THE clock in the tower of the Record struck two. Although I didn't know it then, the clock of my destiny struck at the same time.
Hard on the throb of the chime Smithson stuck his head out of the door of his den, and swept his eyes over the local-room. He found nobody but me. Every one else was absent. As for me, I was having a smoke after a light lunch, and waiting for something to do.
"Nobody here but you, eh?" said Smithson. "Well, c'm'ere."
Smithson was city editor of the Record. Therefore, I cast aside my cigarette and complied with his request.
He bobbed back into his room, withdrawing his head from the door very much like a turtle drawing into its shell. I followed him and stood waiting his next remark. When it came I didn't know just what to make of it after all.
Said Smithson: "Know anything about Semi Dual?"
You couldn't bluff with Smithson. I shook my head and told him the truth. "Nothing," I said shortly. "Is it a newspaper or a race-horse, or what?"
Smithson grunted and rummaged among the papers on his desk for a moment, found some sort of memorandum and finally deigned to reply. "It's a man," said he.
"Funny name," I remarked, for lack of anything else to say.
"From all accounts he's a funny man," Smithson came back. "Now see here. Some two months ago this fellow came here and takes quarters in the Urania. I understand he has a full floor up there. He lives there, and beyond that I can't find out anything about the chap.
"Nobody seems to know what he does for a living, or if he does anything at all. Yet it seems from the reports of the elevator operators that quite a few folks call to see him every day. Well, that's about all. Shove some copy-paper into your pocket and go up and get an interview. There may be a story in the thing. Maybe we can make a Sunday feature out of it if it's any good."
"From his name he might be an Oriental fakir," I remarked. "Dual is suggestive at least."
"How?" said Smithson.
"Why, Dual—Do All."
"Maybe he does," said Smithson, not even grinning. "Find one."
He began to rummage among his papers again, and I went out and down to the street.
It was a hot day, and I felt no particular interest in my assignment. "Semi Dual," I muttered as I turned toward the Urania, a couple of blocks away, and I confess I managed to put no small contempt into my speaking of the words.
Thoroughly convinced that Smithson had started me out on the trail of some successful charlatan, who would reap a lot of free advertising from my story, I trudged grudgingly toward my task.
The Urania was the last word in modern office buildings, and had been open for something like six months. Twenty stories it reared its walls above the pavements, not to speak of the tower which surmounted the immense pile.
The first thing of interest that struck me as I walked toward it was that this particular individual I was going to see should be allowed to dwell as well as office there. I had understood that there was an iron-clad rule against anything of the sort.
I began to wonder if the Semi chap might not prove of some interest after all. Surely he must be possessed of some unusual influence to gain such a concession from the owners, as he evidently had.
I passed into the magnificent foyer of the Urania, and stopped for a moment to gaze at its chief adornment, a magnificent portrait-bust of Urania Marsden, deceased wife of the principal owner, who had given her name to the great building which he had reared. And then I started for a cage which would take me up to Dual's floor.
It occurred to me that I might as well find out any little thing about my prospective interviewee which I could pick up, and with that in mind I turned to the cage-starter and inquired the location of the man I sought.
"Semi Dual?" repeated the starter, as he clicked a cage away. "Dat's de ginny who lives on de roof."
I guess I showed my surprise, for the starter grinned.
"Dat's right," he continued. "He's got a three-year cinch on de whole tower an' de roof. He owns all of dis shack from de roof up."
"How do I get there?" I inquired.
"Take de cage to de twentieth, an' den walk," said my informant, and waved me to a car which had just come down.
I entered and leaned against the grill at the back of the car. More and more my errand began to assume the unusual…. I had never interviewed a man who lived on a roof. I began to think that I might enjoy this experience after all.
The car I was in was express, and made only four stops on the way up, so that I was still lost in a somewhat puzzled expectation when we stopped at the top floor, and the operator in response to my interrogation, waved his hand to a flight of stairs. I walked over, and stopped to examine these more closely before going up. They were a most surprising pair of stairs.
In most large structures like the Urania, the steps leading to the roof are for the use of occasional employees only, and are apt to consist of mere concrete or steel, or both, but there was an exception here. These steps were faced with marble, inlaid on their treads with beautiful tile arabesques, and railed in carved and twisted bronze.
They looked more like the grand staircase of an entrance-hall than a flight of steps leading to a roof. In front of them stretched the skin of an immense lioness, perfectly mounted and preserved, and each massive newel was surmounted by a life-size figure in bronze, holding an opalescent globe of glass, evidently a light.
All my former grouch over my assignment vanished, and I placed my foot on the first step of the stairs with much the same feeling of pleasant anticipation which must assail any one who finds the unexpected among the commonplace, and realizes that there is a promise of more to come. So with growing interest I mounted the stairs, and paused at the top with arrested stride.
I had stepped into a garden such as I had never seen or dreamed of before.
Straight before me ran a broad approach to the door of the tower, flanked on each side by shallow beds of flowers, set out in broad boxes of earth, and interspersed with small trees and shrubs. Other narrower passages led off in different directions, toward the high parapets of the buildings which were covered with climbing vines.
I smelled the breath of roses, and half forgot for the time that I was twenty stories above the busy streets. I seemed rather to be in a semitropical garden than on any roof of any building in the world. I stood for a moment and started to go on, only to pause again, before an immense inlaid plate in the floor. It was apparently of metal, inlaid with variously colored glass, set in the form of letters, which I stopped to read:
Pause and consider, oh, stranger. For he who cometh against me with evil intent, shall live to rue it, until the uttermost part of his debt shall have been paid; yet he who cometh in peace, and with a pure heart, shall surely find that which he shall seek.
I read and looked about me, almost as one dazed. The thought flashed across me that I was in the abode of some crazy fanatic. Pleasant anticipation gave place to a feeling almost of foreboding. Then I laughed, and set my hat more firmly upon my head. After all, I was in the twentieth century and it was broad daylight.
The sentence inlaid in the plate might be rather creepy, but going back empty-handed to Smithson would be far worse. I knew what I'd get from Smithson. I resolved to explore the mystery of Mr. Semi Dual.
Wherefore, I stepped out across the plate, planting my feet upon its prismatic surface, and at once a low, sweet chime, as of distant church-bells, broke on the afternoon silence of the roof. Rather hastily, I got across, and went on up the passage to meet a very conventional gentleman's man, who had opened the door of the tower and stood awaiting my approach.
This party silently conducted me into what was palpably a reception-room, took my card, and disappeared through an inner door, returning shortly with a silver tray upon which was a long glass of purest crystal, containing a liquid in which floated some tinkling bits of ice. This he deposited upon a small table which he wheeled to my side. "The day is hot, sir," he suggested. " You will find this very refreshing, I think." He withdrew with a bow.
When I came to think of it I was both thirsty and hot. The glass on the tray looked very inviting. I stretched out my hand and lifted it, smiling at this most unusual manner of receiving a representative of the press.
I touched my lips to the iced fluid, and experienced a heretofore unknown delight. To my palate, it seemed that the very essence of all the flavors of the fruits of all known varieties was slowly passing over my heated tongue. I didn't even try to imagine what the stuff was, but took first one swallow after another until the drink was half done. Then I set the glass down, and sighed, and looked about the room.
There was nothing unusual there, unless its very simplicity might have been so called. It was just a plain reception-room, such as one might have found in the suite of many a professional man.
The rug on the floor was a monotone, of a hue between orange and brown, but of a quality which I had seldom seen. My feet sank into its pile as into a soft, shallow drift of snow. The chairs and tables while plain in every line, were of fine woods; the few engravings on the walls were undoubtedly genuine.
Severe simplicity was the key-note on the whole, but a simplicity combined with the nth degree of fineness in the materials used in bringing the effect about.
I drained the rest of my drink, and set the glass down. On the instant, as though my act had been a signal, the silent servant reentered the room. "If you have quite finished," said he, "Mr. Dual will see you now." He opened a door and stood aside for me to enter.
I ENTERED that room with a preformed wrong conception.
Just what I expected to see, or what sort of individual I expected to meet, I hardly knew. Now, in looking back, I fancy I half anticipated a sort of semi-Oriental setting at least. The man's name had been largely responsible for that.
Whether I expected an atmosphere of incense, an individual in cap and gown and Turkish slippers, or what, I can hardly make up my mind even now.
At any rate, the reality came upon me almost as a disappointment, at the very first, for the room might have been the private consulting-room of any successful lawyer or physician for all the furnishings showed, and surely the splendidly formed man who rose as I entered and greeted me with a delightfully reserved courtesy might have been none other than the doctor or lawyer himself.
Six feet he was, if an inch, yet so perfectly proportioned that he gave an impression of being merely large, rather than tall. His brown hair was carefully trimmed and brushed up from a broad brow, and even his perfectly kept imperial could not disguise the strength of the lower jaw.
But it was his eyes which arrested me in that first moment of meeting, and have held me ever since. Everything else was nothing save what any one might encounter anywhere in his daily walk. There are hundreds of well-proportioned large men in every large city, hundreds of men with strong jaws and faces, hundreds of men even with a peculiar warm olive tint to their skin, but never have I seen such eyes, save in some famous picture of a world's hero or saint.
They were gray and deep. Deep? Oh, utterly, unfathomably deep; hundreds and thousands of years deep, yet Mr. Dual was certainly not an old man; and withal they were open eyes and frank. On the instant I felt subtly attracted to the man, and, hardly realizing the action, I put out my hand.
He took it in his and gave it a sturdy clasp, then released it, and waved me to a chair facing his own. "Sit down, Mr. Glace," said Semi Dual. "We shall have an interesting chat."
I took the indicated chair, and confess I felt a trifle confused. "Of course you know, Mr. Dual—" I began, when he took the words out of my mouth.
"That you are from the press?" he said, smiling. "Oh, yes; your card told me that. No doubt you were sent here to interview me. I have heard that the papers had interested themselves in the fact that I mind my own business. However, I was thinking of the man, rather than his occupation, when I spoke to you just now."
I laughed. "Frankly, I must admit that my reception has been out of the ordinary line of my experience. I half expected that the drink was doped when your man brought it out."
"Did you like it?" Dual inquired.
"I never tasted anything like it," I responded with enthusiasm. "If any bar or café could mix a concoction like that glass of ambrosia they would have to 'turn 'em away.' "
"It is a discovery of my own," Dual smiled back at me. "It cools, refreshes, and nourishes—all at the same time; also, it is a potent agent against the chief cause of human decay."
Here was an opening. "Are you, then, a chemist?" said I.
"Oh, dear, no!" my host objected. "What you drank was merely the natural juices of a variety of fruits, preserved after a method of my own. I have merely availed myself of a thing which every one could know if they would.
"But enough of that. No doubt you have some questions which you desire to ask me. Let us get that unpleasant part over, and then we can enjoy our chat. What shall it be? I believe the age and occupation generally preface most inquiries, do they not?"
I assented. "That, of course, Mr. Dual."
"Very well," said my most obliging acquaintance; "let us take up those first. As for my age, it is a thing I never think about, because it is of no importance to me; therefore, I do not see how it can reasonably concern any one else. As for my occupation, I may say that I am a psychological physician, I think."
I drew my note-book from my pocket. "A doctor of psychology?" I inquired.
Again Dual favored me with his smile. "You do not exactly comprehend my meaning," he replied, "though I admit a somewhat ambiguous nature in my remark. Let me explain.
"I live to help others in order that I may help myself. What a man soweth that shall he reap. If a man can distribute sympathy, comfort, happiness, he may receive the same if he shall ask it in return. If he gives health, he may be healthy. Do you see?
"It is my life-work to straighten some of the crooked turns of the life-paths of others. If I can but right one wrong and not create another, I have not lived in vain. If my course marks pleasant memories along life's path, I and those whom I have met upon the journey are the better for it.
"Therefore, I live in order that I may do good; that I may unravel some of the tangled skeins; that I may smooth out the way that some one's weary feet must tread."
While he spoke I sat and listened, even forgetting to make a note in my book. There was something compelling my complete attention in the soft rise and fall of the cadences of the man's voice, in the poise of his body, the expression of his face, in his entire personality, in fact.
As he ceased speaking I sighed, and came sharply back to the realization that I had drunk in every word. Knowing that I should make some comment, I yet sat silent, because I knew nothing fitting to say—until Semi Dual came to my relief. "Do you not see the difference?" said he.
"Faintly," I confessed; "but tell me, Mr. Dual, if your mission is to help others, why do you remove yourself so completely from their midst?"
"Meaning?" said Dual.
"This manner of dwelling which you possess—this taking of a roof for a home. I admit it is charming; the garden alone is wonderful.
"When I saw the staircase I almost fancied that I had accidentally rubbed a genii's lamp and got myself wafted to some enchanted palace, like the heroes in my 'Arabian Nights,' back home; and when I saw the garden I was sure. But all this is out of the way, more or less hard to reach. Thousands must pass by you who need help, but never know that it is in reach."
Dual nodded his head. "I see your point," he said; "but those who are worthy will receive. I do not care to meddle with the affairs of the idly curious. Only the sincerely interested appeal to me, or deserve my time. Those who are deserving shall seek, and to such a one what is a flight of stairs?
"That which is worth having is worth an effort to attain. One must climb to find peace. Besides, I have a seclusion here which I might not find on a floor of a crowded business structure such as this. Here I can be alone to pursue my studies as I will. The very air is pure. The first ray of sunshine, and the last, are mine. One who seeks to interfere in the destinies of souls must be able to meditate much alone."
"There is another thing which I would ask you," I said; "only that I fear to seem rather impertinent."
"Do not hesitate," urged Dual.
"Well, then, that warning, or caution, or whatever it is at the head of the stairs," I burst out. "When I saw it, I very nearly turned round and ran home. I don't just figure it out. If I hadn't known that Smithson was at the office, I really believe I would have turned back."
"Is Editor Smithson the master of your destiny?" said Dual.
"He's the master of my pay-check, which amounts to pretty much the same thing," said I.
Dual laughed. "And so you felt pretty much as one who was about to enter Pluto's realm, as described in the legends of old. Poor chap. Yet, why should you, my friend?"
"I didn't know whether my visit would be taken as friendly or not."
"Oh," said Dual, "I see. You are not always greeted cordially, I suppose. However, the motto on the plate need cause you no alarm."
He waved his hand toward one wall of the room. "You see, I have another of them here."
I followed his gesture, and my eyes fell upon a framed card upon the wall. I rose and went over to examine it more closely, for from where I sat I could read only the largest top line: "Noli Me Tangere," which I knew was Latin for "touch me not." Below this was written, in smaller type, a different version of the message of the plate by the stairs.
Beware all ye who would do me wrong, for the curse of an Almighty God shall rest upon ye. Misfortune will be thine, through all thy life, until the uttermost farthing of thy indebtedness shall be paid. Take heed and curb thy greed, lest it destroy thee.
It surely was a "touch me not." I turned toward Dual, and this time I did not hesitate to express my surprise. What meaning lay beneath those peculiar words, to which he had called my attention by the wave of his hand.
Nothing certain, nothing tangible, yet so full of a subtly veiled meaning that even I, hardened reporter of sensational doings, felt strangely shaken, and shuddered as I read. For somehow I seemed to feel that it was every word true.
Something of my horror and sudden repugnance appeared in my next words, as I resumed my seat. "You mean, then, that you always revenge yourself upon any one who harms you in any way? Is that compatible with the doctrine of help and kindness which you uttered a moment ago?"
"Merciful Heavens, no!" cried Dual, spreading his hands in a gesture of negation. "That warning there is a warning; it is no threat. I revenge myself? It is the last thing I would ever think of trying to do.
"But, Glace, even I cannot change the law. Therefore I seek merely to warn others who might bring about their own destruction by seeking mine. Me they cannot harm, for I will not permit it, my friend.
"To an enemy I present passive resistance, which is the strongest in the world; because, while ever retreating, it is ever present, yet can never be reached. I merely refuse to be wronged, and the evil desire, which would harm me, finding no place to rest, merely returns to the source which sent it forth, and destroys. It is not I who revenge. It is the law."
"What law?" I said vaguely, seeking to prevent myself from falling under the strange influence which his words seemed to possess.
"The law of retributive justice," said Dual. "Of impersonal justice, if you prefer; which measures to a man exactly according to his acts.
"The law which rules the entire universe, which grows the grass, which rears the birds; the law which everything obeys save only man, and which he, for all his vaunted superiority, is too blind to see. 'Whatsoever a man sows that shall he reap.' That is the law. In all your career, young man, don't ever try to beat the law, for so surely as you do that same law will beat you."
"It sounds like Mosaical doctrine," said I.
"Moses was a wise man, and knew much truth," said Dual. "He was destroyed by his own greed. Man grows overconfident with a little truth. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
"I once knew two men, and the greed of one caused him to wrong the other. They both lost all they had. The one of greed suffered, but the other did not. Once a man wronged another who was ill. Shortly the well man fell ill and died. Once a man sought to take from another, and a thief took all he had."
"You speak in parables," I said.
Dual smiled. "The abstract doesn't appeal to you yet," said he. "Let me be more concrete. In the first instance, two men went into partnership. One had a certain number of animals, which were bound, in all natural ratio, to increase. He needed help.
