I WAS sitting in the "dog-house," as we jokingly called the reporters' room at Police Central, when they led Sheldon in. I had known him personally for some years in a casual way, because he was the paying-teller in the Fourth National Bank, and there was where Billy Baird, my prospective brother-in-law, worked over the books.
Consequently, when the motor patrol stopped and they brought him in and lined him up before Harrington, it gave me a sort of shock.
He was a clean-cut chap, with a strong, good-featured face, the latent strength of which struck one at a glance. Now he was very pale as he stood between two roundsmen, while Harrington wrote him up in the blotter, before sending him to a cell.
I edged up as close as I could, and pricked my ears to get the charge against him. It was "uttering a forgery" against the bank where he worked, and noticed that Sheldon actually flinched at the words, almost as though they had been a physical blow.
He closed his eyes for a moment, and then raised his head with a visible effort, as though deciding that after all he might as well brazen the thing out.
"Who's makin' the charge?" asked Harrington as he finished writing it down.
"Cashier Malin, for the bank," said one of the roundsmen, and Harrington nodded his head, as he resumed work with his scratchy pen. A moment later he nodded in dismissal: "All right. Take 'im back," he said.
They were turning away when Sheldon caught my eye, and for the instant, as I nodded toward the poor devil, his expression cleared and gave way almost to one of hope. He spoke to one of his captors, who turned and looked at me.
"Oh, hallo, Glace," he said grinning. "Sheldon here wants to slip you a word or two. Come 'ere."
Rather wondering, I approached, with a nod to the officers, and waited for what the prisoner might say. It was surely brief and to the point.
"After the rest are done with me, come and see me," was all he said. Then he turned away and went back toward the cells.
I watched him walk away straight-backed, head up, then I slipped into, a phone-booth and called up Smithson, my city editor on the Record, and told him my little tale.
"There's something more to it than appears on the surface, and I want you to put somebody on the story of the arrest, and let me stick around Sheldon a bit."
That might have been a risky thing to say to Smithson at one time, but some time before I had won my spurs on a difficult case, and now the old man was my friend. As it was he chuckled before he yielded the point.
"All right," said he briefly, "I'll let Grant handle that end of it; get busy and dig up something good."
I left the booth and ostensibly the station, but I only went as far as the corner drug-store, where I hung about for a half-hour and then slipped back and approached Harrington with a grin.
"Did you hear what Sheldon said to me?" I inquired.
"Uh, huh," grunted Dan, smiling. "You'll be wantin' a turnkey, I suppose?"
"You're a good guesser," I countered. "Have a cigar?"
"I will, and so will me brother," said Harrington, and I handed him two, for that was our stock joke, on occasions like this. He pounded a bell, and turned me over to the officer who answered.
"Front," he cried in imitation of a hotel clerk. "Show the gentleman back. Wants to see Sheldon, Jake."
Jake and I took up our journey rearward to where the corridors of the receiving prison began their dreary rows, and he passed me through the gates with a word to the guard, while he turned his own back to light another of my cigars. A few moments after, I was at Sheldon's cell, and he rose as he saw me at the door.
"It's good of you to come, Glace," he greeted. "Excuse the appointments and take the stool." He seated himself upon the bunk at the side of the cell.
"I hardly know why I asked you to come," he continued, "unless it was that I felt the need of talking to some one, and I knew I could trust you, because young Baird has told me you were about the best in your line. Now, don't think that's said for any reason except that it is true. As for myself I don't know you personally at all, though I do by sight, of course.
"Anyway, I took the fancy to tell you all about this thing as far as I can, and first there are some parts of it which I must ask you to treat as confidences, rather than as anything for your paper; that is, if we are to talk."
"I'll try to respect your confidence, Sheldon, wherever I can," I assured him. "Here, take a cigar, and let's get down to facts."
"Thanks." He lighted the cigar at my match.
"To begin with, then. Some time ago there was a check passed through our bank for the sum of five thousand, which I believed to be good, but which later came back declared a forgery, so that our institution, which had cashed it, was naturally left with a loss on their hands.
"On the day that the check came back the assistant cashier was out and I performed his duties. The funny thing was that several similar checks, similarly endorsed, had been cashed at intervals, and as far as I could see, the signature was genuine. If it hadn't been for that, I would have been more careful than I was.
"Anyway, when I found that the check was a forgery, I did a foolish thing. Instead of reporting it at once, I began to juggle accounts so as to cover the matter up, and, in the mean time, I tried to find the man who had cashed the thing, in the hope of recovering the money or squaring the affair up somehow or other; I guess I hardly knew how.
"Then came the bank examiners, and, of course, the thing came out. In view of what I had done, I was suspected, of course, and as a result Malin had me brought down here.
"Worst of all, the writing on the blamed check resembles mine, or they say it does—yet I swear I never touched the thing save to pay out the cash."
"Is that all?" I asked as he paused for a minute and resumed puffing on his cigar.
"No; worse luck," said Sheldon. "There's more, and the confidential part. Nobody knows this but Myrtle and myself, and you've got to keep it to yourself.
"Glace, I'm engaged to be married. That's the reason I wanted to see you. I want you to go to see the girl. She's an orphan, and she's got a brother, and the brother's a poor sort. Some time ago he got into trouble, and it looked as though he was going to land where I am. Myrtle told me about it, and I agreed to help her out.
"Some time ago I sold some stocks which I held, and I got the money for them in large bills, and put them into my safe-deposit box. We bank people aren't supposed to dabble in stocks, by the way, so I didn't say anything about that.
"Well, when Myrtle's brother got into trouble, I went and got some of that money and gave it to her, and she squared things for the kid. As it happens, I did that on the day after this check was cashed, and the vault attendant remembers seeing me with the stuff in my hands after I had come from my box, and also states that they were bills of large denominations.
"Of course, I gave them to Myrtle and she paid the kid's debt, so that I can't trace them, or prove that they were other than what was paid out from our bank, and I was seen with them the day after; get that?"
"It looks bad," I remarked.
"It is bad," Sheldon replied. "Nobody knows it better than I; but what can I do? I can't drag Myrtle into this, and I won't; I'll go to the 'pen' first."
"That would be rather rough on her, too, wouldn't it?" I said.
Sheldon winced. "Don't," he said. "What a hole I'm in! Either way I look, it is bad. If I should tell this part of things, and drag Myrtle in, I'd have to expose her family secret, you see. If I keep still, I'll probably be sent up for five or ten years, be a convict at the end, and ruin all our hopes that way, too, and I swear I'm an innocent man, Glace. Man, it's tough."
"I don't doubt it," I said.
"But my story?" said Sheldon. "The one I've got to tell to the jury?"
"It's as full of holes as a Swiss cheese."
"Then what am I to do? That's really why I sent for you, Glace; it was the hope that you, a trained newspaperman, might be able to find some way out of the impasse, I am too upset to think of any myself."
"Do you know the man who forged the check?" I asked of a sudden and watched Sheldon's face.
He paled visibly, and finally shook his head. "Not unless I saw him," he said.
"Maybe the one who presented it didn't forge it," I suggested.
"Maybe," agreed Sheldon, with what I thought was relief.
I decided to change the subject. "About this brother of your fiancée's," I asked. "What do you know about him?"
"He's wild," said Sheldon. "Runs with a pretty fast set. Some years ago he ran away and went West. Now he's back and works in the office of Pearson & Co., the brokers.
"Where he went in the West he would never say, nor what he did, so I guess it was not very savory, whatever it was. Some time ago he took some of the firm's funds and speculated and lost. That's what Myrtle needed the money for—to make good his embezzlement."
"Hum—and his name?"
"Archie Parton," said Sheldon. "He lives with his sister at Number 1351 Welton Street."
"What was the amount of money you had in the safety box?" I inquired.
"Five thousand dollars." Sheldon shook a disconsolate head.
"How much did you give Miss Parton?"
"In two bills of five hundred each."
"Do you know their numbers?"
"I can get them. I have a memorandum."
"Then you have four thousand still in the box. If you know the numbers of the notes which went to cash the check, you ought to be able to prove that those are not that money, shouldn't you?"
"Yes," said Sheldon, "but how could I prove that there was no exchange made?"
"I don't know," I confessed. "Were they changed?"
Sheldon looked at me sharply. "You certainly do go right to the point, don't you?" he said. "Well, Baird told me that."
"Well, were the original bills changed?"
"Who could change them?" Sheldon laughed, and I felt sure that his laugh was forced.
"Look here," I said. "There's no use in your holding out on me, you know, if you expect my help. Who changed those bills?"
"I did," said Sheldon, and lapsed into silence, puffing gloomily on the cigar.
I looked at the man in amazement. Either he was a consummately guilty man, or he had acted in a way little more sensible than the doings of an irresponsible boy. Finally, I decided to go on with my questions and learn what I could, at least.
"Why did you do it?" I asked.
"As an accommodation," said Sheldon. "That was before I knew the check was forged," he added as an afterthought.
"As an accommodation for whom?" I snapped. The man's manner was getting on my nerves.
"That I can't tell you, Glace," said Sheldon. "To do so might make people very near to me suffer more than I care to think."
"Meaning Miss Parton and her brother, of course?" I put in.
"Perhaps," said Sheldon. "I really don't know. Anyway, I won't talk about that phase of the case. I'd rather take a sentence than go into that."
"And you're mighty apt to get the chance, unless you change your mind," I said as I rose. "By the way, I want a sample of your handwriting. You won't object to my having it, I suppose. What was the name signed to the check? Suppose you write it down for me."
"No," said Sheldon, "I don't see that that can do any harm. What do you want to do with it, anyway, Glace?"
"I want to compare it with the forgery on the check. There may be sufficient difference to give us a plausible leg to stand on, which we haven't got now."
"Have you got a bit of paper about you? They've stripped my pockets," said Sheldon, putting out his hand.
I handed him some copy stuff from my pocket, and he spread the pad on his knee and rapidly wrote a line across the top sheet, after which he returned the copy-pad to me. I thrust it into my pocket, and rapped for the guard to let me out.
Then I turned back to Sheldon where he sat.
"Ordinarily," I said, "I'd think your tale a mighty fishy one, indeed, but I know your record and I know you're a friend of Baird's, and somehow I believe there's nothing worse about it than that you've got in bad. I'll see Miss Parton and explain things to her, and I'll try to do all I can for you.
"Anyway, I'll be back and see you when I need to talk to you again, and I'll be able to tell you all the news at that time. In the mean time, keep your nerve and a close mouth. Now I'm off."
"Good-by," said Sheldon, rising. The guard unlocked the cell door and I left the prison with one of the nicest little snarls to unravel which I had ever met.
WHEN I got outside I took the pad of copy-paper from my pocket and read what Sheldon had written and what purported to be the name signed to the forged check as written in his own hand; and for just a moment, I think I doubted my own eyes.
"Colonel MacDonohue Sheldon" was what I read or seemed to read.
For a moment I stared at the thing and then I began to see a great light. Just what were the facts about Dick Sheldon's family, I didn't know, but from his reticence I half imagined that this might explain some of that same unwillingness to talk about the check.
That the paying-teller of the Fourth National feared that Archie Parton, brother of his fiancée, was mixed up in the thing, was to me quite evident. Now it appeared that the forgery had been made upon some one of the same name as Sheldon; perhaps a relative of Dick's.
Anyway, I made up my mind to have a look into the thing. So the first thing I did was to get hold of a telephone and call up several of the better-class hotels, such as I fancied would be affected by a man who customarily endorsed his checks "Colonel," which was a courtesy title, I had no doubt.
After some little trouble, I managed to locate him at the Kenton, together with the further information that he had gone out immediately after lunch.
I thanked the office and made my way to the hotel as fast as I could; because I knew Jeffrys, the day clerk, and had hopes of learning something about the man I was trying to find. I approached the desk in the foyer, and told Jeffrys I wanted a word with him, and then I asked him what he knew about MacDonohue Sheldon; and he grinned in my face.
"Pretty speedy old boy, the colonel," said Jeffrys, "Looks like he might come from Kentucky, though the register says 'Goldfield,' so we'll let it go at that. He belongs to the champagne crowd, all right. Wears an electric search-light for a shirt-stud, and a broad-brimmed hat. Smokes nothing but Maduro Havanas, and kicks because they aren't strong enough. Carries a bigger roll than is safe, and gives dollar tips to the boys. Oh, we all know the colonel, all right."
"Been here long?" I inquired.
"Long enough, but not too long," said Jeffrys. "He's a rather good sort, though pretty broad in his ways for this part of the map."
"What's his line? Do you know?"
"Do I know?" laughed my acquaintance. "Well, it's no secret. Everybody knows it five minutes after he's met Colonel Mac, as he calls himself.
"He's in the mining game both ways from the jack. He can talk for an eight-hour shift and never turn a hair or take a long breath. Carries a bunch of ore specimens in one pocket to balance the roll in the other, and recently he's been bucking the market pretty strong."
"In mining stocks?"
"That's what he says. He's been a bit worried lately, I think. Somebody played a variation or something which the colonel didn't expect, and he got run pretty close. He told me to-day that they nearly got him, but that he'd pulled through and expected to take his winnings to-day—'cash in' was what he said."
"Do you happen to know where he is right now? I'd like to get hold of him this afternoon, sure."
"What do you want with him?" Jeffrys wanted to know.
I laughed. It was evident that the colonel was standing in with the day-clerk, all right.
"I won't bite him," I assured him. "I just want to talk to him a bit about a little newspaper yarn."
"Well," said Jeffrys; "I guess you'll find him over at Pearson's office. He told me he was going over there to clean up his deal and take his profits. Asked me to have the manager hold a private banquet-room for him to celebrate in to-night, and asked me to come to the big blowout, so I guess you'll find him over there up till about four or five."
"Thanks. I think I'll look him up," I told Jeffrys, and walked out of the hotel.
I knew where Pearson & Co.'s offices were located, and I set out for the brokerage company at once. The more I heard of the redoubtable Colonel MacDonohue Sheldon the more I wanted to meet him face to face.
Another thing which caused me a momentary interest was that he had been dealing with the same firm of brokers for which Archie Parton worked.
Already I could see several threads in the case, any one of which might cross at any time, and I began to feel an interest which I believe is common to all newspaper men and detectives as well—the elusive delight of following the trail, tirelessly, persistently, until it leads to the figurative "kill."
The firm of Pearson & Co. occupied offices similar to any number of others engaged in the same business. There was the board-room, with its blackboard along one wall, the marker, his head strapped into a telephone receiving device, scampering up and down its length like a spider trailing a spun thread.
A few customers lounged in the chairs and eyed the quotations chalked up with expressions of hope, dismay, disgust, or indifference, as the case might be.
These were the petty fry. I was too old a hand to expect to find my man here. Therefore, after a glance at the gathering, I beckoned to a small, uniformed page, whispered my inquiry into his impertinent ear, and saw him disappear into the background of mahogany partitions, from which a distant buzz of voices now and then penetrated to the outer room.
As I waited and listened, there boomed out above the sound of lesser phonations, a single, blatantly confidant tone, which rose like the rumble of thunder above the diapason of a wind. Someway I felt that I had listened to the voice of Colonel MacDonohue Sheldon, and then the voice suddenly died.
Immediately one of the doors opened again, and the voice boomed forth. "What does he want, bub, anyway?"
"He's a newspaper man," came the reply, in the treble of the page.
"Well, tell 'im to sit down, an' wait," rumbled the voice in easy indifference. Then: "I tell you, Pearson—" The door was closed.
The page approached, but I shook my head and smiled. "I think I got the message, Cerebus," I told him, and I took a chair. "That was the colonel, wasn't it, that just spoke?"
"It sure was," said the boy. "An' say, he's all to the mustard. He gimme a dollar just now."
"There's another one waiting for you if you want to earn it," I suggested, and watched the light grow in his eyes.
"Want it; eh?"
"Does a Dutchman like wieners?" he replied, grinning. "I'm hep; whatjer want ter know?"
"Does Archie Parton work here now?"
"Sure he does. He's a runner," said the boy. "An' say! He uster know the colonel a long time ago. The colonel was tickled to death to find him workin' here.
"That's how he came to trade here, an' it put Arch in good, landin' the colonel's trade, cause the old boy's some sure sport when it comes to playin' a long chance. He made a winnin' to-day for fair."
There it was again. The colonel was evidently a confirmed gambler. More and more I wondered what relation he might be to Dick Sheldon of the bank.
Well, that was what I was here to find out, and I continued to sit and wait. I handed the boy a dollar, which he pocketed with a grin as "easy money"; drew out some copy-paper and appeared to be making some calculations from the figures on the board.
