi. "However, I will state that I have not as yet completed my investigation, though I will predict that the man who entered Captain Branning's room last night and extracted the jewels from his locker furnished us with the final clue necessary to clearing up the affair."
"You mean that he left something which will tell us who he is?" exclaimed Branning with manifest excitement.
"I think so," said Semi. "Glace, let me see the case you found on the deck."
I took it out of my pocket and handed it to him. He opened it and scanned its lining closely. Presently he drew the magnifying glass he always carried from his pocket and went over the entire inside of the case with its aid. When he had finished he put away the glass, folded up the case and laid it on his knee.
"I was right," he told us calmly. "After a further trifling examination I am positive that I shall be in a position to terminate the entire affair.
"YOU mean get the murderer and find the rubies?" questioned Branning, coming to his feet.
"Exactly, Mr. Branning," said Dual.
"Then you found the clue you was expecting?"
"Yes, of course."
"An' what was it? We all want to know, I reckon."
"That," said Dual, "is what I am going to investigate further. If my examination confirms my belief I shall then be ready to act. In the mean time I will ask you, captain, to take no further steps in the matter until I shall have had another talk with you. I will probably call you all into a final conversation before the matter is settled. For the present I think Glace and I may as well go below." He rose and slipped the case into his pocket.
I got to my feet. "I'm going to tell Greer to get ready to pay me that hundred," I remarked to Lafourche.
He shrugged slightly. "Ef Ah lose Ah shall pay, Mr. Glace," he replied, tossing his cigarette out of the door.
By now it was full day and we made our way to the saloon deck at once. Just outside of our suite Dual paused a moment and smiled. "When you see Mrs. Glace and Miss Elwood bid them a very good morning for me," he requested, "and tell your wife that Miss Elwood is freed from all suspicion. She will, in my estimation, be the proper person to break the good news to the younger woman."
I nodded and passed into the parlor. As usual Dual's tact had found the solution of the way to relieve the girl's embarrassment and bring the glad light back to her eyes.
"That you, Gordon?" called Connie as I came in.
"Yes," I returned.
"We've been wondering where you'd gone," she went on, appearing at the door of the parlor. "I'm hungry, and I'm sure Miss Elwood must be, too."
I beckoned her to me. "Come here, little one," I said. She approached and I told her quickly of what had happened in the night and its effect upon Miss Elwood's position. While I talked her eyes lightened and her lips grew into a delighted smile. At the end she turned and fairly bounced back into the bedroom. "Catherine! Catherine dear!" I heard her voice full of glad excitement. "Such good news! Captain Branning was tied up and robbed of those hateful rubies last night and—" The closing door broke off the rest.
I laughed. I wondered if Branning would agree with the exact phase of the matter Connie had expressed, though I knew well enough what she meant. Quite shamelessly I got up and crept across to the bedroom door and listened. The sobs of a woman came to my ear, and I turned away again and sat down as I realized that the wheat-haired girl's terror and grief were being washed away in a flood of tears.
And then the door opened and the two girls, or women if you prefer, came out. If I hadn't heard those sobs I wouldn't have believed Miss Elwood had ever shed a tear in her life. She was radiant. She came across and gave me her hand. "Ah want to thank you for all your kindness, Mr. Glace," said she. "But fo' you and your deah wife, an' Mr. Dual, Ah don't know what I should have done." Then in a very casual voice she went on. "Does Mr. Greer know?"
"Not unless Lafourche has found him and informed him," I told her, and watched her flush a rosy pink.
"He's a deah boy," she said quickly, "and he was awfully nice last night. Actually he made me forget for a time."
Dual came in just then and we went in to breakfast. It was during the meal that Lafourche produced a dramatic episode which I suppose one must ascribe to his Latin blood.
Rising in his place he addressed the assembled passengers: "Ladies and gentlemen, it is with regret that Ah have to declare that a great injustice has been done to one of our numbah, and it is with a pleasure equaling that regret that Ah am able to inform yuh that all cause fo' any suspicion has been removed during the past night. The innocent victim of circumstances who has suffered for a day and a night is now proven beyond all doubt to be what she appears—an honah to the name of pure womanhood." As suddenly as he had risen he sat down.
