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Ashton-Kirk, Investigator by John T. McIntyre

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Ashton-Kirk thanked the clerk, and the now beaming Mr. Bernstine, and
with Pendleton left the place.

"Well," said Pendleton, as they climbed into the car, "this about
fixes the thing, doesn't it? The musician, Antonio Spatola, is the
guilty man, beyond a doubt."

The investigator settled back after giving the chauffeur his next
stop.

"Beyond a doubt," said he, "is rather an extreme expression. The fact
that the bayonet was purchased by an Italian who gave his address as
Christie Place is not enough to convict Spatola. All sorts of people
live in that street, and there are perhaps other Italians among them."

Pendleton called out to the chauffeur to stop.

"We'll settle that at once," said he. "Spatola's picture is in the
papers. We'll ask the clerk if it is that of the man to whom he sold
the weapon."

But Ashton-Kirk restrained him.

"I thought of the published portraits while Sime was speaking," said
he. "And I also thought that it was very fortunate that neither he nor
his employer were readers of the newspapers."

"How do you know that they are not?"

"If they had read to-day's issues they would have at once connected
the Italian who purchased the bayonet with the one who is said to have
used it--wouldn't they; especially as both Italians lived on the same
street? Bernstine and Sime said nothing because they suspect nothing.
And, as I have said, this is fortunate, because, suspecting nothing,
they will continue," with a smile, "to say nothing. If the police or
reporters got this, they'd swoop down on the trail and perhaps spoil
everything!"

"But Bernstine or his clerk will hear of the matter sooner or later,"
complained Pendleton. "And the police and reporters will then get in
on the thing anyhow."

"But there will be a delay," said his friend. "And that may be what we
need just now. Perhaps a few hours will mean success. You can never
tell. The best that we could get by explaining matters to Sime would
be a positive identification of Spatola, or the reverse. And we can
get that from him at any time. So you see, we lose nothing by
waiting."

"I guess that's so," Pendleton acknowledged, and again the car started
forward. At the huge entrance to a railroad station they drew up once
more.

Within, Ashton-Kirk inquired for the General Passenger Agent and was
directed to the ninth floor. The agent was a slim little man with huge
whiskers of snowy whiteness, and a most dignified manner.

"Oh, yes," he said, after glancing at the investigator's card. "I have
heard of you, of course. Who," with a little bow, "has not? Indeed, if
I remember aright, this road had the honor to employ you a few years
ago in a matter necessitating some little delicacy of handling. Am I
not right?"

"And I think it was you," said Ashton-Kirk, smoothly, "who provided me
with some very clearly cut facts which were of considerable service."

The little General Passenger Agent looked pleased and smoothed his
beautiful whiskers softly.

"I was most happy," said he.

"Just now," said Ashton-Kirk, "I am engaged in a matter of some
consequence, and once more you can be of assistance to me."

"Sit down," invited the other, readily. "Sit down, and command me."

Both Pendleton and the investigator sat down. The latter said to the
passenger agent:

"I understand that every railroad has a system by which it can tell
which conductor has punched a ticket."

"Oh, yes. A very simple one. You see the hole left by each punch is
different. One will cut a perfectly round hole, another will be
square, still another will be a triangle, and so on, indefinitely."

From his card case, Ashton-Kirk produced the small red particle which
he had found upon the desk of the murdered man.

"Here is a fragment cut from a ticket," he said. "It is shaped like a
keystone. I should like to know, if you can tell me, what train is
taken out by the conductor who uses the keystone punch."

The agent touched a signal and picked up the end of a tube.

"The head ticket counter," said he. "At once." Then he laid down the
tube and continued to his visitors. "He is the man who can supply that
sort of information instantly."

The ticket counter was a heavy-set young man, in spectacles and with
his hair much rumpled. He peered curiously at the strangers.

"Does any conductor on our lines use a punch which cuts out a
keystone?" inquired the General Passenger Agent.

"Yes, Purvis," replied the heavy young man. "Runs the Hammondsville
local."

"I am obliged to you both," said Ashton-Kirk. "This little hint may be
immensely valuable to me. And now," to the agent, "if I could have a
moment with Conductor Purvis, I would be more grateful to you than
ever."

"His train is out in the shed now," said the ticket counter, looking
at his watch. "Leaves in eight minutes."

"I'm sorry that I can't have him up here for you," said the passenger
agent. "Just now that is impossible. But," inquiringly, "couldn't you
speak to him down on the platform?"

"Of course," replied Ashton-Kirk.

He and Pendleton arose; the little man with the large white whiskers
was thanked once more, as was the heavy young man with the rumpled
hair.

"You'll find the Hammondsville train at Gate E," the latter informed
them.

Then the two shot down to the platform level and made their way toward
Gate E.

CHAPTER XI

PENDLETON IS VASTLY ENLIGHTENED

The Hammondsville local was taking on its passengers. It was a sooty
train, made up of three coaches and a combination baggage and smoking
car. The gateman pointed out its conductor, inside, and the two
approached him.

He was a spare, elderly man with a wrinkled, shrewd face, and a short,
pointed manner of speech.

"Oh, the General Passenger Agent sent you?" said he, examining them.
"All right. What's wanted?"

"Your train stops at a station called Cordova, does it not?"

"It stops at every station on the run. Cordova's one of them."

"There is an institution at Cordova, I believe?"

"For deaf and dumb kids--yes."

"Of course some of the people from there ride in and out with you at
times."

"I don't get many of the youngsters. But the folks that run the place
often come to the city."

"You are acquainted with them, of course. I mean in the way that
local conductors come to be acquainted with their regular riders."

Purvis grinned.

"Say," said he. "It's hard to get acquainted with some of them asylum
people. There's only a couple of them that can talk!"

"I see." Pendleton noted Ashton-Kirk's dark eyes fixed steadfastly
upon the man's face as though he desired to read the remainder from
his expression. "There is one of them," continued the investigator,
"whom perhaps you have noticed. He's rather a small man, and wears
thick glasses. He also dresses very carefully, and he wears a silk
hat."

"Oh, yes," said the conductor, "I know him. He goes in and out quite
often. Very polite too. Always says good day with his fingers; if the
train is crowded, he's a great little fellow for getting up and giving
his seat to the ladies."

"Have you ever heard his name?"

"Yes. It's Locke. He's some kind of a teacher."

Ashton-Kirk thanked the man, and with Pendleton walked through the
gate. As they were descending the stairs to the street, Pendleton
said:

"And now he wears a silk hat, does he? But you have not made sure of
the man. You forgot to inquire if Mr. Locke favored the German
dramatists."

For a moment Ashton-Kirk looked puzzled, then he burst into a laugh.

"Ah," said he, "you remember that."

"Of course I remember it. How can I forget it? You go prancing about
so like a conjurer that there's not a moment that I don't expect
something. If you finish by dragging the murderer from your sleeve,
I'll not be at all astonished. Your methods lead me to expect some
such a finale."

"To explain each step as I take it," said the investigator, "would be
much more difficult than the work itself. However the time has now
arrived for me to enlighten you somewhat upon this point, at least. I
am quite convinced that this man Locke played a leading part in the
murder of Hume. He is in a manner definitely placed, and I can speak
of him without fracturing any of my prejudices."

They got into the car, and Ashton-Kirk continued to the chauffeur:

"Christie Place." Then to Pendleton, he added as the machine started,
"I want to make some inquiries at the house where Spatola lived; and
in order to make the matter clearer, we'll just drop in at 478."

As they proceeded along at a bounding pace, the investigator related
to Pendleton what had passed between Edyth Vale and himself a few
hours before. Pendleton drew a great breath of relief.

"Of course I knew that her part in the matter was something like
that," he said, "but I'm glad to hear it, just the same." He looked at
his friend for a moment and then continued: "But how did you know that
Edyth heard a door close immediately after the pistol shot?"

They had just drawn up in front of Hume's, and as Ashton-Kirk got out,
he said:

"If you had only used your eyes as we were going over the place," said
he, "you'd have no occasion to ask that question."

There was a different policeman at the door; but fortunately he knew
the investigator and they were allowed to enter at once. When about
half way up the stairs, Ashton-Kirk said:

"This, I think, is about the place where Miss Vale stopped when she
saw the light-rays moving across the ceiling and wall of the hall. You
get the first glimpse of those from this point. Remain here a moment
and I'll try and reproduce what she heard--with the exception of the
cry."

Pendleton obediently paused upon the stairs; Ashton-Kirk went on up
and disappeared. In a few moments there came a sharp, ringing report,
and Pendleton, dashing up the stairs, saw his friend standing holding
open the showroom door--the one with Hume's name painted upon it.

"It's the bell," said Ashton-Kirk, pointing to the gong at the top of
the door frame. "When I examined it this morning I saw that it was
screwed up too tight, and knew that it would make a sound much like a
pistol shot to ears not accustomed to it."

Pendleton stared in amazement at the simplicity of the thing.

"I see," said he. "While Edyth stood listening on the stairs someone
opened this door!"

"Yes; someone unacquainted with the place. Otherwise he would have
known of the bell."