Ten minutes later the door in the partition was banged open and the colonel himself appeared. On the instant I felt added interest in the man.
He was about five feet ten inches tall and heavily built, wore a gray business suit and a brocaded satin vest, across which was looped the strands of a heavy gold chain; and was smoking a Panatella cigar as black as a bit of tarred rope, cocked rakishly in one corner of his mouth.
His face was florid, his eyes gray, and he wore a mustache cropped to a short and aggressive length. His mouth was large and thin-lipped, and his chin that of a fighter.
Under the broad Stetson, which he had rammed upon the back of his head, his hair was flecked with gray. At the door he half paused to call back to the man inside.
"Well, so-long, Pearson; I guess they thought they had me, but I sure got their goat. See you to-night sure. It's going to be some swell feed."
Then he turned to face the front room. "Where's the gink that wanted to see me?" he inquired.
I rose, and seeing me, Sheldon approached.
"Want to see me?" he asked. "Have to excuse me for keepin' you waitin', but I been showin' these fellers how to play their own game. Cleaned up a cool fifty thousand to-day, an' a few days ago it looked as if I was sure bust. Naturally I'm feel-in' a bit good.
"When a fellow's down to his last chip an' draws an ace full he's liable to want to celebrate a bit. I don't know what you want, and I don't care. Let's go somewheres where you can shoot your load in peace.
"What yer say yer name was? Glace? All right! Come along, Mr. Glace, an' have something with Colonel Mac."
Overwhelmed by language, I allowed myself to be led off by the arm and didn't fully recover until we were seated at a small table in a near-by thirst-parlor, with the colonel still running smoothly along.
"Yes, sir, fifty thousand bucks for Colonel Mac. Pretty good, eh? An' ten days ago I was as good as broke. Well, I just kept raising the other fellow and after a while I raised him clean out. Say, I'm going to give a swell feed down to the Kenton to-night to celebrate. I think you said you was a reporter, didn't you?
"Well, you come down to the blowout. It's my party, an' I'm sure going to have one good time. I can afford it, I reckon. Fifty thousand dollars can stand that, I guess."
If the waiter hadn't appeared I imagine he would have been talking yet; but he did and it served to distract the colonel's attention. I seized my chance. "Colonel," said I, "are you any relation to Richard Sheldon of the Fourth National Bank?"
"Am I any relation?" said Sheldon, stopping with his glass half raised. "Oh, no, none at all. His mother and father just happened to be mine also, that's all. He's my brother. Why?"
"He's your brother?"
"Sure! Anything wrong with that? He's my brother, and I'm proud of Dick. He's a comer, that kid is. Worked his way up from office-boy to payin'-teller, an' I betche they make him assistant cashier after a bit. Whenever the assistant takes a day off, they put the kid on his stool now."
"You'll lose that bet about the assistant's position, Mr. Sheldon," I said.
"Hey?" said the colonel, as if doubting his ears. "Say, looky here, Mr. Man; whatjer mean by that? Nobody can't knock Dick to me an' get away with a whole skin. Why, darn it all, he's my brother, an'—"
"Now just a minute, colonel," I interrupted. "Let's understand each other." I met his belligerent glance and held his eye.
"Dick Sheldon may be your brother, and if he is, I'm glad to learn the fact; but from the way you talk I don't believe you know about his arrest."
"Hey! Hold on! What's that?" cried Sheldon, setting down his untasted glass. "His arrest? Say—are you tellin' me Dick's, been pinched?"
"He was arrested just after the bank opened this morning. I've just come from him at the city jail."
"Well—my Lord," gasped the colonel. "Did Dick tell you I was his buddy?"
"He did not."
"Then howdje find it out?"
"I'm a newspaper man," I reminded him with a smile.
"That's so," he said, frowning. "Well, blast it all; ain't that rotten? What did they grab him for?"
"They say he passed a forged check on the bank."
"The fools," sputtered Sheldon. "Don't they know the kid better'n that? Dick never done it, an' I'll gamble on that."
"Somebody did," I told him, "and it was signed with your name."
"Eh?" The colonel grew purple in the face.
"So that's it, is it? Well, that's right. Somebody did try that game a while ago, an' I said it was a forgery myself. But how in time can they get Dick on that?"
"He cashed the check."
"He covered up the report on the forgery."
"Well, the darned fool. What did he do that for?"
"I don't know," I replied. "I thought maybe you would. I'd like to find out."
"Well, I don't; you can bet on that, an' I thought Dick had better sense, the poor cub."
"You don't know anything about its then? I hoped you did."
"I know somebody tried to forge my name," said Sheldon, "an' that's all."
The waiter hurried up in response to a signal from Colonel Mac. "Get me one of them automobile hacks."
"A taxi, colonel?" said the man.
"I want anything that'll get me over the ground fast," howled the colonel, "and I don't give a cuss what you call it, you get it here.
"Arrest Dick, will they?" he continued as the man turned away.
"Well, I guess not. I'm goin' up to the jail and see your constable or sheriff or whatever you call him, an' fix that. I'll have the kid outen that 'fore night. Guess I can give bail.
"I suppose money talks here same as with us out West, an' I got it on me now. Say, Glace, come along with me while I bail the kid out. He don't sleep in no jag-house, while I'm in town. We'll go up an' get him right now."
I shook my head.
"I'm afraid there will be a bit more red-tape to it than that, colonel," I replied. "However, I'll be glad to go with you and introduce you at headquarters, and get you in to see Sheldon. Then you can arrange to give bail, in due form."
Sheldon pulled on his hat, threw the waiter a dollar tip, stalked toward the door and, crossing the pavement, climbed into a waiting taxicab. A few moments later we stopped at the Central Station, and I took him in and introduced him to Dan.
Harrington listened to the colonel's tirade and then shook his head.
"On Glace's say-so we'll let you see Sheldon," he said. "As for bail, he'll have to have a preliminary hearing, and after that you can arrange it with the judge. Do you want to see him now?"
"You can gamble on it, jailer," roared the colonel. "I want to see Dick in an almighty hurry, an' I don't give a darn for all your red-tape or whatever you call it. I wish this was out in Goldfield, and I'd show you how I'd get the kid out."
Harrington smiled, winked at me, and rang for a man to take the irate westerner back. Then Sheldon turned to me.
"It's been mighty kind of you, Glace, to get me in here," he said. "I'm a stranger in a strange land here, all right, an' I sure am proud to have met up with you. Now I'm goin' to try your kindness a bit more. I know you're a reporter an' crazy for news, but I want to see Dick alone. Come down an' see me at the Kenton, an' if I can do anything for you, let me know."
Well, I had hoped to be in on the brotherly interview, but I saw it wouldn't do. I couldn't afford to push things, and I must avoid exciting the colonel's suspicions in any way, so I had to make my bow as best I could and withdraw.
All the same it was with the feeling of missing something important that I saw him follow his guide back to the cell-house. Then I turned away from the station.
I WALKED away from the police station, turning over the facts I had gathered, and after a bit I got hold of a phone and called Smithson up. I explained all that had happened, assured him that I felt there would be big developments in the case, and got his permission to handle the thing in my own way.
Smithson seemed to agree with me that there was a good-sized nigger in the woodpile somewhere, and laughingly told me to dig him out.
"You can bet Sheldon knows more than he's saying," he said after I finished my report. "He's trying to shield some one, and for a guess I'd say it was the person who actually cashed the check. Do you know who that was?"
"Not yet; I'm trying to find out."
"Got a line?"
"I think so, but just now I'm not at liberty to mention names."
"That's a nice shape for a reporter to get himself into," jeered Smithson. "I thought we employed you to get news, not to run a confidential bureau; still, I guess you'll have to run things to suit yourself, in your usual way." And he hung up his phone.
I laughed to myself at Smithson's joshing and decided to go and see Sheldon's sweetheart, though I confess I shrank from the task.
Maybe it was because I was pretty fond of Connie Baird and imagined how the little girl would feel if it had been me instead of Sheldon and I hated to go to Miss Parton. Still, I don't think it was all that, for though I was a newspaper man, and saw a lot of the seamy side of life, yet I always tried to keep a little of the savor of romance in my life. That and ordinary human kindness; and I never have been able to see women suffer without a little grip coming in my throat.
I boarded a Welton Street car and got off at Thirteenth Street and walked up the block. No. 1351 was a small brick cottage set back a ways from the street, with some roses blooming along the walk which led up to the front door.
It looked homey and cozy, and I hated worse than ever to bring sorrow within its walls. Still I had promised Sheldon, if for no other reason, and I went up on the bit of porch and rang the bell.
A moment after the door was open and I was raising my hat to the girl herself. Then I felt still worse.
She was sweet. That is the only word I can find to describe her, and come anywhere near doing justice—just simply sweet. She had blue eyes, and real golden hair, a little straight nose, and a warm red mouth, and—oh, well, I had to admire Sheldon's taste in girls.
"Miss Parton?" I inquired.
"Yes." She smiled.
"I was asked to see you by a mutual acquaintance. May I come in?"
"Of course," said the girl, stepping back from the door, which I entered.
She took me into a pretty little front living-room and gave me a chair. Then she took another and sat easily waiting for what I might say. There was nothing of embarrassment about her attitude, rather it was one of polite attention. I began to hope she would bear the thing well.
"Miss Parton," I began, "I am Mr. Glace of the Record. I was asked to see you by Mr. Richard Sheldon of the Fourth National Bank. Have you seen the evening papers; may I ask?"
The girl looked a bit puzzled at my awkward introduction, then she smiled again.
"If Mr. Sheldon sent you I shall accept you on faith," she said. "Mr. Sheldon and I are very good friends. As for your question, I have not seen the papers as yet."
"Then the hardest part of my errand remains to be gone through with," I blundered along. "Miss Parton, Mr. Sheldon was arrested to-day at half after ten."
For just a moment I thought the woman before me was going to faint. She turned deadly pale and closed her eyes, and sat so while one might count ten.
Then her breast rose in a great sighing inhalation and she opened her eyes and looked me full in the face, pressing her lips close together in her effort at control. Let me tell you, I admired her a lot, right then.
After a moment more she opened her lips for a question.
"For what?" she asked.
"He is accused of forging a check," I said bluntly, because I didn't know how to put it any softer, and I had to tell.
"The check—" she began, caught her breath, and turned from white to red in an instant. "The check was really a forgery, was it?" she completed her sentence at last.
But I had caught the change of intention and I knew she hadn't meant that at first. It was almost as though some certain check had been in her mind when she started to speak.
However, I appeared not to notice and replied to her question: "So it seems."
"Where is he now?" said the girl.
"At present he is in the city jail. I believe parties are arranging to give bail."
"Have you seen him?"
"He asked me to come here."
"Of course," she said, and lapsed into silence, knitting her brows. Finally: "I must go to him," she said.
"I don't think he would wish that," I began, when she interrupted me quickly.
"Did he say that?" she asked.
"No," I admitted; "but to be frank, he told me of your relations, and told me he hoped that you would not be drawn into this thing in any way. That is quite natural, I think."
For a long minute she sat looking down, her fingers locking and unlocking in her lap.
"Poor boy," she said at last.
I saw that I had bungled things in good shape, and used the very argument best suited to take her to Sheldon's side as quick as she could go. I knew Sheldon didn't want that, and I had only one card to play to offset the error I had made.
"Miss Parton," I began again, "I guess I must tell you all the story. You see, Sheldon told me about the little matter of money which occurred recently in regard to your brother. It's as much for his sake as anything else that he wishes you both to keep completely out of this."
"Then you know about Archie?" said the girl in a low voice.
"Just what Sheldon told me—about the thousand dollars," I replied.
"Mr. Glace," said Miss Parton, "my brother is weak. I don't really believe he is vicious at heart; but he is foolish and easily led. I am sure it is nothing more than that."
"Mr. Sheldon merely told me the main facts," said I.
"Did he seem to think that Archie might be dragged into this case?"
"I think he feared it," I hastened to admit.
"And he thought it would be better for me to stay away?"
Well, I couldn't lie to the girl. "He didn't really say," I confessed, "but don't you think so yourself?"
"I don't know what to do," she said slowly. "I want to go to him. The question is, what would be best? But let me tell you Dick Sheldon never forged that check. He's the soul of honor.
"If such a thing can be, he's foolishly honorable. I've seen him do things almost quixotic, because he thought it was his duty to act as he did. That sort of a man doesn't forge checks."
"Not as a rule," I said, smiling in an endeavor to lighten the tension of the thing.
"Who could have done it, do you suppose?"
"I know little about it," I replied. "Presumably the man who issued it, or the one who cashed it—the one man may have done both."
"Then," said she, brightening, "that lets Dick out. They surely must know that he didn't write the check."
"But you see, Miss Parton, Sheldon very foolishly tried to cover the thing up."
"Yes," agreed the girl, "that was foolish, I suppose."
Again she had indicated that she had some knowledge of the matter. I wondered if Sheldon had talked it over with her, or how she knew.
"I suppose he hoped to be able to straighten it out, though I don't just see how," I threw out.
"I'm afraid he was trying to protect some one at his own risk. It would be like Dick," she said.
"The man who cashed the check?" I inquired.
She glanced at me quickly, and asked a question in turn.
"What would they do with that man, Mr. Glace, if they knew who he was?"
"They'd arrest him, I suppose." Again Myrtle Parton shivered and closed her eyes in that way of hers. It was as though she shut out all the visible world when she strove for self-control.
"And if they don't find the man who cashed the thing, they'll be almost sure to send Dick to prison—won't they, Mr. Glace?"
"It certainly looks bad for him," I had to admit.
"But if the man who cashed it were known?"
"If he were known, and could prove where he got the thing, or if he were to be proven guilty himself, it would probably let Sheldon out."
"What is the probable sentence for a thing like that?"
"Five or ten years," I answered, and was sorry the moment after that I had been so frank. Myrtle Parton swayed in her seat so that I half rose to my feet; but she waved me aside.
Then she herself rose and began to walk back and forth across the floor, back and forth, back and forth. Now and then she clenched her hands where they hung at her sides, and after a bit I became aware that she was repeating one word over and over as she walked.
"Dick—Dick—" breathed the girl, half whispering, half sobbing the words.
I didn't say a word; just sat and watched the girl fight her battle and wished I could do something to help her, yet couldn't think of anything to do or a word to say.
Back and forth, back and forth she paced across the room, and finally came back to the chair she had left and sank into it, pale and shaken, yet dry-eyed. She had not raised her voice or shed a tear. It is such grief which hurts.
But not until later did I fully realize what she had been through; what had been the question she had asked herself, and found the answer for, while she paced the floor of the little room. She sat down, and presently she looked me full in the eye.
"Dick Sheldon trusted you, Mr. Glace," she said slowly, "and I know he had a reason for that. I shall do likewise, and place the welfare of mine and myself in your hands. Come here and let me whisper to you for a moment, for if I should say the thing aloud I feel that I should scream.
"I know who cashed that check, and I am going to tell it to you, after you first promise me to divulge it only for the purpose of saving Dick Sheldon from conviction for something of which he is as innocent as myself. Will you promise me that?"
I bowed my head in assent, rose, and went over to where she sat. I put my ear down close to her lips, from which the rosy color had fled, and she whispered a few words as I bent before her, then motioned me back to my chair.
"Now you will leave me, I hope, Mr. Glace," she said. "I want to be alone, to think, to plan what to do. I may go to see Dick, and I may not. I shall decide that after a bit. If anything more happens, I hope you will let me know."
I rose and picked up my hat. Then, bidding her keep her seat, I found my way out and down to the street and caught a car.
I was full of mingled emotions, and hardly saw what I was going to do next. I had learned the name of the man who cashed the forged check, and I could understand Dick Sheldon's attitude; but I was bound by a promise which I held too sacred to break, and I couldn't see what good such information could possibly be to a reporter on the quest of news.
Then I thought of Colonel Mac, and all at once I decided that I'd stop at the Kenton and look him up. Anyway, I had a bid to his banquet, and so I'd just drop in and see what he had done toward getting Dick out of jail.
When I inquired for him at the desk, Jeffrys, who was still on duty, pulled a wry face:
"Didn't you see him to-day? If you didn't, I'd advise you to let him alone tonight. It seems that this Sheldon who was arrested to-day was a brother of his, and Colonel Mac's been raising merry blazes about it ever since. He's like an old bear whose cub's been stung by a bee. All he can do is to wish it had happened in Goldfield, so he could go out and get somebody's scalp."