Catherine Elwood flushed scarlet and dropped her eyes. There followed an outburst of handclapping from the people at the tables who turned toward the girl. Yet a moment later this gave way to a nervous chatter as each turned eyes on his neighbor as though asking where suspicion must next alight.
After breakfast Semi sought the cabin of the purser, and Greer came up with a beaming face to buttonhole me. "What happened?" he asked in an excited whisper. "What was it Lafourche was talking about?"
"Come into the card-room and I'll tell you," I said, smiling, and led him across the social hall to the men's lounge.
We found a little table and sat down, while I rapidly brought his knowledge of the matter up to date. He listened with twinkling eyes as I told my story, leaning forward to catch every word. "I knew it," he said eagerly as I finished. "I was dead sure your friend Dual was with me in believing her innocent when he called me back to talk to her last night."
Lafourche strolled up and caught the last few words of his speech. "Dual, eh?" he remarked as he drew up a seat. "That chap's one of the oddest individuals Ah ever met. Ah'm beginnin' to agree with Glace that he knows more than the average man. Lak' Branning yesterday, Ah'm beginnin' to wondah just what he does know and how he really finds it out."
"You can be sure of this much," I told him; "if Dual says he knows a thing, he does. My friend is not given to idle speech."
"Ah reckon," responded Lafourche "Ah reckon—"
He sat up in his seat and snapped his fingers to the bar steward. "Yuh gentlemen will join me in a glass?"
"I'll try some of Glace's ale," Greer accepted.
"Make it a double," said I.
"Bring me a little Bourbon," directed Lafourche.
He leaned forward upon the table, smiling. "Dual certainly was right in what he said about the girl. Mr. Greer, what would you say ef I told you that he predicted this mornin' that yuh'd mahrry her after while?"
Greer flushed like a girl of sixteen.
"It's scarcely a topic for public conversation, Mr. Lafourche," he said quickly. "That little girl's name has been bandied about sufficiently on this boat. At the same time, between us, I don't mind telling you that personally I would be willing to have that prediction come true."
Lafourche smiled frankly upon him.
"Mr. Greer," he rejoined, "Ah accept your correction without offense. In broaching such a matter in such a place Ah was guilty of a lapse." He extended his hand across the table. "Will you, suh, accept my hand. Yuh are a gentleman, suh. Ah desire to apologize."
The two men clasped hands just as the steward returned with our drinks. "At the same time," resumed Lafourche, "before we finally drop the subject, allow me to say that should the event prove the prophecy, Ah wish to most heartily congratulate yuh an' express my certainty that yuh will make huh happy. Ah drink to th' health of yuh both." He lifted his glass and we three drank the toast.
"Speaking of prophecies," I remarked, "what would you say, Lafourche, if I were to tell you that night before last my friend Dual predicted Swartzberg's death?"
"Eh!" Lafourche, who had been holding the empty whisky glass in his hand, set it down on the table with a crash. "What's that? How do yuh mean predicted his death?"
"He simply stated that Mr. Swartzberg was about to meet his end," I replied.
"Dieu!" exclaimed Lafourche. "An' the next mawnin' he subjectively sensed his death. Just how, Mr. Glace, ef you don't mind, did he arrive at his fo'cast of the man's death?"
"There is no reason that I know of," I responded, "why I should not answer that question, Mr. Lafourche. Did you ever hear of auric light?"
"I have," put in Greer.
Lafourche shook his head.
"That is the answer," I continued. "By way of explanation let me say that you have both at times heard the expression, 'personal magnetism,' yet do you know what it really is? Briefly, it is the effect produced upon you by the atmosphere thrown off by a person with whom you happen to come in contact. Not only does each and every person throw off such a personal atmosphere or personal currents, but these emanations may be truly said to be an index to his character as expressed in acts and thoughts. Also these currents have been found to be possessed of various degrees of luminance. It is these lights given off by the personal currents which we mean when we refer to auric lights.