"He offered another a partnership with a half-interest in the increase, in payment for his time and work. The increase exceeded what he had expected, and he sought to hold all over the stated number for his own. The entire herd sickened and died. The law was broken, and the law was avenged."
"Then," said I, strangely shaken, "you are a man so terrible that all who seek to injure you must suffer for the act."
"They suffer—not for, but by their act," said Dual in level tones. "It is cause and effect."
"From which I would gather," I resumed as he ceased speaking, "that any one may exercise this power which you possess."
"I possess?" Dual repeated. "I possess no power. I merely live in accord with universal law. Any one who does that need never fear. He may protect himself from all harm without lifting a hand.
"Not every one knows this; therefore I have sought to warn—to frighten, if need be—by appealing to the superstitious awe of the unknown which lurks in every uneducated mind, because I do not wish any one to suffer anything because of me."
His words surprised me, and I looked upon the man with a new interest. With no trouble he had apparently explained the paradox, as it seemed, to me, of what I had seen and heard. Instinctively I felt that he was sincere.
"I beg your pardon for the misunderstanding," I said as I rose.
Dual smiled. "Granted," said he. "One of my missions is to replace misunderstanding by knowledge. If I succeed in sowing one grain of understanding I am repaid."
"And," said I, "you make your living by giving advice?"
"I accept sometimes," said Dual. "I never ask. I am always willing to give to those whom I believe deserve."
"But you have to live," I insisted. "How then do you—"
"I take what I need," said Dual. "I care not for wealth. To me money is a servant; it is no master of mine. Should I lose what I have I should feel no remorse, for the wealth of the universe is at my disposal at need. Greed destroys—it can never build up."
I nodded. I confess I didn't believe. I thought of Saturday night and my paycheck. I knew what its loss would mean to Gordon Glace.
"Mr. Dual," I said, extending my hand, "these are queer theories to me, and interest me, I am free to confess. I shall see that they are fairly dealt with in the article which will appear in the Sunday Record—" And I stopped.
For the life of me I could get no further. A peculiar sensation started in the back of my brain, and, in spite of all my own volition, I found myself looking deep into the calm eyes of this most peculiar of men. Strangest of all, I found that I couldn't look anywhere else.
Presently I became conscious that he was speaking to me in a new manner: "You will do nothing of the sort, Mr. Glace. You will merely return to your editor, and tell him that you saw me, and that I forbade the interview's being put into print," Mr. Dual said.
"But I cannot do that," I cried in alarm. "Why, it would mean my job." I was strangely flustered—not at all myself. Under ordinary circumstances I would have given a gracious assent, gone my way, and—the interview would have appeared just the same.
But, somehow, Dual's words were not a request. They were a statement of fact, and for some reason in Dual's case I admit I feared to disobey.
At the same time I was filled with a sudden feeling, almost of anger, that any one could so control any act of mine. I opened my mouth for further protest, only to again feel the power of the man's eyes upon me.
"You will do nothing of the kind," he repeated, "and this interview, so far as your paper is concerned, will be as though it never was. If your editor should insist upon it, tell him that I said he should come here and read what is written at the entrance, and—meditate." He smiled full in my face.
My intellectual fog blew away before that smile. I felt relieved, and did not dread meeting Smithson at all. Contrary to my lifelong custom, I now resolved that I would not write an account of this interview; and yet, for the first time in my life, I was really afraid.
Almost in response as it seemed to my thought, Dual spoke again: "Thank you." And a moment after: "Fear not."
I rose. "I must be getting back," I said, and I seemed to speak in a dream. Again Dual smiled.
"Quite right," said he. "Even now Smithson is cursing because you are not there to go out on that murder case."
I started. "What's that?" I cried.
"Smithson wants you," said Dual. "It is important, so make haste." He touched a bell.
Once more the servant appeared. "Good day, Mr. Glace," said Dual, rising. "You will come to see me again shortly." He offered me his hand.
I took it, and followed the servant out. Once more I crossed the inlaid plate and heard the chime of bells.
Once more I traversed the staircase and found myself at the elevator-shaft. I hastened into the cage, and fretted and fumed at the slowness of the descent. Smithson wanted me; I wanted to reach the office, quick.
It never occurred to me to doubt the truth of the fact. It was only afterward that I wondered how Dual knew.
At the time I accepted the statement as fact, which shows how fully the personality of the man had impressed itself upon me.
I fairly ran out of the foyer of the Urania, and on up the street.
I entered the local room with a rush. Smithson popped out of his den like a jack out of a box, and greeted me with a howl. "Oh, there you are! Think I sent you on a vacation? Where you been?"
I started to explain, but Smithson cut me short. "Can that," he bawled. "Get up to 49 Jason Street just as quick as the Lord'll let you. There's a dead girl in a room up there. I caught a crossed-wire message fifteen minutes ago, and notified the police myself. Get out of here now, and for the love of Mike don't get lost!"
I started for the door on a run; but, even as I took the stairs three at a jump, my mind was busy with a thought, which, when it was fully developed, amounted simply to one short phrase: "Dual was right. He knew."
I FOUND 49 Jason Street to be one of those warrens of human dwelling, commonly known as "family hotels." In it you could rent anything from a single room to a complete suite and keep your servants, if you could still afford any, in special quarters next the roof.
It had a handsome entrance, a showy foyer picked out with much gilding and studded with numerous electric-lights, though these were not turned on when I entered the place.
I told the hall-man my errand, and he showed me to an elevator and ordered the boy to take me up to the room where the dead girl lay. The boy slammed shut the door and started the car, then turned to me with a grin.
"It's funny," said he, "how folks kin make a noise after dey're croaked. Dis here kid what's got hers never did nuthin' that I know of till now, an' now look at the fuss. I've took two bulls, three fly cops, and about six of you reporter fellows up to her room in de last fifteen minutes. Well, here you are."
He stopped the car and slid back the iron door. "Room ten," he directed; "straight down de hall to yer left. You kin hear de row when yer git there, I guess."
I made a note of the boy. He was loquacious and inclined to tell all he knew. I made up my mind that I would question him more presently; then turned and went quickly down the hall to room ten. The door was closed, and I rapped lightly.
Jimmy Dean, of the Dispatch, opened the door and let me in. "Hallo!" said he. "We were beginning to wonder if the Record was asleep."
"What is it?" I asked.
"Murder, I guess," said Dean; "at least, that's what the bulls seem to think. Anyway, it's a cinch the girl never choked herself to death."
I turned toward the group of officers and plain-clothes men beside the patent, disappearing bed on which the woman's body lay, and drew in as close as I could.
The victim of the apparent tragedy was a girl of perhaps twenty-three or four, to judge by her looks, which were striking even in death.
Her hair was brown, as were also her eyes, and her face was that peculiar reverse oval which one sometimes sees, with a rather narrow forehead and a general fullness of the cheeks and lower mandible, so that the face really appears broader below than above.
Just now her body lay upon its back, with the feet projecting over the edge of the bed; the eyes open and staring, the lips slightly gaping, and with some flecks of blood dried on the lower lip and the chin.
About the throat, where the neck of her dress was partly torn away, were the purple marks of fingers. There was no possible doubt that she had met death by strangulation; probably, from her expression, fighting to the very last.
Yet she had not been strangled upon the bed, for its coverings were totally undisturbed; nor was the room to any extent disarranged. Save for the collar of her dress, her clothing even was in perfect condition; evidently death had come upon her with the suddenness of an overwhelming force.
She wore a black silk waist and a brown serge skirt with a belt. Her stockings were of black gauze, and she still had a pair of low pump-shoes upon her feet.
The apartment showed evidence of a good, if somewhat fussy, taste. It consisted of a living-room, kitchenette, and bath. Later, examination of the latter showed nothing of interest, though the remnants of a meal on a small table in the kitchen showed that the girl had dined before she died.
In one corner of the living-room was a small writing-desk with the leaf of its top open, and while I was still looking at the body on the bed Dean went over and began to inspect this in an idle sort of way. Watching him out of a corner of my eye, I saw his half interest suddenly give place to hardly controlled excitement.
With his eyes on the group of officers gathered about the bed, he put out a hand and picked up a piece of paper, to which he gave a hurried scrutiny before thrusting it into a side-pocket of his coat. I made a mental note of his action, and in a moment slipped over to his side. "What did you find?" I said quickly, speaking too low to be heard by the others in the room.
Dean shot me a sharp glance, then shrugged. "Darn you, Glace!" said he, half laughing. "Did you see me pick that up?"
"I can tell you which pocket it's in," I replied.
"All right," Dean surrendered. "Go out in the kitchen and get a drink. When I hear the water running I'll get thirsty, too, and we'll have a look at the thing."
I nodded, turned, and walked out of the room, and presently turned on the water-tap in the kitchenette. A moment later Dean sauntered in, pulled the bit of paper out of his pocket, and we bent our heads over what was evidently a half-completed note:
Am expecting—you know whom to-night. He seems to be inclined to cut up a bit rusty, but I am almost done with him, I think. You see, I can do as I please, while things make it necessary for him to be careful what he does. When I get that five hundred thousand—be still, my heart, so much money makes me faint—well, when I get it, and it's got to come soon, why, we'll hike out for a nice little place I know of across the blue sea, and have our very own honeymoon—just you, boy dear, and I.
I hear the elevator stopping. I wonder if it is the old man. Hope it is. I expect to finish things with him for all time to-night. Gee, I will be glad when you and I can go away and be happy. Some one is rapping. More later.
But there was no more. There never would be any more from the hand which had penned those lines.
Dean and I glanced at each other, and he folded up the paper and put it away before either of us spoke.
"Dean," said I, "that is important; it's got to go to the police."
Dean stood for a moment, scowling; then nodded, and got the paper out. "Here," said he, "let's make a transcript of the thing. Then I'll pass it on: to the bulls. It may prove a clue for all we know. But— Oh, Lord, don't I wish we could keep it for ourselves!"
We took a copy of the half-completed message, and then sauntered back into the other room, where Dean approached the precinct sergeant and tendered the note.
Robinson grabbed it and glanced through it, then called the detectives to his side. "Where'd you get this?" he inquired of Dean.
"It was lying on the leaf of the writing-desk," said the Dispatch reporter, smiling. "I thought it might interest you, so I copied it, and then passed it along."
"Copied it, did you?" grunted Sergeant Robinson. "Yep; I bet on that."
"Yes," said Dean, smiling. "I thought it best. I could have kept it, you know."
Robinson nodded, without apparently paying any attention to what Dean said; then turned to his men with a grin. "I rather guess this here settles the thing," he said.
"This kid here was playin' fast and loose with a money guy, and has a lover on the string at the same time. Well, one or the other of the two men got wise and put her away. Just a plain, old-fashioned killin' outer jealousy it looks to me.
"What we got to do is to try and find out who the two fellers was that come here the most, and then watch 'em a bit. When th' coroner comes he kin take th' body. Johnson kin stay here an' watch the room. Th' rest of us kin git out now."
While he had been speaking I had gone over to look at the body more closely, and in the course of my examination I picked up the dead girl's hand. What made me do it were some stains of blood which I noticed on the fingers.
I raised it to scrutinize the spots more closely, and then I kept it for a reason which interested me far more. The woman had worn her nails long, and as I raised and turned the hand I distinctly saw something caught under the index nail.
At first it looked to me like a little roll of thin paper; but, as I gazed upon it, it suddenly came over me what it was. It was a small rolled-up bit of human skin.
I laid down the hand and examined the woman's throat for any sign of scratches. There were none. I looked at the other hand. It was intact. Then I picked up the right hand again.
I looked at the fingers severally in turn, and under the nails of the first three I found those funny little rolls of dirty white substance. A great elation woke inside of me. I saw as in a dream what had happened. I saw the struggle as it had been; the man choking the life slowly from the woman's body; the girl fighting in desperation, digging those long nails into his hand, seeking to break his grip, succeeding only in tearing those little bits of skin from the crushing hand. I laid the hand down gently, and got up and walked about the room. I was sure no one else had noticed it. I had a beat on the rest, in so far at least.
The others were preparing to leave; that is, the officers and all the detectives save that one to whom the case had been assigned, and the reporters who would hang about to see what the coroner might say. It was then that I had a flash of intuition which changed my entire fate.
In one corner of the room there stood a typewriter, and as my eye fell upon it I went over and, drawing out the drawer of the table upon which it stood, I rummaged about until I found a sheet of carbon paper such as is used by all operators of writing-machines in making duplicate copies of their work.
With this in hand I approached Robinson and preferred my request.
"One moment, sergeant," I said as he was lighting a cigar before going back to make his report. "That note now. Would you mind letting me make a carbon copy of it before you go?"
"What for?" snapped the officer. "Hain't you fellers all got a copy of it?"
"But I want to run a photograph of the original," I explained.
Robinson favored me with a grin. "My, but the Record is gettin' yellow these days," he said.
But he gave me the note, and after smoothing it out I laid it on the carbon paper, slipped a sheet of plain paper—also taken from the typewriter-drawer—beneath it, and, taking a blunt pencil, traced over the lines of the writing, while my fellow reporters stood and watched me; each, I suppose, kicking himself mentally that he hadn't thought of the thing.
When I was done I had a fair copy of the note and handed it back to the grinning Robinson, who stowed it away and went stamping out.
Dean alone of those who remained seemed to sense that there was more in the thing than appeared. Catching me at a moment when we were sitting a little apart from the rest, he leaned over and asked me what I had up my sleeve.
I shook my head. "I don't really know," I told him. "Some way I've got an idea this will be a pretty hard case for us to crack. Something told me to get a copy of the note. I'll run it in the paper, of course, but it may be handy in other ways. Just now I don't know how."
Dean sighed. "If only you and I were famous detecs, now," said he, "we could deduce this girl's whole character from that note. Some people claim that you can do that from the handwriting, you know."
I did know it, but it had slipped my mind. Now I began to wonder if it might not be true. I made up my mind that I'd be very careful with my copy of the note.
My meditations were interrupted by the sound of footsteps outside, and a moment later the coroner entered the room. At his request, we described the appearance of the room and body when we entered, and after viewing the body himself he sent for the manager and put some questions to him.
From the manager's answers it appeared that the girl was known as Miss Madeline More. She had lived in the hotel for upward of a year.
She had always seemed a very quiet and reserved sort of a young woman, and seldom had any visitors, save a young man of apparently twenty-eight or thirty, of above medium height, and light complexion, who sometimes came and took her out in the evenings; and a prominent attorney, who was in the habit of coming to her with special legal work, which she did for him. She had made her living, so far as the manager knew, by doing general stenographic work.
He professed ignorance of the young man's name, but stated promptly that the attorney was Ex-Judge Barstow—a man known prominently in legal circles all over the State.
"Come to think of it, the judge called to see her last night," said the manager; "so she must have been all right then."
"What time was that?" the coroner asked.
"I don't just know," said Manager Jepson. "I can call up the office; perhaps they would."
Inquiry developed that the judge had come in about eight, and left some time after, stopping at the stand in the foyer to purchase a cigar.
Further inquiry from the various tenants and the operative force elicited nothing. No one had heard any disturbance at any time during the previous night or during the day which was now rapidly deepening into dusk.
The floor chambermaid had gone to Miss More's room several times during the day, finding the door, which had a spring-lock, fastened each time. Finally, growing surprised, she had gone so far as to climb up and look over the door through the transom, whereupon she had seen the girl's body lying fully clothed upon the bed, and had given the alarm.
When the door was broken open things were as they now remained, with the exception of an open window which gave upon a fire-escape.
This the chambermaid distinctly asserted was open when she looked over the transom, because she had noticed the curtains blowing into the room.
So much we could learn, and no more. Even the elevator-boy couldn't say what time during the day before or the evening the woman had come to her room, because there had been a break in the mechanism of the cage, and from three until six every one entering the different apartments had to walk.
After six he was positive that she had not come in, so that she must have entered her room between three and six in the afternoon of the day before.
With such meager gleanings the coroner had needs to be satisfied, though he did not appear so at all. However, he finally ordered the body taken to the morgue, and called an inquest for two days later, in the afternoon.
With his permission, the detectives and several reporters then proceeded to ransack the flat, but we found little for our pains. Beyond some purely personal notes and some legal papers on the typewriter or in its drawers, there was nothing to indicate anything about the girl's manner of life. As for myself, I watched Bryson, the plain-clothes man, closely. I wanted to see if he would discover what lay beneath the fingernails of the girl's right hand. Apparently he did not.
The coroner then ordered us all from the room, the door into the hall stood open, and one and all we stepped into the passage, and it was then that I quite inadvertently dropped my fountain pen in the darkest corner I could find.
I got down on my hands and knees and began to grope after it, while the others walked slowly down the hall. In spite of my most persistent endeavors, I didn't find the thing until I saw them enter the cage. I was just picking it up, when Dean yelled back to know if I wasn't coming.
Actually he made me drop the thing again, and I told him to get along, and I'd be down when I found my pen.
All of which leads up to the fact that I wanted to see my elevator-boy alone. I got him, and told him to run up to the top and then come down again slow. What he saw in my hand made him anxious to comply.
"See here," I began, as soon as we had started, "do you know Judge Barstow by sight?"
"Sure," said the kid, grinning. "He used to come up to ten a lot."
"Huh!" said the boy slyly. "Say, what yer tryin' to get at?"
"I just want to know," I replied.