"But how did you know that Edyth heard a door close?"

"Whoever rang the bell closed the door after him. It has a spring lock
like the street door; and was locked when Miss Vale tried it a few
moments later."

"You say that the ringing of the bell shows the person who rang the
bell to have been unacquainted with the place. I think you must be
wrong here. Spatola is acquainted with the place; he was here at the
time. This is proven by the scream of the frightened cockatoo which
followed the ringing of the bell."

"It was not a cockatoo that made the sound," said Ashton-Kirk. "Give
me a moment and I think I can convince you of that."

The gas in the hall was lighted; the investigator stopped at the foot
of the stairs leading to the fourth floor.

"Persons," he continued, "who secretly enter buildings, as a rule
never trust to the lighting apparatus of the buildings. One reason for
this is that it is not under their control--another that they cannot
carry their light about with them."

He pointed to the lowermost step of the flight; there, as before, were
the stump of candle, the burnt matches, the traces of tallow upon the
wood.

"There were two or more men concerned in this crime," proceeded
Ashton-Kirk, "and that is the method of lighting that they chose--a
candle."

"Two men! How do you know that?" asked Pendleton.

"You shall see in a moment," replied the investigator. Then he
continued: "And the candle was used not only for illumination--it
served another purpose, and so supplied me with the first definite
information that my searching had given me up to that time."

Pendleton looked at the discouraged little candle end, with its long
black wick, the two charred splinters of pine wood and the eccentric
trail of tallow droppings. Then he shook his head.

"How you could get enlightenment from those things is beyond me," he
said. "But tell me what they indicated."

"The candle and the match-sticks count for little," said Ashton-Kirk.
"It is the tracings of melted tallow that possess the secret. Look
closely at them. At first glance they may seem the random drippings of
a carelessly held light. But a little study will show you a clearly
defined system contained in them."

"Well, you might say there were three lines of it," said Pendleton,
after a moment's inspection.

"Right," said Ashton-Kirk. "Three lines there are, and each follows a
row of tack heads. These latter were, apparently, once driven in to
hold down a step-protector of some sort which has since become worn
out and been removed."

The speaker took a pad of paper and a pencil from his pocket. Across
the pad he drew three lines one under the other. Then with another
glance at the candle droppings upon the step, he made a copy of them
that looked like this:

[Illustration: sketch of clue]

Pendleton bent over the result under the flare of the gas light; and
as he looked his eyes widened.

"Why," cried he, "they look like a stenographer's word-signs."

"Good!" said Ashton-Kirk. "And that, my dear fellow, is exactly what
they are. There, scrawled erratically in dripping tallow, is a three
word sentence in Benn Pitman's phonetic characters. It is roughly
done, and may have occupied some minutes; but it is well done, and in
excellent German. I'll write it out for you."

Then he wrote on the pad in big, plain Roman letters:

HINTER
WAYNE'S
BILDNISSE

"There it is," said the investigator, "done into the German language,
line for line. Brush up your knowledge now; let me see you turn it
into English."

Pendleton, whose German was rusty from long disuse, pondered over the
three words. Suddenly a light shot across his face; then his eyes were
in a blaze.

"_Behind Wayne's Portrait!_"

He fairly shouted the words. Astonishment filled him; he was trembling
with excitement.

"By Heaven," he gasped, "you have it, Kirk. Now I understand the
smashing of the portraits of General Wayne. There was something of
value hidden behind one of them--between the picture and the back! But
what?"

"It was nothing of any great bulk; the hiding place indicated points
that out, surely," said Ashton-Kirk, composedly. "A document of some
sort, perhaps."

Pendleton stood for a moment, lost in the wonder of the revelation;
then his mind began to work once more.

"But I can't understand the writing of the thing upon the step," said
he.

"It was the fact that it was written that proved to me that there were
at least two men concerned. One knew the hiding place of the coveted
object; and this is how he conveyed the information to his companion,"
pointing to the step.

"But," protested Pendleton, "why did he not put it into words? Surely
it would have been much easier?"

"Not for this particular person. As it happens, he was a mute."

Again Pendleton's eyes opened widely; then recollection came to him
and he said:

"It was Locke--the man concerning whom you were making inquiries of
the railroad conductor!"

Ashton-Kirk nodded, and replied.

"And it was he who shrieked when the door of the showroom opened. The
out-cry of a deaf-mute, if you have ever heard one, has the same
squawking, senseless sound as that of a psittaceous bird like the
parrot or cockatoo."

"But," said Pendleton, "the fact that the man who scrawled these signs
upon the step _was_ a deaf-mute, scarcely justifies the eccentricity
of the thing. Why did he not use a pencil, as you have done?"

"I can't say exactly, of course. But did it never happen that you were
without a pencil at a time when you needed one rather urgently?"

"This thing has sort of knocked me off my balance, I suppose," said
Pendleton, rather bewildered. "Don't expect too much of me, Kirk." He
stuffed his hands in his pockets dejectedly and continued: "You now
tell me that this man was a mute. Yesterday you said he was small,
that he was near-sighted, that he was well dressed and knew something
of the modern German dramatists. You also told the conductor that he
wore thick glasses and a silk hat. Now, I suppose I'm all kinds of an
idiot for not understanding how you know these things about a man you
never saw. But I confess it candidly; I _don't_ understand."

"It all belongs to my method of work," said Ashton-Kirk. "It's simple
enough when you go about it the right way. I have already given you my
reasons for thinking the man who did this," pointing to the step, "to
be a mute. I judged that he was of small stature because he chose the
bottom step upon which to trace his word signs. Even an ordinary sized
man would have selected one higher up."

"All right," said Pendleton. "That looks good to me, so far."

"The deductions that he was well dressed and also near-sighted were
from the one source. His hat fell off while he was tracing the signs;
that showed me that he was forced to stoop very close to his work in
order to see what he was about. You see that, don't you?"

"How did you know his hat fell off?" asked Pendleton, incredulously.

"Mrs. Dwyer is evidently paid to clean only the hall and lower
stairway," replied Ashton-Kirk, composedly. "And that she sticks
closely to that arrangement is shown by the condition of this upper
flight. The dust upon the step is rather thick. If you will notice,"
and he indicated a place on the second step, "here is a spot where a
round, flat object rested. That this object was a silk hat is
positive. You can see the sharp impress of the nap in the dust; here
is the curl in the exact center of the crown as seen in silk hats
only. And men who wear silk hats are usually well-dressed men."

"But how can you be at all sure that the hat fell off? Isn't it
possible that he took it off and laid it there?"

"Possible--yes--but scarcely probable. A well-dressed man is so from
instinct. And his instinctive neatness would hardly permit him to put
his well-kept hat down in the dust."

"Go on," said Pendleton.

"The stairs have been used since the hat fell there; but the dust has
not been disturbed. There is a hand-rail on the other side of the
flight, and consequently, all went up and down on that side."

"I can understand the thick glasses," said Pendleton, "his being
near-sighted suggested those. But what made you think he cared for the
modern German dramatists?"

"That was a hazard, merely," and the investigator laughed.

"He knew German and was apparently a man of intelligence. No man who
combines these two things can fail of admiration of Hauptmann,
Sudermann and their brothers of the pen. And then a mute who knew
shorthand well enough to have such ready recourse to it, struck me as
being unusual. They all know the digital sign language; but German and
phonography classed him as one above the ordinary. This knowledge
brought the suggestion of an institution. Then came the suggestion
that he might be an instructor in such an institution. The fragment
from the railroad ticket hinted that the institution might be out of
town. Fuller's research placed two such institutions. The ticket
counter at the railroad office narrowed it down to one. The conductor
of the train all but put his hand on the man."

There was a short silence. Then Pendleton drew a long breath.

"Well, Kirk," said he. "I don't mind admitting that you have me
winging. I'll tell you now it's clever; but if I can think of a
stronger word later, I'll work it in instead."

"We have a pretty positive line on one of the criminals, and we will
now turn to the other," said the investigator, briskly. "It was this
other who committed the murder. The infirmities of Locke, the mute,
made it impossible for him to venture into the rooms. The risks for a
deaf and short-sighted man would be too great. Danger might creep upon
him and he neither hear nor see it. For some reason which I have not
yet discovered, but it may have been distrust, he had not informed his
confederate as to the whereabouts of the object of their entrance.
When they got as far as this hall, he concluded to do so; but as
neither man had a pencil, he conveyed the information as shown; then
the confederate entered Hume's apartments by the door which Mrs.
Dwyer found open. This, by an oversight, may have been left unlocked,
or the criminals may have had a key. However, that does not affect the
case one way or another.

"It is my opinion that Hume was seated at his desk at this time and
heard the intruder enter the storage room; then pushing back his chair
as we saw it, he arose. The criminal, however, sprang upon and struck
him so expertly that he collapsed without a sound. Then the bayonet
came into play.

"A search followed for the thing desired--a search, short, sharp and
savage. The murderer either found what he sought, or the footsteps of
Miss Vale upon the stairs frightened him. At any rate he pulled open
the showroom door--the one with the gong; Locke, still in the hall,
screamed and both fled up these stairs to the roof and away."