"Various thoughts and acts give different colors to these currents. A man sufficiently sensitive can sense these emanations and perceive their colors. From them he can give a true statement as to the character or health of the person under consideration. Night before last Dual told my wife and myself that because this Swartzberg's aura was pale beyond all proportion to his appearance of health the man must inevitably die."
"Inevitably?" Lafourche questioned, frowning. "Mr. Glace, do yuh think your frien' can really sense these heah lights?"
"Of course he can," exclaimed Greer. "Lots of folks know how to do that, Lafourche."
The creole looked somewhat surprised at this voluntary substantiation of my statement, but made the best of it. Greer's interest in the occult seemed to be sincere.
"Then," said Lafourche, "if a man knew the colors of various thoughts he could literally arrive at an opinion of what a man was thinking about?"
"Most certainly," I concurred. "In fact, Dual told me yesterday that one could pick out the murderer of Swartzberg by observing the color of his auric waves."
"An' that coloah, Mr. Glace, would be what?"
"Red, Mr. Lafourche."
"And would your frien' really risk an accusation on evidence of that sort?"
"Personally he would," I assured him; "but he, as a rule, seeks to support his subjective findings by objective evidence."
Lafourche shuddered slightly. "It's uncanny," he declared with utter seriousness. "Reminds mah of voodoo yarns Ah've heard my nigger mammy tell. Ah think Ah'd better have another drink. Ah am not naturally superstitious, Mr. Glace; but Ah confess your words have given me a distinct shock." Again he snapped his fingers at the steward. "Yuh gentlemen will do me th' honah?"
"A little more ale?" said Greer. I nodded. Lafourche merely waved his hand toward his empty glass.
He rolled a cigarette and lighted it, smoking in a contemplative silence while waiting for the drinks to be brought. Once or twice I thought he was going to resume the conversation, but each time he closed his lips about his cigarette as though having changed his mind. Presently Greer laughed.
"Gad, Lafourche!" he remarked, "what's got into you? You act as though Glace's voodoo yarn had given you the colly wobbles. Buck up!"
"Ah was jus' thinkin'," replied the creole. "Mr. Glace's remarks hold a deep interest fo' me."
"He's not quite so sure he's going to win my ten-spot as he was yesterday," I said lightly.
Lafourche shrugged. "Supposin' that youah frien' does pick his man correctly, as yuh fancy he will, he has yet to find th' rubies' in ordah to finish clearin' up th' case."
"And he'll do it," I predicted. "Why, man, I've seen him take a hair from an unknown murderer's head and the stub of a cigarette which the man had smoked, lie down and place them on his forehead, and rise with a description of the man on his tongue; and later I've seen his description proved correct."
"How could he?" queried Lafourche quickly. "How could any one do a think lak that?"
"By psychometry," I explained. "He subjectively senses the personal vibrations fastened on an object by the person who has possessed it. In a way, it is akin to what Greer said yesterday about the ethereal pictures of past deeds. Nothing is hidden from a man like Dual. I'll warrant you he could take that case which I found this morning and tell you the entire scene through which it last passed. Put Dual in a room where those rubies were hidden and he'd sense them out."
"Really?" There was a subnote of something like grudging credence in the Creole's voice.
"Furthermore," I went on, carried away with my subject, "since the color of thoughts of violence, tragedy, murder, and the like is red, the task of finding the rubies should be easier still, because they themselves harmonize with the basal color scheme of the entire affair. They, too, are red."
"Dieu!" The steward came back and served us. Lafourche lifted his glass and drained it at a gulp. "Mr. Glace," he said thickly, "ar' yuh tellin' me true?"
"Absolutely," I assured.
He put down the empty glass, holding it by its brim with a finger and thumb, and began tapping the top of the table with its thickened bottom as he spoke. "Grantin', fo' the sake of argument, that a man's thoughts ar' of varicolored waves, each standin' fo' some mental quality or motive, then Ah reckon Mr. Dual was merely statin' what he considered a fac' when he said to mah yesterday: 'As a man thinketh, so he is?' "
"Not what he considered a truth," I retorted, "but what is a literal fact. A man who can sense and segregate those luminous waves, as my friend does, can tell exactly what a man is. That statement was made a good many hundreds of years ago by One who died a martyr to His love for His fellow man."