"I know all that," I told him. "Is the colonel in?"
"Sure he's in," said Jeffrys. "Want to go up?"
"That's what I'm here for," I answered.
Jeffrys banged a bell. "Here, boy! Take Mr. Glace up to Suite B," he commanded and grinned as I turned away.
The boy showed me up and knocked on the door.
"Come in! Come in! And for Heaven's sake stop that darned pounding! I'm no blushing maiden of forty," bawled a voice.
I pushed open the door and passed into the room. I found the colonel in his shirt-sleeves, suspenders down, a palm-leaf fan in his hand, and a long glass by his elbow; the inevitable cigar stuck into his mouth.
"Oh, hallo, Glace!" he greeted. "Come to the party? Well, it's all off. I'd be celebrating with my brother in jail now, wouldn't I? Well, now you're here, sit down. I was just thinking of chasing you up.
"I want you to do something for me. The ways of this town get on a man's nerves. Gosh, but I wish this was Goldfield, and I'd have Dick right here with us now. But here? Oh, not at all.
"'Judge,' says I, 'I'm Colonel MacDonohue Sheldon,' I tell him.
"'H-m,' says he—'yes, yes. To-morrow at eleven, Mr. Sheldon, I think.'
"'But I want to get him out now,' I says.
"'Really, Mr. Sheldon,' says his honor, 'we must do these things in proper form.'
"'I don't give a darn for form—I want my brother,' I tells him, an' he gets as red as a tomater, an' won't say a word. Now, what do you think of that?" The "colonel" paused to drain his glass.
"Then the hearing is at eleven to-morrow?" I got in in the interval.
"That's what that pompous old billy-goat told me," said Sheldon. "Gad, but he made me mad!"
"I don't see what you can do about it," said I.
"I can't do anything—that's what makes me mad," said the colonel; "but there's another thing. To-morrow I'm going down to their little old bank and see this Malin party, and offer him his little old five thousand if he'll drop the case against Dick.
"Five thousand! What's five thousand to me if it will save Dick's hide? Not that he ever done the thing; but these folks back here will do anything for the cash, and I reckon I can get 'em to forget they lost anything if they get it back, an' I want you to go along."
"I don't hardly think they will listen to you at the bank," I told the colonel. "They might even try to make out that you were compounding a felony."
"Is that so?" howled the colonel, chewing viciously on his cigar. "Let 'em try that, an' they'll find they've got a fighter by the tail. But not them, Glace. They'll grab the coin and padlock their jaw. You'll see. Will you go along?"
"Oh, I'll go, and gladly," I assented, "and I only hope it does some good.
"How was your brother feeling this afternoon?" I asked as I resumed my chair.
"Like thunder," said the colonel very promptly. "What could you expect?"
"It's my idea he's shielding some one," I hazarded, and the colonel turned and bored me with a glance.
"That won't make no difference after tomorrow," was all he said.
"I saw his fiancée, Miss Parton, this afternoon," I went on.
This time I drew fire.
"His fiancée!" gasped Sheldon. "Say—is he engaged to that Parton girl? Heavens!"
"She's very much cut up," I vouched further, without appearing to notice his words.
"Darn it all—what did he want to get stuck on her for?" said Sheldon. "But say, I'm glad you told me. Now I know what's the matter with the fool kid."
Things were getting interesting. I had felt the end of another strand of the snarl, and decided that the colonel would be a good man to watch.
"Meet me at quarter to ten to-morrow," said Sheldon.
So I left him, and went back down-stairs.
I LOOKED at my watch as I was leaving the Kenton foyer, and saw that it was nine o'clock. I decided to get a bite to eat, and then go and see Semi Dual.
To those who have not heard of the man, let me here explain a little of his character, in order that they may understand why I wanted to see him of all people to-night.
Semi Dual was what he himself characterized as a "psychological physician." The world at large would call him a "mystic," I suppose.
That was how I, myself, thought of him at first, until I learned that there was nothing mystical about anything he did; that it was rather nothing more than a scientific application of universal laws which enabled him to perform some of the acts which I had witnessed myself.
In reality Semi Dual was a man who dealt in the higher mathematics of universal forces, and used them to gain certain results which he deemed good for the race of man. He was a recluse to a certain extent, and dwelt in magnificent quarters which he had fitted up on the roof of the Urania office building, and in the tower of the same.
These apartments were reached by a splendid staircase leading from the twentieth floor of the building, and at the top of these was an inlaid plate which when trod upon rang an announcing chime of sweet bells.
Here Dual could dwell apart from the rush of the every-day life, and yet keep in touch with its every event. He gave himself up to his own peculiar investigations, and seldom went down into the life of the streets, preferring rather to live apart.
Some months before I had met the man in a peculiar way, and he had helped me unravel a sensational case, by applying his occult knowledge to the same. Since then I had seen him often, and now as a matter of course, he came into my mind.
I stopped at a small café and reenforced the inner man, then I caught a car and rode up to the Urania, and took an elevator up to the top floor. I walked up the stairs to the roof, and set my foot firmly upon the inlaid plate, smiling as I did so to think of the sensations I had felt upon my first visit to Dual's abode.
Now, as then, the chime of bells broke the stillness, and I went on up the pathway, between beds of blooming flowers, until I came to the tower door. It was opened as I approached, and Dual's man-servant waved me to the inner room, where I usually met Dual. I crossed and entered and Semi turned to me with a smile.
"I knew you were coming," said he, motioning me to a chair. "Caught your wave about half an hour ago. What's wrong? A new case is it not?"
I tossed my hat on his desk and took the chair at its side, and I laughed as I sat down.
"A little bit ago I would have thought you a good guesser," I answered. "Now all I have to do is to admit that, as usual, you have read my thought-currents aright."
"Incidentally, I have seen a copy of the Record, also," said Semi, "but, lest I depreciate my ability in your mind, let me suggest that before you tell me the story you let me see the sample of writing which you have brought."
I pulled a face. "Your ability is rated A1," I responded, as I drew out Sheldon's writing and laid it before him on the desk.
He picked it up and looked across at me with his quiet smile.
"You are learning to get these things right along, aren't you?" he quizzed, and gave his attention to the note. And then for the first time I noticed that his imperial and mustache were gone. I sat up.
"You've shaved yourself," I cried.
Dual looked up. "Rather my man did that," he said shortly, and again bent his head over the copy-pad.
"But why?" I persisted.
"My importunate friend," said Dual, laying down the paper, "I can't really see that it masters why; but if it will ease your mind, it was because I desire to be clean shaven. Will that suffice? I might add, however, that it was done within the last hour, because I suspect that I am going to become a very modern among moderns for the next few days, weeks, or months. The prevailing mode of the moment is for little hirsute adornment, I believe."
"What are you going to do?" I inquired.
"I am going to catch a scoundrel and save a man from injustice. Also, I shall help you add to your already splendid reputation as a star reporter. It is on record that Mahomet had to go to the mountain, I believe."
"Talk English, Dual," I requested, "I'm not far enough along to follow your chain of thought."
Semi laughed as he always did when he had me mystified.
"All right," he agreed; "when I read the papers this evening I decided that I wanted to see that forged document. Naturally, I couldn't do it unless I went after it myself. Therefore, I shaved as a preliminary to becoming an expert in chirography, employed by the defense."
"Good Heavens!" I gasped. "Have they been after you? For what purpose?"
"I am interested," said Dual.
"What do you get out of the signature I brought? Does it add to your interest?"
"Indeed it does," he replied.
"Do you think Sheldon forged the check?"
"What do you think?" said Dual. "You have seen the man, as witnessed by this," tapping the copy-pad.
"I think he's a romantic, high-minded fellow, who knows more than he'll say," I replied.
"And that appears to me to be a good guess," said Dual. "Well, see here."
He pushed the pad toward me and began to expound the writer's character as he read it from the written line.
"Colonel MacDonohue Sheldon, as written here by the paying-teller of the bank, shows a marked peculiarity, which is not so very common in handwriting—worse luck.
"It is contained in the size and form of the small 'd,' which, as you will notice, is extremely high, overtopping every other letter in the line. Also, it is unlooped, the upward and downward stroke following the same line, so that the finished letter appears to be formed of but one line. Now, the significance of a 'd' written in this way may be summed up thus:
"Such a 'd,' which we students of chirography designate as a 'high d,' signifies pride and great self-respect. Let me add, however, that this must not be taken to in any way mean mere vanity, egotism, or conceit, for, as a matter of fact, people who possess this peculiarity of handwriting are practically never given to vanity or conceit. They are persons who take great pride of family, of their ancestry and connections.
"On the other hand, they are neither boastful on the subject nor inclined to make any fulsome display, their pride taking rather the form of deep personal feeling, which actually forms a part of their own self-respect.
"In such persons then we may look for an inherent dignity and respect for themselves and theirs, and a great care as to their personal acts. They will not condescend to the mean or petty, lest it compromise their own standing with themselves; in fact, their sense of honor at times becomes exaggerated to an almost fanatical degree. There's no doubt that this is in the hand of Richard Sheldon, is there, Glace?"
"He wrote it for me to-day in the city jail," I replied.
"It is, then, as I thought," said Dual; "and speaking primarily, without any further definite knowledge, I would feel justified in stating that the paying-teller did not forge the check. On the other hand, it may be presumed that he knows who did."
"I suspected that myself," I agreed with him. "He exhibited a marked reticence to-day at the jail."
"Suppose," said Dual, lying back in his chair and closing his eyes, as was his custom when he desired to listen closely, "suppose you begin at the beginning and tell me all the tale. Don't overlook any detail, no matter how apparently trivial it may seem, for sometimes the least word or action may serve to point the direction along which inquiry should run."
I lit a cigarette and prepared to plunge into the account of my doings of the day. I talked for upward of an hour, and during that time Dual lay as passive as though sleeping, never interrupting me by so much as a glance or a word.
Speaking slowly, and obeying his injunction as to care about detail, I took him with me to the jail and my interview with Sheldon, to the Kenton, to the offices of Pearson & Co., to the saloon, back to the jail, to the house on Welton Street, and through the painful interview with Miss Parton. Knowing that it was safe with Dual, I even told him what Sheldon had told me of his fiancée's brother, Archie. Then I took him back to the Kenton, on to the café, and ended with my coming to his place.
When I had quite finished Dual opened his eyes, sat up, and nodded in satisfaction. "Quite a finished narrative," he commented, "upon which I must compliment you, Glace. On the whole, while adding a lot of interesting and useful detail, it does not however change my first opinion of Sheldon in the least.
"It does, however, confirm my belief that he knows, or thinks he knows, who forged the check, and I would venture the opinion that he thinks Archie Parton the guilty man.
"That would explain why he is keeping still about it, and hoping to escape in some other way. Your description of this Western brother of Sheldon's interests me very much. He may bear a little investigation himself.
"There is a chance that getting caught short in a stock deal, he actually issued a check against funds he did not have in such a manner as to have it declared a forgery, hoping to put his deal through in time to replace the money before the thing was found out. I believe you said that the bank-examiners came a little before they were expected, did you not?"
"There you are," said Dual; "though that is all theory as yet. Sheldon, however, I feel sure, thinks Parton forged the check. His having stolen from his present employers would support that in his mind.
"Now I want to meet this 'Colonel Mac,' and I have an idea that I can kill a couple of birds with the proverbial single stone. I intended going to the bank to-morrow and asking to see the check, posing as an expert in handwriting, who was acting in Sheldon's behalf.
"However, in view of what you have told me, I shall change my plans a bit. Tomorrow morning you will come here not later than half past nine. You and I will go to the Kenton, and you will there introduce me to this Western stock gambler as a friend of yours who is a professional writing expert.
"I shall accompany you both to the bank and find a way to see the check; also I shall have a good opportunity to see this older Sheldon in such circumstances that the real character of the man will probably be revealed. Now you had better go home and get some sleep and leave me to my work."
"Aren't you going to sleep, too?" I laughed.
"Not on as clear a night as this, with as interesting a case on my hands," said Dual. "I may catch an hour before dawn, but I want to ask a few questions of the stars before then and, on such a night, their answer should be clear."
"Astrology?" I asked.
"Mean planetary magnetism as affecting earth, man," laughed Dual.
"I suppose you're going to look for Sheldon in the stars?" I guessed.
"He'll be there, all right, if I do," said Semi. "Also I shall look for a number of things. If all goes well I shall tell you tomorrow whether he will be convicted or not, in order that you may ease the mind of a certain little woman at 1381 Welton Street."
"That will be a godsend to her," I said with fervor; I was going to add that it would be kind of him, when I remembered that Dual was uniformly kind, and meant to be.
"Exactly," he answered with a smile. "I am glad to see that you appreciate that the rest of your remark would have been fulsome. I told you once that my mission was to help."
I laughed and picked up my hat. "I'm going home before you tell me what I'll dream about," I said. "A man's very thoughts aren't safe with you, Dual."
"You think with a strong amperage," said my friend.
"All the same," I replied, smiling, "I sometimes feel as though I must have a head of glass when I'm with you. If I didn't know you so well, you'd get on my nerves."
"And that from a star reporter," said Dual, smiling. "Well, see you to-morrow. Shall I ring, or will you let yourself out?"
"I'll get out," I told him and, as I turned away, he was making for the curtains at the end of the room, which I knew concealed the stairs which led to his observatory in the tower's top.
HALF past nine of the following morning found me again on the Urania's roof. As my foot struck the plate of inlaid glass at the head of the stairs, I became conscious of Dual. He was lounging on a bench beneath some vines which grew up over the parapet of the building, and when he saw me he rose and met me half-way.
It was the first time I had ever seen him dressed for the street, and the man's appearance struck me with fresh strength. He was clothed in a modish morning suit of gray-black worsted, in the lapel of which he had fastened a fresh little rosebud, and was wearing a soft hat which blended with his suit.
His feet were thrust into shoes of a dull black finish. He had a pair of light-weight gray gloves on his hands, was carrying a small swagger cane, and smoking a cigarette.
"Good morning," he greeted, laying his hand on my shoulder and turning me around. "You are punctual, which gives me pleasure; suppose we set out at once. Will you have a cigarette?"
"I didn't know you used them," I said in mild surprise, as he offered me his case.
"Gordon," said Semi, with his hand still on my arm, "I use anything I wish, when I so desire. To-day I am no longer Semi Dual the recluse; I am an expert in chirography, my friend. I am going down into the life of your streets, and I prefer to live as well as act the part. As for the cigarette, you will find it good. My friend, the present Khedive of Egypt, gave me something like a million of the things some time ago."
"Mine are made by the Sultan of Sulu," I countered, as I lit the cigarette.
Dual closed his case. "You should have learned by this time, Mr. Glace of the Record, that I do not misstate facts," he said with his dry smile. "Suppose, my doubting Thomas, that you look at that cigarette again."
I did so, and opened my eyes. On the paper in front of the mouthpiece, was a tiny armorial crest.
"The arms of my friend, the Khedive," Dual told me. "Suppose we get down to the street."
After that I followed in silence. We passed down the stairs, took an elevator, and soon dropped to the ground floor. Outside, Dual held up his stick to a taxi. We got in and were whirled away to the Kenton, where we arrived at a quarter to ten.
On the way I had kept my mouth shut, and not until we stopped in front of the hotel itself, did Dual utter a word.
"Suppose you produce the 'colonel,'" he suggested, as he settled himself back in his seat.
I found the colonel pacing the lobby and opening and shutting the case of his watch. When he saw me enter he came forward at once.
"Oh, there you are!" he cried in an evident relief. "I been waiting for you for a half hour. Of course you weren't due till now, but I'm all of a sweat over this thing of Dick's. I called up your paper, and some fellow told me if I knew where you were I had one on him.
"Said if I found you to put a tag on you an' deliver you by express. Well come on! Let's get goin'. I want to see that Malin person mighty quick, 'fore he gets to chinnin' with anybody else. Hey boy!" to a passing page. "Get me one of them taxi things quick."
I held up my hand to the boy. "I've got one at the door, colonel," I informed him. "Also I've got a friend of mine with me too. He's Professor Dual, who is a professional writing expert, and I thought it might be well to let him have a look at the forged check. Do you mind? It might help Dick."
For just a moment it seemed to me that Colonel Sheldon was not so well pleased as might have been expected by my zeal in his brother's behalf; then he nodded shortly, and strode toward the doors.
"All right! Come on!" he threw back with the trail of his cigar's smoke. "If you think your writin' sharp can help the kid any, why I'll take a chance."
I followed him out and we got into the cab. Then I introduced Semi Dual. Colonel Sheldon eyed him closely, as he put out his hand.