Pendleton had waited patiently until his friend finished. Then he
said, with a twinkle in his eye:

"You say the murderer opened the show room door, the gong rang and
then Locke screamed. Now, old chap, that's not possible. If Locke is
deaf, he couldn't hear the gong; and so there would be no occasion for
him to cry out."

"I think if you'll go back over what I've really said," spoke
Ashton-Kirk, "you will find that I have made no mention of Locke
crying out because of the gong. I said the murderer opened the door
that has the gong. Then Locke screamed, not because he heard anything,
but because of the sight he saw."

"Ah!"

"He caught a glimpse of Hume upon the floor--as we saw him."

"You think, then, that Locke's intentions were not murder?"

"At the present time I am led to think so. The confederate either was
forced to kill to save himself, or he had nursed a private scheme of
revenge. And the ferocity of the blow with the bayonet inclines me to
prefer the latter as a theory."

"That brings us back to both Morris and Spatola," said Pendleton,
gravely. "By all accounts both bore Hume a bitter grudge. But the fact
that both criminals escaped by the roof shows familiarity with the
neighborhood, as Miss Vale pointed out to you. This seems to point to
Spatola."

"So does the purchase of the bayonet, and in the same indefinite
fashion," said Ashton-Kirk. "But come, we motored to Christie Place
more to inquire about this same Italian than anything else. So let's
set about it."

They thanked the policeman in charge and left the building. As they
proceeded down the street toward the house in which the newspapers had
informed them Spatola lived, the investigator paused suddenly.

"I think," said he, "it would be best for us to first see Spatola
himself, and ask a few questions. This might give us the proper point
of view for the remainder."

And so they once more got into the car; and away they sped toward the
place where the violinist was confined.

CHAPTER XII

ANTONIO SPATOLA APPEARS

Ashton-Kirk and Pendleton were admitted to the cell room at the City
Hall without question; but a distinct surprise awaited them there.
Through a private door leading from the detectives' quarters they saw
the bulky form of Osborne emerge; and at his heels were Bernstine and
his sandy-haired clerk.

When Osborne caught sight of Ashton-Kirk he expanded into a wide smile
of satisfaction.

"Hello!" greeted he. "Glad to see you. You're just in time to see me
turn a new trick. Here's the people that Spatola bought the bayonet
from. How does that strike you?"

But Bernstine leaned over and said something in a low tone; and the
smile instantly departed.

"Oh," said Osborne, ruefully, "_this_ is the party who called to see
you, is it?" Then turning to Ashton-Kirk he asked: "How did you get
onto this bayonet business?"

"Just through thinking it over a little, that's all," answered the
investigator.

Mr. Bernstine now approached the speaker, a hurt look upon his face.

"Mr. Ashton-Kirk," said he, "why did you not tell us about this piece
of business? Why did you not enlighten us? How _could_ you go away and
leave us in the dark? We are very much occupied, and have little time
to look at the newspapers. It was only by accident that Sime happened
to see one." Lowering his voice, he added: "There's a smart fellow for
you; he saw the whole thing in an instant. And so we came right here
to do what we can to help justice." He squared his shoulders
importantly.

"He's seen the bayonet and is prepared to swear to it," stated
Osborne, elated.

"What of the picture of Spatola in the paper?" asked the investigator.
"Does he recognize that?"

Osborne's face fell once more.

"These half-tones done through coarse screens are never any good,"
said he. "They'd make Gladstone look like Pontius Pilate. He's going
to have a look at the man himself, and that'll settle it."

With that a turnkey was dispatched; and in a few moments he returned,
accompanied by a half dozen prisoners; one was a slim, dark young man
with a nervous, expressive look, and a great tangle of curling black
hair. The face was haggard and drawn; the eyes were frightened; the
whole manner of the man had a piteous appeal.

Osborne turned to Sime.

"Look them over carefully," directed he. "Take your time."

"I don't need to," answered the freckled shipping clerk. He pointed to
the dark young man. "That's the man of the picture; but I never seen
him before, anywhere."

Osborne put his fingers under his collar and pulled as though to
breathe more freely; then he motioned another attendant to take the
remaining prisoners away.

"I see," said he. "He was too foxy to buy the thing himself. He sent
someone else." Then he fixed his eye on the prisoner and continued:
"We've got the bayonet on you; so you might as well tell us all about
it."

"I don't understand," said Spatola, anxiously.

"The easier you make it for us, the easier it will be for you,"
Osborne told him. "If you make us sweat, fitting this thing to you,
we'll give you the limit. Don't forget that."

"I have done nothing," said Spatola, earnestly. "I have done nothing.
And yet you keep me here. Is there not a law?"

"There is," said Osborne, grimly. "That's what I'm trying to tell you
about. Now, who bought the bayonet?"

"The bayonet?" Spatola stared.

"The bayonet that Hume was killed with."

With a truly Latin gesture of despair, the Italian put his hands to
his forehead.

"Always Hume," he said. "Always Hume! I can not be free of him. He was
evil!" in a sort of shrill whisper. "Even when he is dead, I am mocked
by him. He was all evil! I believe he was a devil!"

"That was no reason why you should kill him," said Osborne in the
positive manner of the third degree.

"I did not kill him," protested Spatola. "There were many times when
it was in my heart to do so. But I did not do it!"

"I've heard you say all that before," stated Osborne, wearily. Then to
the turnkey: "Take him away, Curtis."

"Just a moment," interposed Ashton-Kirk. "I came here to have a few
words with this prisoner, and by your leave, I'll speak to him now."

"All right," replied Osborne. "Help yourself."

He led Bernstine and Sime out of the cell room; the turnkey, with
professional courtesy, moved away to a safe distance, and Ashton-Kirk
turned to the Italian.

"You were once first violin with Karlson," said he. "I remember you
well. I always admired your art."

An eager look came into the prisoner's face.

"I thank you," he said. "It is not many who will remember in me a man
who once did worthy things. I am young," with despair, "yet how I have
sunken."

"It is something of a drop," admitted Ashton-Kirk. "From a position of
first violin with Karlson to that of a street musician. How did it
happen?"

Sadly the young Italian tapped his forehead with one long finger.

"The fault," he declared, "is here. I have not the--what do you call
it--sense? What happened with Karlson happened a dozen times
before--in Italy, in France, in Spain. I have not the good sense!"

But justification came into his eyes, and his hands began to
gesticulate eloquently.

"Karlson is a Swede," with contempt. "The Swedes know the science of
music; but they are hard; they are seldom artists; they cannot
express. And when one of this nation--a man with the ice of his
country in his soul--tried to instruct me how to play the warm music
of my own Italy, I called him a fool!"

"I see," said the investigator.

"I am to blame," said Spatola, contritely. "But I could not help it.
He _was_ a fool, and fools seldom like to hear the truth."

"The Germans, now," said Ashton-Kirk, insinuatingly, "are somewhat
different from the Swedes. Were you ever employed under a German
conductor?"

"Twice," replied the violinist, with a shrug. "Nobody can deny the art
of the Germans. But they have their faults. They say they know the
violin. And they do; but the Italian has taught them. The violin
belongs to Italy. It was the glory of Cremona, was it not? The tender
hands of the Amatis, of Josef Guarnerius, of old Antonio Stradivari,
placed a soul within the wooden box; and that soul is the soul of
Italy!"

"Haupt, a German, wrote a treatise on the violin," said Ashton-Kirk.
"If you would read that--"

"I have read it," cried Spatola. "I have read it! It is like that,"
and he snapped his fingers impatiently.

"But you've probably read a translation in the English or Italian,"
insisted the investigator, smoothly. "And all translations lose
something of their vitality, you know."

"I have read it in the German," declared the Italian; "in his own
language, just as he wrote it. It is nothing."

Pendleton looked at Ashton-Kirk admiringly; the manner in which his
friend had established the fact that Spatola knew the German language
seemed to him very clever. But Ashton-Kirk made no sign other than
that of interest in the subject upon which they talked.

"A race that has given the world such musicians as Wagner, Beethoven
and Mozart," said he, "must possess in a tremendous degree the musical
sense. The German knowledge of tone and its combinations is
extraordinary; and their music in turn is as complex as their
psychology and as simple as the improvisation of a child."

Spatola seemed surprised at this apparent warmth; he looked at
Ashton-Kirk questioningly.

"And, with all their scholarship, the Germans are so practical," went
on the latter. "Only the other day I came upon a booklet published in
Leipzig that dealt with the difficulty a composer sometimes encounters
in getting the notes on paper when a melody sweeps through his brain.
The writer claimed that the world had lost thousands of inspirations
because of this, and to prevent further loss, he proffered an
invention--a system of--so to speak--musical shorthand."

A sullen look of suspicion came into Spatola's face; he regarded the
speaker from under lowered brows.

"Perhaps you don't quite understand the value of such an invention,"
proceeded Ashton-Kirk. "But if you had a knowledge of stenography, and
the short cuts it--"

But the Italian interrupted him brusquely.