Lafourche nodded slowly. "Th' same One who said also: 'Greatah love hath no man than this: that he lay down his life fo' his frien'.' " He paused, and an expression of deep speculation grew upon his features before he went on: "Ah wondah—Ah wondah—how much could be forgiven to a man who, though guilty of some misdeeds in his time, should lose all—even to his life—in seekin' to save some one else?"
His words, his tone, affected me strangely. It seemed an odd sort of question for the handsome, debonair, Southern gentleman to make. Yet I tried to answer it as I some way felt it was asked. "A great deal, I imagine," I told him. "I think, however, that I can better answer your question in the words of my friend than in my own: 'When the lesson of this life shall have been learned, and the soul freed by our so-called death, that station and place in a different plane of existence which it shall occupy is determined by the total balance between the debits and credits, for and against it, on the karmic scroll.' "
The man's dark eyes widened as I was speaking, and he breathed deeply. His lips parted slightly, and as I finished I saw the muscles of his neck contract in a spasmodic gulp. "Ah reckon," he said slowly, relinquishing his hold on the empty glass—"Ah reckon that Ah have failed to properly appreciate Mistah Semi Dual. Ah reckon that pairhaps Ah was speakin' more truly than Ah fancied yesterday aftahnoon when Ah suggested that he might be a supahman. Ah have never given much thought to religion or a futah life. Ah've jus' gone mah own way an' let othahs do th' same. Ah wondah—is theah a futah life?"
"I believe so," I said quickly. "Why, Lafourche, do you think any man can learn enough in one life to fulfil the divine purpose of his creation?"
"How about Dual?" he asked.
"He is a very old man," I told him quickly. "Would you believe me if I told you he is several times our age?"
He smiled slightly in a whimsical, quizzical fashion.
"He has learned how to keep himself young," I declared.
"Mah Gawd!" the creole exclaimed of a sudden. "Stop it, Mr. Glace! Yuh ar' fillin' mah mind with th' most remarkable lot of notions. Let us return to ouh other subject. Does your frien' know who the real murderer is?"
"He told me as long ago as yesterday that he did. That is, he gave me to understand as much."
"Yesterday! Then why has he delayed in actin'?" queried Lafourche in visible surprise.
I shook my head. "Dual's actions are apt to be as obscure as the laws he uses in seeking his reason for acting," I answered.
Lafourche forced a smile and sat up to the table. "Come, come!" he remarked. "Heah we ar' sittin' an' talkin' lak a lot of children, scarin' ouahselves with ghos' stories, instead of grown men. Ah for one will believe youah frien' has solved th' mystery when Ah see them rubies produced."
"At least," said I, "you must admit that Dual was right about the girl."
"So were Ah an' Greer," said the Creole, laughing. "Any one who was a judge of human nature would have believed in that li'l' woman. No, Mr. Glace, Ah fancy yuh have not yet proved your case. Ah won't deny that there may be somethin' in these so-called 'occult forces.' Ah don't know enough to criticize, but Ah do not believe that one can reach definitely correct results in a mattah by their use alone. Jus' what is your friend' doin' in this affair now? He spoke of a consultation we were to have latah."
"I don't know what he's doing," I confessed.
"Neither do Ah," said Lafourche and laughed again.
It was then that the figure of Semi Dual appeared in the door of the card-room. He loomed there for a minute, glancing about the room, caught sight of us three at the table, and crossed to our side. "I think," he began as soon as he reached us, "that we are now ready to begin the final closing up of the ruby matter. If you are quite at leisure I wish that you gentlemen would accompany me. I have just sent word to Captain Branning to meet us in ten minutes in the cabin of Mr. Lafourche."
"In my cabin?" questioned the Creole as he turned toward Semi.
"Exactly," returned Dual. "Do you, perhaps, object?"
"Oh, not at all, suh! Certainly not." Lafourche rose.
Greer and I also got to our feet and prepared to follow Dual's lead. The four of us passed out of the card-room and entered the social hall. Connie and Miss Elwood were sitting upon a divan and glanced up as we appeared.