"I've heard about you fellers," he said as Dual took the tendered palm and shook it. "They say you can do some funny things. Well, my brother's in bad, as I reckon Glace has told you; so if you can do anything for him, go as far as you like; I've got enough coin to see the kid through, an' if I ain't, I can get more."
Dual smiled and shook his head.
"You don't just understand, Colonel Sheldon," he replied. "I'm in this as a matter of professional interest pure and simple. I asked Glace to bring me along. If I can help your brother free himself from the circumstances by which he is involved at present, I shall be only too glad. As for remuneration, I neither ask nor expect anything more than that."
I could see that his remarks took Sheldon aback. For maybe a minute he sat silent, before he made any reply at all.
"That's a good sporting proposition," he said after the interval. "I've sure been lucky in meetin' Glace and his pals. But see here, professor; us Sheldons always figger on payin' fer what we get."
"Let us discuss it later then," said Dual with indifference. "There is no time now, for we are about at the bank."
The taxi stopped in front of the Fourth National, and Dual told the driver to wait. Then we all turned and entered the doors, the blinds of which a porter was just rolling up.
Cashier Malin was already at his desk, and the porter took us back and knocked on his door. A moment later we were in the man's presence, and, acting as spokesman, I presented Sheldon and Dual.
George Malin was the human incarnation of the hog. He was large and short and stout. His head was round with heavy jowls, and his neck rose straight up from his shoulders until it was lost in the close-cropped hair of his scalp.
His eyes were small and set deeply between fat pouched eyelids. His nose was broad, his lips loose, and a series of double chins dropped downward until constricted by a low, roll collar. His hands were pudgy and ornamented by a couple of diamond rings.
He fastened his small eyes sharply upon the colonel, who was puffing furiously upon his long cigar, giving Dual and myself scarcely a glance.
"Sit down Mr. Sheldon," he said after an interval of scrutiny. "What can I do for you?"
"You can drop this here case against Dick Sheldon," said Colonel MacDonohue, coming directly to the point. "He's my brother, and he never forged no check in all his life. That kid's straight. But he's in bad and I know it, an' that's why I come to you.
"I tell you Malin, money ain't no object to me alongside of Dick's goin' to the pen, so I'm going to give you folks your little old five thou and you can drop this thing about Dick. How does that strike you; eh? Sounds pretty good, hey? Get your money back, and never have no bother at all. Pretty soft, Malin; don't you think?"
Malin narrowed his pig eyes to slits. "It looks like a confession of guilt to me," he replied, pursing his lips. "From your method of expression, Mr. Sheldon, I presume you are from the region commonly known as the West. I am not familiar with your methods of justice in that section, but here, we are not in the habit of compounding felonies, my dear sir."
Colonel MacDonohue Sheldon dropped into a chair, and leaned forward toward Malin, across his desk; stretched, forth a long bony hand and shook a finger in the cashier's face.
"Compoundin' nuthin'!" he roared. "I told you Dick didn't do it, didn't I? Well if I say he didn't he didn't, an' that settles that. Now can you compound somethin' what wasn't done? You tell me that. I know somethin' about your methods here, if you ain't wise to us out in the West, an' all I got to say, is that if this was in Goldfield, we'd get this fixed up in about two minutes, and there wouldn't be no trouble at all."
"That may be so," remarked Malin, leaning back in his seat, "but you must admit that to me you are personally unknown. Your mere assertion that your brother is innocent has no weight at all—"
"Are you tryin' to tell me that I'm lyin'?" said Sheldon in very mild accents.
"I am merely pointing out the futility of your present course," the cashier replied.
"Because if you are," the colonel continued as though not interrupted, "it will give me great pleasure to make you eat them words."
Malin held up a hand. "This is all useless," he said. "In the first place, I could not do what you ask, without consulting the rest of the directors of the bank. Secondly, the hearing is at eleven and there is no time to do that.
"Thirdly, the case against Mr. Sheldon is clear. The forgery was concealed from this bank by him. He had the exact amount in his safety deposit-box. He claims it was private funds, but if so why did he not deposit them in the bank instead of concealing them in the box?
"Further, the day after the forged check was cashed, he used a thousand dollars. The vault attendant saw him take two five-hundred-dollar bills from the vault. The forged check was paid from a new issue of currency we had just got in. We have been able to trace, at least partially, the two five hundred dollar bills which our paying-teller took from his vault that night.
"They are deposited in another bank by a young woman, who placed them to the credit of a certain firm, which banks there as well as with us. The numbers on those bills happen to correspond to some of the currency used in paying the forged check.
"Now," he leaned forward and fixed the colonel with his eyes, "don't you think you've gone a little far in asking me to accept hush money to allow a proven forger to escape?"
For a minute or more Sheldon sat staring at the other's face as though but half comprehending. Under the tan of his skin he grew a pasty sort of white.
Then he rolled his cigar to the other side of his mouth, set his jaw squarely, and opened his lips. "D'ye mean that them two five-hundred bills clinches this thing on to Dick?" was what he said.
"Any jury will convict on such evidence, I assure you," replied the cashier.
Sheldon nodded, slowly. "But if it could be proved that he didn't have them in his box at first; that he didn't know nuthin' about it, to begin with?" he asked.
I sat up; so did Dual. Malin leaned back and shook his head. "It would have to be pretty strong evidence to shake our case."
"And you won't consider my proposition?" said Sheldon. "Look here, Malin, I'll double that bet. Make it ten thousand, and call the thing off. Why—"
"Are you offering me a bribe?" Malin's flabby features grew a purplish red. "No!" he cried, pounding the desk with his jeweled hand. "Sheldon, your brother's guilty, and we both know it. Now, then, this is my last word, and after I've said it, you can get out: I shall appear against him at eleven o'clock, and before I am done with him he'll be wearing stripes."
Sheldon sprang to his feet with something very near a howl. With both hands on the desk, he leaned across toward the opposite man.
"My Lord," he cried, "but I wish this was Goldfield! I'd show you what I'd do if it was. I'd get you—yes, sir, I'd get you. Why, I've a mind to do it, anyhow, you—you—"
Dual pulled the irate man down, and Malin turned to me with a slow, cruel smile.
"I would suggest that you get your friend out quietly, Mr. Glace, as I have no desire to make another arrest of the Sheldon tribe. I have no family feud against them, you know."
Dual spoke on the instant, however, having got the colonel into a seat, where he sat chewing upon his cigar and gazing moodily at the floor.
"Before we go, Mr. Malin, I desire to examine the forged check for a moment. Mr. Glace told you, I believe, that I am a writing expert. It was for that that I came along."
"The check is not on exhibit," said the cashier.
"Of course not," agreed Semi; "but equally, of course, I will get to see it sooner or later in due process of law, and I felt assured that it would make little difference to you what that time might be."
"What good would it do you?" queried Malin.
"I hope to be able to find certain things about it which will be of use to the defense."
"And naturally you would find them, wouldn't you?" Malin indulged in a grin.
Dual rose, went over and sat down upon an end of the desk. Then he looked the cashier full in the eye.
Slowly the grin faded from the flabby face, and he became evidently uncomfortable under that silent stare.
Then Dual replied.
"Mr. Malin," he said very quietly, yet clearly, "there was not the slightest excuse for your gratuitous insult. Therefore, I am not minded to overlook it in any degree. It was caused by the impulse of a bully, and decent men sometimes have to call the bullies down. Mr. Malin, I desire to see the forged document in this case, and you are going to let me see it. That is so, is it not?"
Malin nodded his head. "I've got it with me," said he, reaching into an inner pocket. "Look at it all you want, but be careful of the thing."
"You shall have it back in a moment," said Semi. "Glace, come here. Take this check, straighten it out, and go over and hold it in the sunlight. Steady—so!"
He rose and, taking a small pocket camera from one of his pockets, approached me, focused carefully, and a moment after was in possession of a copy of the check.
When he was done he took the paper-slip from my fingers and returned it to Malin, who sat as we had left him. Malin took it and replaced it in a bill-fold without a word
"And now," said Semi Dual, "suppose we be going. I shall not have to trouble you again, Mr. Malin. That is mutually acceptable, I presume? Allow me to add, however, in parting, that should I desire to consult the cashier of the Fourth National at any time, after, say about thirty days, I shall find a more courteous man in the chair."
Malin still sat at his desk. He made no sign as we filed out of the room. When we were out in the general banking-room, however, Dual turned to me and slowly winked one eye.
We left the bank and went out to our cab. Dual motioned the colonel to enter, and, as I would have followed, placed a hand on my arm.
"One moment, Glace," said he; "I'm not going with you, because I am not needed, and I have work to do. When you see Miss Parton this morning, as you doubtless will at court, tell her that I said she should stop all worry as far as necessary; that I promise her Sheldon's release within thirty days."
In turn, I seized him by the arm. "Dual," I cried, speaking shrilly in my excitement, "do you really mean that?"
"S-s-sh!" said Semi. "You remember that I told you that I would ask a question last night? The answer was plain, I have given you the salient part. You may rest assured of the outcome, for the stars do not lie. See me to-night without fail."
He turned away. I entered the cab, and the colonel and I set out for the court. As the taxi swung out into the street I looked back and saw my strange friend lifting his cane to another cab which was passing, and then I lost him in the crowd.
The hearing was pretty tame, after all. True to his word, Malin appeared against Sheldon, and on his evidence the prisoner was held for trial. Thereupon the colonel's attorneys made application for bail, and the court fixed the sum of ten thousand, which Colonel Mac immediately put up.
While the details were being arranged Dick Sheldon was allowed to go into a private room, and as he disappeared through its door I rose and went back to the rear where I had noticed Myrtle Parton sitting as I came in.
I spoke to her, gave her Dual's message, and saw her grasp at it, as though it might have been a sort of spiritual straw to her drowning soul. Then I suggested that we go to see Dick.
She sprang to her feet and I led her back to the waiting-room, and took her in. Sheldon was sitting with bowed head as we entered, but got up quickly and came to meet her with outstretched hands. I turned away, but not before they had met and he had drawn her into his arms. Then as I was closing the door I heard Dick Sheldon speak quickly.
"Where is Archie?" he asked.
"At his work as us—" The door came shut and cut the girl's answer in two. But I had heard Archie's name again in connection with the case.
I hung around until Sheldon was released; then I left Colonel Mac, Dick, and the girl and went up to the office of the Record to try and put my story in shape as far as I could.
Smithson listened to my report and shook his head.
"I was beginning to fancy you'd fallen down, and were afraid to come back," he said, grinning; "but I guess we can look for some funny developments. Well, if Sheldon didn't forge the check, this 'Colonel Mac' knows something about it for a safe bet. Take a tip from me and stick to his trail."
"Thanks," I told him, rising and getting my hat. "When I get the answer I'll tell you all about it, rest assured of that."
"And report once in a while," grinned Smithson, "or I'll run you in the 'Lost—Reward.'"
I DIDN'T forget my appointment with Dual that evening, for I was very anxious to learn what he had discovered. Consequently, as soon as I had had a bite of dinner, I went up to the Urania with a mind primed for startling things.
I got what I expected, for as soon as I was seated Dual turned to me actually grinning, and fairly took my breath away.
"I've engaged a Pullman section for you on the midnight train for Chicago. You leave for Goldfield to-night," said he.
I dropped my cigarette. "I do what?" I gasped in my surprise.
"Take the midnight train for Chicago. Get a train there for Goldfield, Nevada. I believe the Union Pacific to Ogden, and the Salt Lake route from there southwest will about fill the bill."
"But see here," I cried, "I'm a newspaper man, and I can't run away like that without notice. Besides, I haven't the money to do it. The Record won't send me, and I haven't got time to get my things ready by twelve o'clock."
"All but the first objection are already removed," said Dual. "Your passage is taken to Chicago. I shall give you whatever else you need for expenses. Also, I took the liberty of sending my man to your rooms to-day, and, as he is a good judge, all your best belongings are now reposing in a couple of suit-cases in the outer room. There remains, therefore, but one thing for you to do, and that—make your farewell to Smithson as soon as you like."
I looked at the man, and again he grinned.
"I was looking for some new developments when I came up here to-night," I said after a moment, "but this surpasses anything I ever dreamed. If I can get away from Smithson, hanged if I don't go."
"You will go in any event," said Dual.
"But my job, Semi? I've got to live when I get back."
"Suggest to Smithson that you go as a special writer for the Record at your own expense," said my friend. "He'll let you off."
"It's the limit," I said in feeble protest, "but I'll do it if I break my neck. I'll go see him now."
"Why see him at all?" said Semi Dual. "Use my phone."
I nodded. "After a bit," I said slowly. "Wait till I get it myself. I am going to Goldfield, but why Goldfield of all places in the world?"
"Because," said Semi Dual, "I need a man at the other end of the line."
"All right—where's the lamp?" I said.
Semi smiled. "The lamp?" he repeated.
"Sure! I begin to feel like the slave of one. Go on and rub it and I'll be in Goldfield. Why bother with trains?"
"Your arrival on the limited will cause less comment," said Dual. "Now, if you'll listen closely I'll tell you why you are going and what you are to do. You can then break the news to Smithson, and go down and get your train.
"After I came back from the bank I developed my plate of the forged check. I admit I had seen some of its details at the bank, but I wanted to study the thing, so I took the photograph.
"I had been fortunate in getting a very clear negative, and I was able to follow the writing's characteristics closely, thereby learning some interesting things. To begin with, there is a difference in the writing of the body of the check and the signature. It is contained in one letter alone; but that is, I think, enough.
"Now, let's take up the signature itself. It shows a marked difference from the same name written for you by the paying-teller, and rather oddly the most marked difference is found again in the letter 'd,' which in the signature on the forged check is written with a large loop.
"The primary significance of such a 'd' is sensitiveness. The pride of this writer is worn on the sleeve and is very easily wounded; he is touchy, and liable to anger over trivial causes. He takes offense hastily, and frequently over the merest trifle. He is apt to continually feel that he has been wronged or insulted, and may at times violently resent the same.
"If the loop is greatly exaggerated, it shows extreme morbidness on the subject of one's pride and rights. It often occurs in the writings of persons who are mentally deranged, and always denotes some morbid quality of the mind along the lines I have indicated.
"This signature is presumably a clever imitation of the colonel's, and, while he pronounces it a forgery, still we must remember that it was sufficiently like the real thing to fool his own brother, who presumably should know his writing quite well.
"Therefore, we may assume that it is a very close copy of the elder Sheldon's signature. It remains, therefore, to find out if the writing in the body of the check is similar to his, and a study of it will show a peculiarity of the shape of the small 'i' in the word 'five.'
"In all other respects it resembles the signature, but that 'i' does not harmonize. It is bent over at the end, almost like a half 'c,' so that unless dotted it might pass for that letter instead of an 'i.'
"While my man was getting your wardrobe together this afternoon I had him stop at the Kenton and examine the register, to see how Sheldon had written Goldfield, which contains an 'i.' He reports that it in no way varies from the usual form of the letter, and does not resemble the 'i' which appears in this check."
"Who then could have written the thing?" I inquired.
"That is what we have to find out within the next four weeks," said Dual. "After I found out the peculiarities of the check I sent a message to Goldfield. I have a friend there, whom I once helped to locate a mine some few years ago. I wired him to see what he knew about this elder Sheldon, and he replied at once:
"'It seems that the colonel lives in Goldfield, all right. He has a house there, and a daughter and a maiden sister. The women are at home right now.'
"When I heard that I decided to send you out there. You can pass yourself off for an Eastern writer, who is after material for special articles, and it will be your duty to find out all you can about Colonel Sheldon and his family, or anybody connected with them, and write me a daily report of anything you find out.
"You can stop with my friend, John Curzon. I shall wire him that you are coming, and he'll put you up. I would advise that you carry out your character of writer, even to him, for though he would be willing to do anything to help me, he can serve us best by believing you what you claim to be. He is not much of a talker, but you'll have a good excuse on your part for asking questions, and in wiring I'll suggest that he help you out on local facts.
"He knows everybody in that section almost. Find a way to meet Miss Sheldon, and get on intimate terms if you can. Time spent in her society is likely to yield big results. I have packed a camera among your cases, and I want you to try and send me likenesses of any interesting characters you meet.
"Also keep up your habit of collecting handwritings, and forward them to me. You say the paying-teller told you that Archie Parton spent some time out West; you also mentioned that the page in Pearson & Co.'s offices said Parton knew the colonel at some previous time.