"I know nothing of such things," said he, "and what is more I don't
want to know anything of them." Then in a sharp, angry tone, he added:
"What do you want of me? I am not acquainted with you. Why am I
annoyed like this? Is it always to be so--first one and then another?"

At this sudden display of resentment, the turnkey approached.

"I will go back to my cell," Spatola told him, "and please do not
bring me out again. My nerves are bad. I have been worried much of
late and I can't stand it."

The turnkey looked at Ashton-Kirk, who nodded his head. And, as
Spatola was led gesticulating away, Pendleton said in a low tone of
conviction:

"I tell you, Kirk, there's your man. Besides the other things against
him, he knows German."

"But what of the phonographic signs?"

"He knows them also. His manner proved it. As soon as you mentioned
shorthand he became suspicious and showed uneasiness and anger. I tell
you again," with an air, of finality, "he's your man."

CHAPTER XIII

A NEW LIGHT ON ALLAN MORRIS

From the City Hall the car headed for Christie Place once more; it
halted some half dozen doors from Hume's and the occupants got out.

The first floor was used by a dealer in second-hand machinery, but at
one side was a long, dingy entry with a rickety, twisting flight of
stairs at the end. Ashton-Kirk rang the bell here, and while they
waited a man who had been seated in the open door of the machine shop
got up and approached them.

He wore blue overalls and a jumper liberally discolored by plumbago
and other lubricants; a short wooden pipe was held between his teeth,
and a cloth cap sat upon the back of his head.

"Looking up the Dago?" asked he with a grin. He jerked a dirty thumb
toward the stairs.

Ashton-Kirk nodded; the man took the wooden pipe from his mouth, blew
out a jet of strong-smelling smoke and said:

"I knowed he'd put a knife or something into somebody, some day. These
people with bad tempers ought to be chained up short."

"Do you know him well?" inquired the investigator.

"Been acquainted with him ever since he's been living here--and that's
going on three years."

"Did he have many visitors, do you know?"

The man in the cloth cap pulled at his pipe reflectively.

"I can't just say," he replied. "But I've been thinking--" he paused
here and examined both young men questioningly. Then he asked: "You're
detectives, ain't you?"

"Something of that sort," replied Ashton-Kirk.

The man grinned at this.

"Oh, all right," said he. "You don't have to come out flat with it if
you don't want to. I ain't one of the kind that you've got to hit with
a mallet to make them catch on to a thing." Here the wooden pipe
seemed to clog; he took a straw from behind his ear and began clearing
the stem carefully. At the same time he added: "As I was saying, I've
been thinking."

"That," said Ashton-Kirk, giving another tug at the unanswered bell,
"is very commendable."

"And queer enough, it's been about visitors--here," and the man
pointed with the straw toward the doorway. "Funny kind of people too,
for a house like this."

"Take a cigar," said Ashton-Kirk. "That pipe seems out of commission."
Then, as the man put the pipe away in the pocket of his jumper and
lighted the proffered cigar, he added: "What do you mean by 'funny
kind of people?'"

The cigar well lighted, the man in the overalls drew at it with gentle
relish.

"There's a good many kinds of funny people," said he. "Some of them
you laugh at, and others you don't. These that I mean are the kind you
don't. Now, Mrs. Marx, the woman that keeps this place, is all right
in her way, but it ain't no swell place at that. Her lodgers are
mostly fellows that canvass for different kinds of things; they wear
shiny coats and their shoes are mostly run down at the heels. So when
I see swell business looking guys coming here I got to wondering who
they were. That's only natural, ain't it?"

Ashton-Kirk nodded, but before he could reply in words there came a
clatter upon the rickety stairs at the far end of the entry. A thin,
slipshod woman with untidy hair and a sharp face paused on the lower
step and looked out at them.

"What do you want?" she demanded, shrilly.

Ashton-Kirk, followed by Pendleton, stepped inside and advanced down
the entry.

"Are you Mrs. Marx?" he inquired.

"Yes," snapped the woman. "What do you want?"

"A little information."

"You're a reporter!" accused the sharp-faced woman. "And let me tell
you that I don't want nothing more to say to no reporters."

But Ashton-Kirk soothingly denied the accusation.

"I dare say you've been bothered to death by newspaper men," spoke he.
"But we assure you that--"

"It don't make no difference," stated the woman, rearing her head
until her long chin pointed straight at them. "I ain't got nothing to
say to nobody. I don't want to get into no trouble."

"The only way you can possibly get into trouble in this matter," said
the investigator, "is to conceal what you know. An attempt to hide
facts is always considered by the police as a sort of admission of
complicity."

The woman at this lifted a corner of a soiled apron and applied it to
her eyes.

"Things is come to a nice pass," she said, vainly endeavoring to
squeeze a tear from eyes to which such things had long been strangers,
"when a respectable woman can't mind her own business in her own
house."

At this point, Pendleton, who looked discreetly away, caught the
rustle of a crisp bill; and when Mrs. Marx spoke again, her tone had
undergone a decided change.

"But of course," she said, "if the law asks me anything, I must do
the best I can. I've kept a rooming house for a good many years now,
gentlemen, and this is the first time I have had any notoriety. It is,
I assure you."

As Ashton-Kirk had seen at a second glance, Mrs. Marx was a lady fully
competent to confront any situation that might arise; so he wasted no
time in soothing her injured feelings.

"We desire any information that you can give us regarding your lodger,
Antonio Spatola," said he. "Tell us all you know about him."

"He wasn't a bad-hearted young man," said the landlady, "but for all
that I wish I'd never seen him. If I hadn't then I'd never had this
disgrace come on me."

Here she made another effort with the corner of her apron; but it was
even more unsuccessful than the first. She gave it up and went on
acidly.

"Mr. Spatola came here almost three years ago. He was engaged in one
of the vaudeville theaters near here--in the orchestra--and he rented
my second story front at six dollars a week. Except for the fact that
he _would_ play awfully shivery music at all hours of the night, I was
glad to have him. He was quiet and polite; he paid regularly and,"
smoothing back the untidy hair, "he gave a kind of tone to the house.

"But then he lost his position. Had a fight, I understand, with
somebody. For a long time he had no work; he moved from the second
story-front at six dollars a week into the attic at two. When he could
get no place, he went on the street and played; afterwards he got the
trained birds. I didn't like this much. It didn't do the house no good
to have a street fiddler living in it; and then the birds were a
regular nuisance with their noise. But he paid regular, and after a
while he took to keeping the birds in a box in the loft, so I put up
with it."

"We'll look at his room, if you please," said the investigator.

Complainingly, the woman led the way up the infirm staircase. At the
fourth floor she pushed open a door and showed them into a long
loft-like room with high ceiling and mansard windows. There came a
squawking and fluttering from somewhere above as they entered.

"Them's the cockatoos," said the landlady. "They miss Mr. Spatola very
much. When I go to feed them with the stale bread and seed he has here
for them, would you believe it, they'll hardly eat a thing."

The room was without a floor covering. Upon some rough shelves, nailed
to the wall, were heaps of music. A violin case also lay there. There
were a few chairs, a cot-bed, and a neat pile of books upon a table.
Ashton-Kirk ran over these quickly; they were mostly upon musical
subjects, and in Italian. But some were Spanish, English, German and
French.

"He was the greatest hand for talking and reading languages," said
Mrs. Marx, wonderingly. "I don't think there was any kind of a
nationality that he couldn't converse with. Mr. Sagon that lives on
the floor below says that his French was elegant, and Mr. Hertz, my
parlor lodger, used to just love to talk German with him. He said his
German was so _high_."

Ashton-Kirk opened the violin case and looked at the instrument
within.

"Spatola always carried his violin in this when he went out, I
suppose?" he said, inquiringly.

"Oh, yes; _that_ one he did. But the one on the wall there," pointing
to a second instrument hanging from a peg, "he never took much care of
that. It's the one he played on the street, you see."

Her visitors followed the gesture with interest.

"That was just to clinch a point I made with Fuller this morning,"
said the investigator to Pendleton, in explanation. Then to Mrs. Marx
he continued: "Mr. Spatola had visitors from time to time, had he
not?"

But the woman shook her head.

"Sometimes he had a pupil who came in the evening. But they never came
more than once or twice; he generally called them thick-heads after
a little, and told them they'd better go back to the grocery or
butcher's shop where they belonged."

"Are you quite sure that no one else ever called upon him?"

The woman nodded positively.

"I'm certain sure of it," she said. "I remember saying more than once
to my gentlemen on the different floors, that Mr. Spatola must be
awfully lonely sometimes. Mr. Crawford would often come up here and
smoke with him and play a game or two of Pedro. Mr. Hertz tried it a
couple of times; but him and Mr. Spatola couldn't hit it very well."

"How many lodgers have you?"