Instantly Lafourche left us and approached the two women, pausing in front of the wheat-haired girl, and began to speak: "Miss Elwood, Ah have not had th' honah of an introduction, but Ah fancy yuh know mah name. Permit me, as a gentleman, to offer mah sincere congratulations upon th' happy outcome of your association in this mos' unpleasant mattah."
Miss Elwood smiled, rose, and put out her hand. "Ah thank you, Mr. Lafourche." She accepted his felicitations. "Ah understan' that you were one of those who refused to believe in mah guilt from th' first. Yuh have a girl's heartfelt gratitude fo' that."
Lafourche took the little hand, bent, and touched it with his lips. "Ah was determined from th' first that yuh would come to no ha'm," he said softly. "Once more, accept mah congratulations. Au revoir."
The four of us mounted to the promenade-deck and made our way to Lafourche's stateroom. There we sat down and prepared to wait the arrival of the captain. In the mean time we kept up a desultory conversation, in which Semi presently took a part.
"Mr. Lafourche," said he, "when we were on the hurricane-deck last evening I noticed the fowling-piece you brought down. It struck me at the time as being a rather beautiful weapon. I wonder if I might look at it while we wait?"
Lafourche seemed slightly surprised at the request, to judge from his face, but his native courtesy came to the fore.
"Of co'se," he assented, and began to unfasten the leather case which held the gun.
Dual took it in his hands, and turned it this way and that, as though admiring the beauty of workmanship expended upon it, ending quite naturally by breaking the breech and inspecting the twin barrels. A box of shells—so far as I could judge, the same from which Greer and Lafourche had taken ammunition to the upper deck on the previous afternoon—stood in the corner beside the other case containing the Creole's rifle. Suddenly, as though moved by an impulse incited by the black circles of the barrels, Dual leaned down and, selecting two of the cartridges, slid them into the breach of the gun and closed it. For a moment he balanced the weapon upon one hand. "A truly beautiful weapon, Mr. Lafourche," he said. "A French arm, as I surmise?"
"Yes. A present to muh from a frien' of mine ovah thar," Lafourche replied.
"Yet I judge it is hard to get ammunition for it in this country," Dual suggested. "Or do you perhaps reload your own shells?"
Lafourche nodded. "Always," said he.
Dual nodded, still holding the gun lightly balanced. Then, without warning, he threw it to his shoulder, pointed it out of the open door of the stateroom toward the outer sunshine, and pressed his finger to the triggers.
We all awaited the report. Myself, I was utterly surprised at my friend's action. Whatever wonder I may have felt, however, was succeeded by the surprise of the next second. For, instead of the crashing report of both barrels fired at once, there came nothing more than a faint snapping as the hammers went home on the shells.
At that moment Branning came in and glanced about in surprise.
Dual lowered the weapon and again broke the breech. He extracted one of the shells and, holding it in his fingers, turned to Lafourche.
"One would imagine," he remarked quite calmly, "that you have made an error in reloading this particular cartridge, Mr. Lafourche. Apparent you forgot to put in the powder. Suppose we see."
Quite naturally he drew out a penknife and prepared to extract the wad from the shell.
With the lithe leap of a panther, Lafourche sprang to the door of the stateroom, flung it shut, and turned to face us.
His hand darted under the left breast of his coat and reappeared holding a glistening pearl-mounted revolver, which he trained upon us.
"Stop!" he repeated, all the soft drawl gone from his voice, leaving it hard, cold, and full of menace, like the blue-black barrel of the weapon in his hand. "Don't make a move, any of yuh. Sit still where yuh ar'; an', Mr. Dual, yuh let thet shell alone."
If the boilers of the Cairo had suddenly let go I do not believe we would have been more surprised. Branning's face went deadly white, and then as quickly a purple red. Greer's jaw dropped in amazement and then closed with a snap. "What the devil!" he began, and the blue muzzle swung upon him.
"Yuh keep still now, Mr. Greer," commanded Lafourche.