"Try and find out whether Parton ever spent any time in Goldfield by any chance. I have prepared a letter to my friend which will serve to introduce you in your capacity of special correspondent. Also he is in possession of a special code cipher, which he and I sometimes use in telegraphing concerning important business.
"Should you need to communicate with me upon anything urgent, ask him for it, and he will let you use it, I am sure."
He handed me the letter he had mentioned, and I stored it in my coat.
"And now," said Semi Dual, glancing at his watch; "I would suggest that you call up your friend Smithson, and break the news that you are going away." He opened a door in one end of his desk and drew out a telephone, which he placed before me.
I took up the instrument and gave the Central Exchange the Record's number. After a bit a voice came to me over the wire.
"Give me Smithson," I directed.
"This is Glace."
"Hello, you candied prune," growled the city editor facetiously. "What's the news?"
"I'm going to Goldfield to-night," said I.
"You're going to get fired if you do. What's the matter in Goldfield that they need you?"
"The Sheldon trail leads that far."
"Then let it lead," said Smithson. "You don't have to follow, do you, hey?"
"But I want to put this through."
"Goin' to walk?" said Smithson. "I sha'n't pay your way."
"I'll pay my own way, and I'll send you back a lot of feature stories," I told him, and waited to see what he would say.
"Yes you will," he jeered at me, and I could seem to see him grinning. "Who's the angel, Gordon? Say, honest, is this thing on the level, now, Glace?"
"I'm going, if that's what you mean," I informed him, "only I don't want to cut loose from the paper. Let me be your special correspondent, without salary, till I get back, and I'll pay all my own expenses on the trip."
For a few seconds Smithson didn't reply. Then he grunted in evident disgust. "You sure are a nice one," said he, "running around the country, when I may need you any day. Still, if you want a vacation as darned bad as that, why beat it, but don't you fall down on the stories, or I'll fire you whenever you do get back."
"I'll not forget," I assured him.
"Say, Glace." Smithson dropped his jeering tone and grew serious, as he sometimes did. "Is this straight about the Sheldon case? Are you really on the trail of a sensation?"
"I am giving it to you straight," I told him, "and I'll give you a good story when I get back. I am going to Goldfield in Sheldon's behalf. Now you know who the angel is."
"All right," my editor answered. "Go to it, and good luck, old man." He hung up the phone.
I put the receiver back on the hook and turned again to Semi Dual. "That is all fixed, and the last tear of parting is shed. From now on till the end of this case, I am in your hands, O maker of destinies, and ruler of fate."
Dual smiled. "Here is an envelope. It contains one thousand dollars," he remarked, flipping a sealed package across the desk to me. "If you need more, tell John Curzon to give it to you, and charge it to me."
"Look here, Dual," I said, as I picked it up; "why send me to Goldfield? Why don't you use your powers to work things out, without all this bother and fuss? I'll bet you know the outcome right now."
"You're getting quite clairvoyant yourself," laughed Semi, "but you want to remember that modern courts of law do not recognize the evidence of trance mediums or astrologers as being of value, my friend. Personally I have worked the case out to its end, and I might venture to tell you what you will discover in Goldfield.
"I prefer to let you work it out yourself, and get such substantiating facts as we may use in the case in Sheldon's behalf. And now I would suggest that you get down to your train. When you return to New York the final scenes will be played out right here. When I telegraph for your return, come at once. Good-by, and good luck to you, Glace."
He rang for his man to bring out my grips. I took my hat and extended my hand.
"You're the most practical mystic I ever met," I told him, "and I'm yours to command. Behold me on my way to Goldfield. I shall write you every day."
NOTHING of any interest happened on my trip westward. I had never been west of Chicago, however, and after leaving that busy city I found plenty to amuse me during the time spent on the train.
I cultivated the acquaintance of several men, and picked up all the stray information concerning my destination which they were able to give me, and, on the whole, enjoyed myself pretty well. At Salt Lake City fate stepped into the game and gave me a pat on the back. I had varied Dual's plan a bit at Chicago, and taken the through flyer on the Salt Lake route, so that I did not have to change at Ogden.
In that way I avoided all trouble over berth reservations, and the other annoyances which go with changing cars. When we pulled into the Salt Lake depot I was sitting on the rear observation-platform, taking a good look around. It was there the porter found me, and suggested that I take a ride up-town, as they stopped for an hour before going on.
I naturally availed myself of the privilege to stretch my legs, after being cooped up for days, and leaving the car I went out to a trolley, and rode up through the business section, got off and purchased some books and papers, and took a car back to the train. Then occurred one of those freaks of electricity which are always bobbing up. The power failed and we were stalled.
I looked at my watch. We had fifteen minutes left to make my train. I glanced about the car, and noticed a number of other persons taking the same anxious interest in the matter as was I myself. Five minutes passed, and at last the car started.
When we reached the station everybody tried to get off at once. Just ahead of me was a girl, who, even in my anxiety not to miss my train, had caught my eye. She was what I would call brilliantly dark. That is, she had dark hair and eyes, black eyebrows, and vividly red lips. While small, she was in no wise calculated to give an impression of delicacy, for she was as smooth and trim in her movements as a well-built machine.
As is always the case at such a time, somebody shoved, as they tried to get out of the car in some one else's turn, and the little girl was thrown from her feet, just as she reached the steps.
Chance or something put me where I could catch her as she fell. I supported her to one side and set her firmly on her feet, where she smiled and thanked me, endeavored to take a step forward, and stopped with an involuntary cry.
"I'm afraid I've hurt my ankle," she gasped.
I glanced at the station clock. We had two minutes left. "What train were you taking?" I made bold to ask.
"The Salt Lake, west," said the girl briefly, "and I just must make it if I can."
It was no time for ceremony.
"Pardon me," I said quickly, and before she could protest I had gathered her up in my arms and was running toward our train. I just skimmed through the barriers as they were closing, hopped and jumped over the tracks, and ran alongside the already moving train.
My porter saw me, and lent a willing hand. Together we got the girl onto the platform, and I climbed up myself and hung on to a hand-hold while I regained a bit of breath. Then, rather inanely, perhaps, I gasped:
"Well, we made it!"
I climbed on up the steps, and together the porter and I helped the now blushing girl inside. Then I gave the darky the high sign that a tip was coming, and ordered him to take the girl to a stateroom and hunt up some woman to assist her.
"She's sprained her ankle, I think," I made an end.
"Oh, but you mustn't do that?" said the girl. "I'll be all right."
But I overruled her protests. We helped her to a seat, and the porter hunted up the conductor, and he unlocked a stateroom, and we got the girl onto the divan.
Then the porter hunted up a motherly old lady, and she soon had him running around with pitchers of hot water, while I made him grin at the tip I put into his hand.
"Golly," said that dusky son of Ham, "dis yere is sure mighty romantic; yes, sir, it certainly is."
Some time later the porter hunted me up.
"Say, boss," he remarked, grinning, "the young lady in de stateroom wants to know kin you come in for a minute?"
I got up and answered the summons with alacrity.
I found my chance acquaintance reclining in a seat with the injured ankle supported upon a pillow.
"How is the foot now?" I inquired.
"As well as possible," she replied smiling, and extended her hand. "I sent for you to express my appreciation of your kindness. I am Miss Sheldon, and I live in Goldfield. Won't you sit down?"
Here was news indeed. I took the girl's proffered hand and dropped upon a seat.
"I am George Gordon," I told her—that was the name Dual and I had agreed upon—"and I am a special writer for the Eastern papers. As for what little I have done, pray forget it. We were literally thrown together, you know."
Miss Sheldon laughed at my rather poor joke. "You are very kind to treat my mishap in that light," she replied.
"It was fate," I stated. "The funny thing about it all is that I intended hunting up a man whom I now suspect is your father, when I arrived in Goldfield—'Colonel MacDonohue Sheldon.'"
"Are you going to Goldfield?" Miss Sheldon cried in evident delight.
"If the train stays on the track," I replied.
"Oh, I'm so glad," said the girl. "You know we have to change at Las Vegas, and I've been wondering how I was ever to manage it. Now perhaps I can impose upon you still farther. I've no one else I can depend upon, you see."
"I am doubly glad I'm going to Goldfield," said I. "It really was a providential meeting, I suspect."
"And you meant to look up father?" said Miss Sheldon. "I'm sorry, but he's in the East right now, though I expect him home very soon. I can't say just when, because for the last week I've been in Salt Lake with a girl friend who is in a hospital, and am just getting back."
"If it won't be too long I think I must wait," I suggested. "You see, I was told that he is an authority on your local mining situation, and as I am writing up that subject for my paper, I am naturally very anxious to have a talk with him."
"I'm sorry he's away," said the girl; "but, of course, you will call, and as soon as I get home I will find out when father is expected back. Let me give you my address. I hope you will come soon, and let me show you that I really do appreciate all you have done."
I had an idea.
"You are very good," I accepted. "I'll be glad to come up and mark the progress of the foot." Then I made a pretense of feeling in my pockets.
"I'm afraid I've left my note-book in my section," I confessed. "If you'll excuse me I'll go get it and write the address down."
"No matter," said Miss Sheldon. "I ought to have my hand-bag here somewhere with my cards. Look about if you will and see if you can find it, Mr. Gordon."
I complied, but there was no hand-bag in sight. I admitted my inability to find it, and Miss Sheldon made a little wry face.
"I probably dropped it when I fell from the car, and we neither one of us noticed. Well, then it's gone. Lucky I had my ticket in my suit-case." She began to laugh.
"We must have been a funny spectacle, Mr. Gordon, when you so cavalierly bore me to my train, with my suit-case bumping against your knees."
"I thought they felt sore," I admitted, entering into her spirit. "I was wondering if I was developing rheumatism or what."
"If you'll hand me the case I'll get something to write on," said Miss Sheldon. And I got the bag up, opened it for her, and laid it at her side.
She fumbled about among some letters and papers, and finally removing a letter from the envelope, wrote her name and address on the back, and handed it to me.
"That isn't any more formal than all the rest of our intercourse," said she smiling, "but it will suffice till you can get to your section and copy it in your book."
I read the address and folded up the envelope to put it away. I had got what I wanted, which was a copy of her writing; but, as it happened, I had obtained something more, for, as I folded the paper together, there appeared a return notice in the upper corner, and I caught the name of Archie Parton on the thing.
I was so surprised that I started, and I saw Miss Sheldon noticed the act. There was but one way to cover my action, and that the natural one, of course. Therefore I turned to her and pointed to the written name. "Do you know Parton?" I asked.
"Why, yes," said Miss Sheldon. "Do you?"
I shook my head. "Not personally, but I do know his sister. She is a very sweet girl. I know of her brother, who is working for a brokerage company in my home, and when I saw his name on this envelope I naturally was surprised."
"I see," said Miss Sheldon. "Really, Mr. Gordon, this meeting is a funny thing. Here you are coming way out here to meet papa, and he was actually in your own town when you started, I think. He will laugh when I tell him about that.
"As for Archie, he was out here two years ago, and worked for papa until he went back East. We correspond occasionally. I received that letter while I was in Salt Lake. He is a very nice boy, though a little inclined to be wild, and we used to have him up at the house a good deal when he was out here. How is he getting along?"
There was a heightened color in the girl's face, and I felt that I had probably opened a personal affair.
"I believe he is doing all right," I hastened to assure her. "I have been told that Pearson & Co. think quite well of him."
"I am glad of that," she said quickly. "Sometimes I have thought papa didn't seem very well pleased at my getting letters from Archie, but I know the boy is all right at heart. He has a very sensitive nature, and I don't think most people understand him very well." Then she changed the subject to other things.
The afternoon passed very pleasantly. As the dinner hour drew on I had the porter get us a little table, and we had a cozy supper sent in from the dining-car. We ate and drank and talked and laughed.
After a bit I excused myself and went out for a smoke. When I was alone in a seat in the buffet I drew out the envelope and gazed at it in admiration. I had surely accomplished a lot of my task already, and felt highly pleased at the turn of events. I had clearly proven that Miss Sheldon knew Archie Parton, and that he had been in Goldfield, and in Sheldon's employ.
Better than all else, I had a sample of his handwriting, and as I examined it under the light of an overhanging reading-lamp screwed to the window-frame, I suddenly felt shaken at a discovery which I made. The address was clearly written, in a small, running hand.
"Miss Alice Sheldon, Hotel Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah." In the upper corner was a five-day return order to Archie Parton. And every "i" in the entire superscription had that strange half-curved form which Dual had mentioned to me.
My hand shook as I put the envelope carefully away in my bill-fold. I wondered if I had found the man, even before reaching my destination. The curved "i's" of the letter and the curved "i's" of the forged check swam and intermingled before my mental vision, and I confess I felt actually faint.
I got up and went back, and mechanically inquired for my fair protégé's condition. Even as I did so the old lady came again to assist her to bed, and I was glad of the fact. I felt that I could not bear a good part in small talk to-night.
I went back to my section and had my berth made up. Then I climbed in and spent an hour writing up my report to Semi Dual, after which I turned off the light and lay looking out of the window at the speeding landscape, my head full of a veritable jumble of things, mixed up with which were the faces of two women, one blond and valiant, one brunette and smiling. I knew that my being right, would bring heartache and tears to both of them.
MORNING found us still speeding across the barren country, and we made Las Vegas without further incident, got the train for Goldfield, and in due time arrived at that place. I assisted Miss Sheldon in the change at Las Vegas, and we chatted together until we reached her home town.
A bluff and ruddy Englishman met me at the steps of the coach as I alighted, and introduced himself to me as John Curzon, Dual's friend. To him I mentioned Miss Sheldon's accident, and we saw her safely to a cab. She shook my hand at parting and urged me once more to call, and I promised to do so on the subsequent evening, after which Curzon and I returned to his waiting motor. He spun the crank and the engine exploded with a roar. We climbed in and were soon whirling away for his town house.
"I got Abdul's message," said Curzon, after we were running on the third speed. "He wired me to meet you on this train."
"Whose message?" I inquired.
"Abdul's—Oh, Dual's," said my acquaintance. He smiled at me in quizzical fashion. "Just how well do you know that chap?"
I explained that I had met Dual while working for my paper, and Curzon nodded his head. "He's a funny old chap," he remarked. "Not everybody knows his real name. You see his father was a high-caste Persian, and his mother a Russian princess, or something like that, I believe, but Abdul didn't like his name. Said it attracted too much attention to his oriental blood, so he dropped the 'b,' shuffled the 'a' about a bit, and got Dual as a result.
"His first name, Semi, he took because, as he explained, he was only half Abdul anyway, his mother being of a different race, and there you've got the whole thing. I believe you have a letter for me? He mentioned that you would."
I handed over Dual's letter of introduction, and Curzon put it in his pocket without a glance.
"Any friend of Abdul's is a friend of mine," he declared. "Some years ago he made me rich. It was on his advice that I bought up the abandoned prospect, which is now our mine, and which has made us both independently well off. He insisted that it was a mine, and it was.
"He certainly has a wonderful brain, and he does a lot of things which I don't pretend to understand. Still, I always feel that I owe him all I have. If it hadn't been for him I suppose I'd still be wandering round with a burro and a bag of beans, as I was when he took me up. Now, Mr. Gordon, that we are introduced, I want you to consider yourself my guest. As Semi himself would say: 'My house and all that is in it are yours.'"
I was expressing my thanks for such hospitality when we arrived at the Curzon place, and my host turned me over to a sort of Jap butler, who escorted me to my rooms. After I had bathed and freshened myself up a bit I went down and joined Curzon, and shortly after dinner was announced.
Conversation at the meal was limited to small talk mostly, and it was not until we had gone out on the porch for an after-dinner smoke, and the cigars were going well, that it reached any connected state. It was a beautiful, warm night, in early September, and there was a full moon which made the whole world look like silver, and softened the outlines of the surrounding hills.
Curzon took his cigar from his lips and blew a little spiral of smoke.
"Abdul used to like these nights," he said in a reminiscent tone. "He used to say they reminded him of Persia. He's a peculiar fellow, that friend of mine, and he's been all over the world, more or less."
"He has never told me anything about himself," I admitted. "I have often wished he would do so. Thus far he has not."
"He's done it to two people in his life, he tells me," said Curzon, "and I was the second one. The first, it seems, rather disappointed the chap. Woman, of course."
I laughed, and continued to smoke.
"To-morrow we must go up to the mine." Curzon abruptly changed the subject. "From your letter to me I expect you will be wanting to see our workings here, and get a lot of notes.
"If you'd like, I'll call up Schiff, my superintendent, and arrange to go through our properties, say to-morrow afternoon."