"You're a reporter, ain't you?" said the boy.
"If I told yer, would yer write me up in de paper?"
Here was vanity, if I ever saw it. Again I nodded my head.
"Well, then," said the boy. "He used to come up an' bring papers an' things for her to write. She punched a writin'-machine, yer know."
"Well, he comes here last night, a little after eight, an' after while he come back an' got inter the cage, sorter whistlin' to hisself. Just when we was stoppin' down below he gimme a quarter, an' told me to tell Miss More when she come in that he'd been here an' lef' some papers under the door."
"Done what?" I yelled.
"Pin stick yer?" quizzed my impudent informant, starting the cage down.
"What did he say he had done?"
"Lef' some papers, I said," replied the youngster, "an' he wanted me to tell her to be sure an' get them done for to-night, 'cause he would be back for 'em sure."
"Did you tell her?" I asked.
"That's de funny t'ing," said the boy. "Up to then I didn't know she'd gone out, an' I don't know when she come in. She muster walked, but sometimes she did do that."
"Were the papers found—the ones the judge left?"
"I dunno, mister— Hully gee! Thanks!" He stopped the car, and I got out.
"Say," I said, "don't tell this to any one else for at least a day."
"All right, I'm hep," said the kid, grinning.
I turned and walked away.
I didn't go far. What the boy had told me had excited all my sense of curiosity. I wanted to know what the papers were. The room was guarded by a policeman, however, and would be until the body was removed. After that, no doubt, it would be kept locked.
I scratched my head and thought. After a bit the answer seemed to be the fire-escape. That meant waiting till night; but first I walked around to the side of the building and made sure of just where the fire-escape came down.
Then I went back to the office and wrote my story of the affair, as far as I could go.
Smithson read it and grunted approval. He never mentioned the story about Semi Dual. To tell the truth, I had forgotten all about it myself at the time.
A grunt of approval from Smithson was the same as a laurel-wreath in times of old. It fired me with an intense desire to make good on the later phases of the case. That and my natural desire to get into the heart of the mystery both made me decide to get into the room that night.
I knew that it was but one chance in a thousand that the papers were there. We had all of us looked over the room. Even if they were there, they might not amount to anything at all. Still, I had thought of a possibility, which I wanted to prove or disprove.
I decided to get Dean. He and I frequently hunted in couples, and he was a fellow who would run fair. I called him up, and was lucky enough to find him still punching out copy. I invited him to a sandwich and something to drink, and met him half an hour later at a little rathskeller down the street.
There I unfolded to him my scheme for getting into the room and finding out if the papers were there. At first he was not at all enthusiastic, but after another drink he agreed to help me "make a fool of myself," as he predicted, and we got our hats and set out.
On the whole, the thing was easier than I had expected. Jimmy gave me a back up, and I managed to catch the lower round of the iron ladder on the fire-escape and hold on till I pulled myself up.
Then I took off my coat and let it down to him, and he managed to make it after a try or two. We sneaked up the ladder like a couple of thieves, and presently arrived at the window of what I knew ought to be the girl's room.
There we paused while I examined the sash and found that, though closed, it was not locked. It yielded easily to my efforts, and I soon had a way into the room.
"If there are any papers here—if Barstow really left any, he probably shoved them under the door," I explained again to Dean. "Maybe in shoving them under he got them under an edge of the carpet as well. Stay here; I'm going to find out."
"Go ahead," said Dean, seating himself on a rail of the escape. "Only, I'm in on what you get."
I slipped into the room. By the light which filtered through the transom of the hall-door I could see the lay of the place, and also that the body had been removed from the bed.
Walking on tiptoe, I hurried over to the door which gave into the hall, and got down upon my knees on the floor. And now I confess my heart beat fast.
It all depended upon whether the edge of the carpet in front of the door was loose or not.
My groping fingers found the edge and tried it in a tentative pull.
I turned it back and thrust an eager hand beneath. My fingers touched a folded document, and, trembling now in every fiber with my eagerness, I drew out the paper, and, still searching beneath the turned-back carpet, convinced myself that I had found all which was there.
When I rose and swiftly regained the window, where I found Dean, for all his assumed skepticism, crouched, peering within. I shook the paper under his nose.
"There, you old skeptic," I whispered in jubilation, "for once you see you were a little bit off."
Dean whistled softly.
"Jumping fleas!" he exclaimed, helping me over the sill by the expedient of half pulling my arm off. "Did you find it, Glace?"
"It rather looks like it, doesn't it?" I chuckled. "Come on. Let's get back to the rathskeller, where we can see what the paper is."
We went down the fire-escape hand over hand, and dropped to the ground. Then we beat it up the street toward the rathskeller, where we had had our sandwiches and drinks some time before, and managed to get a table far back in a secluded corner of the room.
Then, and not till then, I drew the papers from the pocket of my coat and laid them on the table before Dean and myself. To all appearances they were merely some copies of depositions, but thrust under the rubber band which held them was a bit of paper containing a few lines written in a penciled scrawl:
Came up to see you, but was so unfortunate as to find you out. Hope to find you at home tomorrow. Will call for the papers. Please make four copies of each.
"What do you make of it?" said Dean.
"It appears to bear out the elevator-boy's story," I answered slowly. "What gets me is why a man of Barstow's position should take his work around to the girl himself."
"Uh-uh," agreed Dean. "Funny the papers weren't seen this afternoon."
"Well, as to that," I said, "I fancy that when Barstow shoved them under the door they went under the rug. When the body was discovered nobody thought of anything else for a time. Probably some one, coming through the door, struck them with a heel, and sent them clear under, out of sight."
"That might explain it," admitted Jimmy. "I wonder if Barstow's known the girl long? Tell you, Gordon, we ought to try and look up that girl's past. We might find something there. Let's go see Barstow, if you don't mind."
I nodded. We drained our glasses and left the café for the street.
JUDGE WILLIAM BARSTOW, ex-judge of the criminal bench, lived in a handsome residence, in the most fashionable part of the city.
There must have been at least four acres in the grounds, besides what was occupied by the house and garage. This was beautifully parked, and upon the whole was one of the show places of the town.
I confess I was rather loath, after we got started to call upon the judge at that hour of the night, but Dean urged me on. "Sometimes," said he, "a cold trail leads to a hot scent. He can't do more than have the butler buttle us out the door."
"All right," I assented. "All I ask is that you go first and take the first buttle for your own."
We dropped from the car at the corner and went up the winding walk to the front door. "Servants and solicitors at the rear," I reminded Jimmy. But he shrugged in high disdain. "Shut up," he told me, "and try to remember that you represent the majesty of the press."
Jimmy punched the bell rather viciously.
Then we stood and waited until the door was opened, and a very imposing functionary demanded the cause of our call. We gave him our cards and requested a few moments of the judge's time. After showing us into a reception room the servant departed to see whether we got it or not, and Jimmy heaved a sigh.
"He didn't seem impressed a bit," he complained. "I wish I'd worn my other tie."
"The one you have on will be enough to hang all our chances," I told him.
He was just about to make some sort of an answer when the butler returned and informed us that the judge would be down in a moment, and desired us to wait.
Although it was ten o'clock when the judge came down, he was dressed for the street, even to a top hat, light evening coat, and gloves. He came across toward where we had risen, with an extended hand, and greeted us smiling.
"You will pardon me, gentlemen," he said, "but I have just been called to a client of mine, and can give you but a few moments to-night. Still, as I am going to cross the business section, you can ride along in the motor, and we can talk on the way."
"What we want to learn will take but a moment, Judge Barstow," said Dean. "You no doubt saw the account of the death of a Miss More in the evening papers. It would be in the late editions, I suppose, though I didn't see one myself.
"We want to know just what you knew about the girl. So far we have been unable to find out anything about her at all, save that she was a professional stenographer."
"Yes, yes," said the judge. "I didn't see the papers, but I had heard of the affair. You see, a reporter was here earlier in the evening. I can, however, tell you but little of interest, I fear.
"She was at one time employed in my office, but later left it because she thought she could do better by doing piece-work. She was a very efficient typist indeed. Although she was no longer with me, I sometimes took or sent work to her when I wanted it done with particular care. But no doubt my car is waiting. May I give you a lift down-town?"
We accepted the invitation, and after we had taken seats in the judge's limousine Dean again renewed his search for facts.
"Did you call to see her last night, Judge Barstow?" he asked.
"I did," said Barstow. "Come to think of it, I left some papers under the door, with a note asking her to get them ready to-night. I meant to call for them, but was out of town all day, and the thing had slipped my mind. She was out at the time I called, and I asked the elevator operator to call her attention to the fact that they were thrust under the door."
"Did you often leave important papers lying around like that?" said Dean. "Are you in the habit of doing so?"
In the light of the street lamps we could see Barstow silently laugh. "No, Mr. Dean," he chuckled, "I am not. But it was safe to do so with Miss More. Her training in my office, together with her natural intelligence, made her sure to comprehend what I needed. Your point was well taken, however, I must admit."
"What do you know about the girl's antecedents?" I inquired.
"Not a thing," said Judge Barstow. "She always seemed quiet and well-behaved. If I remember rightly, she once told me that she was an orphan."
"Did you know that she expected to fall heir to some money?" I hazarded, thinking it likely that he would be asked to look after her affairs if she really expected to get such a sum as she had mentioned in the note Dean had found.
"I did not," said Barstow, and I fancied he frowned.
"Well, she was engaged, wasn't she?" said Dean.
"She had a young man," said the judge, as he offered us each a cigar from a case and lit one himself. "He was a chap of about twenty-eight, I should say. Whether they expected to marry or not Miss More never said."
"Did she ever tell you his name?" said Dean.
Barstow nodded. "I met him once or twice," he replied. "Watson, I think the name was."
The auto swerved and slid in toward the curb in front of the office of the Dispatch. Dean and I got out, and Barstow shook us each by the hand.
"Sorry," said he, "that I couldn't help you boys more at this time, but if there is anything I can do in the future, don't hesitate to call upon me." The door of the limousine closed on the last word and the machine got under way.
I turned to Dean. "Your cold trail is pretty well frozen up," I said. "I'm going to the office, and then to bed."
"I don't know. At least we got the fellow's name," said Jimmy. "Come and walk down the block. Barstow's office is in the Kernan Building, and while you have been babbling an auto stopped down there. It may be his car, and it may not—I'm for finding out."
We walked along slowly, and stopped just short of the office building, before which stood a motor with its engine throttled down. Jimmy pointed to the number and grinned. "It's he, all right," he announced. "I thought he said he had a client to see."
"Maybe he had to get some papers," I suggested.
Dean merely nodded and stepped back into the shadow of the building wall. "Anyway, I'm going to wait till he comes out," he announced.
Of course I stayed along.
Five and ten minutes passed, and then Judge Barstow hurried from the Kernan entrance, entered the car, and rode off. But as he entered the machine he spoke to the driver, and both Jimmy and I distinctly caught the one word "Home!"
I looked at Dean, and he upon his part looked at me. Finally: "Was the alleged client a plant?" he muttered. "Did he really just want to give us the shake?" Then he grinned. "Oh, I don't know about this trail being so cold, after all, Glace, old chap."
I confess I was puzzled. It had been a trying day. I shook a sadly topsy-turvy head at my friend Dean. "Suppose we try the police station and see what they have done. The more I see of this thing, the more muddled and interested I get."
Dean locked his arm in mine and we set out, walking for the most part in silence, each busy with his own thoughts, until such time as the green lights of the station threw a ghastly light across the sidewalk, and we turned into its door.
It was a night of surprises; first the papers under the rug, then Judge Barstow's peculiar conduct, and now another which awaited us in the precincts of constituted law. At out first inquiry the sergeant laughed. "Hain't you heard?" he asked.
"Heard what?" we chorused in reply.
"Why, they've pinched the girl's sweetheart. Looks like they've got him with the goods on, too."
Here was news indeed. Dean reached into his pocket and drew out a couple of cigars, which he solemnly laid on the sergeant's desk.
"Here," said he. "I was going to smoke them myself, but I guess they belong to you. We've been taking a Rip Van Winkle, Glace and I. Suppose you wind us up and give us the right time."
"Nothin' to it," said the sergeant, biting on one of the brown rolls. "This afternoon after everybody had left the hotel, a young feller answerin' to the description of the girl's man comes into the hotel and gets on the elevator and gets off at five. The elevator kid is wise to him, havin' took him to the girl's rooms more than once, an' he beats it down an' puts the office wise.
"In the mean time th' feller goes to the girl's room an' runs into our man, who was still waitin' for the dead-wagon from the morgue. He seems surprised an' asks what's wrong. Of course Johnson laughs in his face, an' the guy gets kinder fresh. Just then th' manager comes up an' tips Johnson off, an' he starts to make a pinch.
"Well, the feller tried to put up a fight, an' Johnson had to club him 'fore he'd be good. They brings him in, and when we searches him we finds a lady's watch, with the girl's name engraved in it, in the fob pocket of his pants, an' also a swell diamond ring that fit the third finger of her left hand. It sure looked good to us, so we sent him back. Pretty quick work that, eh?"
"If you've got the right man, it's chain lightning," said Dean.
"If?" said the sergeant. "Say, what yer want to talk like that for, Dean?"
"Well, what did the fellow say?" Jimmy asked.
" 'Bout the usual thing," the officer growled. "Told a fairy story 'bout havin' broke his watch, an' the girl's lettin' him have hers to wear. Said the ring was one that had been his mother's what he was goin' to give the girl for a engagement ring. Claimed he didn't know she was dead."
"Well, if he did, why did he go up there?" I asked.
"He didn't say," said the sergeant with a grin.
"Had the ring been altered in size?"
"I don't know that either. I didn't look to see."
"If it had been we could probably trace the job and verify his statement if true?"
The sergeant nodded and got up. "I put 'em away in the safe, after we tuk 'em offen' the guy," he explained as he crossed the railed-in space back of which he sat. "Suppose we have a look at 'em now."
For a moment he busied himself with the safe, running methodically through the combination, with counting and pauses between each turn.
Presently, when the door swung open, he found the property taken from the recently arrested individual, and returned to his desk with the watch and the ring.
It was the latter which claimed our first attention. Dean and I went over and stood beside the desk, and together the three of us examined the thing. Nowhere in all its circumference was there any sign of a cut or a mend, in fact of any sort of work at all. To all appearances it was now as it was when originally made.
"It looks bad," said Dean. "Of course it is possible that the girl wore the same size ring as his mother, but it seems hardly likely to me." He picked up the watch.
It was a lady's ordinary chatelaine case of gold, contained a Waltham movement, and was engraved on the inner side of the case with the girl's name, and a date. Apparently it might have been a present to her at some time.
"What do you think?" said Dean as he laid it down.
"It looks like a real pinch," I was forced to admit.
The sergeant cocked Jimmy's cigar in a corner of his mouth and hooked his thumbs into his vest. Presently he blew out a great cloud of smoke, rose and gathered up the trinkets, preparatory to putting them away. Then he began to chuckle. "It's a sure enough pinch," he said.
"What was the chap's name?" I bethought me to ask.
"Wasson," said the now smiling sergeant. "Reginald Wasson for short."
I glanced at the clock. It was almost twelve. I rose and rolled a cigarette. "Come On, Jimmy," I said, "we've got a lot of writing to do. Good night, sergeant, there was sure some class to that work."
"Wasson—Watson," muttered Dean when we were outside. "Well, I guess Barstow meant to give it to us straight. The names sure are something alike. I wonder if they've really got the right man. What do you think?"
"I think I'm going down and write some sort of a story and get to bed," said I. "Only you can bet yourself a dinner I'd hate to be in Reggie Wasson's shoes."
Well, I did go to bed when my work was finished, but I didn't go to sleep. The events of the day kept buzzing like pinwheels in my brain.
It had been a most unusual day. First was my visit to the peculiar individual who dwelt on the Urania's roof, with all its unexpected circumstances, climaxing in the character of the man himself. That had been like a page torn bodily from some old romance. If written, half those who read it would hardly believe.
Men didn't build grand staircases to a roof-garden, unless for profit, nor inlay plates of mystical warnings, set over a mechanism for ringing soft-toned bells, from purely altruistic motives nowadays. Almost I began to wonder if I had seen it myself.
Then my mind switched to the later events, which Dual had partly foretold. How did he know? The girl had been handsome in her way. Who had killed her, and why? Where was she going to get so much money?
Wasson was arrested. Was he guilty? If not, how had he got hold of the watch and ring? Might his explanation be true?
I tossed, and fretted, and turned. It was hot. I had a vision of a long crystal glass with ice floating in it, full of a peculiar, limpid liquid, and all at once I was consumed with thirst. What was it Dual had said to me? "I will see you soon," or something like that. Well, why not. I wanted to see him. I wanted to drink again of that beverage which he alone possessed. I wanted to talk over this case with the peculiar man who had first told me that there was a case.
I rolled over and berated myself for an imbecile, but the idea wouldn't down. It was too hot to sleep.
I made up my mind I would walk down to the Urania and look up at the tower. I even thought that if there was a light I might go up and see if Dual was awake. Somehow I felt that he was the sort of person who might at times turn night into day.
I kicked off the hot sheet and began to dress, actually hurrying into my clothes, like one in a great haste. After a bit I went out and stole softly down-stairs. 'Way over in the east there was a faintly grayer line in the darkness, and the air felt cooler outside.