"I have rooms for nine. Just now there are seven. But only four are
steadies--Mr. Hertz, Mr. Crawford, Mr. Sagon and Mr. Spatola. Mr.
Hertz is an inspector of the people who canvass for the city
directory; he took the parlor after Mr. Spatola gave it up. He drinks
a little, but he's a perfect gentleman for all that. Mr. Crawford is a
traveling man, and is seldom home; but he pays in advance, so I don't
never worry about him. Mr. Sagon is what they call an expert. He can't
speak much English yet, but sometimes even the government," in an awed
tone, "sends for him to come to the customs house to tell them how
much diamonds are worth, that people bring in. He works for Baum
Brothers and Wright. The others," bulking them as being of no
consequence, "are all gentlemen who are employed on the directory
under Mr. Hertz."

"Have you any Italian lodgers other than Mr. Spatola?"

The woman shook her head.

"No," she said, "and I don't want none, if this is the way they carry
on."

"Are there any other rooming houses in the street?"

"No, sir. It's only a block long, and I know every house in it. I'm
the only one as takes lodgers."

"Are there any Italians in business in the block, or employed in any
of the business places?"

Mrs. Marx again shook her head positively.

"Not any."

"You speak of a Mr. Sagon. Of what nationality is he?"

"Oh, he's French, but he's lived a long time in Antwerp. That's where
he learned the diamond business. And he must have lived in other
places in Europe; Mr. Spatola says he has spoken of them often."

Just then there came from below the sound of a heavy voice, singing.
The words were French and the intonation here and there was strange to
Ashton-Kirk.

"Who is that?" he asked.

"It's Mr. Sagon," replied the woman. "He's the greatest one for
singing them little French songs."

"Ah, I have it," said Ashton-Kirk, after a moment. "He's a Basque, of
course. I couldn't place that accent at first."

A narrow, ladder-like flight of stairs was upon one side. Ashton-Kirk
mounted these and found himself in a smaller loft; a number of
well-kept cockatoos, in cages, set up a harsh screaming at sight of
him. Opening a low door he stepped out upon a tin roof. Mrs. Marx and
Pendleton had followed him, and the former said:

"The police was up here looking. They said Mr. Spatola came through
the trap-door at Hume's place that night and walked along the roofs
and so down to his own room."

"That would he very easily done," answered Ashton-Kirk, as his eye
took in the level stretch of roofs.

After a little more questioning to make sure that the landlady had
missed nothing, they thanked her and left the house. At his door they
saw the man in the cloth cap and overalls. A second and very unwieldy
man, with a flushed, unhealthy looking face, had just stopped to speak
to him.

He supported himself with one hand on the wall.

"Hello!" called the machinist to Ashton-Kirk; and as the two
approached him, he said to the unwieldy man: "I stopped you to tell
you these gents had gone in. They're detectives."

"Oh," said the man, with interest in his wavering eye. "That so." He
regarded the two young men uncertainly for a moment; and then asked:
"Did Mrs. Marx tell you anything?"

"She didn't seem to know much," answered the investigator.

The unwieldy man swayed to and fro, an expression of cunning gathering
in his face. The machinist winked and whispered to Pendleton:

"I don't know his name, but he's one of the lodgers."

"Marx," declared the unwieldy man, "is a fine lady. But," with an
elaborate wink, "she knows more'n she tells sometimes." The wavering
eye tried to fix the investigator, but failed signally. "It don't do,"
he added wisely, "to tell everything you know."

Ashton-Kirk agreed to this.

"Marx could tell you something, maybe," said the man. "And then maybe
she couldn't. But, I know _I_ could give you a few hints if I had the
mind--and maybe they'd be valuable hints, too." Here he drew himself
up with much dignity and attempted to throw out his chest. "I'm a
gentleman," he declared. "My name's Hertz. And being a gentleman, I
always try and conduct myself like one. But that's more'n some other
people in Marx's household does."

"Yes?"

"Yes, sir. When a gentleman tries to be friendly, I meets him
half-way. But that fellow," and he shook a remonstrating finger at
the door of the lodging-house, "thinks himself better'n other people.
And mind you," with a leer, "maybe he's not as good."

"Who do you mean--the Dago?" asked the machinist.

"No; I mean Crawford. A salesman, eh?" The speaker made a gesture as
though pushing something from him with contempt. "Fudge! Travels, does
he? Rot! He can't fool me. And then," with energy, "what did he used
to do so much in Spatola's garret, eh? What did they talk about so
much on the quiet? I ain't saying nothing about nobody, mind you. I'm
a gentleman. My name's Hertz. I don't want to get nobody into trouble.
But if Crawford was such a swell as not to want to speak to a
gentleman in public, why did he hold so many pow-wows in private with
Spatola? That's what I want to know."

Seeing that the man's befogged intellect would be likely to carry him
on in this strain for an indefinite time, Ashton-Kirk and Pendleton
were about to move on. But they had not gone more than a few yards
when the investigator paused as though struck with an idea. He stepped
back once more and drew a photograph from his pocket.

"Do you know who this is?" he asked, abruptly, holding it up.

The unwieldy man swayed gently and waveringly regarded the portrait.

"Sure!" said he surprisedly, "it's Crawford."

Ashton-Kirk rejoined his friend; and as they made their way to the
waiting automobile, the latter said;

"That is a step ahead of me, Kirk, I think. Where did you get a
portrait of this man Crawford?"

By way of an answer the investigator held up the photograph once more.
Pendleton gave a gasp of amazement.

"Allan Morris," said he. "_Allan Morris, by George!_"

CHAPTER XIV

MISS VALE UNEXPECTEDLY APPEARS

Edouard, Ashton-Kirk's cook, was astonished and somewhat grieved that
day to receive orders that dinner was to be served an hour earlier
than usual. And Stumph, grave and immobile, was betrayed into an
expression of astonishment when his master and guest sat down to the
same dinner in their work-a-day attire.

And at best Edouard's delicate art that day received but scant
attention. Stumph could hardly conceive of a more important thing than
the proper and gentlemanly eating of one's dinner. Nevertheless other
things engaged the attention of the two young men; they talked
earnestly and in incomprehensible terms; mysterious allusions were
sprinkled thickly through it all.

"I do not think," Stumph told the mortified Edouard in the kitchen,
"that Mr. Pendleton has tasted the flavor of a single thing he has
eaten. He listens to Mr. Ashton-Kirk talk; he is surprised at
everything that he is told; there is a trembling in his hands, he is
so eager. No, I don't know what it's about. But then, I never know
what Mr. Ashton-Kirk is about. He is a very remarkable gentleman."

And no sooner was the dinner completed than Ashton-Kirk's big French
car was brought to the door and both young men got into it.

"You've looked up the road to Cordova?" inquired Ashton-Kirk of the
chauffeur.

"Yes, sir," answered the man. "Very good road and almost parallel with
the railroad. No trouble getting there by dark."

"All right. Get there as soon as you can."

They cut into a broad asphalted avenue, which eventually led them
through the north suburbs into the country. The April dusk was
settling upon the fields as they raced along; in the isolated houses,
lights were beginning to twinkle; there was a swaying among the trees
and roadside bush; the hum of the flying car must have been borne long
distances; for far away people raised their heads from the finishing
tasks of the day to look at it as it flashed by.

Pendleton lay back comfortably digesting his dinner, and ticking off
in his mind the case which engrossed him so much.

"It all tapers down to this," he said to himself. "Hume was murdered
by Locke and a confederate in order that they might gain possession of
something, the nature of which is unknown. Kirk is confident of Locke;
I think he'd even go so far as to give him into custody, if he had
the tangible proofs that the police require.

"But he lacks enthusiasm in the matter of the confederate. To my mind,
it's Spatola or Morris, or both. Both bore Hume no good will. Morris
has been spending at least part of his time with Spatola under an
assumed name; they are known to have been very much engaged in some
secret matter. Both visited Hume's on the night of the murder. An
Italian purchased the weapon with which the deed was done. A German
sentence was written in shorthand by Locke for his confederate.
Spatola admits he knows German; he grows suspicious when shorthand is
mentioned. And to wind it up, Morris has not been seen at his
apartments, his office, or by his friends, since the murder was
committed."

At a little unpainted railroad station, the investigator broke in on
Pendleton's thoughts by calling on the chauffeur to stop. There were
the usual signboards on each side of the structure, announcing that
the place was Cordova; and there was the usual knot of loungers that
are always to be found about such places watching with interest the
incoming trains.

Ashton-Kirk called to one of these. He was a lanky fellow in a
wide-brimmed hat and with a sheep-like look of complacency.

"What's the best way to Dr. Mercer's place?" asked Ashton-Kirk.

The lanky man reflected.

"There's three or four ways of getting there," he stated. "You can go
up the pike and turn at Harbison's store; or you can turn down the
lane along there a piece and go along until you come to--"

"Which is the nearest?"

"I ain't never passed no judgment on that; but I think the clay road
down toward Plattville would get you there the quickest--if you didn't
get stuck in the ruts."

"I think we'd better stick to the pike," suggested Pendleton.

"The pike's the best road," said the lanky man. "All the people from
Mercer's place use it when they drive here to the station."

Once more the big French car, now with its lamps lighted, sped along
the road; about a mile further on they came to the store referred to
by the man as Harbison's. Here they received instructions as to how to
proceed, by the store-keeper; and after running about four miles along
an indifferent wagon road, they caught the twinkle of many lights off
in the middle of a wide clearing.