"I would like nothing better," said I. I had a part to play, and I was resolved to make good.
"Right," said Curzon. "I'll call Schiff up to-night."
"Mr. Curzon," I said, resolving at least to throw out a feeler, "I believe you know most of the folks around here, do you not?"
"Rather well," said my host. "Any particular ones?"
I thought he chuckled, where he sat in the shadow of some vines, and I had an idea I could make a guess at his thoughts.
"I may as well admit that I like a pretty face," I confessed with what I hoped was a slight embarrassment. "The young lady whom I met on the train said her name was Sheldon. What sort of folks are they?"
"That, Mr. Gordon, is a very bald question," Curzon replied. "I would certainly be no gallant if I admitted anything wrong with Alice Sheldon. As a matter of fact, the girl is all right. Equally as a matter of fact, her father, Colonel Sheldon, and I, are not exactly bosom friends."
"I was referred to Sheldon as an authority on mines by a mutual acquaintance," I explained. "I was speaking of that rather than with any other idea in mind. I am old enough myself to know that the girl is a lady, I hope."
"There, there," said Curzon, "maybe I spoke hastily myself. I confess I'm a bit touchy on the Sheldons. The colonel's methods are not mine, Gordon, but the girl's all right; she's her mother over again."
"The colonel's something of a character, I take it," I said.
"He's pretty smooth," replied Curzon. "None of us can say more than that."
"Has he always been in mines?"
"He's been into nearly everything except the 'pen,'" replied Curzon with some heat.
"That sounds interesting," I laughed.
Curzon smoked in silence, and after a bit he chuckled again.
"Although I don't like the chap, there are times when I almost have to admire him for his sang-froid," he said. "Some men in the position he has been in at times would have gone to pieces and got caught, but the colonel always had an eye out for what the criminal calls his 'getaway.'
"Maybe I ought not to tell you this, and mind you, it's not for publication, though everybody around here knows the tale."
He threw away the stub of his cigar and lighted a fresh one before he went on.
"Some time ago there were a lot of forged certificates of the stock of a certain mine hereabouts turned into the company offices for transfer. To all appearances they were genuine. Sheldon had a lot of them himself, and he had sold a lot to his friends. Well, when the things were brought in for transfer it was discovered that there had already been a transfer made of that stock, so that the certificates brought in were worthless, and then a howl went up.
"Of course, Sheldon claimed that he had been duped as badly as any one, and he was actually able to show where he had drawn a check on his personal account in the bank to pay for the shares he held, as well as what he had sold to his friends. However, the upshot was that some of the buyers sued the colonel for fraud. It then developed that the certificates which the colonel held and those held by the mining company were such exact duplicates that they could not be told apart.
"All that the company officers could do was to swear that one of the two was a false issue, but when pinned down by Sheldon's lawyers, they admitted that they couldn't tell which was which. That let the colonel out; the court holding that the plaintiff had no redress except a writ of mandamus against the company to make them issue stock to cover the number of shares held.
"After it was all done with, Sheldon actually reimbursed some of his more intimate friends, but there were a lot of people who had to pocket their loss. To this day nobody knows whether the first or last certificates presented for transfer were the true ones, though naturally a lot of people believe it was a shrewd bit of work on the colonel's part.
"Still, nobody can say, for the simple reason that nobody knows; and at the very least, the colonel was dismissed by the courts and has the law on his side."
"Couldn't they find any clue as to who actually might have forged the certificates in the first place?" I asked.
"The only clue was that they were sold by a man with a black beard and mustache. A very suave, smooth, ingratiating sort of chap, who got out of town before the bomb burst and was never heard of since."
"So that the colonel might actually have been victimized as well as the rest?"
"That's the beauty of the scheme," said Curzon, "if scheme it was. Equally to prove himself a man of honor, the only ones the colonel reimbursed were persons he had himself advised to buy the stock."
"Which would indicate that he desired to make good where he felt a sense of responsibility."
"Quite right. The joker was that a lot of folks bought the stuff after they heard that the colonel's friends were in."
"Either way you look at it, it may have been straight or a frame-up?"
"Exactly," said Curzon. "That's why I said the colonel was pretty smooth. If he is crooked, he always has been able to get the law to assist him. It takes a shrewd crook to do that."
"If he had been so crooked as that, though, one would hardly expect him to continue to live on here."
"Oh, the colonel doesn't care," said Curzon. "He is one of the sort who will brazen the thing out. He's a gambler in spirit, and the kind of man who will stake everything on the turn of a card, win or lose. The man's an anomaly.
"Nobody, who was ever in actual partnership with him, will say that they didn't get a fair deal, or that Sheldon ever tried in any way to escape from a promise or an agreement once made. He is almost morbidly sensitive on the subject of the 'gentleman's agreement,' and his word, if given, is said to be easily as valuable as his bond. He is, of my knowledge, kind of heart.
"There are a lot of poor folks in this burg who swear by Colonel Mac. Sometimes I fancy he's been born out of his time, and is really a sort of tender-hearted buccaneer, like the romantic highwaymen of some centuries ago, who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Now mind you, with all this he's never been proven crooked, yet among the moneyed classes here he is regarded as a weasel which has not been caught as yet."
"Anyway, I should like to meet him," I said, laughing, as I tossed my cigar away. "I'll wager he would make good material for a Western story; what we writers call a bit of 'local color,' you know."
"He would that," agreed Curzon, rising. "Well, suppose we turn in. You are doubtless more or less weary from your journey, and I've a job to do before we go to the mine to-morrow. If you've got any old clothes, put 'em on before you start up to the workings. It isn't exactly a clean place."
"Will there be any objections to my taking photographs?" I wanted to know.
Curzon smiled and shook his head. "Snap anything on or under the ground," he gave his permission; "we have absolutely nothing to conceal."
I wrote Dual my report on Sheldon and then went to bed and slept like a top. It was the Jap who woke me after he had prepared my bath.
OBEDIENT to orders, Curzon's Jap, who seemed to be a sort of general factotum about the place, brought his master's auto to the door shortly after luncheon, and Curzon and I prepared to set off.
I had put on the oldest things which Dual's man had been kind enough to pack for me; though I confess I looked rather ruefully at the perfectly good suit which I seemed fated to spoil. Curzon sized it up with a grin.
"Best you can do?" he inquired. "Well, never mind, we'll get you some overalls and a jumper when we get to the mine. Come along."
I picked up my camera and we climbed into the roadster. The Jap cranked up, and we were off in a cloud of dust. It was a good machine, and Curzon was a good driver. There seemed to be a sort of sympathy between man and machine, so that he eased it where necessary and drove it to the full where he could do so to advantage.
We fled through the town and out into the foot-hills and began to climb. I said little on the way, contenting myself with watching the topography of the region and glorying in the performance of the stanch little machine.
After some time Curzon pointed ahead.
"There's our bonanza," he directed, and as I followed his directing hand, I saw a scar on the face of the hill, where clustered some buildings, and then they were shut off by a turn in the road.
"Five years ago that was pronounced a hopeless proposition by some of the best men of the region," said Curzon, "and was given up by the people who had been holding it. Then Abdul, or Dual, dropped into Goldfield, and I met him, and we took to each other. The upshot was that we went out to look at this claim.
"Dual said it was a good thing and I laughed at him. He came back at me by offering to buy it and give me half of it if I'd stay and work it. Well, it's made us both rich. Funny chap, Dual, but a most wonderful brain."
"How did he know it was a good mine?" I inquired.
"That's the funniest thing," Curzon replied. "He hardly looked at the thing, but he insisted on working out its exact latitude and longitude, went back to his hotel, and told me the next day that he was going to buy the mine. He also made me acquire a claim on the other side of the gulch, a little higher up, and hanged if we didn't cut the same vein there that we were working on this side. That's why I say he's a wonder. A man who can find gold by a geographical calculation, hadn't ever ought to be poor."
I laughed. I imagined Dual had used his astrological knowledge in determining the facts about the mine.
"Did he take the time when you were out at the mine that day?" I asked.
"Did he?" said Curzon. "He made an awful fuss about getting it right. Say, do you know how the thing was done?"
"I suspect, at least, though I am not certain, but my idea would at least be like Dual."
"Well, it sure got me," said my host, as he slowed down near the clump of buildings.
"However, in view of the results, I don't care if he had help from the Old Nick himself. Well, here we are, Gordon. Come into the office and talk to Schiff, while I hunt you up some clothes."
I climbed down from the seat and followed Curzon into the small frame building which they used as an office. It was perhaps twenty feet square and strongly constructed. In front was a vacant space before a railing.
Back of this were some desks and a stenographer's table, at which sat a young man industriously pounding the keys. At the desks two other youngsters pored over some ledgers. They all glanced up as we came in.
Curzon swept his eyes over the room. "Where's Schiff?" he inquired.
"Mr. Schiff went over to No. 2," said the stenographer. "He tried to get you on the phone, but you'd just left. He left a note for you."
He produced a sheet of paper and extended it to Curzon as he spoke.
Curzon read it, grunted, and handed it to me.
"Read that," he said. "There's some more 'local color.' It will give you an idea of what running a mine is like. It's like sitting on a volcano without any tips as to when the blowout will occur."
I glanced over the lines the superintendent had left:
They have just phoned me that there is a slip in No. 2. This will require my presence, as you will agree. Sorry not to be here, but they insist that I come over at once. Schiff.
I folded the thing up and carelessly stuffed it into my pocket.
"Anybody hurt?" inquired Curzon of the stenographer.
"I think not," said the man. "Mr. Schiff didn't mention it if there was."
"All right," said Curzon, "that's good. Well, Gordon, I guess I'll have to act as your guide, so sit down and I'll get you some old rags and we'll go through right away."
I dropped into a chair and busied myself getting my camera and flash-light gun in order, while Curzon disappeared. Presently he returned with a set of heavy overalls and a canvas jumper and told me to put them on. He crowned the bizarre outfit with an old, stained, and battered hat, equipped himself likewise, and we went out to the hoisting-house.
On the way I took some plates of the buildings, and I also snapped a couple of pictures of the upper part of the hoist. It was the first time I had ever been down a mine, and it was a rather eery sensation when the cage began to drop us into the earth. Down and down we went past the various levels. It was something like going down the shaft of an immense skyscraper in the dark.
The cage settled smoothly into darkness; the daylight faded. After a bit there was a light, and a long string of incandescents dwindling away into the dark; then darkness again; then another row of lights; and so on, down and down.
After a while we stopped and Curzon led me off the platform.
"Thousand foot working. Mind your footing," he said.
We spent a couple of hours in the mine and I took a lot of flash-lights of everything that it was safe to take. Then we climbed back onto the cage and went back to the sunlight and the fresh air.
We walked out of the shaft-house and Curzon waved his hand up into the air.
"There's how we bring the ore from No. 2," he said.
I looked up and saw a couple of steel cables stretching out into space across the gulch, supported at intervals upon steel towers. To and fro, across this aerial bridge, great buckets were swinging, which my host explained contained the rich ore from the other shaft.
"See!" he said. "There's one just starting out. It contains at least a ton of ore, worth not less than fifty dollars. No, I'm hanged if it does! That particular bucket contains a man."
"A man!" I gasped.
Curzon smiled. "Quite right," he replied. "Lots of times when we're in a hurry we ride across in the buckets. It saves a lot of time, for it's a long road round."
"Well, I'd rather you'd do it than I," said I, smiling. "I'd get air-sick or something if I tried that stunt."
"It's all in being used to a thing," Curzon said, watching the man, who now swung high over the drop of the cañon.
"After you've done it a time or two you never give it a thought. I'll bet that's Schiff coming back now," he added, after a moment's longer scrutiny of the approaching bucket, as it swung up toward where we stood.
"By the way, Gordon, better get a photograph of that. Show 'em back East how we ride around out here."
The suggestion was a good one, and I was doubly anxious to take it when I remembered Dual's directions to get snaps of any new characters whom I met.
I got out my camera and focused on a part of the aerial tramway, which was quite near at hand; then I waited as the bucket with its passenger drew up the slope. Nearer and nearer it came, until I could mark the man's features quite clearly.
He was leaning over the edge of the bucket and waving a hand to Curzon as he saw us standing, looking up. He was dark, with a warm olive skin and close-cropped black hair, and he wore a small mustache, curled up at the ends. So much I saw before the bucket swung into my range, and just then the man straightened and half turned so that his profile came full into my lens.
I pressed the button, and as I heard the shutter click I heaved a sigh of relief over a task well done, for at that range and with that pose I knew that I could not have failed.
"Get him?" asked Curzon, smiling. "That's Schiff, and you're lucky to catch him at all. He's foolishly averse to having his picture taken. Some of the girls downtown have tried to get him to give them a photograph, but they've never got one out of Schiff yet. Well, if you're done, let's go over to the office. I'm sort of anxious to learn how much damage was done."
We went over to the small frame, and met Schiff as he was getting out of the bucket. Curzon presented me, and we shook hands. Then Curzon led him away to talk over the occurrence at No. 2, telling me to make myself at home while he was engaged.
I strolled about and took a couple more pictures. I really thought I might send them to Smithson with the story I was going to write.
Then I sat down in the sun on the hillside and proceeded to dream. I thought of a lot of things, among them Connie Baird, and from that to Myrtle Parton and Dick Sheldon, and all the rest. Of course, I thought of my strange friend Semi Dual—half of Abdul. It was an odd conceit, strangely in keeping with the rest I knew of the man.
I got out a cigarette and went to smoking and looking over the rolling hills, and after a bit I got up and walked back to Curzon's machine and sat down in the left-hand seat and waited until he came out.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," he apologized, as he put up the spark and gas and went round to crank up; "but there were several things which needed my attention. However, we'll get you home in a jiffy, and you'll have plenty of time to eat and go see the girl."
He climbed in, and we were soon falling swiftly into the valley. I asked about the accident in the other tunnel, and Curzon replied that fortunately it had not been of any great importance. It was not until we got into the town itself that I noticed that I was still wearing the mine clothes. I mentioned the fact to Curzon, and he laughed.
"I thought maybe you wanted them for a souvenir," he said. It was thus that I came to have them still on when I went to my room, and it was in taking off the jacket that the bit of paper fell out of a pocket of the thing. I picked it up and unfolded it into a telegraph-form, and naturally I looked at it; and the longer I looked the less I knew. It was a queer telegram and no mistake, when one considered that it came out of a workman's jacket in a Goldfield mine.
JESS: SEND ME INSOLE, USUAL BRAND, NUMBER FIVE. CAM.
For the life of me I couldn't find any meaning to it, unless it was a code, so on the off-chance I decided to send it with my snap of the superintendent and the note to Semi Dual.
I CALLED upon Miss Sheldon that evening and spent a very pleasant hour. Rather long for a first call; but we got to talking about things of mutual interest, and neither one of us noticed how the time went. As I was leaving I mentioned that I had been up at the mine during the afternoon, and spoke of my having snapped the superintendent in the aerial bucket as he came back from the other shaft.
Miss Sheldon laughed.
"The redoubtable J.E.S.," she said. "I reckon he'd have a fit if he knew you'd taken his photograph."
"Curzon said he was gun-shy," I said as I rose to depart.
"He's funny in a lot of ways," said Alice Sheldon. "He fancies he's a lady's-man. He used to work for papa before he went away, and since he's come back he's been working for Mr. Curzon. He makes me tired. He actually has the nerve to come up here at times and act as if he was fond of me."
"I don't see anything funny in that," I told her, and she laughed.
"Really, Mr. Gordon, I don't like him," she said; then, in a more serious manner: "He's too—too—oily, I guess."
I said good night, after promising to call again, and went back to Curzon's place.
The next day I hunted up a photographer and had my films developed, and I stayed with him as he worked. When he came to the picture of Schiff in the bucket he, too, expressed surprise.
"Masher Schiff takin' a ride, eh?" he said, grinning. "Now, if he knew you got that, I wonder what he'd say? He won't never have a picter took. You got this swell, Mr. Gordon, for Kodak work."
We bent over the negative, and I confess I felt proud of my work. It was a perfect profile of the mine-superintendent, and against the background of the sky his features came out with the distinctness of a cameo.
I told the photographer to print it at once, and take his time with the others; and an hour later I left his studio with a copy of the negative, which I at once sent off to Dual.
Then, having nothing to do, I went about the town a bit, had some lunch, and went back to Curzon's and wrote a story for Smithson, giving my impressions of the town and the situation there as it appeared to me.
I posted the thing, and then I borrowed Curzon's car and drove out to Sheldon's, where I found Miss Alice, trying to read a book on the front veranda, and dared her to come for a ride.