I took a great breath of it into my lungs and started away toward where the Urania raised itself toward the still dark central sky. An early milk-cart rattled by. A newspaper-wagon trundled toward a morning train. Night owls were slinking home.
It was that peculiar hour between darkness and dawn, when the night is dead and the day is not yet awake, and things take on an almost mysterious air. I remember that some sparrows twittered in a tree as I passed, and I thought whimsically of how cold they were going to be six months from now.
After a while I came to the darkened entrance of the Urania, and though I had not seen any light from below as I approached, I turned in as though led by some compiling force, and groaning in very spirit, began to mount the stairs. Up, and up, and up. After a bit I lost count and simply kept on until I should see the great staircase. Then I would know I was at the top.
After an hour of seeming climbing it appeared, and I went up it, and across the glass inlay of the plate. Far off I heard the mellow bells, and as I reached the door of the tower it swung inward silently, before I could lift a hand to knock or even look for a bell. The servant of the afternoon stood before me rubbing a sleepy eye. Without waiting for me to speak, he led me to an adjoining apartment, and pointed to a stair.
"The master awaits you," he said.
I began climbing again, and after a time I came out into a broad room, which seemingly took in the entire top of the tower. Its sides seemed to be mainly of glass, so that one could look directly out into the night, giving one a temporary sensation as of floating in space.
A dim light burned at the head of the stairs, and by its feeble rays and the beginning dawn outside, I could see various instruments of an apparently scientific nature, arranged about the room.
At first I did not see Dual, but as I advanced a step he turned from a telescope, which was pointed out of an opened portion of the glass casings, and addressed me by name. "Mr. Gordon Glace," said he, "you are a fairly hard individual to call."
"I AM hard—to call?" I stammered.
"Certainly," said Semi Dual. "I desired to see you, so I sent for you. Why else have you come?"
"I couldn't sleep, and I was thirsty. I wanted a drink of that stuff of this afternoon. If you sent for me, I must have missed your messenger, Mr. Dual."
Again Semi Dual smiled dryly. "I hardly fancy you would evade, miss, or escape from my messenger," he said. "But you say you are thirsty: then let us go below."
"But I am disturbing you," I began. Now that I was here I felt like a fool. What sort of boy's trick had I been guilty of to thus break in on a man at peep of day?
"Not at all," protested Dual. "It is growing too light for me to work to the best advantage; besides, you are the next on the program. That was why I sent for you. I rather think I have found what I sought."
"Of course, you were studying the stars," I said. "One might think you a wise man of old, finding you like this."
"I was looking for a bad man of today, however," replied Dual.
"Looking for a man? In the stars? I thought the only man in the heavens was in the moon, and it's in the dark now."
"And yet," said Dual, smiling, "I found my man in the stars."
"Good Heavens!" I cried on the instant, as an idea burst in my brain. "Are you, then, an astrologer? I didn't suppose any one believed in that now."
"I believe in anything which is capable of a scientific demonstration, Mr. Glace," Dual said, as I thought somewhat coldly. "Suppose we go below."
He motioned me toward the stairway, and immediately followed me down.
We went directly into the chamber in which Semi Dual had entertained me that afternoon. He offered me a chair, then, excusing himself, passed through a door on the farther side of the apartment, saying he would return in a moment or two.
Left alone, I looked about the room, with a new interest in its furnishings, as the abode of the man who had met my morning intrusion with the air of something expected, and had even alleged that he had called me to him, at an hour when most persons might have been well in bed.
It was plainly, yet well furnished, carrying on the quality of quiet richness which I had noticed in the anteroom the afternoon before. Among other things I noticed what seemed to be a modified form of wireless receiving and sending apparatus. Also, there were several immense charts, seemingly of an astronomical nature, affixed to the wall.
A beautiful bronze female figure of life size stood at the side of his desk, holding an immense golden globe in her hand, from which poured forth a soft, mellow light. Casting back into my mythological education, I sensed it for a representation of Venus and her famous prize apple. As a work of art, it was superb.
Another thing which riveted my attention was a tall clock with a peculiar dial, showing the changes of seasons and months, the phases of the moon, days of the week, and months, and all sorts of things, as it appeared to me, besides the hours themselves. Truly, I began to feel that I was in the house of a most remarkable man; and then the door opened and the man himself appeared.
He was carrying a tray containing a couple of glasses and a small plate of cakes. These he deposited upon the desk, handed me a glass and a cake, and took the other glass himself.
"I will join you," he said, smiling. "After my night's work, I feel that it will do me good."
I lifted my glass and drank.
Again I experienced all the delight of the previous afternoon. I nibbled my cake; and I bethought me to apologize for my impulsive remark.
"Mr. Dual," I said, "I did not mean anything offensive when I questioned astrology a few moments ago; but I have always been led to think it a part of the superstitions of the Middle Ages. If I am wrong, I hope you will accept the statement as explaining my attitude."
Dual nodded, and set down an empty glass, wiping his lips.
"There were wise men in the Middle Ages, Mr. Glace," he began. "In fact, every age has had its percentage of those who knew the truth, and—the common mass. Sometimes they persecuted them, sometimes they crucified them, sometimes they burned them, sometimes—the exception, they listened to them—or at least a few did.
"I remember one instance, though it wasn't in the Middle Ages, when, had a noted man taken the warnings of an astrologer, he might have gone down to history as a benefactor, instead of a monster in human form."
"Then," said I, "am I right in supposing that astrology is an exact science, Mr. Dual?"
"One of the most exact in existence," my host replied. "It is in reality the earliest form of astronomy. If it were not a scientific fact, I would not care to waste time upon it. But I have proven it true; and right here let me give you some advice. Never accept anything for the truth unless it can be proven true, Mr. Glace; half the wars and sufferings of this world have come from unreasoning belief in fallacious facts."
"I wish you'd explain," I said.
Dual smiled. "An immediate application of my advice, eh?" he quizzed. "Very well, though I must be brief, as you have much more important things to attend to to-day. See here."
He rose and went over to one of the charts, picked up a long-bladed paper-cutter from the desk as he left his chair, and used it as a pointer for the chart. "Let me first ask you an elementary question of the common schools, Mr. Glace: 'What causes the rise, and fall of the tides?' " I felt his eyes upon me, and answered on the instant: "The moon."
"Quite right," said Dual. "Now, the moon is but an insignificant satellite of the earth, yet her magnetic influence affects the surface of the earth.
"The earth, in turn, is but one of a given number of planets revolving in the solar system of their sun. Each planet has a certain magnetic quality, which it radiates and which may be learned by observation. All these magnetic influences affect the earth, and are affected by the earth's own quality in turn.
"Now, if the moon admittedly affects the rise and fall of our tides—there was a foundation, in fact, for the superstition about planting seeds in certain phases of the moon, you see—why should we deny the effect of the other magnetic influences of the other planets equally upon the earth? There is no logical reason at all.
"Therefore, the fact of that influence remains. Given a certain part of the earth's surface, and a certain time, and a knowledge of the positions of the other planets, and what their individual quality is, and we can predicate the mean total of planetary magnetism operating on that point at that time."
His words impressed me, though against all my former training.
"It sounds plausible," I conceded as he paused.
"It is more than that; it is fact," smiled Dual. "Some day I shall prove it to you, Glace, but not now." He threw down the paper-knife and resumed his chair.
But I continued yet a moment with my questions.
"Then, with a given knowledge of the orbits of the planets, you could go farther, and predicate the influence at a certain point for a future time?" I inquired.
"Exactly," said Dual.
"Does the influence apply to human beings as well?"
"Hence the soothsayers, Mr. Dual?"
"Rather the mathematical prognosticators, at whom ignorance scoffs," Dual replied.
"A rather nasty slap on the knuckles," I laughed. "What did you mean by saying you had sent for me?"
"The literal fact," Dual answered. "I did."
"I wanted to verify my own information by finding out what you had learned of the death of the woman in the Jason Street hotel."
Again I inquired: "Why?"
"Because," said Dual seriously, "I desire to see justice done. Not but what it would be in time, of course, but at times we may even rule Fate. Because I wanted to know if the suspicions of the authorities rests upon the right man; also, to prevent an injustice from being done."
"You talk as though you knew the guilty man!" I exclaimed.
"I know his general description," Dual responded. "I learned that to-night before you came. I need your assistance in finding him out; therefore, I called you, and you are here; now tell me what you know."
That was what I had come for. True, I had been distracted by the things which had occurred; but now, on the man's word, I was consumed with an eagerness to unburden my perplexed mind, and see if he could find any way out of the tangle of facts.
I began at the beginning, and went over all that had occurred. Now and then he interrupted with a terse question. For the most part, he sat with eyes closed, lying back in his chair, so that, save for an occasional slight quivering of his drooping lids, I might have fancied that he slept.
I ran over the finding of the body, the later conversation with the elevator operator at the hotel, the return to the room, and the finding of the papers and the note, the visit to Judge Barstow and his apparent attempt at evasion of any lengthy interview on the subject, what he had told us of the woman's history, the arrest of Wasson, and finally even my own peculiar sensations which terminated in my present visit to his rooms.
When I had quite finished, Semi Dual opened his eyes and sat forward in his chair. "Have you those notes with you?" he asked in a suddenly eager way.
"I have the genuine note which was on the papers under the carpet," I responded. "Of the girl's note I have only the carbon which I made."
"May I see them?" said Dual, extending his hand.
I got them out and passed them across to him, and turning his chair to the desk he quickly smoothed them out upon his blotter and began to pore over them intently, with an ever-growing interest.
"Dean said one might gain an idea of the writer's character from a sample of the handwriting—" I began speaking; but paused as I saw that my host was oblivious not only to my words but to my presence as well.
He had taken up a powerful lens and was going over the written lines word by word. Now and then he made a notation on a bit of paper lying upon his desk, and returned again to his study of the writing, each time more intent than before. The light of day was beginning to stream into the room, but the electrics over our heads still blazed on without his paying heed.
Far down below us I could hear the noises of the awakening world; the faint, faraway cries of newsboys, and the clang of the gongs of cars. But nothing disturbed in any way the concentration of the man at the desk. Presently, however, he made a last note, rose and turned off the lights, and came smiling back to his chair. "Mr. Glace, you are a most valuable assistant," he said.
"You find something of interest?" I inquired.
"Together we have found everything but the man's name," said Semi Dual.
"You mean you know his general description?" I cried.
"But you can't. You say you don't know him. Then—"
"Why not?" interrupted my host, with his quiet smile.
"Well how could you—" I began.
"Mr. Glace," said Dual, "at the risk of appearing trite, I shall quote from my friend Shakespeare: 'There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in thy philosophy—Gordon.'
"My ability to describe this man without having seen him, happens to be a small part of the same. Besides, you have furnished me a very valuable aid by your clever work in getting this specimen of his handwriting, you see. I told you I had gone well forward in tracing him before you came up here. Even at that time I knew his physical characteristics.
"Now, from the writing I may say I am fairly well acquainted with his mental qualities as well. Glace, the murderer did not intend to kill until his hands were actually about the woman's throat."
"Good Lord!" I gasped. "Have you read the papers? How did you know she was choked to death?"
Semi Dual shook his head. "I am right, am I not?"
"I have not seen the papers," said Dual. "I seldom read those records of modern violence, except for some special end. To resume:
"After he had done the deed he was horrified at his act; but he resolved to escape from the penalty of the law if possible, which was natural, as we must admit. If I am correct in my suspicions of the identity of the man, he is not a natural criminal in the sense of being without a moral sense, but one who has a certain inherent weakness of moral fiber, which makes him the plaything of temptation at certain times.
"By the way, the fact that the girl had the bits of cuticle under her nails may prove a valuable clue. Somewhere in this town there is a man with some scratches on one of his hands, presumably the left, but, of course, you have thought of that."
"I considered it as a possibly important fact," I said.
"It will prove so," said Dual. "There is some motive for the man's act which as yet I have not fully worked out. I will find it after a while, and then we shall know why he acted as he did.
"Furthermore, while the idea of making the carbon copy of the girl's uncompleted note was good, still it leaves much to be desired. A great deal of her personality is indicated, but I wish I could have a line written m her own hand, for I suspect something even from the copy, which I would like to verify. Could you get me a note of hers, do you think? Wasson might have one, might he not?"
I sat as one in a trance listening to the man speaking thus intimately of persons of whom he claimed to have no personal knowledge, discussing their manners, dissecting their characters, with the coolness of a surgeon working over a case.
A feeling almost of the uncanny crept over me, which Dual seemed to sense, for he paused.
"Mr. Glace," he resumed, addressing a personal note to me alone; "you must bear with a great deal right now, which you cannot understand until you have learned a great deal. The child does not run, it creeps; neither does the blind man leap forward—he must feel his way.
"But believe me that all I say is capable of the fullest scientific proof; that I am looking at this thing from an absolutely impersonal standpoint, and working from mathematical hypothesis to mathematical conclusion, and you will lose the sense of the mystical which is affecting you now. In reality there is nothing mystical in all the universe of worlds. Everything obeys a universal law. Do you think we might obtain that note?"
I got up and went over to a window and looked out. I had to shake myself together a bit, but presently I turned to find Dual lost in a litter of papers which he had spread on the desk.
"Mr Dual," I said; "if you'll pardon the expression, I think you've got my goat." For the first time Semi Dual laughed out loud.
"I've been in the newspaper game for some years," I went on, "and I thought I had a fairly well-developed news sense; yet, after first telling me to go to this case yesterday afternoon, and getting me into a beautiful snarl of conflicting detail, you cap the climax by sitting here and talking as though you knew practically all about the thing from beginning to end. How you do, it gets me. However, I've got to be getting along. If you'll permit it, I'd like to see you again, sometime to-night."
Dual bowed and then tapped the sheets of paper upon his desk, which I saw were covered with a mass of mathematical formula and geometrical figures.
"Much of the explanation of what puzzles you, Mr. Glace, is here before you," he said.
I nodded perfunctorily. "No doubt," I replied, "but no matter how much I'd enjoy your explanation, I must get out and go to work on this case. I've got a hard day before me, I guess, Mr. Dual."
"But not before we have broken our fast," said Semi Dual, as he reached out and struck a small bronze bell.
I stood confused for a moment. The invitation was unexpected, and I opened my mouth to protest. Without looking at me directly Dual repeated his former remark in a different way. "You will breakfast with me," he stated, and I closed my mouth and resumed my chair.
The door on the far side opened and the servant appeared, coming in silently and waiting without a word. "Tempo mangi," said Dual, without raising his head from his figures, and the man disappeared. The whole thing might have been a photoplay figure save for those two spoken words.
" 'Tempo mangi'—'Time to eat,' eh?" I said, translating. "So you add Esperanto to your other advanced ideas, Mr. Dual?"
An expression of pleasure swept over the man's face. "Chu vi komprenas?" he replied.
But I refused the lure. "Only a little—a half-dozen words out of every hundred I hear."
"Yet it must come," said Dual. "The world needs a universal language. It would do much to remove international differences and misunderstanding.
"But come; before we eat we have some few things to do. Draw up your chair beside the desk, Mr. Glace, while I point out certain things which shall help you on your quest for the man you desire to find."
I drew in to the desk as he requested, and Dual picked up a sheet of his notes.
"To begin with, the murderer is a large man; he will stand approximately six feet tall; he is light-complexioned, hair a very light brown and thinning, eyes a blue-gray. He is broad-shouldered and should be possessed of great strength. He is clean-shaven, with a thin-lipped mouth and a rather prominent nose, and—" He paused and referred to some sheets of his calculations: "Yes, he has a scar of some sort on his left hip well up toward the ridge of the pelvic bones."
An irrepressible spirit of flippancy took possession of me. "Hasn't he a birthmark in the form of a horseshoe, in the middle of his back, where his grandfather was kicked by a hen?" I asked.
Semi Dual stiffened and sat erect; turned and looked straight through me in a long steady boring gaze.
Under the fire of his eyes I felt myself shrivel and writhe. I was again as a boy when caught in some culpability, which I had hoped to get by with, and been detected in the act. It seemed to me that to those eyes every little secret chamber of my brain lay glaringly revealed; almost I felt the impact of his glance against the inside of the back of my skull.
I tried to sustain it and could not endure. My eyes fell against my veriest striving, and I felt a blush of shame creep into my unaccustomed cheeks.
"Mr. Glace," said Semi Dual, very quietly, without any visible sign of surprise, offense, or other emotion, "it has always been the habit of ignorance to ridicule what it doesn't understand.
"I have been endeavoring to point out some facts which should be of material assistance to you in carrying through to a conclusion a case which the police will probably muddle at first. That I have no selfish interest in this should appear from the fact that I had intended before allowing you to leave me this morning to warn you against in any way mentioning my name or letting it appear that I know of the case in any sense; making my further assistance to you obligatory upon your agreeing to that one point.
"Perhaps, however, I have erred. What is worth having is worth seeking, and I am thus made aware of the fact anew. Shall we forget what has been said?"
I had brought it upon myself, and I knew it. I think I hung my head, but I did make out to reply.
"Yes. For goodness' sake, forget what I said, if you can. I feel like I used to when mother caught me stealing jam, or tying a can to a stray dog's tail. If you say any more I'll feel like the dog."