"That must be it," said the investigator. "We'll leave the car here;
to flash up to the door in the quiet of the evening would attract more
attention than would be good for us, perhaps."

It was now quite dark, but they found a gate a trifle farther on which
opened readily; and so they proceeded along a walk toward a building
which lay blinking at them with its yellow eyes. A deep-throated dog
scented them from off in the distance and gave tongue. As they drew
near to the institution they heard a man calling to the brute to be
still. A little further on the man himself suddenly appeared from
around the corner of a building with a lantern; he flashed this in
their faces as he said:

"Well, sirs, this is against the rules. We have no visitors except on
Saturdays; and then only within reasonable hours."

"We would like to speak to Dr. Mercer," said Ashton-Kirk.

"Dr. Mercer is at dinner," explained the man with the lantern. "He
don't like it much if he's disturbed at such times."

"We will wait until he has finished; we are in no great hurry."

The man seemed puzzled as to how to act. With the light held aloft so
that not a feature escaped him, he examined them closely. Apparently
he could see nothing with which to find fault; and so he sighed in a
perplexed fashion.

"He does not care to have people wait for him," complained the man.
"He gets very angry if he is worried by such things while dining."

"You need not announce us until he is through," said Ashton-Kirk,
composedly.

The man hesitated; but finally resolved upon a course and led them up
a flight of stone steps and into a wide hall. The night was raw and a
brisk fire of pine knots burning in an old-fashioned hall fireplace,
made the place very comfortable.

"If you will be seated, gentlemen," requested their guide, "I will
tell Dr. Mercer of your presence as soon as he has finished."

They seated themselves obligingly in a couple of low, heavy chairs
near the fire; and then the man left them. The hall was high and
rather bare: the hardwood floor shone brilliantly under the lights;
save for the faint murmur of voices from a near-by room, everything
was still.

"I should imagine that a place of this sort wouldn't be at all noisy,"
observed Pendleton, in a heavy attempt at jocularity.

Except for a word now and then, they waited in silence for a half
hour; then a door opened and steps were heard in the hall. Both turned
and saw a remarkably small man, perhaps well under five feet, dressed
with great care and walking with a quick nervous step. His head was
very large and partly bald, rearing above his small frame like a
great, bare dome; he carried a silk hat in his hand, and peered
abstractedly through spectacles of remarkable thickness.

"Locke," breathed Pendleton, as his heart paused for a moment and then
went on with a leap.

The little man apparently did not see them until he was almost beside
them; then he paused with a start, and his eyes grew owlish behind the
magnifying lenses as he strove to make them out. That he did not
recognize them seemed to worry him; his thin, gray face seemed to grow
grayer and thinner; with a diffident little bow he passed on and out
at the front door.

"Not a very formidable looking criminal," commented Ashton-Kirk,
quietly. "However, you can seldom judge by appearances. The most
astonishing crime that ever came to my notice was perpetrated by the
meekest and most conventional man I had ever seen."

They waited for still another space, and then the man who had shown
them in presented himself. He was now without the lantern, but wore a
melancholy look.

"Dr. Mercer will see you," said he in a low voice. "He is very much
vexed at being disturbed. He'll remember it against me for weeks." He
appeared very much disturbed.

Ashton-Kirk placed a coin in the speaker's hand; this seemed to have
a bracing effect, for he led them into his employer's presence in a
brighter frame of mind. Dr. Mercer was seated at the table in his
dining-room. A napkin was tucked in his collar, his fat hands were
folded across his stomach, and he was breathing heavily.

"Gentlemen," spoke he, rolling his eyes around to them, "I trust you
will pardon my not rising. But to exert myself after dining has a most
injurious result sometimes. My digestion is painfully impaired; the
slightest excitement causes me the utmost suffering."

"I appreciate the fact that we are intruding at a most inconvenient
time," said Ashton-Kirk. "And I beg of you to accept our apologies."

The eyes of Dr. Mercer, which had the appearance of swimming in fat,
were removed from his visitors, and fixed themselves longingly upon a
great dish filled with a steaming, heavy-looking pudding. His breath
labored in his chest as he replied:

"The hour _is_ somewhat unusual; but as it happens I have about
finished my dinner, and if your errand is not of a stirring nature, I
should be pleased to have you state it."

The man placed chairs in such a position that the doctor would not
have to stir to fully observe his visitors. This done he was about to
withdraw; but his employer stopped him at the door.

"Haines," complained he, "you have not taken my order for breakfast."

The man paused and seemed much abashed at his neglect.

"I really beg your pardon, sir," said he. And with that he produced a
pencil and a small book and stood ready.

"I will have one of those trout that I purchased to-day," directed the
doctor. "Let it be that large, fine one that I was so pleased with,"
his swimming eyes ready to float out of his head with anticipation.
"Then I would like some new-laid eggs, some hot cakes, and perhaps a
small piece of steak, if there is any that is tender and tasty. And
mind you," in an nervous afterthought, "tell Mrs. Crane to have it but
rarely done. I will not tolerate it dry and without flavor." He
pondered awhile, apparently much moved by this painful possibility;
then he added: "I may as well have a cereal to begin with, I suppose.
And that will be all with the exception of a few slices from the cold
roast and some white rolls."

Carefully Haines had taken this down; and after he had read it over at
his employer's order and noted a few alterations and additions, he
departed. For a few moments the doctor's eyes were closed in expectant
rapture; his breathing grew so stertorous that his callers were
becoming alarmed; but he spoke at last, reluctantly, resentfully.

"I am now ready to hear you, gentlemen, if you please. And kindly
remember that I prohibit anything of an exciting nature at this time."

"We have heard your school highly spoken of," said Ashton-Kirk. "And
have come to make some inquiries before making up our minds."

"Ah," breathed Dr. Mercer, solemnly, "you have an afflicted one. Too
bad! Tut, tut, tut, too bad!"

"There are many institutions of the sort," proceeded the investigator.
"But for the most part they stop at the threshold, so to speak, of
knowledge."

Dr. Mercer roused himself so far as to unclasp his hands and point
with one finger at the speaker.

"Sir," said he, in a voice full of grave significance, "they seldom
reach the threshold. A large majority of them are conducted by
dishonest persons. Afflicted youth left in their charge are rarely
properly directed--they rarely acquire that digital dexterity so
necessary to success in their limited lives. The isolated brain, so to
call it, is seldom more than half awakened. Unless it is intelligently
approached, the shadows are never thoroughly dispelled."

Here he paused, panting distressedly; his eyes were filled with
reproach as he relapsed into his first attitude; and his manner was
that of one who mutely begged that no further tasks be thrust upon
him.

"The difference in institutions of this type lies mainly in the
methods employed, I believe," said Ashton-Kirk.

"In the methods--and in the persons who apply them," replied Dr.
Mercer in a smothered tone.

"To be sure. I have heard something of your teaching staff. It is a
very excellent one, is it not?"

"The best in the world." The soft, fat, white hands of the doctor
again unclasped themselves; and this time both of them were employed
in a faintly traced gesture. "We employ scientists. We do not stop at
what you have correctly called the threshold. We explore the entire
structure of the intellect. Our Professor Locke, himself an afflicted
one, is a man of vast erudition--a scholar of an advanced type, a
philosopher whose adventures into the field of psychology and natural
science is widely known. He has charge of the practical work of the
Mercer Institute, and under him its results are positive and unique."

"We have heard of Professor Locke," and, drily, "have seen some of his
work."

"If you had stated your business before--ah--coming in to me," spoke
the doctor, "you might have had an opportunity of consulting him. He
left for his cottage immediately after dining."

"He does not live here, then?"

"Not in this building--no. There is a detached cottage at the far end
of the grounds which he occupies. If you'd like to see him," and the
heavy jowls of the speaker trembled with eagerness, "Haines will show
you there at once."

"If it is no trouble," said Ashton-Kirk, smoothly.

"Not in the least." The doctor rang for his man, and when he entered,
said: "These gentlemen would like to speak to Professor Locke. Show
them the way to his house. And, gentlemen," to the callers, with
anxiety, "the professor can arrange everything with you. It is my
habit to nod for a half hour after dinner. My system has grown to
expect it, and if I am deprived of it, I suffer considerably in
consequence."

"We will not trouble you again, doctor," Ashton-Kirk assured him.
"Thank you, and good-night."

Once more outside, the man led them along a foot-path that seemed to
cut the institution grounds in two. The rays of his lantern danced
along the carefully kept lawn; the shadowy trees seemed to move
backward and forward, as the thin beams wavered among them.

"The professor lives a good piece away," the man informed them. "Away
over on the county road."

"Prefers to be alone, eh?"

"I suppose so, sir. And then he has his laboratory and work-shop
there, well away from interruption. He don't like to be much disturbed
while he is engaged in his studies."

"Few of us do," said Pendleton.

"Quite right, sir."

They walked along in silence for a time; then they caught a clear
humming noise from some distance ahead.