As for myself, I looked into the man's eyes along the barrel of the weapon, and someway I became imbued with the conviction that we were all utterly safe—that he did not intend—did not desire to injure one among us. I turned my head to Semi Dual. He was standing with the cartridge still in his hand, gazing straight at the creole and smiling into his face. A second later he began to speak:
"A very futile action, Mr. Lafourche, though a natural one. Do you imagine, sir, that it will avail you anything to add other lives to your score? Is it not clear to you now that I really meant what I said when I told you I would clear up this affair of the jewels? Cannot you see that I spoke from knowledge rather than supposition? Put up your weapon, Mr. Lafourche."
Lafourche shook his head. "No one can leave this room till Ah am willin'," he declared.
"Remain by the door, then," said Semi Dual.
The creole dropped his hand and rested it upon his hip, still holding the revolver pointed so that it appeared to cover now one, now another, now all. "Yuh ar' quite right, Mr. Dual," he replied, "that Ah do not wish to injure any one of yuh, fo' yuh have all acted lak the gentlemen yuh ar' in this unfortunate affair. At th' same time, a man mus' preserve himself as he may. Ah wish circumstances might have made it possible fo' us to part as frien's, an' Ah certainly regret th' necessity fo' mah swashbucklerin' methods of th' moment."
Dual met his eyes fully as he ceased speaking. "Mr. Lafourche," he returned, "I think you will believe me when I tell you that I know perfectly what I hold in my hand. At the same time let me assure you that I am sure each one of us will carry into our future lives a sincere admiration linked with a profound regret for one who had within him the true instincts of a chivalrous gentleman."
The creole smiled with a lighting of the eyes, a flash of teeth in pleasure. "Ah thank yuh, suh," he said quickly. Then, as if from sudden determination, he continued: "Open that shell, Mr. Dual."
Semi slid the blade of his knife about the wad, lifted it out and tossed it aside, closed his penknife, and put it in his pocket. While we all watched he tipped the cartridge and held it above his hand. In a glistening, tinkling, scintillating gush of red a stream of rubies fell into his palm!
Again Lafourche's teeth flashed in a smile. He nodded. "Yes," he remarked as though in answer to a question. "Ah am th' man. Ah killed Swartzberg night befo' last. Ah over-powahed Cap'n Branning las' night an' got the rubies out of his lockah. Ah threw the case into the rivair, as Ah thought. Ah very clevaherly, as Ah imagined, loaded mah cartridges with the stones. Ah should hav' escaped after that, but Ah thought mahself safe."
"You stayed on to be sure that your act had cleared the woman," said Semi.
Lafourche nodded again. "Ah am glad yuh said that, Mr. Dual," he replied. "Ah see yuh understan'. It was mah act placed her undah suspicion in th' firs' place. Ah felt in honah boun' to undo that part of mah work, of co'se."
"Ah took a gamblah's chance on makin' mah escape aftah freein' huh, an' now Ah'm merely tryin' to look out for mahself. Ah hope yuh gentlemen uhderstan'. Ah merely intend to keep yuh heah in this room until th' nex' stop, an' then Ah shall leave th' boat. Ah won't do anythin' unpleasant unless some one really insists or forces mah to."
"You will not need the gun," Dual told him. "As to your escaping, I fear you will fail; but I shall ask you to take our pledges that none of us will precipitate any trouble by trying to leave this stateroom until such time as it can no longer interfere with your plans."
Lafourche's eyes lighted and he leaned slightly forward. "Parole d'honneur?" he cried.
"Parole d'honneur," returned Semi Dual. "Gentlemen, you agree?"
We nodded our several heads.
"Again Ah thank yuh," said the creole. He slipped his revolver into the holster he wore under his left arm, drew tobacco and papers from his pocket, and began to roll a cigarette.
"And now," continued Dual, "suppose I tell you something about this affair before we part."
"Ah would be delighted," smiled Lafourche.
"To begin with," Semi went on at once, "from the very inception of the matter there was really no reason to think that Miss Elwood was the slayer of Swartzberg. Her ring, however, became a valuable clue in locating the jewels at first. Knowing how the fact of her having them must impress the passengers, I deliberately arranged that she should be taken care of by my friend's wife, Mrs. Glace, until such time as circumstances should clear her of all suspicion. Personally I knew she was not guilty from the first.