"Will I?" she cried, jumping up in a swirl of cool skirts. "Just wait till I get my hat."
"How is the foot?" I called; "shall I carry you down?"
"It's strapped and I can hobble," she answered. "Wait, I'll be right out."
I throttled the engine and sat and waited until she came slowly down to the street. Then I assisted her in, and we were soon out of the town and sweeping off toward the hills.
"This is simply glorious," said the girl, with heightened color in her cheeks. "I always wanted a machine, but papa said I would get to be a speed-crank and break my neck. I do like to go fast, don't you?"
I replied with a burst of speed.
"Archie always used to say he'd get me one of the things after we were—" began Miss Sheldon, and stopped and began to blush. Then she laughed and tossed her head.
"Oh, well, I suppose I might as well tell it all now," she said defiantly. "Arch and I are engaged, though we haven't told papa yet. That's why I am so interested in Arch. I want him to get ahead, so he can take care of me."
I looked at the girl's radiant face and shining eyes, and for the moment I felt that I could rather sympathize with Archie Parton in his losing speculation.
The girl, while not my style of beauty, was certainly worth winning for any man who could love her, and to-day she looked as though she would not be hard to love.
"Archie writes that he's in a little trouble," she went on after a bit.
"It seems somebody forged papa's name to a check, and Archie got the thing cashed at the bank. There's been a man arrested for forging the thing, and Archie is afraid papa and he may get drawn into the case. He said he thought he ought to tell me about it. But I can't see that it can hurt Archie any, can you?"
For a moment I hesitated how to answer; then I decided that generalities were best.
"It should be easy for Archie to prove where he got the check," I told her, "and that ought to let him out, I should think."
"Oh, I hope so," said Miss Sheldon. "Archie seemed quite worried, I thought; but I shall write him what you say this very night. Suppose we go home now?"
I turned around and we went back to the town. Miss Sheldon said little on the backward track, and when we drew up in front of the house she climbed out, and beyond thanking me for the ride in preoccupied fashion, said nothing as I drove away.
I felt sorry for the girl from the bottom of my heart as I thought of the envelope I had sent to Semi, with its queer slanting and curved "i's."
That was the beginning of the dullest two weeks I ever spent before or since. There was little or nothing to do, and beyond calling on Miss Sheldon, a trip with her to a mine of her father's, and an occasional automobile-ride, I found time hang heavy indeed.
I got so that my report to Dual amounted to the words "nothing doing" scrawled on a piece of paper and signed with my name. Finally in desperation I turned to the Jap, Hashimoto, and began to study Japanese and the customs of his land. He was a smart little beggar, and taught me a lot of wrestling tricks, among other things, as the days went by.
It was just two weeks from the day I had first driven out with Alice Sheldon that Curzon stormed into breakfast with his usually ruddy face changed to a purple hue.
"Hello, Gordon!" he greeted. "I'm in the deuce of a fix. They've just telephoned from the mine that a couple of plain-clothes men from your town came up to the mine after dark last evening, dragged Schiff out of the quarters, and placed him under arrest.
"What do you know about it, anyway, if I may ask so plain a question? It sure looks to me like your work. If you hadn't come from Abdul and brought his letter, damme if I wouldn't think you a detective yourself."
Worst of all, Curzon meant it, as I could see at a glance; yet I was as much surprised as himself. Schiff's arrest was the very last thing in the world I had been expecting, and I know Curzon saw the genuine bewilderment in my face.
I opened my lips to deny any conscious complicity in depriving him of his mine-boss, when he cut me short.
"I beg your pardon, old chap!" he said. "I'm a good bit upset. But when I look at your face I have to admit it gets you in the wind yourself. I'm mighty glad to know that, too. I'd hate to think any friend of Dual's was a snake. Anyway, this thing leaves me in a hole. I guess I'll have to go up there for a few days. So I'll have to ask you to get along with 'Hash' as best you can. Hang it all, Schiff was the best 'super' I ever had!"
It being the psychological moment, Hashimoto at this instant appeared. He carried a telegraph envelope, which he handed to me. Asking Curzon's permission, I opened it and read what it contained:
MR. GEORGE GORDON, CARE JOHN CURZON, GOLDFIELD, NEVADA: RETURN.
There was no signature at all, but it gave me a sense of escaping from bondage; and I was doubly glad that it came when it did, because it cleared the domestic atmosphere for Curzon as well. I had been going to suggest that I find a hotel.
I tossed the message across to him, and smiled as he picked it up. "My boss is evidently of the opinion that I am better at home than abroad," I remarked, tossing down my napkin. "I am called home, as you see. When can I get a train out?"
"Some time this afternoon," said Curzon; "I'll have Hash look it up for you if you like. Hang it, Gordon, I'm not going to say that I'm sorry you got it, if you have to go, anyway, just at this time, though I am sorry you have to go at all."
"Well, the special correspondent, like the soldier, goes when ordered," I said, rising; "so all I can do is to express my greatest thanks for your hospitality, and hope to reciprocate some day."
"I'll be leaving for the mine almost immediately," said Curzon; "so I'll say good-by now. I'm jolly glad to have met you, Gordon, and if ever this way again, be sure you drop in."
We parted with a clasp of the hands, and I went up-stairs to pack. All the time I was wondering if anything I had done could have made trouble for my host. After a bit I heard the snort of his roadster as he rushed off for the mine. Then I called Hashimoto, and told him to look up my train.
When I had finished packing I put on my coat and hat and walked over to the Sheldon place. I told Miss Sheldon that I was recalled, and expressed my disappointment in not meeting her father.
Also, I offered to take any messages to Parton which she might wish to send. Of course, that was not all gallantry. I had never met the boy, and I wanted to do so. Therefore a message from Miss Sheldon would offer a very fair excuse.
Of course, Alice Sheldon could not know this, and she thanked me so prettily that I felt like a hypocrite. "You are awfully kind and thoughtful, Mr. Gordon," she said.
"Some day I'm going to tell Archie how nice you have been to me, and he will thank you, too. If you see him, tell him I am well, and said not to worry about anything, but to just keep his promise to me, and that I am sure everything will come out all right."
"Keep his promise to her." Now, I wondered what she meant by that, but I didn't know, and I was sure she didn't mean that I should, so all I could do was to promise and say good-by.
I went back to Curzon's. Hashimoto served me some luncheon and called a cab to take me to the train. I got off with little bother, and sat smoking and thinking until I made Las Vegas, where I caught the train for Salt Lake and the East.
To me my trip seemed almost like a waste of time and money. For the life of me I couldn't see what I had accomplished, or why Dual had kept me waiting in idleness for over two weeks before sending me that single word: "Return."
The car-wheels drummed and pounded beneath me that night, and all through my sleep their dull rumble seemed to frame the words "Semi Dual" in my brain.
I WENT directly to Dual's from my train, only stopping to leave my cases at my room. Semi met me with a smile on his face and an outstretched hand.
"On time to the minute; I was expecting you to-night," he said.
"Does nothing ever surprise you, Dual?" I asked. I had hoped to catch him for once without that stock phrase on his lips.
"Why should one be surprised at what one expects?" said Semi. "Well, sit down and tell me what you have to report."
"I wrote you the whole thing from Goldfield," I answered half sulkily. "Of all the wild goose chases, that was the worst."
"Think so?" said Semi absently. "You surprise me."
He turned away and went on fussing with something which he was doing to one wall of the room. I lighted a cigarette which I took from a case on his desk, and lay back and watched him as he worked. Now and then he would touch a switch, and there would be a sudden flash of light in the room. Presently he turned toward me again.
"Would you mind taking that padded chair?" he inquired.
I got up and occupied the designated seat, and Semi turned his switch. Instantly. I felt a beam of light strike me in the eyes, and a few seconds later it was repeated. I blinked at the unwarranted brilliance.
"Get it?" said Dual.
"I got it or it got me," I answered. "What are you trying to do?"
"It's a trifling invention of my own," Dual explained. "There's a small electric light back of this prism of glass here, you see. The light is automatically turned on and off every so many seconds by a circular revolving switch which is operated by a concealed motor. Every time the circuit is made the light flashes through the plate and focuses on the chair. How does it feel? It should prove rather tiring to the eye."
"It does," I assured him. "Is there any particular reason why I should occupy this chair for very long?"
"Not at all," said Dual. "You can leave it as soon as you choose. I just wanted to be sure of the effect, and that I had the distance judged right."
He came back, and sat down and picked up a cigarette. Then he rang for his man, and directed him to remove all but three chairs from the room.
I looked on with a total lack of understanding. Finally his smug silence got on my nerves.
"What are you trying to do?" I burst out.
"A little stage-setting," said Semi, with a wave of the hand.
Dual grinned. "I am expecting Archie Parton up here after a bit," he said in his matter-of-fact tone. "I sent for him to come. I could have got him before, but I wanted to wait until you were here, so I made it to-night. I want to ask him about several things."
"Do you think he will answer?" I asked in some doubt.
"He will answer me," Dual replied easily. "I told him to be here about eight. He ought to be coming soon."
"By the way," I said, taking another cigarette, "I met the girl Archie is engaged to, and she told me a bit about the fellow. In one way I'm sort of sorry for the kid. She gave me a message for him."
"You can deliver it in a moment," said Semi, as the chime of the annunciator broke the silence of the room.
"Sit still," he went on. "I want Archie to take the padded chair." He crossed the room swiftly and turned on his little switch. A moment later Dual's man showed Parton into the room.
The boy came in rather nervously. I noticed that he looked worn and pale, and had circles under his eyes, as though he might have lost a deal of sleep. He stood looking about him a moment, then approached Dual.
"I am here, Mr. Dual," he said in a low tone. Semi waved him to the padded chair.
"Sit down, Mr. Parton," he said, "and don't be disturbed. Believe me, I have asked you here for your own good. Suppose we first have a little coffee and cognac, and then we will get down to business, so that you can get away? You know Mr. Glace?" indicating me.
Parton half rose. "I have heard of Mr. Glace from my sister," he acknowledged, "and I wish to thank him for the interest he has taken in her behalf." It was well said, and I felt a sort of liking for the boy. Semi crossed and ordered coffee and cognac from his man, and while he was about it I addressed Parton myself.
"I've just got back from Goldfield, Parton," I said. "While out there I met a young lady who is a friend of yours. Miss Sheldon asked to be remembered to you, and asked me to tell you to keep your promise to her."
Parton flinched at the words, and grew, if anything, paler than before. After an interval, in which he sat staring directly at me, he made shift to utter the one phrase: "Thank you," and lapsed into silence again.
I noticed that at times he passed his hand before his eyes, and I knew that Dual's little lamp was doing its work.
Dual now brought the coffee, placed the sugar in the spoons, poured on the brandy and ignited it, and handed us each a cup. As soon as we had disposed of the beverage he turned to Parton and began his attack.
"Mr. Parton," he began speaking, "I have reason to believe that you know about the passing of a forged check at the Fourth National Bank some time ago. Also, I am aware that it was you who cashed the check. I have found that out in the simplest way, although neither Mr. Dick Sheldon nor any other friend has told it to me. Now I want to show you a photograph of that check, and then I want to show you a letter addressed in your own hand."
He drew out his copy of the forgery and the envelope I had sent him from Goldfield; and while my heart ached for the lad, he laid them before him, spread out on a sheet of stiff cardboard, which he held in his hand.
"You will notice," said Semi, "that the small 'i' in the word 'five' on the check, and the small 'i's' on the letter are each curved quite a little. I want you to explain this to me."
The lad began to tremble. His fingers gripped into the arms of the chair, and before he spoke he moistened his lips with his tongue.
"You mean to show that I forged the check, don't you?" he said. "I can see it now. And yet I'll swear to God I never touched the thing till I took it to the bank. It was given to me just as it was when Dick Sheldon cashed it for me. But you won't believe me, I guess."
"On the contrary, Archie, I do believe you," said Semi Dual, and I think I heaved a sigh of relief. "Now I want you to tell me who gave you the check."
"Mr. Dual," said the boy slowly, "I can't do that; really I can't."
"These two documents and my testimony would convict you, Archie," Dual reminded, tapping the cardboard he held.
"And if I told you I'd probably go to the pen all the same," said the boy hopelessly. "At least, he's always said he'd send, me if I ever snitched."
"Sheldon?" Dual shot the word forth so suddenly that the boy actually jumped. "See here, Parton," he continued, "what hold has 'Colonel Mac' got on you?"
"Why, none at all, that I know of," said Parton, trying to look his inquisitor in the eye from between heavy lids.
Semi Dual rose and laid down the piece of cardboard, went around back of the boy's chair, and laid his hands on each of his temples, slowly drawing his long fingers up and back into the lad's hair.
"Archie," he said, "you look sleepy. Are you a little bit sleepy, perhaps?"
"I feel funny; sort of—drowsy—I guess I am sleepy," admitted the boy. "I haven't—slept much—of late."
"Suppose," said Dual, still sweeping the boy's temples, "that you take a little nap—eh? Just a little nap—it will do you good. Let yourself go to sleep Archie—See, you are getting more and more drowsy. Your eyes are closing; go to sleep, Archie." Then, in the compelling voice he had once used to me: "Sleep."
Parton's head dropped upon his chest, and he breathed slow and deep. Dual looked at me and smiled.
"The eye strain, and a small hypnotic in the coffee, and a little suggestion," he said.
"Now, Parton"—he addressed the lad who sat wrapped in slumber—"I am your friend. You have wanted a friend for a long time, my boy; some one to whom you could talk as to a father. I am that friend.
"For a long time you have had something preying on your conscience which you wanted to tell. This is your chance. Tell it to me. Go way back to the beginning, Archie, and tell me all about it from the time you first met Colonel Sheldon until to-night, my boy. Go on."
The sleeping figure opened its lips and spoke, while we sat and listened to the poor entangled spirit's tale.
"When I went West," said Parton, or Parton's spirit, "I went to Goldfield, and got a job in Colonel Mac's office. After a bit I met Alice, and I got to think a great deal of her.
"Lots of the boys in the office gambled, and I got to gambling, too. But I didn't win; I lost. I needed money to pay what I lost, and I took it from Colonel Mac. He found me out, and I thought he was going to send me to jail; but he told me he'd let me off, and not tell Alice, if I'd do anything he told me; only if I ever told about any of the things, he'd send me up.
"Well, after a while I wanted to come home, and I came back here and went to work for Pearson & Co.; and every day, if there was something that looked good, I had to put the colonel next. Then, when he came here, I had to give him inside tips.
"I was crazy to get some money so's I could marry Alice; and when I thought I saw a good thing I took some money from the company and speculated, only I didn't have sense enough to let go at the right time and I lost, and I couldn't pay the money back.
"Well, I told Alice about it, and she got Dick Sheldon to get me some money, and I paid it all up, so no one ever found out. But all I got for trying to make money for Alice was to go a thousand into the hole. I guess I deserved it, for I'd promised her to cut out gambling and fast company. But it looked like a sure thing, and I wanted the girl.
"Then, on the day this check was forged, or cashed, I mean, Pearson telephoned to Colonel Mac for more margin. Colonel Mac said to send me over and he'd give me the money.
"When I got there he gave me the check, told me to get it cashed, and bring the money to him. Well, I did it, and he kept a thousand dollars in bills and gave me four thousand, and I took them to Pearson, and the colonel's deal went through."
"Just a minute, Archie," Dual interrupted. "Do you remember what form the thousand he kept was in? What sized bills?"
"Dick gave me ten five-hundred-dollar bills," said Parton, "and the colonel kept two of them."
"All right," said Dual. "Go on."
"Well, then, they arrested Sheldon, and I guess he was afraid I'd done the whole thing; and I can't blame him, when he knew what Myrtle had told him I'd done at Pearson's, so he wouldn't say a word for fear of getting me into it. Myrtle's been awfully worried, and so have I. I'd have told all I knew only I didn't dare, 'cause Colonel Mac would have sent me up for what I did in Goldfield, and I haven't known what to do." He paused, and two tears rolled down over his cheeks.
"Now, just a moment, Archie," said Dual. "Who do you think forged the check?"
"I don't know for sure," said the lad; "but I've got a suspicion. There used to be a fellow working for Colonel Mac who was mighty handy with a pen. He used to always make his 'i's' like that one in the check. That was how I got to doing it. I'd never seen any one else do it, and it looked sort of nifty, I thought."
Dual looked over and smiled at me with a very glad expression.
"A weak soul, easily led, not inherently vicious," he said. "I saw that when you sent me the envelope from Goldfield the day you arrived."