"A motor car," said Pendleton.

"It's on the county road," said the man with the light. "We always
hear them when the wind blows from that direction."

After some fifteen minutes' steady walking they saw a long twinkling
shaft of light coming from among the trees.

"That's the house," said Haines. "I hope the professor ain't busy; you
wouldn't believe what a blowing up he can give a body with his fingers
when he's vexed. I'd almost rather have the doctor himself; though, as
a rule, the professor is a very nice gentleman."

The house was a brick structure of two stories and dimly lighted on
the lower floor. Near by was a long, shed-like building, the windows
of which were brilliantly lighted.

"He's at work," said Haines, in a troubled tone. "And in the shop too!
If it was even the laboratory, it wouldn't be so bad. But he _does_
get so interested in the shop. That machine means more to him,
whatever it is, than anything else about the place."

There came a harsh burring sound from within both the shop and the
house. Haines seemed surprised.

"Visitors," he said. "He seldom has one; and I never knew any to come
at night before."

They saw the figure of Locke cross one of the shed windows toward a
door. And just then Ashton-Kirk stumbled rather heavily against
Haines; the lantern dropped to the ground and was extinguished.

"I beg your pardon," said the investigator in a rueful tone; then he
began to rub his shins. "That was rather hard, whatever it was."

The door of the building opened and Locke appeared; his great bald
head shone in the light that streamed after him; and it was thrust
forward as he strove to penetrate the darkness ahead.

"He feels the vibrations of those buzzers," Haines told them, "and
knows right away when anyone wants to get in."

He began fumbling with the lantern as Locke disappeared; but
Ashton-Kirk said to him:

"You need not light that. We can see very well. And, on second
thought, you need not wait, either. We can introduce ourselves to
Professor Locke without troubling you further."

"Thank you, sir," said the man, vastly relieved. "They all have queer
dispositions, you see, and I don't like to trouble them."

At once Haines made his way back along the path by which they had
approached; some distance away they saw him kindle his lantern, and
then watched the yellow spark as it glanced fitfully away across the
grounds.

The cottage and work-shop of Professor Locke appeared to be set back
some little distance from what Haines had called the county road; a
grove of tall trees thickened the shadows all about, and it was into
these trees that the professor had gone.

"The buzzer must have the button that sounds it attached to a gate
opening upon the road," said Pendleton.

They stood for a short time in silence; then Pendleton nudged his
friend with an elbow.

"Look," he whispered. "There at the door of the shed."

Ashton-Kirk did so. And he was just in time to see a large, iron-gray
head, a craggy, powerful face, and a pair of thick shoulders; the
expression and attitude were those of a man listening intently. Almost
instantly, as Ashton-Kirk's gaze fell upon him, the man withdrew.

"Humph," exclaimed Pendleton under his breath. "Who's that, I wonder?"

They waited for some time longer in silence. But the little man did
not return, nor did the head appear again at the shop door.
Ashton-Kirk appeared puzzled.

"Locke intended returning at once," he said to Pendleton. "Otherwise
he would have closed his work-shop door." Then his eyes wandered
toward the house, and his grip closed tightly upon his companion's
arm. "Look," whispered he, in his turn.

Pendleton's gaze flew toward the house. The lower windows had been
dimly lighted when they approached; but now the glow from them was
high and brilliant. In one of the rooms they saw Locke; he was
striding up and down, his hands clinched and gesturing, his face
upturned, writhing hideously. Seated at a table, calmly engaged in
examining something traced upon a sheet of paper, and apparently not
paying the slightest attention to the gesticulating man, was a young
woman. And Pendleton felt himself grow suddenly faint and sick as he
recognized Edyth Vale.

CHAPTER XV

MISS VALE DEPARTS SUDDENLY

For a moment there was a silence between the two men; then Ashton-Kirk
said, dryly:

"Miss Vale has, apparently, not been altogether frank with us in this
matter."

"You think then--" began Pendleton in a voice of terror. But
Ashton-Kirk stopped him.

"I think many things," said he. "But they are neither here nor there.
Facts are what count. Put the circumstances together for yourself and
see where they lead you. Miss Vale has been from the first mixed up
more or less in this crime. She explained. As far as I knew the
explanation was made in good faith. Now we find her here in this
lonely place, quietly engaged with a man whom I have convinced myself
is one of Hume's murderers."

There was another pause; this time it was Pendleton who broke the
silence.

"As you say," spoke he, in a strange, throaty sort of tone, "she has
not been quite frank. Take all the circumstances together and they
seem to point--"

He paused as though quite unable to finish. Ashton-Kirk laid a hand
upon his shoulder.

"Imagination is a thing that is vitally necessary in this sort of
work," said he. "But it must be held in check by reason. The great
trouble with an amateur is that he reasons up to a certain point; then
he allows his imagination to take a long leap toward a result. The
upshot is that his results have seldom anything to support them. The
correct method, I think, is to allow the imagination to scurry ahead
in the way that is natural to it; but reason must follow close behind,
proving each step of the way. To be sure, you may have theories,
hypotheses, ideas without end, but you must never take them for
granted. Select each in its turn, place it in a tube as the chemist
does, add a few drops of reason, and you may produce a fact. It is the
only way to go about it. Once a man becomes fixed in a belief, be
there ever so little foundation for it, his mind stops revolving the
subject; further procedure is hopeless."

"I understand all that well enough," said Pendleton. "But," and he
waved his hand toward the house, "what does _this_ mean?"

"I don't know," said Ashton-Kirk. "And neither do you. So--that being
the case--there is but one thing to do--find out."

They gazed toward the window once more, Miss Vale had apparently
mastered the contents of the paper, and was now engaged in writing
rapidly. As the young men watched, she stopped, read carefully what
she had written, and then handed it to Locke. The mute carried the
paper to the light, and holding it very near to his eyes read it with
much attention; then he tore it into strips, placed it upon the red
coals of a stove which stood near him and watched it burn. Facing Miss
Vale, his fingers began to fly rapidly in intricate signs. This only
lasted a moment, however; for he stopped, gestured passionately,
seized a pad of paper and began to write.

While he was thus engaged, Ashton-Kirk said to Pendleton in a low
tone:

"Remain here for a moment."

Then slowly, carefully, the investigator made his way toward the
window through which Miss Vale and Locke were to be seen.

Heavy beams of light shot across the ground from the windows; but here
and there were trails of shadow. He clung to these until he had
reached the shelter of the walls; then to Pendleton's amazement he
stepped directly in front of the window through which the two were to
be seen, rapped smartly upon the glass, and remained standing in full
view, of the two in the room.

[Illustration: HE RAPPED SMARTLY ON THE WINDOW]

Pendleton saw the pad drop from Locke's hands; he saw the mute wheel
as he felt the vibrations and stare at the window, his eyes puckered
and straining. He also saw Miss Vale rise, saw her hands thrown out in
a gesture much like despair; and also he heard the cry that she
uttered, muffled by the confines of the room, but full of fear. Then
the room was plunged into darkness; an instant later a door was heard
to open; the sound of quick-moving feet came to him; there followed
the pulsations of a motor and the racing of a car away into the night.

"She's off," breathed the young man, and there was undoubted relief in
the knowledge. "She's off, and I really believe that's what Kirk was
after."

He walked toward the house and found his friend standing in the
shadows.

"Well," chuckled the investigator, "it did not take her long to make
up her mind, eh?"

"You had some motive in doing that," accused Pendleton. "What was it?"

Ashton-Kirk was about to reply; but just then the small figure of
Locke made its appearance. He carried a lantern and was approaching
with stumbling steps, his eyes peering and blinking in their efforts
to pierce the gloom. Not until he was well upon the two did he make
them out; then he halted, lifted the light above his head and surveyed
them intently.

In the rays of the lantern Ashton-Kirk smiled urbanely, and bowed.
The supple fingers of the mute writhed inquiringly.

"Each of them forms itself into a wild note of interrogation," said
Pendleton. "They are fairly screaming questions at you."

Ashton-Kirk smiled even more agreeably at Locke and shook his head.
Then he went through the pantomime of one writing, and finished by
pointing to the house.

Carefully, eagerly, fearfully, the mute examined them; his
near-sighted eyes and the wavering light must have made it all but
impossible for him to make them out. However, he at length motioned
for them to follow him, and started back by the way which he had come.
But after a few steps he halted. He indicated that they were to remain
where they were; then he went to the shed-like building, closed the
door and locked it, placing the key in his pocket.

"It would seem," observed Ashton-Kirk, "that we are not to be trusted
implicitly."

"Also," replied Pendleton, "that there is something of value in the
shed."

Returning, Locke led the way to a door upon the other side of the
house. Showing them into a small room furnished with books and
scientific apparatus and evidently a study, he set down the lantern
and with a sign bade them be seated. Upon their doing so he produced a
small pad of paper and a pencil; handing these to Ashton-Kirk he
stood peering at them expectantly. With the swift, accurate touch of
an expert, the investigator wrote in the Pitman shorthand:

"We ask pardon if we have startled you."