"Now as to the crime itself. Yesterday we discussed briefly my means of learning the truth of such matters. I will tell you again that I set up a figure of this affair and sought to learn the truth. One of the first things I learned was that Swartzberg did not come rightfully by the jewels."
Lafourche nodded his head vigorously. "That's right," he said.
"Another thing was that the jewels were not the property of any one in this country. And I will ask you to recall that I predicted that they would be returned to their rightful owners, Mr. Lafourche. I also learned at the same time that you were the murderer, but that you did not originally intend to commit murder. Now let me draw a picture of the affair.
"You watched Swartzberg on the hurricane-deck night before last, and you saw that he had these jewels. But for my friend Glace's stumbling upon you, you would have seen him give them to Miss Elwood, which you did not. Therefore, believing that the man still had them, you went to his stateroom and entered by means of a small instrument commonly used by burglars for the purpose, so constructed that it will seize and turn a key in the lock. You had come on the boat prepared for the act you attempted to perform, and, as I know you are no burglar, I deduce that you were sent to recover the rubies Swartzberg stole.
"You sought for the rubies in the room. Swartzberg awoke. You struggled. You rendered him unconscious and continued your search. You failed to find what you sought. Then, and not until then, did you think of killing the man. But you realized that, having failed and having been seen by him, your mission was a failure unless he was silenced. Therefore, you took your knife and deliberately stabbed him through the heart. Such was the story my calculations showed me, but I found material proof as well. Yesterday you will remember that I borrowed your knife to sharpen my pencil. I did so from purpose, and while I whittled the wood to a point I examined the knife. Mr. Lafourche, you thought you had cleaned the weapon thoroughly, no doubt; but, despite your precautions, deep in the socket, where the blade fits into the haft, you overlooked a shred of blood!"
"Mon Dieu!" The Creole's teeth gritted between his back curled lips. With an effort he controlled himself and shrugged. "The criminal's usual slip," he said. "So that was how yuh spotted me, suh?"
"That was not how I spotted you," Dual responded. "As I have told you, I selected you from the others by my own means. The knife was only material evidence which corroborated my own findings."
"Jus' how did you selec' mah?" asked Lafourche.
"By your aura at first," said Semi Dual.
The creole nodded. "Glace said so, but I wouldn't believe him," he admitted. "Ah didn't want to, Ah guess."
"Yet that was the way," Dual affirmed. "One who can sense them finds thoughts a valuable aid to detection. Each thought has its color. The thought of murder is red. After you had committed your unpremeditated crime you thought and thought about it and of the rubies, which are red as well. Yesterday morning, when you forced yourself to return to the scene of your action and pose as one mystified, you were thinking deeply of your position and your action. At that time, Mr. Lafourche, your aura—was red."
"Gawd knows it ought to hav' been," said the Creole—"red as blood an' black as despair. Ah killed because Ah thought Ah had to, Mr. Dual."
"Yet you killed," Semi repeated. "That is irrevocable, despite both your and my regret. Now as to the finding of the jewels. You will recall that this morning I told you the one who took them from the captain's cabin last night had left the final clue. In that I was right. Inside the empty case, against the white lining, I found a blackened smudge, as though a soot-stained finger had smeared the satin. Only the spot was not of soot, but of the fine dust of powder!
"Mr. Lafourche, I knew you had slain the man in stateroom 57. I knew you carried firearms with you. I knew from my friend Glace that you had said you reloaded your shells, a thing you yourself admitted to me a short time ago. Was it not easy then, to perceive that one of a clever mind might think of unloading the cartridges and refilling them with a fortune in rubies? But for the chance which deflected the case you meant to throw into the river I might not have found them so soon. And yet, as I told you yesterday afternoon, nothing happens from chance, so that in reality it was the working out of influences few of us understand which made the case fall on the deck, and point the way to your hiding-place for the jewels."
Lafourche eyed his cigarette for a full minute after Dual paused, then: "Yuh ar' right in every particular, Mr. Dual," he declared. "Ah don't want to bore yuh folks, but Ah'd lak to tell mah side of th' story while we ar' waitin' to say good-by," he smiled.