Dual's face illumined with his smile, and he raised a hand. "I admit it must all seem strange to you, Glace, but it is true. It is my intention to help you run this man down. You should gain some credit for a piece of work like that, don't you think?"
"If I only could," I cried, with sudden enthusiasm. "I don't think Smithson thinks such an awful lot of me, just now."
Dual nodded. "Very well," he said, "suppose I go on. I have indicated the man's physical characteristics to you. Now supposing he wrote the words of the note, found on the papers—"
"But, good Lord! Dual," I broke in, "Judge Barstow wrote that."
"Did he?" replied my companion. "Perhaps. As for that I do not care. Let us see what the character of the writing indicates. Lean over here closely and watch what I point out.
"To begin with, the writing is backhand; that would indicate a person of great self-interest, one in whom personal interest takes precedence of all other emotions, utterly selfish, usually insincere.
"Secondly, the writing is heavy. This, too, indicates a selfish person. Heavy writers are apt to be shrewd, and tricky, and revengeful, and will hesitate at little to gain their ends.
"Thirdly, the writing has the appearance of tapering off at the end of the words. Where the writing tapers decidedly as it does here, the writer is usually dishonest, not through innate criminality, but because of environment—opportunity, if you like.
"It is usually a matter of circumstance and temptation. Such people are not to be trusted in financial matters and are not to be believed, as they always allow circumstances to alter cases. They will keep a promise if convenient, and only then.
"Such a person is, therefore, not a criminal per se, but will probably do a criminal action if given a chance to make some personal gain, with small fear of being found out. They are the men who appropriate trust funds for private speculation, meaning at first to return them if they win in their venture. If they do not win, they thus become criminal through circumstance rather than from any deliberate choice. Am I plain?"
"In your statements, yes," I admitted. "But Barstow is a man of State-wide reputation for probity. How could what you say be true if—"
"We must have another sample of Barstow's writing," said Dual. "One of your tasks will be to get that to-day. Another will be to get to see Wasson, and find out if he has a note or letter from the dead girl.
"I want to see something in her original hand. This copy you have indicates a very unusual type. Be sure and try to get me that note. Get something from Wasson also, in writing. In these things you must not fail."
I rose to my feet, and stood by the desk. On the instant all the reporter's desire to run the thing to its outcome swept over me in a wave.
What did I care who was guilty, so long as I could find out? I resolved that I would take up the trail and know no rest until I held all the ends of the skein of events in my hand. "I will not fail," I told Dual.
"Good," said he. "I shall expect you this evening with interest, and now I think Henri is bringing the breakfast in."
I had heard no sound, but as he spoke a panel of the wall slid back, and through the aperture so left a table was rolled into the room. The panel slipped once more into place, and left us with our morning's meal before us laid out with white linen, napery, and glass. There was even a great bowl of fresh roses spilling over on the damask cover. I felt like rubbing my eyes.
Again Dual smiled. "Did my dumbwaiter surprise you?" he said as he moved toward the table. "Come, Glace, don't stand on any formality, for I know none. You are a hungry mortal, and have a great deal to do to-day. Draw up your chair, man, and fortify yourself for the day."
I accepted without delay, and sat down to a most appetizing array. Crisp brown toast and poached eggs, with golden coffee, and a tempting bowl of fresh fruits, but I hesitated when I saw that all this was upon my side of the table alone.
Seeing my confusion, Dual motioned me to begin.
"I told Henri to get the eggs and coffee, last night, after I was sure you would be here to breakfast," he said. "As for myself, I never eat anything save fruit for the morning's meal."
"Do you mean to say you knew I'd be here, last night?" I fairly gasped. I began to think this man's surprises would never cease.
"I mean just that," he replied.
"How did you know?"
"I desired it," explained Dual.
"Do you always get what you desire?"
"Generally," said my queer companion; "for you see I try to desire nothing which it is not perfectly lawful that I should have."
"Then there would be some things which even you couldn't get?"
"Scarcely that. I could get anything I might desire."
"Lawful or not?"
"Lawful or not, Mr. Glace."
"But you don't?"
"Some things are too high-priced," said Dual, munching away at a peach. "You must remember one pays for everything he has; if one acquires an unlawful desire or possession, the law still remains to be atoned."
I began to see what he meant. Truly there was a lot more in his philosophy than I had ever considered before; yet I quibbled a quibble as I chewed upon the last bite of toast. "If what you say is true," I questioned, "how is it, then, some men apparently do anything with impunity and get away with it?"
"Your question answers itself," said Dual. "Their impunity is only apparent. Look up their whole life-record, and you will find that they atone. Now, by way of speeding the parting guest, permit me to suggest that in your own terms of expression, you 'get busy.'
"Report to me here at ten o'clock, and by all means bring all the specimens of handwriting you can get. Find out everything you can, and we'll sort it out to-night."
DOWN on the street, with a good breakfast nestling under my belt, things began to look more hopeful to me. I got a copy of the Record and one of the Dispatch ,and read what Dean and myself had to say about the latest criminal mystery of the town. It made a fairly readable story, if I do say it myself.
Next I want over to the Record office and left a note on Smithson's desk informing him that I would be out all day on an important clue connected with the case, and left grinning at what he would probably say.
Ordinarily I would have hesitated before doing anything like that, but some of Dual's spirit of confidence seemed to have crept into me, and I never doubted that I would succeed. With his advice still fresh, in my mind, I set out and decided that I would see Wasson first.
I marched into the police station and made known my request. There I profited by the fact that in writing my story the night before I had given the arrest of Wasson a fairly prominent place.
Harrington, the desk-man, greeted me with a smile, and upon my expressing a desire for an interview with Wasson, nodded assent.
"Funny thing," he said, "an' it ain't for publication neither, Glace, me bye, but th' coroner found some little pieces of skin under the nails of the girl's hand; an' by the same token, our new boarder Wasson is shy some of the cuticle on his left mitt. Now, what do you think of that?"
I grinned. "So the coroner found it, did he?" I laughed. "Well, he was a little bit more on the job than I thought. I got next to that yesterday afternoon, but kept it under my hat, thinking it might be a good clue."
"An' that was white of ye, Glace," said Harrington. "Come on an' I'll take ye back."
I followed him to the rear, where the corridors of the city jail began, and he passed me through the heavy steel gate; told the guard to take me to Wasson's cell, and turned away. I trailed after the guard, and my brain was buzzing pretty well. If Wasson had scratches on his left hand— Well, I wondered if he had a scratch on his left hip. That was all.
The guard paused, and tapped on a cell door. The man who was sitting on the cot raised his head, and then got up and came over to the grating. This the guard unlocked, and motioned me to enter. "A newspaper man for to see you, Wasson," said he, with a grin.
The prisoner scowled. "A chap isn't safe from you fellows even behind bars, is he?" he burst out. "I've seen the papers, and they have given me a mighty rotten deal, I must say. According to them I might as well be convicted right now. As a result, I have nothing to say, Mr.—"
"Glace," I supplied. All the time I had been sizing the man up. He was above the average in height, though I fancied not six feet; he was broad of shoulder, light of complexion; his eyes were blue-gray, his hair brown and thinning, his mouth was thin-lipped; he had a rather prominent nose. I decided to look for the scar on his hip, if I had to do it by force. All this while he was berating the press.
"What do they know about me?" he cried. "Nothing at all, except that I was so unfortunate to call on a woman who was dead. Would I have been fool enough to do that if I had slain her, Glace? I wish to God I knew who did kill her, for I loved that girl. I was going to marry her, Glace. I was taking a ring to her yesterday." And he stopped. "I didn't mean to give you an interview," he said. "Now I suppose you'll print all I've said in your usual brutal way."
"Did it ever occur to you that I might be here to help you as well as to serve my paper?" I returned. I saw that I must win his confidence if I was to succeed.
"Help me?" said Wasson. "How could you do that? More likely you're only trying to get me to talk."
"There is one way I could help you," I said slowly. "If I could find the man who was guilty—"
Wasson began to pace the cell floor, finally pausing before me at my last word, and bursting into a flood of speech.
"Glace, do you mean that? You don't believe me guilty? Lord, man, it's good to hear some one say that! If you're sincere in your belief, there is nothing I could do which I wouldn't do or tell to bring the real murderer to the chair.
"It isn't only being in jail that has crushed my very soul. It's the knowledge that Madeline is dead, and that somewhere her murderer walks the streets a free man, while I am unable to raise a hand. Do you really mean that you want to help me, Glace?"
"I didn't need to interview you to find out all about you, you know," I replied. "I have reasons to believe that I am on the trail of the guilty man, and I wanted something to help me in the chase, which I fancy only you can help me to get. That's why I came to see you to-day."
Wasson threw himself back on his cot. "Then, for Heaven's sake, tell me what it is," he cried. "Ask anything you will, and I'll answer you, Glace."
I looked at his left hand. On it were some livid marks as though it had been cut or scraped raw. "How did you hurt your hand?" I asked.
Wasson raised the member and scanned it, then passed the matter off with a shrug. "When that fool of a policeman arrested me yesterday I put up a bit of a fight," he said. "I think I scratched myself on his badge. What has that to do with the case?"
"I saw the scratches and merely wondered," I replied. "Would you object to telling me what you know of Miss More's history as far as you can?"
"Is that necessary?" the man inquired.
"It might help," I said. "Still—of course—if you'd—"
"All right," said Wasson, "only don't publish all I shall say. I don't want the poor girl's life bandied about in the press. Madeline was an orphan and always made her own way. She used to work for old Judge Barstow, but left him because she couldn't stand for some of the things she had to do.
"Barstow's crooked, for all he poses as a man of very high morals. After that she began to do special work in her line, and worked up a pretty good trade. Barstow even gave her work to do at times, I guess because he didn't want to lose touch with her.
"I met her last summer, and first thing we knew we were in love. I asked her to marry me, and she said she would. Yesterday I was taking her a ring which had been my mother's, which I was going to give her for an engagement ring. Her finger just fit the thing, and I had it when I was arrested. They took it away."
"How about the watch?" I asked.
"It was hers," Wasson declared. "Last week I dropped mine and broke the spring. Madeline insisted that I take hers to wear. So you even knew about that, did you? Lord, but you fellows do nose out a lot!"
"Did you know she had been writing a note to some one just before she was killed? It was to you, I think, as it began: 'Dear Reg.' "
"Was she?" said Wasson. "Poor girl. She often wrote me, in the evenings when she was lonesome, or blue. But I didn't know, of course."
"It was found yesterday," I explained, "and taken by the police. In my scheme of procedure it is necessary for me to be sure that the note was really written in her own hand. I kept a carbon copy of the note we found. Have you anything which she has written, which I could have for a few days—say until to-morrow, at least?"
"Not here," Wasson said. "I had a note or two of hers, but they took them when I was brought in. But there's a lot at my room, if I could only get at them. I—"
"Why couldn't I get one there?" I said.
Wasson turned to face me fully and fastened his eyes upon mine. "Look here, Glace," he said. "You may be on the level. Heaven knows I hope you are, and I want to believe in you; but I'd hate to give you leave to go poking around among Madeline's notes to me. They're personal, Glace. The poor girl put her whole heart into the things she wrote to me, and I loved her, and she's dead." He dropped his face into his hands and sat with bowed head.
I let him alone for a moment, and then I spoke. "I may be a reporter, Wasson, but aside from that, I'm a man. I'm not going to give your private notes to any curious public, if that's what you fear. Give me a line to your landlady authorizing me to enter your room and find one of those notes. It may mean your getting out of here; it may mean my success or failure in finding the guilty man."
The man on the cot raised his hand. "Give me your word not to publish the note, and I'll do it," he said.
"I've already done it, but I'll do it again," I promised. "Here, take this paper and pencil and write an order that will get me in."
I handed him my note-book and pencil, and he took them and began to write. Save for the faint-scratch of the pencil and his rather labored breathing, no sound filled the cell until he had finished, and then I rose.
"I'm going now," I said, rapping on the bars to call the guard. "I'll play fair about the note, Wasson, and as soon as I have any word for you I'll let you know."
I heard the guard approaching and turned to the cell door. "By the way," I said casually, "have you a scar of any sort on your left hip?"
Wasson whirled savagely upon me, his features writhing in a menacing scowl. "What if I have?" he cried.
"Shut up the noise," growled the guard, as he turned the key in the lock. "What's de matter with you, anyhow?"
"That man's a treacherous spy," Wasson fairly howled. "He's tricked me for his own rotten ends. Don't you let him out till I've got back what he took from me. Don't you let him out, I say!"
"Who're ye talkin' to?" demanded the official. "Say, looky here, my buck; you wanter sing small. Ready, Glace?"
I nodded and slipped through the door, which the guard promptly locked. "What d'yer get offen him?" he asked.
"A sample of his handwriting," I said, smiling, and the man with me laughed. "You reporters are sumthin' fierce," he chuckled. "I hopes yer never git nuthin' on me."
Back in the cell Wasson was yelling at the top of his voice. The words, half-choked by his rage, came faintly, but "liar and thief" was what they sounded like to me.
I lost no time in getting over into the district of "Furnished Rooms and Board," whither the address on the note Wasson had given me led me, and where I pulled a dilapidated bell and gave the note to a disheveled landlady, who read it, scowled at the signature, and told me to "Come in."
I accepted the invitation and followed her up a flight of stairs and back along the hall to the door of what was, I supposed, Wasson's room.
"You can go in and get what you want," said the woman. "Goodness knows, I don't care what you do as long as you don't write up my house. It's bad enough to have a lodger who goes and gets himself into disgrace of this sort, without having it all spread around broadcast-like. Everybody's talkin' about it to-day, an' Mr. Wasson always seemed a real nice young man, an' now to think I was harboring a murderer unawares.
"I've always tried to run a real respectable house, an' I guess this is going to do me a lot of harm, though how I was to know I really can't tell. Folks hadn't ought to blame me for it, as far as I can see. I hope, sir, you ain't going to make things worse."
I assured her I would not, and then passed into the room, leaving her still bewailing her hard fate. Wasson's note had told her to let me open his trunk, and this I now proceeded to do, and in the small side of the tray I found a bunch of letters tied with a string.
A glance sufficed to show me that the writing was similar to that of the note which had been found in the room of Madeline More. I have no excuse to offer for my next step, save that I am a reporter, and that I was on the trail of a sensational bit of news.
As a mere man, I would not have thought of doing the thing, but as a reporter the mere ethics of the situation had no place in my mind. I untied the string and let the letters fall loose in my hand, then I sat down on the edge of the trunk and proceeded to read them one by one.
The longer I read the more my interest grew, for, interspersed with the gossip of a woman to her lover, was mention after mention of the "Old Man," and again of "you know who." Always it was coupled with the mention of a sum of money running into large figures; the writer speaking as though she expected to obtain it from the problematical party to whom she referred in veiled style.
Evidently all this had not met with the full approval of Wasson, for the wording of the notes was at times an evident reply to a supposed protest of some attitude of the girl's, and at times a direct statement that she was capable of running her affairs.
I read on and on, until the landlady rapped and rather impatiently inquired if I had found what I sought I replied that I had, selected a couple of the notes, pocketed them, and returned the others to the trunk. Then I passed out, saw the woman lock the room door, and went my way, with a new bee buzzing in my bonnet, so to speak.
What had the girl been up to, from which Wasson had tried to dissuade her? I wondered; and who was the often referred to old man?
On the whole I felt elated. I had a sample of Wasson's writing, and I had an undoubted specimen of Madeline More's chirography as well. There remained Judge Barstow's note to verify, and I would have gained what I set out to get.
I pushed fate to the limit, and set out to see if I could find the judge. I decided to make the papers which I had found under the carpet in the girl's room my excuse, and when I reached his offices I sent in my card requesting a few minutes' interview.
After some delay the office-boy returned and led me down a suite of rooms to one at the farther end, where I found the judge. Again, as on the night before, I found him hatted and gloved, apparently just going out, but he waved me to a chair.
"I must ask you to be brief," he said.
"My errand will take but a moment," I explained. "Last night you spoke of leaving some papers under the door of the room in which Miss More lived in the Jason Street Hotel, I believe."
Judge Barstow was drumming with his gloved fingers on his desk.
"Well?" he inquired, as I paused.
"I found those papers, I think, judge," I went on, "and after examining them I can't see that they will probably be of any good to any one but you. To you they may be of importance, so I have brought them back." I laid them on the desk, beside which we sat.
Judge Barstow picked them up and gave them a casual glance.
"They are really of no importance," he said easily, "but thank you for your trouble, Mr. Glace, just the same. I suppose you mentioned finding them to the police."
I shook my head.
"No," I said, "I did not consider it necessary, as they could be of no possible importance in the case. Doubtless you have heard of Wasson's arrest. However, this brings me to the second part of my errand. I wish you would give me a line to state that you have received the papers, provided any questions should be asked."
"Hum!" Judge Barstow frowned. "Is that likely?" he said.
"Possibly not," I admitted. "Still, if any one else found out about it and they asked me what I had done with them, I'd like to be able to prove that I had done what I would say."
"You're a cautious young man, Mr. Glace," he replied. "Oh, well, I suppose it can do no harm to do as you wish, since you have put yourself out to bring the things to me. Just a moment, if you please." He pressed a button, and my heart sank as a woman stenographer came in in reply.