Then he tore off the sheet and handed it to Professor Locke. The man
seemed surprised at the medium selected by his visitor; nevertheless
he quickly traced the following in the same characters.

"Who are you? What is your errand?"

"We were sent to you by Dr. Mercer," replied Ashton-Kirk with flying
pencil. "Our business is to secure the admission of a new pupil."

Locke read this and regarded them for a moment, doubtfully.

"Why did you not press the button at the door?" he demanded in
writing.

"I hardly expected you to have such a thing as a bell," answered
Ashton-Kirk, on the pad. "And so, seeing you, I attracted your
attention as best I could."

Professor Locke read this and stood with his pencil poised, when the
buzzer sounded harshly; he went at once into the hall; they heard him
open the door; and in a few moments he returned, followed by Haines.

The fingers of the two flashed their signals back and forth; then a
look of relief came into Locke's face; he even smiled, and nodded
understandingly at the two young men.

"I beg pardon, gentlemen," said Haines. "But when I got back to the
hall, Dr. Mercer made me return and make sure that you had got to see
the Professor."

"Thanks," replied the investigator. "We had not the slightest
difficulty."

"I'm glad to hear it, sir," said the man. "Good-night to you."

He flashed the same wish to the mute, who answered readily; then he
went out and through the window they saw his light again go bobbing
away in the darkness. Then the professor began to write once more.

"I beg your pardon," was his message in long-hand. "The man tells me
that it was quite as you say. But I must confess I was a trifle
startled."

"The lady," wrote Ashton-Kirk, "seemed startled, too."

For the fraction of a moment the mute halted in his reply. Then the
pencil with much assurance formed the following:

"It was my niece. She was about to go just as you came; so do not
reproach yourself for having driven her away."

For some time the penciled conversation continued between the two; but
as it was all based upon the fanciful pupil whom the investigator
stated he desired to place in Dr. Mercer's care, Pendleton paid little
heed to it. At last, however, they bid the Professor good-by, and left
him upon the threshold, his massive head nodding his adieus, his frail
little body sharply outlined by the glow from the hall.

The two had reached their own car around on the other road before
Pendleton spoke. Then he inquired:

"Well, have you learned anything from him?"

"I think I can say 'yes' to that," answered the other. "But I'm not
yet sure. I'll have to put it to the proof first, according to the
formula which I gave you a half hour ago. If it succeeds, I'll tell
you what it is; if it does not, I'll say nothing, and it will go upon
the scrap heap devoted to broken fancies. And now, Dixon," to the
chauffeur, "we'll go home."

CHAPTER XVI

STEEL AGAINST STEEL

Shortly before noon next day, Ashton-Kirk, in an immaculate morning
suit, was ushered into the presence of Miss Edyth Vale. If he expected
confusion, embarrassment or anything of that sort, he was
disappointed; for she greeted him eagerly and with outstretched hand.

"This is a surprise," she said.

He held her hand and looked meaningly at her.

"My appearances _are_ sometimes surprising," he said. "But I usually
select the night for them; the effect is better then, you see."

She smiled into his eyes.

"I have no doubt but that you are dreadfully mysterious," she said.
"But please sit down."

She seated herself near the window; holding a book in her hand, she
fluttered the leaves to and fro.

"The composure," thought the investigator, as he sat down, "is
somewhat overdone."

"I wonder," said Miss Vale, looking at the book, "if you are an
admirer of Ibsen." And as he nodded, she proceeded with a slight
smile. "I know that he is scarcely the usual thing for a spring
morning. But there are times when I simply can't resist him."

"He's a strong draught at any time," said Ashton-Kirk. "But his tonic
quality is undoubted."

"His disciples claim that for him, at any rate," she answered. "But
sometimes I question its truth. Where is the tonic effect of
'Rosmersholm?' I think it full of terrors." She shuddered and added:
"The White Horses will haunt me for weeks."

"It's the atmosphere of crime," said he. "That quiet home on the
western fiords reeks with it."

She made a gesture of repulsion.

"It's ghastly!" she exclaimed. "And, somehow, one feels it from the
very first--before a word is spoken. Imagine Rebecca at the window,
watching through the plants to see if Rosmer uses the footbridge from
which his wife once leaped to her death." She paused a moment, her
eyes upon the open pages; then lifting her head, she asked: "What do
you think of Rebecca?"

"A tremendous character--of wonderful strength. It was just such
proud, dark, purposeful souls that Byron delighted to draw; but the
only one in literature to whom I can fully liken her is the wife of
Macbeth. There was the same ambition--the same ruthless will--the same
disregard of everything that stood in her way. And, like Cawdor's
wife, she weakened in the end."

She regarded him fixedly.

"Would you call it weakness?" she asked.

"She fell in love with Johannes, did she not? That was weakness--for
her. She herself recognized it as such."

The girl looked at him thoughtfully for a moment.

"That is true," she said.

"Some of the world's most daring and accomplished criminals have been
women," he went on. "But Nature never intended woman to be the bearer
of burdens; there is a weakness in her soul structure somewhere; she
usually sinks under the consciousness of guilt."

"More so than men, do you think?"

"As a rule--yes."

She put down the book and clasped her hands in her lap.

"There is no need to sympathize with Rebecca," she said. "She was
brave and strong, even in her love for Johannes. But he," and there
was a note in her voice that recalled the night he had listened to it
over the telephone, "he was different. There is no more dreadful thing
in the play, to me, than the character of Rosmer. To think of him
sitting quietly in that charnel house, prospering in soul, growing
sleek in thought, becoming stored with high ideas. Perfect peace came
to him in spite of the stern-faced portraits which shrieked murder
from the walls. He dreamed of freeing and ennobling mankind, and all
the time Fate was weaving a net about him that was to drag him from
the mill bridge after his dead wife."

"Kroll knew him," said the investigator. "And he said Rosmer was
easily influenced. It is usually men of that type who are drawn into
the vortex which swirls at every door."

Her face was a little pale; but she now arose with a laugh and began
rubbing her finger-tips with a handkerchief.

"I think we'd better remove the dust of the Norwegian," she said; "and
I make a vow never to read him again--in the morning." She stood
looking down at her caller, good-humoredly and continued: "I suppose
it is my fault, but you have a dreadfully gloomy expression. Or
maybe," as an afterthought, "you ate an unwholesome dinner last night.
Were you at the Perrings, by any chance?"

He shook his head, his keen eyes searching her face.

"No," said he, "I had much more important matters on hand."

She held up her hand.

"It was something about this Hume affair," she said.

"Yes," he replied.

The smile was now gone; she leaned back against a heavy table, her
fingers tightly clasping its edge.

"I have been trying to forget that dreadful thing," she said. "I've
stopped looking at the papers, because I would be sure to see it
mentioned. And," with never a faltering in her eyes, "because I might
be reminded of it in some other way, I now remain indoors."

"Last night was an exception, perhaps," suggested he, smoothly.

"Last night?" There was a questioning look in her beautiful eyes; the
finely posed head with its crown of bright hair bent toward him
inquiringly.

An expression of chagrin crept into his face.

"You were not out last night, then?" said he.

"What makes you think so?" smilingly. "It was dreadfully dull here,
too. But then," with a shrug, "anything is better than a constant
reminder of that Christie Place affair."

He nodded understandingly.

"I suppose it _is_ very distressing." He frowned gloomily at the tips
of his shoes and she could see that he bit his lip with vexation.
After a moment or two, he said: "It's very strange; but I was quite
sure I saw you last night."

"Yes?" Her tone was one of careless interest.

"However," he went on, "I had but a glimpse of the lady; and could
easily have been mistaken." He wore a baffled look, but smiled as he
got up. "And," said he, "my visit of this morning was based upon the
sight I fancied I had of you last night."

She laughed amusedly.

"It was something interesting," she said. "Please tell me about--but,
no, no," hastily. "If it has anything to do with the Hume case, I'd
rather not hear it."

She had pressed the bell call for the footman, when he said:

"Mr. Morris still keeps himself well concealed, I note."

Like a tigress leaping to defend her young, she met the accusation.

"Mr. Morris has done no wrong," she declared, spiritedly. "And there
is no need of his concealing himself."

"Of course I will not say as to that." His voice was soothing and low.
"But he makes a mistake in not coming forward. His name, you have
noticed, has already appeared in the papers in direct connection with
the murder."

He glanced at her keenly once more.

"It may be that he has gone away upon some urgent business," she said.
"And the chances are that he has not heard anything of the matter."

"If he had gone away on business, don't you think he would have
mentioned it to someone?"

"Perhaps he did not think it necessary. And again, maybe he did not
expect to be gone so long. Such things frequently happen, you know."

"They do," admitted Ashton-Kirk. "But in the case of Allan Morris,
they somehow fail to fit. I am convinced that he is in hiding."

She regarded him steadily for a moment; then she said:

"You are convinced, you say?"

"I am."

"May I ask upon what your conviction is based?"

"Not now--no."

There was another pause; the man was at the door, ready to show the
investigator out.

"Perhaps," and her tone was very low, "you even fancy that you know
his hiding-place."

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