He rose, picked the boy up in his arms, and laid him down gently on the couch. Then he went over and turned off his switch which flashed the light. He turned back to the boy.
"Archie, Archie. Forget that you have told me anything. Wake up, my boy."
Parton dug his knuckles into his eyes, yawned, and started to a sitting position.
"Good Lord! Did I go to sleep?" he cried.
"Coffee and cognac seemed too much for you, Parton," Dual reassured him, "so I laid you down to finish your nap."
"I'm awfully sorry, Mr. Dual," Parton apologized.
Dual waved him aside. "Perhaps you had better be going home," he suggested. "I will ring for my man to show you out. And Parton; stop worrying. Everything will come out all right. Tell your sister that. Good night."
When the boy was gone, Dual lit another cigarette, and suggested that I tell him about my last days in Goldfield. I plunged into the tale and ended with the arrest of Schiff.
"It was totally unexpected," I made an end. "Neither Curzon nor I could imagine who was back of the arrest."
"I was," said Dual, with a smile.
"You were? What did you have him arrested for?"
"Let me see; what was it?" said Semi. "Bigamy, I think."
"Why bigamy?" I gasped.
"Because he's a bigamist," my friend replied.
"You see," he continued, chuckling at my amazement, "Mr. J.E.S. Schiff, as he calls himself, is a very interesting man.
"When you so kindly sent me his profile, I recognized him as a man who some years ago escaped from the State prison, where he was serving a sentence for having more than the legal number of wives. The first thing I did was to show the picture to headquarters, and they did all the rest, toward bringing him East for me."
"But what did you want with Schiff?" I began, and then I, too, remembered.
"You don't mean—" I began again.
Semi laughed. "Have you remembered the curved 'i' in the note Mr. Schiff, née Silvio, wrote to Curzon?" he asked.
"Then he is—"
"Wait," said Dual. "When you left, I told you that the final scenes of this drama would be played out here. I am waiting for our friend Colonel Mac, right now. You can be a witness if you like. I also have another one, but it is merely a dictograph, with a wire connecting me with a private detective agency, so you may as well stay."
I gasped and subsided into a surprised and admiring silence, as I looked at my friend.
Ten o'clock sounded from Dual's monster clock as I sat, and hard on the stroke, came again the annunciator chimes. Dual smiled slightly as he caught my questioning eye, but said nothing.
A moment later the door opened, and Colonel MacDonohue Sheldon entered the room.
DUAL made no move toward rising to his feet, but merely waved Sheldon to a chair.
"Good evening, Colonel Sheldon," he said, smiling. "I am glad to find you punctual. Take a chair. I have ordered my man to prepare you a highball, as soon as he showed you in. He's rather good at the thing, and I believe you'll have no need to wish you were in Goldfield when you put your lips to the glass."
"Thank you, sir," said the colonel, as he took the proffered chair, and laid his hat beside him on the floor.
"Colonel Sheldon," Dual resumed speaking, "some years ago I happened to be in Goldfield. It may interest you to know that I am John Curzon's silent partner in the Rediscovery group of claims."
"Is that so!" cried the colonel. "Well, now, I've often wondered about that. I tell you that was a lucky strike. What always got me was that I had a chance to buy them there claims and passed it up. So you're the fellow who bought in with Curzon, eh? Well, sir, I congratulate you."
It was an attempt at the colonel's old style of bluster, but as I looked at the man I saw that he looked strangely worn and fagged out; quite unlike the man of success I had met in Pearson's place that August afternoon. Try as he would he could not keep the harassment out of face and voice.
"The fact that I am Curzon's partner has nothing to do, however, with my asking you to call here, save to explain my being in Goldfield some years ago. As a matter of fact, I have a little story which I have made up from various fragments, and I want to tell it to you. I want you to listen closely and if I make any mistakes, I want you to correct me at once," said Dual.
"My story starts in Goldfield as it happens and has to do with my picking up a stray envelope in the street one day. You see, I am a student of chirography—or handwriting—and wherever I find an interesting sample of anything like that, I add it to my collection, which is quite extensive, by the way.
"This particular letter, which I found in the streets of Goldfield, had a very unusual characteristic, which made me very careful to preserve it. I brought it home and filed it away, and have kept it ever since. The envelope which I picked up was addressed to—Ah! Here is my man with the highball, colonel. Allow me to suggest that you take a drink before I tell any more."
Sheldon shot Dual a glance of suspicion, then lifted the glass from the tray in Dual's man's hands and half drained it at a gulp.
"How do you find it, colonel?" Dual inquired with solicitation. "Is it up to the Goldfield mark?" To me he seemed playing with the man.
Sheldon finished the mixture and set down the glass. "It is very excellent, Mr. Dual," he said shortly. "Suppose you get on with the tale."
"Right!" said Dual. "Where was I? Oh, yes—the envelope, was addressed to Colonel MacDonohue Sheldon, Goldfield, Nevada. In the upper corner was a return address to J.E.S., Box 55.
"As I said, I picked it up and kept it, but I have never seen another like it until recently, when I discovered the same peculiar character in the writing on the check forged at the Fourth National Bank. The peculiarity which I refer to is in the shape of the letter 'i' in the word 'Five' on the check. It is the same as the 'i' in the word Goldfield, on the envelope I picked up.
"When I saw the check, I immediately remembered the specimen in my collection, and came immediately home to examine the thing. Still more recently I have come into possession of a note written by this J.E.S.—this Schiff, as he calls himself—Sit still, Sheldon! A movement of my finger will strike you dead!"
Colonel MacDonohue Sheldon sank back into the chair from which he had been about to leap toward Dual, and for the first time I noticed Semi's hand hovering above a button on his desk. It was a new button, and I wondered what it was.
"If I press this small switch," Dual explained to the now pallid-faced colonel, "you would get something like a lethal dose of a high-frequency current. Furthermore, I could press it, my dear colonel, before you could draw on me.
"The 'i's' in this note of Schiff's are the same as appear on the envelope I found in Goldfield, and the 'i' on the forged check. Now, Colonel Sheldon, I shall leave facts and tell you my composite tale.
"Some years ago you employed a young boy in your offices in Goldfield. This lad got in with wrong companions, and stole from you to pay a gambling debt. Instead of trying to put him back on the right course, when you discovered his misdemeanor, you took advantage of his position to still further corrupt him, and make him your tool. His name was—Archie Parton, wasn't it, Glace?"
I nodded my head, with an eye on Colonel Mac, who was again shifting in his chair.
"The boy loved your daughter, and you could have made him run straight, Colonel Sheldon," Dual went on, "but you needed a scapegoat, maybe, and a tool to do your dirty work. After a bit, the boy came East and you still made him play into your hands by stealing information for you from the men for whom he worked.
"Then you came East, and entered upon a stock speculation. As margins were called for, you put up the money, from time to time. In order to get the cash quickly you had your brother, who was paying-teller for a bank, cash them and send them for collection to your own bank.
"After a bit your account was exhausted, and you saw bankruptcy staring you in the face. You had to have money and you prepared to get it any way you could. You sent Schiff, who had been a former associate of yours, a telegram for 'an insole'—I have the telegram—and he forged the check for five thousand in your name, and sent it to you.
"Thus you could, if need be, swear that it was a forgery, and by having Parton, over whom you held a threat of the penitentiary, cash it, you felt safe from having him tell anything he knew. Parton cashed the thing at your orders, and the four thousand additional margin carried your deal through.
"Your brother never hesitated to honor the check, for he never suspected that his own brother would do such a thing as utter false paper against the bank where he worked. I shall give you the benefit of the doubt here, Sheldon, for it may be possible that you actually hoped that the deal would go through in time for you to get the five thousand back in time to prevent trouble. But the deal dragged and you had to hold on, and as a result the bank examiners found the shortage which your brother was concealing, because he thought his fiancée's brother was the forger, before he could raise the money he was trying to get, to replace the amount.
"The first thing which made me suspicious of this was your own remark to Malin, that day in the bank, when you asked if it would help your brother if it were shown that the numbers of the notes in his box, in the first place, had not corresponded to those on the new issue of currency used in cashing the forged check. That was a slip.
"Further, we discovered that up to the day of your brother's arrest you had been hard run, and the day after you were certainly in funds. You see how it all fits in. Now, if I am in any way wrong, suppose you show me where."
Sheldon now sat with head sunk upon his chest, breathing in the nervous manner of a man greatly overwrought.
"You are devilish clever, Dual," he said, as Semi ceased talking; "and I guess I know when I'm licked. I've fancied I was a pretty smooth cuss, but I might have known I'd get caught up with some of these days. I suppose you've got a bunch of policemen concealed somewhere around here. Well, call 'em in. At least it will let Dick out. I'm glad of that."
"I should have told you that I had Schiff, whose real name is Silvio, arrested," said Dual. "He is now in the State prison, from which he escaped over six years ago, while serving a charge of bigamy. He is pretty likely to stay there this time, and will be a good witness for the defense of your brother Dick. As for the policemen, I haven't any of them here, so you need not fear instant arrest. Whether you are arrested or not seems to me to depend wholly upon you."
"What do you mean?" gasped the colonel. "Why, Lord, man, you've got every card in the deck. I can't take a trick."
"Just so," said Dual. "Therefore I should be in a position to dictate terms; don't you think?"
"Terms?" said the colonel. "Say, I don't get you at all."
"Then I shall explain," Semi replied. "When the bank is shown the evidence which we possess, they will see that they cannot convict Dick Sheldon of the charge. Failing that, they will still be their five thousand out. Now if you, who were the cause of all this course of events, were to reimburse the bank, in view of the circumstances, they would be glad to drop the case. Furthermore, I give you credit for not meaning to get your brother into jail."
"You're dead right there," said the colonel. Forgetting Dual's warning, he sprang from his chair, and began to pace the room. "God, when I saw where I was, and what I'd done, I was groggy, I tell you, Dual. Honest, if it hadn't been for my girl Alice, I'd have blowed the whole game, to get Dick out, but I hated to give my kiddie a jailbird for a dad."
He brushed a hand across his eyes, and sat down again in the chair, turning his face, which was working with emotion, away from Dual and myself.
"That being the case," resumed Semi, "if you, who can best afford it, were to reimburse the bank, and pay all other costs, and stand what suffering you have, for myself, I fancy justice would be sufficiently satisfied.
"The real forger is now under bolt and bar, and pretty likely to stay there for the next three years. He himself agreed to turn State's evidence in this case, if I'd assure him against prosecution, so I've held him as a sort of joker in the game. But, as what I suggest will exonerate Dick, and protect the bank from loss, and spare the feelings of your daughter, I fancy it is better than fitting you to a prison suit, Colonel Mac."
"Do you mean to let me off if I'll square the loss to the bank? Is that what you mean?" Sheldon cried.
"That is what I mean, if it can be arranged," replied Semi. "I have good reasons to think it can. I have, in fact, talked with the prosecuting attorney about the entire thing."
Again Sheldon rose and began to pace the room. Finally he crossed and stood towering over Dual.
"I'm not going to offer to shake hands with you, Mr. Dual," he began, "but I want to tell you that I've met a lot of men in my lifetime, and you're the whitest one of the lot. Well, we've got a way of binding a bargain in my circle. When we take a man, we say: 'You're on,' and that's what I'm saying to you: 'You're on.'
"Man, you don't know what you've done for me, and to think I was tryin' for the drop on you a half-hour ago. Say, I feel like a yaller dog, and I never said that to no one before. You bet I'll pay the bank. I always meant to, only you was right when you said they shut down on me too quick. As for them two five-hundred bills, I did that without ever meanin' nuthin' at all. They was too big to use handy, so I went to the bank to get some 'chicken feed.' The bank was shut, and Dick said he couldn't get into the vaults, so he gave me some smaller bills out of his own safety-box, and put the two fives in their place. I never once thought how it was goin' to look, for I was somewhat worried over my stock deal, or I guess I'd not have overlooked that bet."
"I rather imagined something like that, though I had no proof," said Semi Dual.
Sheldon drew out a check-book, and sat down in his chair.
"Let's get this thing settled right now," he said, and began to fill in a check. "Shall I make this payable to—"
"Bearer," said Semi Dual.
The colonel filled the blank, tore it out, and passed it across. Then he began to fill in another blank. "You said you didn't want nuthin' outen this," he said, as he wrote, "so I'm going to make a check to any sort of charity you suggest, an' for any amount you want. How shall I make it out?"
Semi Dual smiled. "Suppose that you make it payable to Archie Parton, and give your consent to his marriage to your daughter," he said.
"Alice Sheldon is the best thing which ever came into the boy's life, as you were the worst. Make the check for five thousand to Parton, and I'll see that he gets it, with the proviso that the day he marries your daughter, he turns it over to her as evidence that from now he intends to run straight. I might mention, also, that there is a matter of fifteen hundred expenses which I have incurred in carrying the case thus far."
Sheldon nodded. "Does my girl love Parton?" he asked.
"Glace says they are engaged," replied Dual.
Sheldon looked at me. I nodded my head. "Miss Alice told me herself," I said. Sheldon filled in the checks, and when they were done and blotted, tore them out and added them to the other which Semi still held. Then he put his check-book away, picked up his hat, rose, and faced Dual with a smile.
"I reckon," he said, "that you win on every turn. But I've always said it wasn't no disgrace to be licked by a real man, and I ain't changin' my mind now. I reckon I'd better go back to Goldfield and get out of the game. I've got a good mine and a good home, and a good girl. I guess I'll go out there and settle down. When do you think they will let Dick out?"
"As soon as I can adjust things," said Semi Dual. "I believe I may say you can all spend Sunday together, at least."
Sheldon nodded again. "When I come East, I reckoned myself as some wise guy," he said, "but I guess there was a lot I didn't know. When I first met you, I didn't think a lot of you, Mr. Dual, and all the time you was gettin' ready to drop on me like a ton of ore. I reckon I don't belong back here. I can get along better out in the West, an' I wish I was in Goldfield right now."
He turned and went out without another word.
"AND so ends the Sheldon case," said Semi, when we were alone again, and the chimes had sounded the passing of Colonel Mac. "There were a few little things which I held out on Sheldon, for reasons of my own. First, I have already taken the thing up with the bank. After proving to them by the prosecuting attorney that they could not get a conviction of Sheldon over the evidences I would introduce, I got them to listen to a compromise. They will take their money and agree to stop all action whatever in the case.
"You will remember my little prediction to our acquaintance, Malin of the pig eyes? Well, when it appeared that he had never mentioned Sheldon's proposition to the directorate, they didn't seem to approve at all. When they saw that he had let his personal grudge against young Sheldon outweigh the interests of the bank, they suggested to him that he hand in his resignation. As a result, the assistant cashier will occupy the cashier's desk after the first of the month.
"Further, as a mark of their restored faith in their recent paying-teller, they are going to move him up to the position left vacant by the promotion of the assistant cashier; so that Colonel Mac's prediction for his brother seems in a fair way to be fulfilled after all. That will smooth things for Sheldon and the Parton girl. Oh, things might have ended worse," he smiled.
"To-morrow," he went on after a moment's thought, "I shall send the bank their money. Upon that being received the prosecutor will ask the judge for a dismissal of the charges against Sheldon, and his immediate release.
"And now I fancy you can go and see Smithson, and tell him all about the thing. By the way, when Schiff was extradited back here from Goldfield, I tipped your editor off, and gave you the credit for the tip. They made what I believe you call a 'scoop.' They ought to make another one on the story you can give him to-night. Well, run along. I confess after it is all over I feel a bit fatigued. I think I'll have another cup of coffee, and try to get a little rest."
"So that my trip to Goldfield did some good after all?" I said as I picked up my hat.
"It helped to make everybody happy," said Semi Dual; "for after the sting of the first shock is over, even Colonel MacDonohue Sheldon will be a far more contented man."
I went to see Smithson and told him all of the tale. When I had ended he sat and looked at his desk-blotter for quite a long time. Finally he looked me in the eye.
"Glace," said the city editor, "you are a wonder. But I fancy you're wasted in the newspaper game. Why, man, you ought to be running a detective department. You've got a lot of these dubs skinned a mile."
"Do you wonder I wanted to go to Goldfield," I laughed.
Smithson shook his head, and picked up some papers from his desk.
"The paper's got to come out," he said slowly, "and I can't talk any more now. Some day I want you to tell me about the whole thing again. Go along and write your story, and make a good thing out of it, Glace. Play up the exoneration of Dick Sheldon mighty strong. We owe it to him to give him a clean bill of moral health, I think."