"Miss Sutton," said Barstow, "kindly get me this at once: 'I hereby acknowledge the receipt of two legal documents'—take the titles from these papers—'from Mr. Gordon Glace, July 15th, 19—.' " He handed her the papers. "Write it at once and bring it to me," he directed. "I shall wait."
The girl withdrew, and we both sat waiting. I don't know of what the judge was thinking. As for myself, I was wondering if his mere signature was going to be enough for Dual.
"How much have they got on Wasson?" the judge inquired at length.
"Enough to send him up, I guess," I made answer. "That is, circumstantial evidence, of course. That's about all which will ever come out on this case, I think." Then I told him of the arrest, the watch and ring, and the other details of the case.
Barstow nodded at the end.
"Pretty strong. He'll have hard work breaking that, I fear," he remarked, and turned to take the typed slip which the stenographer just then laid before him on the desk. He glanced it over, picked up a pen, and wrote swiftly: "William Ferdinand Barstow," then handed it to me. "There, Mr. Glace, I hope that will prove satisfactory. And now if you will excuse me, I have an important engagement for lunch."
I bowed myself out and I went with a smile, for I had seen that the signature was in backhanded writing, and tapered toward its end.
MY unusual success in gaining all I had set out to obtain excited my own admiration. I walked down the street from Barstow's office mentally patting myself upon the back; and then I got an idea which seemed to me to be particularly good.
Barring his peculiar actions in bringing Dean and me down-town, alleging that he had to call upon a client, and then going directly home, he had apparently acted in good faith; but despite all that, I couldn't help feeling that he was holding out on me; that he knew more than he wanted to say.
Then, too, Wasson had said that he was not as straight, as people thought. Now it appeared to me that of the two men Wasson had talked more frankly, and surely his anger when he thought I had duped him was entirely genuine. Of course, Barstow's training in his profession would tend to make him close-mouthed, and I appreciated that fact; but despite all that I had what Dual later denominated a subconscious feeling that there was something behind his veil of suavity and apparent complaisance, which he did not intend me to ever find out.
In other words, the man didn't inspire me with a sense of either sincerity or trustworthiness. Perhaps, though, it was Dual's reading of his handwriting which impressed me so strongly; for more and more I was coming to believe in Dual's personality and the peculiar statements which he made.
All this resulted in my determining to make a visit to the court-house for the purpose of looking up, if possible, anything of the judge's various transactions which might be on record there.
Personally I knew that from time to time various estates had been put into his hands for administration and adjustment; so in a way I knew what to look for, and acting upon the impulse, I took up my chase for facts along this new line.
A newspaperman learns to know a lot of people, and I was reasonably well acquainted around the city's legal center. So I had no difficulty in gaining access to the papers and records which I wished to examine, and plunged immediately into the task.
But there I ran up against a snag. It was easy enough to read the records, and to compile a list of the various estates in which Judge Barstow was taking or had taken an active part; but to an untrained legal mind it was next to impossible to trace the various windings of the several cases themselves.
One thing which struck me as peculiar, however, was the numerous instances where tracts of land, embodied in various estates, had been from time to time transferred by the administrator for sums patently below their actual value even at the time when the transfers were made, and later transferred again to a third party at a markedly advanced price.
This alone looked peculiar to me, novice that I was, and I wondered to myself if the several estates had profited by the advance price or not. Not only was this so, but in every instance the purchase and resale of the various parcels of land had been made in localities where its advance in value was practically a sure thing.
This set me off on a new trail. I began looking at the county records of real-estate transfers, using my memos of the tracts I had made as a clue.
In several instances I found here that the tracts after their advance sale had been assigned to the Commercial Land Company, and again sold by them at an advance of thousands of dollars. In other cases they were still the owner of choice locations in their own name; going back, I found that in these cases the land in question was all from estates which had been fully settled, and closed, so that in these instances the company's right of ownership was perfectly clear.
I shut up the books and bethought me of lunch. It was up to me to hurry, for my investigations had taken up a great deal of time, and it was nearly four o'clock. I suddenly developed a rush.
I went to a small café, and, perching upon a counter-stool, gave an imitation of the Irishman's household companion, the goat, by bolting an entire meat pie, pouring a cup of coffee over it, flinging a quarter to the cashier, and butting an incoming customer out of my way as I went out of the door. I had used up ten minutes of my time, and it was four-ten when I stood on the corner waiting for a car.
I had made up my mind to get up to the Fourth National Bank and see if Billy Baird was still working on the books. Baird was the orphan son of a former real-estate broker, who had died about two years before, and I knew him pretty well. In fact, Connie Baird was his sister, and had for some time shown a gracious interest in the newspaper world as typified by myself.
I had hopes, and Connie had intimated that I might go right on hoping, so I felt that I knew Billy pretty well. What made me want to see him particularly now was the fact that among the mass of estate matters I had been running over there was mention of the Baird name. I knew that it would be safest to approach Billy in the matter than any one else I had on the list.
I found him under a drop electric, for the day had turned cloudy, and back in the bank it was almost dusk, owing to the black clouds which were piling up in the west. He looked up and greeted me with a grin. "Hallo, Brother Glace," said he. "What brings you down this way? There's no shortage in our cash to-day."
"I just wanted to ask you what you did with your property which is now embraced in the Hyland Addition," I replied.
"I didn't do anything," said Billy. "I was a minor up to last year, you know. But if you want to know, it was sold."
"Then you haven't got it now?"
"No," said Billy. "I only wish I had. If I had I'd hold on to it, you bet."
"How'd you come to sell?" I inquired, as I lighted up.
"Well," said Billy, leaning back in his chair, "of course you know when dad died both Con and myself were 'infants,' as they call us at law. Judge Barstow administered the estate. Among other things dad left was this tract of ground which he'd got in on a trade. Barstow found a buyer for it and advised us to sell, and we did. That's about all there is to it, only I wish we'd held it. We wouldn't have to work in a bank now if we had."
"Who bought it?" I asked.
"A fellow named Jonathan Dobs Dohn. I never heard of him before or after, but he paid up all according to contract. Why?"
"Did you know that he afterward assigned the property to the Commercial Land Company, which assigned it to the Hyland Addition Company?" I asked.
Billy sat up as though thrown by a spring. "The deuce he did! Glace, is that straight?"
"Look up the county records. Who are the Hyland Addition Company, Billy, do you know?"
"Barstow's their attorney, and he owns a big block of their stock. Oh, Lord! Do you suppose he bunked us out of that land?"
"What did you get for it?" I continued.
"One hundred an acre; one-fifth of what they're getting a lot. Say, is there anything we can do about it, Glace?"
"You'd have to prove intent to defraud," I answered. "Otherwise he'd claim to have acted upon his own judgment in good faith. After you had sold it, it was anybody's to buy. It looks shady, but you can't prove anything, I guess."
"Oh, but I'm sick," said Billy, half grinning. "Say, Glace, what are you going to do with all this?"
"Nothing, right now, Billy," I said. "I may use it, however, if I can flush the particular bird I think I'm after right now."
"I hope it's Barstow, the smug-faced old hypocrite," growled Billy. "Gee, if Con and me could have that ground now, she could keep a girl and I'd get a dress suit."
"How is Connie?" I demanded, with sudden heat as I thought of how the girl had been wronged.
"Sore on a bum reporter who don't even give her a call on the wire," said Billy. "Now, you get out of here and let me finish up, or she won't even have a brother left around the house."
I grinned and turned away.
"Say, Glace," said Billy, "why don't you marry the girl, and take Billy to live with you?"
I turned back and looked full into his grinning face. "Don't tell it to Connie, Billy, for I don't want her to know it till it's over, but that's just what I'm going to do, my dear little brother mine." Then I left before he threw the ink-well; for if there is anything Billy hates it is to be treated like a kid.
I went out and discovered that it had begun to rain, so I turned up the collar of my coat, and lit another cigarette. Then I suddenly kicked myself for a fool and looked at the clock. It was a quarter to five. I didn't hesitate, but held up a finger to a passing taxi, and told the driver to get me to the office of the Secretary of State if he had to smash all the speed ordinances in town. I had to get there by five, and time was short.
We started with a rush, and I wondered where my wits were that I hadn't waked up before. Billy's remarks had told me that Barstow had an interest in the Hyland Addition Company's affairs, and they had bought the Hyland tract from the Commercial Land Company, after Dohn had purchased it from the Baird estate, which sold it on Barstow's advice.
I must know who the Commercial Land Company was; and the Secretary's office would close at five o'clock. Well, I had to make it.
I felt that I must see the records to-night if I had to break in with an ax, and I made it, with a scant five minutes to spare.
I left my cab and rushed into the building and up the stairs, hurried to the office, and asked to inspect the records of incorporations, greatly to the annoyance of a clerk who glanced meaningly at the clock.
However, he got me the right papers, and I forgot all about him as I scanned their pages in my eagerness. The Commercial Land Company, I found, was an ordinary incorporation whose charter covered the general points of a land-holding and selling concern. This I speedily passed by.
What I wanted to know was who the incorporators were, and I cast my eye quickly over the page for what I sought. The company had been incorporated for one thousand dollars in shares of the par value, of one dollar each. Of these, John Brown, president, held one; Kitty Hicks, one; John D. Dohn, vice-president, one; Arthur Small, one; and the other nine hundred and ninety-six were held by the secretary and treasurer, Madeline More, the dead woman in the Jason Street hotel, the ex-employee of Judge Barstow, to whom he still took papers to be written up!
I almost gasped as I handed back the papers and hurried out past the scowling attendant, who was waiting to lock up.
Madeline More had practically been the Commercial Land Company herself. Undoubtedly the four other names had been dummy incorporators, holding each a share of stock which they doubtless assigned as soon as the incorporation was made.
Madeline More! I had hold of something. I had picked up another loose end of the snarl. I knew if I had any brains I could see where it led, but I was fagged. Madeline More was the Commercial Land Company, and she was dead.
Yet if she had been the company, where were the books which as secretary she should have possessed; there should be stock-books at least. Anyway, they were not in her room. We had found nothing of the sort in our search. Yet wait; there had been some small books among the mass of papers which the coroner's men had taken from the room. Perhaps there might be some sort of mention in some of them. At least I could see.
In almost a superstitious mood, I decided to try. Fate had been kind to me all day. I hurried down and got into my cab, thinking ruefully of the hole I was making in my money, and set out for the coroner's place.
All the way I kept thinking and thinking. Madeline More had been the Commercial Land Company; they had sold the Hyland Tract to the Hyland Company. Madeline More had been the employee of Barstow. Barstow was attorney for the Hyland Company. There was a connection, I felt sure of it, only I didn't have a speck of legal proof. Would I find it in the papers from the dead girl's room?
At the coroner's I found a clerk still in charge, and told him I wanted to see the papers brought in from the Jason Street case. At first he demurred, but after some little argument, I won my case. He dumped the lot before me, and went back to some papers which he was filing away.
I fell upon my spoil like a dog on a bone, but fate seemed to have deserted me at the last. I began to despair. One by one I ran through the mass of books, papers, notes, and documents to the bottom of the pile, until there remained but one little, soft, leather-bound book. Rather hopelessly I picked it up and glanced at the gilt lettering "Diary" on its back. I opened it and snorted in disgust.
It was filled with shorthand notations, interspersed with some figures and dates, and was as Greek to me. I was about to throw it down, when something else caught my eye. It was a letter-head of the Commercial Land Company, thrust between the book's leaves, and I paused and looked at the clerk. He was absorbed with his work.
I slipped the book into my pocket, picked up the rest of the pile before me, and carried them over to him. Then, with a final good night, and feeling pretty much like a thief, I got out of that room. I knew I ought not to have done it, but I was determined to have that book read to me by some one who understood shorthand. After that I'd try and slip it back some way.
I had a cup of coffee, and then hurried to the Record office, where I spent some considerable time writing up my story for the next day's issue, so as to turn it in before it was time to go to Dual. When I was done I carried my stuff to Smithson's desk.
Smithson looked up and greeted me with a bit of characteristic sarcasm. "Hallo!" he growled. "You working here?"
I replied that I was.
"Then why in thunder don't you come round once in a while?" he sneered.
I was tired, and his manner was offensive in the extreme, yet I tried to keep cool. "Didn't you get my note? I was out on this case," I said.
"Sure, I got your note," snarled Smithson. "Who told you to get out on the case? Since when have you been making your own assignments, I'd like to know? I sent you out yesterday because there wasn't anybody else to go. That didn't give you a mortgage on the story, did it, you cub?"
I blew up.
A seasoned writer doesn't like to be called a cub, and, as I have said, I was tired with two days' work and little sleep.
"Yes, you sent me out," I said, "and I turned in a story which even you said was good. I got onto a lot of new stuff about the case which needed chasing down. Just now I'm on the trail of one of the biggest things your little old rag ever stuck up in ink.
"That's why I went out this morning; why I worked all this day and most of last night. I'm going out again after a bit, and I'll come back when I darned please, and if I don't get you the biggest story you've had in a year, you can can me when I get back." I paused to get my breath.
And Smithson grinned. "I can can you now," he said.
I was still mad. "Go ahead and do it, then," I cried, "and I'll get the story for any one who wants to buy. I've got a big thing and I'm going to see it through. Why, right now I've got enough on a certain party to send him to jail, and I don't care what you do. I'm sick of your bullying, anyhow."
"Nice, respectful attitude you've got toward the C.E., ain't it?" said Smithson.
"Well, it goes as it stands," I asserted. I felt like a tired and cross little boy.
"All right," said the Record's city editor, turning back to his desk. "I guess you really mean what you say, so you're on. Go as far as you like, only if you don't make good on that bluff, Glace, it'll be the blue envelope for yours."
"I'll make good. You'll need about one page spreads for to-morrow night's story," I boasted, and set out to see Semi Dual.
ON my way to the Urania I stopped in at the Y.M.C.A. night-school, and hunted up the professor of shorthand, who was a friend of mine.
To him I showed the little leather-bound diary, and asked him to translate some parts of it to me. He took it, smiling at what was to him my difficulty, opened it, and began to study it with an ever-increasing frown.
Presently he went so far as to give utterance to some expressions not at all suggestive of the Y.M.C.A. A moment later he handed the book back to me.
"It's shorthand, all right," he said, "but it gets me. If it's phonetic spelling, and it seems that it is, then it is written in the funniest lingo which I ever met. It's English, and it's not; it's Spanish, and it isn't; ditto as to Latin and Greek. What in the name of Sam Hill it is, I don't know. It may be a cipher; but it doesn't seem like that, either. It sounds as if it might make sense to a Chinaman with Dago blood in his veins; but as for me, I pass."
"Then, you can't read it?" I asked.
"Not having an attack of la grippe and hay-fever at the same time, I am not fitted for the task," he assured me. "Where on earth did you get the thing?"
"I stole it," said I.
"Well, for Heaven's sake, take it back," he advised. "I should think you had troubles enough of your own. Just looking at the thing will keep me from sleeping tonight. Why, it would give even a new-spelling crank an attack of the pip."
I grinned, and put the book in my pocket.
"All the same, I'll bet there's one man in this town who can read it," I boasted, for it had suddenly occurred to me that maybe Dual himself could make the thing out. "If he can't, I'll have to give it up."
"If there is, he's a wonder. If he does, give him my regards," said my friend. "I thought the bunch of errors handed in by the class last night was going to be hard to correct; but, after that, the work will seem like play now."
"Ignorance will always find an excuse," I threw at him, and bolted for the door.
Semi Dual himself met me at the door of the tower, and we went back to his study. I threw myself into a chair, and Dual looked sharply at my face.
"You are a bit late; you have succeeded in your task beyond your expectation, and you are physically fagged out," he said. "Wait, and I will get you something which shall renew your strength."
"Never mind that," I said. "I've a lot to tell you, and we've a lot to do. The coroner's inquest is at two to-morrow, and I've got to get my man by then or lose my job."
"If you should go to pieces nervously, you'd lose your job equally, wouldn't you?" smiled Dual. "A moment spent right now will be worth a week later on, friend Glace."
I said no more, and he left the room, leaving me sprawled in the soft padding of the chair. Now that I had at last relaxed a little, I began to feel aching and sore, as though I had been beaten to a pulp. Every movement meant physical pain, and my lids drooped from the weariness I felt. I wondered idly, almost indifferently for the moment, if I could go on, and then I felt sure that Dual would find some way to keep me in the running.
Then I guess I dozed, for the next I knew Semi was shaking me gently and urging me to drink from a glass which he held in his hand.
Obediently I took it and gulped what it contained—some sort of aromatic fluid which warmed me through and seemed to build a very fire of energy in my veins. I sat up, and reached into my pockets for the various papers which I had.
"I've got a lot to tell you," I began, "only I hardly know where to begin. I've got all the notes you wanted, and a lot more facts as well. Wasson has some scratches on his hand, and corresponds to your description in a general way, only he isn't quite so tall, and his handwriting isn't like the note I brought you last night. Wait, and I'll show you."
I sorted the papers I had, and selected Wasson's order to the landlady, which I handed to Dual.
"There's something funny about the girl, too. Some of her letters indicate that she might be trying to extort money from some one; then, too, Barstow's mixed up rather queerly in all this, and Miss More—"
"Wait," said Dual; "I have a fairly well-ordered brain, my dear Glace, but even it can only concentrate on one thing at a time. Let us first consider these bits of writing. We can then take up the other matters in turn."