"Ah ain't a common, moral degenerate killah," he went on, "an' Ah want yuh all to know why Ah am guilty of takin' life. Th' story goes back a good ways. Firs' Ah must tell yuh that Ah am a secret agent fo' a group of people in a nation to th' south of us. These people ar' what ar' known as revolutionists, Ah suppose.
"Sometime ago they desired to raise funds to buy ahrms an' ammunition fo' their followers. They decided to sell a collection of famous stones, sacrificed to their cause by one of their numbah. In ordah to do this they entered into correspondence with agents in New York, who arranged with the firm of this Swartzberg to send a representative to El Paso to meet a delegation of the revolutionary party an', if as represented, buy these jewels.
"That was how it was done. The delegation crossed th' Rio Grande to El Paso, and with them they brought the rubies. They met this Mr. Swartzberg, an' he declared the gems to be all he desired. The money was jus' about to pass when a rap came on th' door an' a demand was made to open to representatives of the United States government. The newcomahs claimed to be customs men, an' promptly confiscated the rubies and smuggled goods, tellin' the membahs of the delegation that they mus' come to the custom-house to redeem them by payin' the duty. The delegation lef' after Swartzberg had promised to wait their return. At the custom-house, howevah, they learned that nothin' was known of the stones. They rushed back to the hotel where Swartzberg was stoppin'. He was gone. They learned further that a train had just lef fo' the East. They then realized that they were victims of the old fake police-raid game, worked with phoney customs men. They could not pursue at once on a train, so they wired to me at New Orleans.
"Ah went to the depot, identified Swartzberg, and shadowed him. A few hours later one of the delegation arrived. We both kept Swartzberg under surveillance till he took the boat, an' as he didn't know me Ah was th' one who came with him to get back th' jewels.
"So that yuh see th' story he told the li'l' girl was really ouh side of the case, an' excited her love of the romantic an' adventure. When Ah had searched his room an' could not find the rubies, as Mr. Dual says, Ah realized that Swartzberg had seen me an' that mah mission would fail unless Ah killed the cold-blooded thief. Ah did it, though it was mighty unpleasant. The rest of the affair, Ah reckon, yuh know."
He paused, and then suddenly he smiled again. "Swartzberg promised the li'l' girl a ruby," he remarked. "Mr. Dual, pick out one of those in your hand an' give it to huh with mah compliments."
A rap fell crashing upon the door. With an oath Lafourche came instantly alert. His eyes swept the room in sudden suspicion. "What's that?" he rasped.
I glanced at Dual in that moment of tension, and I knew that it was the end. He was gazing at the startled creole with a face full of a vain regret. "That, Mr. Lafourche," he said in answer, "is Mr. Keating and some of the deck-hands. I instructed him to come here at this time if we had not yet come down."
For a moment Lafourche seemed to stagger. He paled slightly and his hands clenched. Yet it was for only a second that he wavered. By a superb effort he regained his control. "Kismet!" he said, shrugging. "You are right again, Mr. Dual. Tell 'em to wait."
"Wait a minute, Keating!" called Branning before Dual could speak.
Lafourche nodded to the captain. "Thank yuh," he said.
He drew himself up very straight and slender and gazed about the little room, and he smiled. "Mr. Greer," he began, "the othah day Ah had occasion to criticize your ability as a losah. Ah fancy that now th' tables ar' turned an' yuh can judge of mine. Ef I remember rightly Ah owe Mr. Glace one hundred dollahs. Will you kindly pay it to him?"
His hand darted to his coat. There was a muffled report. Lafourche's face twitched, yet he still stood tall and slender and very straight. "Gentle—men, au revoir" he gasped of a sudden, folded together, and sank prone upon his face.
In a leap Greer and I reached him, but Dual shook his head, even as we turned him over. "Too late!" he said.
He crossed and unlocked the door, upon which Keating was beating a frantic tattoo, and set it wide so that the light streamed in upon the still, upturned face.
"Come in, Keating," he directed. "Mr. Lafourche has taken his case to a higher court than any made by man."