He glanced at the note of Wasson's, and laid it aside.
"We can dispense with this; it is not of a criminal type. In that I cannot be mistaken. Now let me see the note or notes you found of Miss More's."
I handed him the two letters, and he opened them out upon the desk, glanced at them quickly, smiled in satisfaction, and, reaching for his magnifying glass, began to go over them word by word, line by line, while the involuntary pleasure of proven belief grew in his face.
At length he laid down the glass, folded the letters, placed them aside, and weighted them with a crystal tube. He leaned back in his chair, and turned to me.
"We are dealing with an unusual type here, Glace," he remarked—"one I have seldom been fortunate enough to find clearly defined. Under the glass the letters in the words of this letter are broken on the bottom curve. It can be seen clearly that the pen of the writer actually left the paper as it rounded the bottom of the letters, leaving a gap, well-nigh imperceptible to the naked eye, but shown clearly when magnified.
"Writers of this type are always innately criminal, though they may cleverly cover it up. Its significance is never of an ambiguous nature, and always indicates a person of monetary and financial unreliability. It shows most plainly in such letters as o, a, b, d, g, where there is a distinct loop at the bottom of the letter.
"Such writing in an employee should be absolutely damning, should he have anything to do with the handling of money or property, or any opportunity for double dealing in such affairs."
While he was speaking I leaned forward, well-nigh holding my breath. The writing he was describing was that of Madeline More, dead secretary of the Commercial Land Company, whose affairs I was positively convinced would not bear the light of day. When he finished I nodded acquiescence.
"All that only bears out my own later discoveries of the day," I said.
Dual smiled. "I am glad I gave you the reading before listening to what you know," he replied.
But I shook my head emphatically now.
"It is wonderful how you do it," I told him; "but I would have believed it, anyway. I think you have a convert in me, Mr. Dual."
More and more I marveled at the man's uncanny ability of tearing aside mere human veils and leaving men's souls bare.
I gave him the receipt I had got from Barstow, and he compared it with the note from the papers found under the carpet by Dean and me.
"They are the same," he pronounced, and laid them with the letters under the weight.
"Then," said I, "Barstow wrote the note, we found the other night, and left the papers as he said."
"So it appears," said Dual.
"And all you said of the original note applies to Judge Barstow as well?"
"Undoubtedly, Mr. Glace."
"Then, what inference do you draw?"
"I am not inferring," Dual affirmed, smiling. "I never speak unless I know. Suppose you tell me of the other things you mentioned finding out. So far, we have a dead person whose writing indicates unreliability as regards money, and a living one whose writing indicates the possibility of his being a thief with opportunity presenting. Let us see if there is any connection in the two cases. Tell me slowly, and tell me all."
"Connection?" I stammered. "Surely you can't think—"
"The story," said Dual, shaking his head at me. "When we are fully finished I shall tell you what I think."
He lay back in his chair, closing his eyes. "Go on—slowly—completely," he commanded, and I complied.
I told him every step of my day's work; of my visit to Wasson, and his words and actions; of my visit to Barstow, and of my trip to the court-house; of my interview with Baird, and my later trip to the office of the Secretary of State, and to the coroner's, and what I had found there. At the last I even told of my stopping at the Y.M.C.A., after my row with Smithson, and of my friend's failure to read the peculiar diary of Madeline More. When I had quite finished I stopped and waited for my companion to make the first remark. For some moments longer he continued to lie rather than sit in the depths of the chair, and I was wondering if he had really heard me through, when he began in a low tone.
"You did good work, Glace—very good work. I begin to see what it may lead to, this work of yours. Barstow could have organized this Commercial Land Company as a dummy holding affair, without letting his name appear at all. He could have used any of his office force, or any one on whom he had a hold, for his incorporators, giving each one a share of stock; then, with the More woman who was in his office posing as the head and main stockholder of the company, they could have incorporated; the dummy stockholders would assign their shares, and Miss More would assign hers also—in blank—and deliver the endorsed certificates to Barstow.
"Barstow could keep the books, and so far as any one knew he would have no interest in the land company, whose head would be Madeline More. With such a preliminary he could sell the lands of estates which he was administering to his phoney land company, and later through them to other persons or corporations, and, while bleeding the estates, yet remain completely covered himself."
"Wasson said Barstow was crooked when I saw him this morning."
"Did the girl tell him that?" asked Dual.
"So I fancy. He said she'd left his employ because she couldn't stand for some of the things she had to do."
Dual tapped the girl's letters. "It would appear from these that Wasson didn't approve of what she was doing," said he.
"What was she doing?" I asked.
"I would hazard the suggestion that she was trying to blackmail her former employer," replied Dual.
"For five hundred thousand?"
"Judging from her writing she was a person of large ideas," said Dual.
"But five hundred thousand—"
"Barstow is rated as worth several millions," Dual said, smiling, "and she was inviting Wasson for a tour of the Continent, you know."
"But would he give up that much, even to shut her mouth?"
"Evidently not," said Dual, "for Miss More died rather suddenly, I believe. Just how much evidence she had against him we don't know, but it must have been enough to send him to prison for a good long term. I believe you mentioned having a diary or something like that which you purloined from the coroner's office. Suppose we look at that, and see if it contains any facts."
I handed him the book. "It's written in what appears to be phonetic shorthand. Do you read shorthand?" I asked.
"Passably," said Dual.
"Well, Parker, at the Y.M.C.A., confessed himself stumped. He says it's in a language unknown to him, or else in a cipher code."
Semi Dual nodded slightly and opened the book. Presently he began to smile.
"Miss More was a lady of no small caliber, I gather from this," he said at length. "She chose a rather novel method of making her notations private by writing in a language which is but little known."
"Can you read it?" I cried in breathless eagerness, hitching my chair toward his side.
"Oh, yes," replied Dual, rather carelessly. "You see, it is written phonetically in Esperanto, which I speak rather well myself. Listen, and I will translate:
"This is a record of my daily doings as secretary and treasurer of the Commercial Land Company, into the duties of which position I have entered this day, September 1, 19—.'
"Really, Glace, you must have been working under a lucky star to-day. It looks as if we had our evidence here. Well, let's get on:
" 'I shall keep careful note of all that I may do, or be asked to do, as I suspect that this company is nothing save a means to an end of the man in whose employ I now am.
" 'He first mentioned the thing to me about a month ago. To-day he showed me stock-books and stationery already prepared, and at his orders I went with a certain party and filed papers of incorporation with the county clerk and Secretary of State. Nominally I am the chief stockholder, and the humor of that is that I haven't a dollar outside of my monthly check.
" 'Immediately after the incorporation we dummies of the judge transferred our several shares of stock—namely John Brown, one share; Kitty Hicks, one share; J.D. Dohn, one share; A. Small, one share, and your humble servant, 996 snares—in blank to Barstow, who locked all the books and papers of the company in his safe. Me the Commercial Land Company? Oh, yes—not.
" 'I fancy Barstow's up to some more of his shenannigan tricks. Well, enough of frenzied finance for one day. The old fox thinks he is covering his tracks pretty well, but he doesn't know of this record, and he couldn't read it if he did. Now, being a company, I shall close this meeting and retire to my bed. I wonder if this company will do much business. It's crooked, of course, but what's the answer, I don't just see. I will later, no doubt.'
"The next few pages are of no importance," said Dual, after looking them over briefly, "but this ought to interest us:
" 'I'm wise to the real cause for my being a company, at last. To-day we bought a lot of property from the Edwards estate. Barstow is administrator for the estate, and he advised them to sell to us. Of course he did; it's a good buy at the price they got.
" 'Shortly afterward he made overtures of sale—beg pardon, we did—to the Gordon Real Estate Company, and I guess the deal will go through. This little land company is merely a rake to pull the judge's chestnuts out of the fire, and keep his lily-white hands unsmudged. Great work! Honest, I'm afraid the old man is getting altogether too smooth for his own good.'
"Well, that's enough of that," said Semi. "It surely warrants our suspicions. Let's see if we can find anything bearing on any other part of the case."
Running the leaves over rapidly, so rapidly that I wondered at his remarkable ability to read the stuff, he finally began to read again, without comment of any sort:
" 'July 10, 19—. I have broken with the old man at last. I may be a willing tool of his crookedness in the affairs of the Commercial Land Company, especially as he was liberal in dividing the profits at times, but that is no sign that Judge Barstow owns me, body as well as soul. I have not liked his attitude for some time, and to-day I finally told him I would leave.
"He blustered a good bit, and I told him frankly that if he went too far I'd expose his whole get-rich-quick scheme. I never saw him so angry before. He even went so far as to threaten to kill me if I ever gave him away. Of course I don't fear that, as I am perfectly able to take care of myself, but he was so rattled by the mere threat on my part that I am wondering how much it would be worth to him to keep me still. I can imagine a situation where it might possibly pay me to have been an incorporated company after all.'
"There we have it," said Dual. "Glace, you've got the whole thing here in your hand. The More woman evidently meant to use this book as evidence in case Barstow didn't pay what she asked. Maybe she'll tell us more. Wait a bit."
Once more he gave himself to a study of the leaves. Once more he paused, nodded, and started to read:
" 'According to the tabulated deals in the back of this little tattle-tale book of mine, Barstow has stolen well-nigh a million on various deals in which I have helped him in one way or another. Now, if anything ever went wrong, I suppose he would have tried to make me the goat. As I have helped him to make the money, it seems to me that no one should know more about it than I, yet the judge refuses to see it that way. Well, time alone will tell.'
"So," said Dual slowly. "Let's have a look at the back. Ah, here it is. Well, well, well. Miss More surely had a logical head. Everything she did, every transaction, sale and purchase, is here set down with its dates. I guess that is all that we need to make our case. Here, Glace, take this book and hold on to it as though it were pure gold."
"She tried to blackmail Barstow, and he resisted," I said as I took the little book.
"Do you suppose he could have had anything to do with her death?"
"It was a case of two criminals of a similar bent, who fell out. One threatened to expose the other. In such a case we may look for almost anything."
"But would Barstow stoop to murder, Dual?"
"You remember, I told you he didn't mean to kill until his hands were on the woman's throat. Suppose you find out about what size hand the coroner's physician thinks made the marks on the girl's neck."
"I'll do it," I said. "Of course, then we'd want to know the size of the judge's hands."
Dual nodded. "Quite right," he said. "Also we ought to know if the judge has a scratch or so on his hands, and as a matter of interest I'd like to know if he has a scar on his left hip."
"The trouble is to find out all that," I said.
"Didn't you see the judge to-day?" questioned Dual. "Didn't you notice his hands, or was he wearing gloves?"
"As a matter of fact, he was gloved. He said he was just going out to lunch. He was gloved, when Dean and I saw him last night, too."
"Do you know any one at the Harmon baths?" Dual inquired.
"I know Joe, one of the rubbers, pretty well," I answered. "Why?"
"Because," said Dual, "that is where the judge is spending the night. I took the pains to find out before you came up tonight. If the judge has a sore hand or a mark on his hip, Joe might be able to tell us, don't you think?"
"I believe he would," I made eager answer. "I once helped him out of a rather nasty hole."
"Suppose you call up and find out," said Dual.
I reached for my hat. "I'll go to a phone and be right back," I said as I rose.
Dual shook his head, opened a door in the side of his desk, and took out a desk instrument, which he extended to me. "Use this one," said he.
I took it and looked at the man in amazement. "Do you think of everything?" I demanded. Dual only smiled.
I called up the baths, and after a bit of a wait I got Joe. I told him who I was, assured myself from his statement that the judge was actually there, and then preferred my request.
Joe listened carefully, and after a bit he laughed.
"That's funny," said he. "I've rubbed Barstow hundreds of times, and I know he's got a red sort of birthmark on his left hip all right; all we fellows here knows that. What gets me is what it is to the Record if he has got a sore hand. He has, all right, though, if you want to know. There's some scratches on the back of his left fin. He told me he got them tryin' to make love to his wife's long-haired cat. Don't give it out that I piped it to you, but you're in straight on the facts."
"All right, Joe," I said in a voice which trembled. "I'll see you pretty soon and make this right. For the present, thanks."
"Forget it," said Joseph, and hung up the phone.
I turned to Semi Dual and met his quizzical smile. "He has both the scratches and a scar on the hip," I said.
Dual merely nodded and continued to smile. "Tell the coroner to subpoena Judge Barstow to the inquest," he said.
"Dual, did you know all this all along?" I cried.
"What I knew was of little importance. What you needed was the legal proof. I have tried to help you get that. Knowledge such as mine does not stand at law nowadays, Glace.
"But to prove to you that it is genuine, I will make a prediction which you must never reveal; or, at least, not for a long time, and I shall put it in cryptic form:
"That which is done is done, and that which is about to be done will occur, for the law is that a man soweth what he shall reap. Like unto Jezebel shall the mighty be crushed and fallen; justice shall be done to all parties and no man shall have blood upon his hands, for only the guilty shall suffer, and they shall wreak vengeance upon themselves. Yet shall the law be upheld, and the penalty exacted, in an unexpected way. You don't understand me now, but at twenty minutes past three to-morrow afternoon, my meaning shall be plain.
"You will go to the inquest. You will tell the coroner that you have important facts to relate. You will insist upon relating them in your own way. You will tell a hypothetical tale and show this book of Madeline More's as proof of the tale. You can have the notes and papers as well. You must find out the physician's estimate of the time the girl had been dead when found, and the estimated size of the hand of the man who choked her. I think that is all."
"You are sure?" I half stammered, almost shaking with my suppressed emotion.
"I am sure," said Dual, "for the stars do not lie. To him who can read, they are an open book. You are tired, Glace; go home and get your rest. See me tomorrow night, and tell me what you feel like telling. Above all, do not doubt anything I have told you. Good night."
THE coroner's office was on the seventh floor of the Mcintosh Building. It was here that the inquest was set for two o'clock. I was pretty busy the morning before, picking up the few remaining ends of my case, but nothing to compare with what was the afternoon of the day before.
First, I called up the coroner himself and had it arranged to subpoena Judge Barstow for the hearing. Then I got the coroner's physician and had him give me an estimate of the probable size of the hand, from the finger-marks on the throat of Madeline More. He was of the opinion that the man probably wore a number eight and a half or nine glove and I made a note of that fact.
Then, in a spirit of pure bravado, I went to the Record office and left a note on Smithson's desk telling him that I would have my story ready for him not later than half past three. I chuckled at what the old man would think and say when he read that note.
Afterward I found out that his remarks were not complimentary to me at all. However, when I learned of the fact, I didn't care, for the relations of Smithson and myself had completely changed, and it was he himself who told me of what he had said.
At a quarter of two I went up to the inquest room and waited while the scene of the inquest was set. The police, firm in their belief that Wasson was the man wanted, had arranged to add a touch of the dramatic, by having the body of the girl placed in the room, where he was to be confronted with the supposed evidence of his work, at the critical moment when he would be called upon to testify.
Wasson himself, handcuffed and watched by a couple of officers, was in another room, waiting the assembling of the other witnesses and the coroner and his men. The coroner's physician was sitting over by an open window.
Jepson, manager of the hotel, was there also. The chambermaid who had found the body was present in an overdressed, fussy manner. Johnson, the policeman who had arrested Wasson, was smoking a stoical cigar. Even the elevator-operator in the hotel was sitting in awed silence, apparently divided in his mind between half-frightened interest and a desire to run away.
Shortly after I had found a seat, Jimmy Dean, of the Dispatch, came in and dropped down beside me, grinned in friendly fashion, and lit a cigarette. The coroner and his stenographer entered sharp on the stroke of two. Everything was in readiness save the presence of Barstow.
The coroner waved his hand to a couple of attendants, and the body of the dead girl was wheeled into the center of the room, and partly undraped, so as to exhibit the marks on the throat. I was beginning to feel nervous, yet I need not, for at that moment, Barstow entered.
He took his seat quietly, and nodded to the coroner.
Now we were ready to begin. I kept my eyes fastened on Barstow. Just as he entered and saw the body, where it lay on its trestles, I fancied that he gave an involuntary start. Now, however, though I watched him closely, I could detect no evidence of nervousness in any action of the man. He had removed his hat, and was sitting apparently at ease, if one could judge from appearances, almost indifferent to what was going on.
One thing, however, I did notice, with a little swelling of my throat. Although the day was so hot that every window in the apartment was widely opened, Judge Barstow had failed to remove his gloves.
The inquest opened with the chambermaid's testimony of the finding of the body in the locked room. It was substantially what I have already given, and brought forth no new details. The coroner's jury listened to a mere repetition of what they had read in the papers, and the questioning of the witness was brief.
Yes, she had found the body, by looking over the transom. She had done so because she had rapped repeatedly and could not gain admittance, and thought it queer. Yes, the window was certainly open when she looked in first. She had immediately given the alarm to Manager Jepson himself.
The witness was excused and Manager Jepson took the stand.
He had conducted the Jason Street Hotel for two years and had never had any trouble before. The deceased first came to the hotel as a tenant one year ago. To the best of his knowledge she was a stenographer by profession. She had apparently made her living by her work. She always paid her rent promptly, and he had considered her a desirable tenant in every way.
She had few callers. One was a young man of about twenty-eight or thirty, and he described Wasson in a general way. Judge Barstow had been the other most frequent caller at her apartment. He came on business, so he understood.
Several eyes glanced at Barstow, but he sat unmoved. The chambermaid had notified him of seeing the body and he personally had seen to the entering of the room and tried to get the police department on the phone. Owing to some mistake he got the office of the Record, and they had then sent the police.
"Were you present at the arrest of the man Wasson?" the coroner asked.
"I was," said Manager Jepson.
"Was he the man you have described as calling frequently upon the deceased?"
"How did he act?"
"He appeared confused, and when we attempted to make the arrest, he fought the officer until he used his stick upon him several times."
"The chambermaid's notification was the first you knew of the matter. There had been no noise or disturbance during the night or day before that time?"
"No, sir. Everything had been quiet as could be. Apparently no one had heard a sound."
"That will do," said the coroner, and Jepson moved aside.
"Billy Timmins," droned the clerk, and the elevator-boy arose, gulped once or twice, and held up his hand at the order of the clerk.
He was visibly pale, and I doubt if he heard the reading of the oath, for he stood with uplifted arm long after the clerk had ceased his jumbled formula; in fact, until the coroner put the first question to him.
"Are you Billy Timmins, my boy?"
"Work in the Jason Street Hotel?"
"Did you know Miss More?"
"Yes, sir. She was a nice kid, too."
"Did you ever take Mr. Wasson—the man who was arrested, up to see her?"
"Yes, sir, lots o' times."
"Did you on the night before she was found dead?"
"Do you know Judge Barstow?"
"Do you see him here?"
"Yes, sir, he's settin' over there," said Billy, pointing to the judge.
"Did he ever go to see Miss More?"
"Did he go to see her on the evening of the day before she was found dead?"
"Did he see her?"
"I don't know. He said he didn't, when I took him down."
"Just what did he say, Billy?"
"He said he didn't see her and had left some papers for her under the door. He asked me to tell her when she came in."
"Did you tell her?"
"No, sir, I didn't see her."
"Now, Billy, when Mr. Wasson came in on the afternoon after the girl was found, how did he act? Think carefully."
"Why," said Billy slowly, "he acted just like he always done. He got in the cage. First off I was goin' to tell him, 'cause he seemed to be feelin' good an' was whistlin', but I didn't. I kept my trap shut, an' he got off on Miss More's floor, same as always, an' I went down an' told Mr. Jepson that he had come in, an' he went back up with me, an' they pinched Wasson after a scrap."
"Did you take any one else up to Miss More's on the night she was killed?"
"No, sir, I didn't."
"All right," said the coroner, "that will do."
Johnson was next called, and described his arrest of Wasson.
He stated that his prisoner had fought hard to make his escape, and that he had found it necessary to strike him repeatedly before he had submitted to arrest. He had come down the hall to the door of room ten, and had not noticed the officer until he was quite at the door. Then he had paused, glanced quickly at Johnson, and asked if anything was wrong.
"I thought," said Johnson, "that he seemed quite nervous-like. I told him the girl was done for, an' he acted like a crazy man, so that I told him to shut up. Jes' then Mr. Jepson come outer the cage and gave me the 'office,' an' I told Wasson he was pinched. He didn't take my word for it, so I had to convince him that I knew what I was talkin' about." The officer grinned.
Two officers from the precinct station next testified to the finding of the watch and ring on the prisoner, together with several notes from the girl, written during the last week of her life.
Wasson was next called, and was led in between his two guardians, and after being unmanacled was placed in the witness-chair. The man was pale and showed the marks of worry and anxiety.
His hands trembled and there were great circles under his eyes. As his glance fell upon the body of the girl he actually shrank and cowered in his chair, and put up his hands to cover his face.
"You are Reginald Wasson?" the coroner began.
Wasson merely bowed.
"You knew Madeline More well?"
"Very well, indeed," Wasson almost whispered his reply.
"You were engaged to marry her, I believe."
"What do you mean by tacitly?"
"It was agreed between us. Nothing had been said. I was taking her an engagement ring the day she was found dead."
"Yes, sir. It had been one of my mother's rings."
"And it fitted Miss More's finger without alteration, I suppose?"
"Yes, sir, it did. I know it doesn't seem probable, but it is the truth."
"We have heard of the ring," said the coroner; "also of the watch." He fastened his eyes on Wasson closely at the words.
Wasson shifted. "Yes, sir, it was hers, she gave it to me to—"
"Wear?" cut in the coroner. "Do you expect us to believe that? It might do if she were alive, but you had it after her death."
"I'm telling you the truth," cried Wasson, visibly losing his control. The evident attitude of suspicion of those about him was plainly affecting the man's nerve.
"Mr. Wasson," said the coroner, continuing the examination; "at the time of your arrest you had several notes from the deceased upon your person. In those notes she speaks of a sum of money, and of a certain party whom she designates as the 'old man.' What was the deceased trying to do? From the tenor of the notes we are led to believe that it was something of which you did not approve. Are we correct in that view?"
"I would rather not say," Wasson replied hoarsely.
"Was it blackmail?" the coroner shot at him quickly, without giving him time to collect his faculties.
"I refuse to discuss it," said the man doggedly, moistening his lips with a nervous tongue.
"Your refusal will influence the case against you, Wasson."
"I can't help it. I can't answer." The man was apparently ready to collapse.
I moved over to the coroner's side, and leaned forward to attract his attention. "Ask him what size glove he wears," I said.
The coroner nodded. "Oh, Wasson," he said carelessly, "what size glove do you wear?"
It looked for the moment as if the question would terminate the man's ability to contain himself. He grew pale as death, his eyes darted toward the dead woman's throat, and then he dragged his gaze back to us. He trembled, opened his mouth, and failed to make any articulate sound.
Finally, he did manage to speak, and his voice was one of utter horror. "Oh, Heaven, are you trying to convict me like that? Do you think I'd kill the woman I loved? Is there no justice among any of you?"
"That will do," said the coroner. "What size glove do you wear?"
"Nine," said Wasson, and dropped his face in his hands.
The coroner motioned to the two guards, and directed them to get their prisoner out of the chair. "Take him over, and see if his fingers fit the marks," he ordered, and leaned back in his seat.
Half walking, half dragging, Wasson was taken over to the side of the body, and requested to lay his fingers on the purple marks on the girl's neck. He rebelled.
Fairly shrieking, in his now hysterical condition, he fought to evade the ordeal which the coroner had thrust upon him in this unexpected way.
"I'll not do it! I'll not do it! I'll die first!" he cried, struggling to tear away from his guards. "You brutes, you brutes! Let me out of here! I didn't do it! I swear I didn't do it! I loved her, I tell you. We were to be married. I won't fit my fingers into those marks!"
Fighting savagely now, he was literally dragged forward; and while two men held his arm, the hand was applied to the girl's throat. The coroner, who had risen and gone over, nodded his head, and the police smiled knowingly at the result, for the fingers and the marks fitted even as cause and effect may fit.
Manacled again, Wasson was half carried away by his guards. Actually, I believe that if it had not been for the sustaining hands upon him the man would have collapsed into a pitiful heap of sobbing manhood upon the floor.
The coroner's physician next took the stand, and stated that, in his opinion, the woman had been dead some twenty hours when found. Death had been due solely to strangulation.
He called attention to the finding of the bits of cuticle under the girl's nails, and to the fact that, in his opinion, the marks on the hand of Wasson might have been caused by her frantic clawing at his hand in her last few minutes of life. He was excused. Judge Barstow was called. He rose and sauntered smilingly to the chair, took the oath with dignity, seated himself, carefully arranged himself in the chair, and waited for the coroner to begin.
"Judge Barstow," said the official, "did you know Miss Madeline More?"
"Yes, Mr. Coroner," said the judge. He looked about the room and barely stifled a yawn.
"Was she employed by you?"
"At one time, something over a year ago."
"Why did she leave your employ?"
"She thought she could do better by doing special work, I believe."
"Yet she still did work for you?"
"Oh, yes, at times."
"Did you see her the night before she was found dead?"
"No; I went to see her, but could get no reply to my knock."
"Did you leave some papers in her room?"
"I thrust some under her door."
"What became of them?"
"They were found and returned to me."
"A reporter on the Record—a Mr. Glace."
"What had been your relations with the deceased?"
"Those usual between an employer and the employed, I believe."
"There never was any trouble?"
"Why did the reporter return the papers to you rather than give them to the police?"
"They were of no importance to the police—at least, so Mr. Glace said, when he brought them to me."
"What time did you call on the particular night when you left those papers under the door?"
"Somewhere around eight," said the judge.
"I will excuse you for a moment," said the coroner. "Mr. Glace, take the stand."
Judge Barstow went back to his seat, and I rose and occupied the chair he had just left. The clerk administered the oath, and then I leaned forward and addressed the coroner direct.
"Mr. Coroner," I said, "I am going to prefer a somewhat unusual request. I desire to be allowed to tell my own story in my own way. If at the end of my testimony there shall be any points which you desire to have cleared up, I shall then gladly add anything to my narrative to make all clear."
I had given the coroner an inkling of my course before, and he nodded his acquiescence. I glanced at the clock. It was five minutes past three. Even as I began to speak I thought of Dual's prediction, and realized that a scant fifteen minutes now remained until that prediction must be fulfilled or proven false, but I never doubted that it would be verified.
I began to speak rapidly, however, as I saw how short was the time.
"I will be brief," I commenced. "I shall give my testimony in the form of a hypothetical case.
"Some two years ago a certain party—a woman, whom we will refer to as M.—was employed in this city by a man who did a large amount of work in his profession. Among the other duties of his profession, he was frequently appointed to act as administrator of various large estates. This woman M., while nominally a stenographer in his office, came to act pretty much in the part of confidential secretary to this man.
"This man formed the idea of organizing a land-holding and selling company, and, with the aid of this party M., he did organize it, and had it incorporated with her name as principal stockholder, together with four other dummy incorporators. After it was incorporated, the woman M. and the other four stockholders assigned all their stock to this man, in blank, and the man kept the certificates and all of the company's books.
"By using the make-believe company as a blind, the man was enabled to fleece the estates he was administering out of huge sums. All went well until such time as the man who had led the woman into financial turpitude presumed to endeavor to lead her into physical shame as well, when a rupture of their otherwise friendly relations occurred.
"She left his employ, and sought other means of making a living after that. But, you see, this man had trained her in business immorality, and, as a result, she conceived the idea of making herself financially independent by forcing him to give her a part of their unlawful winnings. In other words, she tried to blackmail him.
"He resisted, but finally they arranged a meeting for a certain night at which they should come to terms. They met. Instead of agreeing, they quarreled; he sprang upon her and seized her by the throat—he had once before threatened to kill her, it seems—and began to choke her to death.
"They struggled, and the woman fought desperately for her life. She reached up and dug her long nails into his strangling hands, seeking to break his grasp; but, instead, all she accomplished was to tear the skin from his hand—the left one—I think—in three places. She could not break his grasp, and she died.
"I have all this, save the last part, in black and white in a book, Mr. Coroner. May I now ask that you order the two officers from the precinct in which this dead woman here was found to remove the gloves from the hands of Judge William Barstow, so that we can see the scratches on his left hand? Also, after looking at the gloves, see if they do not fit the marks on the throat of Mad—"
A confused sound in the back of the room interrupted my further words. Judge Barstow sprang from his chair and rushed to the door. It was locked.
In frantic haste he tore at the knob, jerking and twisting it with all his power until the door creaked and groaned from his frenzied efforts; but it held fast until the officers fell upon him and dragged him backward, still fighting with all his massive strength.
For a moment it seemed that he would tear free from the hands which held him; then Johnson went to his fellows' assistance, leaping straight up and flinging his weight upon the struggling man's back.
The entire four went down in a heap, from which the officers presently crawled, still holding to their captive, upon whose wrists they had slipped a pair of handcuffs, so that he rose and stood panting and bound, like a lion, captive yet unsubdued.
The room was in a turmoil of confusion.
Even Wasson's two guards had left their prisoner and half crossed the room, when the judge was dragged erect. Now, while one of them returned to Wasson, the other crossed and, at a nod from the coroner, stripped the gloves from Barstow's bound hands.
There, in plain sight, burned the angry lines of three deep lacerations, running diagonally across the back of the left.
I lifted my voice, and spoke in the hush of surprise and consternation which followed. "What size is the glove, officer?" I cried.
The man looked at the piece of dressed kid which he was holding. "It's a No. 9, Mr. Glace," he replied.
I turned to the coroner. "Shall we try the test of the marks and the fingers?" I suggested, nodding toward the body of Madeline More.
But Barstow had suddenly regained his control. It was he himself who answered, instead of the man I addressed.
"It won't be necessary, Glace. In the words of the police, I am caught with the goods. I admit that I killed the girl, but she deserved to die. I must compliment you upon your almost devilish cleverness in running me down. The funny thing is, I didn't suspect your motive, and I felt safe, knowing our police as I did. Mr. Coroner"—he turned and addressed that official—"your inquest can come to an end, for I am ready to confess. I killed Madeline More, and I shall pay the penalty in my own way."
Even at the last no one suspected.
So quiet and calm had been the man's words that none of us dreamed of the thing seething in his brain; but on the last word, having lulled us all to a false sense of his acceptance of things, he gained his end.
Even as the last word left his lips, he tore free from all restraint. In a leap and a bound he crossed from the door near which he stood; and as his captors stared in uncomprehending inactivity, he reached an open window, seized its casing, and turned.
So, standing like a giant, he faced the room once more, and for a moment he smiled at how he had fooled us at the last; then, "In my own way!" he cried loudly and plunged backward into space to become a huddled heap of blood-oozing clothing on the pavement below.
As the others rushed to thrust heads and shoulders out of the windows and look down, I glanced at the clock over the coroner's desk.
It was three-twenty flat!
I rose from my chair and sprang to a telephone which I saw standing upon a corner of the coroner's desk, and begged wildly for Smithson on the wire.
"Smithson, Smithson!" I called. And again, as his gruff accents came to my ear: "Say, Smithson, hallo. This is Glace. Say, Smithson, go out to my table and open the drawer. In it you'll find the story I promised you for three-thirty to-day. It's all written up so as to lead up to the denouement which has just occurred. Judge William Barstow confessed to the killing of Madeline More and committed suicide by throwing himself from a window of the coroner's office at three-twenty this afternoon. Did you get that? Say, Smithson—hallo!"
For a moment I thought he had left the wire; then I got my reply. In accents unlike any which I had ever heard him use before, Smithson spoke to me.
"Great work," he said. "We'll have it on the street in half an hour, or wreck the plant. And say, when you get done down there, come right up here; I want to see you, Glace."
They took the manacles off Wasson and told him he was free. He came over to me, and put out his hand and tried to thank me, choked up, and turned away. I appreciated how he felt, shook his hand, and let him go.
Jimmy Dean felt quite cut up over my having the only real story of the affair. "You held out on me shamefully, Gordon," he said; "but I suppose, in your place, I'd have done the same." I gave him the true facts, and he left to write up the story for the Dispatch.
The coroner got his jury together, and it took them about a minute to return a verdict that Madeline More came to her death at the hands of one William Barstow, deceased.
I put on my hat, lit a cigarette, and prepared to depart. It was four-fifteen when I left the coroner's office, and already the newsboys were yelling the Record's extra on the streets. I walked up toward the Record office, feeling all the elation of any true reporter over a clean "beat."
I entered the local room, sat down at my typewriter, took off my hat, and began to pound out my story for the morning's edition.
Smithson stuck his head out of his door. "Glace," said he, "come 'ere."
I got up and went into his office. He stuck out his hand.
For a moment I gazed at this unprecedented mark of friendliness, half comprehending; then I took the proffered hand with what I hoped was a becoming grace.
"Glace," said Smithson, "it was a great beat. We've got the whole town. I confess I didn't think you had it in you, but I hope I know when to quit; and I want to say now, that it's one of the best, if not the best, things I have seen put over in a good many years.
"I've taken it up with the management, and I'm glad to say they look at it as I do. I fancy they'll show their attitude on the matter in your envelope this week. I suppose you must have known all this yesterday when we had our little mutual love-talk, eh?"
"I was morally sure, but I didn't have the proof."
From below came the sound of the newsboy's crying the Record's beat.
"Uh-uh," said Smithson. "Heavens, what a beat! Well, son, you made good all right, so I'll have to keep you on." He smiled a crooked smile. "But, Glace, it has just occurred to me that I sent you on an assignment a few days ago, and you have not turned in a line on it. What about that man Semi Dual?"
For a moment I didn't know just what to say, and then I thought of what Semi had told me to do.
"Mr. Smithson," I said, "I went up there all right. He's taken the tower of the Urania, and is engaged on some scientific experiments. He forbade my printing anything about him, and after thinking it over, I don't see that there is anything for a story. I've been so busy on this later case that I forgot the other till just now." That, as it happened, was true.
"Well," said Smithson, turning back to his desk, "I'm inclined to let your judgment stand, after the way it has seen you through in this later case, as you call it; so we'll let the matter drop. Now, go out and get busy on your full story for to-morrow." I turned away.
"And, Glace—" I turned back as he addressed me. Smithson was smiling his crooked smile once more. "Go as far as you like," said he.